Film Review: The Gentlemen


It's been a while since I posted on here. Job hunting stress and writers' block often go hand in hand. With this in mind, I decided to do another film review. A while back, I did reviews of Guy Ritchie's London gangster films; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Snatch. The other night, I checked out his more recent entry in that genre; The Gentlemen.

Matthew McConaughey plays Mickey Pearson, an American expatriate living in London who operates a large cannabis empire. He's also a high society figure, who maintains a strong relationship with members of the English aristocracy (he hides his labs on their estates in exchange for paying their upkeep). He seeks to retire from a life of crime and sell his business to Matthew Berger, an American billionaire played by Jeremy Strong. Things get complicated when Dry Eye, a Chinese gangster played by Henry Golding, learns that Mickey's getting out and seeks to buy him out. After Mickey refuses, one of his labs is raided by a gang of MMA fighters and rappers known as "The Toddlers". Mickey has also made an enemy of Big Dave, a tabloid editor played by Eddie Marsan, after publicly refusing to shake his hand at a black tie event. Dave hires Fletcher, a private investigator played by Hugh Grant, to investigate Mickey's aristocratic connections. Fletcher then offers to sell his findings to Raymond Smith, Mickey's second-in-command played by Charlie Hunnam. Their meeting serves as a framing story for the rest of the film.

Once again, this film employs an impressive array of characters which provides a ton of great dialogue. Mickey is suave and charismatic, but does show his ruthless side at times. Fletcher's sleaziness gives him some great back and forth with the more straight-laced Raymond. Michelle Dockery plays Mickey's wife Rosalind, who runs a garage that serves as one of Mickey's fronts, but is just as streetwise as he is. Big Dave is obnoxious (evidently someone in the crew hates tabloids), but it's great to see him get his just desserts (with a certain nursery rhyme I'll never look at the same way again).

If there's anybody who steals the show, it's Colin Farrell as The Coach. He's a gym owner who serves as a mentor to the Toddlers, but tries to keep his hands clean of criminal activity. Nevertheless, when the Toddlers steal Mickey's cannabis, he tries to protect them by offering his services to Raymond. He also gets all the best lines. He needed a lot more screen time.

In one subplot, Mickey is asked by one of his aristocratic friends to recover his daughter from a group of heroin addicts she's fallen in with. Raymond is reluctant to embark on the mission, harbouring a strong prejudice against heroin users. It creates a tense scene as he meets with the addicts. He attempts to retain a veneer of pleasantry, but you get the idea he's trying not to lose it.

If there's anything I do have to criticise, there's one plot element which stems from this which doesn't seem to get resolved. I can't really talk about it here due to spoilers, but it does provide an interesting "butterfly effect" vibe. Nevertheless, it's a loose end which doesn't get tied off.

All in all, it's a funny story about how it's not easy to leave some lives. It's currently available on Netflix, and I highly recommend you check it out.

Book Review - Burrowed


It's been a while since I've posted on here. You could say I've been getting some writing done. Anyway, today I'm taking a look at Burrowed a fantasy novel by Maressa Mortimer. This post is being made as part of a Reading Between the Lines blog tour.


The beautiful island of Ximiu has a plan for a more sustainable future. But not everyone living on the island is on board. Jasira, daughter of the governing matriarch, is determined to uncover the dark forces threatening her home. With the help of her friends she embark on a desperate bid to save her island community. When the price is higher than she had bargained for, will Jasira still find faith and beauty in the world around her?


This was an intriguing read. Marketed as a fantasy, it nonetheless takes place in a modern society, which brings across the feeling it could be real and take place somewhere in our world. This is backed up by the fact that the island's society is Christian. However, it retains a fantasy element on account of the fact it doesn't clue you in to where exactly the island could be situated. There's mention of a mainland, but doesn't state any country name. Nonetheless, I think this works to the story's advantage, because the ambiguity lets the reader make a decision on exactly where it takes place.

