Book Study : Strange Magic by Syd Moore

Strange Magic is the first in the Essex Witch Museum Mystery series. It follows Rosie Strange, who inherits said museum from her grandfather. Intending to sell it, she gets pulled into a quest trying to find the bones of a witch, after a boy appears to be possessed by the ghost of her son. Will she change her mind and help to restore the museum, or is she just in it for the money?

You can see right away what the problem is here. You can’t make much of a series about the museum if the plucky heroine decides to sell it… Lots of spoilers in this book study, be warned.

Similar to Miss Peregrine, this book suffers because it has to set up a series. As I’m sure you worked out already (spoiler alert!), she doesn’t sell the museum. The series structure won’t allow her to. But even by the very end, she talks about how she isn’t sure what she wants to do, if she wants to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps or not.

Also like Miss Peregrine, the book is heavily back loaded with Stuff. Lots of Stuff. I understand that an author needs to sell the next book by ending the current book with some kind of hook, but this one was a bit mad.

The bulk of the book is quite minimal, and I liked it. Rosie, along with Sam the museum curator, follow a series of clues around various towns in England to locate the bones. A gentle, lightly supernatural mystery, with a light romance sub plot that didn’t really work.

But oh. By the end we got something very different indeed.

By the end, a secret cult, run by a celebrity, is trying to make a potion out of bones and sacrificial blood to gain eternal life, face off against the government’s secret anti-occult agents, of which Sam is kind of a member. This basically all happens in the last chapter, with no hints of any of this before. It’s completely bonkers.

I can only presume that the government agency is a much bigger part of the future books, or that the author wanted to add a lot of drama into what was quite a slow and cosy book.

But with that said, I had a lot of fun reading this. The whole thing was pretty dumb, and it made me happy. I wouldn’t say it was good, but there was a certain charm to its nonsense.

The lesson here is in the ‘series paradox’. It isn’t very satisfying to revolve a story around a question that is already answered just by the fact that the book is the first in a series. Will the hero survive? Yes, obviously, this is just book one.

Book Study : Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs

A book I have seen the film of for a change! However, I honestly don’t remember it much. It was fine, but didn’t stick with me.

I kind of feel similar about the book. Quirk publish beautiful books, and this one is no exception. The photographs are pretty special and add a lot to the book.

The story itself is fun in a Harry Potter sort of way. A light, family friendly adventure, which I think is exactly what it is supposed to be. I just can’t shake the feeling that without the photograph collection, few people would really love it.

Don’t get me wrong, I did have fun reading this book. I will read the others (I think there are three?) and the ideas for the world and the characters are interesting, if a little confusing. It just fell down in the last section.

Near the end of the book the universe suddenly gets a lot bigger, seeming like it could span all of space and time through some kind of time loop glitch. I’ll be honest I didn’t really understand what the laws were around how those work. I find a lot of series intro books suffer from this same trait, cramming a lot of lore in at the end to set up the next story.

I don’t mind the fact that the ending is really another beginning. What I didn’t like was the feeling that the mechanics of the world either changed, or weren’t clear, in order to support the story. Something that you couldn’t catch J.K.Rowling doing.

The lesson here is, if you have complex lore that won’t be in the story you’re writing, but another future story, make sure to introduce it slowly, and clearly, so you don’t have to back-load information. Often the end of stories can be busy anyway, tying up all of those loose ends.

Book Study : Bird Box by ‎Josh Malerman

I went into Bird Box blind, if you will excuse the poor joke. I was aware of it from Netflix, but didn’t know much about it other than something about a monster you couldn’t see.

I was in for a treat.

To me, Bird Box seems like the kind of book that you just can’t make a film out of. They obviously did, but I just can’t imagine how it translates without losing too much of what makes it so good.

Bird Box is a brilliant example of using your medium to tell stories others can’t.

Almost the whole book is told without visual cues. It is told from the first person perspective of Malorie, a woman looking after two children, as they get into a boat heading to who knows where, afraid of some kind of monster that they can’t look at, but may or may not be able to hear. Sounds, smells and touch guides the characters, and it is used to make things as simple as fetching water from a well into something extremely tense.

Within the first chapter, so many questions are set up, I couldn’t wait to find the answers.

Each chapter alternates between the present (on the boat), and the past (set over a number of years). This setup is used very cleverly, to both fill out back story and give clues to the questions that the book asks almost constantly. The flashback chapters are almost like short stories, containing snapshots of Malorie’s life leading up to the point when her and the two children get into the boat. However, they are not told in chronological order, but dramatic order, tying them into our leads thoughts and the events that occur on their adventure along the river.

The end result is one that is not only extremely compelling and complex, without ever being frustrating or hard to follow, but one that I feel uses the prose to tell a story that couldn’t be told any other way. This is the lesson that I took away from Bird Box. Find stories that you can tell in your medium, that no others can.

Not that it will stop them.

Book Study : Carrie by Stephen King

Somehow, I haven’t seen the film of Carrie, nor had I read the book. I spotted it in Lichfield library (a beautiful converted church) and decided that it was finally time to check it out.

Everyone knows the story by now I’m sure. I did without even having heard it before. But the thing that surprised me most in this book was the structure.

We all know Mr. King is a master storyteller, but what I really liked about this was not only the format, being told partly through records and interviews, but the pacing.

Carrie uses the ‘ticking bomb’ idea almost perfectly. Right from the start, we know how it is going to end. We know people die, we know Carrie does something awful, and we are just there to see how it all unravels. In some ways when pacing out stories, you would think the grand finale would be better as a twist. But in Carrie, knowing what is coming, what is building up inside her made me not want to put the book down.

That was my lesson from Carrie. Sometimes an ending doesn’t need to be a surprise. It doesn’t need to be a twist or revelation. Sometimes an ending can be like releasing a valve, after building up the pressure over the rest of the story.

A New Beginning.

Although this new website is very bare bones right now, it has been a while in the making. Behind the scenes I’ve been gearing up to get started on this new project, for a raft of different reasons.

Whether you are coming here knowing my work from Jamo Games, or finding it on its own merits, I thought that I would give some background, as ever trying to be as honest as I can.

Firstly, I’ve always loved telling stories. A story is always the basis for the games that I make, the artwork that I create, and now the stories that I’m writing. I have always found great pleasure in writing, but I’ve never tried to take it seriously or written work that I feel has been worth other people reading. Part of this website is dedicated to this new goal, writing stories that people want to read.

I have two completed short stories right now that I am attempting to get published by one of the various publications for short horror fiction. Succeed or fail, the end point will be two original stories for you to read.

The other half to this new endeavor is the new ‘Living Novel’ system that I am working on. The basic idea here is a novel that changes as you read. Obviously this instantly brings to mind the ‘choose your own adventure’ style books, which are great, but very different to what I am working on. Much of the text will be procedural in nature, generated in reaction to your choices.

The overall idea is to keep the feel of reading a novel (minimal menus, non invasive artwork), but make sure that everyone has a unique experience where they feel they are in control. It isn’t something that I have seen done before, and my first few tests are promising.

Over the next week or so I will try to introduce the Living Novel idea more clearly, show some early designs and my plan for the system. Hopefully, I will also have some short stories to share.

I have a plan in the back of my mind to set up a ‘vault’. A protected store of short stories that are freely accessible to people who enjoy my work. There is nothing concrete here just yet, but if you want to be the first to know, then please subscribe to the mailing list below.

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