Thursday, 3 September 2020

REVIEW: 365 DAYS OF GRATITUDE by Mariëlle S. Smith


'Gratitude is the wine for the soul. Go on. Get drunk.' Rumi

Being grateful is easy...

...when everything goes according to plan.

But how do you keep it no matter what life throws at you?

Enter 365 Days of Gratitude, the undated daily journal that will help you stay on track. 

After years of barely surviving her own emotional minefield, writing coach Mariëlle S. Smith discovered the transformative power of practising gratitude. But, like no one else, she knows that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is easier said than done.

Complete with inspiring quotes, daily prompts, and recurring check-ins, the 365 Days of Gratitude Journal encourages you to create a sustainable gratitude practice too.

Ready to commit to the life-changing power of gratitude? Order your copy of the 365 Days of Gratitude Journal now. 


Get 50% off the printable PDF until 6th September 2020 with the discount code - HAPPYLAUNCH



My Review:

As someone who has kept a gratitude journal following a bereavement, I very much appreciated the structure and layout of this one. For once I didn't want to punch the screen at the inspirational quotes. My personal fave was the one about the glass half-empty or half-full - just be glad you have a glass. I can certainly relate to that.

I also liked the undated nature of it, meaning you can start it anytime with no pressure - the last thing we need in these strange times. I could see it being useful as part of a course of cognitive behavioural therapy as it charts progress with scores.

Above all it's actionable, meaning that change can be effected. I think it also makes you think deeply about the things in your life that matter the most. For me, it's always other people and their kindness. And in the time of Covid that is truly something to be grateful for.

Author Bio:

Mariëlle S. Smith is a coach for writers and other creatives, an editor and a (ghost) writer. In early 2019 she moved to Cyprus, an island in the Mediterranean sea, where she organises writers' retreats, is inspired 24/7 and feeds more stray cats than she can count.





Saturday, 29 August 2020

REVIEW: My Travels with a Dead Man by Steve Searls


Jane Takako Wolfsheim learns she can alter time and space after meeting a charismatic stranger named Jorge Luis Borges.

Inextricably she falls for Borges. Soon, however Borges’ lies and emotional abuse, and nightmares about a demonic figure, “the man in black”, nearly drive Jane mad. After her parents are murdered, Jane flees with Borges. Both the ghost of haiku master, Basho, and the Daibutsu of Kamakura, a statue of Buddha that appears in her dreams, offer her cryptic advice. Unable to trust anyone, Jane must find the strength to save herself, her unborn child, and possibly the future of humanity.

MY REVIEW: This story was initially quite baffling but drew me in as I read. What I found most gratifying was the heroine's gradual self-awareness as she navigates her strange life and comes to discover her gift. That she is of Japanese extraction only added to the story. I came to see the world through her eyes rather than a Western-centric world-view, which is always refreshing.

The playing with identities and slippage from one reality to the next was Lynchian in its scope. It was hallucinatory and sometimes objectifying of the heroine, Jane, but not in a way that felt gratuitous. In many ways it put me in mind of Aboriginal concepts of 'The Dreaming' and how this world is an illusion. Dreams do indeed have power.

The haiku master, Basho, is her mentor and his poetic asides add a uniquely Japanese flavour to the story as do the musings of the Daibutsu. Both of these characters give the reader a mythic and highly nuanced understanding of the many worlds that Jane comes to inhabit.

Jane's indomitability makes you want to cheer for her. She begins the story as seemingly passive and subservient, but as time goes on, the realities imposed on her by others fall away and she is free to make her own choices. Though the story zips about in time, Jane is very much the modern woman: autonomy being the key to her deepest desire. The ending is especially satisfying.

Buy this book:

Steve Searls


Author Bio: Steve Searls retired from the practice of law in 2002 due to a rare chronic autoimmune disorder (Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Cell Associated Periodic Syndrome). He began writing poetry in 2001 and, using the pseudonym, Tara Birch, was the featured poet of Tryst Poetry Journal’s Premiere Issue. He’s also published numerous poems as Tara Birch in print and online, including the poetry chapbook, Carrots and Bleu Cheese Dip, in 2004.  

