Mini book reviews

Hi guys!

Just a quick post today. As I’ve been reading a lot recently, I thought I’d write some ‘mini reviews’ of some of my recent reads. Let me know what you think!

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The Honeymoon by Tina Seskis – 4.5*

As with a lot of recent novels, this book employs the ‘unreliable narrator’ trope, which I personally enjoy, but only when done right. I can happily confirm that this book is one of the ones which uses this technique successfully. As I was reading, I often felt one of the narrators (Jemma, our main protagonist) was being purposely misleading and, having read a book recently which flat-out deceives the reader (see Under Your Skin…), was worried that this book would take the same course. It doesn’t and in fact, uses the unreliability of Jemma to develop her as an interesting yet flawed 3-dimensional character. I found her character intriguing, which is good as the reader spends a lot of time ‘in her head’, despite there being several other minor narrators and a little bit of head-hopping, all of which add depth to the story.

At no point did I guess the ending (which is a feat these days..!) and when all was finally revealed at the end I felt a chill run down my spine. I can pretty much guarantee that you will have no idea as to what will happen in the end, and when you do find out, it will smack you in the face (in a good way, of course). Would recommend to anyone interested in domestic thrillers or unreliable narrators.

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Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher – 5*

Heartbreaking, eye-opening, complex and sometimes chilling. Honestly, this book left me speechless. I read it all in a day. It feels weird to say I enjoyed reading it due to the subject it covers, but I did. It kept me hooked the whole way through and I think Asher dealt with a sensitive subject in a clever and absorbing way. I would recommend this book to anyone, although trigger warning (suicide is the main theme).

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He Said / She Said by Erin Kelly – 5*

Intriguing, unique and not at all predictable, He Said/She Said is part twisty thriller/part courtroom drama with a little bit of eclipse chasing sprinkled in for good measure. The characters are relatable and charming, yet flawed, and the relationships created by Kelly are intricate and believable. The main couple, protagonists Kit and Laura, are perhaps my favourite – I think Kelly manages to capture the ‘met-at-uni-been-together-since’ relationship delightfully. Although the novel explores distressing themes at times, it does so with the utmost care and sensitivity, resulting in an emotionally-charged book which raises some important questions and issues. A very clever, enjoyable and emotionally-complex read. I loved it!

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Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor – 3*

This book was completely different to what I expected, hence I’m finding it quite hard to review. The book is obviously amazingly written, fabulously plotted and creates a vivid and wonderful sense of place and time, but I couldn’t help but find it a little hard to follow sometimes, due to the vast amount of characters and the ‘omniscient head-hopping’. What one expects to be the main plot (the missing girl) although constantly there, is pushed to the background as the writing instead focuses on the effect this has on the village, more so than explicitly about the crime itself. This is not a bad thing, in fact, it’s a very interesting choice made by the author that ensures the books stands out, although may be a little disappointing for anyone expecting a ‘crime thriller’. Overall, this book is written wonderfully but sadly will not appeal to everyone due to its unique narrative style.

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Boundary by Andree A Michaud – 5*

A beautifully written and suspenseful literary work of which I enjoyed every page. Murder, mystery and folklore weave with vivid imagery and expertly created characters in this hauntingly memorable exploration of adolescence, sexuality and community. A time consuming yet massively rewarding read.

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Do Not Become Alarmed by Maile Meloy – 3*

Do Not Become Alarmed is a book unlike any I’ve ever read before, in a number of different ways. The narrative style is unique – as opposed to having one main character which the book follows throughout, this novel utilises a ‘head-hopping’ style of narration. Although not my favourite style, it works for this book, as it effectively allows us to experience the novel’s events from the POV of several of the characters. Although this sounds confusing at first, it’s not, as the characters are well-developed, believable and distinctive, and each bring something new to the story. It’s an impressive feat to manage to successfully write in this style, as I have read many books with multiple narrators that don’t work. That said, I think the novel would have been just as interesting (and perhaps easier to connect with) if it was written from the perspective of two of the protagonists, perhaps one adult and one child. This however, is just a personal preference of mine.

The writing is descriptive and vivid, the storyline is captivating and Meloy’s writing style is competent and enjoyable, although may take a little time to get used to at first. Although I would recommend this book to others, I would warn prospective readers to leave any expectations at the first page – to fully appreciate this book, one needs to read and enjoy it for what it actually is, as opposed to what they might expect it to be.

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Under Your Skin by Sabine Durrant – 3*

I loved this book right up until the last chapter. The writing was awesome, the narrator was engaging and I was hooked. That was, up until the reveal. WTF is up with the ending? No spoilers, but it was such a disappointment. The rest of the novel had been building up to the climax, so why did I feel that the climax and the ‘answer’ to all of my questions came out of nowhere and were added purely for shock value? I’ve noticed this with Durrant’s other book, Lie With Me, in which she did exactly the same thing – chose the most shocking ending and ran with it, despite its unbelievability.

It’s such a shame because I love her writing style, her creation of engaging characters and her ability to insert humour into her books. I was excited to spend my next Audible credit on one of her other books, but I won’t be doing that now 😦

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The Ridge by John Rector – 5*

Part Linwood Barclay, part Hemlock grove, this is hands-down one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. As cliche as it sounds, I read it in only a couple of hours and not once did I guess the ending or any of the twists, although expertly weaved flashbacks and carefully placed clues ensured that the eventual conclusion and reveal was satisfying and adrenaline inducing.

The writing is detailed enough to build a strong sense of place, but not too much so that the plot is bogged down by description, and the twist is one of the best I’ve ever read. Rector expertly creates a world which, on the surface seems idyllic, but it’s not long until the cracks begin to show, leaving the reader with spine chills and goosebumps aplenty.

I would 100% recommend this title and will be actively seeking other titles by Rector. Everyone should read this novel!

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The Last Girl by Joe Hart – 4*

I would describe this book as Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale meets Scott Westerfield’s Uglies. Surprisingly enough, it works! I particularly enjoyed Hart’s third-person present narration – his ability to conjure up an almost tangible image using simple yet well-chosen words is a rare skill, which deserves applause.

