Skeleton Crew – Overview…

Skeleton Crew came out in 1985 and was the second collection of short stories Stephen King published. Overall, it is a decent book, although if I had to put it side by side with Night Shift, it would probably come up a little short. It also feels less cohesive than that first book – more a bunch of stories put together than anything truly united. It’s subtle, but it’s there.

I recommended fifteen of the twenty-two pieces on offer in Skeleton Crew, and if you take away the two pieces of poetry (which probably shouldn’t count towards the total anyway) that’s fifteen out of twenty. 75% is a pretty good win rate, although it’s not quite as good a number as I posted for Night Shift.

Of the five pieces I didn’t recommend, Beachworld fared the poorest. Sci-fi is a tough sell for me, and this did nothing to change my opinion on the genre. I’m sure there’s something in here for those who enjoy that kind of thing, but that ain’t me.

If I had to choose, I would say the best stories here are The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet (which has the advantage of added detail, being a novella), The Mist (which is even longer), monster horror story, The Raft and the thought-provoking Survivor Type fighting it out for the top four spots.

So, the trend is slighty downward, but it’s a good read and still a lot better than a lot of other collections out there.

Cat Post…

Some are cat people; some are dog people. I’m a dog guy. I’ve had a lot of them. My parents used to foster them, so we had a lot until such time as they found a more permanent home. Oddly however, I’ve not had any dogs since childhood.

I’ve never owned a cat. I don’t dislike them. I just generally prefer the personality and nature of a dog. It’s just as I said – you’re one or the other, aren’t you?

Until now.

Tomorrow The Fiancée© and I are taking a trip to collect a couple of eight week old kittens. Cats are her thing, but she hasn’t had any for many years. For a long time I resisted her requests, but I guess I mellowed during lockdown because all of a sudden we’re getting two of them!

We struggled to come up with names, but eventually we landed on…

Tess

… and…

Frankie

Skeleton Crew #22 – The Reach…

13440Word count – 8,700

The Reach is about the narrow (and mysterious) stretch of water between mainland USA and the island where the story begins. Stella, an old grandmother nearing death, has never crossed it, but once it freezes over she decides it’s time to do so.

Along the way Stella meets various people from her past, and they help her transition from this life to the next. It’s all very deep and meaningful, but unfortunately I was neither engaged nor all that interested in what King was telling me.

Maybe that’s on me, or perhaps it’s the fault of the author. Either way, the final short story in the collection is not what I wanted it to be.

Not Recommended

What I’ve Done This Month #September…

It’s finally done. All of my writing (going back as far as I can) is now printed and filed, and all of those folders are dated and looking rather cool atop my bookcase. It’s nice to have everything there – primarily as a back up in case my laptop dies and can’t be resuscitated, but also as a cool visual, and a tangible history of my work.

Now there’s no real excuse not to be getting on with the new stuff.

A couple of weeks ago I had an idea for a dark story about Alexa. You know, Amazon’s virtual assistant. It just seemed to hit me, although I don’t know where it came from. Anyway, I ended up doing a lot of the legwork while I was sitting on my two day training course… which was handy, because since then I’ve not had the time or energy to actually begin writing it properly. I’ve got some free time over the weekend, so hopefully I’ll get something done then.

Several of the writing contests I entered in September close today, so if I’ve placed in any of those I’ll likely hear about it in the next couple of weeks. Even making a shortlist would be nice as it’s been a while since I’ve had any competition bright spots.

Fingers and toes crossed.

Skeleton Crew #21 – The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet…

Word count 20,800

The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet is about a writer who has written the titular tale. The story that we read however, is about the author’s descent into madness, as told through the eyes of a magazine editor.

This novella is told campfire-style, a formula I am noticing that King employs a lot. It doesn’t always work, as it gives you a (potentially) unreliable narrator, and means you are once-removed from the action, but I have no complaints about it here. Besides, it’s an approach that has served him well.

If we take The Mist out of the equation (because that’s really a short novel in its own right), The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet is the longest piece in Skeleton Crew, but for all its length it’s also one of the most straightforward and engaging. It is slightly let down by the final few pages, but otherwise, it is a very enjoyable read.

Recommended ⇑

Back on the Payroll…

I’m on the first day of a two-day training course, which makes this my first day of actual work in very nearly six months. I had to get up at 7am for an 8.30am start, but that still feels like mid-morning when I used to be halfway through my shift by then.

Of course, there are teething problems with the training, and the class has now been pushed by an hour or so, so I’m taking the opportunity to post this. It would seem that while a lot of things have changed recently, some things – like delays and red tape – have not.

So, this is the beginning of a new chapter. If I’m honest, I don’t want this one to last very long – I want something different; something better – but in this Covid world, beggars and choosers and all that.

Oddly, I always did more writing when I was working full-time as well, so that’s a bonus I can look forward to. I have a few new ideas that I’ve been mulling over for a while now, so I’ll probably be able to get them fleshed out a little over the weekend.

