Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Book Launches - Ways of the Doomed

As the publication date of Ways of the Doomed hurtles towards me I find my days filled with creating content. These are fun days; ordering cakes, writing articles and lists, updating my profiles on social media and book reviewing sites. But the best fun of all comes on the day the book is launched. The invites have gone out and I am looking forward to catching up with old friends and readers at my book launches.

Here are the details of the three Scottish launches and my first ever London launch.
  • Glasgow - 16th June, 7.00pm Argyle Street Waterstones G2 8BT
  • Stirling – 17th June, 6.30pm Central Library, Corn Exchange Road, Stirling FK8 2HX
  • Edinburgh – 24th June 6.30pm Blackwell’s Bookstore, South Bridge, EH1 1YS 
  • London - 15th July, 6.30pm Barbican Library, Silk Street, London EC2Y 8DS

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Ways of the Doomed: trailer

I love the trailer of my latest book due out in June.  Published by Saraband Books.

Friday, 2 January 2015

The Marcothon in Thirty One Tweets

So what is The Marcothon? It all started in 2009, when a guy called Marco challenged himself to run every day in November. His wife then deciding to follow suit and run every day in December, dubbed it the Marcothon and before she it knew it there was a group of runners eager to embrace the winter conditions of December 2009. In 2010, the group was added to Facebook and attracted over 500 runners from across the globe.

The rules are simple you must run every day in DECEMBER. Minimum of three miles or 25 minutes – whichever comes first. The challenge starts on December 1 and finishes on December 31 including Christmas Day. It’s not a competition but a personal challenge.  If you have friends who are also doing the challenge the added support helps keep you going.

I Marcothoned for the first time in 2013 and loved it. I forced myself out the door in dark, cold, sometimes atrocious weather.  After the first week it became a habit – a good habit.
When I approached the start of December 2014 I decided I would record every run on Twitter and Facebook just to add another dimension. I ran in total over 1100 minutes which probably equates to over 100 miles in the month.  Here is my Marcothon in Thirty One Tweets

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

When Adults Grow Young

My latest novel, due out next year, began life as an adult novel. The subject is adult even though the protagonist is a sixteen year old boy.  Two years into the writing and on reflection I began to believe the subject of oppression and class struggle might be suitable for young adults as well as adults.  There was nothing else for it, I needed to read as many young adult books as I could lay my hands on.

I wanted to read only the best but I didn't know where to start.  I was staggered by the choice on offer outside the famous Hunger Games and Twilight series.  I asked for recommendation and my Goodreads friends were a great source.  Here is a small selection of some I have read in the past months.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

There are a lot of mixed reviews about this book and I can see why.  First off it would be easy to spoil the read by revealing too much of the story so I am going to say little other than it is about three rich cousins and their poor friend who always spend the summer together. A significant event occurs and everything changes.  It has a twist at the end which I had heard about and I spent far too long looking for clues and trying to work out what it could be. I shouldn't have.

There have been complaints that the writing style is choppy, annoying. I liked it, it was different and felt natural for the age of the narrator (17yrs)

The novel is short, pacey and filled with creepy tension and yet the author still finds room make some pretty heavy social comments and for this I give it four stars.


Kit Watson and his family return to the mining village where his ancestors lived and worked.  He is drawn into the childish game of Death in the wilderness of old pit workings and a story unfolds of friendship, death and the meaning of belonging.
Although this is a YA book it is very dark and well suited to an adult read.
The relationship between Kit and his grandfather is particularly well drawn.
The plot has touches of a Stephen King style but this is gentler and more thoughtful. This is the kind of book I wish I had written.

Skellig by David Almond

I read this in one sitting. A pace perfect fantasy, with unfolding family drama, lots of love and a little sprinkling of William Blake.  Loved it.

