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This story was intended for my new short story collection, Removed Without Warning . You will even notice, if you read it, that it would...

Bringing Her Back (removed from Removed Without Warning)


This story was intended for my new short story collection, Removed Without Warning. You will even notice, if you read it, that it would have given the book its title. However, a few months after I wrote it, my beautiful wife and I watched Black Mirror from beginning to end on Netflix, and I found that one of the episodes was pretty much exactly this story. I mean, really - it's uncanny. What a bloody nightmare! So, although I wrote it before I'd ever seen or heard about that episode, I don't want anyone to think that I'm a shameless plagiarist, so I took the story out, and present it to you here, in its (almost) unedited, first draft form. Enjoy, guys.

If you like it, why not go and buy a copy of Removed Without Warning? It's full of similar stories, none of which were stolen from famous TV shows.

Standing at the door, looking into her eyes, Ken found himself thinking back on what Carl and Catriona had told him. She won’t be the same, they had said, and you don’t want to bring her back and regret it later. But as Lilly stood on the doorstep, looking at him with those big eyes and familiar half-smile, all doubt was banished, and he knew that they were wrong.
  She was the same.
  ‘Can I come in?’ She asked, eventually.
  ‘Oh,’ he said, his voice as thin and shaky as a teenager’s, ‘yes. Of course.’
  She walked past him into the hallway, and it took no small amount of effort to stop himself from grabbing her and holding her as tightly as he could, breathing her in like a drug to which he had long yearned to become addicted once again. Instead, he stood as still as he could, and their staring continued, awkward and insecure. His heart thumping with excitement, his palms wet and warm against his hips. 
  She had been gone for so long and her departure had been so quick and unexpected that to have her back now seemed too good to be true, like he had come around to find himself in a dream from which he never wanted to wake. He wanted to laugh, cry, run in circles; but he settled, after gathering some courage, on simply closing the gap between them, and holding her. After a few seconds, she embraced him too, and her touch was cleansing, like a shower after a long day.
  When they were done, he stepped back and looked into her eyes once more. ‘I’m glad you’re back,’ he said, ‘I’ve missed you. So much.’
  ‘I’m glad to be back,’ she replied, his hand clasped in hers. ‘I missed you more.’
  They had told him that when she came back, he should give her space and time to reacquaint herself with the house; so, after their short reunion, he left, to run some errands and to drive around in circles, trying to calm himself down. Meanwhile, she spent the day familiarising herself with the house she used to keep – running her finger along surfaces and looking behind and underneath pieces of furniture; sticking her head into storage spaces and sorting through cupboards to catalogue their contents. She spent the best part of an hour turning taps on and off, gauging the water pressure in different parts of the house. 
  By early evening, with her mapping of the territory complete, she set about making a meal. She was back in the house she had always known, with the man she had always loved; and now that she was here, she would never leave him feeling lonely or sad again.

It took barely a week to settle back into their old routines, and after a month, he had almost forgotten the devastating void of life without her. They sat together in the evenings and watched their favourite shows; they laughed at each other’s pitiful jokes while they washed up the dishes; and he even discovered an added bonus: it no longer sent her into a fit of ranting rage when he left his slippers on the floor by the sofa. 
  Life was bearable again; those black clouds which had hung so heavy and low, for so many months, had finally cleared.
  So, it was without a second thought that he accepted a dinner invitation to Carl and Catriona’s, and told them that Lilly would be coming with him. ‘Oh,’ said Catriona, uncertainty drenching her voice, ‘yes. I suppose that’s fine. Yes, of course it is. Of course.’
  Yes, of course it was fine. They had always done everything together before, so why wouldn’t they do so now? If she hadn’t been invited, he simply would not have gone. 
  They left early, and on the way, she suggested that they pick up a bottle of wine. She had forgotten to do so earlier, she said, and she simply couldn’t turn up without one. Ken grinned at her from the driving seat. ‘I’ll stop by the supermarket,’ he said, and squeezed her leg gently. Old routines returning, just as they had been before. He hummed as he drove, a tuneless song of utter contentment.
  When they arrived, Catriona opened the door, and her smile was anxious and unconvincing. At first, she avoided Lilly’s eyes, choosing instead to look into Ken’s and rock on her feet nervously; but she blushed and giggled as she took the gift out of Lilly’s hands and received an enthusiastic kiss on the cheek. A giggle of relief, as if she too was experiencing what Ken had over a month before: that Lilly was back, and that far from being regrettable or pitiable, this was a positive thing for all who knew her.
  She was right, of course; Ken could have told her that weeks ago. 
  Over dinner, they drank and laughed and shared stories, and Lilly listened – really listened – and nodded and grinned and begged for more details, just as she had before on a thousand different occasions. Like she had never been gone.
  Ken found himself so relaxed, in fact, that he was shocked into sobriety when, during dessert, his wife’s memory was tested for the first time since her return. How he had gone a whole month without reminiscing about some event or other, he did not know; but he wished he had when Carl pointed at Lilly, without even thinking about it, and asked, ‘Oh God, that time in Mykonos, when the waiter poured your entire dinner down the front of your dress, do you remember that?’
  Lilly looked confused for a moment, and the room seemed to fall deathly silent. It might not have even been a second, but to Ken it dragged out like minutes, his heart pounding in his ears and fear pushing acid up his throat. She would not remember, and Carl and Catriona would tell him again that he had made a mistake, that he was wrong to bring her back. It had been going so well…
  But then she said, ‘Ooooh, Christ. I loved that dress so much. It was ruined!’
  Catriona laughed. ‘And we were supposed to be going dancing later. Your face! I thought you were going to kill him!’
  ‘Hey! What do you mean supposed to? We still went. I think I made sauce stains look rather fashionable.’
  ‘People were staring at you like you were a mentalist. That was such a fun holiday.’
  ‘They were staring because of my dance moves; the dress just completed the spectacle.’
  The women laughed, Carl shook his head, and Ken discovered that he hadn’t breathed since the conversation began. He allowed himself to laugh, and it spilled out of him like it had been bottled up and shaken, ready to pop at any moment.
  When they left, Catriona became emotional. She told Lilly that it was so good to have her back, and that they must go out some time, just the two of them. ‘I’d love that,’ Lilly replied, holding her old friend’s hand and leaning in conspiratorially, ‘I’m getting sick of the sight of Ken already.’
  Catriona laughed harder than the joke deserved, and in doing so, allowed a tear to escape. ‘I’m so glad you brought her back,’ she said to Ken, who beamed like a schoolboy winning a prize.

