First Draft completed in November

All the way through the first draft of this novel, the working title has been ‘Skye’s Limit’ – well it started off as ‘Sky’s Limit’ but as I read back and edited I kept on reading ‘Sky ‘as ‘She’ so changed her name.

Then came the revelation that  webpage titles have difficulty with apostrophes as do search engines. Sometimes the name would come out as Skye s other times as Skyes. A change was needed.

Looking back at the total story line, without plot or sub-plot, we have two late-teenage witch girls being given to (via arranged marriage) two vampire men. The premise is that it will make both realms stronger.

One of these girls, Skye, is the daughter of Janice, the hero of A Boy For Two Witch Girls and the other, Monique is the daughter of Shelagh who also appears in that novel. Arranged marriage works out for one but not the other. You’ll have to read the novel to find out which.

A stand alone novel that is actually a sequel to Janice and Shelagh’s story, the ending has prompted a book three in extreme draft form only (messing about with a first chapter) but that is usually how things go.

Editing of this first draft is proceeding slowly, while trying to reduce the 102,000 word count and then it will go out to Beta readers. If you have read the above and fancy receiving a free copy to Beta Read before it goes to an agent, then please get in touch via the contact sheet on my website at StephensonHolt.com

Tai Chi Book or DVD?

The book is small, shiny cover, elastic place holder in orange, as everyone agrees, a lovely little book and reminiscent, to me, of a missal. We are told not to judge a book by its cover but there is some useful information in here, for me. Not all info was used by me though – I shall explain.

I wanted to learn Tai Chi and the local class ( that had clashed with a course, recently completed) was no longer. This book seemed to be the answer. Chapters one  through three are divided into a number of sections dealing with body, mind and spirit which I found really useful and will read over and over again. Chapters four through seven concern place, warming up, basic stance etc and that is where I finally got to.

On a course, years ago, a lecturer explained the difference between reading how to do something and being shown how to do it. “Imagine,” he said, “you want to play Monopoly. You were shown by someone who had already played it. Have you ever read the complicated rules on how to play?” None of us had. So it is with this book.

The chapters on actual Postures are written instructions that would be difficult to perform while reading. For this reason I bought the DVD called “Tai Chi Sun Style 73 Forms” (see below). This DVD takes you through each of the 73 forms, one by one, a couple of times each, with Dr. Paul Lam and his assistant, one facing you the other not. The complete 73 forms can then be watched and copied with him either front face or back to you, depending on your preference. The DVD has nothing on breathing, mind, spirit etc.

For all the above reasons I believe the book and the DVD are invaluable together and less than half as good apart. I would recommend both.

Dr. Paul Lam takes you through the whole thing, stage by stage, fraction by fraction of each stage. He continually talks to you in a soft voice and is easy to follow.

Having explained a procedure, front-on, with his assistant, he then turns his back to do it again but without you imagining that you are looking into a mirror.

It is extremely useful to see front and rear view at the same time and this is extended into the final chapter where the whole routine is performed. You then have the choice of watching someone facing you, or you can choose to have him with his back to you so that you can copy moves as if you were in a group and you were following the person in front of you.

My Poor Car

Well, a difficult October and that’s ignoring Covvid-19 and its implications to normal life.  While laying in bed, early one morning, we heard a loud bang, looked out the window to see an unknown car having ploughed into my car and watched him drive off as if nothing had happened. My car was later written off as unrepairable.

Luckily we have a fantastic Neighbourhood Watch system with cameras everywhere (3 on our house) and a Number Plate Recognition camera at the end of the street.

Long story short, the police contacted the driver, suggested he may wish to return to the scene and offer his insurance documents and we have a new car arriving this Friday.

On the writing front, my work in progress is getting complicated and I have to keep going back to a huge spreadsheet to see who knew what and when. “Skye’s Limit” is a follow up to “A  Boy For Two  Witch Girls” and involves Skye and Monique  (witches) having arranged marriages with two vampire princes and the way they manage that in completely different ways.

