Year-end Review

A very happy new year to you all. I hope that the holiday season has treated you/is treating you well!

I had planned to do this last weekend but, well, still somewhat lurgified, so here we are.

2022 was another very mixed bag. Some very good stuff, some rather less good stuff, and some stuff that did have me questioning my sanity at times, but overall, it was decently successful for me. I got two books completed and published and while I didn’t get the third one done (more on that in a moment) both it and the final book in the Elsehere series have made some good progress. I also managed to produce 11 pieces of short fiction – a mixture of stuff from my vaults and brand new stuff – and have outlines for at least four more (more on THEM in a moment, too!).

All in all, then, a lot of writing which has (I hope) entertained you through the year.

On to the plans for 2023.

First up is Ved’ma. The good news is I think I’ve managed to iron out the plot wrinkles and things are beginning to make some serious progress again. I’m cautiously optimistic about getting a completed draft done this month, which would allow for February to be editing month with a release in March. It’s still very tentative (obviously) but…there is hope.

Once I get Ved’ma drafted, I’ll be turning my attention to Sage. I’m about half written on this and I know what needs to happen with the rest, but I did have to rethink a location from my original plans, so I also have some rewrites. All in all, it shouldn’t be half as difficult to finish drafting as Ved’ma (and if that sounds like a bad case of famous last words well…let’s hope not!).

After that, it’s on to Hassatar which I have, rather optimistically, suggested will be out in November. I will be continuing to try and nail down the plot/timeline, even while I’m working on the other two, partly so that when I can justifiably sit down and write it, I have the main events properly sequenced. To that end, I now have a spreadsheet with, currently, nine (soon to be ten or eleven!) separate columns to break the timeline down by time zone so that I can visualise the sequence of what’s happening. Given that I have action going off in California, Mexico, UK, Tanzania, Afghanistan and Japan* symultaniously knowing who’s up past their bedtime, who’s spoiling their lunch and who’s just getting breakfast is an absolute sanity saver – not to mention, prevents me from wandering off down a research hole!

*Not an exhaustive list of locations!

Whether I get Hassatar finished this year, or whether it ends up coming out in the early part of next year, only time will tell. But it will, I think, be a satisfying end to the series.

I’ve also got a few ideas about what I’m going to do for NaNo. The most likely option is that I start the work on Ruth Abroad, with Nova Eboracum second, but I may opt to challenge myself and start drafting Ripper as that would be something completely different. For more details on all three, see the Projects page. And somewhere in there this year I also want to get started on the second Gresley book…

On the short story front, I have plans, ideas and drafts for seven brand new short stories this year (so far). My nominal timeline for them is as follows:

  • January – The Dark Watchers, an Elsehere short story
  • February – In A French CafĂ©
  • March – A Hard Bargain, an Elsehere short story
  • April – Erlan’s Story, a Paradise Falls building block
  • May – The Reaper, an Elsehere short story
  • June – Graduating First, a Paradise Falls building block
  • July – Lost and Found, an Elsehere short story

Titles are (at least for the later stories) tentative and the schedule is definitely not set in stone at this point – particularly given March’s story depends on Ved’ma being ready for publication! – but it should give at least some idea of what to expect. At least up until the end of July!

Aside from that, there will be Music Monday posts at various points through the year, my usual monthly updates (which will be more frequent if I’ve got a book coming out…!) and I might even get a chance to do some book recs and reviews this year, too.

Should be a fun year. Here’s hoping!

Happy reading 🙂

Music Monday: Divine Madness

Welcome to the final Music Monday of the series and the third and final album of the three that utterly dominated my listening as a young teen: Divine Madness.

Madness are one of those acts that I was probably aware of a lot longer than I necessarily realise. Songs like Our House, Wings of a Dove, Driving in My Car and House of Fun were very much part of the general backdrop of life – I can’t say that I heard them play on the radio or anything specific like that and yet somehow I knew them word for word. So when Divine Madness fell into my lap, some of it wasn’t exactly new to me, but it focussed my attention…

…and took me into a genre of music that I’d otherwise not really come across before: ska.

