Bookish Ramblings: October Wrap Up

October was blogtober month and I have achieved it to some degree of success. I have blogged for 25 days out of 31 this month and this has been for varying reasons. I ran out pre-scheduled posts pretty quickly and by the halfway point I had reach a significant drop off of site visitors. Honestly by that point I was writing what I felt to be pretty good content but I think readers were just getting blogtober fatigue. Throughout October too the heavy rains led to our roof leaking substantially, our washing machine broke, my son had his front tooth knocked out at school, the children’s school then shut unexpectedly for a week due to building safety issues, we have half term this week too. Finally in absolutely devastating news the littlelest Leeloo cat has taken another poorly turn, she now has a heart murmur which on top of her other medical issues is very bad, it’s all really sad.  I still feel like a great achievement has been reached by missing only 6 days.

Despite all this I have actually managed to read a decent amount this month helped by audio and a couple of long train journeys.

My 5 Star reads this month

My 4 Star Reads this month

My 3 Star reads this month

I read Iron Gold on audio, as I have done for most of this series, and I have to admit I didn’t enjoy the multiple narrators, whilst i eventually warmed to Lyria, Lysander was just terrible casting in my opinion! To give it it’s dues, Captain America was a 3.5 but the lack of any kind of representation felt frustrating, but I suppose that’s the risk when writing in an already established universe.

Book Mail!

We’ve been very blessed with book mail this month, Biba had a wonderful surprise with the early delivery of the November We Read Box, we loved this box so much and you can check out her rep unboxing on the blog (just search under unboxings) or pinned to my Instagram story highlights. Whilst we’re on topic of unboxings we also received the Geeky Clean Christmas collection which is beyond fabulous and full of perfect festive gifts. Titan Books have been amazing this month with sending me Captain America (above) Sherlock Holmes’ The Christmas Demon by James Lovegrove and also Skein Island. Finally from Rock the Boat news Biba received an Arc of Monsterous Devices – I’m hoping it’s not too frightening for her but we are overwhelmed to have got picked to receive a copy!

Looking Ahead

I’m looking forward to taking a more relaxed approach again to the blog next month even though I do have plenty of great reads and a buddy read lined up! I’ll still be posting but giving myself a rest from posting too many tags or opinion pieces. It’s Biba’s birthday next week and whilst we were going to take her to the Pop Up Pokemon Centre in London, the queues are still horrendous and not much birthday fun to be had queuing in the cold and dark for hours. Friends there today arrived at 4.15 at there were already 200 people in the queue which was already out the door and into the street! We’re still going pokemon shopping, just within the confines of what we have locally.  But a quiet month ahead hopefully!

Unboxing the Geeky Clean Christmas Collection

With only 7 weeks until the big C word arrives, whether we want to admit it or not, it’s nearly time for those who celebrate the season to start thinking of something special for those closest to us! Geeky Clean have some truly amazing gifts in this collection and with packaging options to really ramp up the festivities, there really is something for everyone in my humble opinion. So, whats in the collection?

Do you Smell Carrots: Chocolate and Peppermint scented bath bomb – £4.50

This super cute snowman bathbomb is hand decorated to high standard, we especially love the shine on the scarf and hat. The chocolate and peppermint is perfectly balanced and reminds me of chocolate matchmakers (can you even still buy those?) which is always something I associate with the festive season!


Rudolph’s Nose: Cinnamon and Orange sugar scrub – £5.50

As red as the little guys nose and with a generous sprinkling of golden bio glitter this sugar scrub also smells as amazing as it looks! The cinnamon and orange fragrance is really warming and not too spicy. I adore Geeky Clean scrubs they are full to bursting with exfoliating sugar and I can’t wait to use this one!



Christmas Cold: Peppermint and Eucalyptus soy wax candle – £8

Such a pretty candle, white with a gorgeous splash of blue the fragrances are blended subtly too so this candle is not overpowering with a gorgeous scent, the peppermint and eucalyptus balance out perfectly, Biba is a huge fan of the kawaii cheeks on the marshmallow label!

