Book Review: Itch by Simon Mayo

Simon Mayo, radio presenter of the BBC’s Drivetime and Kermode and Mayo’s Film Review, seems to have discovered the perfect formula for injecting excitement into chemistry: (explosions x noxious materials) ÷ sinister global corporations. And, utilising this winning equation, Mayo has penned his debut novel, Itch, the story of fourteen-year-old Itchingham Lofte who, whilst attempting to collect every element in the periodic table, comes into possession of a curious new element with world-changing potential.

At its core, Itch revolves around the relationship of Itch, his younger sister Chloe and his cousin Jacqueline (Jack) as they cope with all the problems associated with possessing a radioactive substance the world and his dog would do anything to obtain. And what a charming and absorbing relationship it is. Despite being the youngest, Chloe is the most sensible of the trio and keeps her likeable brother in check as his escapades teeter on the verge of disaster. Jack brings an abundance of smarts to the dynamic, helping Itch see through his more risky moments with a tomboyish expertise. Mayo has written all three of the central trio brilliantly, and you can’t help but wonder if some traits of his own children have contributed to the mixture.

As for the chemistry included, it’s well measured, clear and undeniably fascinating. From learning how the household objects you own relate to the periodic table, to explanations of explosive reactions, there is enough here to justify Itch as an informative text without ever suffocating the exciting plot.

Being set in modern-day Cornwall, a good proportion of Itch takes place in the central trios’ school. Mayo has always been vocal of his love of the Harry Potter series and some of the disastrous goings on at Cornwall Academy echo some of the more memorable happenings in the classrooms of Hogwarts. However, whilst there was always the healing properties of magic to help smooth things over in Rowling’s universe, the potential consequences of Itch’s exploits are more serious, and this is perhaps the book’s greatest strength: whilst tremendous fun, there is the constant, underlying feeling that the main characters in Itch may well be about to come to serious harm.

Itch is available through Amazon UK now.

November 23, 2014Leave a comment

Book Review: In Defence of Dogs by John Bradshaw

One of the most widely held views of dog training is based on two scientific observations. Firstly, that dogs share 99.96% of their DNA with the grey wolves from which they’re descended, and, secondly, that captive wolves housed in enclosures quarrel until a particular individual is crowned dominant. These two notions previously led to the popularisation of the ‘dominance model’ of dog training, an ideology that encouraged owners to continuously assert their authority over their furry companion in order to establish themselves as the superior, or alpha.

However, anthrozoologist Dr John Bradshaw has a bone to pick with the dominance model of dog training, and In Defence of Dogs is where he presents his arguments.

Bradshaw’s objections are compelling (although far from revelations). He notes that, unlike the zoos in which a random assemblage of unrelated wolves are forced into an unnaturally small space, wild wolves of the same pack rarely fight with each other. A wild pack does contain an alpha coupling, but usually these two animals are simply the parents of the individuals that make up the rest of the group. Unfortunately, it was the behaviour of the wolves living in early zoos which informed much of the opinion domestic canine biology was originally built from.

As Bradshaw goes on to explain, this led to the development and spread of training measures that were pointless (always eat before your dog) and occasionally harmful to the owner-dog relationship (never cuddle your dog). Bradshaw also argues that centuries of domestication has altered the modern dog well beyond application of what can be learned from wild wolves anyway, and subsequently goes on to set out an alternative view of dog training based on what current science has to say about man’s best friend.

Bradshaw’s arguments are all backed up with considerable lashings of science. Sadly, though, this is where the book lets itself down. The science is cumbersome and quite often repetitive; large sections of In Defence of Dogs read like a textbook or a paper aimed at fellow academics rather than a popular science book. The chapters are very long, too, with only the occasional illustration to break up the text when the simple employment of subheadings would have split the book into more digestible chunks.

This isn’t to say that In Defence of Dogs is a bad book; it’s incredibly insightful and there is no doubt that dog-owners will learn a great deal about their companion from investing in a copy. It’s merely that, even for the most devoted dog-person, the book might well feel like a slog.

In Defence of Dogs is available through Amazon UK now.

November 16, 2014Leave a comment

Social Media Questions!

As a little experiment, I’ve been asking people to send me questions on anything and everything over social media. My plan was to make a blog post answering them all, no matter how devious and tricky they might be. Well, I had a landslide of questions (roughly a third on my writing, a third on Pokémon and the rest on completely random stuff), but, unfortunately, there were just far too many to fit into one post! So, I’ve narrowed them down and answered my favourites below, I hope I did okay!

Is there a Tethers bonus scene, or anything you left out from any of the books? (@MeganInTheSun)

Sort of! There is a newspaper article offering a different perspective to one of the events from Unwoven. It’s actually coming out as part of Six Short Stories in February so you can read it then. There’s also a piece of excellent fan fiction I posted on this site here. Strictly speaking it’s not part of the official Tethers universe but it’s still a cracking read!

