Monday, June 16, 2014

Book I've read lately

When I was in Africa (yes I promise I'll write a proper post of my adventures at some point) I spent a LOT of time on a truck driving cross country. In the last three weeks when we headed into East Africa we'd often spend up to 14 hours on the truck each day. It was kind of awful. It was SO hot and sticky, any bathroom breaks were squatting on the side of the road, and our lunches were usually a piece of plastic cheese slapped between two slices of cornbread. (Needless to say we all lost weight). Anyway, more on that another time. It was an amazing experience and I had the chance to read so many books. I'm not going to review them all but thought I'd give a quick run down here.....

  1. Before I Fall - It got a little repetitive but overall I really enjoyed it. I love seeing a huge character transformation, especially when it's based so solidly in reality
  2. If You Find Me - A heartbreaking yet beautiful story. I really enjoyed it and it's stuck with me too which is always a good sign
  3. Gone Girl - Oh my GOSH yes. Such an intricate, complicated and incredibly clever story. Interested to see what they do with the movie. The ending infuriated me something wicked, another reason I love it. They didn't give me the ending I wanted. 
  4. Calling Me Home - A stunning novel. I love split historical novels like this - half in the past, half today, and with a dash of the civil rights movement... it's a brilliant story and very well told. 
  5. The Time Keeper - I think if I hadn't read this in a day it would've taken me a long time to read it. It didn't pull me in. It was kind of weirdly told... but I kept reading and I still, four months on, think about the story a lot. It has a lot of power in it, and I really loved that.
  6. The Kindrily Series - I adored this series. I've only linked to the first book here, but all three were great. I really got immersed in the story of the characters and truly loved the plot and the mysteries. It's a shame it's not more widely known.
  7. Ruby Red Trilogy - I've actually only just finished series this as I only had the first one on my kindle in Africa but I loved it. A great mix of teen drama, romantic frustrations and time travelling 'someone is going to kill us' type of drama. The story moves easily and hooks you in straight away. I love it. I want more! (I still REALLY hate the covers though)
  8. A Bit Mental - Not fiction, not at all. But a really interesting memoir about a guy from New Zealand suffering from depression and what he did to help himself overcome it. Quite inspiring actually. 
  9. Between Shades of Grey - Beautiful, stunning, heartbreaking story. I had no idea about the Soviet genocide and this really opened my eyes. So well written but it really does break your heart into tiny little pieces and only sellotapes a few fragments back together. 
  10. Orphan Train - One of my favourite books this year. Reminded me a lot of my all time favourite book The Tea Rose. A really lovely story and the true meaning of 'started from the bottom now we here'. It really touched me. I seriously recommend this book
  11. I'd Know You Anywhere - I'm still not entirely sure or convinced about this book. Great premise... it just didn't sit right with me
  12. Where the Stars Still Shine - Oooh this book was nice. It wasn't as deep as many of the others I've put on here but I did really enjoy it. And I learned about sea sponges from it, which is kind of cool. It was a much better story than I was expecting
  13. Pretty Little Things - Haunting, scary and sad. It's a good book but very disturbing. For the first time ever I did guess who the killer was though. I usually don't read crime books because I never know who did it until it's revealed even though everyone figured it out on page 9.... I figured this one out, I was pretty proud of myself. It was really well done though :)
  14. If I Stay - I loved this book. Such a great concept and so well written. I'm really looking forward to the movie
  15. Where She Went - A follow up to If I Stay told several years after Mia's accident and told from Adam's point of view. Really sad the state of things when the book opens but over the course of one evening things change a lot and it's really cool to read and see why things happened the way they did. Not as good as If I Stay, but I still really enjoyed it.
  16. Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children - I don't think I would have read this book if I hadn't been on a truck for so many hours, but I really enjoyed it once I got into it. It did take me a while to get into it though.... Great concept, very well told. Reading the sequel currently!
  17. The Ocean at the End of the Lane - This book has had praise heaped upon it. I tried three separate times to get into it and it just didn't draw me in. I wish I could've loved it. Maybe I'm doing something wrong?
  18. Auschwitz: A Doctors Eyewitness Account - words cannot even begin to describe how disgusted I am with what the human race is capable of. And what we do in desperate situations can be almost as bad. This is a book that is ... very hard to read. For obvious reasons. 
  19. The Luminaries - An author with my own nationality, oh how proud we are of Eleanor Catton. Unfortunately, hard as I tried, I just couldn't get past the first chapter. I tend to stick to YA novels and this is certainly not YA. Despite having been to the places written about in the book and being able to picture them with perfect clarity, for me the book is too complex! She's a genius, and I, am afraid, am not (so much so I can't even read the writing of said genius). I've heard from many it's a brilliant book. Obviously it is, but for me I found it too wordy, too descriptive and very slow. Like I said though, I didn't get past chapter one, things could change greatly in the following chapters! Maybe one day i'll try again.
  20. Ender's Game - Maybe I wasn't in the mood but I just couldn't get past the writing style. I loved the movie and perhaps I was too stuck on that. I wanted to love it, but I just was so clueless as to what was going on for too much of the book that I got frustrated and stopped. Then I sat about wondering why I couldn't seem to get through one of the YA classics! Failure.
  21. A Stolen Life - What Jaycee went through is awful, and reading about it in such detail is so uncomfortable yet I guess that human curiosity propels you further, wanting to know what other horrors lay in store. 
  22. Flowers for Algernon - A classic, of course. Very powerful and an interesting story. A case, I believe, of science being pushed too far.
  23. Out of the Easy - Oh wow. I adored this book. So brilliantly written. I wanted more. I still want more. I love love love this book. Such a great story, so much action and I loved Josie, the main character. Waiting in anticipation for Ruta Sepetys next book.
  24. Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want To Know About Fast Food. - I never want to eat fast food again. Really interesting to learn about the origins of the insane food industry, but seriously. I've gone paleo and partially vegetarian and I don't even want to go near a McDonalds. Ew.
  25. Just Listen - This feels like a much younger book and has less depth than many of the other books I've read but I still really enjoyed it. One thing I did feel though was that it was almost exactly (save for a few details) like that book Speak... the one that was made into a movie with K-Stew... seriously, it's like exactly the same. But I still enjoyed it.
  26. Forgiving Ararat - Why can I just not get into some of these books that have good sounding plots?! I just got so confused in the first few chapters that I gave up. I'm sorry
  27. Chosen - This book really appealed to me being a child of adoption and I was excited to read it. It was told in multiple voices and none of them sounded any different from the other... sentences were confused and the story was so slow moving I gave up before I reached half way. Such a great premise though.
  28. Friends Forever - What happened? Isn't Danielle Steel supposed to be a writing super star? This book drags on and on. I managed to get to the end, but I don't know how. It was like watching someone mow the lawn. It moved slowly and big events (like main characters dying) seemed to only get a mention on one page, the next page the characters mourn and the next page they're partying at the local football game. I couldn't get past the writing either. Did DS really write it? A quick look on Goodreads shows I'm not alone in my opinion. Such a shame :(
  29. This is What Happy Looks Like - This is a perfect rainy Sunday afternoon light hearted teen book. I likened it to the equivalent of People Magazine or Hollywood Life. We're not talking high quality and suspense, we're talking what you really need to give your mind a rest and take yourself away from the pressures of life for a while. and I really enjoyed it!
  30. The Distance Between Us - Aww I liked this book. Another light hearted one, but throws in quite a few interesting twists along the way. I should read more books like this, they give me the warm fuzzies.
  31. Steve Jobs - This guy was such a genius, yet such an asshole. The book was long. I started it the day I left Turkey to move to London and it took me a month to finish it (I wasn't doing a lot of reading but it did take a long time to read.) A really interesting and incredible story. What a life he led. I love his lack of fear and his brilliant mind. He may have pissed a lot of people off but my gosh he changed the face of our world. 