The novel is becoming political and looks at Vampire standards towards women and how that may not be that different to the human or witch world. I will update on progress as and when.

More blog notes, reviews and details of novels written at www.StephensonHolt.com

Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons – A Review.

When I first read this novel, some twenty-five years ago, I found it fascinating and, at that time, it was a bit of a cult novel. Families who had all read the book, talked to each other by using quotes from the book. Nobody bought it then, it was passed from person to person as a dog-eared paperback. Thus it was a surprise for me to go into the Amazon reviews to find it was rated two and a half crowns out of five. On further investigation, one reviewer had loved it and scored it 5, two others had hated it and scored it one (this was 25 years ago). I note now that it is a Penguin Classic!

I was careful not to watch the film as I was sure that it would destroy the mental images built up in my mind. Such as the following;-

“A little later, as she (Flora) sat peacefully sewing, Adam came in from the yard. He wore, as a protection from the rain, a hat which had lost – in who knows what dim hintermath of time – the usual attributes of shape, colour and size, and those more subtle race-memory associations which identify hats as hats, and now resembled some obscure natural growth, some moss or sponge or fungus, which has attached itself to a host.”

The above makes me smile, I find it cute and enjoyable and warm. It is not belly-laughing material and doesn’t pretend to be – so why the publishers describe the novel as a comic classic is a mystery to some and an annoyance to others. In these days of fast TV comedy, more is expected. This book was first published in 1932 and is therefore capable of slowing you down to the speed of the day, much as, say V.S. Naipaul’s Mystic Masseur, written in 1957, would do.

The relatively sophisticated Flora is farmed out to her country cousins who smack of in-breeding and tribalism, right down to family structure with a chief at its head. There are questions continually thrown at the reader who somehow knows that the answers will never be found. It is not giving anything away to tell you that months after reading this book you will talk to yourself while walking down the street “I wonder what Great Aunt Ada Doom did see in the woodshed that was so nasty.”

This review and many more, along with novels written by the reviewer, at http://www.StephensonHolt.com

The Girl Under The Olive Tree – A Review

A must read novel for anyone interested in or sitting on a beach anywhere in Greece or elsewhere in the Med, enjoying sunshine and bright colours but unaware of the C20th history of Greece. I will explain why below.

A novel suggested by my wife – we each have a Kindle on the same account so can share books – we love Greece and have experienced many of the smaller islands and she thought this novel set on the large island of Crete would interest me.
On starting I read through the index and to my horror there were lots of dates jumping around everywhere. I screamed “You know I’m an idiot that can’t follow a book that leaps about in time” but she assured me I would be okay. I was okay. It bounces between present day (well 2001) and the pre- war and war years. Present day is narrated by an old main character in the first person with her reminiscence sometimes going into third person. The forties are all in third person and if I could follow that then anyone can.

Something personal to me and my reading-mind perhaps is the fact that when reading a wartime Greek book (there have been a couple) my head is always in a space where we are on a family holiday in sunny summer Greece with all its bright and vibrant colours and then visit one of the many small war museums where photographs are in black and white, drained of colour and that beach that you sat on earlier in the day is shown covered in rolls of barbed wire. Difficult to believe that it is the same place and this novel had the same effect on me. My comment at the top of this piece about it being a must read is because this novel fills in all the gaps between the bright colours and the black and white photos. It makes it real; it makes you understand what it was like to be on Crete at that time like no history book could. Leah Fleming captures the time, the characters and the place and makes you believe you are there.

There is nothing unusual perhaps about a rich girl striking out on her own, defying parents and moving to Athens. We know from the start which way the story will go as the opening prologue-ish chapter is the very end of the story where she is on Crete during the war. I detected a love story theme going on throughout (I am perceptive for a bloke) so I dived onto Goodreads at that point to see if most of the reviews were by women to find that the vast majority are. They shouldn’t be. This is a novel to suit all. If you read this novel and enjoy it and are female then you could pass it to any male friend and explain that it is a war story with a slight love angle (sorry about the gender stereotyping.)

