Saturday, 11 January 2020

Review - Million Eyes by CR Berry


How do you fight an enemy who has a million eyes?

What if we’re living in an alternate timeline? What if the car crash that killed Princess Diana, the disappearance of the Princes in the Tower, and the shooting of King William II weren’t supposed to happen?

Ex-history teacher Gregory Ferro finds evidence that a cabal of time travellers is responsible for several key events in our history. These events all seem to hinge on a dry textbook published in 1995, referenced in a history book written in 1977 and mentioned in a letter to Edward III in 1348.

Ferro teams up with down-on-her-luck graduate Jennifer Larson to get to the truth and discover the relevance of a book that seems to defy the arrow of time. But the time travellers are watching closely. Soon the duo are targeted by assassins willing to rewrite history to bury them.

Million Eyes is a fast-paced conspiracy thriller about power, corruption and destiny.


CR Berry caught the writing bug at the tender age of four and has never recovered. His earliest stories were filled with witches, monsters, evil headteachers, Disney characters and the occasional Dalek. He realised pretty quickly that his favourite characters were usually the villains. He wonders if that’s what led him to become a criminal lawyer. It’s certainly why he’s taken to writing conspiracy thrillers, where the baddies are numerous and everywhere.

After a few years getting a more rounded view of human nature’s darker side, he quit lawyering and turned to writing full-time. He now works as a freelance copywriter and novelist and blogs about conspiracy theories, time travel and otherworldly weirdness.

He was shortlisted in the 2018 Grindstone Literary International Novel Competition and has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Storgy, Dark Tales, Theme of Absence and Suspense Magazine. He was also shortlisted in the Aeon Award Contest, highly commended by Writers’ Forum, and won second prize in the inaugural To Hull and Back Humorous Short Story Competition.

He grew up in Farnborough, Hampshire, a town he says has as much character as a broccoli. He’s since moved to the “much more interesting and charming” Haslemere in Surrey.


One of my all-time favourite stories by that titan of SF, Ursula K Le Guin, also deals with timelines and alternative realities. That novel is called The Lathe of Heaven. Its hero labours under his ability to alter reality in his dreams and outwit those who would manipulate his talent for their own nefarious ends. Small wonder then, that I was drawn to Million Eyes by CR Berry.

Million Eyes adopts a similar conceit: an all-powerful tech company manipulates British history in order to protect its own business and thereby precipitate world domination (I trust the reference to Le Guin will please the author!). It does this via a remarkable book masquerading as a dull railway timetabling textbook. I feel this is the novel's great strength. Crucially, the 'impossible book' and its true purpose is revealed slowly.

Cleverly, Berry blends fictional characters and real people, tapping into the obsessive reverence in which notable royals are still held. Berry has created a well-paced and researched novel that convinces in its adherence to its own rules of time travel - a difficult feat in Speculative Fiction where world-building is key.

If the villains are a tad one-dimensional in their Machiavellian wickedness, then the heroes - and there's a few of them are agreeably flawed and complex and above all relatable. the eventual fate of Jennifer Larson will break your heart, but in the best way. With our TVs and streaming services awash with series and films about royalty, the plot strand in Million Eyes involving British royalty will appeal to many even as it repels a few. Along with the 'impossible book' this is the novel's great strength. Why are we so fascinated by royalty? It is perhaps because we can only ever speculate about who they truly are. They remain essentially mysterious. I also loved the appearance of London itself as a character, particularly in the final act.


Monday, 4 November 2019

Film Review: Bus Stop

Bus Stop is the perfect example of the short film as exquisite gem: Two people out late at night in London have an encounter. We think, because it's London, because it's late at night, that this will be tense, violent even but then our expectations are turned on their heads. Don’t you love it when that happens?

It’s a masterclass in restraint: the shadowy bus stop, the antagonism-below-the-surface mood of the capital at night, but especially the performances by Vanessa Bailey and Matthew Jure. The bleakness of their spirits seems to have seeped into their environment - or vice versa. Yet, despite this, the characters connect; a few words are exchanged and the world seems a friendlier place.

