The Man in the High Castle


As you may have gathered, I love Fantasy and Sci Fi, particularly the classics, so when I was browsing in my local bookshop and saw a copy of Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle I had to get it.

It’s been on my radar for a long time now. I probably read my first of Dick’s books nearly 30 years ago when I was devouring SF at the rate of 3 or 4 books a week. I never got to this one, only because it never happened to be in the library when I was browsing. I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep around then and loved it. I’d seen Bladerunner (which is based on Do Androids Dream…) at an all night showing in the Bloomsbury theatre in 1987. I loved that too, and I’ve watched it many times since. There’s a a lot of differences between the book and the film but I was happy to judge them separately, something you also need to do with Man in The High Castle.

For the record I think the two series of The Man in the High Castle are excellent, some of the best TV I’ve seen this year, but if you were expecting the book to be the same you would be disappointed. The premise is the same, a version of the world in the sixties where the Nazis and the Japanese have won the Second World War, the Eastern states of the US are under Nazi rule, the Pacific states under Japanese rule with the neutral zone, a kind of no man’s land, in between. The story however is very different. In the TV series there are a number of plotlines that interweave and there’s a lot of action, political intrigue, resistance fighters, Yakuza, assassination plots, spies etc. It is complex but basically standard cause and effect. Things happen, characters face danger and peril, they take action, conflict is resolved. Like I said, it’s good TV.

With the book it can almost feel like nothing is really happening. There are some of the same characters, and they do some of the same things, but it’s not as dramatic, at least not in an obvious sense. There is a similar thing with Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep and Bladerunner. The movie is much more linear and complete than the book. The thing is with Philip K. Dick is that his books are often about more than the obvious plot. Do Androids Dream is a story about a detective hunting down a group of rogue simulants but the book is really about the nature of humanity, the central question is “What does it mean to be a person?”.

The Man in the High Castle is a book set in an alternate reality where the Allies lost the war. The ‘Man’ referred to in the title is an author who writes a book about another alternate reality where the Allies won the war. It is world within world, reality within reality and Dick challenges us to consider the nature of reality itself. In this case the central question is “What does it mean to be real?”

It’s a great book, just don’t expect the TV series.


Book Review – Legend by David Gemmell


I first read Legend in my teens and loved it. Recently I was prompted to read it again and I’m delighted to say it has stood the test of time.

There are lots of reasons to like this book. It has a great cast of characters, covering both the traditional hero figures and the men who serve under them. The plot is well done, similar to other stories of a small force holding out against a much larger one, think of films like The Alamo, The Magnificent Seven, Zulu, 300 etc., and the writing is tight if a little functional. That sounds like a gripe, but actually the style suits the book perfectly.

The thing that struck me this time was the wonderful feeling of claustrophobia of a story which is mostly set in a very small gegraphical area, namely between the seven walls of the fortress of Dros Delnoch. This has the effect of pulling you right into the centre of the action, so that when you stop reading it’s like you’ve come up gasping for air.

I’m now going to have to add his other books to my ever expanding TBR list.

Do you have any books you’ve reread after a long time? Did they stand the test of time?

If you fancy a quick fantasy read, why not try The Path Of Swords? Six reviews on Amazon UK and they’re all 5 star. for the UK for the US

Book Review on Fantasy Faction


I recently embarked on one of those strange internet adventures you can never recreate but ended up in me landing on a site called Fantasy Faction. It had a place where authors can post about their own books so I thought “Might be worth a shot”. I joined and posted a short description of my book and a link.


And then something rather  nice happened. A lovely chap who goes by the alias of Jmack replied as follows:

Here is the first post.

To all my forum friends here, we all see self-pub posts and few of us have time to act on them. For no reason I can think of, I clicked on @Martin Swinford’s link to Amazon. I liked what he had as a blurb. 99 cents. Bought.

I sitting on a bench in my back yard with “Smiler’s Fair” and a “Catch a Wave: the Rise, Fall, and redemptions of the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson” on my lap. But I decided, eh, I’ll try this 99 cent novella. Well, I’m only 13% in (Kindle, so it’s percent, not pages), but this is charming so far.

And here’s the second.

As you saw, it’s pure happy (for me) chance that I decided to click your link. Pure “I’m slightly bored; oh, why not?” But having clicked, I think your write-up on Amazon is excellently done. Somewhere I saw your “autobiography”; must have been Amazon, but now I’m not seeing it. Web version vs. app? The autobiography suited my Anglophilia ::), so I purchased.

I enjoyed the novella quite a bit, though perhaps not the final chapter or so as much as rest. Martin’s writing is enjoyably detailed. He’s rooted in the English country-side in many ways, and the travels of the young hero and his friends are through same landscape that Lloyd Alexander and JRRT capture. There are some lovely moments and good surprises in the plot, including a very realistic aftermath to a deadly fight.

The writing is strong, but needs an editor’s hand to fix some things, mainly POV stuff. Meanwhile, I think anyone who would like a break from grimdark or just wants to return to an old-fashioned fantasy novel (somewhat YA) should give this a try.

The next installment comes this Fall. I’ve got another 99 cents ready.

