Tag Archives: Alfie Dog

Review of 'Firestarter' by Patsy Collins

Animated fireAlice Bakewell has a thing about being rescued from a blazing building by a hunky fireman, using a fireman’s lift – obviously.  “But I’m so over it,” she tells her sister, Kate.  Well, maybe.  When Alice and Kate meet ex-schoolfriend, Hamish, on the Fire Service stand at the New Forest Show and he offers to ‘rescue’ Alice as part of his demonstration, she declines, because she is in a relationship with Boring Tony and it wouldn’t be right.  However, when she dumps Boring Tony and romance kindles between Alice and Hamish, a series of false alarm calls are sent to the emergency services.  Alice and Hamish wonder if Tony is responsible. In addition, Alice has her job to worry about, the lack of orders and the mysterious new contract which boss Miles promises.  On top of that, there is Louise, Hamish’s jealous bird-watching friend, who threatens to kill Alice – in gory and imaginative ways – every time she sees her.  Alice‘s fantasy is eventually realised, only not featuring Hamish – until he stages another ‘rescue’ especially for her.

This is an excellently constructed story, with a water-tight plotline, with no stray ends and no unresolved bits.  Characterisation is, likewise, well-defined.  Alice and her sister, Kate, are a couple of likable girly girls, absorbed in clothes and boyfriends, even though Alice strives to prove she is tougher and doesn’t mind getting dirty, when she joins Hamish bird-watching.  Hamish is suitably hunky, although, as we find out, he is not all fireman, and Tony is an interesting bore, who shows, ultimately, that he is more than his laptop and his job.  Alice and Kate’s father brews unspeakable home-made wine from vegetables in his garden.  (We’ve all encountered Dads like him, I’m sure.  My own dad (long since passed on, bless him) made wine from Boots concentrate, which always looked like urine.)   Interestingly, Patsy, who has not described proper sex acts in her previous novels, includes a very steamy sex scene in Firestarter.

So, Dear Reader, a full recommendation.  Do read Firestarter.  Well up to Patsy’s best standard.

I was very chuffed to learn, earlier this week, that my story, Not a Proper Evacuee (set in World War 2 – no, never!) has achieved third place in the Alfie Dog International Short Story Competition, also that Stars in Your Eyes, written by my fellow-blogger, Julie Wow or Wittering, achieved fourth place.  Sadly, you cannot read Not a Proper Evacuee because I’ve already entered it for a Words With Jam comp.  (Hope the WWJ judges are reading this!)  The second-placed story, by Susan Eames, is entitled Licking an Ant’s Bottom.  The mind boggles.  I do hope that one is put up on the main Alfie Dog site, so I can read it.

I will finish with two ACW (Association of Christian Writers) pleas.  Plea 1:  As you may know, I am now ACW competitions manager.  If you also happen to be an ACW member, please turn to page 4 as soon as you receive Christian Writer, which should come bouncing through your letterbox any day soon, and enter the Bible Story Comp.  (The comp is for ACW members only – sorry.)   Plea 2:  If you happen to live in Suffolk (or nearby), we are attempting to set up a – real, face-to-face – ACW Writers Group based near Bury St Edmunds.  Please look at the ACW Facebook page.

Do enjoy the animated gif, all 2.2mb of it.  On the other hand, hope the page loads for you!

Firestarter is available from Patsy’s website.

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Review of 'Love, Laughter, Tears' by Hilary Halliwell

This anthology of short stories can be purchased from Alfie Dog.  I have just written reviews on it for Goodreads and Amazon.

‘Love, Laughter, Tears’ is an anthology of seventeen womag stories (previously published by ‘Women’s Weekly’), by

Old fashioned Women's Weekly cover

(C)Flickr.com

Hilary Halliwell, who has had about 150 womag stories published.   What I didn’t include in my reviews were these pointers for wannabe womag writers (like me):

  • All Hilary’s main characters were either elderly middle-aged, at about retirement age or beyond.
  • All Hilary’s main characters were female.
  • Shifts in points of view were frequent.  (Gosh, I’d like to try that on any writing site you’d like to mention!)
  • Many of the stories were about trivial things, like garden shows and Christmas puddings, but the ones I enjoyed most were more substantial.  The more substantial stories include three about adoption: one about a middle-aged woman finding her birth mother; another about an adult woman traced by the son she had given up her son for adoption twenty five years ago; the third about foster parents adopting their foster child.  Others concerned a much-loved father with Alzheimer’s, death of parents and spouses, and illnesses with same, including the big C.  Topics Hilary didn’t cover, however, were divorce or any sort of strife between spouses, teenage rebellion or any sort of conflict between parents and children; all husbands, wives, sons and daughters were loving and supporting.
  • Storylines were gentle, some to the point of hardly being there at all, more like a friend telling you about
    Old fashioned women's magazines.  Good Housekeeping.