If you know Vanessa Bailey's last film Seeing Him at all, you will know that there is a core of profound emotion at the heart of her work. That's the beauty of short film, it can pack a punch in a way that is sometimes dissipated in a longer piece.

Check out the Facebook page for the film here: Bus Stop

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Review: Charles and Ada - The Computer's Most Passionate Partnership by James Essinger

Every now and then on the internet, usually Facebook, screenwriters post about unsung figures from history who deserve a biopic. Ada Lovelace is always mentioned in this context. It was this connection that first intrigued me when this book about Charles Babbage and Ada Lovelace became available for review. It is clearly a passion project for the author James Essinger, who has written before about Ada and also about the Jacquard loom, an invention that was the inspiration for the machines that Babbage created. If you're interested in Jacquard looms, check out the videos on YouTube. Most illuminating.

That's the great thing about Babbage and Lovelace; what they were discussing in the 1800s has a direct connection to the devices we take so much for granted today. This, of course, is not startling. Babbage's Difference and Analytical Engines are a matter of fact. What Essinger's book seeks to do is to throw light upon the nature of Babbage and Lovelace's friendship and to thankfully rehabilitate Lovelace's reputation from being a mere sidenote in history.

Babbage was, by all accounts, somewhat difficult in character; not surprising when you think that he didn't enjoy a close re;ationship with his father (though he did with his mother) and lost a beloved wife and daughter at a young age. He was a wealthy man and so had the distractions of his machines and a sparkling London social life.

Ada Lovelace as Lord Byron's daughter might well have been expected to lead a traditionally genteel life, marry well and live down her errant father's madness and badness but instead she annoyed her mother by pursuing an interest in flight and mathematics, and by collaborating with Babbage who was many years her senior. She was an educated woman who translated a paper by Menabrea and included extensive notes on Babbage's Analytical Engine. She was in many ways an interpreter of Babbage's work and once offered to act as a kind of agent to get his machines finished, as Babbage had failed to secure governemnt funding due to his intractable nature. It's stunning to think where we might be now, had computer science advanced dramatically at the time.

It's a fascinating story, extensively researched by the author who quotes from many extant letters. As he admits, we can only guess at anything other than professional collaboration between the wealthy would-be engineer and the aristocratic lady. Their close and fond friendship was the springboard for much intellectual and influential thought.

The author's style of writing is very interesting; he seems to be channelling the prose style of the age, which at first irritated me but after a while I came to enjoy it. It was as if Essinger was looking over Charles and Ada's shoulders as they wrote to each other. Surely a biopic of their friendship cannot be far away...

Buy the book here.

Author Bio:
James Essinger was born in Leicester in 1957 and has lived in Canterbury in Kent since 1986. He was educated at Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys, Leicester, and at Lincoln College, Oxford, where he read English Language and Literature. He spent much of his time between 1981 and 1983 teaching English in Finland before working in public relations in London and then in Canterbury. Since 1988, James has been a professional writer.

His non-fiction books include Jacquard's Web (2004), Ada’s Algorithm (2013), which is to be filmed by Monumental Pictures, and Charles and Ada: the computer’s most passionate partnership (2019) His novels include The Mating Game (2016) with Jovanka Houska, the film rights of which have been optioned, Rollercoaster (2019) and The Ada Lovelace Project (forthcoming in 2020).

Sunday, 6 October 2019

REVIEW: Rocliffe Notes: A Guide To Low-Budget Filmmaking by Farah Abushwesha

I first had the pleasure of meeting Farah when she hosted the Bafta Rocliffe writing showcases, so it is with even greater pleasure that I now review her latest book.

As with her previous book, A Professional Approach For Screenwriters and Writer-Directors, it is a fount of practical advice and good sense from a practitioner who has had the experience of low-budget filmmaking. Not only that, the book has handy templates for all sorts of schedules and contracts allied with straightforward analyses of all legal and contractual obligations.

Filmmaking on any budget is complex but this book demystifies the process. What I liked best were the contributions from such luminaries as Sean Baker and Sarah Gavron (to name but two), who give the reader the benefit of their positive and negative experiences. Advice on literally EVERYTHING from funding to how to hook an industry pro at Cannes is covered.

