Sep 28, 2011

Review: Ghost Story

I'm a huge Dresden Files fan, but I buck the trend in that the twelfth book, Changes, didn't really do much for me by comparison to the previous eleven books. Still, the ending left me desperate to find out how Harry's story continued and what was going to happen to the characters I've spent the last several years coming to love. It was with no small amount of trepidation that I cracked open the first page of the latest in the series, Ghost Story.

The following review contains some spoilery details, particularly about the end of Changes and the set-up for Ghost Story.

Score: 3 out of 5

Sep 26, 2011

Catching Up

I've been horribly lazy the last few days and fallen behind on my blog-reading. I apologise for that. I've even been spending my time playing Deus Ex: Human Revolution instead of writing. It's actually been nice to have a break and relax a bit. It also helps that Human Revolution is fantastic, evoking all the cyberpunk dystopian appeal of the original and delivering it in an updated package. So long as you can get past the fact that Adam Jensen is trying with all his cyber-augmented might to be Clint Eastwood, it's a gem of a game.

In other news, I got my eyes tested on Saturday and, yep, it looks like the headaches I've been suffering from for a long time were caused by eye strain. I spend my working day at a computer and then I'm on my desktop or netbook at home. I could easily rack up 12 hours a day on a computer during the week. So I've got my glasses, to be used when reading or working at a computer, and my bank account is looking a bit green around the gills, but if it means I won't have headaches once I've gotten used to them, it'll be worth it.

My game plan, now that I'm armed with my new glasses, is to get back into writing Nightfall this week. I'm not sure exactly how long the first draft will be, but I can cross that river when I come to it. It's the first part of a trilogy, so I may keep writing and finish it once the first book is done, but I'm unsure about the wisdom in setting out to query a second series while still getting my first off the ground. We'll see how it goes.

I haven't been cooking much, which is why there's been a lack of recipe posts. My wife has taken over the kitchen since the remodelling was done. She might let me cook for her birthday in November, if I'm lucky. :-)

Blog-wise, I may make a regular thing of posting up ghost stories and other such tales. It's fun research.

That's about it for today. Here's to a good week, and come back on Wednesday for my review of Ghost Story, book thirteen of The Dresden Files.

Sep 23, 2011

Ghost Story Week: The Banshee

To end off the week's stories, I thought I'd include one about what is arguably the most famous of Irish spirits: The banshee.

This text comes from Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry, a collection edited by William Butler Yeats. This story is called How Thomas Connolly Met the Banshee, written by J. Todhunter. The text is taken from Sacred Texts and repeated here without permission. If anyone wishes it to be taken down, I will do so
Aw, the banshee, sir? Well, sir, as I was striving to tell ye I was going home from work one day, from Mr. Cassidy's that I tould ye of, in the dusk o' the evening. I had more nor a mile--aye, it was nearer two mile--to thrack to, where I was lodgin' with a dacent widdy woman I knew, Biddy Maguire be name, so as to be near me work.

It was the first week in November, an' a lonesome road I had to travel, an' dark enough, wid threes above it; an' about half-ways there was a bit of a brudge I had to cross, over one o' them little sthrames that runs into the Doddher. I walked on in the middle iv the road, for there was no toe-path at that time, Misther Harry, nor for many a long day afther that; but, as I was sayin', I walked along till I come nigh upon the brudge, where the road was a bit open, an' there, right enough, I seen the hog's back o' the ould-fashioned brudge that used to be there till it was pulled down, an' a white mist steamin' up out o' the wather all around it.

Well, now, Misther Harry, often as I'd passed by the place before, that night it seemed sthrange to me, an' like a place ye might see in a dhrame; an' as I come up to it I began to feel a cowld wind blowin' through the hollow o' me heart. "Musha Thomas," sez I to meself, "is it yerself that's in it?" sez I; "or, if it is, what's the matter wid ye at all, at all?" sez I; so I put a bould face on it, an' I made a sthruggle to set one leg afore the other, ontil I came to the rise o' the brudge. And there, God be good to us! in a cantle o' the wall I seen an ould woman, as I thought, sittin' on her hunkers, all crouched together, an' her head bowed down, seemin'ly in the greatest affliction.