Sweater Weather: Chocolate Orange soy wax candle – £8

This candle is amazing, the moment we opened it the fragrance was amazing, the generous sprinkling of gold bio glitter really gives it the Christmas feel too, its a warm fragrance and not sickly sweet, Biba wont let this one go!

Candy Cane D20: Peppermint scented SLS free soap – £5

This soap is great value for money, it’s huge! The quality is fantastic, the dice numbers are clearly made out and the edges are sharp. The peppermint scent is wonderful as well as the blended candy cane colouring and it has the added surprise of a D20 dice hidden inside too!



The Grinches Gift: Yuzu scented bath bomb – £5

This bath bomb is shaped like the perfect gift! Their Christmas present bath bomb last year was one of my favourite products ever so I’m really looking forward to using this! The yuzu fragrance is so fresh and fruity, if you’ve ever used the Moon Prism Power soap you’re going to love this bath bomb. Subtly decorated and with delicate bio glitter sparkles this huge bath bomb would make the Grinch love Christmas!


Christmas Hangover Remedy: Menthol Shower Steamers – £4

These potent shower steamers come in a pack of 3 and are absolutely perfect for clearing any post Christmas fuzzy heads! The menthol is totally refreshing and also great for helping with any of those pesky Christmas colds going about! These steamers gently fizz and disperse at the bottom of the shower releasing all the vapour goodness!


Critmas Tree: Orange and Ylang SLS free soap – £4

This tree shaped soap was a firm favourite in our house last year, back with a new fragrance and the familiar D20 dice inside, this one will be perfect for any Critical Role fan or indeed, any Christmas Tree fan! These are great value and the soap lasts for ages and will see you well past the festive season.



Such a Flake: Fruit Medley bath bomb – £5

This is such a gorgeous bomb (please forgive the damage in the photo, I was careless taking it our of the wrapper) the blue is so shimmery and the the white on top really stands out. I love the fruit medley fragrance which is actually really delicate for this substantially sized but beautifully shaped bomb.



Console Christmas: Winter Warmer SLS free controller shaped soaps – £4

What could be better for the gamer in your life or even the gamer in yourself! These cute little soaps are highly detailed and bring back all the retro gaming memories, I can’t believe you get 3 soaps for the price and they look so cute in the bag. The winter warmer fragrance is so good, I can’t stop smelling them and they would make perfect stocking fillers!


If you wanted to save yourself a few pounds you can by the collection as a whole set for £50 (just select the whole collection purchase option) and if you wanted to give the collection as a gift you can also get it packaged in a wonderful Christmas Eve presentation box for £58.

If you want to give a geeky gift but on a smaller scale you can also grab one of their Christmas Cracker mystery bath bomb gift sets, these are just £10 and are so cute in the packaging! If you wanted to choose your own gift bombs then you can get the lovely Reindeer gift bag for £3 which in addition, you can mix and match 3 bath bombs from the store to go inside! Remember to save 10% on all your orders by using my code Paperbacksandpinot10 at checkout and by following the link here

*All the below photos are credited to Geeky Clean, all others are my own.

So what are you waiting for! All Geeky Clean products are 100% vegan and cruelty free, their soaps are SLS free and they are a totally plastic free company, all their “plastic” is in fact plant based and biodegradable alternatives! Support a small business run by wonderful people this Christmas for cute and geeky gifts your friends and family will love!

Review of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is the most unlikely member of Yale’s freshman class. Raised in the Los Angeles hinterlands by a hippie mom, Alex dropped out of school early and into a world of shady drug dealer boyfriends, dead-end jobs, and much, much worse. By age twenty, in fact, she is the sole survivor of a horrific, unsolved multiple homicide. Some might say she’s thrown her life away. But at her hospital bed, Alex is offered a second chance: to attend one of the world’s most elite universities on a full ride. What’s the catch, and why her?
Still searching for answers to this herself, Alex arrives in New Haven tasked by her mysterious benefactors with monitoring the activities of Yale’s secret societies. These eight windowless “tombs” are well-known to be haunts of the future rich and powerful, from high-ranking politicos to Wall Street and Hollywood’s biggest players. But their occult activities are revealed to be more sinister and more extraordinary than any paranoid imagination might conceive.