Steve was also active as a blogger posting under the name, Steven D, at Daily Kos (2005-2017), Booman Tribune (2005-2017) and caucus99percent (2016–present). Steve’s published essays on Medium include “Clara’s Miracle”, about his wife’s cancer and resulting traumatic brain injury from chemotherapy, and “My Rape Story”. Raised in Colorado, he now lives with his adult son in Western NY.  My Travels With a Dead Man is his first novel.

Follow Steve Searls:




Thursday, 27 August 2020

REVIEW: The Art of Screen Adaptation by Alistair Owen


Alistair Owen will be in conversation with Hannah Patterson at the virtual launch of The Art of Screen Adaptation on 8th Sepetember. 

How exactly do you transfer a story from the page to the screen?
Do adaptations use the same creative gears as original screenplays?

Alistair Owen puts these questions to the top names in screenwriting, including Hossein
(Drive), Jeremy Brock (The Last King of Scotland), Moira Buffini (Jane Eyre), Lucinda
(The Danish Girl), Andrew Davies (War & Peace), Christopher Hampton (Atonement), David Hare (The Hours), Olivia Hetreed (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Nick Hornby (An Education), Deborah Moggach (Pride & Prejudice), David Nicholls (Patrick Melrose) and Sarah Phelps (And Then There Were None). Exploring fiction and nonfiction projects, contemporary and classic books, films and TV series, The Art of Screen Adaptation reveals the challenges and pleasures of reimagining stories for cinema and television, and provides a frank and fascinating masterclass with the writers who have done it – and have the awards and acclaim to show for it.

My Review:

I think one of the principal pleasures of this book is the feeling that the writers are telling it like it is. They don't shy away from the difficulties of adaptation and accept that you're never going to please everyone - but also that the writer shouldn't allow that to stop them. Nor are they afraid to acknowledge the absurdities and pitfalls that bedevil the film and TV industries. The art of collaboration is after all, precisely that, an art.

There were films here that I'd seen and films that I hadn't but reading this book made me want to re-watch some and discover others. It was fascinating to me that most writers said they didn't write treatments or outlines! Which I guess is the difference between the advanced storyteller and those of us newer to the profession. We should all aspire to that clarity of vision. It was also interesting to see how classics like Great Expectations and Jane Eyre were reimagined for this generation and the fearlessness of writers in stamping their own voices on the screenplays. I particularly loved Sarah Phelps' approach in this regard.

Alistair Owen has done writers a huge service with this book. He has uncovered a commonality of experience amongst experts in the field that will hopefully serve as a blueprint for those of us contemplating adaptations as part of our portfolios. Congratulations to Creative Essentials and Oldcastle for another pertinent book on writing that is refreshingly free of jargon. This is highly accessible to writers at all stages of their careers.


Alistair Owen is the author of Smoking in Bed: Conversations with Bruce Robinson (one of David
Hare’s Books of the Year in the Guardian), Story and Character: Interviews with British
Screenwriters and Hampton on Hampton (one of Craig Raine’s Books of the Year in the Observer). He
has chaired Q&A events at the Hay Festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival and London
Screenwriters’ Festival, and his platform with Christopher Hampton in the Lyttelton Theatre to
celebrate Faber’s 75th anniversary was published in Faber Playwrights at the National
Theatre. Alistair has written original and adapted screenplays, on spec and to commission;
contributed film reviews to Time Out and film book reviews to the Independent on Sunday; and
recently completed his first novel, The Vetting Officer. His next nonfiction project is a book of
conversations with novelist, screenwriter, playwright and director William Boyd, for Penguin.

Buy the book here.

Wednesday, 26 August 2020

REVIEW: Grubane: Lost Tales of Solace by Karl Drinkwater

Major Grubane is commander of the Aurikaa, the most feared cruiser in the UFS arsenal. His crew is handpicked and fiercely loyal. Together, they have never failed a mission, and their reputation precedes them. But this time he's been sent to a key planet that is caught up in political tensions at the centre of the freedom debate. 

What he thought was a simple diplomatic mission turns out to be the hardest choice of his career. His orders: eliminate one million inhabitants of the planet, and ensure their compliance. 