One thing I did enjoy over other novels of similar time span (Captain Corelli’s Mandolin?) was the fact that there was no ‘this is how nice it was before the war and now here we are in the war’ and instead we have a build up towards hostilities and learn how tensions increased and the wait for hostilities was a long one in some parts of Europe.

I recommend the novel and would suggest it would be good background reading for anyone studying 20th century history. Obviously not fact but gives a flavour.

This review and many more (along with books written by Stephenson Holt) at www.StephensonHolt.com

The Deep Voice of Garrison Keilor.

A long time ago, (2003) we fancied a week’s holiday, but somewhere diffent, so we travelled to Norfolk, England for the first time ever, from our home in Wales, on the other side of the country. we stayed bed and breakfast at the Old Custom House in Wells-Next The Sea.  One over-riding memory of the place, in 2003, is that only one restaurant took credit cards so we had to get cash-back at the local Co-op in order to eat out each night.

Things may have changed but, back at that time, brakfast was around one long table and the proprietor explained that it was to get people to talk to other guests, rather then the normal ‘good mornings’ and then chat to whoever is sat with you.

We were amongst seven or eight people, all chatting and it became clear that two couples were either American or Canadian (Brits are always getting into trouble over picking the wrong one) and conversation turned to guessing where they were from/

My guess was close to the border – this raised eyebrows – then, pinning it down more, the middle of America, away from the coasts and in a state on the border of Canada. The two ladies were impressed, one of their husbands asked why I had come to that conclusion.

I explained. “You may not have heard of him but I have an author I read a lot called Garrison Keilor. He writes about local life and was recently on BBC Radio 4 doing readings from his Lake Wobegone novel. You men have similar voices to Mr. Keillor and I know the area I described is where he is from.”

The two couples looked at each other, somewhat stunned until one of the men spoke. “We are all from the same town as Garrison and I tour with him when he does his readings. If he needs a break in the middle of readings, to rest his voice and have a drink of water, then I take over for him because our voices are so similar.”

Is that a chance in a million? They asked Canada or USA and I pinned it to the town.

Two Women – Martina Cole – A Review

Susan Dalston, the prologue tells us, has murdered her husband, is in prison and is being transferred between prisons pending an appeal against her sentence. This is an appeal that she doesn’t intend to go through with, it’s just a means of getting closer to her family for a few weeks to make visits easier.

As is quite usual with Martina Cole novels, we find out the ending, or near ending, in the prologue and the rest of the novel takes us from an early point, through a desparately hard life to the point where we meet the prologue again.

In this case, Susan as a child, is unloved by her mother, disparaged by her gran and abused by her father. On marrying her childhood sweetheart (not giving anything away here as the marriage is mentioned in the prologue) life goes from bad to worse. There are disturbing and black scenes in this novel, to my mind the blackest of Cole’s novels that I have read so far. Women reading this book will relate to Susan and will feel for her from start to finish. Men reading this novel will look for the lovable rogue, or the bad son that still looks after his family – but will be disappointed as no such character exists. There are no nice men or partly nice men with any major role in this novel, perhaps a deliberate ploy on Cole’s part to make the reader, male or female, relate to Susan and nobody else. Choosing a typical passage is difficult without giving the plot away so, from the prologue we have……….

Matilda left the cell and came back with two large mugs of tea. She opened a packet of digestives and placed a few on the bunk beside Susan.

“Did you really hit your old man…….”

Susan interrupted her acidly “One hundred and fifty two times with a claw hammer? Yes, I did, I counted the blows, it gave me something to focus on.”

I don’t think I could read two Martina Cole’s novels in succession and after “Two Women” had to have a break from reading completely, such was the power of the novel, leaving the reader shocked in most chapters.

