Tag Archives: books

Book Review: A Christmas Carol

Book Name: A Christmas Carol
Author: Charles Dickens
First Published: 1843

Charles Dickens was thought of as the “literary colossus” of the Victorian age. He was an English writer and social critic who penned some of the world’s most memorable fictional characters and stories. During his lifetime his work enjoyed great popularity and fame and today his genius is recognized by critics and scholars everywhere.

Dickens began life by being forced to leave school to work in a factory pasting labels on pots of boot blacking for six shillings a week after his father was thrown into debtors’ prison. Soon after, his mother and younger siblings followed his father into the prison and young Charles was sent to live with an old woman that he later immortalized in one of his novels. Eventually, an inheritance was gained by his family and his father was able to be released from prison. The family all moved in with their friend Elizabeth Roylance and slowly regained a more normal life for themselves. However, his mother insisted that Charles continue to work in the factory. The boy was livid and it is thought that his views that men must be the master of their family and women keep their place in the household sphere was originated by this event. Dickens did gain a formal education of sorts, but most of his learning came by his own initiative.

As Dickens grew to adulthood, he found work as a clerk at the law office of Ellis and Blackmore. He taught himself shorthand in his spare time and soon after left the attorneys to become a freelance journalist. One of his relatives was also a reporter at Doctors’ Commons and offered to share his box so that Dickens could report on the legal proceedings there. Dickens remained for a period of four years. This hard knocks education was later incorporated into his novels such as Nicholas Nickleby, Dombey and Son and Bleak House, where the vivid portrayal of the bureaucracy of the English legal system did much to enlighten the general public of his time.

Dickens worked as a political reporter for many years until he landed the editors position at Bentley’s Miscellany where he wrote a serial known as the Pickwick Papers. During his time as editor, he also wrote his first novel, Oliver Twist, as a serial. He also wrote and oversaw four plays during this time period. Gradually, his success as a novelist began to grow and when he left Bentley’s Miscellany, he earned his income via his novels, all written in serial format for various publications and later converted into novel form, lectures and other philanthropic endeavors.

He met and married Catherine Hogarth and they had ten children together. Dickens edited a weekly journal for twenty years, wrote fifteen novels, hundreds of short stories and non-fiction articles. He lectured and campaigned for children’s rights, their education and other social reforms. He died at the age of 58 of a stroke and is buried in the Poet’s Corner of Westminster Abby in London, England.

Dickens’ novella, A Christmas Carol, is considered one of the most influential stories ever written. It remains as popular in present day as it did in Victorian times. The well known classic tale has a simple plot about how a man becomes mean spirited over time due to age and lack of human interaction. He is Ebenezer Scrooge, who has lost the joy of living and cares only for earning the cold hard dollar. Enter three ghosts, one of the past, one of the present, and one of the future. Ebenezer travels through time and space, to alternate realities and revisits key points in his life. In the end, the man that views Christmas as “bah humbug” is redeemed via positive choices in his life.

Charles Dickens weaves a tale that was unique to his time. During the rise of industrialization in England, the old traditions of agricultural society were on the wane. A Christmas Carol helped to rescue the holiday and set a guideline to the modern world of what the spirit of this holiday should mean. There are wonderful contrasts built into the story of hot/cold, company/loneliness, wealth/poverty, or heaven/hell, and throughout the novel are detailed descriptions of Christmas and what it means to those that celebrate it. Since he was writing during Victorian times when the concepts of Christianity were well known and understood by the general population, he did not spend much time in explaining quotations from the bible or talk about how Jesus was a part of Christmas. English Victorians would have understood these concepts without being reminded and so he allows religion to become more of a backdrop of his tale. I sometimes wonder if this is what makes this tale more powerful to us today in this more secular time when Christian ideas are not as prevalent in our public society.

