Archive | September 2013

Big Sound Temple

Fancy something different? I’ve just finished Big Sound Temple by Ben Stevens and can heartily recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good read and likes to find out a little about different cultures.

Big Sound TempleHiro is the young janitor at a Buddhist temple in Japan. He wants to visit the US and England – and wouldn’t mind a girlfriend too.

The story is told in Hiro’s version of English – very little grammar, not much punctuation and a rather literal approach to spelling.

However, although the language is basic, the story isn’t and is written in such an engaging way that it’s very easy to lose yourself in Hiro’s world.

From looking after a koi carp that had its tail eaten by a heron to an uncle who blames Hiro for the death of his dog, it’s the small details that make this story so real.

There’s also bigger drama – a dubious girlfriend, loan sharks and the temple’s uncertain future. And it all comes together in a very satisfying fashion.

I haven’t written many reviews recently but this one is 5*.

Alternatively, if your taste is more for thrillers and mysteries, the Kindle edition of my own novel The Vault is on promotion for the next week – priced at just $1.99 or £1.99.

I’ve got a guest post about the book – and why it’s published in aid of the disaster relief charity ShelterBox – on Sue Howe’s blog ‘The Long & The Short Of It’. I’ve also been interviewed by Kristen Hope Mazzola on her blog. Click on the highlighted links for the guest post or the interview (there is a reason I’m clutching a pair of cycling leggings!).

Half of all royalties from The Vault – Kindle and print versions – go to ShelterBox. You can also win print copies of two of my books – plus other goodies – through the competition I’m running. For more information, click here.

Spreading The Word

Various wonderful people are helping me to spread the word about The Vault and my efforts to raise extra funds for the charity ShelterBox.

Indie Books R Us have kindly published a guest post where I’m writing about how ideas for a novel can develop – particularly when, like me, you don’t write to a detailed plan – and the particularly torturous process involved with this particular book.

Hop on over if you want to read more.

Fellow blogger and author Kristen Hope Mazzola has also very generously published a book feature on her site.

I’ve got a few more interviews and publicity features coming up – particularly over the coming week when The Vault is on offer for the bargain price of either $1.99 or £1.99. To download a copy, click here.

I’m really hoping to boost sales a bit so that I can raise the book up the Amazon rankings – and raise some more money for ShelterBox, which gets 50% of all royalties.

I’ve even paid for some promotions so it will be interesting to see if/how that works!

ShelterBox tents set up for families in the Philippines who have been displaced by conflict.

ShelterBox tents set up in the Philippines for families displaced by conflict.

Murder & Mystery

The campaign has started! Over the next week, my mystery thriller The Vault is on promotion at a knock-down price – and I’m still giving half of all royalties to charity.

Vault Kindle Comp CoverThe Vault is normally priced at $4.85 or £3.99 – and has a 4* rating on both Amazon US and UK sites.

However, from now until Wednesday 2nd October  – or whenever I remember to put the price back up – you can download the Kindle version for just 1.99, that’s whether you’re buying in dollars, pounds or euros.

Click here or on the cover image to download a copy from your Amazon site.

Set in a small English town, The Vault revolves around the story of schoolboy Adam Strong, his battles with a gang of local yobs and his personal dramas.

But it also features three other strands woven around Adam’s story – an armed raid on the home of a reclusive billionaire, the discovery of three dead bodies in a local lake and a sex offender on the run after breaking his parole.

The four stories all build to a climax when the significance of the vault will become clear.

Below are comments from a few Amazon reviewers:

Garry Kay: “Seamlessly combines the innocence of light-hearted childhood drama with the high-tech sophistication of extreme wealth and the criminals who pursue it along with the drudgery of rural police work and the twisted mind of a sex offender.”

David Brown: “A well-written mystery with four very different storylines seemingly unrelated but all coming together by the end. Adam is a great character, young and seemingly weak, but wise beyond his years when it comes to doing the right thing. This a really good read.”

DM Dickson: “In addition to the main story of crime and murder, there is teenage angst, first love, bullying, a dark and menacing side with a character preying on children. There is a broken marriage and even some little hint of racial prejudice.

“On the face of it that would seem to be too much for one book to hold but Huw Thomas skilfully packs all these into an enjoyable, thrilling and enthralling read that is at times unputtdownable.”

Half of all royalties go to the disaster relief charity ShelterBox.

You can also win print copies of The Vault, plus Amazon gift cards and other prizes through the competition I’m running:

Competition link

Does It Matter Whodunnit?

As a break from my latest novel, I’ve been doing a bit of a re-edit of my parallel lives thriller Thin Ice – with help from an online service called Pro Writing Aid.

As well as being free (always a bonus), it’s proving very useful and it’s certainly making me analyse my text in considerable detail.