I was far too young to have known the 2 Tone revival when it was happening, but Divine Madness gave me a glimpse into it and what I heard I definitely liked the sound of. Of course, I had the same problem here as I would do a few years later with trying to find more stuff like Robert Miles’ Children: with no Spotify, I was stuck with what the radio played, what MTV showed and any information I could dig up in the library about who’d actually been involved so it would be a while before I really got to listen to bands like The Selector and The Specials (and there’s something particularly poignant writing this Music Monday in the wake of Terry Hall’s passing).

At least I had Madness!

And there was (is!) much more to them than just the ska introduction. They were also the band that introduced me to well-observed lyrics and the concept of writing about something beyond the normal stuff you hear in the charts. They wrote songs about the sort of life that I was familiar with. School days (Baggy Trousers), family (Our House, Embarrassment), the working grind (Grey Day), relationships (My Girl). Uncle Sam is a three minute skewering of American imperialism (and if you didn’t get that from the track title and lyrics, the video makes it very clear!), while Michael Caine is a pretty dark take on paranoia that was semi-inspired by the Michael Caine film The Ipcress File (hence the title).

It’s not all serious, of course. Not even my imagination can turn Nightboat to Cairo into anything other than a 3 minute piece of fun and silliness – which is definitely not a criticism, because you need the fun stuff to balance out the more meaningful things (which is, for me, where some of Madness’ more recent stuff has gone wrong – though maybe I need to dip into that again). It’s also worth noting that, out of all the stuff I got to hear them play when I saw them in concert a couple of years after Divine Madness came out, Nightboat to Cairo and One Step Beyond are the songs that stick out because they’re tracks made for dancing, and boy did we dance!

Overall, then, this album was a great introduction (or reintroduction) to the group and I went on to get (and love) all their original albums. It also led me to much more of the 2 Tone/Ska Revival and to some of the original Ska acts, like Prince Buster (whose song Madness the band took their name from and who the band wrote their first single, The Prince, in tribute to).

And with that, this short series is now complete. Music Monday will now go on hiatus until March(ish) when the Ved’ma section of the Elsehere Soundtrack will start posting. (err, Ved’ma drafting willing, of course…)

Until then, happy listening and reading!

Music Monday: Stranger in this Town

Welcome to another Music Monday, and the second complete album of this series. This one is by Richie Sambora (Bon Jovi’s former lead guitarist) and it’s probably one of the more obscure albums in my collection. It’s much easier to get these days (hello, Amazon!) but back when it was first released in 1991…

As the previous post mentioned, I got introduced to Bon Jovi in my early teens and, as is the way of teenage girls (sometimes, at least) I got a bit obsessed. I wanted to know more about them and Wikipedia was still a good seven or eight years away. So when MTV Europe dedicated an entire weekend to them…well! Thirty years on, I can honestly say I don’t remember much of what I saw that weekend, but one thing that made an utterly indelible mark was one particular three minute music video. It was mainly shot in black and white, it featured a guy and a guitar and I was blown away by the music. One of the most important things MTV did when they screened videos is they showed who the artist was, what the song was and what the album was (if there was one), so when that information came up I had something to go on.

Turned out the guy was the Bon Jovi lead guitarist, Richie Sambora, and the album was Stranger in this Town. Trouble was, no-one had heard of either him or the album, which had been released about eighteen months prior!

It took me six months of trawling through record shops before I finally tracked down a copy of the album…and even then, all I could find was the CD release and there was one, teeeeeeeeny issue with that: I didn’t have a CD player! It took another couple of months before I found someone who was willing to copy it to tape for me and another week or so before I had the tape copy in my hands, by which point I was almost scared to play it. What if I didn’t like it? What if, after all this, that song wasn’t as good second time through? What if, what if, what if.

I played the tape.

And it turned out that it was, indeed, worth the wait and the anticipation. From the slightly trippy opening track, Rest in Peace, to the philosophical closing track, The Answer, the whole album was a delight. There’s a couple of tracks that would have fitted in on New Jersey (Church of Desire and Rosie – which was actually written for New Jersey but cut at the demo stage), there’s the bluesy title track and Mr Bluesman, with a cameo from Eric Clapton. One Light Burning is a haunting bit of composition dominated by some gorgeous guitar work. Father Time is a fine bit of musical melodrama, while River of Love is what it is: not my favourite track, but enjoyable to dance to!

