I was born in England and lived most of my life in Australia before returning to the UK a few years ago; my dual nationality means that I am often a bit too cheeky, but will always apologize for it.
I have been writing fiction for almost thirty years, mostly for the enjoyment of myself and my friends, but writing is my love and my vocation so of course that’s where my dreams and ambitions are. In the meantime, technical writing helps to pay the mortgage, while I also have fun with web design, reading, watching movies and television, knitting, and imbibing espresso.
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Like Leaves to a Tree
Dave has made the most perfect plans for his first Valentine’s Day with Nicholas … but of course that’s when Sod’s Law kicks in, and everything that can go wrong does go wrong.
The Fine Point of His Soul
Death follows in Adrian Hart's wake, yet he is feted by the best of society in Rome, and boldly dubs himself 'Iago'. Determined to avenge the loss of his unrequited love, Lt Andrew Sullivan asks the advice of Keats, poet and Shakespearian. Soon they are joined by the Shelleys and Lord Byron. But they can't even agree whether Hart is a man, the Devil, or Dionysius - let alone what to do about him.
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- Amgalant Two: Tribal Brawls
on May 19, 2012
My sister Bryn Hammond has now published the second volume of her novel Amgalant, titled Tribal Brawls. And it is awesome. But you knew I was going to say that, didn't you? Because this is My Favourite Book Ever, and I find that it just gets better and better.
To recap: Amgalant is a retelling in (eventually) three volumes of The Secret History of the Mongols, the story of the man we know today as Genghis Khan, but whom we meet as Temujin.
This second volume continues with all the strengths of the first. It brings to vivid life this centuries-old story, this far-away country, and these fascinating people. With deft yet deep-delving touches it evokes their lives, their beliefs, their ways of thinking. It is full of respect and affection for the tribes, and yet it does not flinch from their realities. And it is full of the most wonderful humour.
At the end of The Old Ideal, young Temujin had just been named Khan. Tribal Brawls picks up the story immediately:
The first thing Temujin did when he came out of his clan meet was send an explanation to Jamuqa.
Toghrul, the Hirai khan - not to mention Jamuqa's uncle and Yesugei's anda - publically supports Temujin in ringing terms so apt for this oral culture:
The Mongols have been twenty years without a khan. Now is he your warm coat against the winter; unwrap him not. Now is he your neck-scarf of fur; discard him not.
And of course Temujin counts on having his anda, his soul-brother Jamuqa at his side, just as his stalwart wife Borte stands by him. But all goes pear-shaped, and Temujin finds himself facing the master tactitian Jamuqa in battle.
And so it goes. As might be understood from the title, there are battles a-plenty in this volume - and frankly, they are all of great interest. Each time we are clear about who's involved, and what's at stake, the necessary detail of terrain and armaments, strengths and weaknesses. But more than that, the tale of each is told in a different style, or with a different focus. No battle is other than unique.
In between are beautifully drawn set-pieces, such as when Temujin and his crew try to mend matters with Sacha Chief and the Jorkimes. Instead, matters descend into a drunken stand-off, with the handsomest of Temujin's brothers put in charge of the giddy old Jorkimes aunts whom Temujin is holding hostage.
He was a young singer, with a pale forelock in a curl, storm-grey eyes and the most fortunate face of the brothers; he flattered them and grew roguish; the tipsy Qorijin and Qo’orchin in their tilting hats emitted screams, but not for help.
The attempt at peace-making goes pear-shaped, too, but with a great deal of laughter along the way.
And then there are the moments when a message conveyed from Jamuqa in self-exile will touch Temujin or old Toghrul to the quick. Wells of emotion are tapped with a clarity that cannot fail to move you. Meanwhile, Temujin possesses exactly the right kind of fatherly pride.
None of his sons were perfect, though roughly five of the daughters were.
The Arthurian echoes now include the love and the tensions between Temujin, Jamuqa, and Borte. Temujin loves the other two deeply and truly, and they him, but even those relationships seem impossible to get right.