The ghostly visitors that change Ebenezer’s life forever are not particularly Christian in nature. They simply offer him information that allows him to understand what he has done and what the consequences of those choices are. The ghost of Christmas past is youthful and spring like. Christmas Present is a happy spirit that simply wishes to spread joy. Christmas Yet To Be is a somber spirit, perhaps hinting at the bitter end that awaits Ebenezer if he does not see the error of his ways. One of the main Christian tenants is that a sinner may be redeemed if he honestly repents. The ghosts allow Ebenezer to make that choice for himself.

Like many people of my generation, I saw the movie first and then later live plays of this classic work before I read the actual novel. Through the various media, this tale has woven into our culture and has defined what we consider the spirit of Christmas to be. I understand that many people like to read this novel either to themselves or share it out loud with their families during the holiday season. I believe that it is a tradition that I will join in the future.

A Christmas Carol Book CoverThis classic novel is one of the very first that was transcribed from the bound paper version into ebook form. A Christmas Carol is available for free download at Project Gutenberg. The original illustrations by John Leech are included in the download.

Author Interview – Greg Stacey

Sometimes in life we all need a little adventure to get our blood moving. When that moment comes, I like to turn to a good action, adventure thriller. I met Greg Stacey online, as I do many of the authors that I interview here on No Wasted Ink, and I found his history and background to be well grounded for a thriller writer. I hope you’ll enjoy his interview!

Author Greg StaceyI was brought up in Wiltshire, England and have lived there for most of my life. I am very happily married and have three great kids. For most of my adult life, I worked as a Cognitive Behaviour Therapist in the National Health Service. I am a keen guitarist and have played in a number of blues and rock bands over the years, performing material written by myself and in collaboration with a long term friend and fellow musician. I have always enjoyed a good read and have very eclectic tastes, from classical to modern, fact to fiction. Currently I am writing full time, as I retired from the NHS last year.

When and why did you begin writing?

When I was in my teens, I wrote short stories and essays, several of which won prizes, so my writing aspirations go back a long way. As my professional career developed and family life became hectic, my writing took a back seat, but I continued to write articles, short stories for family and friends and develop ideas for future projects.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

A difficult one to answer, but I guess when I was quite young, maybe early twenties, but other things took over. At the beginning of 2012, I really thought it was time to put pen to paper so to speak, and fulfil the ambition. I now consider it my primary occupation.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

The Agnatum is an action, adventure thriller, set in the present day, but originating in World War Two, with the development of a ‘superweapon’ in the German Wunderwaffe programme, when Germany became increasingly frantic to devise new, powerful, and sometimes bizarre weapons that could turn the tide of the war in its favour. Germany’s desperation to create and develop new technologies pushed 1940’s science to the limit.

The Agnatum is the story of the development of such a weapon. Unable to complete their work before the conflict ends and the war is lost, a powerful group of Germans, the Agnatum, who planned a counter regime to the Nazi dictatorship in the final stages of the war, leave a legacy to their descendants to continue their work, in order to restore Germany’s former glory and supremacy. The eventual successful development of the superweapon ultimately threatens world stability by potentially forcing governments to capitulate to the demands of the merciless and cruel underground group.

The menace and danger that the Agnatum’s superweapon poses has to be countered. An international intelligence organisation, Strategic Intelligence and Defence ©, SIAD for short, is charged with the task, under the leadership of the charismatic central character, Nathan Stone. Stone, aided by a trusted and dependable colleague, Spencer White, and a former lover, Dr Georgie Manston, heads up an experienced team of skilled professionals to track down those behind the plot and thwart their ambitions, taking them across Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

What inspired you to write this book? Do you have a specific writing style?

I had been trying to write a science fiction novel for several years, but for whatever reason it never came to life on paper, so I started afresh. The Agnatum came out of a conversation I was having with my son after watching a television programme about the weapons Germany worked on towards the end of WW2. I think he said something like ‘what would have happened if they had got them to work?’ – That was enough to spark an idea that then became the story of the Agnatum.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

The original title was very different. Once I was about a third of the way through and the plot began to evolve, I needed a name for the organisation developing the superweapon. They were Germans, but not Nazis, so they had to be some sort of offshoot from the established Nazi regime in World War 2. I looked up various translations for offshoot and eventually came up with the Latin – Agnatum – and it sounded pretty cool.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

Again, a difficult question – I suppose I wanted people to think in a ‘what if?’ way. What if they had completed the weapon during the war? What if they had succeeded in the present day? If there is a message or a warning, it’s from the past, but unfortunately it’s a message that we either haven’t received yet or taken heed of – not to allow prejudices, fears and greed to influence our decisions or the paths we take.