It wasn’t only Carl, Catriona and Ken who were pleased she had returned. The neighbours would wave from across the street, and Lilly would beam at them in return, calling kind words and telling their children to be good at school. The local cats began to visit again, waiting at the back door to be fed by the one lady on the street who had never had cats of her own but always had cat food. The first time Eddie, the postman, had to knock to deliver a package, he stood gawping blankly for a while before stuttering, ‘I-I didn’t know you were back, Mrs H. I’m so happy to see you.’ It seemed like he was choking up.
  And as if it had not already been perfect before she was taken from him, removed without warning by a condition they never knew she had, Carl’s relationship with Lilly only improved. He was no better a man than he had been when she left, but still she seemed to dote on him more than she ever had. She would pick up the mess he left around the house as if she were happy to be kept busy by the task, and if he failed to do his fair share of chores – as he often did – then she picked up the slack without complaint or delay. Issues which might have developed into arguments before – big or small – were now things that washed over Lilly unnoticed, as if she had only ever pretended that they irritated her in the first place, and she was now prepared to simply let them go.
  He could not remember a time – in fact, he was sure that there had never been a time, even when they first met – when their relationship had been so blissful. So, after a couple more weeks of psyching himself up, he was finally ready to invite his daughter for Sunday lunch.

‘I can’t believe you’ve done this,’ she hissed, her face a furious shade of pink.
  Her husband was helping Lilly with the washing up, the grandchildren playing in the lounge. They sat alone in the dining room, a pathetic old father cowering from an enraged, humiliated daughter. Anger as hot as her mother’s used to be.
  Dinner had been nice. He had not expected this ambush.
  ‘Why not, Alison?’ He asked, trying desperately to hold his ground. ‘Why shouldn’t I be happy? Why should I live out my last years alone in this house, wishing I hadn’t lost the love of my life?’
  ‘It’s… sick,’ she replied. ‘It’s an insult to her memory. And it’s not healthy for you either, y’know. Replacing mum with some bloody robot to get over your grief, it’s not right.’
  ‘She’s not a robot, she’s your mother. And you talk about it like I just decided to bring her back on a whim when I got home from the funeral. It wasn’t like that at all.’
  ‘Oh no? What was it like then? When did you come up with this disgusting plan?’
  Ken straightened his shirt, sat up. ‘If you must know,’ he said, ‘we’ve been planning it for years. Since we first heard you could do this. Your mother and I went for a TruLife consultation after we saw it on the telly, and we went regularly for months for them to profile us, capture our personalities and our memories and things like that. We agreed that neither of us could live without the other, so we were ready to bring each other back whenever we needed to.’
  Down the hall, in the kitchen, he could hear Lilly and Thom laughing, as plates and cutlery clattered between them. They had never got on before her death.
  Alison stared at her father, her face twisted in a pained expression of disbelief and pity. She sighed. ‘But she’s not the same, dad.’
  ‘Yes, she is. If anything, she’s better than she’s ever been. She never gets angry with me anymore, she’s always in a good mood. Remember how angry she used to get? She’s happy, healthy, and she’s making me happy too. And she loves you and the kids, just like she used to. Don’t you want your children to grow up knowing their grandmother?’
  Alison put her head in her hand, rubbed her forehead like she was trying to pull off her skin. ‘Not after they already attended her funeral, dad. I shudder to think what this will do to their mental health, what issues they’ll have when they grow up now. And anyway, that’s not their grandmother, it’s a robot done up to look like her. Don't you think it's wrong that she doesn't get angry? It’s weird, dad.’