One slight gripe I do have is that the middle of the novel dragged a little too much for my liking. The fast pace which I had grown accustomed to petered out and became almost painfully slow – I found myself skipping pages of description in several instances, hence why I have awarded 4 stars not 5.

It’s all too easy to leave too many unanswered questions in a series, but I’m happy to report that this was not the case with The Last Girl and I was sufficiently happy with the ending of the novel.

I would recommend this title and will hopefully get around to reading the rest in the series.

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The House by Simon Lelic – 5*

Part murder-mystery, part domestic thriller, The House is a purely unique thrill ride, of which I enjoyed every page. Written in a conversational style, this novel’s structure and narrative voice is fresh and new – the chapters alternate between our two unreliable narrators and protagonists, Jack and Syd, as they try to figure out what on earth is happening in their new house. The style is evocative of a kind of ‘journalistic conversation’ between the two, a style unlike anything I’ve experienced before and it works well, effectively portraying the vague sense of unease at the beginning of the novel, the paranoia and violence in the middle, and finally through to the explosive climax of which you won’t see coming. As tense as it is clever, The House is a wonderfully-crafted, clever and heart-wrenching novel, which will leave your heart racing.

Fun Fact

A quote from this review attributed to me can be found in the paperback version of this book!

 


Where to find free and cheap eBooks – fiction and non-fiction

Free. Everyone likes that word. Free coffee. Free pizza. Free cinema tickets. Free eBooks.

If the latter phrase gets you hot under the collar then you are in the right place.

This blog post will explore three ways you can add to your eBook library cheaply or for free. The below methods can be used to discover both fiction and non-fiction books of all genres and topics. I personally like to download mainly non-fiction books about the craft of writing and fiction books of all genres, but you can tailor the methods to suit your needs.

Before we get started,  I feel the need to address the elephant in the room. As a writer, surely I should be supporting other writers by buying their books for a decent price, right? Of course! I’m not suggesting that from now on, you should exclusively read free and cheap Ebooks. You absolutely should not. Given a choice between a paperback and an Ebook, I’ll buy the former almost every time. BUT. There’s nothing wrong with expanding and adding to your collection by subsidising it with free Ebooks, especially as the authors themselves are the ones who are offering them to you. Therefore, all of the below methods are 100% legal, 100% ethical and 100% awesome.

Now that’s cleared up, let’s begin!

Bookbub /  Book Cave

As I reside in the UK, I’ll be discussing Bookbub, as opposed to Book Cave (which I think is the US equivalent?), although both websites do the same thing.

Bookbub is hands-down the reason I became obsessed with Ebooks. This is how it works.

You sign up to the website.

You put in your genre preferences.

Bookbub accumulates a list of free and heavily discounted books which you can purchase across a number of different platforms – Kindle, IBooks Kobo, Google etc.

You download the book through the vendor for free or cheap as you would a normal Ebook.

Voila. Easy.

Bookbub will also send you a daily email of the books it thinks you will like (the list has about 7 or 8 titles depending on how many genres you have ticked). I personally look forward to my Bookbub email and I almost always find one or two titles that I like and download. Although you may not have heard of a lot of the titles, that doesn’t stop them from being decent novels (although I have had a couple which were absolutely terrible). Bestsellers appear on the list fairly regularly, slashed from about £8.99 to about £1.99 give or take.

 

Subscribe to author websites and blogs for fiction

Anyone who spends enough time on the internet will realise just how easy it is to ‘accidentally’ gather free Ebooks from bloggers, website owners, authors and writers who are keen to expand their readership or get subscribers. They generally offer the Ebook in exchange for your email address (fair swap IMO). Below are two of my favourite authors and bloggers, both of whom are currently offering free Ebooks and amazing website content. Honestly, every writer should visit these websites, free Ebooks aside!

Joanna Penn 

KM Weiland

 

Amazon

Simply go to the Kindle store on a computer, type in your keyword or phrase (example: novel writing, blogging, how to start a business) and search. Then sort the search results by price, low to high. BAM. The free ones will come up first, followed by the cheap ones. If you’re not sure about a key-word, just write free. This also works on fiction. Simply select the genre instead of typing a keyword.

 

Below is what happens when you type Free into the kindle search bar. TADA.

 

 

Netgalley

For all of us ‘book bloggers’, the Netgalley website offers the exciting opportunity to download and read Advance Reading Copies (ARCs) of new and just-published books, delivered straight to your chosen E-reader in exchange for a review. You need to ‘request’ some of the books (meaning you won’t necessarily be eligible to receive all of your chosen ones), but there are many which you can download straight off the bat. You even get to call yourself a professional reader which, let’s be honest, is amazing!

 

And that’s it for now. Go forth and enjoy your eBooks!

 

 

 


Why it’s OK not to have finished your debut novel yet

Ok right, I acknowledge this blog post may or may not have bloomed from a guilty conscience. I quit my full-time job last year and exchanged it for a part-time job so I could have more time to focus on my writing and figure out what I want to do with my life. It has been a year since then and it has arguably been one of the best decisions I’ve made. I spend more time with everyone I love, and now I actually have a work-life balance (whereas before, I spent over 12 hours out of the house each day). BUT. I still haven’t finished my novel. When I realised this, I chastised myself – what on earth have I been doing this past year, because I clearly haven’t spent enough time writing. If I had, I would be finished by now, surely?

That may be partly true. These past two years, I have let weeks or even months slip by without so much as looking at my novel. I’ve been through the waves of self-doubt that every writer goes through and I just needed a break from it all, and that’s fine. But when I really think about it, although I haven’t been writing solidly this past year, I have still been working towards my goals indirectly, and that’s OK. Every little writing or reading-related thing you do will get you closer to the end goal of completing your novel. Chances are, if you’ve ‘wasted’ time on writing blogs or even watching Netflix (perhaps not excessively though…), you’ve picked up some form of useful advice or tip. Did you ever think that perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because it’s simply not ready to be? You COULD have cranked it out in several months and called it a day but you haven’t because you know it can be better. And that’s awesome!

