Challenging start to the year? Change that, now.

January is a harsh month. Not just because here in the UK it’s cold, usually wet, and seemingly always so dark, but it’s also a long month – payday is a long way away, the majority of funds have been spent at Christmas, or for Christmas, and now it’s back to work with the next opportunity for Bank Holiday relaxation in April, for Easter.

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One of my January snaps: a chill as the sun goes down.

It’s also this time of year that we try and install new habits and approaches in our lives, and inevitably fail! So as the end of the month finally arrives, we tend to feel broke, weary, and deflated. It’s ‘just another year’, and we fall back to our default position, and our usual internal monologues that encourage us to do those things we ‘should’ do, way before those things we dream we want to do.

I have to admit, if you read those previous paragraphs with a heavy heart and nodding head, I’m there with you. I had so many ambitious plans for the month, and almost every single one of them have been obliterated in the fog of procrastination, avoidance, and sometimes laziness.

But, and this is a big BUT, this does not define my year. We all know January is a hard month. It is an annual refrain! Yet, one of the many things I dedicated myself to this year was to read for at least twenty minutes a day. You know what? I’ve read a total of six books so far this year…This I am pleased with (and I still might have time to sneak another one in!).

Still. No, I didn’t manage to commit to my stretches every other day. And no, my outline for the novel and character arcs for each of the main characters hasn’t been completed. No, I haven’t touched that list of independent publishers I put together in the first week of the year to investigate submissions. And, sorry, no I didn’t quite manage to own it at work everyday and push through some of the tasks I promised myself would get done by the end of this week.

I did, however, try.

For the first four years, this blog’s tagline was – I would much prefer to say ‘I tried and failed’ rather than ‘I didn’t even bother’This is just as true today as it was then. As my friend and mentor Jo Bendle would say – Reward effort, not results. Because sometimes you can’t control the results, but what you can do is take ownership of your efforts.

I know what didn’t get done. In some cases, I know why it didn’t happen. Which means I’m now much better equipped to tackle it in the coming weeks. I don’t even have to wait until February to review my month and make a plan. I can start right now.

And I did: by writing this blog post.

One more thing off my January goal list.


 

IMG_20190105_130248899Did you see my short story in February’s Writing Magazine? So pleased to be a winner for their competition based on the theme of ‘hate’. Really pushed me to create a character with a complex personality and situation.
One more piece on my way to the dream of becoming a novelist.


Purchase my short story collection: azon.co.uk/Memorial-Tree-other-short-stories-ebook/dp/B07F1T7H98


 

How do you want a reader to feel?

book chapter sixWhenever I open a book to read for the first time I have a great sense of anticipation. Will this be my new favourite read? Will I be able to close it half way through, or will it keep me gripped until the end? Very rarely do I ever consider, ‘how will this book make me feel?’, and yet by the time I close the covers this is thing that stays with me – the feeling, the emotions that I’ve just experienced, the journey that the author has taken me on.

So, how do they do it? Speaking from my own experience of writing, it wasn’t until I understood what my values were as a writer that I began to even consider this question. Usually I just wrote my stories as they poured from my head onto the paper/screen. At that time the words were mostly for me, I hadn’t even considered a reader. But, as I began to share my work, and saw the response it would get from family, friends and those in my writing groups, I realised that as a writer my aim was to get people to stop and reflect.

I am, by nature, a fairly reflective individual myself. I like to analyse the ‘why’ of things, but while I enjoy doing this I don’t really want it to appear in my writing. Early on, it was identified by my critique partners that I tended to repeat myself in my writing. I didn’t trust the reader to determine what I was trying to communicate; mainly because I wasn’t truly clear on what it was I wanted to say.

It was then that I started to pay attention to what other authors were saying, not through the words themselves but through the emotions their writing provoked in me. Crime, in which I felt concern for the characters, or confusion at the murderers; Romance, even when I knew characters would end up together I would despair at the idiocy two people could demonstrate; Psychological Thrillers,  where I wouldn’t be able to stop reading because I needed to know what happened next – all of them, inciting curiosity but not all the same type.  It was then that I realised the reason we read isn’t because we want new stories but because we are seeking out new experiences.

Once I realised this, I started looking at my own stories and discovered that while I had themes of death, memory, loss, and regret the emotions that I was attempting to evoke were nostalgia, sentiment and reflection. I want my readers to take a moment of pause, to release a breath and recognise that invaluable space between the life of the character and their own. Sometimes I want them to feel surprise – because who doesn’t enjoy a little twist in the tale? – but still, I typically try and include an undercurrent of tranquillity in the majority of my writing.

Of course, now I understand what it is I want readers to feel I can play with it a little. I can manipulate my writing more fluently to explore how I might be able to shift my readers’ emotions. If nothing else, my own comprehension of how I want a reader to feel has expanded my writing repertoire and that’s only a good thing.