One aspect of the whole that is always perfect, though, is the magnificent Hoelun, truly incredible enough to be the whetstone for Temujin, for Tchingis Khan.
Grey and gnarled, she kept the rags of beauty and that sheer force of character that Temujin had whet himself against as a youngster.
And the whole is told in the most amazing language, with echoes from Shakespeare or from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, or whatever is most apt to convey to us today what these people meant then. Or simply Bryn's own wonderful choices of words.
I think that is his scouringly honest habit of mind.
Isn't 'scouringly' just exquisite…? The latter parts of this book contain the most perfectly sublime prose I have ever read.
If you think I might be even half-right and suspect that you might like Tribal Brawls, too, you can sample a fifth of it for free on Smashwords. I suspect you might find yourself wanting to devour the rest.
- Amgalant One: The Old Ideal
on May 19, 2012
My sister Bryn Hammond has published her first novel - or, to be more exact, the first volume of her novel Amgalant: The Old Ideal. And it is magnificent.
Now you may think that I'm biased, and maybe I am - but the truth is that this is My Favourite Book Ever. Bryn knows that I wouldn't say that if I didn't mean it in the simplest and most straightforward of ways, and the rest of you will of course make up your own minds one way or the other. But I love this book, and the second volume as well (which will be available soon), and I am eagerly anticipating the third (which has yet to be written).
Amgalant is a retelling of The Secret History of the Mongols, the story of the man we know today as Genghis Khan, but whom we meet as the lad Temujin. It is set, of course, some centuries ago in a country and among a people with whom most of us aren't familiar. And it brings the whole to such vivid life, it's as if it's all happening right here and now to us.
Before we meet Temujin, we meet his parents, the chivalrous Yesugei and the marvellous Hoelun.
It wasn't that Yesugei was harsh, but people found a sad eye from him very hard to stand.
From what should have been inauspicious beginnings - he is moved to kidnap her - they come to love each other, and from that very first chapter I was in love with them, too. As I was with the novel. Bryn retells the story in ways so evocative, so full of human motivation, and always with such respect for human dignity, that we are moved to understand things that our modern world no longer condones. In this she reminds me of Patrick O'Brian and his skills in recreating ways of thinking that are in the past and rather foreign to us now - evoking them in such vividness and with such respect for all involved that we become involved, too.
Hoelun was a queen in her court in her weather-battered great tent in the wilds; there she answered to no-one, and she flourished.
Bryn recreates a whole world here, with its varied peoples and customs, beliefs and mores. It is large and vivid and whole. As detailed and as solid as today. In this she reminds me of Tolkien and his creation of an epic Middle-earth. The narrative is pungent with truth and ayrag.
People, and boys the worst, are so much more intelligent than what comes out of their mouths.
(I found myself salivating to drink ayrag, by the way, even while I wondered how anyone even could. I mean, whose idea was it to first try fermented mare's milk…? How desperate could they have been? But the characters love it, and now I can't help but love it, too. From a respectful distance.)
And by no means is this novel all serious business! There is plenty of awesome humour, of the clever, quiet, wry, character-driven sort. The book had me laughing and chortling and burbling along, sometimes all at once. I'd give you an example here, but it's the sort of humour that belongs so much in context that I feel I should leave you to find it there. Oh, OK, one little snippet which won't need any backstory.
Pardon my Chinese, lady. We don't have a Mongol word for what they are.
Meanwhile, the story tells us about both whole peoples and the individuals who create history through their lives, their choices, their loves, their heartaches. There are Arthurian echoes, of a leader seeking to unite fractious tribes against a common enemy, endeavouring to create justice based on right rather than might, trying to deal well with both the big picture and the personal, and all the while searching for his definitive hat.
Wisdoms, the sport of kings.
Give Amgalant a try! You can sample up to half of it for free on Smashwords. You might not care for Temujin and his story after all, of course - but there's also a very real chance you might come to love him like I do.