And the track that kicked this all off? That was Ballad of Youth and thirty years on it’s still one of my top five songs, ever. There isn’t any one thing about it that I could point to to say “That’s why I love it”, it’s everything about it. For me, it’s a nigh-on perfect combination of everything I love: it’s got some well-observed lyrics, it’s got layers, it’s got layers of guitar work, it’s a song I have listened to on repeat and still found new things to like. It is just THAT good to my ears!

It’s overall not as strong an album as New Jersey (I do skip a couple of tracks if I’m not in the right mood) but it’s probably the album that crystalised the sort of guitar sound and style that I love and that ultimately lead me towards David Gilmour (with and without Pink Floyd), also Marillion (with and without Fish) and Mark Knopfler (with and without Dire Straits) – though admittedly, Knopfler was already someone I knew quite well (musically speaking).

Next week, the final album of the trio.

Until then, happy reading and listening!

Music Monday: New Jersey

Welcome to another Music Monday post and a first for the series: I’m not just talking about one song (or two!), I’m talking 12 of them. An entire album’s worth of material. What’s more, this is the first of three such posts so, strap in…!

I said last week that my middle teens were dominated by listening to the same three albums (more or less) and this is the first of those. It’s by Bon Jovi and was originally released in 1988, though my introduction to it came a few years later. It wasn’t the first Bon Jovi album I knew, it certainly wasn’t the last, but it was the one that made me sit up and go “This is awesome!” It was the first album I’d ever listened to where there wasn’t one single track I wanted to skip (not that skipping tracks was a readily available option when listening on cassette!) and I just utterly fell in love.

Looking dispassionately, the music isn’t ground breaking – there were quite a few bands with a similar sort of sound (though Bon Jovi win the competition by the sheer virtue of still selling out stadia and selling albums thirty five years later!). The lyrics aren’t cutting edge or poetic – they’re about early adulthood and girls and partying and navigating relationships. There are no epic 10 minute tracks of sonic experimentation…and yet, to me, even now, it’s a perfect hour of listening because while it’s not complicated or ground breaking or any of that stuff, the songs are still really good and the whole thing is a really good way to spend that hour.

And while I say there is no poetry and nothing earth shattering, there are touches in there that kicked off my love of complexity and well-observed lyrics. There’s Living In Sin, a song that leans into the tension between modern (at the time) life and Catholic expectations. There’s Homebound Train, a treatise on the subject of perpetual touring (the irony here is the tour to promote this album pretty much broke the band for two years) and dear god I love the relentless nature of the music and, particularly, the harmonica/organ/guitar solo on this track. Blood on Blood is a great take on the all-in nature of some friendships. Born to be my Baby is a similarly great take on a more romantic relationship (it’s also the song that taught me how to really dig into music and hear the different parts – though that may just be me being weird…). Stick to Your Guns is not particularly subtle (!) but a song urging you to stand up for what you believe in is some surprisingly solid advice from a rock song and it features perhaps the one real bit of experimentation on the album as an intro: Ride Cowboy Ride was recorded in mono, which gives it a bit of an old-timy feel, and it’s just two guitars and two guys singing. Short and simple. I’ll Be There For You is a vast improvement on one of their earlier songs and if Lay Your Hands on Me, Bad Medicine, 99 In The Shade and Love for Sale aren’t particularly profound, they’re FUN.

Then there’s my favourite track: Wild is the Wind. This is the song that cemented this album as one I utterly and completely and unreservedly love and that’s for two things. The first of these is the use of non-rock instruments on a definite rock track. Something about using classical instruments on a rock track (or, for that matter, using rock instruments on a classical track) tickles me enormously, and this is the track, with its use of cellos, that set me off on that path. It’s subtle. I didn’t hear them at first (in fact, I only knew they were there because the liner notes said they were!), but then I did hear them and my rather rigid little thirteen year old mind was blown wide open. Surely you couldn’t use stringed instruments like cellos on rock music?!! Sure, I’d seen rock music performed by and with orchestras, but this was different. This wasn’t synths pretending to be violins, this was two folk with cellos, performing with a rock band.