To further clarify, perhaps your novel isn’t finished yet because you’ve spent time:

Learning the craft of writing

Some people may be able to crank out their first book in a year, but chances are if you’re new to this whole writing thing, it’s unlikely. Let’s take a look at new artists. They won’t be creating Picasso-successful paintings in their first year of painting. In fact, they may throw away or abandon 99% of their work. That’s fine. They are still practicing, learning which brush-strokes to use to achieve certain effects, or what colours to mix together to get that perfect skin-shade. It’s the same for writers. I mean, you have the added bonus of knowing how to speak, hence you already have the foundations and building blocks, but until you research how to structure stories, build characters, write dialogue, and set scenes (and that’s just a small snippet), you won’t be able to write a complete, well-rounded and successful novel.

The longer you spend on honing your craft the better it will be.

Letting your work sit and getting distance from it

This is so important. When writing your first novel you may get sucked into the excitement of it all, chuck in every story idea you’ve ever had and thought it was the best thing ever. Who cares that there are no capital letters, the dialogue is stilted and you almost always tell not show? It’s finished right? Wrong. It is not finished, and chances are if you’ve let your WIP sit for a while you’ve realised this. You may feel somewhat deflated that your ‘completed’ novel is a half done mess, but that’s the first step in making it better. If you had just sent it out to agents you may have been inundated with rejection slips, which would have put you off writing altogether. By letting your work sit, you have gained enough distance from it to objectively understand what is wrong with it, thus are in a good position to improve it going forward. Yay, you!

Getting to know your characters

In the first draft, unless you’ve been ruminating over this character for several years, you won’t know the character as well as you should, which is fine as he/she may have changed in ways you didn’t expect as you wrote your novel. By spending time on your novel and not rushing it, you can really get inside your character’s head and get to know them properly.

Finding your writing weaknesses and remedying them

As you write more and learn the craft, you will be constantly identifying where you need to improve and hopefully remedying these areas by actively searching for the answers, be that in a writing craft book or on Google. As much as new writers may not want to hear it, you WILL get better with time (me included) and that first pass at a novel will be so much better in a couple of months or even years when you’ve understood where exactly you need to improve your writing skills.

Finding plot weaknesses and remedying them

As above. Not only will every writer have weaknesses in writing style but they will also have weaknesses in plotting. Spending time fixing these will only be of benefit.

Dabbling in other writing forms

Maybe you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been playing around with writing short stories or even poetry. Any writer will tell you that perfecting the art of the short story will give you invaluable insight into story form, structure, character development and theme among other things such as dialogue and foreshadowing. Getting short stories completed, edited and polished is good practice when it comes to your much longer novel.

Procrastinating

Now hear me out. If you’ve spent 11 months of the past year arsing around, then that’s unlikely to help you in the long run. If however, you’ve spent the last year reading books, reading writing-related blogs or magazines, listening to podcasts on the craft, Googling answers to your questions, or reading debut novel success stories, then that will all help you on your road to publication. Even watching the occasional Netflix documentary or series may give you inspiration for your story, an idea as to how to fix that plot hole, or even just highlight what makes an intriguing story. I recently answered a POV tense question which had been bugging me for weeks by listening to the always fabulous Writing Excuses podcast.

Blogging and getting yourself a platform

This is self-explanatory. Every writer is told that they need a ‘platform’ to reach out to their readers. By starting early, you will hopefully already have a readership so will be more likely to be signed up by an agent. Also, if you’re self-publishing, you may already have a couple of potential readers. Awesome!

Dedicating yourself to your book

Two years in and haven’t given up yet? You obviously think your novel is really good and enjoy writing it. A lot of people would have given up after two years but you haven’t and not only does that say something great about you as a person, it says something about your novel. You believe in it and if you believe in it enough to stick at it for several months, years or even decades then damn, it must be amazing.

Spending time away from your desk

As with any job, it’s important to leave work at work and home at home. Perhaps you haven’t finished your novel because you’ve been too busy enjoying your life and spending time with the people you love. There’s nothing wrong with that.

And finally…

I admit it’s ironic that this post was written as an escape from having to actually face my novel but this procrastination has served its purpose. I no longer feel guilty about not having my novel finished, and I really can see a massive improvement between my first (terrible) draft and my current one. I will now log off from blogging, put my butt in gear, and get writing!


Editing and re-drafting – a checklist, part two

Thanks so much for all your lovely comments RE part one of this blog post, it’s great to hear that my posts help not only me but others too, and I hope part two is as helpful and insightful as part one. Without further ado, let’s begin…

Overworked descriptions and cliche metaphors

I realise that overworked and cliche are two different things but keep an eye out for both, as they risk making your work look like the uninteresting ramblings of an amateur writer. To clarify:

Overworked description

“Hannah clumsily grabbed her red, ceramic, heavy mug and filled it to the brim with scalding, hot, brown coffee. It burnt her calloused, dry hands.”

Although this sentence is not horrendous, it’s a little too descriptive. One or two adjectives would have sufficed. See below.

“Hannah grabbed her mug and filled it to the brim with scalding coffee. It burnt her calloused hands.”

Much better!

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Cliche metaphors

This one is self-explanatory but some examples of a cliche metaphor are:
– His eyes shone like diamonds
– Her rosy, red cheeks
– His deep, blue eyes

Accidental or thinly veiled racism/sexism/homophobia etc.

Sadly this is more common in novels than you may think. Of course, most of the time the author does not intend to offend, but it does happen. I have read a few reviews of a current popular novel where the readers felt that the only POC in the novel was represented badly (she was bitchy and homophobic with apparently no redeeming characteristics), so when creating characters, please be aware of the above.

Representation

Of course, only you, the writer, know your story world and its inhabitants, but it may be wise to consider whether or not your cast is representative of both ethnicity and gender, especially if it’s set in today’s modern world.