But some questions it raises are about potential grammar issues I just wouldn’t have understood a few years ago. Like, passive sentences.

I’m one of those people who wasn’t taught grammar at school. I learnt most of my grammar by a process of absorption and while my English has always been pretty good I never used to have a clue how it really worked.

Once, if you’d asked me what a passive sentence was, I’d have looked at you blankly. So, for anyone else – like me – who never had any formal grammar training, I thought I’d try and offer a bit of help.

Practically every creative writing teacher or guide will tell you that ‘action’ is what moves a story along, whether that’s physical movement, thoughts or dialogue. For example:

Michael stepped over one of the corpses. He wondered how many more they would find. He turned to his partner: ‘Hey, Julie, do you think they were all werewolves?’

Sometimes, we can slip in a bit of observation – but preferably not to much – to describe the scene:

Fresh blood glistened in the morning light. Globs of it had splashed all over the room, decorating the floor and the walls. One spray of still-uncongealed arterial fluid had even spattered in a thick arc across the ceiling.

Now – technically – all of the sentences above are active. We have verbs describing actions by the agent – Michael in the first example and blood in the second. And with an active sentence we start the sentence with the agent and their action.

Sometimes, though, the agent (whether person or thing) is either less important or totally irrelevant. What matters in the end result:

Ernie the vampire was dead. He had been shot with a rocket propelled wooden stake, fired a police marksman .

In this case, we’ve turned things round. These are passive sentences. In the first example, the only thing that matters is Ernie’s death. (He was a mad lunatic who terrorised the town so getting rid of him is what counts.) In the second sentence, you get a bit more information. Again though, it’s the result that’s important, not who did it.

If we turned these sentences around we’d have to put the marksman first:

A police marksman killed Ernie the vampire by shooting him with a rocket propelled wooden stake.

That sentence is active – and a bit tighter – but who cares about the policeman. The important bit of information is that Ernie’s not going to be biting any more necks, which is why we put his death first and then how it was caused.

It’s like saying: Investigators from the justice department have today arrested the President. Who cares who did it! What’s important is the fact that the President’s been a bad boy.

There’s more to active vs passive but hopefully you get the drift. Obviously you wouldn’t want to cram too many passive sentences into a book but there are times when it’s the right thing to use. So if your editor – whether online or flesh – tells you off for using passive sentences, make sure you check the context before you despair.

Hope this helps!

Sharing Is Caring

As part of my attempt to help the disaster relief charity ShelterBox, I’m running a special book promotion next week.

Vault Kindle Comp CoverThe charity gets 50% of all royalties for my novel The Vault – and I’m hoping a promotion might give sales a boost.

So, if any fellow bloggers want to help out by giving next week’s promo a mention, the support would be hugely appreciated.

The Vault is a mystery thriller set in a small English town – involving schoolboy battles, dead bodies in a lake and armed raiders trying to break into the home of a reclusive billionaire.

The book’s normal price is $4.85 or £3.99.

However, from Thursday 26th September until Wednesday 2nd October it’s going to be on sale for $1.99 or £1.99.

If anyone can help, please let me know – even just a mention with a link to Amazon would be great. I’ll also be mentioning the promotion next week when it’s on, so any tweets, Facebook mentions/shares etc will also help.

In the meantime, I think I’ve found my next car:max01Or maybe this one:max02

There’s a visual arts festival going on in Bournemouth at the moment and we found these amongst a collection of Mad Max-type vehicles parked up where the old IMAX cinema used to be.

It is my birthday next week. Can I have one? Please?

Severus Snape & The Sound Of Words

Authors have been doing it for centuries – creating characters whose very name gives you a sense of their personality.

Charles Dickens was a master of the art. He was the man who gave us Fagin (nasty sounding type), John Jarndyce (a kindly, upstanding lawyer, Ebeneezer Scrooge (would you trust him?) and Uriah Heep (can’t you hear him snivelling?)

Across the years and across the genres, authors pick names that sound right for their characters – Lee Child gave us the ex-military, wandering tough man Jack Reacher, while J K Rowling turned to alliteration for the sinister Severus Snape.

severus-snapeAs an author, I know that choosing the names of characters – whether main protagonist or bit part – is very important. I like names that aren’t too long but somehow give an idea of what a person’s like.

For my schoolboy hero in The Vault I picked Adam Strong, while the narrator of Pagan’s Sphinx is overland expedition leader Ben Drummond. (Took me a while to get his name right – he was Will Lewis for a while but even despite my Welsh heritage I knew that couldn’t be his real name.)

But is there more to it than just randomly picking a name that sounds right? What makes a name sound right?