So that's all I've read for now. I'm working on the second Miss Peregrine book at the moment and next up is 1984 (I'm going to see the show in August so want to read it before then), Elizabeth is Missing, While We Run, Sugar Salt Fat and Wheat Belly. So many great books! So little time! I need to go back to Africa so I can get through my book collection!!

What have you been reading lately?

My First Novel - Panel Discussion

I don't know how I have so little time to write posts at the moment given that I'm not working but I guess it's because I'm spending most of my free time writing my novel or playing the guitar and my blogging time just... gets away from me.

Anyway, I've been meaning to write this post for a while as I thought it might be of use to some people.
At the start of June I went to a panel discussion at the Southbank Centre in London called 'My First Novel'. It was a really great event and focused a lot of writing techniques, plot creation, query letters and the publishing industry as a whole.

The panel was led by novelist Kate Mosse (Labyrinth and The Winter Ghostsand she was joined by Felicity Blunt, an agent with Curtis Brown; Emma Healey a debut novelist whose first book Elizabeth is Missing was released a week and a half ago (and before that sparked a bidding war with publishing houses at London's book fair); Charlotte Mendelson a novelist (Daughters of Jerusalem and When We Were Badand publisher and finally novelist Sarah Waters (Fingersmith, Tipping the Velvet and The Night Watch among others),

Each person had something really worthwhile and significant to contribute to the discussion and there was a time for audiences to ask questions afterwards. I made really quick notes during the evening so the following will probably run a little like a commentary.... Much of it i'm sure you know, but nevertheless I hope it will be useful to some....