It sounds stupid, I will admit, but up to that point, I’d assumed that there were RULES about that sort of thing. This was the album that showed me there were no such thing as rules, and it’s a very short hop from learning that to getting a taste for progressive rock and certain sorts of trance and dance music.

The second thing that cemented this song’s place in my heart is the introduction. It starts quietly. Just a single guitar playing a flamenco-style piece that then leads in bass, those cellos I mentioned and drums. Each note is crisp and clear and echoes in a way that always makes me think of a lonely, open space at dusk and it leads into a song whose lyrical imagry supports that idea. It’s incredibly simple and it gives me a tiny bit of a chill every time I hear it.

It also added another guitarist to my list of “I could listen to these guys play the equivalent of reading the phone book”…

…but more on THAT, next week!

Overall, it’s an album that’s aged gracefully. Sure, some of the demos and outtakes haven’t (dear god have they not *shudder*), but the album as released in 1988 is still as good a listen now as it was thirty five years ago and if I don’t listen to it QUITE as often now as I did as a teen, well that’s just because this album (though I didn’t know it back then) was the start of my tastes broadening out.

That’s all for now.

Happy reading and listening!

Music Monday: Boys of Summer

Well, we’ve come to the end of the series, and the end of the summer and what could be more appropriate than this Don Henley classic? Unless it’s the DJ Sammy take on it. Or the version done by The Ataris.

This is one of those rare songs (for me, at least) where I genuinely like every version of it I’ve ever heard. The lyrics are a haunting discussion about the passage of time and lost youth. Don Henley’s version is resigned. The Ataris’ are angry about it. DJ Sammy, though, has a hopeful tone – that yes, time passes, but what comes next can be just as good. Or maybe even better.

So that’s where I’ll end it, with the hope that what follows summer fun is just as good, or even better!

The summer fun playlist can be found on Spotify here.

Music Monday now goes on another little break and will restart in November (hopefully!) with the music that’s helped to inspire Ved’ma.

That’s all for now. Happy reading and listening!

Music Monday: I’d Do Anything For Love…

We’ve done instrumental funk. We’ve done Franco-Brasilian-Bolivian dance. We’ve done what ever the heck Army of Lovers is. We’ve done German punk. Time for a bit of good old fashioned operatic rock, I think!

Meat Loaf is another artist I can thank MTV Europe for getting into. While my father owned the original Bat Out of Hell album, I don’t recall ever hearing him play it, so the bombast and blast of I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) was a thrill when it was unleashed in the summer of 1993 and it was love-at-first-listen. I’ve said before that I love a really good, layered bit of production and this is a song that has that in absolute spades. I think Jim Steinman never met a piece of music that he couldn’t add an extra layer to and Meat Loaf’s vocals were awe inspiring and the whole combination was off the charts.

And then there was the music video, which was another level again. A full-on mini movie that’s almost as OTT as Army of Lovers’ video in some senses, but it goes with the larger-than-life character that is Meat Loaf.

And as one final, added, bonus: boy is it ever fun to just belt it out as loud and dramatically as you can – though maybe don’t do it while you’re stuck in a traffic jam with the car windows rolled down…

The summer fun playlist can be found on Spotify here.

That’s all for now. Happy reading and listening!

Music Monday: Kauf Mich

This is another of the good-kind-of-weird I got from MTV Europe

On one level, it’s a fun pop-punk song from a band with a ridiculous name (Die Toten Hosen – literally, the Dead Trousers!). Given grunge was all the rage when it was released, it was perhaps a bit of a throwback, or perhaps it was a bit ahead of its time, prefiguring the bands like Blink 182 at the end of the 90s. Either way, if you don’t speak German, it’s a fun bit of music and not much more than that.

If you do speak German, however, there’s a second layer, which is a bit of biting satire on consumerism. Politics? In my punk music? It’s more likely than you think, even in German! The title literally means Buy Me and the whole song is about the constant pressure to buy stuff that you probably don’t need but if you buy it you’ll be in the ‘in crew’. It’s smart, it’s sharp, it’s memorable and it’s just the tip of a very sharply observed album that also features several punts at right-wing extremism (amongst other things).

It’s a song that made me giggle first, then it made me think. And almost thirty years later, it’s still making me think.

The summer fun playlist can be found on Spotify here.

That’s all for now. Happy reading and listening!