Yesterday, via a post on the Oxford Dictionaries blog, I was introduced to the concept of phonaesthesia. Big word but a curiously simple idea. The basic concept is some individual sounds convey ideas of shape, movement etc.

For example, many words that start ‘fl…’ are to do with airborne movement – e.g. fly, flick, flee, flap. Think about these ones – rubble, rugged, rough, rumble. Any connection? Or these – glitz, glamour, glee, glance and glare.

And it’s clearly not all to do with the fact that many words might derive from a common root. Apparently a study involving both American college students and Tamil speakers showed that when asked to choose which word – bouba or kiki – represents a round boulder and which one a jagged boulder, 95% picked kiki as the jagged shape.

There’s a lot more – fascinating – detail in the Oxford Dictionaries post, which concludes with this:

“A similar test—though far more imaginative—is offered by linguist David Crystal: you have to crash-land your spaceship. Two planets are equally close by. One is inhabited by Lamonians, the other teems with Grataks. Which do you choose?”

You’d have to go with the Lamonians wouldn’t you? The Grataks? Well, they just sound far too gratakly to be safe.

I thought this was an interesting one to share. Might give a new dimension to picking names for characters – see what other words are in the dictionary starting with the same syllable and see how that fits. Could be particularly useful for sci-fi and fantasy writers who are inventing names from scratch – I mean, you’re not going to get very far with a villain called Blumbest or a heroine called Crungle are you?Competition link

Avoiding Hooptedoodle

Elmore Leonard – who died last month – was known for taking liberties with grammar and famed for a gritty, succinct style that won him many admirers, including both readers and fellow authors.Elmore-Leonard-006

As an author, Leonard was renowned in particular for his authentic-sounding dialogue. He got his first break writing Western pulp fiction novels in the 1950s – a number of which were later turned into films, including Valdez Is Coming and 3.10 To Yuma.

But as well as breaking the rules he didn’t like, Leonard came up with a suitably succinct top ten of tips for other writers.

In a 2001 essay for the New York Times, he explained: “These are rules I’ve picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I’m writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what’s taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.”

His 10 rules were:

  1. Never open with the weather.
  2. Avoid prologues
  3. Never use a verb other than ‘said’ to carry dialogue.
  4. Never use an adverb to modify the said ‘said’.
  5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
  6. Never use the words ‘suddenly’ or ‘all hell broke loose’.
  7. Use regional dialect – patois – sparingly.
  8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9. Don’t go into great detail describing places or things.
  10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

Now, obviously, reading is a very subjective affair. Elmore Leonard’s novels won’t be to everybody’s taste. I also freely admit to breaking quite a few of Leonard’s rules in my own books.

But there’s a lot of sense in what he says. I might come back to some of them in more detail in another post but there’s also a crucial ’11th’ rule that Leonard said summarised the other 10:

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

“Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)”

If you want to read Leonard’s piece for the NY Times in full then click here. I’ve also got an alternative take on his rules that I would summarise as:

  • Don’t state the obvious – let readers work out emotions etc from what your characters do and say.
  • Leave plenty to the imagination – just give readers a few pointers to guide them.

Any thoughts on Leonard’s rules? Any you’d strongly disagree with (as a reader or a writer) or any you’d like to add?

NB. ‘Hooptedoodle’ is what Leonard described as a writer breaking loose with a bunch of pretty words that, while nice, don’t add anything to the story.

Are You Feeling Lucky?

Okay, I know it’s Friday 13th but I’m going to give you a chance to get lucky, win some lovely prizes – and help a very worthy cause into the bargain.

Today I’m launching a competition called Unlock The Vault in aid of the disaster relief charity ShelterBox.

Prizes on offer include Amazon gift cards, signed copies of my books, T-shirts… and the charming little fellow below:

Please... I need a home!

Please… I need a home!

To win, all you need to do is answer three easy questions – and make a minimum $1/£1 donation to the charity via my JustGiving page.

**You can also help support the charity by reblogging and sharing this page – thanks.**

Please visit the competition page if you want to find out more about ShelterBox – or just watch the following video. (Alternatively, scroll down for details of the prizes and how to enter).

Unlock the VaultPrizes

* 1st Prize: £10 (or $15) Amazon gift card, signed copies of The Vault
and my adventure novel Pagan’s Sphinx, plus the little bear above!

* 2nd & 3rd Prizes: £5 Amazon gift card, signed copies of the two books listed, plus a ShelterBox T-shirt.

*4th & 5th Prizes: Signed copies of the two books above, plus a ShelterBox T-shirt.

Prizes will be sent to wherever you are in the world.

(If anyone wants to increase the competition’s appeal by offering additional prizes then please get in touch!)