    (c)Flickr.com

    something that had happened.  ‘You know, we had this foster child, bit of a disaster to start with, but we adopted her.  Nothing really got in the way.  Her brother and sister were fine about it and social services didn’t make any problems either.’  Absolutely no twists.  Did I mind, Dear Reader?  No, actually.  Stories like these are like soft velvet on the troubled and stressed soul.

  • Hilary hit the emotional button every time, but never the fear button, never the tension, anger or pain buttons.  Even the flower show story drew attention to mc’s loneliness and the Christmas pudding story to a mother’s need to be in control of Christmas.
  • Mcs rarely had well-defined character, but other characters did.  You can see why.  It’s what I call ‘mc syndrome’, as showing mc’s character when the reader is seeing everything through his/her eyes is very difficult.
  • All Hilary’s stories seemed quite long ‘for womag’ –  although I wasn’t in a position to count on my Kindle.
  • Occasional spelling and grammar errors – ouch!

An awful lot to learn!

On another tack, my review of ‘The Amber Keeper by Freda Lightfoot has been accepted by Copperfield Review and will be published tomorrow.  Hurray!  Also, Meredith Allard, editor of Copperfield Review, has asked me to become a regular reviewer, which I’m very happy to do.  As Copperfield is a journal of historical fiction, it will give me the appropriate kick to get reading more and more historical stuff.

Onwards and upwards!

1950s Woman on Cover of Magazine.

(c)Flickr.com

Review of 'Up the Garden Path' by Patsy Collins

Below is my Goodreads review of ‘Up the Garden Path’.

Up The Garden PathUp The Garden Path by Patsy Collins

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As well as being a much-published author, of magazine stories and of three published novels, Patsy Collins is an enthusiastic gardener, something which comes across in this collection of twenty-four short stories. Published by Alfie Dog, this collection is Patsy at her best – people-centred, accessible, well-constructed and written in good English.

My favourite, I think, was ‘Watchdog’, which was about an illusive Intruder, who turned out to be nothing of the sort. I should have seen it coming, especially as the mc could well have been me. The petty-criminal mc of ‘Mrs Dalrymple’, however, got his come uppance – you should never underestimate the acumen of older ladies! ‘Easter at Eleanor’s’ was poignant, about an aunt, who on being asked to look after her niece’s children, planned some good healthy and jolly old fashioned activities to entertain them. You think you can guess what happened next? Well, read the collection of stories to find out.

Patsy is now working on a fourth novel, ‘Poppyfield Farm’.
View all my reviews

Review of Short Stories on AlfieDog

Just over a week ago, I entered a story in the AlfieDog International Short Story Competition.  The entry fee for this comp was the purchase of five stories off the site, so, for a total of about £2, I bought:

  • ‘Home’ by Sheffield – Mary Driver-Thiel
  • ‘It’s Duncan’ – Susan Wright
  • 8 Sycamore Close – Susan Wright
  • A Changed Woman – Patsy Collins
  • A Christmas Carol – Lorraine Coverley

I picked Patsy’s story because I ‘know’ her well online and always enjoy her work, and Lorraine Coverley’s because I have been in correspondence with her too.     I also read and reviewed Susan Wright’s  ‘In the Kitchen with a Knife’ a few months ago.

The stories varied in length, ”Home’ by Sheffield’ the longest at 4700 words.  Mary – an American writer,  the only non-Brit – has only one story published on Alfie Dog (this one).   Unpolished at times and with no distinct plot, ‘Home’ was about a dog who ran away because he was bored.  The perfect rebuttal to the writing ‘rule’ that mcs should not be dogs.  This one was and it worked well.

‘It’s Duncan’ was typical womag and aimed at older readers, as it was about a widow finding new love, but beset by old fashioned conventions about women asking men out.  The main thrust of the story (but not all of it) was told through telephone conversations – an interesting device.  My only slight reservation was that mc was supposed to be in her sixties, but her staid ideas seemed more like those of someone much older.

Still very rooted in womag, ‘8 Sycamore Close’,  about a divorced woman looking for a house of her own, was more to my taste.  A censorious mother and a well-meaning but interfering boss added colour to this story, even though mc knew her own mind all the way along, and just needed time to get herself into gear.  A great twist at the end, which I didn’t see coming at all.  I was surprised to see IVF mentioned in this story, not just in a few words but forming a central plank of the plot.

‘A Changed Woman’ was also in the womag genre, but featuring a younger, more feisty woman and a visitor called ‘Paul Newman’ who was definitely not the actor.  No wonder her husband was jealous.  And was the reader right to accept the explanation for Paul Newman’s presence, especially after those groans in the bedroom?  Enigmatic endings, I love them.

We all think we know Charles Dickens’ ‘Christmas Carol’, but I really enjoyed Lorraine’s take on it, especially a petulant Scrooge who came out with things like ‘I don’t like sweetcorn,’ and ‘Look what you’ve done to this goose… Look, it’s all squished.’  This piece broadly followed Dickens’ tale, but, just as we lesser writers produce unspeakable first drafts which we have to edit, re-edit and edit over and over again, so did the great man himself.  (If you’re not following all this, read Lorraine’s piece for yourself!)