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

In all honesty, I would have to say no. this is a pure adventure thriller, designed to take one out of oneself on a fictitious journey – pure escapism – apart from perhaps the message above!

What authors have most influenced your life? What about them do you find inspiring?

Graham Greene, Tom Clancy, Clive Cussler, Shakespeare, Bob Dylan, Ernest Hemingway, Kathy Reichs, F Scott Fitzgerald, Ian Fleming – the list could go on forever. I like reading – pretty much everything, although, as you can probably tell, I am very partial to adventure tales. What do I find in them that’s inspiring? Wit, intelligence, integrity, honesty, humour and a determination to tell a good story.

If you had to choose, is there a writer would you consider a mentor?

If talking about the action adventure genre, I would have to say Clive Cussler. Cussler is always a great read and has an ability to keep coming up with good adventure books, even if they are themed. He may not be Shakespeare, but he is, in my humble opinion, an excellent storyteller.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

I have to take the credit for the cover. Besides writing, I am a very keen amateur photographer. The cover is a composite, created using photographic software and themed around the story.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

I am not sure that I would want to give another writer advice at this stage in my writing career, but what I would say is that if you have a story to tell, or passion for writing, then go for it. There is nothing to lose in trying. Writing is a skill that has to be mastered. I feel I am still at the beginning of that road and have a lot to learn, but it is immensely rewarding personally and well worth the blood, sweat and tears in trying to produce something you can be proud of yourself and that others will hopefully enjoy.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

Only that I sincerely hope you enjoy The Agnatum, for what it is, a story. There may be messages within it, for others better than me to identify perhaps, but what I wanted to produce was a good old fashioned adventure tale that someone can’t put down until they have read the last page.

Book Cover The AgnatumGreg Stacey
Wiltshire, England.

I enjoy writing action, adventure thrillers. I am an admirer of Ian Fleming’s books – descriptive, but without being overly so, leaving something to the reader’s imagination. I love a good story, in perhaps a more old fashioned way, not too high tec, so that everything remains believable, or nearly so.

The Agnatum – available on Kindle
Cover Art: Greg Stacey

No Wasted Ink Writer’s Links

writers-linksAfter 30 busy days where I hardly saw my husband, cooked very few meals, and hardly cleaned the house, I am happy to say that I am a Nanowrimo winner. I wrote 51K words toward the rough draft of the second book in my upcoming trilogy. I also wrote several chapters of book one of this project to fill in some plot holes and make the story richer in general. Due to my focus on Nanowrimo, this week’s links will feature topics on this subject from others that also joined in the madness that is Wrimo.

Everyone Needs an Editor. Even you.

How I Won NaNoWriMo and Why I Blame Scrivener

Don’t mess with my desk

Fountain Pen Basics: What kind of bottled fountain pen ink should I buy?

9 Things I Learned From My Copy-Edit

Building an office for writing – part one

Three Mac apps to help you self publish your book

Don’t Let the Decline of Spoken English Ruin Your Writing

Building a Plot of Variable Depth

Writing a Strong Opening Chapter

Author Interview: Gabriele Wills

I am a great lover of historical fiction novels, so when the opportunity came to interview Gabriele Wills, I was glad of the chance. I hope you’ll enjoy her interview as much as I did, here on No Wasted Ink.

Author Gabriele WillsMy name is Gabriele Wills. Born in Germany, I emigrated with my family to Canada when I was a young child. Always a dreamer, I’ve also been an educator, literacy co-ordinator, and website designer, but my real passion is writing. I have five historical novels in print. Married to my university sweetheart, I am also the proud mother of an accomplished daughter, with whom I just co-authored a Young Adult novel.

When and why did you begin writing?

