Category Archives: Religion & Spirituality

NOD by J.M. Stephen – Interview & Review!

So today I bring to you an interview with author J.M. Stephen along with a review for her wonderful, thought provoking book NOD!

Here’s the book blurb – 

“And Cain left the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod, on the east of Eden.” – Genesis 4:16

Nod is never mentioned again in the Bible. Where was it? Where did the people of Nod come from? What became of Cain? Now we have the story of Nod, as told through the eyes of Lailah, the first person to encounter Cain outside of his family. The story of Cain and Abel is brought alive, and the aftermath examined in a way never before told. But more than that we get the story of a primitive people becoming aware of the world around them.

Please enjoy the interview below and check out my review!


 

Hi Jessica,

First of all I’d like to thank you for being a guest on my blog. I hope you are keeping well in these uncertain times.

Your latest book, NOD, was released earlier this month, would you like to tell us a little bit about the book?

NOD explores the Land of Nod, the place the Biblical Cain went after he was banished from home when he killed his brother, Abel. Cain is a character in NOD but the protagonist is a woman named Lailah, she’s a strong, independent woman who wants to explore her larger world. The novel really focuses on this primordial land, the world just after it ceased to be “formless and void” when people were still figuring out what humanity was. It is in many ways an exploration of humanity and explores how we got to this place with our social constructs, our economic systems, our prejudices but also our celebrations of life.

What made you decide to write a book on this subject?

I’m not a religious person but I was raised in a fairly religious household and I’ve met some compelling people of faith in my life and work and that helped inform how I looked at the subject of Cain and Abel as an archetype. I also just wanted to examine and explore primitive people and how they might have looked at the larger world. (Where do we come from?)and (Is there more out there?) are questions that truly fascinate me and I wanted to tell a story that explores those ideas fully. I also really fell in love with the character of Lailah once I started writing about her. She’s so independent and she’s not like the other women in Nod. She marches to her own drummer but there’s something caring about her that fascinated me.

I must admit I was very curious to read the book. I’m not religious but know of Cain and Abel and I wanted to see how you would approach the subject. Did you worry at all about writing a book based on biblical characters?

I’ve written a couple of books based on stories before and so I had an idea of how it was done. My first novel Betwixt and Between (under the pen name Jessica Stilling) is a literary retelling of Peter Pan and my second literary novel The Beekeeper’s Daughter (also under the pen name Stilling) looks at the life of the poet Sylvia Plath. But The Bible was a whole other challenge and I wanted to explore those stories while also building on them and creating a unique world and a unique take. I think storytelling in general has moved away from the idea that there is just one villain and they are the bad guy and there’s no wiggle room and so I wanted to create sympathy for Cain while also keeping Abel good. I wanted us to like Cain and understand him, but to also see what evil lurks inside of a man even when they try to do good. That was a challenge not only because of the baggage the story of Cain and Abel carries but because I did want to create a fantasy world that was also based on some reality.

As I read the book I found myself reflecting on life as we know it. Did it have the same effect on you as the writer? I mean, life would be so much easier if we just shared things and a value was not placed on items. At some point in time humans have decided to create the concept and we’ve went with it ever since.. I can’t imagine how it all started but NOD really gives you an idea..you can see the evolution of the people of NOD.

It’s funny you should ask that because there is definitely a subtle sense of anti-Capitalism in the book. I live in America and something the Coronavirus has taught many of us is that Capitalism is harming the people here. I won’t go into a long lecture on that right now, but I wrote this book many years ago, and edited it and then spent some time looking for a publisher and so it’s gone through many drafts. In all the drafts there is a sense that sharing and cooperation is better than blatant Capitalism. And the end, when Capitalism seems to have taken over, it feels like a defeat to people like Lailah, who just want the world to be good. This came from my research, older societies had more cooperation and more trade and I wanted to reflect that but then, I wanted to show how this turned to something that looks more like Capitalism. But when I got the final edits for the book we were deep into the Coronavirus scare and I decided that I needed to push the cooperation vs. Capitalism angle a little harder because I was seeing what it was doing to so many people in the US.

I’m always keen to know where an author draws inspiration from. Has there been anyone out there that really inspired you or is it just something you have a passion for?

 

I definitely feel like it’s a little of both. I have wanted to be a writer since the third grade when I wrote a short story about a horse for class and everyone really liked it. That story came out of nowhere and since then, I’ve loved stories and I’ve loved telling them. There have been people who have helped me along the way. My parents were always very supportive, some of my professors in my MFA program, especially Linsey Abrams and Felicia Bonaparte. Virginia Woolf is my favorite author. I just love her work and her life story.

What’s currently on your own bookshelf?

