Tag Archives: fiction

Alan Shaw – Grave Purpose

This is the third Alan Shaw book and you do ideally need to read the other two first. I’ve already reviewed book 1 and book 2.

Grave Purpose is the third book in Craig Hallam’s steampunk trilogy. Craig has really grown as an author as the series has progressed, getting ever more thoughtful and impressive as he goes along.

The main character – Alan Shaw – started out as one of those have a go hero types, the kind of dashing, quipping, risk taking young man who dominates the action genre. From the beginning, Craig has brought other elements into his work – class especially in the first book, and colonialism in the second as he slowly unpicks the trope he’s working with.

In book three, we take a hard look at the implications of the action hero lifestyle. Alan is getting older. His various injuries have taken a toll and he isn’t magically free from the consequences of his actions. This is very much a novel about consequences and pain. If you like being hurt by authors (you know who you are) then get in there, this book is for you. I found it a very powerful read, although I did call Craig a whole selection of less than perfectly polite things while I was reading it. I know Craig well enough to be able to picture the evil smile this comment will elicit.

There’s a big issue here around disability representation. In real life, most disabled people don’t start out that way. Many people who suffer do so as a consequence of accidents or illnesses. It’s not something we see anything like enough of in stories. Mostly what we get in the action genre are impossible people doing outrageous things with no real consequences. Or we get unrealistic fantasies about recovery. I really appreciated getting to see the consequences. As a person who lives with pain, it was meaningful to me to see a fictional character living with pain. I felt Craig handled this aspect of the book superbly, and I think this is a depiction people who struggle will find resonant. 

The story itself is full of action, mysteries to solve and consequences. I did mention the consequences?

You can find out more and buy the book from the publisher’s website, and all the other places that sell books. https://www.inspired-quill.com/product/grave-purpose/

Sometimes you just have to jump

In the last few years, I’ve not attempted to write a novel on my own. I’ve co-written a novel with David Bridger, and we’re working on the second in the series. I’ve written two novellas in the Hopeless, Maine setting. Before that, during lockdown, I accidentally wrote three novels worth of material. However, the Wherefore books were written one short story at a time with a structure more like a soap opera, and collaborative partners, so that was a very different sort of thinking.

I’ve been asked to write a sequel to Fast Food at the Centre of the World – that one’s being published as a book this year having only previously been out in the world as audio files. It would be fair to say that while I’ve been thinking about themes, I’ve also been procrastinating a lot. It’s been a year since I last sat down to deliberately write a novel, and I have no idea if I can do it. I wrote that one to a tight remit in about a month for a project that didn’t work out – I was working with other people’s plots and characters, it wasn’t purely mine. This was not a good experience.

This isn’t an unusual issue for writers, or for anyone working creatively. Any time you aren’t doing the thing it is all too easy to feel like you aren’t someone who does the thing. Gaps between creations can loom large. Even if your creativity is central to your identity, there’s only so long you can go without doing it before all kinds of uneasy feelings creep in. It’s not like I haven’t been writing – I write every day. Novels loom large for me. They are large creatures, unruly, and requiring a lot of care and attention. And sometimes, as with last year, things can go badly wrong. It’s a lot of time and energy to invest in the hopes of making things work.

I started Fast Food at the Centre of the World on a plane to America, visiting Tom for the second time. The central characters were his, although I have developed them a long way from his original ideas. I started writing with a keen sense of the world, and very little idea where I might be going. I’m in the same position now, knowing the setup but not knowing the story. I prefer working this way, but it is a bit exposed. 

What’s focusing my mind is the support from the people who are into what I do. Mark Hayes was out on Twitter this week telling me that he wants to read it – without even needing to know what I’m working on. It’s a powerful gesture of support. Others of my closest people are being tremendously supportive and encouraging. 

Writing can seem like a really solitary thing to be doing. It isn’t – not for me. I depend a lot on my collaborators, on the people who inspire me, and the people I write for. Those are usually the same people. Writing is an expression of relationship for me, not just with people, but with the world as a whole.

I know I’m going to be including themes of fast fashion, AIs, disability, fatigue, parenting and the madness of late stage capitalism in this book. Maybe also looking at eco-fascism, and certainly thinking about regeneration and community. There’s usually a lot of Druidry in my fiction even though it isn’t always overt.

