The Ghosts of Sleath by James Herbert: David Ash Revisited

I don’t know why I didn’t realise that I’d read this book before. I mean the odds were in favour of it most definitely; published in 1994 by an author I adore. It should have rung a bell, but did not. So when I saw a hardback version of the book for sale in Tesco’s book section, I got excited.

When I got home and googled the book I saw that it was another David Ash book, the first since his appearance in Haunted. I did think it odd that the book had been published in 1994. This fact alone made dredge my aging memory banks and nothing came up. So I excitedly reserved a copy with my local Library and within two days, it arrived.

Unfortunately, the first paragraph of the book brought memories cascading back and I knew before I’d finished the second sentence that I’d read it before. I was not too upset; I am, by my very nature, a “re-reader” of books. I will revisit my favourite author’s offerings again and again. Usually finding something I missed the first ten times I’ve read the book. I read very, very fast and tend to “skip” read a lot; I get caught up in the action and  furiously flip pages to reach the end of the story.

The Ghosts of Sleath features David Ash who, when we last saw him, was in a bit of a bad way. For the Ash novice, David is a psychic. He works for a paranormal institute and has an on-again-off-again affair with his boss Kate McCarrick. He’s an alcoholic whose speciality is debunking ghosts and haunted places. The vast majority of the paranormal “professional” world; psychics, mediums and seers hate him.

David is very good at what he does.

This is the second of the David Ash books and we can only hope that Mr Herbert has a few more Ash tales up his sleeve. His character is interesting and flawed and not especially nice but, like his boss Kate you find yourself drawn to him. His sister drowned when he was a small boy and he has been haunted by the incident and her ever since. It was his connection with his sister that got him involved with the hauntings at Edbrook; hauntings that threatened David’s sanity and his life. (Haunted 1994)

The beginning of the book sees David waiting for the ghost of the Sleep Angel at a retirement care home. The “angel” has been responsible for three deaths in the home so far. David catches the “ghost” who is in fact not dead but very much living in the guise of a staff member of the home. Objective accomplished he reports to Kate and is told to visit Sleath, a small village that is being plagued by several spectral visitors.

When David arrives at Sleath, he finds a picture postcard rural English village that is almost hostile to outsiders. When he sorts out lodging for his stay he finds the owner of the pub/inn is pleased at the prospect of having no more than one guest. Visitors to Sleath are not welcome. In fact, as David finds out from the local vicar’s daughter Grace, they purposefully stay out of tourist tracts. They want no visitors of any sort.

The atmosphere at the village is not hostile, it is just non-caring. They don’t interact with strangers. The people emit a sort of secretive feeling to David, who senses that the village may have more than one thing to hide.

While investigating the spectral visages David will: fall in love with Grace; realize that his sister still haunts him; meet an Irish psychic named Seamus Phelan who seems to know a lot about Sleath and David. He will also find out that ancient evil never really dies. As events begin to escalate, he also learns that Seamus only shows up when an area is about to suffer mass casualties of the living sort.

By the end of the book, David will find out what it is that haunts Grace and the village; and now him.

This is a great little read. Nothing spectacular or else I’d have remembered reading it the first time, but it is typical Herbert. A dash of gore, a few frights and a lot of  “looking over your shoulder”  moments in the book; The Ghosts of Sleath is a good follow on from the book Haunted. If you like a good scare, pick this one up and read it.

Author James Herbert circa 1994.

**This is the next to last post before the big 500. It’s your next to last chance to give me a suggestion for my 500th post. Just sayin’.**

Do it Yourself Blogging or the Self-Help Blogger

Cover of "On Writing:  A Memoir of the Cr...
Cover of On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

I’m sure that a lot of people blog when they can. Just like writing a book, screenplay, or even a short story we have to write regularly. Every book or article I’ve ever read says the same thing. Blogging is writing so…

You have to write every day.

Because these books or articles are written by ‘published’ authors I believe this rule to be true. Each self-help book or article gives a different formula for meeting this daily goal of writing.

Years ago I read a book that had compiled a group of  published and well known authors who gave tips on how they succeeded in not only finishing their books but getting them published. It was an interesting read. John D. MacDonald, writer of the Travis McGee books and hundreds more ‘non-McGee’ books had a brilliant point to make about plot.

More recently Stephen King wrote his own take on the ‘how to book‘ of writing. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a brilliant little book that explains the basics, gives a good list of do’s and don’t’s and gives us a little look into King’s own writing process. I bought it and still read it when I need inspiration.

One thing King does mention is that most people have the essential tools already. If you want to read King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft it is available on Amazon and most book retail sites. I enjoyed it, but then, I’d enjoy reading Stephen King’s grocery list.

I am in the process of writing a book, a short-story or two, and a memoir. I am doing all these very, very slowly. I keep getting distracted. Bills, cleaning the house, going to work, working out in the garden and blogging all take me away from the writing I need to do.

