July 22, 2012

Author Interview: Neil Arksey, author of Intelligent Life

Following our review of Intelligent Life, I'm delighted to host an interview with the author, Neil Arksey.  If you read yesterday's review you will be in no doubt that Neil is super busy right now discovering the Higgs partical etc. but has luckily (for us, for you) been able to take some time out from changing the world to answer the questions quizzically put to him by our very own Cannonball Jones:

It at times appears that Douglas Adams was an influence on your writing due to the sci-fi/comedy mish-mash. However the book seems more slanted towards absurdist British humour in general rather than just the sci-fi element. Who would you say mostly influenced the comedic aspects of Intelligent Life?

Douglas Adams was a very funny man. I quite liked the first Hitchhikers book but I didn’t manage to read the others. Yes. I wanted it to feel as if the sci-fi elements in Intelligent Life – the extra-terrestrials, the devices and so forth – were almost incidental. I would say the humour is largely character-based. It’s more The Odd Couple and Blackadder than Monty Python. But there were no specific influences, it really came out of the story and from spending time in schools, working with young teens and listening to what made them laugh.

I loved the snarky trivia snippets heading each chapter and they really helped to draw me in and hook me on the book. Where did that idea come from and how on earth did you collect them all?

Thanks. I originally imagined the factoids as being collected by the Sidereal character who is trying to gather information about our planet on his journey to Earth. The factoids are actually integral to the structure of the story too – each one is connected in some way to its own chapter and so also connected to the development of the plot. It took a lot of twisted sideways thinking to get them all to fit together. And my brain is still hurting.

The randomness generator is central to the plot and seemed like immense fun to play with, as well as freeing you to introduce deus ex machina without it seeming like a cop-out. Was there ever a temptation to get carried away with it?

Yes. When I first came up with the idea, I could see that this would be a danger. But as I was planning to write a sequel, I realised I would need to pace the amount of randomness and not let it get out of hand in the first book. I think a lot of the humour in our lives comes out of the bizarreness of everyday random moments and I wanted the reader to be left wondering if the random moments in Intelligent Life were natural or artificially generated.

The relationship between Jonathan and Dennis was very carefully handled and the portrayal of Dennis's alcoholism seemed extremely detailed and realistic. Was there any real-life inspiration for this?

I think Dennis and Jonathan are probably two different facets of my personality. I’m not an alcoholic and neither is my dad. But I am addicted to cake. And when I was writing Intelligent Life I was suffering from gastritis, as a result of which I was burping a lot!

Intelligent Life is generally humorous in tone but now and then flips to more serious subject matter (like the alcoholism, peer pressure, etc). How did you handle the tone shifts and know when to switch back to levity before it got too serious?

I knew the tone I was aiming for, but it was much harder than I’d expected to achieve. In the end it comes down to trial and error. Whenever I could, during the writing, I would try out passages from the book in schools or on friends and see how they reacted.

Obviously the final chapter is a set-up for a sequel. Are there any plans to flesh out the backgrounds of the aliens?

Yes. But it’s top secret, so don’t tell anyone. 

And on that mysterious note we'd like to thank Neil for taking the time to answer our questions and encourage you all to pick up a copy of Intelligent Life sooner rather than later.  We can't guarantee that it'll suddenly imbue with an understanding of the Higgs-Boson but can certainly say that you'll enjoy a cracking good read. Intelligent Life is available now.

July 21, 2012

Does My Boson Look Big In This? (review of Intelligent Life by Neil Arksey)

Intelligent Life
Neil Arksey
GDP 2012 

It's not a good day for Jonathan Higgs Boson. Aside from the unfortunate name he's rather dead, albeit briefly and at the hands of a cashew nut (or was it a peanut?) and things are just going to get worse from here on out. Intelligent Life, the latest YA novel from Neil Arksey, is a wonderfully entertaining sci-fi comedy following our reluctant and hapless hero through a series of increasingly random adventures. After recovering from a rather upsetting start to his day, Jonathan - bullied by an overachieving elder brother and pressured by an over expecting mother - seeks refuge with Dennis, his alcoholic journalist father. This turns out to be a bad idea, leading him into what first seems to be his father's paranoid delusions but what soon becomes a disturbing reality. Jonathan soon finds himself at the centre of an intergalactic manhunt and a pawn in a very high-stakes game. To cap it all there are some very strange things happening, random occurrences beyond all probability.