Interested in being one of my readers?
You can find my collection of short stories on Amazon.

Copy of The Memorial Tree Banner

Deconstructing the Book Lover

Well, since I’ve been trying to promote my own book [if you missed the launch of my short story collection, The Memorial Tree, last week where were you?!], I’ve been considering what it is that makes us love the books we rave about. Isn’t it every authors dream to hear readers say that they enjoyed their story, believed in their characters, and admired their effortless writing style? As much as I like sitting at my desk and making things up there’s something magical about discovering that someone has been moved by the words that I’ve put together. I’ve already been lucky enough to receive a 5* review for The Memorial Tree, and I’m so grateful that this reader took the time to mention how she felt the stories were well written and had her hooked!

So, what is it about certain books that pull us into the story and keep us reading? To try and work this out, I’ve looked at five books I absolutely love – all chosen for their very different styles – and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend.

  1. Little Women, Louise May Alcott
    Typically, I am not a fan of the ‘British classics’, but this American one totally has my heart – as many of you who may have followed me for some time already know. Her characters are so well sketched and go through such mesmerising changes, that I almost believe I grew up with Meg, Jo, Amy, Beth, and Laurie myself! I must have re-read this more than twenty times, and each time I sob, laugh, and smile with wistful joy at their lives. I find Alcott’s writing plain and honest, and as such believable, so I immediately cherish their family and the ways they try and do good.
  2. The Gideon Smith Series, David Barnett51qwuh6qsbl-_sx325_bo1204203200_Steam Punk. I thought it was a flash in the pan and didn’t pay it much notice until David attended one of our events for Huddersfield Literature Festival (he was actually seconded in when another guest became ill, so a bit serendipitous considering I’ve become a massive fan of his work!). I think I bought the first one because David was so warm and friendly during that event and I wanted to support him as an author. Thankfully I dived straight into his book and barely looked up until I’d finished. Then it was a painstaking wait for the second and third titles each to be released. These stories aren’t just Steam Punk mixed with a bit of historical fantasy, they’re purposefully reminiscent of the old ‘penny dreadful’s and provide a raucous adventure of alternative British Empire in the 19th Century. Fun, fast-paced, and with surprisingly sympathetic characters it’s difficult not to be impressed by how well the author deftly plots his way through so many action-packed scenes. I loved the series so much, I recommended it to my Dad – and he’s now just finished his second read of all of them!
  3. Frankenstein, Mary Shelley
    I was ‘forced’ to read this for my A-Levels, but was eventually pleased to realise that I had judged it far too quickly. I didn’t appreciate the narrative drive utilised by the Captain’s letters to his sister, then Frankenstein’s account, and then the creature’s story, followed again by Frankenstein and then the Captain’s final letter. But, after reading it again, I now see it as an ingenious way to lull the reader into accepting the horrors that follow with a suspension of disbelief, allow Shelley to practically have us believe that these things really, truly happened – or at least could happen! If at any point you’ve tried reading Frankenstein and didn’t finish, give it another go – I doubt you’ll be disappointed.
  4. The Princess Bride, William Goldman [*spoiler alert about the book!]172955164How many people knew this was a book before the movie in 1987? I hadn’t heard of it until my OH – when we first met – said how much he loved the movie. Of course, I discovered it was based on a book and immediately chose to read this before watching it, and I’m so glad I did! The thing I love the most about it is not the adventure story (which my OH is drawn to), but rather how much William Goldman completely swindles his readers – not just about the fiction of his grandfather reading him only ‘the good bits’ – remember Colombo aka Peter Falk as the grandfather? – but of the sequel: Buttercup’s Baby. The final section in The Princess Bride book is the first tantalising chapter of this ‘novel’ where Fezzick jumps off a cliff with the aforementioned baby. My OH was devastated when he discovered that no such book exists, or will ever exist, and that even Goldman’s foreword is all part of the fiction he built up around this story. I suppose I didn’t help matters when I laughed at his disappointment and called Goldman a genius, but to be able to carry off such a convincing fiction – that has to be great writing.
  5. The Thorn Birds, Colleen McCullough
    I remember discovering this in a bookshop whilst I was at university and devouring it in a single weekend. I called up my Mum – also a book lover – and raved about it thinking she’d be delighted I’d found such a gem. How foolish did I feel when she admitted she had read the book years earlier when it first came out in the late 1970’s?! Not only that, but there had been a popular miniseries all about it! Granted, I was disappointed by the TV miniseries but I still adore the book. I’m not usually a family saga type of person (Little Women excluded) but, again, I was drawn into the narrative, and started to almost admire the characterful ways of Meggie, and then the fate of her children. Such a sweeping melodrama can only be successful if you create realistic and likeable characters, I think – because you have to be able to root for them across the length of their entire lives – or, rather, an entire book. I think McCullough did this really well, alongside the beautiful description of the Drogheda outback farm where Meggie grows up and meets Father Ralph. Such complex characters can only be built up through time, and in The Thorn Birds I never felt the story dragged. If anything, I never wanted it to end.