Watch out for outlandish developments

Every plot point and development needs to be a logical step up from what has happened before it. Even shocking plot twists or action scenes have a build up and have been ‘set up’ to some degree. Everything needs to be linked, or the result of something that precedes it, so try not to add in outlandish plot points just to ‘spice up’ your novel. I was recently reading (and enjoying) a novel where there was no mention of cannibals, until all of a sudden, just for a little bit of conflict, the protagonist was abducted and almost spit-roasted for dinner. It struck me as out of place, awfully random and to be honest, a bit stupid. All events in your novel are stitched together, so keep your eyes peeled for any random scenes or pointless developments.

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Make sure your MC is actually participating in conversations

This may sound stupid but keep an eye out for this, especially if there are lots of characters. It’s all too easy to allow your protagonist to take a back seat and merely observe events and interactions. Make sure your MC is a driving force in the conversations – it’s easy (especially in first-person) to have the narrator pass thought or judgement on a situation in their head when it may be best if they were to make their judgment out loud to the other characters.

Is your main character somewhat likeable?

Don’t get me wrong, flawed protagonists are great, but your readers must want to root for them, so they have to have something going for them, even if that thing is pure grit or ruthlessness in gaining the story goal. They don’t need to be perfect or even nice, but at a basic level check that they aren’t (unless intentional), any of the following: racist, sexist, unnecessarily bitchy, unfairly jealous, whiny or homophobic).

Watch your use of nonsensical sentences

Of course, creatively writing is part of the fun, so go forth and use your imagination but read every sentence to make sure it does actually make sense. There’s no point trying too hard to be literary or whimsical if the meaning behind the sentence is lost to the reader.

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Watch out for deep yet pointless conversations

A deep conversation is all well and good but if it randomly appears in your novel and doesn’t contribute to the overall goal or theme then cut it – it’s just fluff.

Don’t make your antagonist flat

No one is 100% evil, not even your villain. Evil for the sake of evil is something that comes up in a lot of negative book reviews, so make sure your book isn’t one of them. As well as this, don’t make your protagonist 100% good. No one likes a Mary Sue.

Consistency throughout

Another obvious point that is all too easy to overlook. Ensure consistency throughout. Some examples of things to look out for:

  • The weather – if it’s snowing one minute, chances are it’s not going to be boiling hot the next.
  • Character hair, eye colour, clothing or jewellery.
  • Where your characters are in relation to one another as well as if they are sitting or standing. Also, which characters are actually in the scene.
  • Time of day
  • Spelling of names, places, and made up things.

The above is just the start. There are so many things (most of which will be unique to your novel) which you will need to keep a check on. For example, in a scene in my novel, my characters are wearing masks that cover their mouths. It would, therefore, be a bit stupid if I forgot this and described a character’s smile (because how the heck would you know if he was smiling or not?!). FYI this totally happened. Oops.

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Do your research

If you’re representing a culture or a movement (think BDSM in 50 Shades) do your research so as not to offend those who are part of it. 50 Shades often has those involved in the BDSM movement complaining that it’s not accurate and is sexist etc. This also applies to different cultures – you don’t want to cause offense.

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Checking mechanics

Your protagonist is hot-wiring a car? Check that the methods used are viable and correct (but don’t put your new-found knowledge to use!).

Do you have too much inner monologue?

This boils down to the whole show-don’t-tell thing (see part 1). If the protagonist is talking to himself and summarising what’s happening, would it be better and more engrossing to the reader if it was changed to action or dialogue? The answer may be no but it’s worth checking just to be sure.

Have you started in the correct place?

If your novel only picks up pace in the last 75% (like several books I’ve read recently) then consider starting the novel later. You don’t want your readers to give up before the good bit, so why not move the good bit forward.

Are your characters cardboard cut out or cliche?

Is your novel populated with dumb blondes, geeky redheads who look gorgeous when they take off their glasses, handsome square-jawed football players or brooding dark-haired Byronic heroes? If yes, consider changing it up a bit. As well as this, make sure your characters are multi-faceted. Why not give your star football player an interest in sewing, or make the seemingly dumb blonde an owner of a multi-million dollar company? Use your imagination and inject some uniqueness and life into your world.

And that’s it for now! Let me know what you think of the above in the comments!


Editing and re-drafting – a checklist, part one

Hi guys,

This week I thought I’d write a blog post detailing some of the things to look out for when re-drafting and editing your novel. I’m currently at this stage in my own novel writing journey and it’s arguably the hardest stage so far – perhaps even worse than the dreaded first draft. I will be referring to this list continuously myself as I draft, re-draft and hone my novel and I hope it will be just as useful to you. I have split this post into two parts as it would have been a little bit too long to be one. Part two is now live and can be found here

 

Dialogue tags

When writing dialogue, keep fancy dialogue tags to a minimum. There is nothing wrong with plain old ‘said’. Changing it up every now and then to add variation and drama is fine, but if your novel reads like:

She sniffs
He snorts
I retort
He screams
She yells

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Fix it, because it does get annoying. I recently stopped reading a novel 3 pages in because I just couldn’t get past the annoying use of tags.

Show don’t tell

Sorry to bring up the obvious – and you will have heard this numerous times – but it’s important, hence why it keeps cropping up. Show the reader your protagonist is distraught through body language, don’t tell them straight up that your protagonist is ‘sad’. Telling instead of showing distances the reader and this is the last thing you want to do.

Even worse than telling is over telling. If you’ve dedicated a whole paragraph to describing how your MC’s (main charactrer’s) love interest is sad, think about it – could this have been portrayed by describing her drooping shoulders or a flicker in her eyes?

Typos

Another obvious yet important point. Even the most well-crafted sentence or most beautifully-designed story world can be completely undermined by a single typo. It’s a sure-fire way to ensure both readers and agents stop reading immediately.