I own many books. I have about seven overfilled bookshelves in my New York City apartment and I know I need one, maybe two, more. My to-be-read pile for the summer consists of Morton Cohen’s Lewis Carroll biography, The Bone People, Susan Minot’s Evening, Hermoine Lee’s Virginia Woolf biography (I have read about seven Woolf biographies, but last year I went to a lecture Hermoine Lee was giving on Woolf and got her book as well) and Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I’ve read it many times before but I also love getting inside Woolf’s head.

What would you say to convince readers to give your book a go?

The novel is simple but it will make you think deeply. The characters are real and compelling in their realness but they are also consciously and unconsciously a part of something bigger and their search for more drives them. NOD explores what it means to be human and what it means to be living alongside those who are more than human.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working on a dystopian sci-fi novel set in the future, maybe about 150 years from now. It explores issues of climate change, the theme of human thought and human consciousness (and just what it is and how it drives our human understanding)…and there are aliens. I’m also working on a literary novel called Between Before and After that examines themes of nostalgia and the relationship between a mother and son. The second novel in my YA series The Chronicles of Pan (Book I is called Into the Fairy Forest), which is also published under the pen name JM Stephen, will be coming out later this year as well.


 

Let’s get to the nitty gritty!!!

Review –

This a story based around the biblical characters Cain and Abel along with the people NOD.

I’m certainly not religious and I’m going to state straightaway that the book really didn’t seem to be aimed to solely those who hold a religious belief.. more it just felt like a tale of a primitive group of people learning their way in life.

The story shows the people of NOD grow.. and struggle as they emerge. At first value has no meaning but as they progress you see them change.. most are happy to see things progress.. others not so.

Lailah was a joy to read. She always seems to see what others could not. She could see the good in advancements but could also see the negative effects it had on her people.

Cain and Abel, brothers.. they very much want similar things but their differences mean they come to blows with an ugly end. It’s a catalyst for the people of NOD and paves the way for new rules.. laws.. changes that again are both good and bad depending how you look at it.

Being based around religious characters I did wonder how the writer would tackle the subject, but they did a fantastic job of not alienating any reader. We hear of Adam and Eve… I felt it was written in such a way the reader can take from it whatever fits their own ideals. Cain shows up and has an almost magical effect on the people of NOD but wouldn’t that naturally happen if someone turned up with new ideas.. at one point in time fire was created for the first time.. that must have seemed otherworldly to those around at the time regardless of how Cain came to be..it must have been a wonderful time but also very scary.

After reading this book the thing that struck me the most is how it really made me feel..it had parallels with today.. there’s those who wish to take advantage..those who always want more..when life would be so much simpler if we could just share and help each other..but it just wouldn’t be possible.

I can’t imagine what it must have been like to live at a time when things were unknown..and then suddenly commonplace.. the first time a shoe was made… the first time a shelter was built that protected from the wind and rain fully.. just even a time before toilets and baths..we take so much for granted but we’ve come so far… yet….

I can’t give any less than 5*, if you can take this subject on and make me love it you’ve earned it.

To find out more head to Goodreads, Amazon or D. X. Varos

12 days of Clink Street Christmas Event: Review & Guest Post! – The Learn by Tony Halker

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As part of the 12 days of Clink Street Christmas blog tour I’m very happy to bring you a guest post from Tony Halker author of The Learn who will give us a bit of an insight into his work..but first.. here’s my review of the book. 🙂

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Here’s the book blurb –

Blending reality, history and legend, about a time when women were considered as important as men, taking power in an oral society that worships the Goddess. A whole Celtic Druid world is laid out before us, incorporating beliefs, technology and the natural environment.
A Celtic boy, a beach scavenger, is pledged to the Learn, a life of endurance, a path to become sworn Druid: scholar and warrior.  Young women and men progress, becoming Priests and Druidii. Friendship, affection, passion and care develop as novices mature, confidence emerging.
Seasonal battles of winter and summer bring rich festivals when seeds of men are taken by women in pleasure to prove fertility. Small damaged, hurt peoples on the margins of Celtic society blend in and out of vision.
At frontiers with Nature, dependent for everything on what the earth gives or takes, an emotional response to the natural environment defines who people are and the values they live by.
A lyrical novel resonating with modern readers through portrayal of character, language and history; arising from a landscape of today, yet centred in the Celtic Bronze Age of North Wales.

Review 

The Learn follows Owayne on his journey from being a boy, a local beach scavenger to that of a priest.

What i really enjoyed about this book was that the author really made me think about development, growth and learning within the human race. We take so much for granted but at one point humans didn’t have things such as paracetamol, cars, bricks even..the list is endless.

It was really good to see the author show different views to learning. As you could imagine some people would be open to new ideas but even in this day and age some people are stuck in there ways and don’t see things as progress.

My personal view is Owayne’s journey is one of  enlightenment as he opens his mind and his eyes to all the possibilities out there in the world..all the wonders waiting to be shared.