Through these five – quite different – books I’ve realised what I love most are character-driven stories that teach me something about the human condition. I want to put down a book and feel that I’ve learned something about the characters, whilst also recognising something in myself that the story has touched upon. What I need to see for a book to interest me enough to recommend it is a character journey – those characters I start the story with should have changed by the end. I like my novels to be meaningful in some way – even if only to me – and to convince me that they could be real, even if they’re fantastical.

Perhaps that’s why I write the fiction I do: this is probably the way I want my readers to feel too. They do say, write the book you’d love to read, after all.


Want to know if my fiction IS like this? Why not download my short story collection from Amazon? You don’t need to own a Kindle – most phones and tables have a kindle app that you can sign in with using your Amazon account. If you do decide to purchase, once you’ve read it – please leave a review if you can.

When to stop reading?

I’m an avid reader, but when do you stop reading a book? How do you decide that it’s just not the story, or characters, or writing for you and close it up and never pick it back up again?

I can admit that, sometimes, when I expect to struggle I carry on reading regardless. I had to accept that this would be the case with Middlemarch, which I recently finished reading. The language and sentence structure and general style of writing was so different in the nineteenth century. But once I got past the first hundred pages, I was hooked.

I ended up adoring this book, unwieldy and complex as it was!

I’ve tried some Ebooks too – by new authors – in an attempt to support my fellow emerging writers. But if there are spelling errors, or the point of view alters half way through a paragraph, or they contradict themselves within a few pages, then I have to give up. Irritability takes hold and I can no longer connect with a story, no matter how good it might have been.

However, I’m now reading a novel by an established author. There isn’t anything wrong with it as such, I just can’t quite get on with it. The characters are flat somehow, as though they have no depth because they are keeping things too close to their chests. Some of them are unlikable, such as the husband who refused his wife a chance at a career but took one for himself based on the conditions he told her were unaccepptable, not to mention that he blatantly cheats on her.

I was confused from the prologue, as from 2014 it jumped back to 1975 and currently I’ve just started a chapter from 1940. I’m less than fifty pages in. I don’t think it would be so bad if it was from a single character’s point of view, but there have been at least four: one of which, in the prologue, doesn’t even seem connected to the story!

I’m on the brink of removing my bookmark and moving onto another novel. But then I consider that this is a top bestselling author and there must be a good story here… somewhere. Yet, should I read it even if I don’t care about the characters whose story it is?

Adventurer or Tea-drinker?

I saw this image today and immediately loved it. I would say I want to be an adventurer, but I so do love my home comforts! That’s why I love reading so much, I can be anywhere in world whilst still sat in my chair:

“A book is a magical thing that lets you travel to far-away places without ever leaving your chair” – Katrina Mayer

Reading the Classics

I’m not really one for reading the classics. I once read Wuthering Heights just so I could declare a dislike for it – having given up on the novel previously because of the hatred I had for Heathcliffe, despair with Catherine, and impatience with the narration by the housekeeper.

Still, I make an effort on occasion to pick one up now and then and give it a go. This is how I came to adore Little Women, the novel that spoke to me as a teenager and simultaneously made me want to be both industrious Jo and devoted Beth; a personality mix not quite suited to the modern day, or indeed to a teenager of seventeen!

Recently I saw mention of Middlemarch as a novel recommended by another writer. I didn’t have much knowledge of this story, only really being familiar with George Eliot as a female writer in the nineteenth century. However, when next at the library I saw it out on a display and thought ‘why not?’. So, with my weekend anchored by my disability, I found myself opening up the hefty tome and beginning, despite some words of warning from others.

When I told a few from work that I was planning my attempt to read Middlemarch I received a lot of well wishes and a few shaking heads – it was not something they would ever consider. Perhaps, in part, this made me want to read it more, because I enjoy being the odd one out and accomplishing things not ordinarily done.

I began reading with some trepidation then, but found myself immediately drawn to Dorothea and her sister Celia. The wandering way that Eliot has of meandering from one character to another would usually annoy me, but I’ve settled into the rhythm of it quite well I think. So much so that within a day I’ve completed book one and am eager to begin book two tomorrow.

It’s strange how some authors speak to us more than others. I don’t think I could ever be a fan of Austen or the Brontës, yet I am taken in by Eliot’s characters even though I skim read some of the long, didactic sentences. I’m intrigued to see how Dorothea gets on in her marriage, if Sir James and Celia might make a match, how Dr Lydgate might propose marriage to Rosamond, and how poor Fred will extricate himself from the rumour mill! It is nothing but Victorian gossip-mongering, I’m sure, but it’s certainly keeping me engaged!