Well, sir, I pitied the ould craythur, an thought I wasn't worth a thraneen, for the mortial fright I was in, I up an' sez to her, "That's a cowld lodgin' for ye, ma'am." Well, the sorra ha'porth she sez to that, nor tuk no more notice o' me than if I hadn't let a word out o' me, but kep' rockin' herself to an' fro, as if her heart was breakin'; so I sez to her again, "Eh, ma'am, is there anythin' the matther wid ye?" An' I made for to touch her on the shouldher, on'y somethin' stopt me, for as I looked closer at her I saw she was no more an ould woman nor she was an ould cat. The first thing I tuk notice to, Misther Harry, was her hair, that was sthreelin' down over her showldhers, an' a good yard on the ground on aich side of her. O, be the hoky farmer, but that was the hair! The likes of it I never seen on mortial woman, young or ould, before nor sense. It grew as sthrong out of her as out of e'er a young slip of a girl ye could see; but the colour of it was a misthery to describe. The first squint I got of it I thought it was silvery grey, like an ould crone's; but when I got up beside her I saw, be the glance o' the sky, it was a soart iv an Iscariot colour, an' a shine out of it like floss silk. It ran over her showldhers and the two shapely arms she was lanin' her head on, for all the world like Mary Magdalen's in a picther; and then I persaved that the grey cloak and the green gownd undhernaith it was made of no earthly matarial I ever laid eyes on. Now, I needn't tell ye, sir, that I seen all this in the twinkle of a bed-post--long as I take to make the narration of it. So I made a step back from her, an' "The Lord be betune us an' harm!" sez I, out loud, an' wid that I blessed meself. Well, Misther Harry, the word wasn't out o' me mouth afore she turned her face on me. Aw, Misther Harry, but 'twas that was the awfullest apparation ever I seen, the face of her as she looked up at me! God forgive me for sayin' it, but 'twas more like the face of the "Axy Homo" beyand in Marlboro Sthreet Chapel nor like any face I could mintion--as pale as a corpse, an' a most o' freckles on it, like the freckles on a turkey's egg; an' the two eyes sewn in wid thread, from the terrible power o' crying the' had to do; an' such a pair iv eyes as the' wor, Misther Harry, as blue as two forget-me-nots, an' as cowld as the moon in a bog-hole of a frosty night, an' a dead-an'-live look in them that sent a cowld shiver through the marra o' me bones. Be the mortial! ye could ha' rung a tay cupful o' cowld paspiration out o' the hair o' me head that minute, so ye could. Well, I thought the life 'ud lave me intirely when she riz up from her hunkers, till, bedad! she looked mostly as tall as Nelson's Pillar; an' wid the two eyes gazin' back at me, an' her two arms stretched out before hor, an' a keine out of her that riz the hair o' me scalp till it was as stiff as the hog's bristles in a new hearth broom, away she glides--glides round the angle o' the brudge, an' down with her into the sthrame that ran undhernaith it. 'Twas then I began to suspect what she was. "Wisha, Thomas!" says I to meself, sez I; an' I made a great struggle to get me two legs into a throt, in spite o' the spavin o' fright the pair o' them wor in; an' how I brought meself home that same night the Lord in heaven only knows, for I never could tell; but I must ha' tumbled agin the door, and shot in head foremost into the middle o' the flure, where I lay in a dead swoon for mostly an hour; and the first I knew was Mrs. Maguire stannin' over me with a jorum o' punch she was pourin' down me throath (throat), to bring back the life into me, an' me head in a pool of cowld wather she dashed over me in her first fright. "Arrah, Mister Connolly," shashee, "what ails ye?" shashee, "to put the scare on a lone woman like that?" shashee. "Am I in this world or the next?" sez I. "Musha! where else would ye be on'y here in my kitchen?" shashee. "O, glory be to God!" sez I, "but I thought I was in Purgathory at the laste, not to mintion an uglier place," sez I, "only it's too cowld I find meself, an' not too hot," sez I. "Faix, an' maybe ye wor more nor half-ways there, on'y for me, shashee; "but what's come to you at all, at all? Is it your fetch ye seen, Mister Connolly?" "Aw, naboclish!" sez I. "Never mind what I seen," sez I. So be degrees I began to come to a little; an' that's the way I met the banshee, Misther Harry!