I’m going to start out by saying that I absolutely loved Ninth House, I know that it’s a pretty polarising book and that for some the triggers in this book are too many. I’m just going to say it one more time for the people at the back and say this is NOT YA, if you’re expecting the Grishaverse in a contemporary setting, then please think carefully as this is not the Leigh Bardugo you will be expecting. I managed to grab the Waterstones edition of this book and it is utterly gorgeous, I’m a huge fan of hidden covers but this one is pretty special given the spine design and it was also signed by the great lady herself.

Alex Stern is a character that I would defy anyone not to feel sympathy for, her troubles are not by her own design yet she has been discarded by society and left to deal with her horrifying ability alone. From this stems the fact that beyond all else this book is very, very dark. Despite the wonderful opportunity she has been gifted, it far from makes up for her suffering, her character is hard and defensive but also one who doesn’t wish to see others wronged in the way she was. She is a wonderfully complex character with an underlying intelligence which has never been given the opportunity to present itself.

I found the history behind the houses utterly fascinating and it’s this that gives the story it darker magical feel, how each house garnered it’s name, how each has a unique ability and ceremony. Ninth House really sticks two fingers up at the privileged white man, none of whom come out particularly well in this book, it’s an incendiary look at the toxicity in the frat house environment, which as a Brit looking in feels so alien. The sense of entitlement these characters have over others and over women especially, is abhorrent and I have never felt such a writhing hatred for a character than one that you’ll find here. My day job has desensitised me to a lot and I rarely feel triggered, but this particular character really touched a nerve with me. Knowing that these mostly horrible human beings will grow into the next generations rich and influential, in this fictional world was frightening. The author cleverly adding in enough nuggets of current life to make that distinction a difficult one at times.

I enjoyed the fluctuating time frames and the countdown element between the two could have made this book feel like a race but everything is so perfectly placed and never rushed, it felt like Leigh Bardugo was savouring every moment of writing for an older demographic, her use of language is exceptional and so rich in creativity, although I have to say that the closing paragraph proves that you can take the girl out of YA but you can’t take YA out of the girl!

This book has finally pulled me out of my YA bubble and I found it a darkly compelling read with a world within touching distance to our own, I hope this isn’t the last we see of Alex.


Unboxing the Natural Magic November We Read Box

Biba and I were super excited this week as we got a huge early surprise of the November We Read Box! The theme is Natural Magic and as Biba is a huge fan of fantasy books this box is perfect. In a bit of a twist this month the “box” actually came in a biodegradable bag, this is because one of the items came in a box itself and in an effort to reduce waste, that was used to hold the items! This was a fantastic move and shows that We Read Box are a wonderfully ethical company, committed to reducing waste which is so important to all of us but especially this next generation. So lets start with the boxed item! There was a code in the September activity booklet which gave the answer to what this item would be, which is a jigsaw puzzle! I’ve never had a puzzle in a box before and the beautiful design you can see in the photo was by Elvenwick Candles The puzzle is great quality and Biba found it quite a challenge!

The smaller items this month were another fabulous enamel pin by Nutmeg and Arlo the fox design is lovely and again came with a locking pin back which is a must for children like Biba, who spend a lot of time jumping and running about, she’s been wearing it since we unboxed and I don’t have to worry about tears, because it won’t fall off.  There was a really cute zip pull designed by We Read Box themselves, the golden acorn on the end ties in with the story of the featured books, as does the double sided bookmark designed by Midnight Bookmarks. We were spoiled with 2 books this month and each side of the bookmark reflects each book with a great quote on too.