What was certainly brought home to me was the sheer investment of time that the filmmaker must make into their project. You'd better love what you do. At the end of every chapter is a set of tips that recap on the complexities - especially useful. The layout of the book is very approachable, making it perfect to dip into for particular info, or it's perfect to read as a whole - essential for anyone contemplating the cinematic life, because that's what it is.

Sunday, 15 September 2019

Review of Chidren of Sinai by Shelley Clarke

What I really enjoyed about this novel was its epic scope, in terms of the character arcs, the geography and the themes. Jen and John and their twin daughters Hannah and Holly suffer a bereavement. The discovery of a secret cache of photos and documents opens up a whole new world where decisions made in the past have dramatic ramifications for the future, not just for Jen, John and their girls but for all humanity.

The uncanny is foregrounded in the twins' use of their own secret language. Thius the quotidian is gradually transformed by John's discovery of his own twin and the significance of all the seemingly ordinary aspects of his life: his best friend's bad relationship with his father; John's origins in the Middle East and the vagaries of research into immunity...

Clarke blends different timelines, biblical allegory and modern-day political tensions to create a world that would not look out of place in the latest Dan Brown blockbuster. I trust this does not displease the author. Highly visual, this seems like a story for the big screen.

I must say that the beginning of the novel, showing us Jen and John and their seemingly perfect lives and careers almost irritated me. I couldn't wait for their call to action! Boasting conspiracy storylines, hissable villains, tested loyalties and betrayals, there's plenty to get your teeth into here. I was worried that the women might be relegated to accessories here but no, they are as active as the men, thankfully. The use of dreams was genius, I thought, and the ending pleasingly bleak with a hint of redemption.

Buy Chidren of Sinai here.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

REVIEW: More Than a Game by Ralph Robb

I wanted to read this book because it's set in the West Midlands where I grew up. It's set in an era (the 70s) which certainly defined me as a teenager, there the conicidences end for it is the story of a male black football team and I am a female white writer but the power of nostalgia being what it is, I could not resist.

The beautiful game is central to the characters' lives. Based on a realk-life team: the Sabina Park Rangers trained in a Wolverhampton defined by the National Front, racist attacks by skinheads and the police, it is a unifying factor in a black community struggling not to be stereotyped as inherently criminal. Even so, everyone's looking to make a bit of extra money, so when one of the local Asian shopkeepers hatches a brilliant scheme for importing coffins, the word soon spreads and people invest in the plan with the promise of double their money when the coffins actually arrive. With the match approaching, many of the team see that and the promised money as being life-changing events. One, Mark, a once-great football player, naively hopes that he can escape his mapped-out life and run off with his lover, who is in turn planning to scam the local pools winner, who thinks he's God's gift to all women... Like a bizarre 'La Ronde' everyone is connected to each other, the get-rich-quick scheme and of course, the match.

Its fair to say that the scheme doesn't turn out as planned. Neither does the match for that matter but you'll find no spoilers here. Suffice to say that lives do change - not always for the better. There are many flashes of humour throughout the story, thank goodness, else the racism and sexism would be hard to stomach. It has to be said that women are pretty sidelined here: dutiful wives, suffering mothers, drugged-up sisters and scheming whores for the most part. But I guess that's the point - this was the 70s. Feminism took its sweet time reaching the working-class cities. It was a time when women defined themselves by the men they were with. But then, nothing is quite as it seems in this story. As cross and double-cross emerges - including a young Asian man kidnapped as a slave who later dresses as a woman to pursuade his Jamiacan captor to release him, Robb manages to give his homophobic, sexist characters soem humanity, whcich makes them highly relatable.

I think it would make a great film. From the period setting and the universality of a story about sport to the interest and emergence of stories about Britain's immigrant communities and especially the Jamaican diaspora. That's the great thing about living in the era that we do. We can now hear stories that enhance and redefine the history we think we know.

More Than a Game by Ralph Robb

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Review: How NOT To Write Female Characters by Lucy V. Hay

Female characters. When fifty per cent of your potential target audience is female, if you’re not writing them in your screenplay or novel? You’re making a BIG mistake!