Clockwork, Or, All Wound Up by Philip Pullman

I picked this up from the library sale bin and read it right away. Philip Pullman is the master of children's' fiction. This reads like a fairy tale but is full of drunkenness and adults behaving badly. It is enhanced with very quirky illustrations and asides.  It is a short read and I loved being transported through the whole story in one sitting.

War Horse by Michael Morpurgo

I really hated this book in the first part. I hated horse point of view, and the fact that the horse seemed to understand everything about the world. When he arrives in war torn France not only does he understand English but German and French too. Then I reminded myself who this book is aimed at and the message it is trying to get across.  I settled into the style and stopped being an adult critic.  That's when I started to enjoy it.
It might not be perfect, but what this book does well is show man's inhumanity to man and beast then counters that by showing man's humanity to both. I found the historical aspects of the Warhorses very interesting although I'm not sure how accurate they are.  The big message is about WW1 and how futile it was.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Finding Al Alvarez

A couple of weeks ago I was in London. A sweltering, tourist crowded, sweaty, dirty London.  I jumped on the number 24 bus at the bottom of Tottenham Court Road and within thirty minutes I reached Hampstead Heath. I have never been before, had only see it on films and TV Notting Hill, Smileys People.  I expected it to be like the other London Parks, manicured and prim but it's not, Hampstead Heath is wild.
I began my walk at Hampstead Railway Station and scuffed by feet uphill through rough stubble and newly cut grass.  Benches perched randomly on the hillside,  left for anyone willing to climb the slope to take in the breadth and beauty of the trees and the odd glimpse of the city.

Two competent dog walkers with twelve dogs between them seemed comfortable with the surroundings so I followed them for a bit then swung low to meet a well-made path. This took me to a causeway where two boys fished in a pond. Notices advised against disturbing the water in respect of the swimmers.


At the far end of the pool was a jetty behind which wooden huts huddled.  In the water I noticed a bald head heading toward a string of buoys about twenty five metres from the jetty.  An elderly gentleman, the only one in the water, reached the barrier and hugged it, taking in great whoops of breath. Bravo, I thought and before I had the chance to take out my camera, he was thrashing back the way he came.    This was the Mixed Pool.
The Mixed Pool with old man swimming

From here I climbed Parliament Hill where I was rewarded with the iconic view of London only previously seen on the small screen but I was then saddened to see a dejected English football supporter, draped in his flag, gazing with awe at his green and pleasant land; wondering, no doubt, where all his World Cup dreams had gone.

A poor wee soul on Parliament Hill
I followed the path down to Highgate, toyed with the idea of looking for Karl Marx's grave but in the end caught a bus back to Kings Cross.

Walking is hungry work so I stopped off at The Quakers Friends House café for lunch. This decision was impulsive. I had been passing the place every morning for the past week, it was close to my hotel and the menu on the board outside looked tempting.   And they had a bookshop!

The lunch can only be described as OK. A dry scotch egg with salad.  The bookshop was more interesting.  I am not religious but am interested in the different philosophies religions explore. This bookshop had many on offer but one book caught my eye.

Pondlife by Al Alvarez.   

I have been familiar with Al Alvarezs work for a number of years.  I always believed he was an American climber who was also an excellent writer. I have enjoyed many of his articles, stories and poems in various climbing magazines through the years. He wrote the introduction to the iconic short story collection The GamesClimbers Play.  I vaguely remembered he played poker.

I read the blurb about his previous publications, it turns out he is British and a writer and critic who climbs, how could I have got that so wrong?  The book was subtitled A Swimmers Journal;  he had added another activity to his already full portfolio.

I almost fainted with shock when I read the authors profile and saw his photo.  The book journals the last few years of the author's swims in pools at Hampstead Heath and charts his slow decline into old age. The photo shows an old man, bald head, and grey moustache above a rather pained smile.  I was convinced the man I saw only an hour before in the mixed pool was Al Alvarez.

The coincidence made me giddy. What made me go to those pools? I had no idea they were there. What made me go to the Quaker House? The only reason I picked up that particular book was I knew the name I thought he was an American climber!   It was weirder than weird.
Of course I had to buy the book. 