  ‘She’s not a robot,’ he snapped, slamming his fist on the table. He found himself to be shaking, his cheeks hot and fists clenched. He took a breath, to calm himself down. ‘She’s a human being. Almost every part of her is biological, it’s only the brain they can’t recreate. That’s your mother in there, Alison, and I want you to accept that she’s back, whether you like it or not.’
  They could hear her approaching, Thom following, bowls and desserts in hand. ‘Kids,’ Lilly called, as she walked up the hallway toward the dining room, ‘come and get some pudding, if you want some.’
  Alison sat back in her chair, her brow furrowed and her stare intense. The silence in the room was thick with resentment and rage, awkward and simmering. But Thom and Lilly hardly noticed as they entered – they were still grinning from a joke they had shared on the way.
  ‘Right,’ said Lilly, once they had placed all the food and crockery on the table, ‘Alison, you first. We have cheesecake, pecan pie, or lemon meringue. What would you like?’
  Wowee. A bit of each, please,’ Alison replied, smiling widely, a pantomime performance for Ken’s benefit. He clicked his knuckles beneath the table, his leg shaking.
  Lilly cut a slice of each dessert, humming a tune to herself as she did. Long gone were the days when she would have admonished her daughter for being piggish, and told her that no, she could not have one piece of everything.
  ‘Wow, thanks mum,’ Alison said, as she rose and took the heavy dessert from her mother’s hand. The slices were generous, fighting for space in the bowl. ‘This looks delicious.’
  But she did not sit back down or put the bowl on the table. She just stood there, holding her pudding, looking at her father as if she might present the bowl to him as a reward for some unknown feat. An awkward moment passed, in which everyone in the room waited for her to take take her seat or to make some stirring speech, and for a few seconds she just looked between her father and her food, as if she had forgotten what she intended to do next.
  In the end, she must have decided, because she smiled, and nodded, and winked at her father. She turned up the bowl and let her thick slices of dessert fall wetly onto the surface of the table, slapping cream and sugar and cheesecake all across the tablecloth. Thom stood gawping at her, and Ken slammed his fists on the table again, fizzing with speechless rage.
  ‘Whoops,’ said Lilly, a sweet smile on her face. She rolled her eyes like she had just seen someone make a silly mistake that everyone makes, at one point or another. ‘Let’s get that cleaned up.’
  ‘No,’ said Ken, standing with trembling knees. He pointed at the door, in which Alison’s two children stood staring in shocked amusement at the scene they had walked in on. Perhaps they thought it was a game – a real life food fight, like they only ever saw in films and on TV. But if it was, the adults weren’t having fun playing it. ‘I want you to leave. I won’t have you treating your mother like this. Get out.’
  Lilly began to protest. ‘Oh, Ken, don’t be–’
  ‘Out,’ Ken repeated to his daughter. Thom began to gather the children up, shuffle them toward the front door. He clearly knew what had gone on while he had been out of the room, what his wife had been waiting all day to discuss, and had no interest in involving himself in the family drama.
  Alison walked around the table and out of the room slowly, smirking like the universe had proven her point for her. And to her, it had – before her death, Lilly would have been as furious as Ken was that their daughter had done something so incredibly rude and destructive; but now, she had been gutted, that fire in her heart snuffed out. She had accepted such a blatant insult with a smile on her face, and offered to clean it up without a second thought. If Alison’s father still thought that woman was his wife, back from the dead, then he was more deluded than she had thought.
  But Ken was too furious to consider what this meant or why it had happened. He just stood in silence, as Thom put coats on the children and led them out the door, and Alison ignored her mother’s goodbyes, still so polite and kind, despite all that had gone on.