A few decades ago, when my husband and I moved to Ottawa for his new job, I couldn’t find a teaching position, so I decided it was the perfect opportunity to fulfill my dream of writing a novel. This was my first attempt at a story set in my favourite place, Muskoka. It wasn’t bad, and gave me lots of practice to hone my writing skills, but – fortunately – it still resides at the bottom of a storage bin.

When did you first consider yourself a writer?

As a child I wrote stories or made them up just to entertain myself. So I was convinced I was a writer even with that never-to-be-published first novel. I felt more confident that the second one was viable, especially after reworking it dozens of times, and went on to write a third in my spare time. When a British literary agent picked up these two books, I felt I could finally, really and truly call myself an author. I’ve been writing full time for the past eight years.

Can you share a little about your current book with us?

The Summer Before the Storm is set during the Age of Elegance in Muskoka, which has been the summer playground of affluent and powerful Americans as well as Canadians for well over a century. Amid the pristine, island-dotted lakes of this legendary Canadian wilderness, the young and carefree amuse themselves with glittering balls and friendly competitions.

But the summer of 1914 promises to be different when the ambitious and destitute son of a disowned heir joins his wealthy family at their summer home on Wyndwood Island. Through Jack’s introduction into the privileged life of the aristocratic Wyndhams and their social circle, he seeks opportunities and alliances to better himself, including in his schemes, his beautiful and audacious cousin, Victoria. But their charmed lives begin to unravel with the onset of the Great War, in which many are destined to become part of the “lost generation.”

This richly textured tale takes readers on an unforgettable journey from romantic moonlight cruises to the horrific sinking of the Lusitania, from regattas on the water to combat in the skies over France, from extravagant mansions to deadly trenches – from innocence to nationhood.
What inspired you to write this book?

Ever since I first discovered Muskoka as a teenager, I wanted to write about its fascinating past. I was lucky to spend time at my friend’s summer home – known as a “cottage” – which had been built by her great-grandfather in 1879. We used to dance to old gramophone records from the turn of the century, and heard stories about the wealthy cottagers who spent summers on the lakes, often owning entire islands. Many were industrialists and bankers from the U.S. who arrived by private Pullman coaches with as many as twenty-seven servants in tow. I was hooked!

Do you have a specific writing style?

I have a general idea of the storyline, but when I start writing, the characters invariably take over the plot. I’ve tried reining them in, but they will have their way! And honestly, they sometimes take the story in a completely different – but always better – direction than what I had anticipated. So for me, writing is a daily adventure, as I never quite know what they’re going to get up to next.

How did you come up with the title of this book?

Because much of the novel is set in the summer of 1914, just before the outbreak of WWI – in which Canada was immediately embroiled – I wanted to have “Summer” in the title. As soon as I envisioned the war as a destructive storm, it just seemed perfect.

Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?

I’d like readers to have a deeper understanding of that cataclysmic time in world history. The generation that was young and idealistic at the outbreak of the war was decimated, but even those who survived were forever scarred by their experiences. I don’t think that anyone should ever forget their sacrifices.
One of my fans said it best with this comment: “I attended the War Museum in Ottawa, and with your characters in mind, I could see Chas flying high in his plane! Attaching a soul to the stories and pictures we looked at brought a whole new human meaning to me. It was no longer something we once learned about in school – it had a face, a life, a love, and a tragedy.”

Are experiences in this book based on someone you know, or events in your own life?

No, but many of the events are based on real ones. I have a few aviators, for instance, so their exploits are drawn from memoirs and biographies of famous aces. Women’s roles as volunteer nurses and ambulance drivers were heavily based on real women’s often remarkable – and unsung – wartime contributions.

What authors have most influenced your life?

The Brontës, Thomas Hardy, Daphne du Maurier. My husband and I did a literary pilgrimage to Yorkshire, “Wessex”, and Cornwall as part of our honeymoon trip to England, because I wanted so much to see the evocative and inspiring landscapes where my favourite authors had lived and which they described so enticingly in their novels.

Who designed the cover of your book? Why did you select this illustrator?