In Intelligent Life Neil Arksey takes us on a giddy ride through London, accompanied by a fantastically eclectic cast of characters, from our perpetually insecure hero, through his booze-sodden, ranting father, his skeptical girlfriend, the sinister Balustrade and his lackey, Grimly Stoat, and the interstellar detective duo, Sideral and Lagubrious. The names may give you some hint of the kind of humour to expect in Intelligent Life. It's quintessentially British dry absurdism through and through, from the farcical situations and juxtapositioning of the mundane with the bizarre to the wonderful nuggets of trivia at the beginning of each chapter. From chapter 4 for example, "The number of legitimate ways of playing the first four moves per side in a game of chess is 318,979,564,000. The number of illegitimate moves is a lot larger." I'll happily admit to occasionally skipping forward a page or two to read the next one before backtracking to see what I'd missed.

I'm sure Arksey won't mind the obvious comparison that springs up here - sci-fi plus Python-esque humour inevitably equals Douglas Adams. There's a strong resemblance both in subject matter and in literary style but never one that becomes too obvious. Intelligent Life is clearly Arksey's book and his alone. However I did find myself chuckling at how the increasing randomness central to the story's plot resembled the workings of a certain big-hearted spacecraft's drive. In keeping with most great British comedic sci-fi and fantasy the pace never really lets up for a second. We're buffeted from one mishap to the next with impeccable timing and any momentary flagging is soon banished by yet another improbably scenario unfolding. An angered posse of nuns pursuing an overgrown Hitler Youth through a crowded Covent Garden is an image which will linger for some time.

It’s not all fun and games though and at its heart lies a great underdog story. Jonathan is beset on all sides by devious villains, bumbling allies and a family which would seem to offset any need for enemies. Jonathan's relationship with his father is particularly carefully portrayed, a son trying to look up to a man who can't help but let everyone down thanks to his battle with the bottle. Indeed this aspect of the tale is so convincing, even in a book which seems aimed at a slightly younger audience, that it makes me wonder just how much personal experience Arksey has with friends or family struggling with addiction.

Intelligent Life isn't perfect of course. At times the scenarios seem a little contrived - and yes, I appreciate how nit-picky that sounds when dealing with a book whose core entirely consists of and is dependent upon contrived circumstances. It's more that some of the interactions between characters, particularly Jonathan in his dealings with anyone but his father, often come across as a bit forced and unrealistic. People seem to contradict their motivations from time to time and this can lend a choppy feel to a book which otherwise flows extremely naturally. Also there seems to be a certain weight lacking in the first half of the book, although this is compensated for as Arksey takes the story to its climax. Even then there was a slight feeling of "Is that it?" but the promise of a sequel in the closing pages could make up for it. These are very much minor gripes though, and only surfaced once I finished reading (in record time, I might add).

Overall I found myself very impressed with Intelligent Life. Never having read any of Neil Arksey's previous work (something I'll take steps to remedy) I had no idea what to expect and found myself very pleasantly surprised. Any fans of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Monty Python and their ilk will take great pleasure in the mischievous humour on every page. The story is engaging enough to have one pausing only long enough to ponder the last few paragraphs yet light enough to serve as a rewarding bit of brain candy. Hopefully Arksey has more like this up his sleeve for the future.

This review was brought to you by Cannonball Jones.  Intelligent Life is now available in bookstores.  Thank you to the author for providing us with a copy to review.

July 18, 2012

There But For The Grace (review of Graceling by Kirsten Kashore)

Kristin Cashore
Gollancz 2009

In a continent dissected into seven Kingdoms, the Lady Katsa is an oddity in a world of such oddities.  The society in which she lives is separated into those Graced with particular skills and those not, yet those Graced are by no means favoured.  Those born with an extreme talent are identified by mismatching eyes and distrusted by those who do not share their abilities.  While largely tolerated, though tightly controlled, the Gracelings are feared and none more than Katsa.  For while others may be Graced with cooking, or mathematics, or music, Katsa is Graced with killing.  A distant member of a royal family she has been used since an early age as a trained assassin yet when a chance encounter brings her into contact with one who seems to match her skill, she finds herself wondering if there is a life for her other than that of blood and killing.  Drawn into a mysterious and seemingly unmotivated kidnap, the isolated Katsa finds herself living a life she has previously left determinedly unlived.