He spent a long time after that disastrous lunch stewing on what she had said and done. He was hurt that she could not see why they had agreed to bring each other back, angry that she had gone to such lengths to humiliate him into realising his mistake. He did not see why she should resent her mother wanting to shed the personality traits she never liked in herself, when she had the chance. Or why she would resent him the opportunity to be happy once again. Had he thought of it at the time, he would have told her the traits he had told TruLife not to replicate for him, if he had been the first to go: his laziness around the house; his inability to ever finish a DIY job; his fear of big dogs. Lilly had wanted to be less angry, and now she was. Alison should be pleased for her.
  But she probably wouldn’t care. She was too self-absorbed to notice the good that it had done, bringing Lilly back when Ken needed her most. She was too concerned with what was right, what was “healthy”, as if there was an objective measure of health which Ken had failed to meet.
  These thoughts became an obsession, a sad song on repeat in his brain, and over the following weeks, he became despondent. He would slip into grumpy sulks, staring out of the kitchen window or into the fire in the lounge, and sit there for hours wondering how to fix his family, how to show his daughter that her mother’s return was a positive thing. Meanwhile, Lilly would vacuum around him, pick up his discarded clothes and wash them, try to cheer him up with delicious meals. Never complaining, forever glad to be home.
  Until one day, while she was washing up and he was standing a few feet away, not helping, just staring through the kitchen window out at the garden, and he asked, ‘Why did you just let her do that?’
  ‘Let who do what?’ She replied, pausing with a plate in her hand, suds sliding down its face and dripping into the sink.
  ‘Alison. Why did you let her throw food all over our home, and just stand there saying nothing? Did you not feel embarrassed?’
  She shrugged, smiled like she thought he had wildly misinterpreted the whole silly thing. ‘Oh,’ she said, ‘she didn’t mean it.’
  ‘She looked us in the eyes and tipped it over the table! How could that be an accident?’
  ‘I don’t know. Maybe she was having a turn. It’s really no big deal; I haven’t given it any more thought.’
  ‘Why not? How could you not have given it more thought? Why doesn’t anything matter to you anymore?’
  For a moment, it looked like a ray of negativity might finally have broken through the easy-going fog of her eternal contented smile, and she seemed to look hurt. She said, ‘Things still matter to me. It matters that you’re happy and healthy.’
  ‘And what about you? Why don’t you want to be happy and healthy anymore? Why would you let people walk all over you for the sake of my happiness?!’
  He was becoming frustrated, his heart rate rising. He felt like he was shouting into a void, receiving answers so mystifying that they might as well have never come.
  ‘I don’t mind. I’m just glad she’s well. As long as you’re happy, and Alison is happy, and those beautiful children are happy, then I’m happy too.’
  Very suddenly, he lost control of his frustration, and grabbed her by the shoulders. He shook her, not violently, but enough to shock the smile off of her face. ‘Why have you lost your spark?’ He yelled, his voice cracking and choking, ‘Where is my wife?! Is she in there or not?!’
  When he was done, he recoiled from her, as if he had burned his hands on her skin. He looked down at them like they had grabbed her on their own, and he was wondering how he could get them under control. He stood and he shook and he felt so ashamed, so sickened by himself and his actions. He wished he had never invited his daughter to the house, wished he could go back and decide not to start this conversation.
  He wanted to hold his wife, to apologise for what he had just done and said; but when he looked up at her, she was smiling once again. She had already forgiven him, already forgotten what he had done. This woman was not his wife – his wife would never have let him go that far, would never let him live it down if he had.
  He stomped out of the room, and out of the front door.