But how should you approach your female characters? That’s the million-dollar question … After all, women in real life are complex, varied and flawed. Knowing where to start in creating three dimensional female characters for your story is extremely difficult.

So … perhaps it’s easier to figure out how NOT to write female characters?

Script editor, novelist and owner of the UK’s top screenwriting blog, Lucy V Hay has spent the last fifteen years reading the slush pile. She has learned to spot the patterns, pitfalls and general mistakes writers make when writing female characters – and why.

In How Not To Write Female Characters, Lucy outlines:

•WHO your character is & how to avoid “classic” traps and pitfalls
•WHAT mistakes writers typically make with female characters
•WHERE you can find great female characters in produced and published content
•WHEN to let go of gender politics and agendas
•WHY female characters are more important than ever

Lucy is on a mission to improve your writing, as well as enable diverse voices and characters to rise to the top of the spec pile.


'A timely guide to creating original characters and reinvigorating tired storylines. '
- Debbie Moon, creator and showrunner, Wolfblood (BBC)

'Lucy V. Hay nails it'
- Stephen Volk, BAFTA-winning screenwriter: Ghostwatch, Afterlife, The Awakening

'Packed with practical and inspirational insights'
- Karol Griffiths, development consultant and script editor, clients include ITV, BBC, Warner Brothers

'A top-notch, cutting-edge guide to writing and selling, not just practical but inspirational. Lucy's distinctive voice infuses the entire journey. Quite brilliant. Here's the woman who'll help you make things happen.'
- Barbara Machin, award-winning writer & creator of Waking the Dead

'Delivers the stirring call to arms that writers must not only write, but take their work to the next level themselves, making sacrifices and taking risks if they want to see their stories on screen.'
- Chris Jones, Filmmaker, Screenwriter & Creative Director at the London Screenwriters Festival

‘Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays is a must-read for any writer, producer or director looking to create (or in the process of creating) a thriller production. It could also be immensely useful for those generally curious about the genre or looking to learn more.’ - Film Doctor

‘Lucy V Hay explains what a script reader and editor's role in filmmaking, tells you to work on your concepts and that dialogue is the last thing to work on in her new book.’ - Brit Flicks

Author Bio –
Lucy V. Hay is an author, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. Lucy is the producer of two Brit Thrillers, DEVIATION (2012) and ASSASSIN (2015), as well as the script editor and advisor on numerous other features and shorts. Lucy's also the author of WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS for Kamera Books' "Creative Essentials" range, as well as its follow ups on DRAMA SCREENPLAYS and DIVERSE CHARACTERS.

Check out her site here: Bang2Write

My Review

Let me declare an interest here – Lucy is an old and dear friend, so it is my absolute pleasure to champion her no-nonsense approach to the delicate art of how NOT to write female characters. This book is perfect for the writer (of any gender) who, like me, is tired of the same-old, same-old characterisation when it comes to females in film - or even their marked absence. You know how it goes: the men get all the action while the women, more often than not, sit by the phone and wait for news of husbands/sons/lovers/brothers etc. YAWN.

As shows like Killing Eve and Fleabag show, there is a hunger from EVERYONE to see interesting and diverse female characters on screen. The key, as Lucy so rightly says, is COMPLEXITY. Forget the Bechdel Test, it’s the Mako Mori test we want to be embracing in our watching and our writing from now on.

The odd thing is that the way women are described in film is almost unconscious – inevitably they’re ‘beautiful’, but most female actors are, so why bother mentioning it unless you’re going to do the same for the male actors? You can see some real howlers on the internet: ‘sexy but doesn’t know it’, for example.

The book is well-paced and practical – with a refreshing lack of jargon and over-intellectualising. It’s also very well contextualised, taking in femcrit and the resistance to the idea of diversity in female characters. It not only highlights the pitfalls of clich├ęd female characterisation but also gives the writer plenty of fresh new ways to look at the way they write and come up with exciting different characters that everyone wants to watch. Lucy’s famous for smack talk about structure. I have a feeling she’s going to ruffle a few feathers with how not to write about female characters as well, and a good thing too.