For me the pace of the tale was a little 0n the slow side..i like a fast paced tale after all, but the pace did offer the chance for you to see the spiritualistic or even sometimes simplistic and differing views on knowledge and development.

This book isn’t a hard read as such but it needs your time and focus to really understand and enjoy the tale. The language used takes time to digest to fully immerse yourself  in “The Learn”.

Overall The Learn is a very creative and interesting tale about knowledge and development along with the dangers surroundings it. The final few chapters of the tale really had me hooked with the injection of action right when you needed it.

The tale really does make me think about what it must have been like when things were discovered.. and would have i been one of those scared, or would i have embraced it?

It’s a calm story for the most part and the book would be really suited for those who have the time to devote to it, to embrace the tale like  Owayne must embrace “The Learn”

For me it’s a solid 4* 🙂

To find out more head to Goodreads or Amazon

My thanks go to Authoright for the chance to read/review the book and to Tony who shares with us his insight to “The Learn” below.

 


“The Learn”

“The Learn” is about technology change, the values and beliefs that emerge in us from technology, the confidence or fear those changes engender; the angst that emerges in us when we perceive we have lost or will lose some control or power. It is also about belief, blasphemy, equality, power and authority and our reactions to those things

My canvas is the bronze age, it enables me to add a dimension that is Nature, the environment, what it gives, takes and threatens. Some readers have wanted to say that “The Learn” is about the bronze age. I prefer to express that it is simply set there because that age offers real places that are fertile territory and lend other dimensions to a rich story. That context lets me challenge on issues of interest.

I love the mountain beach landscape of “The Learn”, I can wander there today. It is full of stone age and bronze age artefacts, remnant dwellings and even jewellery of skill and imagination. I envision peoples who emerged from the land, were formed by its gifts and pressures, yet faced the same comforts and fears as we do now. I think they were like us, laying foundations for us to build on in many areas of technology, values and beliefs.

I wanted to write a book that is not a quick fix; that draws people in with effort, that is not sensational; is as much about landscape, place, voice, nature and atmosphere as about particular events. I want a reader to live within my novel. I hope that a few may grieve a little when a character joins his or her ancestors or just slips from view. I hope at the end of the story I am leaving questions about the people and their future developments that will have readers seeking out a sequel, the next stage of The Learn

We have so much folklore to build on to make a rich story. We know the names of Celtic/Druid Deities, we have the Romans’ view of their defeated enemies that they clearly feared. I have taken the festivals of summer and winter, their transition and what we know about them today and tried to re-imagine them in the place where they were first formed, performed and meant so much for the coming season, harvests, weather and the goodwill of The Deities.

We know the Romans twice tried to eliminate the seat of Druid power in North Wales. It was not just people they feared but power, culture and values, a belief system to challenge that of Rome; where women ruled alongside men and Druids controlled belief and trade.  Societies and cultures, tribes and families prosper or fail based upon cohesion, shared values and joint vision, as well as effort and purpose. I wanted to weave that into “The Learn”, since I hoped to form a historical novel that considers the issues we face today and acknowledges that our forebears so far back were intelligent, worthy ancestors whose spirit and blood runs in our veins.

I wanted my characters to be ordinary, yet interesting. There are damaged small people whose bodies are malformed, by poor diet, over work in the dark, the challenges of nature and the ill will of superstition. There are lonely souls of uncertain gender whose purpose of being has been taken by time and technology change, but who find some comfort and will to live by fulfilling the purpose they were taught, even though that no longer has merit or use to society.

Nature, Anu the Goddess looks down on all of this. She challenges in order to see the development of Knowledge of human peoples. She values fortitude.

We are here because we have struggled and survived through hunger, cold, heat, climate change and competition for resources. We are the ones who made it this far, yet as a species we have lived for only a couple of million years, (the Dinosaurs lived for about 180 million years). Our spirit needs to be on edge, alert to threats, planning how to manage, to fight or flee. We need daily challenge and purpose if our biology is not to shut down. I wanted to write about that and how our ancestors may have acknowledged these issues and managed them.

Purchase from Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Learn-Tony-Halker-ebook/dp/B01JQVQKSE/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1473955705&sr=1-1&keywords=tony+halker

Purchase from Foyleshttp://www.foyles.co.uk/witem/fiction-poetry/the-learn,tony-halker-9781911110576


About Tony Halker

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Born in London, Tony Halker studied geology at Leeds University after which he worked as a geologist, travelling extensively overseas. Following an MBA at Cranfield School of Management, he became a manager in hi-tec business and later a businessman and entrepreneur. His writing is inspired by powerful natural landscapes and his interest in the people and technologies emerging from those hard places. His two daughters were born in North Wales. He lives with his wife there and in Hertfordshire.

Website – http://www.tonyhalker.com/

Blog – http://www.tonyhalker.com/blog

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