I was a little jealous of Emma. She originally began writing her book a few years back, writing little snippets here and there but wouldn't admit to being a writer or that she was writing a book for a long time. In the end she signed up to do her masters in Creative Writing at UEA and Elizabeth is Missing began to take shape. During her masters she met an agent from Curtis Brown who asked her to send her MS in once it was ready. So she did, and the rest is history. She said one thing that was important to her is that she always thought about the reader when she was writing. I thought that was a really interesting point. While I do often think about the reader and what they'll think when I'm writing, I mostly concentrate on the story and let the story go where it wants to go rather than worrying about what the reader might think. 

Felicity then piped up about what she looks for when she is reading a manuscript. She looks for something what leaps out at her. A large part of that is the title of the book. It needs to be interesting and a little mysterious. It needs to make the reader ask what the story might be about, and a book, when being queried, needs to have a title. There's no point in sending in 'untitled MS'. She said the cover letter also must be interesting, it must have a great synopsis and book description with a book but it mustn't be too long. She has emails coming in constantly and the phone rings and there's hundreds on manuscripts to look at, her interest needs to be grabbed almost instantly. Your pitch must be interesting. She advises not rushing your cover letter. Take your time with it, ensure it's brief and professional.

The best way to know that your title is catchy and your synopsis is right is to ask someone you trust to read it and be honest. Agents choose what they'll invest their time in initially with the some method we choose a book we're going to read - good title, pick up the book, turn it over and read the synopsis. Then if that sounds good, we're ready to read the book. A good way to develop the synopsis is by remembering what inspired you to write the book initially. What did that feel like when the idea came to you? Bring the passion back but keep it compact. What is inspiring to you is likely to be inspiring to the author. Remember, they want you too. Without writers there is no publishing! 

So query letters - short and professional, a short bit about your book and the synopsis, don't send a headshot (more on that soon), and they don't want to scroll through a long email given they're sent around 1000 queries a day! Look for an agent that represents your genre, don't waste your time (or their time) on an adult fiction crime agent if your book is YA fantasy. Find an agent near you. If you find one overseas it might be harder to make it work given time zones and whatnot. You want to be able to meet with them. Most agents have partners in different companies anyway to help sell your book in different places.

It was then Charlotte's turn to take the mic. First and foremost she wanted everyone to know that if you're finding your book hard to write, that doesn't make you special. This is always what it's like. It's hard. It's always going to be hard, whether it's your first book of your 21st book. You need to endure and keep going. Just because you think it's rubbish, it doesn't mean that it actually is rubbish. (cue laughter from the audience).

Sarah, who I might add had a number of fans in the audience who called her an absolute genius, they were ready to bow down and kiss her feet, had some advise about the process of writing. She's written 5 novels now and she said her process of writing is essentially the same as it always has been. It's the spirit of exploration that changes. She often does 2-3 months of pure research first (she writes historical novels), and through that research she finds her plots and her characters and then develops fiction out of that. She also works regular hours - Monday - Friday and it works for her. She said each book presents a different challenge and her most recent book took almost 5 years to write and perfect. Sometimes, she said, you just have to go over and over. Sarah did mention that chapter four is always the hardest to write as that's when there's a true change of pace in the novels. 

The audience were then invited to ask questions.

Emma was asked if she found the editing process, someone ripping her work to shreds, hard. She responded by saying that she was used to it after doing the masters, but it can still be frustrating at times. She said she self edited a lot and then would hand it to the editor who would rip it apart. However she said that everything someone could say that might help the book is good. Editors will be honest and that's important. Relish it and have a positive attitude. 

Sarah added that the editing process makes the book better but you may feel tired about it. Negative comments can be most useful though. Copy editing is so important and makes such a difference. She mentioned she had two editors, one in the UK and one in the USA for different audiences, that must be hard!

Charlotte mentioned that everyone needs editors so if you have someone who is intelligent and read books, then trust them. You may not agree but it may help you see something differently. Editors are great at pointing out the weak parts. 

One woman asked is looks have any bearing as to whether an author gets a book deal or not. She mentioned her friend was considering plastic surgery after seeing all the beautiful authors on latest release book covers. I think the jaws of everyone in the panel dropped about as far as they could. Every single one of them said 'no no no, do not let your friend get plastic surgery.' Looks have absolutely no bearing on whether or not a book is picked up. It's purely about the writing. Felicity even mentioned she finds it weird when authors send a head shot as when she's reading the MS she usually forgets the author exists and gets wrapped up in the story (mental note: don't send headshot.) So just in case you were wondering, what you look like does not matter at all. (and don't even think about plastic surgery. We are all who we are meant to be.)