Katsa is an extraordinary character. Used by her uncle, a King, and treated by his court as little more than a restrained savage, she is somewhat unsocialised.  Unused to kindness, she reacts to any with suspicion and holds herself away from all but a very few who try to befriend her.  At the heart of her self-imposed isolation is a deep-seated hatred of her Grace – she believes herself, in a way, to be the savage than many assume she is.  Despite this, or perhaps because of it, she has created the Council, a small group garnered from all seven Kingdoms, working against the tyranny of many of the Kings in charge.  This work brings her into contact with Po, another Graceling, who seems fascinated by her and slowly encourages her to not only face her Grace but to also embrace it for what it truly is.  Her very nature makes Katsa sometimes a hard character to like, yet her stubborn attitude and wry humour will warm readers to her and have them cheering while watching her fight the corners of the tyrannised.

Po at first seems more straightforward.  Born to privilege in a land where Gracelings are revered, his life has certainly been easier than Katsa’s but he too has his secrets.  Like Katsa, he seems to seek a degree of isolation yet is clearly drawn to her in ways that he cannot understand.  His ability to draw her out of herself is amazingly attractive and their slow-burning friendship never less than compelling.  As Po’s character develops and his secrets are unearthed he becomes fascinating – at once arrogant and loquacious while also being deeply instrospective.  Of a fairly wide supporting cast, the young princess Bitterblue absolutely steals the show.  A rather unnerving child, her stoicism and dry asides will have readers wishing she was in the book for longer.  She, more than any other character, brings out a side of Katsa that would seem unimaginable on meeting either character initially – yet one that never compromises their individual voices.

The storyline of Graceling is quite complicated, involving kidnap, betrayal, misinformation and a lot of travelling.  It is, by far, one of the most compelling fantasy stories out there and Cashore ably combines all of the above with detailed and extremely visual world building.  Particularly well written are the sections that contain Leck and throughout the book Cashore builds a sense of unease that finally climaxes in a nail-biting finale.  Cashore’s writing is exceptional – from quiet moments in dense forests to a, quite frankly, stunning journey over a mountain pass it is nothing less than excellent throughout.

High fantasy is a hard genre to get right.  Too often sharp plots get bogged down in tedious detail, endless history and pointless exposition, yet Graceling avoids all of the genre’s pitfalls to rise as an exceptional book.  Easily in the ranks of Melina Marchetta’s stunning Finnikin of the Rock, readers should be flocking to pick this up in their droves – if they haven’t already.  With long awaited sequel Bitterblue now available, pick up Graceling and immerse yourself in a beautifully written world.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird.  Graceling (not to mention Bitterblue and companion novel Fire) is available in bookstores now.

July 15, 2012

Into The Wild (review of The Peculiars by Maureen Doyle McQuerry)

The Peculiars
Maureen Doyle McQuerry
Abrams and Chronicle 2012

Lena Mattacascar is your average city girl with average city problems – her estranged father is still causing friction between her family years after his exit, she is beginning to think that her mother inviting her gran to live with them was a big mistake, she is struggling to find a sense of self as she approaches her 18th birthday and she has a nagging feeling that she may be part goblin.  Okay, so not exactly average. 

After Lena’s father leaves the family in rather strange circumstances when she is a child, not a word is heard from him. Then, on her 18th birthday, she is presented with a letter from her father explaining, all be it very briefly, the actions that he took all those years before and his reasons behind them.  Learning that he had travelled to the wild lands of Scree, Lena decides to follow in the hope of finding her father and answers to so many questions – Had he stopped loving them?  Are her Gran’s references to him as a goblin simply a turn of phrase? And are the extra knuckles in each of her fingers and toes really a birth defect or something more peculiar?  Cue a good ol’ fashioned road trip.  We follow Lena’s journey from the comfort of her city home into the wild outlands and encounter the expected rag tag bunch of acquaintances along the way – providing the perfect mirror for Lena’s inner journey from lost child to self-assured young woman. 

McQuerry includes an equally engaging secondary plot line - the growing government persecution of the “peculiars” – a section of society who have genetic abnormalities ranging from heightened senses and telepathy to goblinsim and the ability to fly.  As Lena sets off on her journey, the oppression of these people comes to a climax with all known Peculiars being required, by law, to move to the lands of Scree.  During the course of the story, this movement of people and the fight for the return of their rights comes to affect Lena, and her search, more than the reader first expects. 
The successful union of historical accuracy, steam-punk detailing and x-men-esq genetic mutation is really what makes this work unique.  Otherwise, unfortunately, we are treading a fairly well-worn path and we are provided with no real surprises in terms of secondary characters or plot devices.  Whilst the plot did keep me interested throughout, the pacing was often unbalanced which lead to a rushed ending leaving the reader unsatisfied and harbouring a nagging worry that a sequel may be just over the horizon.  