This review and many more at www.StephensonHolt.com

The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks – A Review

Later and better books by Banks have, in their inside cover, the words “Iain Banks came to controversial public notice with the publication of his first novel The Wasp Factory in 1984. Since then…..”

The many professional reviews added to the front of The Wasp Factory, by the publishers, show that this is not a book to be “liked”. It will be either loved or hated. If you have not read Iain Banks then this, his first novel, is not the place to start.

I would suggest that the possibility of you not enjoying this book and therefore abandoning Iain Banks as an author, is too great. As an introduction, why not try Espedair Street or The Bridge and come back to this novel later as a curiosity item. You will then find out about two brothers with no idea of the effect that they have, on other people, or death. This is banks getting into the head of someone who is isolated geographically and mentally, hence the not understanding the effect on others.

“I looked round the Bunker. The severed heads of gulls, rabbits, crows, mice, owls, moles and small lizards looked down on me. They hung drying on short loops of black thread suspended from lengths of string stretched across the walls from corner to corner, and dim shadows turned slowly on the walls behind them.”

My personal opinion is that this is a first novel, meant to shock and get the author noticed, which it did, successfully.

This review and many more at http://www.StephensonHolt.com

The Delirium Trilogy – Lauren Oliver

The trilogy, I noticed after reading reviews of the scond book, is aimed at a young adult audience. Fear not, this ancient being enjoyed all three books and cannot even remember being a young adult.

I reviewed them thus;-

1) Delirium.

I’d read good things about this novel and decided to give it a try. I started by wondering if I’d ever read a book in first person, present tense and could only think of a couple. I soon got into it though and it didn’t bother me. I got into Lena’s head as if she was talking me through her thoughts and anxieties. By the end of the novel I’d changed gender and was Lena.

Delirium is part of the Latin name for the disease we know as love, which has been outlawed and we soon learn that at eighteen everyone goes through a procedure to rid themselves of any ‘love’ feelings and are then paired off with a suitable mate. Maybe it’s because, a few books back, I read The Housemaids Tale by Margaret Atwood, that I associated the two books and thought that Delirium could well be a prequel to Atwood’s dystopian novel.

In both novels it is the poor old USA that has been locked off from the rest of the world and seems to be hijacked by religious zealots. From outside the USA, and if Twitter is anything to go by, it seems that a lot of people over there are worried about the future. Maybe that’s why this sort of novel has become more popular at the moment.

Again, early on so not a spoiler, we learn that Lena’s mother bucked the trend and fought against ridding herself of love and that her daughter Lena worries that the gene may have passed to her. The novel is a will-she-won’t-she type of story that I raced through, (eight days is racing for me) enjoying the world that I was sucked into. I’m sure that as a man, if I was engrossed in Lena’s plight, any woman reading this novel would be equally engrossed. I enjoyed immensely and have just downloaded book two, Pandemonium.

2) Pandemonium.

So, how do you review book-two of a trilogy without giving away spoilers to book one?

Carefully is the answer. The style of Pandemonium is similar but not exactly the same as in Delirium. If you enjoyed, in Delirium, the first-person present tense, with everything seen through Lena, the lead protagonist’s eyes, then Pandemonium will not disappoint. If you enjoyed the descriptive flow from the author of Lena’s sight, smell, touch, inner feelings, then yet again you will not be disappointed and you will easily live the story through Lena’s eyes, her feelings and her emotions.

The main difference in Pandemonium is the double time lines of ‘then’ and ‘now’ which are alternating chapter headings. The reader is tasked with wondering what happened in the ‘then’ story to start the ‘now’ story. There is also more action and adventure in this second part.

Another well written part to the trilogy that I enjoyed. Phew, I think I got through that without any spoilers. Wondering how others had reviewed the book without spoilers, I took a sneak peak. The answer seemed to be lots of spoilers to book one. Hopefully, reviewers had assumed that potential readers would not read their reviews of Pandemonium until after reading Delirium. The other thing that struck me was that I had read both books as adventure stories with a love interest, whereas, many had read them as love stories with an adventure interest. Thankfully, we are all different.