Blogging is perhaps the biggest culprit of all when it comes to distraction. I will admit that blogging is, at least, a pleasant diversion. It has the advantage of relatively fast feedback. You publish it. There is no waiting around to be published. At the stroke of a laptop key or two there you are, up and available for the world to see.

I didn’t read any ‘how-to’ articles on blogging I just started doing it. But there are lots of guides out there to help you become a successful blogger. Although I’m not sure how you would measure what a successful blogger is. For now though, lets look at the articles that can help you become a more consistent blogger.

WordPress.com has a great support system which features all kinds of great advice and tips on blogging. They even go so far as to tell you how your blog can be featured on the much desired Freshly Pressed section. But don’t stop there. The net is full of blogging tips for burgeoning bloggers.

Blogging Heroes
Blogging Heroes (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of these tips come from successful bloggers who have hundreds, if not more, of followers. They write well and know how to engage their readers. They are a mix of people. Some are published authors who blog because they have a dearth of information or opinions on things beyond their books.

A lot of them are people who love the written word and writing. They are not hesitant to help new writers to get started because they know that new blood is needed to keep literature alive.

I didn’t read any articles on blogging until I left my old blogging site. By the time I ‘defected” I’d been blogging for over a year. I just kept plugging away and kept an interested eye on what got read and what got ignored. I slowly began to realize that what I could write well and what I was better off leaving alone.

Of course writing anything like a blog, or a book for that matter, is all about communication. If you can’t do that you might as well stop now and take up knitting or stamp collecting. If you are good at communicating then go on. Write and publish and practice.

While you’re doing all of that writing, teach yourself to edit and re-edit. When I write I do it quickly. When I’ve got that bit between my teeth I gallop across the keyboard at breakneck speed. When I’ve finished I’m always amazed at the mistakes and the utterly cringe worthy ‘boo-boos’ I’ve managed to make in just one blog post.

I will then re-read what I’ve just corrected to make sure that I’ve gotten rid of all the things in the post that make me look mentally challenged or at the very least like I’ve typed the damn thing with my eyes closed. Invariably, after I’ve posted it I will read it and wince because I’ve missed something.

But the nice thing about posting your own blog is that you can go a edit your post as often as you want. That is, if you even want to. I still do it months after I’ve posted something. I cannot imagine getting a book published and then finding out that after (hopefully) thousands of copies have been printed and sold that I’ve left some whopping great error on page 21.

The chances of that are slim I know. That’s why you have editors. But I do still have this paranoia lurking around the back of my mind that worries nonetheless about making myself look semi-literate.

I have just remembered the other thing I like about blogging. The community. The blogging community is supportive, helpful and generous in their feedback on your efforts. It is also full of fascinating folks that you would never meet outside of the blogging world. Folks who have lead interesting lives much different than your own.

Some are well known. Others are very well known. A lot are on their way to getting noticed in a big way. But in the blogging community we are all on the same page, if you’ll pardon the pun, and on a level playing field. We all share the love of words and the act of stringing them together to create ideas, stories and more.

So what about you? Do you have any tips or advice for beginning bloggers. I’d love to know, because I still class myself as a beginning blogger.

Blogging 101.

Burned by Thomas Enger – A Norwegian Phoenix

Touted on the back of the book as Enger‘s debut novel, Burned is a brilliant jig saw puzzle of a mystery/thriller. Debut novel it may well be, but if you take the time to look up Thomas Enger’s biography on Goodreads, you’ll find that he has been writing professionally for quite a while.

It shows.

I could wax lyrical about this book for hours. But since I don’t have the time to do that, I will limit myself to what I can put in a blog-post.

The ‘hero’ of the book (it appears that this is the beginning of a series) is Henning Juul.  Henning is a journalist who works for an internet news channel. Juul is veteran news reporter and he is going through a very traumatic time in his life.

Henning is a burns survivor .  He  lost his son in the fire that nearly killed him, his wife divorced him and he is plagued by bad dreams about the fire and his son. He is also, understandably, very OCD about smoke alarms.

Juul compulsively checks and changes the batteries in his many smoke alarms in his flat. He instantly checks for smoke alarms when he enters any room or building. He has been under therapy to help him ‘move on’ and how to deal with the stress attacks that he was prone to.

At the start of the book, we get to witness the dream that plagues Henning nightly. We also are privy to his return to work and his daily fight to get back to ‘normal.’

Burned is a tightly woven mystery/thriller novel. He has made his main protagonist a very interesting person, one we empathize with immediately. Henning  Juul was a man with a strong drive before he became a burns victim and it is this obvious drive that allows him to overcome his ‘disability’ and get on with his life.

Although this is a “mystery/thriller, Juul is no Miss Marple. He was and still is an investigative journalist, a crime reporter and a man with a questioning mind who was shown the ropes by a veteran newsman.

A girl is found murdered, stoned to death and one hand cut off, her body is in a tent on a city park site.  The police believe it is a Islamic Honour killing and arrest the dead girl’s boyfriend. Juul reports on the killing on his first day back at work. His inquisitive mind sees the murder scene and to him it doesn’t add up.