I used a photograph that my daughter had taken of an antique wooden boat that was not only typical of the era, but also one of the those actually built in Muskoka, which has a rich heritage of boat building. I thought the picture conveyed the impression of an idyllic summer day. Then I learned how to use a computer program that allowed me to design the cover.

Do you have any advice for other writers?

Read widely. Keep writing, and then rewriting. Persevere. Network with other authors, because writing is a lonely profession, and connections as well as support are crucial.

Do you have anything specific that you want to say to your readers?

To enhance your experience of The Summer Before the Storm, check out my annotations on Book Drum. Under the “Bookmarks” tab, you’ll see vintage and modern photographs and videos that illustrate various aspects of the book. You can listen to a loon call, if you’ve never heard one, and link to all the music quoted in the book.

If you enjoy my novels, please tell your friends and book clubs. And I appreciate hearing from you!

Summer Before the Storm Book CoverGabriele Wills
Ontario Canada

Gabriele loves to recreate an era in which she can immerse herself, by weaving compelling stories around meticulously researched facts. If you want a glimpse of her world, visit her book trailer on YouTube.

The Summer Before the Storm, Book 1 of the Muskoka Novels
Published by Mindshadows
Cover photo by Melanie Wills
Signed first-edition copies available from Mindshadows.com
Amazon UK

Writing Space: Heather Poinsett Dunbar

Heather and her husband Chris Dunbar are both members of a writing cabal that I belong to. They both have an author interview pending in the works, but I also invited Heather to do a writing space post here at No Wasted Ink. I think you’ll agree that her writing style and tools are unique.

Heather Poinsett Dunbar AuthorI’m Heather Poinsett-Dunbar, one of the coauthors of the Morrigan’s Brood series. Where do I write books? I suppose the 64 thousand dollar question really is where don’t I write books.

I write the first draft with the hubby, Christopher Dunbar, at a variety of places. Generally, since we’re both trying to be gluten-free, we go to several Asian places in the neighborhood. We pull out a legal notepad from what we call the ‘man-purse’ (since Chris usually carries it) and a pen. Yes, we’re that old-school. Then we start writing. We go from one ‘scene’ to the next. Why do we go out? Because we share a house with three cats who talk a lot.

After our meal, I basically have notes that look like:

Heather Dunbar's Favorite Writing Tool

Mandi: Lamia, blah, blah, Strigoi, Deargh Du.

A: EI is not cooperating. Looks annoyed.

MA: Strides in and interrupts them. Who took all my #$@#$!ing bloodmead???

And so on.

Sometime after that, I generally go to my office (the HeatherCave), light incense and candles, turn off phones, and start typing or talking (I use a speech-to-text program that works for the most part, but it also translates Gaelic names into the most delightful nonsensical ravings). If I’m just typing out our notepads, I’ll play music. Generally, it has to be in a language I don’t know or instrumental, as I will start singing along if it’s in English. Right now, I listen to Corvus Corax, Omnia, Faun, Clannad, Dead Can Dance, Vas, and a lot of soundtracks and trailer music. However, I like to get a musical impression of the historical era that we are writing about.

Heather Dunbar's Writing SpaceAt some point, I take time to kick out the cats and try to ignore their pleas for gooshy food. Sometimes one will sneak in and fall asleep in the extra chair.

Other times, I work on the road if we’re at an event or book signing. When I can, I type at lunch at work, but my office is my favorite place to type and think.

Right now, there is a pile of 10 notepads waiting to be transcribed, as my job is a tad stressful of late. Hopefully, I will get back into the flow of things very soon.

Generally, after typing out the dialogue that Chris and I wrote, I go through and add details. I am a librarian, which means I basically research as a hobby. So, I go through our print reference materials in my library at home and then I start accessing historical electronic databases that will help me add a bit of realism to our writings. We’re both history nerds, so this is a lot of fun for us both. Once I’m done, I send things back to Chris, he reads and adds to the draft, I accept or add changes, and boom, it scampers away to the editor.

If you’d like to read more about our adventures in authoring, be sure to visit our blog!