"But how did you know it really was the banshee after all, Thomas?"

"Begor, sir, I knew the apparation of her well enough; but 'twas confirmed by a sarcumstance that occurred the same time. There was a Misther O'Nales was come on a visit, ye must know, to a place in the neighbourhood--one o' the ould O'Nales iv the county Tyrone, a rale ould Irish family--an' the banshee was heard keening round the house that same night, be more then one that was in it; an' sure enough, Misther Harry, he was found dead in his bed the next mornin'. So if it wasn't the banshee I seen that time, I'd like to know what else it could a' been."

Sep 21, 2011

Ghost Story Week: True Irish Ghost Stories

Today's story is an excerpt from True Irish Ghost Stories by St. John D. Seymour, made available for free through Project Gutenberg:

"My first encounter with a ghost occurred about twenty years ago. On that occasion I was standing in the kitchen of my house in —— Square, when a woman, whom I was afterwards to see many times, walked down the stairs into the room. Having heard the footsteps outside, I was not in the least perturbed, but turned to look who it was, and found myself looking at a tall, stout, elderly woman, wearing a bonnet and old-fashioned mantle. She had grey hair, and a benign and amiable expression. We stood gazing at each other while one could count twenty. At first I was not at all frightened, but gradually as I stood looking at her an uncomfortable feeling, increasing to terror, came over me. This caused me to retreat farther and farther back, until I had my back against the wall, and then the apparition slowly faded.

"This feeling of terror, due perhaps to the unexpectedness of her appearance, always overcame me on the subsequent occasions on which I saw her. These occasions numbered twelve or fifteen, and I have seen her in every room in the house, and at every hour of the day, during a period of about ten years. The last time she appeared was ten years ago. My husband and I had just returned from a concert at which he had been singing, and we sat for some time over supper, talking about the events of the evening. When at last I rose to leave the room, and opened the dining-room door, I found my old lady standing on the mat outside with her head bent towards the door in the attitude of listening. I called out loudly, and my husband rushed to my side. That was the last time I have seen her."

"One peculiarity of this spectral visitant was a strong objection to disorder or untidyness of any kind, or even to an alteration in the general routine of the house. For instance, she showed her disapproval of any stranger coming to sleep by turning the chairs face downwards on the floor in the room they were to occupy. I well remember one of our guests, having gone to his room one evening for something he had forgotten, remarking on coming downstairs again, 'Well, you people have an extraordinary manner of arranging your furniture! I have nearly broken my bones over one of the bedroom chairs which was turned down on the floor.' As my husband and I had restored that chair twice already to its proper position during the day, we were not much surprised at his remarks, although we did not enlighten him. The whole family have been disturbed by a peculiar knocking which occurred in various rooms in the house, frequently on the door or wall, but sometimes on the furniture, quite close to where we had been sitting. This was evidently loud enough to be heard in the next house, for our next-door neighbour once asked my husband why he selected such curious hours for hanging his pictures. Another strange and fairly frequent occurrence was the following. I had got a set of skunk furs which I fancied had an unpleasant odour, as this fur sometimes has; and at night I used to take it from my wardrobe and lay it on a chair in the drawing-room, which was next my bedroom. The first time that I did this, on going to the drawing-room I found, to my surprise, my muff in one corner and my stole in another. Not for a moment suspecting a supernatural agent, I asked my servant about it, and she assured me that she had not been in the room that morning. Whereupon I determined to test the matter, which I did by putting in the furs late at night, and taking care that I was the first to enter the room in the morning. I invariably found that they had been disturbed."

Sep 19, 2011

Ghost Story Week: Lord Tyrone and Lady Beresford

This week I thought I'd serve up a selection of stories about ghosts and supernatural creatures from around Ireland.

This first one is considered one of Ireland's most famous ghost stories, that of Lord Tyrone and Lady Beresford. The following text is taken from, used without permission. If anyone from this website wishes me to remove the text, I will do so. The original text can be found here.

Lord Tyrone was born John Le Poer and Lady Beresford, Nichola Sophia Hamilton. The two were orphans reared by an unbelieving (atheist) guardian who constantly tried to convert them to his atheist views. Because of this the two made a vow to each other that whoever died first would reappear to the other in order to prove that there was life after death.