The entire panel were asked about their thoughts on planning the book. Felicity straight away told the audience not to send an agent an outline of a book. They don't want that (obviously), they want the MS, or at least the first 3 chapters. 

Emma said she wrote a 15,000 word novel plan. She doesn't write in sequence so it was helpful. She colour coded it and wrote in different fonts... on reflection she's pretty sure that was just procrastination. However she has friends who write chronologically and only have a basic outline or a plan in their heads and it's totally fine. It's up to the individual.

Charlotte said her plans are a constantly evolving nightmare. She squishes it all together and works out where all the characters are and goes from there whereas Sarah said the novels she has had the least trouble with she's always had a plan. It's always basic and there is a lot in between she didn't know but she said she needs to know what she needs to say and how to say it. Kate contributed to this question by advising to choose the tools that are right for you. Perhaps writing chapter one is better than writing an outline. Agents and publishers don't buy an outline. Some writers prefer to have a total outline and some don't. There's no right way, just go with what works for you.

Another audience members asked why gay and lesbian characters are always secondary, not the main character. If we have gay marriage, why can't we have gay publication. This question took the panel by surprise but mentioned there were a number of books with gay characters and more coming out with central LGBT characters. They also mentioned the number of LGBT authors now, however not all of them write about gay or lesbian characters, but there certainly is some out there (maybe the market for this is growing, if anyone wants to pick it up?!)

Another audience member said her agent started sending out her MS in January yet it was now June and she hadn't heard a word from him. The book was part of a planned series and she wasn't sure what to do. Carry on with the series or start new? This confused Felicity and Charlotte who said she certainly should have heard by now either way. They said your agent should always be keeping you in the loop and that you have a right to bad news and to see the responses. There needs to be good communication between the agent and the author and if there's not maybe the relationship isn't working.

There was some talk about self-publishing, which I'm sure was a little awkward given they're all in the publishing industry in some way but Felicity said self publishing has had a huge effect on the industry in general and the reputation of it has changed a lot too, especially since 50 Shades of Grey. Some publishers do look at self-published authors and many authors have been picked up this way. Great success has been proven so there's definitely merit to it. They reminded the audience as a self-published author you're responsible for everything - price setting, marketing etc.

The panel were then asked how they transform good ideas into a plot.
Sarah said you can't not put a plot in a novel so you really need to find it. She always finds the characterisation harder and can find plots anywhere. She see's people at a bus stop and wonders about their story, for her it often goes from there.

Charlotte says she's the opposite. She finds characterisation harder. She said she finds her plot by looking at the interaction of people and what comes out of that. She also believes you don't have to start with a plot but it will appear to you.

Emma said if you have a good idea, the plot will reveal itself to you but if you can't see past the first scene it probably won't grow. Kate added to this by saying that things have to happen. Anything that isn't serving the plot should go. What is happening in each chapter? Write yourself into the plot but once you've found it, delete the unnecessary stuff. 

Someone asked Emma if she thought creative writing courses were useful and Emma said they're definitely more constructive than sharing your writing with friends and family who just want the best for you. You have to know why you're going though. It will help you to grow as a writer and will give you a lot of tips. It's also great if you just want a year to purely be a writer. 

Key Tips
  • Hard work is important
  • You need to have passion. You have got to want to do it. Finish it. Publish it etc.
  • Conserve your willpower. Sit down and write. Self motivation is vital. Other things you're doing - joining a gym, going on a diet, learning an instrument, it might cut into your willpower. If you can juggle it al that's fine, if not maybe wait until your first draft at least is written!
  • Once you've finished the first draft, leave it for a few weeks and then go back and look at everythign - character, plot, writing. If something bugs you, it will bug the agent and the publisher and the reader. Don't make an agent read something if you're not sold on it.
  • Be disciplined. Ask yourself, does that really work? Is that really what would happen? Is that really what it would sound like or feel like? Check your spelling and grammar.
  • You may be squeemish about someone seeing your writing, your precious baby you've been working so hard on... publishers and agents see manuscripts daily. They're not squeemish.
  • Don't be alarmed if you feel afraid. Just go with it.
  • It's difficult at times. Just try and be open with yourself
  • Be proud. Guard against cynicism. This is your path
  • Show your work to someone else. Don't fear their comments - it's all helpful!
  • Write for one minute. It's better than zero minutes.
And that's all! A long and length post, I know, and I apologise. I thought about splitting them up to make it easier for you all, but I thought having it all in one post will be helpful for referring back to it in the future. I hope this has helped somewhat. It was a really great panel discussion, and as soon as I left the auditorium I signed up for a few creative writing courses - really looking forward to them and grabbing some more helpful tips!