McQuerry’s detailing and imagery, however, really blew me away.  From gas-lamp lit train carriages to beach side carousels, I could almost smell the sea air from very early on, providing a distinct sense of time and place which is often hard to find in works of young adult fictionIt’s unfortunate that this alone was not enough to drive The Peculiars to the heights that it aspired to reach.   Whilst still a fairly enjoyable read, The Peculiars is just not peculiar enough to achieve the levels of success which were undeniably possible.

This review has been brought to you by Polka Dot Steph.  The Peculiars is available in bookstores now. Thank you to Abrams and Chronicle for providing a copy for review purposes.         

July 12, 2012

We're All In This Together (review: Endure by Carrie Jones)

Carrie Jones
Bloomsbury 2012

Endure is the fourth and final book in Carrie Jones’ Need series and this review contains spoilers for the initial three books.  If you’re OK with that then read on.

Things are ramping up in Maine – seriously, Stephen King has nothing on Zara’s world of Pixies, Norse gods, Buffy-obsessed sidekicks and tiger grannies.  Safely back from Valhalla, Zara now finds herself on the verge of war: human versus pixie versus Were versus the Gods only know what else.  As if that wasn’t enough, her evil sort-of-mother-in-law remains out to get her, boyfriend Nick is busy being entirely ungrateful that she travelled to another realm to rescue him and sort-of-husband Astley remains good, kind and alluring despite the fact that he is a pixie King and therefore must be at least a little bit evil – or at least a bit, er, conflicted.  Complicated much?  Exactly.

Zara continues to be one of the nicest protagonists in recent paranormal titles.  She’s focussed, kind, funny, confused, principled and increasingly kick-ass.  In Endure, the grand finale of Jones’ series, she’s really put through the mill facing terrible odds in a fight that is sure to end in at least a few dozen deaths.  On top of this she finds herself in an equally untenable battle as regards her personal life.  Having fought against bigotry on a world-wild scale (yep, she’s still writing Amnesty letters) she now faces it personally, something that is at the heart of the saddest moments of her story.  As the book reaches its grand climax, though, Zara emerges as strong as ever and the end of her story – on both personal and epic levels – seems entirely right in terms of both her personality and her character development.

Her increasingly large team of co-fighters, friends and family are a particularly well written ensemble.  Most of her close friends get a good amount of face time (with the exception of Devyn who gets rather left out in the cold), with Izzie remaining a particularly likeable presence.  Her family also make appearances (although her mother, thank goodness, seems to have abandoned her to the mercy of the pixies for good) and her Grandmother continues to be the most awesome granny in fiction.  The men in her life act in complete contrast to each other, which works as a means to an end if nothing else.  Astley remains entirely likable without ever seeming sickly sweet – truly, he is more than a bit adorable.  Nick, however, is probably the most nuanced character in the entire series and his inability to put his own beliefs to one side has direct repercussions on his relationship with Zara.  It would have been nice to see him more severely reprimanded for his innate bigotry, not to mention his use of “baby” as a term of endearment (ick) but the resolution of their story carries the air of compromise and is more believable because of it.

The plot of Endure is actually pretty complex for such a slight book and builds to both an exciting and also slightly bizarre ending.  At no point was there any hint that a Pixie War version of High School Musical was on its way and to a certain extent readers will have to suspend belief in order to swallow the fact that Zara’s merry men seem to be not only hot but also all singing all dancing stars of track and field.  However, it is nothing if not entertaining and certainly leads to a few lovely set pieces.  As with previous titles, Jones has Izzie make endless references to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Endure owes a lot to Buffy in terms of characterisation and tone – whether this is intentional or not it is hard to entirely overlook it as dodgy expositioning but it really doesn’t detract from the enjoyment factor.

What has always set Jones’ series apart from other paranormal YA is its sheer originality of premise – not even Buffy could have imagined pixies as human sized, fang toothed extras from Avatar and Carrie Jones has succeeded in not only making them believable in their origin and links to Norse myth but also making them pretty terrifying.  All four books, while not perfect, are massively fun, introduce Norse mythology nicely and are chock full of interesting, flawed and believable characters.  While Endure marks the end of the road for Zara and company, it is going to be incredibly interesting to see what Jones comes up with next.  Certainly, one gets the feeling that it’s going to be a little different…

This review was brought to you by Splendibird. Endure is available in bookstores now.  Many thanks to Bloomsbury for sending this title to review.