So Far… – Review…

sofar00kelsKelsey Grammer starred in two of the most successful sitcoms of all time, in Cheers and then its spin-off Frasier. He played the same character on TV for over two decades, and that is how the vast majority of us know the actor.

But this autobiography – which is fairly short and for context, was published not long after Frasier began – focuses mostly on his work prior to becoming the household name that he is today, and the relationships that he had along the way.

He details many of the hardships that he had to endure during the early part of his life, before anyone really knew who he was. When Kelsey was twelve years old his estranged father was murdered during a home invasion. When he was twenty, his younger sister (whom he was extremely close to) was abducted, raped, and murdered after being stabbed forty-two times. Five years after that, his two half-brothers died in a scuba-diving accident.

A lot of this is heartbreaking stuff, and it is no wonder that he suffered from substance abuse problems later in his life. But to his credit Kelsey makes no excuses for his much-publicised drug and alcohol addictions. Instead, he has used all of these touchpoints and tragedies in his life to become a better person.

If you pick this up hoping for some insight into the character of Dr. Frasier Crane, you may come away a little disappointed. There is some of that, with some backstage anecdotes, but that isn’t what this is about. Like Crane, Kelsey comes across as an intelligent, eloquent man, and this is an interesting read you can quickly tick off your list.

Skeleton Crew #20 – Gramma…

13440

Word count – 11,800

Gramma is about a young boy called George who finds himself looking after his elderly and infirm grandmother on his own, only to find that he is constantly spooked by her presence.

Halfway through the story it becomes clear that the old woman has died and George spends some time trying to figure out how he is going to explain this to his mother. Spooky goings-on ensue.

Ultimately, Gramma is too long and too little happens for me to care all that much about it. This is certainly all about the atmosphere, and King takes his time building that – so maybe the problem here is mine – but I can’t get behind a horror story isn’t scary, and where nothing happens.

Not Recommended ⇓

Amazing Bed & Great Breakfast…

When I was on my own I was a far more frequent visitor of B&B’s, because my narrow-minded belief is that they are tailored more to the lone soul than the couple looking for a quiet and romantic escape.

Ardtorna, a luxurious B&B just a whistle north of Oban on the west coast of Scotland, has shown me that not only is that opinion wrong, but that maybe I have missed a lot of fantastic overnight opportunities over the years.

I have never stayed in such a well-presented and beautifully decorated establishment. Everything is crisp and clean and intended to make your stay the best it can be, and it’s clear that owner Karen takes immense pride in providing that service for all her guests.

Running a bed and breakfast is difficult, and owners of these places don’t get enough credit for the love they put in to their work every single day. Karen does this all with a smile and some friendly conversation. You may think that’s easy, but I promise you, most of us wouldn’t last a week in such a cutthroat environment.

Of course, Ardtorna is not for everyone. Everything here is immaculate. If you’re the kind of person who treats a hotel room as your personal rubbish bin, and doesn’t think twice about spilling wine or breaking a glass, you should find somewhere else to stay – this place is not for you.

Cards on the table, I often take the coffee and tea from my room when I leave a hotel. Sometimes the little shampoos and conditioners too. I joke with The Fiancée© that these businesses factor this into their costs, but of course, they don’t.

Well I didn’t take a thing from Ardtorna, not even any of the Celebrations that were in the mini fridge… and they were factored into the cost! Why? This care and attention to the comfort of the people she has welcomed into her home deserves to be respected, and I don’t want to take advantage of such dedication and hard work. I can see that she has gone above and beyond, and she will wake up tomorrow and do it all over again.

I didn’t start this post as a love letter to Ardtorna, but now that it’s done it feels like that is just what I’ve written. So thank you Karen, for a wonderful bookend to our extended weekend away from home. I’m sure we will be back.

An Otter’s Pocket…

It’s been a hell of a day.

We left the hotel in Invergarry after a couple of nights there, with the intention of taking a leisurely drive down towards the bed & breakfast I had booked for one night, before our trip back home. We had a lot of time to play with before check-in at 4pm.

But the weather had other ideas.

The rain has never been far away since we left home, which is a shame but this is Scotland. That would be like an Arab complaining he was getting too much sun.

But this was next level annoying. At 9am on a Sunday the road we were taking to drive south – the only possible road south – was blocked. Flooded. We waited for ninety minutes (the length of time it should have taken us to reach our destination) while we watched the police stand about and do very little, only for one of them to eventually come over to tell us we’d better turn around.

Sure. Except where we had to be was down there, not all the way back up that way. So we were forced into making a 130 mile diversion – extremely frustrating at the best of times, but when the sky is making the whole experience miserable… well, we almost decided to pack our bags and just head home a day early. Non-refundable room be damned.

But it was all worth it when we found our way to Ardtorna B&B, probably the most exquisite bed and breakfast I’ve ever stayed at. Granted, we have not yet slept or had breakfast, but if the views over Loch Creran from the floor to ceiling windows, and the sumptuous anti-pasti platter we were served are anything to go by, this will definitely be a stay to remember.