The journals begin in 2002 and charts Alvarez as he stumbles from his home near the Heath to the ponds for his swim. He swims all year round and along with a daily water temperature he lists the birds and the blossom, the changing seasons.  There is a real sense and love of the place. The shifting cast of characters are wonderful, fellow swimmers (mostly ex-athletes) and lifeguards. It is like an old boys club and very companionable. The author is pained by a bad ankle that plagues his walking and as the years spread over the pages he becomes more and more debilitated, suffering a stroke and many falls.  His frustration is heart breaking but I shy from feeling sorry for him because that is what he loathes most. By the end of the book his life is a constant battle against pain and his declining years.  This is an amazing insight into what we all must face one day; this mans struggles should give us the courage to face it with dignity.

The book only chronicles up to 2011 and by the end I began to doubt whether it was Al Alvarez I saw that day. I hope it was because it means he is still winning.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Guest Post by Alice-Catherine Jennings, Poet, Reader, Medievalist

Epic-mania in the Global Reading Group: How It All Began

We all have those books, right? The ones that are always on your “must read” list but never quite make it to the top—year after year.  Mine was The Inferno by Dante Alighieri. It seemed like every time I read a poem, a story, a novel, Dante’s name would pop up.  Good grief! There was even a reference to The Inferno on Mad Men.

It was time to get to the bottom of this Dante thing. Oh, I wasn’t totally clueless.  I had read snippets of it in high school. I knew it was about sin and punishment and that Hell had nine levels. Yet, what else was I missing? Why do so many writers refer back to this epic work of literature?

This would be the year, the year to read Dante. The timing was perfect. It was March 2013 and it was Lent.  I could begin now and end on Easter Sunday.  I had a deadline but I needed a support group. My memories of Dante weren’t favorable. I thought the reading would be a slog—something that one endures because it good for you, like getting your teeth cleaned.  I needed people to keep me accountable.

But where could I find these other readers? My family said, “No way” and close friends said they were busy. They had other books to read. It was time to clean their closets, file their nails.  I decided to look further afield, to mine my Facebook nation. I posted and posted and sent out invitations. At first, the response was tepid but steadily it grew.  

Forty-five! I could not believe it.  By the start date, my original idea had morphed into a literary salon of forty-five members. It was all so exciting. We would journey to Hell together, with Dante and Virgil (more on him later) as our guides.

We considered form, mythology and structure. The architects in the group gave us their version of the construct of Hell. We thought about the worst of the worst and whom we would put in Hell’s lowest circle. All in all, it was a terrific read.

At the end of month, the group asked, what’s next? “What’s next?” I never considered the reading group to be an ongoing thing. I just wanted to read Dante. Anyway, that’s how we got hooked on the classics, especially the epics. Dante led to Virgil and Virgil to Homer and Homer to Beowulf and so on. The list of future salons continued to grow—and, so too did the readership. For the Beowulf salon, there were over 65 members. The average group size, however, is 35.

At last count, there have been more than 350 participants (including many, many repeats) from 15 different countries worldwide.  Although I do not know everyone personally in the salons any longer, I do sense a personal connection to each and every reader.

What attracts folks to the classics? I imagine there are as many reasons as there are readers but I suspect there is a yen for an opportunity to reflect on the things that are elemental, universal and important—the things that make us human. And, the stories are good, really good.

Each month The Global Reading Group reads one classic work of literature. For the schedule and how to join, visit: www.alicecatherinej.com.

Alice-Catherine Jennings is a student in the MFA Program in Writing at Spalding University.  Her poetry has appeared in In Other Words: MeridaHawai’i Review, Penumbra, The Louisville Review, Boyne Berries and is forthcoming in First Literary Review East. She is the recipient of the U.S. Poets in Mexico 2013 MFA Candidate Award. Alice-Catherine divides her time between Austin, Texas and Oaxaca, Mexico.