Silliness and Animism

Those of you who have started following the blog more recently may not be aware of the work I have already out in the world, so every now and then I like to revisit what’s available.

Wherefore was my lockdown project, guided by suggestions from various of my friends, but chiefly Bob Fry (who appears as a character) and Robin Treefellow (who appears under a different name). Wherefore is set around my hometown of Stroud. It features many actual people, and a whole host of imaginary people, some of whom are based heavily on real people. It became a way for some of us to connect with each other and to have something to talk about – which helped a lot with lockdown and social isolation.

The stories come in bite sized pieces, and the whole thing is more of a soap opera than anything with a coherent story arc. It’s mostly silly, occasionally darker and more serious, and pushes the notion of were-entities far further than any sensible person might go. The stories exist as readings, and as ebooks (which you can have for free).

Series 1 starts here –

Series one as an ebook is over here, for free – https://ko-fi.com/s/2241a51430

Series 2 starts here –

Series 2 as an ebook – https://ko-fi.com/s/1eb07c4561

Series 3 starts here –

Series 3 as an ebook is over here – https://ko-fi.com/s/f0055708b7

It is an entirely silly project, but at the same time, some of my best expression of animism are in here, particularly when it comes to very small things such as oolites, and yeast.

What some people think I do

Ah, the arts life, just swanning about doing nothing while people give me vast sums of money to support my decadent lifestyle.

I find it really curious how some people think the arts work, and all the recent commentary around AI has made it obvious just how many people out there think that creative people are elitist and lazy and don’t deserve to be paid for their work, or even allowed to work.

I wish with all my heart that the people who feel this way would sit down and write a novel, or an opera, or paint someone’s portrait, or go on stage and perform a play. It would be obvious to them fairly quickly at that point that there would be effort, skills and knowledge involved.

Whether a book is fiction or non-fiction there’s usually research involved, as well as planning and structuring. I prefer to make novels up as I go, but I do a lot of world building ahead of that, and I spend time on themes. I prefer character-driven stories, and it takes a while to create complex characters who can make that work. Then there’s the writing, the redrafting, the editing and the promoting. These days even big publishing houses expect authors to do most of the marketing. 

If all I did on this blog was try and sell people books, many of you would not show up to read anything – and rightly so. Relentless sales pitches aren’t interesting, and this is also true for social media. And so, in order to engage people, I end up creating and giving away a lot of content. This has worked as a strategy for me, but it does take time and energy, and not everyone can afford that. My fabulous co-writer David has massive health problems, leaving him with the option of writing or promoting, but no scope to do both. For those many creative people working full or part time jobs, the way marketing your own work also needs to be a full time job makes this whole industry really challenging.

We (The Hopeless, Maine team) do a lot of events because selling books directly works for us and because it’s a way of raising the profile of what we’re doing. Events are also work, performing at events requires rehearsing, being at events means promoting the event. I wish I could spend more time at events just being glamorous and floating about, but in practice, you’ll also find the better known musicians at events working their merch tables when they aren’t on stage, and putting in a lot of effort engaging with people.

Developing ideas takes time. I don’t want to write the kind of obvious, derivative fiction that could easily be replaced by an AI. So there are limits on how fast I can churn things out (5k words a day is my upper limit) , and how much time I need to spend just thinking about things. Unfortunately we have a culture that prizes looking busy, and is much less keen on people thinking about things. What you can do by rushing around trying very hard to look busy as a kind of performance art is not the same as what you can do with focused thought, but one of these things looks more convincing than the other, for a lot of people.

Music takes time, too. It takes hours of work to learn a piece and get it up to performance standards. It takes a lot of time to learn a script and to be able to perform it on stage. Art also takes time and isn’t created in a brief flurry of being magically talented. The image I’ve put at the top of this post is a Hopeless, Maine take on The Death of Chatterton. Drawing that image took Tom at least a day – which he can only do because he’s spent years honing his skills as a visual artist. Colouring it will have taken at least four hours, and that’s four hours of intense focus. 

