The Last Mask by Stephen Winterflood – It’s Certainly Nothing To Joke About …

This is long overdue, but as I wrote a few posts back – I am waaaay behind with my blog posts. However, my resolution is to improve.

I bought this on Amazon for my kindle back in January. I think it was ¬£1.74, which I thought was pretty good value and having spoken to the author briefly on Facebook – I was intrigued. Stephen Winterflood (SW) has a dry and yet very witty sense of humour and I thought “hmmm, I wonder what his book will be like?”

It sat in my virtual “to read” pile for a few weeks and every time I went to read it – I was distracted by work, play or my own scribblings. … but, one rainy night in Feb I managed to lock myself out of the house (yes really) and had to sit in the garage on a giant outdoor beanbag and wait for my husband to return home from work to let me in. Cold and at a loss, I started reading.

And then I kicked myself, severely and repeatedly – I’d had this book for nearly a month and not started??? Boo.

I was immediately drawn into a well crafted and developed world. As a lover of all things fantasy, I was initially uncertain where to place this in a genre that often ends up with the dregs and left-overs: after speaking to SW he described the book as “theatrical decadence” and he’s absolutely 100% right.

The two main characters (Joe and Kelly) are well crafted, with depth and individual personality traits. I had absolutely no problem visualising them and following them on their journey to “The Joke” – a place where nightmares and dreams can come true, but a place so dark and twisted that it bewitches the reader and seduces them, dragging them along for the ride – which isn’t always pleasant. With echoes of Gaiman and Burton in visualisation I found myself really loving this story, more so an any other self-published book I’ve read (*** see end of review for explanation). But it didn’t end there, not just a linear story involving one set of protagonists and one set of antagonists, I counted at least three separate stories all coming together. No, wait … four maybe? Each one hinting to something more and involving relationships, betrayal, secrets and loss. The book ends without a natural conclusion, the stories are unravelling fast but nothing is concluded; now, some people will find this frustrating – but I personally love book series and think this is a great thing! I can’t wait to read the next one ūüôā

Structure wise – I felt it was spot on, at around 80-85k (I think) it’s a nice length and the pace is steady. We have enough “breathing time” between action and revelations and the balance between prose and dialogue is great. I do have one criticism (just one!) – with the dialogue and the speech of Joe and Kelly – I thought that more contractions were needed, purely because of¬†colloquialisms, patterns of speech, I think most people say “don’t” “couldn’t” and so on – that’s my only grumble though, and I’ve mentioned it before, so I won’t harp on.

I adored the layout of chapters, slices and reflections – very clever, very well done and incredibly effective.

Overall, I can honestly say, this to me is a 5* book.

A lot of people give high stars and raving reviews for people that they know – mostly because they are afraid of giving a critique and hurting their friend’s feelings; but in this case – it’s thoroughly deserved. I usually think to myself when I review/crit “what would I change?” and apart from the one thing mentioned – there’s nothing.

I’m wishing the author the very best of luck, I really hope that he starts to actively promote this book as it needs and deserves to be read, he’s tapped into a niche and individualised corner of the fantasy market and this trilogy is creative and fresh enough to attract attention.

Now … on a final note – I emailed Mr Winterflood and asked him why he wrote the ¬†book and his reply was:-

“You mean apart from the fame, fortune, and bevy of beautiful ladies following me around.

I did the Last Mask as I wanted to write a book with no limits on the imagination. I felt that a lot of fantasy wasn’t fantastic enough and so created the world of the Joke to allow me to write a story where you were never sure what you were going to bump into around the next corner.”

His wonderful book can be found on amazon here:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Last-Mask-Book-ebook/dp/B006NWQYVI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1335037443&sr=8-1

And his blog and deviant art sites are here:

http://stephenwinterflood.blogspot.com/
http://winterflood.daportfolio.com/   (seriously, his artwork is beyond cool)

***

Explanation as to why I differentiate between self-published (SP) and mainstream published (MP) books…

MP’s have a team behind them, editors, publicists, marketing, artists and illustrators, professional reviewers with “links” and so on … they are crafted and honed to what the publishing house believes is perfection.

SP’s are usually managed by one person – the author. Sometimes the author will employ an editor and maybe an illustrator for the cover – but 9/10 times they take on all the above roles as well as working full time in the job that “pays the bills.”