‘You’re through to Deborah. How can I help?’
  He cleared his throat. ‘Hello, I’d like to make a return please.’
  Deborah paused. ‘Erm, can I have your account number?’
  Ken propped his phone between his ear and his shoulder, shuffled through the wad of papers in front of him. ‘Yes, I have it somewhere here… here it is, it’s 0188291022-F.’
  ‘Thank you, let me just bring up your details here. Okay, Mr Webber, looks like you accepted delivery on 17th July, so nearly four months ago. I hope it’s all going well for you?’
  Ken looked over his shoulder, checking that Lilly was not poking her head around the door of the shed. He knew she was out having lunch with Catriona, but still he lowered his voice to a whisper. ‘No, actually, it’s going very badly. I’d like to return her.’
  ‘Return her? Can I ask what the problem is, sir?’
  ‘She isn’t my wife.’
  ‘Sorry, Mr Webber, I’m not sure what you mean.’
  ‘This woman is not my wife. She’s nothing like her.’
  ‘I’m very sorry to hear that. Could you elaborate a little bit for me? Only, it says here you received a check-in call after a month and you were very happy with her. I have “strongly agree” marked against all the questions.’
  ‘Yes, well, that was before I knew that half her personality was missing. She used to have passion, get angry, give me attitude. Now she walks around with this… this… insipid smile on her face all the time. Nothing bothers her!’
  Deborah was tapping on her keyboard, clicking her mouse loudly. She took a long time to respond. ‘It says in your case notes that you both agreed in consultation that these personality traits could be removed. I see her signature on a statement saying that she doesn’t like these aspects of herself, and is happy for them to be omitted in the event of having to be brought back.’
  ‘Yes, I know what she said, I was there. But she’s not her without them. She’s not the woman I loved. She’s this pathetic… shell. I want her anger back, I want her to shout at me for leaving my slippers on the living room floor, I want her to spend half the day not talking to me because I didn’t put the rubbish out in time!’
  Deborah paused again. ‘I see. I’m sorry, Mr Webber, but there’s nothing we can do. She’s been operational far too long for reprogramming to be effective, and besides, we wouldn’t reintroduce traits that people have asked us to omit anyway. Not when they’ve signed them away.’
  Ken felt himself beginning to shout, all discretion forgotten. ‘Well then take her back! I want to return her!’
  ‘We don’t accept returns, sir.’
  ‘What do you mean you don’t accept returns?! Take her back! I don’t want her like this!’
  ‘Well, with respect, let me put it this way: what would we do with her?’
  ‘I don’t know. Destroy her. Recycle her parts. Whatever you want!’
  ‘Mr Webber, she’s almost entirely biological. She is a life form, nearly human. To destroy her would be murder, and murder is strictly against company policy.’
  Perhaps it was the absurdity of her answer, or perhaps it was the impasse at which he found himself; but whatever it was, Ken found his eyes beginning to fill with tears, a thick stopper lodging itself behind his Adam’s apple.
  He began to cry.
  ‘Please,’ he said, ‘please take her back.’
  He had lost her once, all those months ago, and it had torn his life in two. He had never thought he could survive without her, and he had found that theory to be true in the short time between the funeral and when he brought her back. He had been in pieces for weeks, so lost and alone that he had not even wanted to get out of bed in the morning. But he would rather lose her again, and live through that devastating, soul-macerating pain, than live with this pale imitation of his soulmate for the rest of his life. He would rather sit in that old house on his own forever remembering the worst of her, all the fights and the stubbornness and the times she threatened to leave, than live with this constant reminder that he had tried to bring her back and failed, because the real Lilly was gone and was never coming back. 
  He felt helpless and hollowed, sitting in his shed with his head in his hands and his phone to his ear, crying and begging for mercy from an indifferent customer service agent. He sobbed freely and loudly, like he had when he lost her the first time. Like he was losing her all over again.
  ‘Please,’ he said again, ‘take her back.’

That's all I have to say, really. It's all in the title. Go to the  books page to buy your copy today!

Removed Without Warning is Out Now!


That's all I have to say, really. It's all in the title. Go to the books page to buy your copy today!

Some couples have wedding breakfast tables named after places they've been together, or bands they both enjoy. But when your w...

Our Bookish Wedding: Books as Table Names!


Some couples have wedding breakfast tables named after places they've been together, or bands they both enjoy. But when your wedding is book-themed, you might want tables named after books you love.

That's what we did. And for a long time, we were struggling to think of an inventive way to display them. Because you need to at least try to be original, right?

Then it hit us: Why not make our own covers for those books, and have real books on each table?


It so happened that the books we chose all had at least one quote about love or marriage in them, and they were often funny or silly. So we thought it would be entertaining to add those quotes on the back cover, as an Easter egg for our friends and family.

Fancy making some of your own, or just interested in how we did it? Well, read on, my friends. And once you get to the end of the post, I'll show you the lot, for your entertainment.

How we did it

First, obviously, we chose the book titles we wanted to use. Our requirements were that they be books that at least one of us likes, and that their names could roughly be used to describe a group of people. For example: Little Women.

We had 9 tables, so we needed 9 table names. It would obviously be best if we used books that were the same size, and they needed to be thin enough to slot into a table name stand if possible. So the next step was to acquire some thin, compact hardback books which we could bind with our created covers.

I bought 9 Puddle Lane books on eBay. Remember Puddle Lane? I do. We had these when I was a kid.


So now we had some books that looked like they were the perfect dimensions for table name displays. To make a sleeve for them though, I needed to know the exact dimensions. So the next step was to measure the height and width of the book. The sleeve would need to be the exact height of the book, but the width would need to be (width x 2) + spine + a bit extra to be folded inside the covers


So, with my sizes noted down, I started a new document in GIMP (other image editing tools are available), sized just a little bit larger than the dimensions I had just decided upon, so that when I cut it down I knew there would be no white space around the edges that I hadn't accounted for (a word on sizing images and dpi: dpi stands for "dots per inch", and you should find out the max dpi of your printer before you start designing your sleeves. If you design and print an image at 300dpi, that means that every 300 pixels of your image should fill an inch on the page. If you didn't know that already, I hope it helps you size up images and get the best out of your printer in future).

With the document created at the size I wanted, I completed what was arguably the most important step: designing our covers.


As you can see in the above screenshot, I used guides to tell me where the borders of the covers were, where the spine was, and the centre of each cover horizontally and vertically. I really wanted it to look perfect, even though I knew that I was going to be cutting the sleeves and folding them onto the books, so they never would end up perfect anyway.