All very enjoyable stories.  What a wonderful competition entry fee!

Well, Dear Reader, I’ve certainly cured the problem about not receiving email notifications on posts from Blogs I Follow.  With a vengeance!  DR, yesterday I received over 200 email notifications from WordPress, also today because I didn’t have time to adjust the settings again until this evening.  You see, I’d just switched on everything, had all you Blogs I Follow on instant, and also checInbox full of notifications from Blogs I Follow on WordPressked the Default Jabber Instant Messenger Delivery (I thought of  it as the Jabberwocky).  I’m now gradually readjusting the settings; there are so many to adjust which basically do the same thing – instant, daily, weekly.   WordPress would actually do well to review their tools, in my opinion.  However, during the last two days, I have been truly amazed at how frequently you are all blogging and commenting.  I have tried to join in… a little… but it must all be very time-consuming for you, Dear Readers.

Now I have another problem, in that OneDrive has suddenly stopped signing me in and, after a bit of research on the old internet, I eventually discovered that, over the last couple of days, a lot of other people have been having the same problem.  Come on, Microsoft.  It might be Friday (still) in Seattle, but do sort it out.  I have to work weekends.  A few weeks ago, I copied a whole load of family photos on to OneDrive (about 10gb) and OneDrive is still uploading it.  What I didn’t realise (until my wonderful colleague, Masud, explained it to me) was that cloud storage applications (like OneDrive and Dropbox) make two copies of each file, one on your hard drive (which is saved very quickly) and the other on the internet – in the cloud – which takes very much longer, several weeks in my case, because we have such a poor, rural, connection.  One bonus of not having OneDrive uploading in the background is that my laptop has suddenly speeded up, but I still won’t be able to see all  my photos on my iPad.

Review of 'In the Kitchen With a Knife' by Susan Wright

Available from Alfie Dog Fiction here.  This is a repeat of a review I’ve posted on Goodreads and Amazon, as a member of the Reading Panel for Alfie Dog Fiction.

Caroline rents a Riverbank Cottage in a Sussex village with no thought of ‘getting involved’ with the neighbours. On the run from an abusive husband, Caroline just wants to get on with writing her erotic novels, but, as everybody in the village rushes to tell her, many years ago A Murder took place in Riverside Cottage – in the kitchen with a knife. No one had been convicted of the crime, nor was there anyone with an obvious motive. Some people think it must be the victim’s husband, others her rather fit son, Toby… or any number of other people. Oh, and by the way, the little house is haunted, although this turns out to be more of a plumbing issue.

When Caroline discovers that her erotic novels are not selling as well as before, she considers writing a book about the Riverside Cottage murders. However, as soon as she announces this intention, the village clams up on her, poison pen letters plop on to her doormat and her agent refuses to continue to represent her. Caroline, however, soldiers on with her combined sleuthing cum novel research, with the help of her good-natured and indefatigable neighbour, Maggie Clements. The story ends with a twist that I certainly didn’t anticipate, but, like all the best twists, hints, which the reader only recognises after the reveal, were dropped earlier in the text.

Caroline herself was a companionable sort of main character, although not particularly distinctive. Susan might have developed a point she made early on, that Caroline was actually quite ‘straitlaced’, unsuited to writing erotica, and what brought her into this genre. She might also have made more of the abusive husband; the reader is told repeatedly that Caroline is terrified of him finding her, but, when he does appear, he is despatched very quickly, and not mentioned again. The most effective character in the book is the neighbour, Maggie Clements, locked in a dysfunctional marriage, fat, slovenly, and obsessed with her two enormous dogs. Kind and obviously fond of mc, she also takes advantage of Caroline. Maggie’s reaction, when she finds out what her husband is really getting up to, is from the gut and totally believable, but she moves on, with the help of Caroline and others.

‘In the Kitchen With a Knife’ was an enjoyable, easy read – ‘cosy crime’, of the sort Caroline intended to write, with a love interest. Do I recommend it? Yes, definitely.  Dagger, possible murder weapon

What I did not include on my Amazon and Goodreads reviews was that this novel was what kept me going during one of the most demanding and exhausting periods of my working life.  As you will have become aware, Dear Reader, I have not done ANY writing at all over the last few months, except for occasional blog posts here.  Never believe it when people tell you that teachers get long holidays and generally don’t do anything.  Last weekend, I marked ALL weekend, except for a few hours when my husband dragged me away for a drive out in the country and a cream tea.  This week, I have marked every evening and all day Saturday.  I am still not out of the heat yet.  When I return to college tomorrow morning, I will once again find myself rushing around marking, organising students and speaking to/emailing parents whose kids are suffering understandable mental stress caused by an extremely poorly designed and managed qualification (by the awarding body, not our college).  I am so tired I don’t feel like writing at all.  I have to get this lot sorted out by 15 July, when I go on leave.  Many of you are having successes, with stories placed and published.  Well done, all of you.  I long to be up there with you.