So, when I say this is the best SP book – it really is. It is UNDOUBTEDLY as professional as a MP book – but I do like to separate the two when reviewing. I can’t help it.

My review of this can be found on Goodreads and on Amazon – each review is unique and not a copy and pasted job!

*Blink* … 3 months have gone! Marty! Doc! Help!

Wow, just … wow. I’ve had such a busy 3 months – or, to put it another way – a busy quarter of a year. I’m sitting here, on a rainy Friday afternoon just trying to put into words exactly what I’ve done over the last few months. I’ve found myself staring at the window more than I’ve stared at the computer screen. I can’t actually recall any one singular thing that has been exceptionally “worthwhile” or “awe-inspiring.”

Is that a bad thing? That in over 90 days I have failed to achieve anything of note?

I don’t know, but I’m going to list everything I have achieved / have done (that I can remember off the top of my head)

***

* Completed 60 credits towards my OU course. 9 months work in 5 months. AA100 completed with average TMA score of 79 (EMA score outstanding). Currently working on A151.

* Completed the first full edit of Anna – my literary/speculative fiction piece on the loss of identity in one’s self and society, the self-determination theory and the 5Fs displayed in psychology when one is abused. (Saying “one” makes me feel intelligent)

* Signed up for anthology pieces with “The Girl’s Guide to Surviving the Apocalypse.” – More to come in the near future, but it will involve published pieces in the form of a “paper” book. (http://apocalypsegirlsguide.blogspot.co.uk/)

* Signed up for and¬†written a 10k short anthology piece for Pankheart – it’s hot, it’s erotica, it’s noir and sexy as hell.

* Signed up for an anthology piece with BadNews Press (need to find out more, this is fresh-off-the-press news! Email received this afternoon!)

* Finished full editing of Chaeli (now called “In Search of Gods and Heroes” ) and submitted to a few agents and indie presses – so far I’ve had a publishing contract and full manuscript request. I turned down the contract, I had my reasons.

* Started and working on “Twisted” and “The Silver Nightingale” – more details another time.

* Have removed myself from Authonomy. Yes, the site I initially enjoyed became a playground for trolls, ego-strokers and backslapping. I lost all enthusiasm for the site. I saw bullying, cheating, racism and just general nasty behaviour. While it’s easy to “ignore” I had to ask myself: “is it right to ignore? Because to me, those that ignore and acquiesce are as bad as those that take part.” So I commented, I got “attacked” and a host of abuse. For a supposed writing site, it’s run and occupied by children. Rant over.

* Met my friend Terje twice – it’s a big deal, he’s edited my work and helped me improve as a writer 100 fold. I’m privileged to call him a friend really, since we started speaking in October he’s really helped me get my shit together, writing, thoughts, messed-up stuff, the works.

* Lost 21lb in weight, regained 6lb – another 28lb to go. My target is August. Let’s see if I get there!

* Read a total of 73 books. This includes novellas, but excludes flash pieces and anything under 20k. My favourites include 2 self-published books. Spirit’s Destiny by Ken Dawson (http://kennydreadful.com/)¬†and The Last Mask by Stephen Winterflood (http://stephenwinterflood.blogspot.co.uk/). I intend to dedicate a blog post to each of these writers in the very near future. So watch out!
A few others I loved, Beatrice by Anonymous, The ¬†Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina, Tess of the d’Urbervilles, The Hunger Games trilogy, The “50 shades” trilogy, The White Devil, Letters to a Young Poet and loads more. I’m mentioning a few to give you an idea … the idea being I love all books, all genres, all styles, old, new, I don’t care. I also (believe it or not!) don’t really put much emphasis on punctuation or grammar. I adore the¬†story of books. If it’s badly written – it will take me longer to get into the flow of it, but as long as I care for the characters – then I’m in heaven. A few of these have been on my list for months, so I’m pleased to have ticked them off!