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Repetition

Keep an eye out for repetitive dialogue, imagery or word use. Also, check that you aren’t repeating something in dialogue that’s already been said via inner monologue and vice versa. As well as this, watch out that you don’t mention something unimportant more than once, as you risk bringing too much attention to it. The dad character is too busy on his mobile phone to pay attention to your protagonist? Great, mention the phone once and then leave it, don’t keep referring to it after every mention of the father.

Realistic dialogue

Dialogue should be interesting and believable. Are your characters saying hello every time they meet? Cut it. Are they discussing something in unnecessary detail, purely for the sake of the reader? Cut it.

Example: If your MC and his mother are talking about that time when MC’s sister tried to kill herself, they wouldn’t discuss it like this, as they both already know the details of what happened.

“Mother, I don’t want to leave her because she tried to kill herself seven months ago by taking 20 packets of pain-killers.”

This exchange is being used purely to relay backstory to the reader and it shows. There’s no subtlety or intrigue and it’s just plain amateur. There has to be a better way to get the information across.

Also, make sure there is a point to every piece of dialogue included. Don’t include a rambling conversation between your protagonist and their next-door neighbour purely to set the scene, unless of course, the neighbour is an important element of the storyline.

The mirror scene

Ah, the good old ‘using a mirror to describe the appearance of the first-person protagonist’ trick. There is nothing inherently wrong with a mirror scene, but think carefully about having one and if you do, make sure it is interesting. I have one in my novel at the moment and I’m debating getting rid of it entirely. It’s a good device to use to describe your protagonist, but it’s done so often that it’s becoming a ‘trope’.

Cut lectures and long, preachy paragraphs

A well-written novel will have substance and morals, but these will be weaved subtly throughout and won’t be force-fed down the reader’s throat. Avoid sounding preachy by cutting down (or even cutting out completely) long paragraphs used purely to relay your opinions on certain divisive topics.

Cut the exclamation marks unless absolutely necessary

Self-explanatory.

Pretentious, annoying names

Keep an eye out for these. Unique names are great, ridiculous ones are off-putting.

Do all your novel elements make sense together?

At risk of sounding mean and crass, if you’ve just dumped every interesting thought you’ve ever had into your novel, then chances are, it’s not structured or well thought out, and will only be interesting to you, and you alone. If you’ve got a load of cool but vaguely (if at all) stitched-together ideas, then perhaps you need to seriously think about your story structure. If you’re serious about publishing your novel once it’s done, perhaps take one of the interesting elements and play with that and cut anything that doesn’t fit with it.

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Believable relationships

Insta love – it’s a word that appears on Goodreads a lot. Some readers love it but most hate it. People don’t just fall in love in seconds or even days. Lust perhaps, but love, no. Build up the relationship believably before you plunge in with the L word.

Infodumping

Do you have too much backstory or exposition in one paragraph or even in one chapter? If so, consider drip feeding it instead. Also while you’re at it, think – do you really need a whole paragraph to describe something when in fact a single sentence would do just fine?

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Are you giving things away too quickly?

I read a novel that did this quite recently. Basically, the novel was about a present-day female protagonist who was brought back in time to marry a lord in medieval Scotland. Sounds great, right? Wrong! Instead of joining the protagonist as she wakes up in medieval Scotland with no idea what had just happened to her, the readers are told within the first chapter what is about to happen to her via several paragraphs of clunky backstory. What could have been an intriguing, drip-fed premise had been laid bare in a single paragraph and explained in painful detail. Why should I read on when I already know what is going to happen?!

Characters referring to each other by name all the time

That’s not how we talk. Period.

Too much lengthy description about unimportant things

Yes, scene-setting is great but please don’t discuss your MC’s handbag through three paragraphs of detailed description if it’s not relevant to the plot.

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Foreshadowing

If your twist comes out of nowhere, then you may need to go back and add in little hints as to what’s to come. Yes, it needs to be a surprise (it’s a twist after all) but it needs to also be believable. If all of a sudden your MC turns into a frog because of a curse you need to at some point discuss said curse beforehand, even if it’s just briefly.

And that’s it for part one. Now on to part two.


Novel writing inspiration

Hi guys,

This blog post is a little bit different to usual and aims to inspire those of you who are on the lookout for new and interesting ideas for storylines. As we all know, it can be hard and frustrating to find inspiration especially if you are actively searching for it, so I’ve come up with a list of internet articles I’ve read recently that I believe would make fabulous starting points for those of you who are stuck.

I’ll keep it brief as it’s relatively easy to find said inspiration when you know where to look, and what to look for! The majority of these articles have come from the ‘BBC Futures’ website which I cannot recommend highly enough – its articles are full of thought-provoking ideas and questions which could form the basis of extremely unique storylines. I find the below links so interesting, that it took me a while to decide whether or not to share them on here, or keep them to myself (selfish, I know…).

Have fun exploring, and let me know any other articles you find in the comment box below…

1. An article about a tribe in Thailand, where the children can see underwater almost perfectly.

Ko Surin, Thailand. 11th Oct, 2013. Danong, an indigenous Moken man, hunts for fish using a traditional bamboo spear near his village in Ko Surin National Park, Thailand. Often called sea nomads or sea gypsies, the Moken are a seafaring people who for cen Source

“When the tide came in, these kids started swimming. But not like I had seen before. They were more underwater than above water, they had their eyes wide open – they were like little dolphins.” – Quote from article

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160229-the-sea-nomad-children-who-see-like-dolphins

2. An article discussing the pros and cons of ‘designer babies’.

desisisi1 Source

“The colloquial term “designer baby” refers to a baby whose genetic makeup has been artificially selected by genetic engineering combined with in vitro fertilization to ensure the presence or absence of particular genes or characteristics.” – wikipedia

http://bleedingheartlibertarians.com/2013/10/designer-babies/

3. An article exploring the notion of death, how we define it, and the fate of people whose brains have died but whose bodies continue to live

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“Their hearts are still beating. They urinate. Their bodies don’t decompose and they are warm to the touch; their stomachs rumble, their wounds heal and their guts can digest food. They can have heart attacks, catch a fever and suffer from bedsores. They can blush and sweat – they can even have babies. 