When is the release date of #Wye? (@Lisa Elemental)

Aghh, I’m so sorry lovely Lisa but there is no release date yet! I feel like I’m being so slow and rubbish with Wye, it’s taking a lot longer than any of my other books and I’m not really sure why that is. I promise I will post a nice, meaty extract from the book on my website before too long though.

Why do you like writing about zombies so much? (@ELAdams12)

I think it’s because the living dead encapsulate everything we fear most: death, pain, loneliness and a life without meaning or achievement. I love seeing interesting characters come face to face with that concept.

What is your favourite scene/line from any of the books you’ve written and why? (@MeganInTheSun)

I didn’t really intend for it to be a standout line when I wrote it, but ‘You can’t save someone from your own decisions’ said by Esther at the end of Tethers has become my favourite. The reason why is simple, it’s the fact that readers have picked up on the line and quoted it back to me, and now it’s sort of become the tagline of the series. In fact, not long ago I signed up to tumblr and found that someone had made and posted the picture below, that was a cool little moment.

What’s the biggest challenge in the writing process and what’s the easiest thing to get wrong? (@STVenables)

I would say the biggest challenge is not stopping. A book is seriously long and no one is going to read it (probably) until it’s finished. In a world full of instant gratification and diminishing attention spans, sticking with a novel right to the end is incredibly difficult. Fortunately, there is a simple solution: write every day! If you add to a project every day, then one of those days it will be finished. I think that’s the easiest thing to get wrong too; saying to yourself, I’ll give myself a day/week/month off now, I wrote a bit yesterday.

If you had a time machine would you go backwards or forwards in time? If back then what period of history? (@AutumnMiss2011)

I would definitely go back to the time of the dinosaurs.  Can you imagine actually seeing those incredible creatures alive and in person, some way bigger than houses? Ever since I was iccle I’ve been desperate know what colour a T-Rex was, I’d love to finally solve that mystery!

What is the purpose of human life? (Laura Lovelock via Facebook)

To love and be loved? Something poetic like that? Or maybe just to have fun!

What is the origin of the word ‘Jackpot’? (Owen Hughes via Facebook)

A toughie and, considering my name is involved, I felt it was my sworn duty to figure this one out. A little bit of research reveals that, in 1870’s America, the term came into use through widespread play of a particular version of draw poker. Without getting too in depth, if jack playing cards proved elusive throughout several deals, then the pot of winnings could grow very large indeed. Hence, jackpot being used to indicate a large sum of money or winnings. Yay!

When Pokémon first came out, did you choose Bulbasaur, Charmander or Squirtle? Why? (@MeganInTheSun)

I remember the moment well, I chose Bulbasaur on Pokémon Red Version. I think I did it because he looked really cool, and I liked the fact that he was four-legged; it made me think he might be faster than the other two. Technically, I was wrong on that but my level 100 Venusuar still kicked butt!

Do you prefer the Pokémon card game or console version? (@AutumnMiss2011)

Definitely the game, although I still use Pokémon cards as bookmarks!

Why does Brock always have his eyes closed? And how does he battle when he can’t see what his Pokémon are doing? (@SharonSant)

I’m sure you could delve into the fandom and find millions of theories for Brock’s eye mystery, but here’s mine (which I’m 100% sure is the real deal). Brock is at one with his Pokémon so he doesn’t need to see them to know what’s happening in battle, he can sense it … or something like that, anyway.

A Huge thanks to anyone who sent me a question and I’m sorry I couldn’t answer them all! This little post has been so much fun, I would certainly recommend other bloggers try something similar!

November 9, 2014Leave a comment

Mended by Laura Lovelock (A Tethers Fan Fiction)

I used to be a bit dubious of fan fiction, but I have to say that I’ve completely changed my mind about it. It’s utterly fascinating to see what people do with other writers’ characters and worlds (as long as it’s not gratuitous, offensive or designed to make money of course).

So, this week I wanted to post a piece of Tethers fan fiction written by talented romance author, blogger and lovely lady, Laura Lovelock. Being a romance author, Laura has expanded on a very particular aspect of my trilogy and she’s done a great job of mimicking the characters’ voices. Mended (originally posted on She Loves To Read) was written before Torn was released but it’s set eight years after that book, so I have to admit that I changed one tiny little thing (there was a character involved that dies in Torn!) But, other than that, it’s all Laura’s excellent work. (Contains Tethers Spoilers)

Mended

Shadows danced across the ceiling as Karl lay perfectly still in bed, the rhythmic pitter-patter of hooves outside calming his mounting nerves. Today was the day he would marry Esther Emerson, the girl, now woman, he had fallen in love with so many years ago. He’d known that he loved her as soon as her life had fallen into jeopardy, back when the Viniculum had loomed large in their thoughts. He could remember the way Esther had tended to him after he’d been injured, he remembered the jealousy she’d displayed in front of Shona Turing. Karl’s eyes stung at the memory of the brave young Scot whose life had ended so cruelly. But he remembered Esther’s words as if she were whispering them in his ear: ‘You can’t save someone from their own decisions.’