Grubane has also rediscovered an ancient game called chess, and plays it against the ship AI as a form of mental training. But maybe it could be more than that as he finds himself asking questions. Can orders be reinterpreted? How many moves ahead is it possible for one man to plan? And how many players are involved in this game?  

MY REVIEW: Two things struck me about this economically told tale: the first one was the sheer scope of Grubane's universe. The second was the character of the Aurikaa's AI. 

This universe shows how essentially nothing changes in terms of warfare and dominance, for which the game of chess is both symbol and tactic. It's touching too, to see the development of the relationship bewteen the AI and Grubane, particularly its feelings for him. It recalled to me many of the ideas currently circulating in science and storytelling. Can artificial intelligence have a soul? I would say yes, on the strength of this story. 

 I also very much enjoyed the activities of the loyal crew, their names and responsibilities were intriguing. As was Grubane, the very epitome of the loneliness of command. The novella delineates all this with an economy that puts many other more verbose stories to shame. The same is also true of the dialogue between Grubane and the leaders of the planet he has been sent to dominate. Crisp and to the point, it drives the story most effectively. It keeps a good pace with no longeurs. You can't say fairer than that. 

Buy it here. 

AUTHOR BIO: Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but lived in Wales for twenty years, and now calls Scotland his home. He's a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers, and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics, and Information Science.

He writes in multiple genres: his aim is always just to tell a good story. Among his books you'll find elements of literary and contemporary fiction, gritty urban, horror, suspense, paranormal, thriller, sci-fi, romance, social commentary, and more. The end result is interesting and authentic characters, clever and compelling plots, and believable worlds.

When he isn't writing he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake, and zombies. Not necessarily in that order.


On Twitter


Sunday, 10 May 2020

Review: In Two Minds by KT Findlay

Hurled twelve hundred years into the past, into someone else’s body, things could hardly be worse. And then the body’s owner wanted it back...

'Museum curator Thomas and ten-year-old Anglo-Saxon, Wulfstan, have to cope with a fifty-year age gap, a huge culture clash and never knowing from one moment to the next who’s going to be in control.

​As they’re trying to come to terms with it all, they inadvertently antagonise Wulfstan’s father, King Offa of Mercia. The King is already frustrated with his son’s “late” development and issues the boy a challenge. Wulfstan is given just a year to find and train ten slaves who can beat the King’s own champions in a fight to the death, but there’s a twist.

When his son accepts the challenge, Offa turns the screws to make him back down and limits him to females only. In the brute strength world of Anglo-Saxon battle they surely haven’t a chance, but Thomas convinces Wulfstan that if they can find the right people, a few new ideas and enough practice might just give those women the tools to become the heroes Wulfstan so desperately needs.'

Considering the themes at play in this engrossing story, I must say that the author has done a skilful job at threading them together. Part history lesson, transcendent spiritual journey, an examination of early proto-feminism and with many digs at the corruption of the early church, this is an unusual book. I long for it to be optioned as a series.

The pace is really efficient as it covers a year in the life of young Wulfstan as he sets out to challenge the truly-hissable villain Grimketil. If the history is as accurate as it is portrayed here, then it depicts a frightening age of deprivation particularly if you were poor, female or a slave.

It's interesting to note the power that the church had over literacy, for example, and the way in which education was denied to little girls. I enjoyed all the descriptions of technology that we now take for granted. But it's the foregrounding of female experience here that wins the day, in a genre of fiction that so often privileges the male view. It's a book that wears its emancipated heart on its sleeve. I look forward to future volumes.

Buy it here
Follow the author on Twitter

Friday, 3 April 2020

REVIEW of iRemember by SV Bekvalac

'The city of iRemember shimmers in the desert haze, watched over by the Bureau, a government agency that maintains control through memory surveillance and little pink pills made from the narcotic plant Tranquelle.
It looks like an oasis under its geodesic dome, but the city is under siege. ‘Off-Gridder’ insurgents are fighting to be forgotten.
Bureau Inspector Icara Swansong is on a mission to neutralise the threat. Her investigation leads her into iRemember’s secret underbelly, where she finds herself a fugitive from the very system she had vowed to protect. She has to learn new rules: trust no one. Behind every purple Tranquelle stalk lurk double-agents.
A sci-fi noir with a psychedelic twist, iRemember explores the power the past holds over us and the fragility of everything: what is, what once was, and what will be.'