And yet, according to most legal definitions and the vast majority of doctors these patients are thoroughly, indisputably deceased.” – Quote from article

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20161103-the-macabre-fate-of-beating-heart-corpses

4. A theoretical discussion about what might happen if everyone in the world starting eating as a vegetarian

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“Eliminating meat from our diets would bring a bounty of benefits to both our own health and the planet’s – but it could also harm millions of people.” – Quote from article

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160926-what-would-happen-if-the-world-suddenly-went-vegetarian

5. An article about a woman who is allergic to water

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“Rachel’s rare condition means that a bath is agony; even her own tears will scorch her face. How can the human body reject life’s most basic necessity?” – Quote from Article

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160915-the-woman-who-is-allergic-to-water

6. Doppelgangers

“It’s on your passport. It’s how criminals are identified in a line-up. It’s how you’re recognised by old friends on the street, even after years apart. Your face: it’s so tangled up with your identity, soon it may be all you need to unlock your smartphone, access your office or buy a house.” – Quote from article

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160712-you-are-surprisingly-likely-to-have-a-living-doppelganger

7. An article about a man whose brain create false memories

p03sdcyh.jpg Source

“Due to an unusual illness, Matthew creates false memories that seem as vivid as the real thing. He’s had to learn to live with a past that is as uncertain as the future.” – Quote from article

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160428-this-is-how-it-feels-to-learn-your-memories-are-fiction

8. An article exploring how people ‘live on’ after death through social media

p03mkqtx Source

“At some point, there will be more dead Facebook users than living ones – and for those left behind, it is transforming how we experience the death of those around us.” – Quote from article

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160313-the-unstoppable-rise-of-the-facebook-dead

9. And finally, an article discussing “individualism” and “collectivism” in society

p04pxk86.jpg Source

“Psychologists are uncovering the surprising influence of geography on our reasoning, behaviour, and sense of self.” – Quote from article

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170118-how-east-and-west-think-in-profoundly-different-ways

 

And that’s all for now! Let me know if you come across anything of interest!

Happy creating!

Heather

 

 


Adding conflict into your novel: list post

As we all know, introducing varying levels of conflict throughout your novel is important, and to help you all out, I’ve written a quick list post detailing ways to add it into your novel. Although not all of the below will be relevant to your own writing, hopefully the list will help to highlight the many ways you can ramp up the tension in your novel, and will help you to come up with your own.

As you can see, conflict doesn’t have to come from a catastrophic event, and can be as seemingly insignificant as a stomach virus – perhaps your protagonist passed the virus onto her crush, who in turn, missed the prom.

A secret kiss

A fight

A lost object

An argument

An enemy

A death

A natural disaster

Self doubt

A specific rule or regulation

An injury

A rivalry

Rallying against those in charge

Head vs Heart

An illness

A fire

A bad omen

A breakdown (physical or mental)

A breakdown in communication

An animal attack

An obstacle

A revenge attack

A trip or a fall

A car accident

A robbery

A marriage

A divorce

A parent enforcing the rules

Morality vs desire

A secret

A gunshot

A power cut

A broken down vehicle

An ex-boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife/friend

A broken object

A missed train or bus

Feel free to add your own ideas into the comments!

 

 


Book review – Sheltering Rain by JoJo Moyes

 

Sheltering Rain
JoJo Moyes
HarperTorch, 2002
4.5/5

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Me Before You (now a major motion picture) comes the touching, unforgettable story of three generations of Irish women faced with the fundamental truths of love, duty, and the unbreakable bond that unites mothers and daughters

Estranged from her mother since she ran away from her rural Irish home as a young woman, Kate swore an oath that she’d always be a friend to her daughter, Sabine. But history has a way of repeating itself, and Kate now faces an ever-widening chasm between herself and her daughter. With Sabine about to make her own journey to Ireland to see her grandmother, Kate is left wondering how they ever made it here, and what she can do to close the gap between them.

For Joy, seeing her granddaughter is a dream come true. After the painful separation from Kate, she’s looking forward to having time with Sabine. Yet almost as soon as the young woman arrives, the lack of common ground between them deflates her enthusiasm. And when Sabine’s impetuous, inquisitive nature forces Joy to face long-buried secrets from her past, she realizes that perhaps it’s time to finally heal old wounds.

Description and blurb taken from Goodreads

The Positives

JoJo Moyes’ debut novel Sheltering Rain has shown me that you can write a fabulous, well-crafted first novel, but you may still have to wait another ten years before acquiring the type of world-wide fame brought by a best-seller like Me Before You. It has become apparent to me that, although her debut book was great, writing well consistently and over a number of years is often the commitment an author must make in order to achieve world-wide domination in the industry. As the saying goes:

Practice makes perfect. 

I came across the book purely by chance. My grandma Sheila had been given the book by a friend, and because she was reading my copy of After You, she knew I was a fan of Moyes. I was excited by the book because I wanted to see how Moyes’ first novel compared to her recent best-sellers. I have read her second novel Forbidden Fruit which I really enjoyed (I really should have written a review for that one…) so I felt optimistic that Sheltering Rain would also not disappoint. I was right.

This book has been added to my list of favourite recent reads, and books that serve to truly inspire me. I thoroughly enjoyed it, believed the characters and was hooked from the first page to the last. If I can write a first novel as good as Moyes (miracles happen, right?) then I will be over the moon.

Characters

The characters are well developed, with backstory, intricate relationships, different personalities, flaws and goals all of their own. There are a lot of characters, and I am impressed with Moyes’ ability to manage them all, without getting herself or the reader lost along the way.