This review made me very happy, even though there are some constructive criticisms. For a start it mentions Tolkien (hurrah!) but more importantly what it really does is confirm to me that I’m on the right path. So big thanks here to Jmack

And while we are in the subject of reviews, The Path Of Swords just got another 5 star review on Amazon (this makes 5 so far). If you want to take a look then click on the links below.        for the UK           for the US

Thanks again.



Book Review – Holy Island – A DCI Ryan Mystery

Cards on the table, I only got this book for two reasons: it was offered free with my Amazon Prime membership, and it is set on Lindisfarne which I have visited recently and absolutely love. I quite like detective books, although I haven’t read many recently, so I thought I’d give it a go.

So I read it while on a short holiday last week and quite enjoyed it, although I thought the end sucked. So I checked out the reviews.

As you can see it has over a thousand 5 star reviews which is very impressive, but I also noticed it had 125 1 star reviews, of which this was my favourite:

DCI Ryan, escapee from a French perfume ad by way of Made in Chelsea, lives on Lindisfarne and fumes. We’re never quite sure what he’s fuming about but he does a lot of it. DCI Ryan has the charisma of a baking potato but none of the spud’s inherent likeability.
Across on the mainland lives a fey mimsy whimsy creature, Anna, who holds down a job as a university lecturer?, researcher?.- who cares, you only need to know that she’s wetter than a haddock’s bathers. She used to live on Lindisfarne.

There’s a murder on the island.

Ryan stomps about fuming and giving orders to his sidekicks. Watch out for the Irish sergeant with the Scottish name – she’s flame-haired which gives her a bad temper. NO, it’s true! – it’s been proven by people at the University of Hairs.

Then there’s another murder.

Then there’s another particularly horrible murder. Involving fire. By now it’s clear that Lindisfarne, although just four and a half miles in area, possesses many of the characteristics of the Tardis, since nobody is close enough to notice the smell of freshly toasting person on the breeze.

The mainland police have no access to boats or helicopters so they have to wait till the tide goes out, leaving Ryan to do all the enquiries.

Ryan is very fuming now. Mimsy Anna has been sent to the island to help him as she is an expert on Things.

Ryan’s first contact with Mimsy makes DCI Gene Hunt of Life on Mars sound like the Editor of the Guardian Womens’ page.
Nonetheless Mimsy feels a fluttering in her underpinnings because she is a Big Wet Nelly.

Ryan calls round to hers one day, kicks the door off its hinges like any reasonable copper would do, and finds Mimsy without any underpinnings at all, having just got out of the shower …
I’ll leave you to guess what happens next.

That’s as far as I’ve got with this bilge. I know I should simply donate my Kindle to the British Heart Foundation charity shop, but could I really allow some misfortunate to stumble upon this without warning.

Do yourself a favour – save your eyeballs and your money.

Now, this review is much better than the book itself, and actually everything it says about the book is pretty much true. Much of the book is fairly ludicrous, and some of the plot devices really don’t work, or are introduced and then never appear again, (like the killer’s internal monologue – weird that you only hear it once). So what rating do I give it? The thing is I enjoyed reading it. Maybe I’m not demanding enough, or maybe I’m very good at suspending disbelief, or maybe I just didn’t expect too much from what I thought of as a ‘trashy’ novel I got for free.

I read the absolutely sublime All The Light We Cannot See before Holy Island. Another great book wouldn’t have worked afterwards, it would have been too much. Perhaps every book doesn’t have to be a masterpiece. It’s a bit like watching TV, sometimes you want to watch a really high quality drama, other times you just want to settle down with something undemanding that passes the time.

So is Holy Island a good book? As always it depends what you like and how you’re feeling at the time. Sitting outside my caravan with a glass of wine, it was a good book.

And while we are in the subject of reviews, The Path Of Swords just got another 5 star review on Amazon. If you want to take a look then click on the links below.        for the UK           for the US

Thanks again.



The Fellowship Of The Bling

I’ve discovered a way of becoming a successful author, and that is simply to give your book a title that is very similar to another very successful book. You see I thought I had bought this book:

But I had actually bought this book:

Some time ago I got one of those Amazon emails offering books at sale prices and thought: “I’ve heard of that, probably worth a go.” So I paid my 99p, downloaded to my kindle where it sat for some considerable time among all the other bargain books I haven’t got around to reading.

Then my wife read The Girl On The Train and said how good it was. She then watched the film on the plane and remarked how she didn’t like it compared to the book. All this prompted me to start reading it myself. It was only when I was about a quarter of the way through and we started to talk about it that I realised I was reading a completely different book!

I have to admit at this point that this may have coloured my view slightly, in that I felt a little bit conned. Having said that I did read it to the end and actually quite enjoyed it, in a light holiday read kind of way. All in all it left me a little conflicted so I looked up the reviews on Amazon:

So you can see that although it’s not The Girl On The Train it is pretty successful, in fact it’s sold a lot of copies, although how many were bought by people who thought they were buying something else is impossible to know.