Being a recognised speed reader has both advantages and disadvantages however! I’m running out of books and needing some recommendations – I have Jeremy Rodden’s Toonopolis books to read asap, I’ve heard excellent things and I’m looking forward to finally starting. Just to be fair – here’s his website:¬†http://portmanteaupress.com/

* I had the privilege of reading¬†Amaranth by Zoe Harris as a beta reader. Man, this girl can write. It’s exceptional, I actually told my friend (and editor) that I’m jealous of her talent. It’s a beautiful young adult book about a girl who commits suicide but she doesn’t “move on” and instead walks the earth alone until she meets three others like her. I don’t want to write any more as I haven’t got permission from Zoe to talk about it – but needless to say, I loved it. It’s just enchanting and captivates you from the first paragraph. Publishers – please take note: Miss Harris deserves a publishing contract, more so than most.

* It’s only fair I add a little dedicated asterix for my other friend¬†Hazel Butler and her book¬†Chazing Azrael.¬†It’s odd, while I’ve come away from Authonomy I don’t have *all* bad things to say. I’ve met some amazingly talented people on there, some I’m honoured to call friend, others are¬†acquaintances, but those that I admire and want to support – I’ve stayed in contact with. Chazing Azrael is a book which firmly drags gothic literature back to the 21st century. A clear lover of Poe, Hazel has drawn on a variety of her personal loves and battles to write a book that is so bitter-sweet and well crafted that I read it non-stop and cover to cover. I’ll write more on Chazing Azrael when I have permission: but, it’s going out on submission and I want a signed copy.

* Last one in the plugging section:¬†Steve Guscott and¬†The Book of¬†Prophecy:¬†this is available to read on Authonomy, but Steve sent me the full MS to critique for him. I like intelligent books, stories that make you think and have a strong moral centre. This book is aimed at young adult’s but deals with the issues of choice, family, love, sacrifice and loss – all set in a fantasy world. What’s not to love?

* Had my book cover design created by a talented artist called Raymond Tan¬†(http://r-tan.deviantart.com/)- it’s amazing, but I’m keeping it secret at the moment.

* Went on a mid week holiday to Bude for my birthday which inspired me to work harder on Anna. Took lots of photos, switched off and recharged the batteries.

* Had my foot tattoo! Yes, yes yes, how could I forget?!! It’s my homage to Jacqueline Carey “Love as thou wilt” across the top of my foot and two butterflies – pic below! I say homage to Jacqueline Carey, but also, a little “shout out” to Thelema. A religion that I have grown to appreciate. Now, I don’t believe in the “magic” spouted by Aleister Crowley, but there are little gems in the Book of Thelema that are just … well, I’ll let you decide:- ¬†…”The joy of life consists in the exercise of one‚Äôs energies, continual growth, constant change, the enjoyment of every new experience. To stop means simply to die. The eternal mistake of mankind is to set up an attainable ideal.” …¬†

* Have discovered a love for philosophy. I personally don’t think I’m very good at arguing on points – but some others beg to differ. So now, I’m reading the Presocratic Philosophers at work in my “downtime” – preparation for A275 “Learning Ancient Greek” which starts in October.

* On the above note, changed my OU degree from English Language to Humanties with a specialism in Classical Studies.

* Changed my spare bedroom from “Hannah’s room” (sorry Hannah!) to my office. I have more lovely bookcases full of books, a desk, a display cabinet and shelves … all in a lovely sunny space. Perfect for reading, relaxing and studying!

* A 5 year medical problem has been diagnosed and medication issued. I am relieved, nervous, scared and excited!

* Archery. Yup, archery. More to come later.

***

¬†Now, I don’t doubt there is soooo much more that I’ve done, but this is all that comes to mind. While I’ve written this, the rain has stopped and the sun is now shining. It’s a gorgeous evening.

There are things I know I haven’t done. They involve:-

* Making an effort with friends: I think I wrote a blog post this time last year pouring out my awkwardness and lack of communication skills with people. Nothing has changed, I’m still a nervous wreck with self-confidence issues!

* Win the lottery. Yup, I know, moving on …

* Stop biting my nails.

 ***

My mission is now to update this blooming thing more often. Tomorrow and Sunday I will post a blog each day – a long overdue review for both Mr Dawson and Mr Winterflood.

IF ANYONE WOULD LIKE ME TO REVIEW THEIR BOOK/SHORT STORY/ANTHOLOGY PIECE OR WHAT-NOT. PLEASE CONTACT ME VIA FACEBOOK. I LOVE TO READ, IT WOULD BE A PLEASURE AND A GOODREADS REVIEW AND BLOG POST WILL FOLLOW.