July 09, 2012

Game On (review of Ready Player One by Ernest Cline)

Ready Player One
Ernest Cline
Arrow 2011

The year is 2044 and mankind is, well, a little broken. The last reserves of oil dried up long ago and society crumbled in their absence. Huge swathes of America's population now resides in trailer stacks; skyscrapers formed by literally stacking RVs one on top of another in precarious structures, a desperate attempt to be close to the major cities and their erratic supplies of solar electricity. Humanity's refuge, the only escape from the truly dismal real world, is The Oasis. Brainchild of reclusive genius James Halliday, aka Anorak, The Oasis started life as the most advanced MMORPG the world had ever seen, before evolving into a true alternate reality where people meet, play, do business, even attend school. Plugging into this world (rendered in absolutely realistic graphics) via simple goggles, haptic gloves or even entire body suits depending on your wealth, frees mankind from the prison which the world has become.

It's in this setting that we meet Wade Watts (alliteratively named by his father to evoke a superhero's alter-ego), a bullied, hermetic orphan living in his abusive aunt and uncle's trailer stack. Wade is a Gunter (or egg-hunter), meaning he's searching for an elusive and almost mythological Easter egg hidden within The Oasis. At the book's outset we discover that Halliday/Anorak died some years ago and bequeathed his fortune, the largest on the planet by some margin, to whoever could solve three puzzles and thereby pass through three gates hidden within the game, leaving clues in an obsessively viewed film called Anorak's Invitation. Wade, like other Gunters, spends every spare minute trying to get inside the mind of Anorak by immersing himself in the period in which Halliday spent his formative years - namely 80's geek culture. Repeated viewings of John Hughes' repertoire, memorising Duran Duran lyrics and perfecting every level of every classic coin-op game from Pac-Man to Ghosts And Goblins are the order of the day. Years have passed since the initial excitement at the announcement of the competition and many now even doubt the existence of the gates - until Wade has a brainstorm allowing him to solve the first clue and place his name on the fabled leader-board. Suddenly he is the most famous person in both the real and virtual worlds and some people, particularly the notorious Sixers, will do anything to get their hands on him.

Ernest Cline wastes little time cutting to the chase in his debut novel, with a brief and enjoyable bit of scene-setting soon launching us into the thick of the action. One of the first things to strike you is just how well-crafted The Oasis is as a concept and how easily you slip into it yourself. Although comprising of countless worlds that include perfect imitations of real locations, recreations of videogames and movies and entirely novel, user-created areas it never seems daunting or confusing. Despite Cline's description of the in-game graphics being as near to reality as you can get my mind's eye still saw it as a game, with cartoonish avatars and scenery straight out of World Of Warcraft. I suppose this absorption may vary depending on the saturation level of gaming in your childhood but I couldn't help but be bewitched by The Oasis, using the rare occasions I could force myself to put the book down to take a daydreaming wander through its skilfully constructed locales. As a teacher, the description of schooling in such a malleable universe had me drooling; students glued to their seats and silenced by the rules of the program, yet held in rapt attention by immersive tours through pyramids and fly-bys by warplanes? Sign me up!

The other unmissable aspect of the book, and a key to the game, the clues and the entire universe, is the endless stream of references to the TV shows, movies and videogames of my generation's youth. When inside The Oasis you are bombarded from all sides - every planet, every ship, every building, has some nod to the 80s or early 90s from the ever present John Hughes to Blade Runner, from Duran Duran to Joust. Every reference to geek icons like Gary Gygax and Cory Doctorow had me grinning from ear to ear and each time I spotted a more obscure reference I was jumping up and down, itching to tell someone just how clever I was before realising it just made me a bit of a geek. The combination of the nostalgia trip with such a well-researched and conceived universe leaves a tangible trace of Cline's enthusiasm for his creation on every page. That he can also craft a fast-paced, accessible and enjoyable thriller around it without sacrificing readability or sounding contrived is a quite the achievement.

That said, the book is not perfect. While I lapped up every single mention of old Atari consoles I couldn't help but realise that not everyone is going to be in on the joke. Ready Player One unapologetically has a very specific target market and I imagine that it may come across as a tad silly to anyone who's not in the geek camp. In fact some portions of the book will be utterly meaningless unless you have already watched the movies or played the games which are being relived. Since reading it I've been recommending it to everyone who'll listen but always having to qualify it with "as long as you love games and the 80s..." The other downside is that the obsessive attention to detail within the game universe means that the secondary characters seem to have been left as an afterthought. While we become well-acquainted with Wade, his fellow Gunters Aech and Art3mis seem a little one-dimensional despite being central to the progress of the story. Perhaps ditching a few of the more self-indulgent nostalgia trips in favour of character development would have led to a more balanced novel, although I must admit that this was a minor gripe.