Henning decides to follow up his initial news story and help to catch the killer.

As a hero Henning Juul is as flawed we are.  He is not a muscle bound action man. He is not a marksman or a pugilist of rapid reflexes and killer punches. He is not a martial arts expert. He is a ‘wounded’ man recovering from horrific injuries. Both physical and mental. Henning’s biggest assets are his need for independence and his sharp questioning mind.

This looks to be the start of a great mystery series. I am glad I found Thomas Enger’s book and I can’t wait for his next Henning Juul novel.

Gone By Michael Grant – But Not Over

Written by Michael Grant and first published in 2008, Gone is a brilliant start to a series about the youthful survivors of a shattered California town.

Set in the fictional seaside town of Perdida Beach. The book starts with the literal disappearance of a teacher in front of her class full of young students. There is no bang, no pop, no puff of smoke. Just there one moment and gone the next.

It turns out that the disappearance of the teacher isn’t an isolated event. As the book proceeds, we find that everyone fifteen years old and older have vanished.

The ‘hero’ of the piece is Apollonian Sam Temple (do you get what he did there, with the name?) who, with his best friend Quinn Gaither, teams up with Astrid Ellison (who might as well be named super-genius) and Edilio Escobar an immigrant from the Honduras. Their first concern is finding out who from their respective families are still around.

They finally go to find Astrid’s extremely autistic brother Pete who was with his father at the Perdido Atomic Power Plant when all  the fifteen plus people vanished.

Before the end of the first day, Sam has saved the pre-school from burning down, he and his group have found Petey and they have discovered that the entire area around Perdido Beach has been enclosed in some sort of bubble.

Within forty-eight hours the question of eating, living, and who will rule has been broached. Before the dust settles, a convoy of black cars drive into the town square. The children who step out of the cars are from the ‘rich kid’ academy on the hill Coates Academy. Coates is in reality a juvenile detention home for the off-spring of the  rich and privileged who are “discipline problems.”

Their leader is the charismatic and Dionysian Caine (again, look what he did with the name here) who is the exact opposite of Sam and who wants to control everything.

While all this has been going on, a lot of the children are finding out that they have developed new and unusual abilities.

But they face another problem. It is rapidly coming up to Sam’s fifteenth birthday and he’s not getting a cake for his special day.

Lord of the Flies

Grant has taken this small town and using it as a giant goldfish bowl shows how the children of modern society would react if all the ‘grown-ups’ were removed. It is almost like a panoramic and updated view of The Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s classic book. Or even Stephen King’s The Stand, but a microscopic version.

No matter how you look at it, the book is a cracking read. Grant paints the towns tapestry brilliantly and uses the same masterful strokes to paint his characters. I lost myself  in this book and could not stop reading it until the last page was breached.

I am now in the process of getting the rest of the books in his series. I have a feeling that Michael Grant is here to stay as a gifted story teller.

Gorging Myself on Books

books
books (Photo credit: brody4)

I am reading four books at once. Well, not at once, more like at the same time. I’m like a hummingbird darting from one nectar filled flower to another.

I open a  book, a quickly read a chapter or two, then set that book down and open another. I will do this until I have tasted each book. I will then pause and reflect on what I have just read.

This process will continue until I get to a chapter that hooks me. This is the defining moment. I have found that part of the story that so enthrals me that I can no longer continue my hummingbird reading. I will then have to finish that book. Preferably in one sitting, regardless of the books length, regardless of the topic, regardless of what else I might have to do.

I have always read this way. Partly because I am a very fast reader. Back when I was younger and had better eyesight and my concentration was total, I could read two thousand words a minute with seventy percent comprehension and eighty percent retention. I know this because my then girl friend was taking a speed-reading course.

My girlfriend, who incidentally later became my first wife, was an incredibly slow reader. It drove her to distraction. So when she started university, the first thing she did was take the speed-reading course. Part of the course was to take a test. You read an amount of prose and then you were tested on what you had read.

My Girlfriend wanted me to take the test as I could read, according to her, incredibly fast. That was when I found out exactly how fast I could read.

I don’t think that I can reach the dizzying heights of two thousand words per minute these days, but I am still damn fast. I have, though, improved my retention rate. I am not sure what that means. Of course the important thing about all this is the fact that I still love reading.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

The four books I am dipping into at the moment are by all contemporary authors. Two are Scandinavian, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo seems to have opened up a whole new market. The other two are American writers. The books are:

Burned by Thomas Enger, She’s Never Coming Back by Hans Koppel, Gone by Michael Grant and Nightmare by Stephen Leather.

So far it has been a tie between Leather’s Nightmare, another in his Jack Nightingale series and Grant’s Gone, the first in his series about a world with everyone above the age of fifteen ‘gone.’

I still haven’t hit that defining chapter yet. But when I do, you’ll be the first to know.