Note:Spoiler alert

If I was to review Girl On A Train it probably wouldn’t be a good one. I know I said I quite enjoyed it, but on reflection it is a load of old tosh to be honest. It starts off pretty well with our heroine, Anne, investigating the suspicious death of a girl, Elly, that she happened to sit next to on a train. Turns out that Elly has left all sorts of clues that Anne tracks down in a kind of low budget Dan Brown Angels and Demons style but set in Brixton rather than Rome. Her motivation for this is that she doesn’t believe Elly committed suicide, and she knows about such things because her (Anne’s) husband killed himself 2 years previously because he was gay (!). It soon appears that the whole thing might be related to the abduction of Elly’s 2 year old nephew also 2 years previously. The problem is that it starts out a bit far fetched and then just gets more and more unbelievable. I’m pretty good at suspending disbelief but this had me going “Oh come on!” by the end. It also had a completely unnessessary section in the middle where the story up was retold from the point of view of Elly up to the point where she died. This added nothing to the book and felt to me like the author had just stuck it in to make the book longer. Also one of the characters does one thing that is completely out of character, the act simply does not fit with the way they are portrayed. The character is question, Lewis, comes in as a nice guy, a policeman who takes Anne for rides on his motorbike and gets her heart all a flutter. He looks after his drug addicted sister and is acting as stand in parent for his tear away 9 year old niece. Then it turns out he was Anne’s gay husband’s secret lover (what!) who raped Elly (!) because Elly found out he was gay and that was his way of shutting her up.

I didn’t get that bit either.

It turns out that Elly didn’t commit suicide, she was attacked by the niece with a stun gun that she bought off the internet and that made Elly fall in front of the train, and the gay husband didn’t commit suicide either, he just had an argument with Lewis, dramatically climbed onto a bridge in a kind of ‘if you don’t love me I’ll kill myself’ moment, and then fell off by accident.

So there you go. I’m now going to write The Fellowship Of The Bling so that loads of people buy it by accident and I make a pile of cash. I’ve already got the start.

“One Ring to rule them all. One Ring to…Hey don’t gimme that one ring crap! Nobody wears just one ring! I want at least ten! And a gold chain!”


I need a little help!

To all you marvellous people in blogosphere, I’m asking for a little help.

It’s just over 4 weeks until The Path Of The Sword is released on Amazon (looking at 15th May) and it would be wonderful if you could do something to help get the word out.

Here’s what you can do and any of these would be a great help.

  1. Like this post.
  2. Tell people.
  3. Share this post via reblog, Twitter, Facebook etc.
  4. Go on my Twitter @someidiottalk and retweet the pinned post.
  5. Blog about it – I can arrange an interview with the author, or even one of the characters.
  6. Download a free copy by clicking here:

Free Review Copy

Read it and give me some feedback or even then review it on your blog.

The book is a fantasy novella set in alternative Dark Age where boys train as warriors and the world of the spirit is never far away. As the first in the series it introduces Luan, the hero who is taking his first steps on The Path Of The Sword.

It is a readable fantasy adventure with a hint of the celtic about it and people who have read it so far thought it was great. It’s also not very long so won’t take too long to read!

(That sounds like a great advertising slogan doesn’t it: Get my book, it’s short!)


Anything you can do is much appreciated.



(PS. Yes I have changed the cover again. Just can’t stop tweaking.)

Zen in the Art of Writing: Book, Blurb & Collage

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury is one of the most enjoyable call-to-action type books I’ve flipped through.  I know, I say that a lot.  But heck, it feels like Bradbury is s…

Source: Zen in the Art of Writing: Book, Blurb & Collage

I saw this post on the Quintessential Editor blog yesterday and thought it was fantastic, well worth clicking on the link above. In the post it talks about the following ideas that Bradbury puts forward as a way to help your writing. Here they are and my thoughts.

Write every day.

100% agree, not sure I manage to put it into practice.

Read every day.

Ditto. Don’t always read much, but I usually read a bit. I’ve always got a book on the go. Also I try to vary my reading. I mostly write SF and Fantasy, but I try to alternate between books in this genre and others. I think otherwise you can become too narrow in your focus.

Get out in the world and experience life to enrich your writing.

I like the idea, but with a full time job my world mostly concentrates around family and work. Teaching means I spend a lot of time with teenagers which is certainly eye opening on occasion. What I try to do is visit a lot of things, museums, archaeological sites, art galleries etc.

Utilize word association to generate interesting ideas 

I’m going to try this. When my Dad was teaching art school he used to get his students to paint pictures based on randomly picked words. Maybe I should try writing like that.

Activities the readers senses.

This is really important and I heard Jilly Cooper say this on a radio interview. Remember you have 5 senses, include them and the writing comes alive.

Make the skeletons in your childhood closet dance.

Growing up in a 1970s beatnik family with a Surrealist artist for a father is probably fertile ground but I’m not going there yet.

Write a short story every week for at least five years.

Would love to do this but it would have to wait until I retire from teaching. Plus although this is a disciplined approach, I think the pressure to complete story after story could just result in rubbish. Also when do you write your novel?

Play with story ideas for years before you bother trying to write them.

I think this is allowable but not mandatory. Certainly I think collecting ideas and letting them hand around in the background is great.

Write like a man/woman possessed by the gods.

Yeah, why not.