Being creative is an excellent thing, and I want everyone to have time and resources to create whatever they want. Being a professional creator is actually quite a lot of work, and has a lot of the same work aspects of other jobs – we have admin, and tedious stuff that just has to be slogged through, and all the rest of it. The vast majority of people working in creative industries are paid poorly, no matter what their economic approach to the work is.

Spells for the Second Sister

I have a new free novel up on my ko-fi store. This is a novel mostly set in Gloucestershire, and in parallel words, and it gets increasingly bonkers as it goes along. This is an overtly queer book, there’s a nonbinary character and the main character is both bisexual and polyamorous. It’s not graphic on the sexual side, or in terms of violence but it does get decidedly peculiar at times.

We follow the main character – Kathleen – from the age of 14 onwards, checking in at seven year intervals. This structure enabled me to have a first person narrator who does not know the whole story for most of the book. It also allowed me to explore a person growing and changing over a much longer timeframe than I’ve previously tried in a novel. Without giving away too much of the plot, Kathleen ends up finding out what it means to become a sorcerer, and for this book, what that means is not what it usually means. This is a speculative story, heavy on the magic and poking around in ideas of identity and how we change over time. It’s urban-ish fantasy in that much of it is set in a reality akin to our own, but it doesn’t really follow the habits of that genre.

Here’s a video of me talking about the book and reading the introduction – 

You can pick up a free ebook version here – https://ko-fi.com/s/f312aa059a

There are no consequences to picking it up as a free ebook, the site does not add you to anything or add you to a mailing list or anything like that, so far as I know. So, it is genuinely free. If you want to pay for it, there’s the option to pick your own amount. If you read it and like it enough to want to pay for it in retrospect, ko-fi donations are also an option. If you’re on a tight budget and can’t afford to buy books, please just take a free copy, along with anything else in my ko-fi store that appeals to you.

I’m able to do this sort of thing because people who can afford to buy books do so, and because there are some wonderfully generous people who support me on Patreon

There is also a paperback version available from Amazon, for anyone who feels really keen.

Rem Wigmore book reviews

These two books follow straight on from each other, and it does work to read them back to back. Foxhunt has been out for a while Wolfpack is coming out this January. I figured it made sense to review the two in one go.

This story is set in a future that has come back from the brink and where humanity is trying to make better choices. That makes for very hopeful reading. There a mix of people going back to older ways of doing things, alongside imaginative future tech and lots of solar power. There’s also a lot to think about around how people organise themselves – this mostly goes on in the background but it’s a source of richness within the books. The world building is deftly done and engaging and I would cheerfully spend a lot more time reading stories set in this future. The main character is trans, there are a lot of trans and nonbinary characters and everyone introduces themselves with their pronouns, which is wonderful. I don’t think I’ve ever previously read anything that was so entirely queer and it made me very happy.

There are definite threads for Pagans in these novels. The author clearly knows their mythology, and draws on it in all sorts of interesting ways. There is also reverence for the earth and for the Green threading through it all, which I found really resonant.

If it sounds like your sort of thing, get in there!


For me the heart of this story is how the main character – Orfeus – grows as a person and learns about herself. At the start of the book, Orfeus presents as cocky and sassy and seems fairly self-assured. However, as the story progresses, it becomes obvious that Orfeus isn’t close to many people and really has no idea who to trust or how to relate to most people. There’s a huge learning curve for the character around understanding other people and forming more substantial relationships. It’s really interesting watching a main character who has very little idea what they’ve got into and who makes terrible choices about how to react. I found that refreshing, and opens the story up in ways that a more competent character could not have done.

Overall this is a charming romp of a book right up until it takes a very uneasy turn towards the end. The story plays out well.


The second novel introduces more perspectives and we see this future reality through more eyes – which I really liked. Wolfpack builds on the ideas from the first book, expands the cast and develops the characters we’re already familiar with. It’s a stronger novel, and much more emotionally intense than Foxhunt. I came very close to crying over this story on multiple occasions. There are themes of community, relationship, trust, and hope. The way all of that plays out gave me a lot of feelings and the emotional journeys of the characters are really powerful. It’s a story about how we move on together, how we heal together, how we look after each other and this is such good and needful stuff to be talking about. And it’s good to encounter those themes with characters who wear cool masks and have nifty flying bikes and surprise owls.