A smile spread across his lips at the thought of his bride. So feisty and smart was she, that Karl felt inadequate whenever he stood next to her. Her skill with a blade was rarely matched and her passion for life was truly unrivalled. Karl couldn’t wait to call her his wife.

*

‘Here you go, summat new,’ Esther’s mother said, fastening a silver necklace around her daughter’s dainty neck.

‘Gosh, thanks, mam,’ Esther said, staring into the mirror. ‘I really hope he likes it …’

‘Don’t be a fool, sweetheart, course he will.’

A knock on the door pulled them away from Esther’s reflection. Mr Cauldwell poked his head tentatively around the door.

‘Alexander!’ Esther burst out. She ran towards the ageing man and threw her arms around his neck the second he entered.

‘My dear girl, just look at you.’ He stepped back and surveyed Esther lovingly, admiring the splendid white gown clinging tightly to her slender frame. He’d known Esther for more than ten years but never had he seen her look so beautiful. ‘You’re a vision,’ Mr Cauldwell said gently, ‘I’m so proud.’

Esther simply replied, ‘Ready?’

‘As I’ll ever be.’ Mr Cauldwell offered her his arm.

Esther took hold of it and, together, they made their way through the pub’s lounge and out into the blazing sunshine. She felt the warm sun caress her shoulders and smelt the fresh, fragrant air. Esther’s mother sidled past them, placing a kiss on her daughter’s cheek as she did so.

‘See you in a minute,’ she grinned, running ahead to take her seat in the ceremony.

Mr Cauldwell squeezed Esther’s hand tightly and adjusted his top hat. Esther smiled gloriously and placed an excited kiss on his gaunt cheek. As they rounded the corner of the Lazy Badger, Esther gasped at the sight before them.

There was a short path lined with pale flowers and guests were seated on straw bales either side, gossiping and waiting for the arrival of the bride. But Esther’s eyes were drawn only to Karl. He stood with his back facing her and he wore a fine grey morning suit complimented by a large top hat. She felt her stomach somersault and she had to refrain from running straight into his arms.

A merry round of applause accompanied Esther as she made her way down the aisle. Mr Cauldwell was once a spritely man but, now age had caught up with him, he usually relied on a walking stick to get him from place to place. Not today though. Today he strode unaided next to the woman he’d come to know as family.

As they neared Karl, he finally turned and glanced in Esther’s direction; his beautiful eyes locking firmly with Esther’s. She smiled, she had never felt happier in all her life.

Slowly, Mr Cauldwell passed Esther’s hand over to Karl. The bride and groom stood holding hands and staring longingly into each other’s eyes as words of love, promises and forevers were shared.

As the ceremony drew to a close, the guests began to cheer and throw rice at the newly wedded couple. Esther noticed Tommy the horse waiting for her at the edge of the pub garden. She opened her mouth to shout a greeting in his direction but was rendered speechless as Karl swept her up and carried her over to the waiting steed.

‘Tommy,’ Esther cried in delight, ‘you beautiful boy.’ She stroked Tommy’s muzzle and gave him a firm kiss on the head.

‘Let’s get you on there,’ Karl laughed. He gave Esther a leg up so she could straddle Tommy. Karl took Tommy’s reins and led the once mighty horse out of the pub garden and into the busy street. Passers-by cheered and waved as the couple and their guests made their way along the cobbles.

*

‘I always knew I’d marry her,’ Karl said, standing in Mr Cauldwell’s back garden, nursing a glass of champagne and addressing all present.

‘You never did!’ Esther shouted, goading him for all to hear.

‘I did! I saw it in the Viniculum. I knew. I knew ten years ago that I had a chance of making you my wife.’

Esther drew in a deep breath.  ‘But – how – why didn’t you tell me you sod?’ She scowled theatrically at her new husband.

‘Not everything the Viniculum promised came to pass, but it turns out some dreams do come true.’ He raised his glass and then his voice. ‘Please, ladies and gentleman, will you all join me in a toast to my beautiful wife, Esther Scheffer.’ The garden broke into a tumultuous cheer as every one of the guests obliged.

Esther grinned at her new husband and felt blessed to be surrounded by so many people she loved. But not everyone was there. ‘I miss you, Harland,’ she whispered, running her hand along the length of the curved sword resting beneath her dress. ‘I’ll always miss you.’

‘Oh, and one last thing,’ Karl said. ‘Before we start dancing, I just want to let you all know that Esther and I have some wonderful news.’

Esther couldn’t believe Karl was about to tell everyone, she didn’t know if she was ready.

‘We’re having a baby,’ Karl grinned.

Screams of delight and shock rang around the garden, and, as a small string quartet started to play, Karl took Esther into his arms and held her close to his chest.

This was where Esther belonged. This was where she had always belonged.

 

Awesome, right? Let me know your thoughts and, if you ever fancy trying your hand at some Tethers fan fiction, do make sure you send it my way!

November 2, 2014Leave a comment