So, will I read book three? Requiem. Most definitely. Delirium I could have accepted as a one-off novel. It was so well written and got me living in Lena’s head so efficiently that I decided to go for book two, Pandemonium. I am guessing that the author felt that book two of a trilogy didn’t have to stand as a one-off (if you’ve read two out of the three then you will probably complete the trilogy) so she gives us a shock of such magnitude that it makes the reading of book three a must. I can’t wait.

3) Requiem.

Page turner, all action, twists and turns with a love element.

Having read Delirium and Pandemonium, I couldn’t wait to get into book three, Requiem. Lauren Oliver’s skills at descriptive writing are phenomenal and take you into the world that she writes about, immersing you in sight, smell and sounds while leaving you hungry and feeling unwashed. While reading Requiem I was into chapters on The Wilds and felt I needed a shower, while chapters on Zombieland made me want to go out and play in the mud to get rid of the clinical cleanliness.

Oliver wrote the three books in first person present tense which makes you feel close to the characters. Having said that, she changes style with each novel. Delirium was all through the eyes of Lena in present tense from start to finish. Pandemonium was all Lena, all present tense but in two time frames, Then and Now in alternating chapters. In Requiem, it is all present tense again, back to just the one time frame, but this time seen through the eyes of Lena and Hana, again in alternating chapters.

It does not spoil the story to say that the free thinkers of The Wilds have their chapters, the cured of Zombieland have their chapters and, as time goes on, we know that the two will somehow meet towards the end. Lena’s internal struggles and Hana’s surprising development let us know that not all is black and white in either world.

An excellent read and the first trilogy I’ve finished since Lord Of The Rings, back in the 1970s. For those now doing age calculations and wondering why this trilogy is aimed at a YA audience, I can announce that adults will enjoy all three books but will have to look for over 18 content elsewhere.

Lauren Oliver is now one of my favourite authors but I need a break so will choose someone else to read before coming back to her one-off novels.

Those Who Are Loved – Victoria Hislop

I so wanted to like this novel after enjoying, especially, The Island and The Sunrise by the same author. To my horror I nearly ditched the book on reaching forty percent of the way through, on my Kindle. Up until then I felt as claustrophobic as the characters (who hated each other) seemed to be, locked up in a small apartment with the only escape seeming to be the main character visiting a friend to do homework together. The story up until then seemed to be that they had different politics (as did most of Greece) and were continually arguing (as was most of Greece). I got the fact that Greece was in turmoil and was being represented by the family but, forty percent of a book to get that point across seemed excessive.

My wife, who’d already read the book, persuaded me to keep going, informing me that a story did actually start, after the point I’d reached. I found it a hard slog though to get to the end. Whereas in the two novels of Victoria Hislop’s mentioned above, there was an interesting and dramatic story with some historical facts added to keep the reader’s interest, this novel seemed to me to be a history lesson with the small parts of a story added to try and make it less dry. Perhaps the author took too much of a bite out of the timeline, researched masses of historical facts and had little space left for a story.

The premise is that the lead character, an Athens, Greek grandmother, is visited by grandchildren and offloads her personal history onto them as she has always been seen as just a normal grandmother, but she feels there are things they need to know. She then takes up the rest of the novel recounting her story, or recounting the history of Greece if, like me, that is the way you see the book.

Strangely, and amazingly, as Themis recounts her story, we sometimes get the story from other people’s point of view. Which is, of course, impossible.

I guess, if you are looking for an understanding of the history of Greece, through occupation, dictatorship and civil war then this would be a good way to learn and the story might not get in the way. However, if you have enjoyed, for instance The Sunrise, enjoyed the action of the story, and the fact that you learned something of the history of Cyprus along the way, then this novel would, in my opinion, not be for you.