Despite these reservations I enjoyed Ready Player One more than any book I've read for some months. The infectiousness of Cline's love for his subject matter, the dedication of his world-building and the warm familiarity of The Oasis make for a hugely enjoyable modern take on the David and Goliath story (and often read like a cyberpunk John Hughes story). If like me you belong to Cline's tribe of 80s refugees and wasted your childhood hanging around dingy arcades pumping coin after coin into Galaga and Operation Wolf then this book was made for you. However, even if you're not part of this demographic there's still a worthy story and a beautifully described universe to dig into, something that will be worth a look for younger videogame fans and devotees of near-future sci-fi alike. If this is what Cline can do with a first novel then his subsequent titles will definitely be worth keeping tabs on.

This review was brought to you by Cannonball JonesReady Player One is available in paperback now as well as on a rather spectacular audiobook read by none other than Wil Wheaton (who receives, as is only proper, a decent shout out in the text himself).

July 04, 2012

READ ALL ABOUT IT: The New Inhabitants of The Mountains of Instead

It's true! The Mountains of Instead now contain more than just I, the erstwhile lone reviewer on these here hills. As The Mountains of Instead are largely made up of mountains of books, under which your studious Splendibird was being buried, a number of others have decided to climb up and lend a hand. This not only allows you to meet some rather excellent new reviewers, it also allows me to breathe after a series of TBR pile-induced panic attacks.  

As well as having extra eyes on the books coming in to MOI for review, this also signifies a shift in the type of blog I want to run here. While we will continue to review largely YA titles, you'll also see some adult titles and some classics creeping in here and there. This has been on the cards for a while but one person can only read so many books so my able colleagues will be helping to add variety to what you find here. Our tastes are in the realm of same-same-but-different as are our writing styles and we hope you are going to enjoy the mix. Ultimately, this whole revamp will lead to a surely glorious blog redesign - anyone with any designer recommendations please step this way (especially designers who design stuff for FREE).

Anyhoo, over the next few weeks you'll start to see reviews pop up from all involved (all reviews will have a lovely little pic at the end to tell you who you're reading) so without further ado, let me introduce you to the all new (nearly) team scaling the heady peaks of The Mountains of Instead (I swear, that is the end of any climbing/hill/mountain metaphor):

Most of you know Splendibird already, but for those who don't, she's based in the North of Scotland where she spends her days freelancing in editor-y stuff (yes, that's a word), working in her local library and raising a small demon. Er, that is, delight.  At the moment she also spends a lot of time attending weddings and would like to politely request that people stop getting married for a while. K?

Cannonball Jones
Cannonball, also known as Paul, is an itinerant Scotsman trying to communicate the joys and intricacies of his neighbours' native tongue at an anonymous cram school in Taiwan. Unfortunately this is in reality more akin to babysitting than to anything resembling actual education and thus he seeks refuge in literature whenever possible to escape the horrors of his current career. His hobbies include curmudgeonly mumbling, telling pesky kids to get the hell off his lawn, boring people with his incessant ravings about the songwriting genius of Greg Dulli and trying to convince people that owning a film camera doesn't make him a hipster.

Polka Dot Steph 
Lovely Steph is currently in the employ of The Man, while living in the beauteous Edinburgh. Like Splendibird, she is a Lady YAcker and she reads anything and everything often writing about it very beautifully. Married to a swanky fellow, she has yet to allow married grownupness (also a word) stifle her inner YA and will largely be helping Splendibird with the terrifying TBR pile. As well as a voracious reader, Steph also enjoys the glory of musical theatre so you should absolutely expect a sing-a-long blog post at some point in the near future.  

Erstwhile school chum of Splendibird (and it's all very erst, these days) Swish hides his position as one of the leading photographers in the world by masquerading as a geologist called Justin. He'll be dropping in from time to time to educate us all on the joys of the classics (and whatever else he fancies reading that month). Until then you can find him ALL OVER THE INTERNETS. Well, mainly here.

There you have it - welcome to the all new show and please be lovely and drop in to show support as the all new team start to appear on these old slopes (er, sorry, I can't help myself).