The activity booklet this month has a ton of fun stuff, with a list of activities which link in with book as well as a link to an exclusive video given by the author of the books. A wordsearch which Biba loves as they are her favourite kind of puzzles and also a link to the video guide for the final small item in the box, a kit to create a Christmas tree ornament! Biba was also so happy to have her butterfly design from the September box featured too.

As mentioned we had 2 amazing books this month, the November book is the The Velvet Fox by Catherine Fisher but as it’s the second in a series we got book one The Clockwork Crow too! Both books are hand signed and sound amazing, the activity books explains them as a tale of a Victorian Orphan who finds herself pitted against the fae. I’ve added the goodreads links in the titles if you wanted to know more!

Biba’s thoughts: I really like all the bright colours and all the details on the items like the pin and the acorn zip pull. My favourite item would be the puzzle because it was really fun to try and figure out. I like that we got 2 books in the same series they look really good!

The November box is available to purchase through the We Read Box website and there are also a few September boxes available still too! These are really amazing value boxes which are absolutely packed with items all for £27 posted within the UK. These would make amazing school holiday activity boxes and also great Christmas gifts for young readers. We would love to see We Read Box Succeed into the new year, so please help to support this great small business bringing this concept to the UK’s children in such an affordable way.

Gaynor and Biba x

Six for Sunday – Witch-y Books

The final #sixforsunday for October is a nod to Halloween and is all about Witch-y Books!

Sanctuary by V.V. James

A post about witches in books has to start with the glorious Sanctuary by V.V. James. This chilling alternative take on middle class America sees witches as an active, albeit heavily monitored, part of society. It currently stands to be one of my top 10 books of 2019!

The Witches by Roald Dahl

One of my favourite books as a child, I recently re-read this and loved it just as much as I always did. I defy anyone to read this book and then not look for the signs that women may be witches. I’ve still not seen the film though, I don’t want it to destroy the magic.

The Wicked Deep by Shea Ernshaw

A book that I loved so much I read it in a day! The heartbreaking story behind the adoration but ultimate demise of the Swan Sisters drives forward the mythology of Swan Season in a small otherwise forgotten town. I was utterly captivated and is a story which is very much due a re-read.

Howls Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

The Witch of the Wastes is the terrifying antagonist of Hows Moving Castle, a bitter and twisted character who curses Sophie and hunts Howl, she is a much richer character in the book in comparison to the Ghibli animation. I love Diana Wynne Jones and this is certainly one of my favourite of hers.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Whilst I have to whisper that I’m not a fan of Pratchett’s writing style, the balance of Gaiman makes this a great story. The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of the witch Agnes Nutter play a pivotal role and makes for one of my favourite scenes in the TV adaptation.

Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone by J.K Rowling

No witchy list would be complete without featuring my favourite school of witchcraft and wizardry, too many amazing witches to mention although we are massive Bellatrix fans in this house!

Review of Captain America: Dark Designs by Stefan Petrucha

Steve Rogers knows the art of survival better than most. Decades under ice will do that to a man. But the Avengers chipped more than rock-hard morality and super strength out from under that permafrost. When Cap takes out a terrorist cell threatening to poison the world, he’ll discover a threat far more deadly. An incurable virus has hidden in his body for years — and now it’s come to the surface. To save the world, he’ll have to return to his own personal hell: deep freeze.
And he’ll have to take an old friend with him. Having survived his own death by inhabiting a clone of Steve Rogers, the Red Skull has inherited the virus — and he’s a little less willing to play martyr. As the deadly disease shifts and evolves, new patterns emerge. Can Captain America contain the Red Skull before the virus runs rampant?