In the course of time Nichola married Sir Tristam Bereford , the eldest son of Richard, Earl ofTyrone, and of Lady Dorothy Annesley, daughter of Arthur, Earl ofAnglesey. One night she awoke terrified to see her foster-brother standing next to her bed. He told her to be quiet, and said he had just died, consequently reminding her of the vow they had made years ago. He advised her of some future events, one which was the coming death of her husband and subsequent remarrying. he told her she would have four children and that following the birth of her last, she too would die on the day she turned forty seven.

Lady Beresford sought confirmation that her brother's appearance was real and not a dream. At this Lord Tyrone grabbed her by the wrist, and it immediately shrank and withered. This deformity remained with her for the rest of her life, covered by a black silk ribbon she wore to conceal it.
Lord Tyrone's predictions all came to pass with the exception of her death at forty seven. On her forty eigth birthday, Lady Beresford decided to celebrate with a few friends, including a clergyman who was an old family friend.

"I am 48 today" she exclaimed. To her dismay the clergyman replied, "No my dear, you are only 47."

Lady Beresford was shaken. "Are you sure?" she asked.

The clergyman assured her he was as he had been looking at the register only days before.
"Then you have signed my death warrant!" she cried. She retired to her room, made out her will and died later that night.

Sep 16, 2011

Not Burned Out

But close. I've been doing it again. Too much time wasted stressing about one thing or another, not enough time just enjoying what I do. Granted, it's been a pretty crappy two weeks. We've had kitchen remodelling, damp issues and resulting drywall damage, game nights cancelled, migraines, worrying about what my beta readers think of my new book. It's all been a bit, well, crap.

On the plus side, the new kitchen is great and so easy for Jen to use with just a regular office chair on wheels. We've also settled on trading in our car for a 2nd-hand Daihatsu Terios, since we figure having 4-wheel drive in the winters we've been getting lately is big and clever.

I need to start doing a few more things for fun. Reading more, for a start. Taking the time to enjoy working on my new WIPs instead of thinking I have to get them written as soon as possible, that's a biggie. I've spread out the last of my annual leave so that I have at least a 4-day weekend in every month for the rest of the year. I think there will definitely be some all-day writing going on, but also maybe the odd all-day cinema trip or something.

Something Jody Hedlund actually pointed out to me today was that, given everything that's happened, I've likely spent many days just sitting down and telling myself to write, no matter how I was feeling. It's easy to lose that sense of joy in doing something when you're telling your brain that it doesn't matter how you feel, you're going to do this anyway.

I love my writing, I really do. But I've got two novels written, one of which is out in 2012 and the other which I don't have to think about querying until some time after the New Year. I think it's time I made sure writing was fun again.

Sep 14, 2011

Beta Reading

A topic for discussion today. What's the best time to send a newly-written manuscript to your beta readers?

I tend to send off very raw drafts. There'll already be a number of things I want to change and correct, which I'll delay, by the time I send a draft to my betas. I think I do this because my mind is still at a stage of being aware that changes are needed, so I'm more open to criticism. I worry that if I think a draft is really good before I send it, I might not be as receptive to comments.

But am I making things more difficult for my beta readers in doing this? Is it worth their time to be going over the parts I already have marked for change, or is it good to get as broad an opinion on those areas to have a better idea of how to change them? Generally I like to get as many opinions as I can and weigh up the options before deciding what course to take.

Should a writer send out a rough first draft to be picked apart, or is it better to work in private, or with a smaller number of crit partners, and send out something much more polished, so that there's a chance any changes after the beta stage will be minor, but taking the risk that they'll have put a lot of work into something that has serious issues not spotted even by their crit partners?

Sep 12, 2011

10 Years Ago

Yesterday was the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States. My wife had spent time with a number of cops and firefighters several years previous while in New York with her wheelchair sports team. They had been acting as chaperones for the group. Some of the firefighters she knew were among those who gave their lives doing their duty that day.

Yesterday our son, Conor, would have been two months old.