Music Monday: Crucified

In my teens, I was in music heaven. I’d discovered MTV Europe and it had opened my eyes (and ears) to a lot of new experiences. It introduced me (or reintroduced me) to a lot of bands and singers whose music I’d enjoyed as a youngster without necessarily knowing who’d done it and it introduced me to a lot more than just the UK Top 40. Often, this wasn’t actually a good thing (I was, regretably, aware of the Macarena before it hit big in the UK), but sometimes I got the really good kind of weird.

And you don’t get much weirder than this track. It’s by a Sweedish group called Army of Lovers (the group’s name is a reference to a German gay rights documentary) and, musically, it is as pure a snapshot of early 1990s Euro Dance music as you’re going to get…

…and then you get to the lyrics and the music video and things start to get weird.

The lyrics are cod-profound (“I’ve seen the deepest darkness/And wrestled with gods/Ride the noble harness/Raining cats and dogs”) with the verses done as a sort of rap/sort of talking blues while the chorus is a full-on gospel-esque.

The music video, though, takes it aaaaaaaaaaaall to eleven. Actually, it probably takes it to eleventy billion and one because it is pure, fabulous, OTT, risquĂ© bonkers. I mean, I’m talking playing the violin with a sheathed sword levels of bonkers.

It is a slice of utterly glorious camp and by the time you realise it is as mad as you think it is, the music (which is as catchy and hooky as only early 90s Euro dance could be) has earwormed you and you’re humming it for days.

I love it.

Should you want to see the video, you can find that here

The summer fun playlist can be found on Spotify here.

That’s all for now. Happy reading and listening!

Music Monday: Lambada

Confession: I love to dance. Ever since I was a wee tiny tot, put the right music on and I will move to it. At times in my life I’ve studied ballet and tap (alas, my enthusiasm probably exceeds my talent there) and dabbled with other forms (Zumba’s taught me the basics of all kinds of dance) but the most fun is still to just put on the music and dance like there’s no-one watching!

And that brings me to this week’s Summer Fun entry. It’s not uncontroversial: the track I’ve picked was plagiarised by a French entrepreneur, from a Bolivian melody, played by Senegalese musicians and sung in Portuguese (got that? Good…) while the style of dance the Lambada dance evolved from, carimbĂł, was also known as the forbidden dance for its sensual movements! It’s possibly not quite what your eleven year old daughter perhaps should be dancing along to…

But I was, and did, at a dance summer school. (The same summer school also taught me how to ride a unicycle and various diablo tricks [can’t do the former any more; haven’t tried the latter in a long time!])

As a child it represented fun and the one dance where having a rear end was not actually a hinderance (!) and I adored it just for that. As an adult, it reminds me of one of my most enjoyable summer activities. I may not have been destined for the Royal Ballet or Broadway but good grief, dancing was fun!

On a final note, given the plagiarism (a case which the original Bolivian musicians won), it’s perhaps amusing to note that things have come full-circle. There’s a local panpipe player of Bolivian descent who plays this track as part of their repertoire.

The summer fun playlist can be found on Spotify here.

That’s all for now. Happy reading and listening!

Music Monday: Soul Limbo

Kicking off August’s Summer Fun selection for Music Monday is a piece of music that is the first one that comes to my mind the moment you say summer.

Soul Limbo by Booker T. & the M. G.’s 1968 track from the album of the same name is the sound that herralded the start of every day’s play during the international cricket summer and is a piece of music that I probably learned before I learned God Save the Queen! Even now, though the cricket’s been off BBC TV since the end of 1998, it still evokes the warm welcome to the start of a day’s play (or a day’s rain – we are talking the British summer, after all…), helped, in part, because when the TV broadcast went dark, Test Match Special picked it up.

Channel 4 may have used Mambo No.5 and Sky have used various versions of the 10cc song Dreadlock Holiday (with it’s chorus of “We don’t like cricket, oh no, we love it, oh year”) but Soul Limbo is still the sound of cricket for me and perhaps it always will be.

The music itself is a funky jazz-like instrumental track with plenty of variations, a marimba solo and plenty of laid-back charm. It’s carefree and fun and I just love it.

The summer fun playlist can be found on Spotify here.

That’s all for now. Happy reading and listening!