The next steps are obvious: first, printing. I had to buy an A3 printer to print mine. I took it to a stationers that does printing first, but the girl behind the counter didn't know what dpi was or how to change it on the printer settings and she gave me a lot of attitude when I asked her about it, so I thought it would be best to do it myself at home.


As I mentioned before, this image was an inch or two bigger on paper than it needed to be, in both directions. This was so that when I did the next step, cutting it down to the sizes I measured, I would be sure the colour would be edge-to-edge. In this case, the colour was only grey, but I'm sure you see what I mean.


And then, we were pretty much done. After that, we only had to fold the sleeves around the books, just like them books what you buy at the shops, and they were complete! Look at them:











So there you have it. I hope you liked it, and if you're planning your own bookish wedding I hope it inspires you. Feel free to steal the idea, just don't try to sell it to other people. That's just rude.

While you're here, check out our other bookish wedding ideas, and if you really like them, why not consider buying a book or two? No pressure. I'm just happy you're here.

Have a nice day guys!

Hello loyal fans*!  As you'll know if you've been following my Instagram updates (or lack thereof) and blog posts ( the few ...

Coming Soon: Removed Without Warning


Hello loyal fans*! 

As you'll know if you've been following my Instagram updates (or lack thereof) and blog posts (the few there have been), this year has been a very busy one for me. I've smashed through some major life milestones and come out the other side with a smile on my face and a ring on my finger.

And it has passed so quickly, hasn't it? I know everyone says it, but the older I get, the quicker time seems to pass. I've only just got used to writing 2018 in the date, and now we're two months away from a new year! Can't believe it.

But I'm not done with this year yet. I've been working on a new book, and I wanted to get it to you before the end of the year. So, without further ado, I'd like to announce Removed Without Warning, my new collection of short stories, out on December 1st.

Check out the blurb and possible cover below. I say "possible" because there are a few I'm torn between at the moment; but I'll decide on one in the end, and you'll see it when you buy your copy anyway, won't you?

Wild animals in your driveway. Bricks through your windows. Emotions in bottles, and demons in your toys. 

All of this and more awaits, in this collection of twelve new stories from the author of Gods and Conquerors and Everything Around Me is Destroyed or Damaged.

Gritty, dark and oddly funny, Removed Without Warning is another handful of warped tales from lives you never knew you wanted to hear about.


Like the sound of that? You can preorder it on Kindle, or wait until December 1st to get yourself a paperback version from all good Amazons. It's not like you'll forget - I'll be going on and on about it till it's out. And if you're a #bookstagram reviewer, feel free to contact me if you're interested in an advance copy for review purposes. If I'm not feeling too scared that day, I might be able to hook you up!

There. That should keep you occupied for a while, until I finish that second novel I haven't even started yet...



*or, as I like to call you, mum and dad...

I thought I'd share some of the smaller ideas we had to make our day a bit bookish, since not all of them deserve their own post, bu...

Our Bookish Wedding: Some Small Bits...


I thought I'd share some of the smaller ideas we had to make our day a bit bookish, since not all of them deserve their own post, but they're all easily doable and might help you with your own big day.

Books as Centrepieces

Look in the dustiest corner of any charity shop, second-hand bookstore or even antique shop, and you'll probably find some lovely bound books. We bought a shitload of these (more than 65, some for as little as 10p each), and stacked them up in piles of 5 or 6 to make lovely centrepieces for our tables.


Plonk a pretty bunch of flowers on top, and badda-bing, badda-boom, it's all Instagram worthy. I didn't get any photos of that, so I'll have to wait till I get the real photos and update this post. Watch this space.


Books as Favours


How many guests are you inviting? Could you afford to give them a book each? Maybe. Penguin's Little Black Classics are only £52 at time of writing. That's 80 favours in one big box for 65p each! If you have even more than that, you could add all the books from the Modern Box Set in for 71p each.


Slap a cheeky ribbon around them, maybe whack a name tag on, and pow! A sweet little favour for everyone at your breakfast. Why is it called a wedding breakfast anyway? Who drinks wine at breakfast? This is madness.


I'm no photographer - I didn't even centre the book before I took it, look - but you get the picture.

So there you go, a couple of small ideas for your wedding planning pleasure. Feel free to steal them, and if you're interested in seeing more, check out my other wedding idea posts here. If you love them all, you could make me feel special by buying one of my books and enjoying that too! You know you want to.

The love of my life and I are getting married soon, so I thought I'd share some of the ways we've let our love of books light up...

Our Bookish Wedding: Books as Invitations!


The love of my life and I are getting married soon, so I thought I'd share some of the ways we've let our love of books light up our big day. I'll be making a few posts over the next couple of months, pretty much one for every good idea we have. Why keep them to ourselves, when fabulous Internet strangers could benefit from them too?

Our first idea: writing a book, to use as invitations.