I have to admit that when it comes to these Marvel tie in books I do have a bit of a soft spot for them. They are fun and easy reads and they are accessible for readers who only know Marvel via the Avengers films, like myself. Unsurprisingly, Dark Designs has a cinematic quality to it, plenty of big set pieces, explosions and battles, with enough nods to established characters which really help with visualisation. One of my favourite of the battles takes place in Paris starting at the Louvre and covering the length and breadth of the city all the way to a climactic finish in the Seine – this is of course helped immensely by the arrival of Tony Stark who actually steals the show for most of this book. There is amazing banter from him as always which was much needed as actually, for a Captain America book, I felt that his character came across as pretty flat. He was almost secondary to the sinister Red Skull, who I think may have appeared in a series of S.H.E.I.L.D once, he felt very familiar, but utterly insane! His sinister presence is actually pretty chilling at times as he releases a series of Sleepers born out of WWII Nazi tech, the liberties taken though with the technological capabilities of the time are those which can only be taken with a comic book edge! The presence of Dr N’Tomo as well was fabulous, Black Panther is one of my favourite films of the Marvelverse, so the talk of Wakanda was very welcome –  although sadly shows how chronically underrepresented female characters are in the book.

It does feel formulaic at times, but i think with these books a linear style works because you always know what you’re going to get and in part is what makes these enjoyable reads, I really enjoyed the addition of the artwork in some of the chapters too, it was interesting to see more of the graphic novel versions of Captain America and was a nice touch. The epilogue was great too, really unexpected and puts quite the slant on things, it was a great way to end the story.

An enjoyable 3.5 Stars for this little slice of the Marvel Universe.

Review of Darkest Hour by Rachel Churcher

Bex Ellman and Ketty Smith are fighting on opposite sides in a British civil war. Bex and her friends are in hiding, but when Ketty threatens her family, Bex learns that her safety is more fragile than she thought.

Darkest Hour is the 3rd instalment of the Battle Ground series and in a turn from the previous 2 books, gives us the point of view of both Bex and Ketty in the same book. I do really enjoy multiple POV books and the alternating chapters are a real favourite which meant I enjoyed this immensely. Time has moved on a little and whilst Bex and her fellow recruits have made their way to the North East of England, Ketty and Bracken have managed to secure themselves a London posting. This helps to drive Ketty’s story forward as she not only has the resources and intel that such a placement provides but also ready access to the prisoners who are closest to Bex. This is in stark comparison to Bex who is surviving on very little and in almost complete seclusion. It feels almost unfair that this is the turn of events.

Despite the differing ends of the spectrum that the two find themselves at, there are actually a huge amount of similarities. Both are clearly being used. Ketty and her eagerness and utter blind spot where it comes to Bex, is allowing herself to slip and miss the nuances of the situation around her, I can’t help but think that despite her small victories that she is walking blindly into a bad situation for her and Bracken. For Bex, she is constantly at someone else’s whim, she has become the face of the revolution and her image is no longer her own, I have to say that this is a time where I couldn’t help but draw a comparison between her and Katniss Everdeen as the Mockingjay, the bigger picture is being consumed by her hatred of being seen as nothing more than a pretty face. What is clear is that both are pawns in much larger game.

The expansion out of Camp Bishop was also much needed but this is far from a travel show, Bex finds herself in an impossible situation and the bleakness of her pilgrimage to safety was very reminiscent of her initial march where we find her in book 1. I liked that we got to see the impacts in different areas and how society has almost just accepted this new way of life with a frightening apathy. It’s also a very emotional story too, more so for the revolutionary side of things, there are some deeply sad moments for Bex and I did struggle a little with how she reacted and at times she felt a little cold. I guess she’s become a product of her surroundings though. There are parts of this story which will definitely surprise the reader though and my jaw hit the floor at one point where I just couldn’t believe what I was reading.  There are definitely some tough moments to come and the almost flippant discussions around ways of making people talk, show a frightening desensitisation of the kind that can only be born from people who are totally blinkered that their way is the only way. I think that the next book is going to tread very close to the fringes of YA, but this is certainly a series to that I can’t wait to find out what happens next.