In just about any ‘how to’ on the topic of fiction writing, creating backstory for characters almost always comes with a warning. You do not want to write so much that it detracts from the story, however, the characters need to be believable as having a complex past that has shaped them, and the story. Finding the balance is a key element in writing a successful novel, and I think Moyes’ has done an excellent job of doing just that. The back story in Sheltering Rain exists because it adds to the story – it builds the characters to be who they are, as well as building the narrative tension. I wanted to know more about the secrets Moyes’ hinted at throughout, and I wanted to know why the characters behaved as they did. Moyes revealed it all in good time, which I felt added to – rather than subtracted from – the story.

Narrative point of view

What I think Moyes did really well with this book is her use of three different points of view. The story is told from the perspective of three women, from three different generations of the same family.

Usually, I struggle with head-hopping narratives, as I don’t like to be jerked from one mind to another and I sometimes find it hard to follow. However, Moyes handled it well – each character had a clear and distinct narrative voice and no head-hopping occurred within chapters.

Ultimately, Moyes’ POV choice helped to explore a meaningful and engaging premise – that it is easy to assume how other people are feeling and why they act in a certain way, but unless you walk in their shoes, you couldn’t possibly know. Personally, I enjoy stories that I feel I can learn from, and Sheltering Rain is a story that I feel helped me to engage with and understand aspects of my own life that exist way past the pages of the novel. It was intriguing to see how each narrator perceived the other two woman’s actions, and their assumed motives behind them. I liked to be able to compare the perceived motives with the actual motives, because there was often a great amount of misunderstanding between all three women, resulting in plenty of conflict (and we all know how important conflict is in writing!). 

Writing style

In terms of writing style, I was very much at ease when reading this book. It didn’t seem too much like hard work, and although there was not pages and pages of description getting in the way, I felt there was enough for me to immerse myself in the story. If I were to compare it to her more recent books, I would say that Sheltering Rain has a bit more of an elaborate/ornate style than Me Before You, although both styles worked for me.

I would assume that over time, and with plenty of practice and editing, Moyes has managed to hone the skill of giving vivid description in a succinct, subtle and unobtrusive way. This is a skill that I’d like to develop in my own writing, and one that I know will only come with practice.

Taking a critical view

Cover

Being a designer, I can’t pick up a book without judging the cover, and although I am careful not to let the cover dictate too me whether or not I buy the book, a good cover certainly helps to catch attention. After all, the first step in selling a book is to get readers to notice that it actually exists. We have written more about the importance of cover design here.

The cover for Sheltering Rain was nice, although personally, I feel it was not eye-catching in the slightest. It employs the typical flat illustration style often seen on Romantic Fiction novel covers, and the rather cliche silhouette of a woman. I understand that to some degree it is important that a novel looks clearly as if it sits within a genre, but perhaps even more importantly, is that it should stand out amongst its competition. If I had not been handed the book and had not been expressly told it was written by JoJo Moyes, I would probably not have even noticed it if it were on a shelf surrounded by hundreds of others. To conclude, my verdict is that it is an average cover for a higher than average book. Lesson being (here comes another saying!!):

Don’t judge a book by its cover. Much.

In conclusion

I would recommend this book to friends, and it has been one of my favourite recent reads. It was a strong story, full of emotion, passion and intrigue. It has also spiked my interest to hunt out more debut novels by best-selling authors, as I find it fascinating to see where they started compared to where they are now.


How to fit writing into your life

Hi guys,

Just a quick list post detailing several different ways of sneaking that little extra bit of writing time into your life! It’s a bit hypocritical of me as I’ve chosen to write this as opposed to actually getting on with my novel or short stories but oh well…here goes!

1. Try to write 500 words a day

Exactly as it sounds, try and write a minimum of 500 words per day. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it works! My sister, Becca, has written 70,000 words of her first draft this way. It needn’t be 500 words exactly, just choose a goal that you believe to be attainable and get cracking!

Why this will work:

In his eBook Mastering creativity, James Clear explores the importance of having a schedule and sticking to it – to him, consistency and routine is the difference between being a professional, and being an amateur. 

He says

if you’re serious about creating something compelling, you need to stop waiting for motivation and inspiration to strike you and simply set a schedule for doing work on a consistent basis. Of course, that’s easy to say, but much harder to do in practice…..If you don’t have a time block to write every week, then you’ll find yourself saying things like, “I just need to find the willpower to do it.” Stop waiting for motivation or inspiration to strike you and set a schedule for your habits’.

The entire publication is well worth a read. Find it here. Bottom line is, if you set yourself a schedule and stick to it, it will soon become a habit – as integral to your daily routine as brushing your teeth in the morning.

2. Set a timer for 15 minutes each day and write

Very similar to the above point, but you set a timer instead. This may work better if you have less time, as you know exactly how long you will need so will be easier to stick to and schedule in. Just promise yourself you will write AT LEAST until the timer finishes, and more if you fancy it. You could end up writing for hours. OR you could end up writing for 15 minutes. But hey, at least you’re making progress! I’m very tempted to give this method a go, as I’ve been slacking BIG TIME on my writing recently.

3. Devote one day a week to writing

It doesn’t have to be a whole day, but choose a day where you are free of other commitments and spend a few hours writing. This is what I (try to) do. I’m busy the rest of the week with work (now part-time, woohoo) and then freelancing afterward, so I tend to write on weekends. Sundays generally work for me, so I’ll try and sit down and crack out 3 or 4 hours of writing. Although this can work out really well (I once wrote 10,000 words in a day…) it can also be harder to keep to. Life happens, and sometimes your writing days will end up being filled with other commitments. It’s definitely worth giving it a go though, especially if you’re like me, and like to write in big chunks.

4. Download Evernote and write on the train/in lunch breaks/whilst waiting to pick up the kids etc 

I love Evernote! I downloaded it over a year ago when I first started writing, and I used this method when I was writing my first draft. I was commuting into London every day and would try to add a little bit to my draft every morning (assuming I got a seat on the train). It worked great and, even though the writing was appalling (I absolutely hate typing on phones), I succeeded in outlining the main story-line this way. Evernote also allows you to access all your notes on any computer/iPad with an internet connection, so you can get home and pick up where you left off on your laptop. It is also a good source for note taking. 