I got the idea when I saw how cheap it was to print each copy of my novel, Gods and Conquerors, on demand. Comparing that to the price of some wedding invitations (wedding suppliers seem to just pick a number out of thin air), there was really no contest. Writing our own book to celebrate our very bookish day seemed like the best choice.

You can read our book at the end of this post, or simply read on to find out how to make one yourself.

How to do it



First, you need to find yourself a print-on-demand self publishing service. I used createspace.com, but other services are available and no one is paying me to advertise for them, so I encourage you to shop around. It should also be noted that createspace is closing down and its services moving over to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), so that won't be an option soon, if it even is at the moment.

It's very easy to set up an account and create a new title, so I won't patronise you with a guide for that.

Next, you need to create the content: write a story to go in the book, and design the cover. Anyone who knows how to use Word (or similar) can easily create the interior, as KDP and createspace both provide good templates. For the cover, you might want to involve someone who knows a bit about graphic design. We didn't, because we were happy with our amateur cover; but if you want it to look really snazzy, perhaps you need to call in a favour or two.

When it comes to content, you probably need at least 14 pages of story before you reach the wedding details. I think all print-on-demand services have a minimum page count, so you couldn't just make it a simple invitation with no other content even if you wanted to. Why you would want to is a mystery to me - the whole point of this is to create an original and amusing book for your guests to read - but just in case, I thought I'd mention it.

We wrote ours in rhyme, the story of our relationship from beginning to now.


Once formatted (and re-drafted, and formatted again and again), you can upload your interior as a simple Word file, and your cover as .pdf. Then, you can order your proofs and approve your book.

"But, once it's approved, it's basically a self-published book - doesn't that mean anyone will be able to buy it?!" I hear you ask. And it's a valid concern; it was my biggest worry, too. But no, you don't have to publish to any online stores if you don't want to. On createspace, you could set it so that the only way to buy your book was through createspace.com (whether other services provide that facility, I couldn't say). We bought all our own copies, and then we trashed it after that.

So, as you can see, it's really simple. Don't let anyone charge you for it; if you're struggling and need some assistance, just reach out and I'll help if I can.

And here's our book:


 
 









The pages I haven't included here contain all the vital details that would bore the average reader of this blog: accomodation, gifts, and RSVP requirements. There was nothing especially creative about those pages, so I'm sure you'll manage without them.

If you like this idea, feel free to copy it, and check out the rest of our bookish wedding ideas here. If you like them all, why not show me some love by buying one of my books

Sorry I haven't been around for a while. I've been on and off of Instagram too, doing various life admin things like organising ...

Book Reviews - August '18


Sorry I haven't been around for a while. I've been on and off of Instagram too, doing various life admin things like organising our wedding and stuff. Also writing a new book, but more on that another time. For now, here's a picture of a cow and a roundup of short Instagram reviews I've written recently.


Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy - John le Carré

"The more identities a man has, the more they express the person they conceal."

There is a Russian mole in the British intelligence service, and George Smiley is asked to come out of retirement to find him. He must wade through the secrets and lies of all the people he used to work with, uncovering things about his past and the lives of his colleagues that he had never known before.

Somewhere between the excellent writing style and the subtle and complex story of espionage and intrigue, this book hooked me. I absolutely loved it. The relationships between the characters; our thoughtful, quiet protagonist; the interlacing of past and present... It was all just brilliant.

Something I really loved is the quaintness of it all. No mobile phones, no Internet, no complicated forensics or global spy networks; just people, and paper, and telephone calls, and manilla folders in hotel rooms. It made the story more human, which is hard to do now that technology has taken over.

Not that that was a conscious decision - it was written in the 70s and set in the 70s, so they were quainter times.

Anyway, the mystery was also good. And the film is good too. Can't recommend this story highly enough.


5/5.


Joyland - Stephen King

"When it comes to the past, everyone writes fiction."

Devin Jones is a twenty-something working at a theme park over the summer. There was a murder at the park a few years ago that remains unsolved, but really, most of the book is just about his love life.

I wanted to like this book. Apart from the fact that the cover is great, it was also bought for me by the love of my life, and I like it when I like the books she gives me. But King just wouldn't let me like it.

It's marketed as a crime novel. It is published by an imprint called Hard Case Crime. But it's no crime novel at all, and certainly not hard. The mystery is alluded to a couple of times, then you have to wade through a very tedious 200 pages (yes, 200!!) before he decides to start investigating it, then he forgets all about it, and it is instantly solved for him around page 250. I'm not even exaggerating, the crime is that irrelevant.

So if it's not a crime novel, then what is it? Boring, mostly. It's just a novel about working a summer job, making friends, living a normal life. Yawn. Honestly, what you learn in the first 200 pages could have been told in 30. And it's so wholesome and PG, even a few F-bombs and a couple of C-bombs can't make it any edgier.