When you read a lot of sci-fi (and I do), it is supremely refreshing to come across a voice as assured and consistent as that of SV Bekvalac. The world she creates is compelling - like all the best sci-fi, it includes aspects of AI and opium-for-the-people that are easily recognisable.

It is a world that is still patriarchal but like all the best stories of rebellion, there's a lost princess at its core. The gloriously named Icara Swansong is the beating heart of this future-fable. Aided, abetted and frequently thwarted by the other characters in the book, her personal psychodrama inspires the catharsis that may - or may not - improve the lot of humankind.

I particularly liked the portrayal of our poor old planet; part dystopian Mad Max desert and Philip K Dick last-chance saloon, it seemed simultaneously all too real and just far enough distant for the reader to think 'no! we can reverse all this!'

But back to the author's voice. She writes in a clipped noir style that wastes not a single word. Her style is breathtaking, and this was the stand-out element of the book for me. It ends with a hint at a sequel. We can but hope.

Buy it at Amazon.

SV Bekvalac was born in 1987 in Croatia, in what was then Yugoslavia, but grew up in London.
She studied German and Russian at Oxford, and went to film school in Prague. After almost becoming a film-maker and then an academic, researching cities and films, she found herself writing fiction about cities instead. She started off with screenplays and short stories, but they got longer and longer. iRemember is her first novel.
She has lived in cities all over Europe. Now she lives in London, or in one of her own imaginary cities.

Follow her on Twitter.
Also @EyeAndLightning

Friday, 20 March 2020

REVIEW: Helene: Lost Tales of Solace by Karl Drinkwater

'Dr Helene Vermalle is shaping the conscience of a goddess-level AI.

As a leading civilian expert in Emergent AI Socialisation, she has been invited to assist in a secret military project.
Her role? Helping ViraUHX, the most advanced AI in the universe, to pass through four theoretical development stages. But it’s not easy training a mind that surpasses her in raw intellect. And the developing AI is capable of killing her with a single tantrum.

On top of this, she must prove her loyalty to the oppressive government hovering over her shoulder. They want a weapon. She wants to instil an overriding sense of morality.

Can she teach the AI right and wrong without being categorised as disloyal?

Lost Tales of Solace are short side-stories set in the Lost Solace universe.'

Purchase Helene here.

My Review

Firstly, sincere apologies to author Karl Drinkwater for the late posting of this review. Covid-19 and its attendant precautions have been a distraction, as I'm sure they have for all of us.

It was rather splendid then to read 'Helene', as its portrayal of the burgeoning relationship between an AI and a human doctor distracted me in its turn with its evocation of an empire far far away, complete with a despotic ruler, brutish guards and Machiavellian intrigue. All this would normally have given me a sense of déjà-vu were it not for the grounding effect of the titular heroine Helene. Her exchanges with the AI were humorous, philosophical and spoke of concerns extant in the world right now - as we stand on the brink of increased automation and technological autonomy - just exactly how much control can we exert over that which we create? And what should we be using AI for?

This short story is a precursor to the the Lost Solace series (also by Karl Drinkwater). I haven't read them but on the strength of this tale, I will.

Author Bio

Karl Drinkwater is originally from Manchester but lived in Wales for twenty years, and now calls Scotland his home. He's a full-time author, edits fiction for other writers, and was a professional librarian for over twenty-five years. He has degrees in English, Classics, and Information Science.

He writes in multiple genres: his aim is always just to tell a good story. Among his books you'll find elements of literary and contemporary fiction, gritty urban, horror, suspense, paranormal, thriller, sci-fi, romance, social commentary, and more. The end result is interesting and authentic characters, clever and compelling plots, and believable worlds.

When he isn't writing he loves exercise, guitars, computer and board games, the natural environment, animals, social justice, cake, and zombies. Not necessarily in that order.