Six for Sunday: Autumn Coloured Books

This weeks #sixforsunday is all about Autumn Coloured books, It’s just a short post from me today as I’m exhausted after a long day of decorating!

The Amber Spyglass – Philip Pullman

I adore these editions of His Dark Materials, I think that the foiling is just beautiful! Whilst The Subtle Knife has a red cover, its the deep orange of The Amber Spyglass which makes this list. I have to say I’m ridiculously excited about the TV show starting next month!

Muse of Nightmares – Laini Taylor

I was lucky to get the Waterstones edition which has the most gorgeous orange sprayed edges to compliment the cover. The almost smokey shades of orange give the cover a really autumnal feel. I absolutely loved this book and think I may love it even more than Strange the Dreamer!

Circe – Madeline Miller

This book is my biggest cover buy ever, more so for the hidden cover underneath the dust jacket! This book just radiates an autumn feel though, from the oranges and golds to the decorative leaf finish – the season has definitely arrived at Circe’s island!

The Priory of the Orange Tree – Samantha Shannon

By far the biggest book on my shelf, the stunning oranges and yellows of the cover make this book stand out even more, like embers on bonfire night.

Type-X – M.A. Phipps

I love this cover so much especially with the way the darker orange fades up to the lighter shade – its not got much of an autumnal vibe, what with all the destruction but it’s autumn coloured and that’s what matters for this prompt!

Illuminae – Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman

A great spectrum of autumnal colours with this cover, I love how simple but effective it is. This is the only book on this list that I have yet to read – I have it at least, so now just to find the time to squeeze it in.



Review of Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson

All sorcerers are evil. Elisabeth has known that as long as she has known anything. Raised as a foundling in one of Austermeer’s Great Libraries, Elisabeth has grown up among the tools of sorcery—magical grimoires that whisper on shelves and rattle beneath iron chains. If provoked, they transform into grotesque monsters of ink and leather. She hopes to become a warden, charged with protecting the kingdom from their power.
Then an act of sabotage releases the library’s most dangerous grimoire. Elisabeth’s desperate intervention implicates her in the crime, and she is torn from her home to face justice in the capital. With no one to turn to but her sworn enemy, the sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn, and his mysterious demonic servant, she finds herself entangled in a centuries-old conspiracy. Not only could the Great Libraries go up in flames, but the world along with them.
As her alliance with Nathaniel grows stronger, Elisabeth starts to question everything she’s been taught—about sorcerers, about the libraries she loves, even about herself. For Elisabeth has a power she has never guessed, and a future she could never have imagined.

I haven’t been doing too well at the moment with books that have been well received, the last few haven’t really hit the spot but Sorcery of Thorns totally changed that! I have the utterly gorgeous Fairyloot edition of this book and the sprayed edges sparkled at every page turn which just added to the magic! I went in knowing that this was a standalone story and the writing benefited from that greatly. Every page was full of action and relevant information, there were no lull’s or points that felt like filler. Sorcery of Thorns had enough story to stretch into a duology but I’m so glad it didn’t because this book was impossible to put down because of how much was crammed onto every page.

The world was every bibliophiles dream, set in and around a number of great libraries, a main character who can communicate with books and the fact that those books can also come alive and respond to kindness and cruelty in the same way a human would. The magic system is simple but works brilliantly and actually isn’t as much of a focal point as you would think. I adored Elisabeth as a protagonist, a child of the library, she is fun and strong and her story arc was so good. There was never a dull moment and I found myself totally captivated and drawn in to the situations she found herself in. Some were difficult to deal with and I felt unsettled by her diagnosis of Hysteria and the somewhat Victorian way of treating such a thing. There was a historical feel to the fantasy which lent itself to the Victoriana which in turn helped me picture the world more vibrantly, especially when the weather became more wintery and I had visions of ice skating on the Thames, however, in this instance with awoken gargoyles prowling the perimeter. There are many moments of wonder woven into the normal day to day which is why I felt that the pace never faltered.