Life is filled with the greatest of sorrows and the most private of tragedies. These cannot be avoided. I believe that happiness comes not from living a life without pain, but from enduring that pain and surviving. Becoming stronger because you have faced hardship and seen the light that comes after. Even when we've suffered the worst we thought we could stand, we owe it to ourselves and those we have lost to carry on and find beauty in our lives.

Some events change the whole world. Others just change our own. I didn't lose anyone on September 11th, but I have watched those that did. I have seen a city, one of my favourite cities in the world, rebuild and watched its people find strength from rebuilding together.

Now, I've got some editing to do, and more books to write.

Sep 9, 2011

Getting Back To Normal

It's been a hectic week. At the start of it I finished the first draft of Silent Oath and sent it off to my beta readers. I figured on taking a few days to relax before getting to work on Nightfall, my YA novel. It hasn't been such a relaxing week.

We had work start on re-modelling our kitchen so my wife can more easily make use of it, which revealed long-standing damp issues in one wall. Repairing the damage and solving the damp issue added another day onto the job and was a hit to the wallet as well. We've been without a kitchen since Wednesday morning. Bozes and packing crates are in every other room. It's been a tad stressful.

But tonight the job will be done. We can reclaim our rooms and go make a proper cup of coffee without filling the kettle from the stand pipe in the garden. We can finally chill out again once this is done.

And then, after my "week off" is over, I can get back to writing Nightfall.

Sep 7, 2011

Setting Goals

The first few tentative comments on Silent Oath are coming back from my betas. So far my wife has decided I need to be beaten with pens and poked in the stomach for my spelling errors. This is what I get for sending out such a raw copy. I admit I did leave in some issues that I know need to be addressed, like spellchecking and retro-fitting a name change I decided on in chapter 8.

It's a time of the year full of new starts. Kids are starting school. Students are getting ready to go to college. It's a good time to be setting goals.

With the first draft of Silent Oath completed I can start to spend more time reading, which is something I really need to do. I've also decided that I want to have both Silent Oath and Nightfall completed and edited, ready for querying, by Christmas.

Granted I won't actually be querying Silent Oath that soon, but I do want to get Nightfall out there as soon as possible, and it makes a good deadline for both books. I need to try and get another 65,000 words written on Nightfall. So if I can manage roughly 20,000 words a month, I should be just about on-target.

What about you? What goals are you setting yourselves these days?

Sep 5, 2011

First Draft

Last night, despite battling netbook issues and suffering most of the day with a migraine, I typed the closing words on the first draft of my WIP, Silent Oath.

For those who don't know, Silent Oath is the sequel to my first novel. I'm sure I'll change the title later but despite how hard I find it to come up with good titles, I find I can't get into a new book until I've given it at least a temporary name. It has been a fun book to write. I really enjoyed getting back into the characters' heads and telling the story of how they'd grown since I'd last had them in my head.

The draft has been sent on to my amazing team of beta readers so I'm going to try not to think about all the little mistakes I've probably made. The thing is, while I should probably just relax and spend some time not writing, I know it'll probably be tomorrow at the latest before I'm chomping at the bit to write again. I'm glad I still have Nightfall to work on.

Do any of you find it hard to sit still once you've completed a first draft? How do you handle the wait until you start doing edits?

Sep 1, 2011

Being Too Concise

 I'm making my Friday blog post a day early because I won't be at a computer much tomorrow. We've got an appointment at the hospital to get Conor's test results back to see if they can tell us exactly what went wrong. Then in the evening we're going to a friend's wedding.

Sometimes I feel like I'm too concise in my writing. While the standard word count for an urban fantasy, whether adult or YA, is about 80,000 words, my final count for a first draft seems be staying around the 70,000 mark. I see other authors seemingly able to rattle off their drafts. Their big issue is working out what to take out to bring their ms down to a more manageable word count before querying, while more established authors get to publish ever-thicker novels.

My work is too long to be a novella, and for most non-fantasy fiction it's actually an appropriate length. It's just specifically urban fantasy that seems to be stuck with the flat word count target of 80,000.

Am I doing something wrong? Is there a danger that I'm getting to the point too quickly, or not filling my work with enough world-building, characterisation, or just plain old padding? Is it ever okay to pad out a work when you need an extra 5,000 words?