To enter the competition there is a small cost. You need to donate a minimum £1 or $1… or one of eight different currencies to ShelterBox via my fundraising page

Obviously, if you want to donate ten pounds, a thousand dollars or a million euros please feel free but just one is all I ask! Donations can be made with either a credit card or PayPal account. However, please ensure you provide your name when donating.

You also need to answer the questions below. Your name and email address will only be used for this competition. I will personally eat your contact information afterwards and pledge not to sell it to any dodgy (or non-dodgy) marketing firms!

The competition will run until the end of the year (exact date to be confirmed but probably mid-December). Winners will be picked at random from all those who get the questions right – and make the minimum donation required (which is why I need your name).


1. How many families does ShelterBox aim to assist every year?

2. In The Vault, what is found in the lake?

3. There are 10 books in the library. You take away three. How many do you have?

There’s A Bear Tap-Dancing

I love the English language. Partly for all those wonderful words we’ve got – ones like ‘rambunctious’, ‘disgruntled’, ‘fractious’ and ‘bellicose’.

But individual words are only part of it. Then there are all those marvellous idioms – some of which make sense (kind of) and some of which seem just plain mad.

It’s only since I started teaching English to foreigners that I’ve realised how confusing our language can be. Not only do my students have to cope with all those inconsistencies and weird spellings, they’ve also got to get their heads around phrases such as ‘like water off a duck’s back‘ and ‘as sick as a parrot‘.

Some idioms are fairly obvious – ‘it’s just a drop in the ocean‘ or ‘to get a taste of your own medicine‘ don’t take that much working out.

But what about ‘having a chip on your shoulder‘? Or ‘a back of a fag packet calculation‘? (You’ve also got to know the difference between British and American English for that one!)

With stronger students, I like trying to teach them plenty of idioms. A couple that always get a smile are ‘to kick the bucket‘ and ‘he’s pushing up the daisies‘.

But it’s not just us English speakers who pepper our language with strange sayings. There’s a post on the Oxford Dictionaries blog all about German idioms. Apparently, if you want to encourage someone to come along to a party, you tell them there’s going to be a tap-dancing bear there. Logical really. Who wouldn’t want to see a tap-dancing bear.

As for the video below, it’s got nothing to do with idioms but it appealed to my sense of humour!

Random Acts Of Kindness 02

September 2010: The weather had changed. As we lay in our tent, we listened as rain began to patter on the thin nylon shell of our tent.

We were 40 days into our cycle ride across North America and the sound didn’t bother us: we were cosy inside and tired enough not to care.

Missouri River - between Great Falls and Helena.

Missouri River – between Great Falls and Helena.

We’d started that day by cycling to a school just outside Bozeman, where we gave a talk about our ride to around 100 children. After riding back into town for a coffee, we’d resumed our route towards Yellowstone.

Luckily, there was a tailwind pushing us along that day and the climb over the Bozeman Pass seemed relatively easy. From the summit – at about 5,760ft – we had a glorious long descent in bright sunshine towards Livingstone.


Street scene in Livingstone, Montana.

We’d originally planned on riding for another 10 miles. However, we’d clocked up around 160 miles over the past three days and were both feeling a bit weary, so decided to call it a day when we saw a campsite just south of Livingstone

It was a good call – when the campsite owners realised we were riding for charity they said we didn’t have to pay. That evening we sorted out some laundry and chatted to a British motorcyclist riding from Alaska to Panama.

He seemed a bit more cynical about his experience, questioning whether the ‘have a nice day’ attitude of many Americans was really genuine. His comments made us appreciate our slower pace and all the opportunities we were having to meet and talk to people along our way – we’d met nothing but genuine kindness and warmth from everyone we’d come across as we cycled south from Vancouver.

As the weather closed in, we retired to our little tent and fell asleep to the sound of the rain. Our laundry was hanging out on a line but there was little point bringing it in as it was still damp from the wash.

The next morning, Carolyn was first up. As she got out of the tent, she surprised a lady in the process of leaving a bag containing 15 quarters on our picnic table.

The woman, who was staying in one of the RVs on the site, had written a little note saying she felt sorry for us with our washing hanging out in the rain and was leaving the quarters so we could put our clothes in the dryer.

Carolyn started trying to explain that our cycling gear was made of material that couldn’t go in a dryer but gave up as our benefactor insisted we took the quarters. Leaving the money with Carolyn, she hurried away. It was as if she was embarrassed – she’d clearly meant to leave an anonymous gift and didn’t want thanks.

We took the money in the spirit in which it was meant. Our clothes went away damp to be dried out that evening, while the $3.75 was spent on coffees later in the morning. It was just another random act of kindness from a stranger, another in a string of events that – while individually small – helped reaffirm our belief in human nature.