Whilst Nathaniel is full of the usual charm and banter that has come to be the norm in YA Fantasy, I have to take moment to just shout from the rooftops about Silas, a snarky demon companion who may either choose that day to eat you or simply turn into a fluffy white cat instead. His wit and wisdom were the highlight of this story for me. The action is plentiful and written with a great sense of urgency and emotion, I did feel a bit too swept up in the end and made myself go back and re-read pages because even when you think it’s just another action sequence, there are actually pretty integral plot points woven in!

I really enjoyed Sorcery of Thorns, I love that it felt secure enough in itself to not drag out over more than one book and that it’s characters managed to sidestep usual tropes and have that extra bit of spark. I’m definitely going to be reading more by this author though as the writing style was such a great fit for me, I would love to devour more!




Guest Post: The Pacifists Guide to Guns and Armour by Rachel Churcher (Author of the Battle Ground Series)

When Biba and I went to YALC in July we had the good fortune to stop and speak with Rachel Chucher who was there to promote her Battle Ground series. The series sounded like the kind of thing that I would love as I’m a sucker for a dystopian as regular readers will know! I got a book and Biba got a sticker, happy days 🙂 

After reading Battle Ground one of the things that really stood out for me was the creativity and imagination behind the weaponry and the armour, which only increased when I read False Flag. When Rachel Churcher reached out to me I knew that I would love to know more about the process behind this and she kindly shared her thoughts with this amazing guest post, happy reading!

The Pacifist’s Guide to Guns and Armour

Here’s what you need to know about me.

I’m a pacifist, but I’m also uncomfortably aware that there are some things I would fight for.

I would describe myself as anti-military, but my first two novels are based in a military training camp.

In real life, I don’t like guns, but some of my favourite books and films feature beautiful weapons and very satisfying fight scenes.

I’m a British child of the 70s and 80s, so I grew up watching bombs and riot police on the news, and Star Wars and Star Trek on TV.

So what made me write the Battle Ground series, and what inspired the shiny military tech that is central to the story?

To answer that question, you need to know a few more things about me.

I’ve been reading Science Fiction for as long as I can remember.

I’ve been watching Science Fiction for as long as I can remember.

I consumed so much SF that I went and got myself a Master’s Degree in Science Fiction Studies (yes – it’s a thing!).

It is safe to say that my worldview has been shaped by generations of SF writers and film-makers. A lot of SF is concerned with conflict – conflict between oppressor and oppressed, between lawless factions in a dystopian setting, between old and new, and between expectations and reality. There are sub-genres of SF that are simply Westerns wearing spacesuits, or fairy tales with starships. In SF, conflict is everywhere, technological advancement is a common theme, and shiny weapons are part of the furniture.

Writing the army

So why Battle Ground? Why set a dystopian story in the very near future, and then populate it with high-tech weaponry and armour? It’s a character-driven story, after all. Sixteen-year-old Bex and her friends are conscripted into a branch of the Army, and trained to defend civilians from terrorist attacks. They don’t have a choice in what happens to them, and they are expected to use guns and defend themselves, starting on their first day at training camp.

The easy answer is that this tech is cool. Shiny black-and-grey armour with integrated radio, contamination monitoring, and clips across the back for a prototype next-gen power-assisted rifle. Who wouldn’t want to try it on, just to see how it feels? Like Han Solo’s blaster, a Jedi’s lightsabre, or Iron Man’s suit, there’s something satisfying about a personal defence system, fitted to you and your abilities. 

It’s also vital to the story. I needed to be able to send my characters into dangerous situations, and give them a realistic chance of making it out alive. Guns and armour provided the obvious solution, and their training gave them the knowledge they needed to use the armour effectively. Acquiring and using armour is essential to the decisions made by the characters, and the protection against chemical weapons allowed me to ramp up the danger without killing the plot.