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What's Up Wednesday!

Wow, it's been a while since I did one of these!

What's Up Wednesday is a blog hop created by Jaime and Erin to help writers keep in touch with each other.

SO, without further ado....

What I'm Reading
I've just finished reading the Kindrily series which I really enjoyed and am now starting on Sapphire Blue, the second book in the Ruby Red series. Although I don't seem to have a lot of time to read at the moment, I'm spending more time working on my writing instead :)

What I'm Writing
A week ago I completely gutted my WIP that I've been working on for a year and a half and pretty much started again. I kept the bones of the original wip but it needed a total make over so hopefully this will make it much better!

What Inspires Me Right Now
My photos from my travels. I had so many great ideas for new stories while I was travelling and so many of them are held within the thousands of photos I took. I honestly get lost in them every time I start looking through them. The life that many Africans live is somewhat similar to the life of my central character in my WIP (yet also very different), so I was able to really gain a lot of insight and inspiration from that. That and the gloomy London weather! (Summer, what summer?) A rainy day is always conductive for inspiration!

What Else Have I Been Up To?
Well I've just made my return to the blogging world after 9 months away. I wrote a post here about why i've been away and what I've been up to. More recently though, I've been working on cutting out grains and sugar from my diet, have been going to the gym, learning guitar and applying for job after job (with not a lot of success. Le sigh). I did go to a writing seminar on Monday night which was hugely interesting and i'll write a post about it soon :)

How is everyone in the blogosphere going? :)

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

I'm back... and I'm sorry!

So ... I failed at my blog for a while. I  fact I think it was as long ago as August when I last dropped by. I could make all sorts of excuses - I ran out of things to natter on about, the time zone thing was tricky for group blogging and life just got in the way.  All are valid excuses, and are true but that's no excuse. I really just dropped the ball. I'm sorry. But I'm back! Possibly not as frequently as I used to be, three times a week takes up a lot of my WIP writing time, but I'm definitely back.

There's a lot that's been happening in my life lately I'm not quite sure where to start! Over the New Zealand summer I worked at an amazing theatre company in Christchurch called The Court Theatre. I loved that job and lived everything about that place. I was so sad to leave but the reason I left was because I took off to the other side of the world and spent 6 weeks trekking through Africa on the most incredible trip of my life. We went through South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Kenya then up to Egypt. It was life changing and I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. I was going to write an entire post about that adventure but then remembered this is my writing blog and you may not be particularly interested in that little part of my life! If you do want to know let me know... I'm one of those annoying travellers all too willing to talk about my travels!

The incredible sand dunes in Namibia

Making friends with a Cheetah, Namibia

Falling in love with these beautiful two lion cubs, Zimbabwe

Lions in Serengeti, Tanzania

After Africa I spent some time in Turkey, Greece, France and The Netherlands before moving to London. The last two months have been a little bit like being in limbo, looking for a job and a place to live but it's a fun city!

The city of love? Paris, France!

King's Day in Amsterdam, Netherlands

Giza, Egypt

In the heart of Athens, Greece
Kalkan on the Turkish Coast where we spent our days lying in the sun by the pool reading for an entire week :D

London! My new home!

Being unemployed has its benefits in that I have had a lot if time to work on my book.

When I last posted, I was still plugging away at my WIP. Well over the new year I finally finished that puppy. Then I let it sit. I mulled it over and thought about my characters then gave it to a good friend who gave me some excellent feedback. When I was in Africa I had a lot of ideas of ways I could alter my WIP for the better in the second draft.

A month after I arrived in London my computer finally arrived and I was reunited with my WIP. I knew it needed a lot of work and felt there was really something integral to the story that wasn't working. I spent a few weeks looking at my characters, looking at what makes them who they are and act the way they do... then I looked at the world my story is set in and the plot I had developed. Eventually I found the problem. It only took me a day of brainstorming before I figured out what the solution was. Typically it involved completely gutting my entire WIP. I sat there telling myself over and over that it was completely normal to rip to shreds your first draft and it was 100% necessary but it was still sad.

So now I'm starting again, but this time I know my characters and my world much more intricately. I know them inside out, the way I always should have. It's a nice feeling actually and I'm confident this story will be much stronger for the changes.

So, what did I miss around here?!