The story is told from the point-of-view of Jasira Colmadis, the daughter of the Xibai, who rules the island. We explore her friendship with Ilori, the son of the Vice-Xibai, as they navigate the effects of the Serving Clean Island initiative the government is pushing for. The island's residents are being asked to sell their cars, but when the cars go missing before they can be sold on the mainland, that sets a mystery in motion.

I quite like how Jasira plays the detective, and a lot of the story is dedicated to how people are feeling the effects of the push for the sustainable future. It's almost as if the initiative is being sabotaged. It's a slow-burning mystery, but one that keeps you guessing.

Burrowed is available here.

About the Author

Maressa grew up in the Netherlands, and moved to England soon after finishing teaching training college. Married to Pastor Richard Mortimer they live in a Cotswold village with there four children. She is a homeschool mum, enjoying the time spent with family, travelling, reading and turning life into stories, she wants to use her stories to show practical Christian’s living in a fallen world.

Happy writing.

"Playing Out" the Work Day

I realise I haven't posted much on here lately. Well, working in an internship while also taking care of a ghostwriting commission does make things pretty hectic at times. With this in mind, I thought I'd discuss a new ritual I've adopted.

Since I work remotely, I've been told it's important to have a ritual at the end of the work day. Especially because I live in a studio flat and don't have a lot of room for a dedicated office space. My internship's part-time, which leaves with time to work on my writing, and I've been trying to accommodate both as best as I can. For example, I have very strict "office hours" in my internship, and have made it clear that I don't respond to any calls and emails outside of this time. That's one way of maintaining discipline when working from home. But I also found another practice.

Since I've been doing a lot of work in the Western genre lately, my parents opted to give me a harmonica for Christmas. I've been dabbling in it, just finding a few tutorials online, and have recently adopted a ritual I like to call "playing out". When I finish work for the day, I do some harmonica practice before I work on my writing. I sometimes find that playing some period-appropriate tunes can get me into the right mindset. 

With that in mind, I've been teaching myself an old cowboy folk song, "Red River Valley". I've just about got the hang of that one, and am now trying to play it from memory. I've also found tutorials for a couple of songs from O Brother Where Art Thou?. I've managed to pull of "You are my Sunshine" and am practicing "Man of Constant Sorrow", while seeking a few other tunes to add to my repertoire.

Well, that's all I've really got to say. For anyone else who works remotely: What are your end-of-work rituals? Feel free to share them here.

Either way, happy writing.

New Year, New Plans?

Playing the harmonica could be a plan.

Well, it's now 2022. Or "2020 2". An unwanted sequel to an unwanted year.

2021 was a rough year, but one with some major ups. I finished my Creative Writing degree last year, graduating with First Class Honours. Graduating during a pandemic is no small feat. I also published my first book, Gentlemen of Fortune, as part of one of my university assignments. After finishing university, I decided I wanted to stay in the city, moving into a studio flat. I also landed some work as a ghostwriter on a series of Western novels.

Although I'm no longer a student, I'm still involved with some of the university societies, particularly the one dedicated to table-top roleplaying games. It was refreshing to be able to run in-person games again, although I'm not sure how long that's going to last. I must confess that I actually enjoy running games via Roll20, because it's easier to accommodate battle maps and tokens. That's handy for settings which involve more firearms and the variables associated with ranged combat.

What are my plans for this coming year now that I've finished university? I don't know. I'm still working on a ghostwriting project, along with a follow-up story to Gentlemen of Fortune. On top of that, I started a fan fiction project based on Dawn of Defiance, an epic campaign for a Star Wars roleplaying game which I've been running since May last year.

Let's see how this goes.

Happy New Year, and happy writing.

Writing Hunter's Rules - A Guest Post by Val Penny

Hello everyone. I hope you've had a good Christmas. Today I'm delighted to once again welcome my good friend and fellow Swanwicker Val Penny to the Writer's Block, where she'll be discussing Hunter's Rules her latest instalment in the Edinburgh Crime Mysteries. Over to you, Val.