Writing the people

What about the effect on the characters? Bex and her friends are ordinary schoolchildren, recruited without their permission, and sent out in public to deter attacks from terrorist groups. The armour gives them confidence, and allows members of the public to see the uniform, not the individuals inside. They describe themselves as looking like ‘space-age badass ninjas’ while they’re wearing the armour, and the anonymity provided by helmets and identical outfits makes them feel supported, and part of a team.

But Bex also finds the armour isolating. Putting the helmet on blocks her senses, and takes away her awareness of the outside world. She finds herself disoriented when she is expected to communicate using the radio, and when she can’t hear the background noises she’s used to. She wants to feel the air on her face, and see clearly everything around her, but the armour breaks that connection. She wants to connect with her friends, but the armour keeps them apart.

So it’s a metaphor, as well as a plot point. Bex is used to looking after people, and building relationships, but the training camp aims to take that away. The recruits are expected to look out for themselves rather than helping each other, and Bex’s isolation is increased by the uniform she is expected to wear. It’s my pacifist comment on the dehumanising effect of training people to be soldiers, backed up by the characters’ experiences.

Writing the future

Advanced technology is also a signal to the reader that this isn’t the world they are used to. SF relies on a sense of difference, or ‘cognitive estrangement’ – throwing the reader in at the deep end, and allowing them to figure out what’s going on in the story. To create a convincing SF setting, the furniture needs to make sense. 

In the Battle Ground series, a totalitarian government has taken control of the UK to protect the population from an increase in terrorism following Brexit and Scottish Independence. There’s no civilian Internet access, and the mobile phone network has been switched off. The setting could feel confusing to readers – it’s set in the future, but it feels like the past – so advanced military technology provides a way to bridge that gap.

The inspiration for the series was the 2016 Brexit vote, the lack of accountability that characterised the campaign, and the apathy surrounding the vote. Dreaming up a suit of armour for my conscripted child soldiers helped to illustrate these threats to our democracy. The recruits become a faceless fighting force, stripped of their individuality and expected to follow orders without question. I wanted to show my readers the UK without democracy, where citizens no longer have a voice. Lines of teenagers in identical armour and anonymous black-tinted helmets provide a visual demonstration of a totalitarian society.

Writing the story

Of course, in the world of the Battle Ground series, the armour is none of these things. The armour is just armour, designed to protect the recruits and impress the public. The design is drawn from every book I’ve read, and every film I’ve seen. There’s some Ray Bradbury in there (Montag’s ‘black-beetle coloured helmet’ from Fahrenheit 451), some Lois McMaster Bujold, some Elizabeth Moon, some Hugh Howey. There’s some real life, too – lines of riot police facing protestors in Hong Kong or Rio de Janeiro. And the obvious visual ingredients – Stormtrooper clones from Star Wars, body armour from Starship Troopers, and combat uniforms from Ender’s Game

As an author, I’m a magpie. I pick up ideas everywhere, and hide them away until they merge and grow. Until something triggers the start of a story, and I have to write it down. Until all the subconscious signals I’ve been picking up come together and become something bigger – something new. 

Battle Ground is one of those stories. The inspiration has been building since I first picked up a book, and since I first watched Star Wars: A New Hope  and the original Battlestar Galactica in a world without mobile phones and Internet connections. Since I watched Miners on strike facing police on horseback on the news, and waited for the details of the latest IRA bomb. I remember the IRA attack on my home town, and I remember feeling afraid. And maybe the guns and armour I’ve given to my characters are a reaction to that fear. Who doesn’t want to cheat death? Who doesn’t want a way to defend themselves when something unexpected happens?

Maybe it’s my 7-year-old self’s fantasy – a way to take control over terrifying events and make them safe again. Give me a suit of armour and a prototype next-gen power-assisted rifle, and maybe I can get through this. Maybe I can survive. And maybe my characters can, too.

Darkest Hour, Book 3 of the Battle Ground series, is published today. Book 1, Battle Ground, and Book 2, False Flag, are available on Amazon. Find international download links on the Taller Books website.