Beyond the world

Inside Out full

One of the challenges of writing Sci-Fi and some fantasy novels is finding the right role for the world or worlds to play in the story. In this type of fiction, much of the fascination for both the reader and the writer is with the dystopian or alien world and the technology that drives or destroys it. Often such a story is born from and driven by a vision of the world or some social context rather than the characters and their interaction. This was a difficulty I had to confront with the dystopian novel I am currently writing. From a narrative point of view, it is the characters that drive the story not the world. Of course, the world may be a character, but then that world must come to life and breathe and move and feel. Two examples spring to mind. Maria V, Snyder does this in an artificial world in her two books, Outside In and Inside Out. In quite a different vein, Arthur Machen makes the countryside come alive in Hill of Dreams, doing so was one of the hallmarks of his writing. When the characters are eclipsed by the world and its history, then the story lacks depth and fails to engage the reader lest it be purely intellectually. So the challenge for the writer in such fiction is to go beyond the world to discover how the characters feel and act within it.

A review of Boy & Girl


A review of Boy & Girl by the author Leland Dirks.

This book is brilliant. I’ll be thinking about these characters and this plot for a long, long time. Building not just one but two worlds that are quite believable and complex characters to fall in love with in such lovely prose is a beautiful accomplishment. I have no idea how to categorize this book, and honestly, I think that’s one reason I love it. It could be “young adult,” but there is plenty for this older reader to be challenged by. It could be fantasy, but the characters feel so real and “normal” that it feels more like literary fiction. It could be paranormal (there is telepathy and other psychic phenomena), but it doesn’t feel strained. All I know is that the writer has crafted a wonderful story that I love, and I can’t wait to start reading the sequel. I heartily recommend this book. (…)

See the full review on

Night escape…

Illustration inspired by the work of Henri Rousseau

As In Search of Lost Girls is published and the revised edition of Boy & Girl is at the printers, I can finally get back to my new novel. Here’s an extract.

(…) He grins, his face caked in mud, and yanks harder on the root. A large clump of earth breaks away and tumbles to his feet. It is followed in quick succession by several other clumps leaving a gaping hole in the tunnel roof through which I can see only darkness. Using the fallen earth as a stepping stone, Mart clambers up and peers out.

When he says nothing, I scramble up next to him, my arm slung around his waist for support. His body gives off such welcome warmth in the biting night air, I huddle close. I peer out through a forest of blades of grass that grows around the gash in the earth, and as my eyes adjust to the pale light of the moon, I see a tangled mass of leaves and branches writhing in the wind. Here and there, shifting patches of colour catch the moonlight like willowy dancers weaving their way across a darkened stage.

The sight is extraordinary, but the surrounding soundscape enthralls me more. Against a backdrop of groans of age-old branches struggling against the wind and the accompanying complaint of leaves, the shrieks of nightbirds, the high-pitched cries of bats and the throaty calls of animals on the prowl set the scene for a nighttime drama that is both enticing and menacing. Nearby, a creature moves unseen through the grass, only the rustle giving away its presence.

A sharp hiss to my right has my head swivelling in that direction. I freeze at the sight that awaits me: only a foot from my nose, a cobra surges up out of the grass, its hood spread wide in defiance, its tiny eyes bulging, its tongue flicking in and out. (…)

Review: Thief’s Magic

Thief's Magic

See my review of Trudi Canavan’s latest novel, Thief’s Magic.

As with many of Trudi Canavan’s earlier books like The Black Magician trilogy and The Age of the Five trilogy, I really enjoyed reading her new novel Thief’s Magic, book one of Millennium’s Rule (read on)

The exceptional


Sir Ken Robinson in a recent BBC interview with Sarah Montague as part of a programme called The Educators, talked about how a careless criticism of a teacher put him off singing for years. He added:

“…. When you’re that young, it doesn’t take a lot to be encouraged or discouraged … On the positive side, if somebody says you can do something, it lifts your whole expectations of yourself. You think: well maybe I can do that…”

School, amongst other things, leaves many young people with a feeling that they are not up to standard, that they can do nothing exceptional. It was my case with English and writing all those years ago. It took me another forty years before I dared write my first novel and what a joy that was.

In all my novels, I tell stories of young people (Sally, Brent and Keira in The Reaches for example or Peter, Kaitling and Fi in Boy & Girl) who, despite the immense difficulties that abound, discover their own talents and manage to do the exceptional. The achievement is all theirs, even if there is an adult nearby who has the wisdom to believe in them and to encourage them, like Professor Rafter in the first three books of The Storyteller’s Quest (The Reaches, The Keeper’s Daughter, The Starless Square) or Dr. Grant and Fi’s mum in Boy & Girl and In Search of Lost Girls.

An end and a beginning


Thunder rolls in waves across the lake and rumbles from mountain to mountain up back. The house is built above a steep drop and the trees below bend and twist in the wind and rain, but nothing like last week’s gale that carried off the old chimney, smashing two skylights in its wake. Through the open doors and windows that look out over the valley and lake, I see swallows darting here and there, unperturbed by the storm. The air is cooler now, cleaner and more refreshing. A good moment to write.

My latest novel, In Search of Lost Girls, is ready. Only the ISBN is missing. I’ve paid for a new batch and it should arrive in a few days. Then I will be able to order the proofs. With the effort of preparing the sequel to Boy & Girl over, I find myself suddenly restless if not rudderless. Next on my agenda is the dystopian novel which I began a while ago with twelve chapters already written.

It’s always difficult to plunge back into a story, here all the more so because I want to make a number of changes before going on. My way of writing requires me to be immersed in the story such that I can follow the characters rather than dictating where they go and what they do. If the builders hadn’t done away with the fireplace when they put in the central heating some twenty years ago, I would willingly pull up an armchair by the log fire to read what I have already written. I’ll have to make do with the occasional flickering of lightning instead…

Secret Paths Editions