Thank you so much for inviting me onto your blog today, Andy. I am delighted to have a chance to tell you and your readers about Hunter’s Rules, the new novel in my series of The Edinburgh Crime Thrillers.

I've been writing and telling stories all my life. When I was a child, I used to make up stories for my little sister after our Mum put the light out and told us to go to sleep. Later, I wrote documents, contracts, and courses as part of my job, but my time was well accounted for, so I did not create any fiction.

However, I took early retirement when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and there were times when I suffered severe side effects from my treatment. I could not go out, spend time with friends or indulge in many of my favourite hobbies, but watching daytime television got very old very fast, so I turned to reading. It was the only thing I had the energy to do and could do safely.

I read voraciously, as I always have. I particularly enjoy reading crime fiction and thrillers. I indulged this interest with many novels including those by Peter Robinson, Ian Rankin, Linwood Barclay and Kathy Reichs. 

After a while, I began to feel a little better and decided to start reviewing the books I read in a blog I enjoyed doing that. Then, as I began to feel better still, I got restless, but was not well enough to do very much and I complained to my long-suffering husband about getting bored. It was then he challenged me: ‘If you know so much about what makes a good book, why don’t you write one?’ I did laugh. However, the challenge set, I have been writing police procedural crime thrillers set in Scotland ever since.

In fact, my publishers, will publish the sixth book in the series The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries on 01.01.2022. The main character is Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson, Hunter’s Rules.

I did two things with this novel that I have never done before: I don’t kill anybody in the book and the novel, Hunter’s Rules, actually has a prequel in my short story Cats and Dogs, which was published in a charity anthology of short stories, Dark Scotland, published in January 2021. Of course, both the novel and the short story can be read completely independently, but those who have read both may enjoy the conceit. 

I particularly enjoyed writing Hunter’s Rules and hope that my readers will enjoy reading the novel. I plan that the next novel in this series will appear in 2023. It will be entitled Hunter’s Festival and will take place during an Edinburgh summer during the Edinburgh International Festival. I’ll let you know more about that in due course!

Thank you again for hosting me, Andy.

My pleasure, Val. I wish you all the best with Hunter's Rules in the new year.

The Edinburgh Crime Mysteries are available on Amazon: Hunter's Chase, Hunter's Revenge, Hunter's Force, Hunter's Blood, Hunter's Secret, Hunter's Rules.

Hunter’s Rules is the sixth book in Val Penny’s Edinburgh Crime Mysteries series of novels published by Dark Stroke, as is The First Cut, the first book in the new series of Jane Renwick Thrillers.

She has recently contributed her short story, Cats and Dogs to a charity anthology, Dark Scotland. Her short story, The Corpse in the Catacombs will be published in the charity anthology, Dark Paris, shortly.

Val is an American author living in SW Scotland with her husband and their cat.

Book Review - Snowflake's Big Adventure

I didn't think I'd be including reviews of children's books in my repertoire. I've previously posted a cover reveal of Snowflake's Big Adventure by Erin Mackey. Like before, this post is part of a Reading Between the Lines blog tour organised by Lynsey Adams.


Sometimes going out into the world is scary, but it can also be exciting.

We all worry about our place in the world and Little Snowflake is no different. When the day comes for him to fall to Earth for the very first time, he’s filled with worry and wonder.  Guided by Mama Snowflake, Little Snowflake and the others anticipate their destination. He knows the possibilities are endless and wishes he could do them all.  There are so many things he could be, but will any of it be meaningful? Will he be satisfied with his destiny?

Snowflake’s Big Adventure is a fun and engaging picture book that helps children grapple with the age old question: “What is my purpose?” It teaches, them how to overcome anxiety and trust the wisdom of those around them. Combining beautiful pictures with powerful life lessons, this book could be your child’s next lifelong favourite.


I don't really have much to say about this book without cluttering the review by reading too deep or getting cynical about the themes. It's a relatively short read and pretty much does what it advertises; A snowflake falls from the sky and contemplates their purpose in life. In their case, this could be landing on a hill used for sledging, or being made into a snow angel or a snowman. It explores the possibilities. I must confess that as a recent university graduate, the message is one that kind of resonates with me at the moment. All in all, it's kind of wholesome.