Find out more on the author’s website – https://www.remwigmore.com/

Lore of the Saelvatici

This is a tricky book to review because it’s not like anything else I’ve ever read – and I have read a lot of books, and I read broadly. After some reflection I think you’re most likely to go for this as a reader if you’re into folk horror as a genre. It isn’t exactly folk horror, it’s more like the backstory that a contemporary folk horror narrative would allude to before leaving a contemporary character to die trapped inside a hollow oak.

For Pagan readers there may well be some amusement in the set-up – the ancient manuscript transcribed only to disintegrate leaving no real evidence. Steven C Davis clearly knows his stuff, and this is all very knowing. The lost but recreated manuscript tells of old gods, terrifying forests, human violence and horror. The book is an assemblage of fragments, in many ways more like poetry than a novel. I’m fairly convinced it’s a spell designed to enchant the reader and make space in their head for those old forest gods to enter in. I can honestly say I experienced it that way.

Quite some years ago, I read Wake by Paul Kingsnorth – a book set in much the same timeframe and also dealing with Norman conquest, religious upheaval and violence. I found Wake disappointing, and did not try to review it. At the same time, I felt it misleadingly offered things I wanted and failed to deliver on them. That book is on my mind now because Lore of the Saelvatici is in many ways an answer to how Wake left me feeling. This is the imagined history I needed.

That the writing is lyrical makes the violence a lot easier to bear. This is a bloody book, and many of the scenes in it do not go well for those involved. There’s a lot of death, murder, sacrifice… there’s also a lot of sexual violence. I’m generally not good at coping with sexual violence in books, but I managed to deal with the content here, and I think if you’re braced for it you’ve got a reasonable chance. It’s easier, in many ways, when violence is presented as horror and not as something titillating.

This is not a book for everyone, but if this is the kind of writing that attracts you, then you are going to love this. Strange, wild, uneasy and powerful material, it may well do things to you. The world would be a more interesting place of more of us had forest gods inside our heads.

You can find it on Amazon – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Lore-Saelvatici-Steven-C-Davis/dp/0956514731

Juniper Wiles – a review

Charles de Lint has a new book out, and it’s the second one in his Juniper Wiles series. I’m reasonably sure it stands alone, but I did read the first one first – called Juniper Wiles. I’m not sure why I didn’t review it at the time, but there we are. It’s a charming book with a really interesting premise that carries on into the series.

The premise is that anything sufficiently invested in becomes real. Fans of Charles de Lint will be familiar with his multiverses and otherworlds, and the ways in which he envisages different kinds of realities interacting. If enough people invest in a story, then that story can develop a life of its own – which is of course in some ways a literal truth when you think about fan fiction, cosplay and so forth.

Juniper Wiles is a character in a show that people have invested so much in that it has a reality of its own. Characters from it show up in her life thinking that she is her character – plenty of obvious real world issues here, too. That’s a lot for a person to get to grips with, even more so because her TV character solves crimes. It would be like people from Sunnydale turning up at Sarah Michelle Gellar’s house wanting help fighting actual vampires.

Juniper lives in Newford and has Jilly Coppercorn in her life – this is going to be a much bigger issue for anyone who has read de Lint’s work already. What we have now is a community that includes elders. There are multiple characters with experience of magic, otherworlds and all the rest who are able to support the younger humans in getting to grips with things. As these are stories with some solid LGBTQ content, I found this parallel powerful and interesting. The magical aspect of the story for me mirrors something of my experience of queer comunity and that growing presence of people who have lived longer and know stuff and can provide support. It also resonates with my experience of Pagan community.

There’s also something wonderful about what happens to story shapes when mentors aren’t just people you kill off to make the young protagonist deal with things alone when barely ready. I find I’m much more interested in stories where community plays a part and people support each other. Having an older, wiser Jilly Coppercorn able to help and guide the younger folk is a beautiful thing. I could use a lot more stories with this sort of shape.

Book two is going to greatly comfort anyone who has been made uncomfortable by a certain series about a magic school. Charles de Lint brings both humour and compassion to the issue, and does affirming, heartwarming things. He also has a really clever and original magic system going on in the background of the second book.