Top tip: Split your writing into chapters, or scenes, and have each one in a different ‘note’, otherwise you will find yourself having to scroll for ten minutes just to find the bit of writing you’re looking for. Not ideal. Remember, you can finalise chapter breaks properly once you are in the editing stage – you don’t need to commit to these specific breaks permanently, it is just easier from a usability perspective whilst you are at the drafting stage.  

5. Ignore how bad your writing is

So you’ve found the time to write, which is great, but sometimes the quality of our writing can stop us in our tracks! Don’t sweat it. Sometimes our brains just don’t work (example, I just wrote ‘sometims our bains don’t work’…) but don’t let this put you off. If you’re having one of those days, just dump as much as you can on the page (no actual dumping please…). You never know, 10% of it could be salvageable and at least you’ve made progress. Moral of the story: any writing is better than no writing. Again, James Clear advocates the idea that you should give yourself permission to create junk:

Creative work is no different than training in the gym. You can’t selectively choose your best moments and only work on the days when you have great ideas. The only way to unveil the great ideas inside of you is to go through a volume of work, put in your repetitions, and show up over and over again. Obviously, doing something below average is never the goal. But you have to give yourself permission to grind through the occasional days of below average work because it’s the price you have to pay to get to excellent work.

That’s all for now!


Where to find ideas for your creative writing

Hi guys, just a quick list post today. I’m aware that there are many awesome similar blog posts detailing how to get ideas for your writing, but I figured I would write one anyway. When I first started trying to come up with ideas, I struggled, probably because I would sit for hours going over things in my head, trying to ‘force’ an idea to come. This is not the way forward. True inspiration is easy to come by; all you need to do is be mindful of your environment and let it come to you. Trust me, once you start doing this, you will have more ideas and inspiration than you actually have time to write about!
So here goes….

1. Pinterest/writing prompt websites

Pinterest has been a lifesaver during my creative writing journey. As well as providing useful articles RE anything novel related, it is also a good place to find novel writing inspiration. Just search ‘writing prompts’ or similar, and away you go!

2. Lines from songs

This idea came to me one day at work. I was listening to one of my Spotify playlists when I heard a song lyric that really resonated. And then it occurred to me – if a single song lyric is strong enough to evoke an emotion from within me, surely a whole novel based around said lyric would result in an engaging and emotionally charged story.

3. News stories

Although the news these days can be pretty depressing, it can also provide inspiration for your creative writing. Every good novel or short story is successful because it manages to evoke feelings and emotions in the reader. News stories can provide this in abundance.
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Source

4. Moral dilemmas and ethical questions

As stated in a previous point, novels are at their best when they result in a strong emotional response from the reader. One of the best ways to do this is by presenting some form of moral dilemma or ethical question. Think Robin Hood or Ian McEwan’s Atonement. Googling ‘moral dilemmas’ is a great place to start with this one.

5. Your personal opinions

Your personal opinions can be useful when you are looking for novel writing inspiration. The whole point of a novel is to tell a story, but this story must have an underlying premise or moral of some form or another. Maybe you feel strongly about animal rights, or you are against capital punishment. How might you tell a story that encompasses these opinions, in a bid to share them with the world? An example of this is Karen Fowler’s We are all Completely Beside Ourselves, which is well worth a read.

6. From your dreams

This is how I came up with the idea for my novel. I woke up one day from a dream, with a vivid (and awesome!) image in my head. Of course, it wasn’t a fully formed novel (and I’m still not quite at that stage yet), but it provided a great starting point. This, combined with a sketch I doodled half-heartedly one day (see point 14), resulted in the creation of my story world.

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7. From your daydreams

Similar to above, but if you’re the sort of person who likes to imagine yourself in various imaginary situations (GUILTY), how about substituting yourself with an interesting made-up character?

8. Netflix/films/TV shows/books

Existing TV shows, films, and books can provide a great starting point for your creative writing. Of course, you don’t want to copy the exact characters, plot, or storyline, but there’s nothing stopping you from taking a minor character and reimagining them (kind of like fan fiction). What might happen if they were the main character? What story would they tell? If this idea doesn’t appeal, perhaps you could look at the central conflict – perhaps the main characters are having an affair? Perhaps the protagonist is trying in vain to get their child back? What might happen if you take these characters and place them in a completely different story world? The sky is the limit! Plus, it’s an excuse to watch Netflix…

9. People watching

People watching is a great way to come up with interesting characters. Perhaps you’ve seen an eccentric lady pushing a doll around in a pram, or a well dressed but sad businessman. What might be happening in their lives? Where might they live? What could their interests and hobbies be?

10. Interesting photos

Websites like Oddee.com and Buzzfeed often publish list posts highlighting interesting places. It could be ’50 creepy abandoned ghost towns’ or even ’25 places you should visit in Scotland.’ These can provide amazing ideas for story settings, worlds, and plotlines. With the former, ask why these places might be abandoned? What were they like in their heyday?
abandoned-carnival-644625     ruin-343669_1920  Screen Shot 2015-10-29 at 19.21.10

 

11. Fairy tales

Perhaps take your favourite fairy tale and place it in a completely different era? Cinderella in the stone age? Rapunzel in the future? You get the idea!

12. Driving/walking around

When you drive and walk around, keep your eyes peeled for interesting scene ideas. Perhaps you drive past an abandoned barn or a towering derelict building. These could both form the basis of a story world or a scene.

13. From personal experiences

I’m personally not an overly interesting person (!!!), but you might be. If you’ve been through something extraordinary, have a super unique hobby, or even just a quirky personality, you could well have a great starting point for a novel or a character!

14. Doodling

I get a lot of my character ideas and setting ideas by doodling things. I don’t set out to look for inspiration this way, but if I’ve done an interesting doodle of a scene or a character, I store these away in hope that one day I’ll get to write about them!

And that’s all for today! I hope you find the above tips helpful, and let me know any of your favourite ways to get inspiration in the comments!