Snowflake's Big Adventure is available here.

About the Author

Helping kids to love reading one book at a time.  Erin Mackey writes in various children’s genres, including picture books, early readers, chapter books, middle grade fiction, and Young Adult fiction.  She has more than 40 completed picture book manuscripts and she continues to develop new story ideas on a regular basis.  So far, Erin has published picture books, middle grade fiction, and Young Adult books.  She enjoys spending time with her husband, family, friends, church family, and her crazy cats who constantly entertain her and get into trouble.

Happy writing.

Tricube Tales


A new university term has started, and while I'm no longer a student, I still like to be involved in some university societies. Especially the roleplaying game society, since that's a good source of players. With this in mind, I'd been itching to introduce more players to a roleplaying system I discovered recently called Tricube Tales. 

Created by Richard Woolcock, Tricube Tales is a narrative-focussed roleplaying system with a bare minimum of mechanics. I've previously talked about this before, specifically with The Fools Who Follow, in which the players are companions to an imbecilic Chosen One hero, but the system's recently been updated since then.

When players do something risky, the GM assigns a Trait - either Agility, Brawn, or Craft - and a Difficulty ranging from 4 to 6. The player must then roll two six-sided dice and equal or exceed the difficulty on at least one die in order to overcome the challenge. If they achieve this on multiple dice, that's treated as an Exceptional Success and carries an additional benefit. However, if they roll a 1 on all their dice, that's a Critical Failure and introduces a complication.

Character creation is quick and easy, which makes this system ideal for one-shots. Rather than a complex stat block, a Player Character can be summed up in a sentence. The character profile consists of four aspects:

  1. Trait: A character can be Agile, Brawny, or Crafty. If their Trait matches a challenge's Trait, they roll an extra die on that challenge.
  2. Concept: This is typically a character's profession. If a challenge is something that falls outside the scope of their concept (such as a wizard picking a lock or a high school nerd trying to intimidate somebody), they roll one less die.
  3. Perk: This is a special talent or ability, or perhaps even a signature item. If it makes narrative sense, a character can activate their Perk to reduce the difficulty by one after making their roll.
  4. Quirk: This is some kind of hindrance, physical limitation, or personality flaw. Quirks can be activated just like Perks if it makes narrative sense, but this is done before making a roll and increases the difficulty by one.
Players also have three points of Karma and three points of Resolve.
  • Karma represents a character's luck and fortitude. It costs one point of Karma to activate a Perk, but this can be regained by activating a Quirk.
  • Resolve represents a character's health and tenacity. A character loses one point of Resolve if they fail a particularly dangerous challenge, and two on a Critical Failure. If they lose all their Resolve, they're out for the rest of the scene.

I've been collecting all manner of settings, having run The Fools Who Follow for the society's taster session. So far, I've tried two other settings which use the system: 

  • The first is a superhero setting called Metahuman Uprising
  • The second is Tales of the Goblin Horde, an adaptation of Woolcock's Saga of the Goblin Horde setting for Savage Worlds
Both resulted in some silly moments, but I'm still trying to practice the concept of "Effort Tokens" for things which require more than one roll (especially combat).

I'm also looking at running two more settings in the coming weeks:

  • Pirates of the Bone Blade, a Pirates of the Caribbean-inspired fantasy in which the characters are members of a pirate crew seeking to break a curse their former captain left on them.
  • Samhain Slaughter, a horror setting in which the players are high school students with paranormal abilities who defend their small town from monsters.
I think Tricube Tales is a great system which offers a lot of flexibility. It's great for one-shots, but I haven't tried running a campaign with it. If you're interested, you can find the rulebook here.

Happy writing.

Film Review: The Gentlemen

  It's been a while since I posted on here. Job hunting stress and writers' block often go hand in hand. With this in mind, I decide...