These are definitely books for people who enjoy content threatening to break the fourth wall. The writing is knowing, and self aware – de Lint himself is often cited as the father of urban fantasy and yet so much of where the genre has gone is very different from what he does. This is all part of the mix in these stories. His work has always been far more rooted in folklore and the land itself than is usual for urban fantasy. He’s always hopeful, restorative and generous in his writing. If you haven’t read any of his work, really you should.

As a personal note, I read the first book at some speed in order to be ready to be a test reader on the second book. A huge honour, and a wonderful thing to be given opportunity to do. 

Book 1 in the series – https://www.charlesdelint.com/juniper-desc01.htm

Juniper Wiles and the Ghost Girls is now live.
ebooks: https://books2read.com/u/3RzyWG
paper: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1989741061
Non-Amazon Mobi: https://payhip.com/b/D9YqO

She saw the water-lilly bloom

(A little bit of fiction that might be part of a larger project)

You are pretty sure the man who said the answer to everything is make good art had no idea what he was talking about. You make the tapestry anyway because it’s all you have, and it’s that or throw yourself out of the window. It is not enough to make the tapestry. Not enough to watch the world through a mirror and always be separate from it. But you make good art in the hopes that you’re going to figure out an answer here. As though this mess is a puzzle to be solved.

The only way to know if the curse is real is to test it. There’s a fighting chance that you are trapped here under a misconception and that all you have to do is resist and the nightmare will end. If the curse is real, that choice is death, simply.

Every day your life hangs between the window and the loom. The world you cannot be part of and the pale reflection of life you make with your own hands. It is never enough. Every day so far you’ve chosen the loom, because it is a bit like being alive, and maybe that’s as good as anything can ever be. Perhaps the answer is to learn to live within these limitations and make the best of it. You try to be grateful for what you have, for the colours and textures of threads and for the reflected view of the world. It is something. You are alive and outside your window the seasons turn and you can smell the world even if you can’t touch it.

Today is the other sort of day. The need for sun on skin, and to sink your fingers into the long, damp grasses and down into the soil itself, is so strong it hurts. The need to feel the wind touching your face. To put bare feet into the cool expanse of the river and feel the water moving against your skin. Not to be separate from the world, but to be part of it. 

Today the bigger curse is this chilly, lifeless, lonely room. Today the living death of making sad, pale imitations of dreams is too much to bear. You finally choose to leave, because this half-life that avoids the danger is no life at all and you can no longer bear it.

Is it the curse taking effect? Or is your body so weak from its long imprisoning that your legs can barely hold you up? You find a boat, and you write your name upon it in case someone finds you and wonders. The river takes you, and holds you and carries you. Above, the sky is more beautiful than you remembered, and birds fly across your line of vision, each one of them miraculous in your hungry gaze. The taste of the river is in your mouth and the sensual warmth of the wooden boat is under your fingers. Willows at the river margins, workers voices from the fields. Life embraces you. If this is the end of the story, you regret nothing.

(Based very slightly on Tennyson’s Lady Of Shalott. I was curious as to what might happen without it being about Lancelot)

The Cold Ones – fiction

Your adoration is fascinating. How your warm, soft bodies respond to our cold, unyielding forms. We hold the perfect balance of familiar and alien. We look like you and yet we are not you, and so you are enthralled by the heady mix of beauty and horror. We are so very cold to the touch, and there is no give in us at all.

You are so moist, with your many fluids, and there are so many ways to make those liquids emerge from your soft bodies. What comes out of you is like the sea, and perhaps that makes sense. We seem dry to you, like bone or stone. You are always drawn to touch what you do not understand. We frighten you, and you love to be frightened.

Perhaps it is because of all this liquid and softness that you change so much. Your faces change moment to moment. How you stand and move alters, especially if we make the moisture come out of you. It does not seem that you can put the moisture back in, when we have finished. This is clearly a weakness and we do not understand why you have evolved this way. If too much liquid comes out, your bodies cease to function, becoming cold and hard like our own, but unlike us, you do not move when you have become properly dry.

You tell me that you love me. I can only think it means that you are happy to give your soft body as sustenance. It is, after all, the quickest way you can become like us. It makes perfect sense that you would long to be as we are. It is the only thing about you that makes any sense at all.

(Art by Dr Abbey, text by me)