It was also intensely irritating that every woman in the story seemed to fall in love with the protagonist. He's the most boring nice guy in the world, but every woman he walks past wants to strip off for him as soon as she meets him. Awful.

Should have been a short story, at the most.

1.5/5.


And Then There Were None - Agatha Christie

"In the midst of life, we are in death."

10 people are invited onto an island owned by one very mysterious U N Owen, for a variety of reasons. But when they start dying and learn that they are being killed for past crimes, they just wish they could get off it again.

This is my second Agatha Christie book. And this one, just like Murder on the Orient Express, felt like it was written for kids. Or by someone who hasn't read much, or didn't have an editor. But this is Agatha Christie, so that can't be true. It's just her style, but I'm not a fan.

For example, sometimes there will be a paragraph with a few revelations in it! And every sentence will end with an exclamation mark! As if that will increase the impact! But it doesn't! And there are other annoying things too... Like overuse of the ellipsis...

Anyway, that aside, this is a very entertaining story. It's fun to try and work out who's next and who's doing this, and she did well to hide it till the end - it wasn't the bloke I guessed it would be.

Recommended for fun and murder. And yes, I am going to pretend that this book didn't have a very different original title.

3.5/5.


I Love Dick - Chris Kraus

A woman stalks and harasses a man she barely knows, because she has convinced herself that she is in love with him. She writes him countless letters, and even sends an inappropriate fax to his work.

Sounds like the kind of creepy story I'd love. And I might have, if it wasn't true. This Dick is a real person, and the protagonist is Chris Kraus, the book's author. How minging is that?

But since it's apparently a novel, I don't know how much of it is fact and how much fiction. So let's pretend it's all fiction.

The protagonist of this book comes across as an obnoxiously pretentious intellectual who thinks that raiding the thesaurus and constructing all the most convoluted, overripe sentences she possibly can, each with as many obscure references as possible, will make her seem as intelligent as she keeps saying she is.

There doesn't seem to have been an editor. Whole paragraphs are begging to be cut, and the grammar is often questionable. Also, it's littered with this's. THIS'S. How is that better than "this is"?

Anyway. The book slaps itself on the back for saving feminism. But for the first half, you wonder what's feminist about it. Are you showing that women can be insane stalkers just as well as men? Well, I don't doubt that.

To be fair, in the latter half there are some good points about the injustice of how women are perceived compared to men. But they're hidden in such a flood of tangential, irrelevant crap that you wish a good book had made those points instead, so that they would be presented in a way that would be interesting instead of... this.

There is an afterword at the end of this edition, which says that the critics are wrong about this book, and then tries to explain why. What this told me was that they knew it was bad, and they felt the need to try to persuade us it isn't.

1/5.


The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow

"Some people, if they didn't make it hard for themselves, might fall asleep."

Augie March is a likeable, normal American living in the 30s, growing up around people of all social standings and attitudes, trying to work out who he really is. And that's it really - this book is 500 pages of someone living a life.

In a way, it's like Stoner, which I loved. Nothing much happens - there is some action every now and then, but mostly it's just someone plodding along through life, doing stuff normal people in the real world might do. The problem is, where Stoner really got me, this one didn't.

I don't know why. It was well written, often amusing, and the "normal" things he did were actually often quite ridiculous so should have been more entertaining, but I just went through it feeling... Meh.

So it ended up being a struggle. But I must emphasise that it was well written and in places was quite fun. Just didn't do it for me, overall.

3/5.


Spares - Michael Marshall Smith

"You have to accept gifts occasionally, because there are some things you can’t give yourself."

Spares tells the story of Jack Randall, drug addict and ex-cop living in a city which is a former flying shopping mall, trying to solve the mystery of who has kidnapped the clones be rescued from a life of slavery.

Except, it's not really. He forgets about the clones ("spares") pretty quickly, and really, for most of the book, I think he's just trying to work out who's shooting at him.

In my opinion, a good whodunnit should make the reader care about the result. They should want to know who did the crime, they should crave justice. But this book didn't achieve that for me - it changed its mind too much. One minute it was about the spares, then Randall's dead family, then a random bunch of murders in the city... Yes, it all comes together in the end, but on the way there were too many twists for me to care.

I also wasn't blown away by the writing. I saw a lot of my own style in there, from when I was just trying my hand at writing. And when I write like that, I hate myself. Clumsy sentences; paragraphs that are supposed to be funny and whimsical but end up missing the mark and being a bit embarrassing; poorly formed relationships between characters; bad dialogue...

BUT having said all that, when it worked, it worked. MMS came up with some great metaphors and some passages were very amusing. It was a mixed bag of ideas and half of them should have been cut, but the other half were good. It was also never slow or boring. It just wasn't a great whodunnit, I thought.

3/5.