5 Senses

Touch. Smell. Taste. Hear. See.

There is so much more to writing than just translating what you can see in your mind’s eye into words. We experience the world through five senses so there is no reason why your character doesn’t experience their world in the same way (unless you’re writing about aliens with different biological systems in which case, I still have a point – creative writing can be about what you leave out as well as what you put in).

Of course, I don’t mean that every single sentence of your writing should include absolutely everything but, think about when you’re most conscious of your surroundings and the way you react to them. For example, when you’re really scared innocuous noises can sound louder and more ominous. Or if you’re happy then you might want more hugs or high-fives than usual.

Sight isn’t always going to be the first sense to react to a change in the environment. If your character is trapped in a pitch black room then they’re going to be using their senses of hearing, smell and possibly touch to navigate as they won’t be able to rely on their eyes.

Using these different, varied approaches to a scene allows you to create a more relatable character for the reader so, ask yourself, ‘Is my character going to be reacting via this sense in this situation?’ It’s alright to pick and choose but, changing the approach from time to time goes a long way to keeping your writing fresh and exciting.

To really think about including all five senses in a scene I have a writing exercise that I thought about after reading an amazing short piece of writing which made my mouth water even though the characters were only sharing a simple meal.

Think about your favourite food. Feed your character the meal and write about their experience. Think about them using every sense during the meal.

I find that if you’re describing a meal that you genuinely enjoy then you’ll want to do it justice. The prompt might sound a bit simple but once you start thinking about every element it is not so easy because you want the reader to feel connected to your writing. Making a reader feel hungry because you’re writing about food can be great practise in cultivating this connection.

I hope that you have fun when you’re writing.

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The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

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The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson was first published in Sweden in 2009. It was translated into English by Rod Bradbury and published in the UK in 2012.

My copy of this book was a Secret Santa present from a lovely colleague at the time who only really knew that I liked books. Before I read the book all I knew about it was that it had become a bestseller and the title sounded intriguing. Recommending a book to someone that you don’t know very well can be a tricky task but I’m glad that this book was recommended to me by someone who’d read it and liked it.

The events in this book are pretty implausible but, they’re not completely improbable which was an impressive feat for a writer to pull off in my opinion. If part of a writer’s job is to convince the reader that what they are telling them could be/should be/would be true then this book has that elusive talent included in every chapter. The entire book might seem to be a little bit far-fetched at times but there is a quote which appears alone on a page right before the first chapter, Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be. This line of text really sets the tone for the entire book because although the characters find themselves in unusual situations there is not a lot of fuss or dramatic outbursts from the central character and his closest friend’s often begin to adopt the same sort of attitude.

The main character is Allan Karlsson and on his one-hundredth birthday he climbs out of the window of the Old People’s Home and he walks away. Although this is the start of one journey there is almost another entire story included in the book as there are chapters describing parts of his life before he climbed out of the window, starting from when he was born in Sweden. In the blurb of the book it says, As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century. I had no idea of the lengths that this idea would be stretched to before reading the book but Allan’s journey connects some of the biggest influential events of the previous century all across the world. I really think that any other author would be hard-pressed to be successful in including so many pivotal historical moments in one book without the text being overworked.

Allan’s calm attitude, especially in unlikely circumstances, leads him to make friends easily. This talent serves him well throughout his life and after his one hundredth birthday he continues to make loyal friends starting with Julius until it is a group of nine who travel together in the end.

Honestly, on the whole, I enjoyed it. It was almost a black comedy at times but the story was clever, well-thought out and I love that, after a century of experiences, Allan can still claim, as long as we think positively, I’m sure a solution will appear. (page 350)

 

Blogging

Blogging, when it comes to digitally posting it so that people can see it, is a fairly straightforward process. There are lots of ways to blog and I don’t always sit down in front of the computer. I can just grab my phone and start typing anything I want, wherever I want.

Just pick a topic and go.

For approximately a year and a half I have been making posts about books – both writing and reading – because it’s a topic that I like. There’s not really a lot more to my choice than that. Plus, if I occasionally stray and talk about other creative topics that I’m interested in it’s nice to know that I have the freedom to choose what I’m blogging about.

Sometimes it can be tough to pick a topic for a particular post because I know that I want to blog every week. That was the schedule I chose for myself when I started my blog and (most weeks) I like sticking to it.

When I’m trying to think of a new post an idea will usually occur to me when I’m nowhere near a pen which is pretty similar to the moments when I’m drafting my fictional stories. However, unlike fiction, I never draft out a blog post in my head beyond the first couple of paragraphs before I start writing. I’m happy to edit until my heart is content but I like how it feels more natural to type without analysing every small sentence before I begin.

It’s not always easy but, my blog means that I’m writing something every week even if it’s only one post and I get to talk about a topic that I love.

I love doing my regular posts but I’m also really enjoying writing my book reviews every two weeks. For starters, it’s been a great way of catching up on my to-read list. I’ve also borrowed more books lately and that’s great in it’s own way because I can share my thoughts with someone who already knows the story before I write anything down. After reading a book that I’ve really enjoyed it’s nice to talk about it afterwards.

Before I added book reviews to my blog I didn’t write them. In fact, the last time I had written a book review was for a class at college.

Writing the book reviews was (is) a learning curve. However, I’ve noticed that I am pretty consistent in a few things. I never like to assume that a person reading my review has read the book. By trying not to reveal any ‘spoilers’ I worry sometimes that I’m not always reviewing the book properly but I give my honest opinion and I hope that counts for a lot. I try and start each blog post in a similar way to add some consistency and including a image of the book covers helps make the pages more colourful.

When it comes to blogging, I really like that I can be casual in the tone of my writing even if I’m not casual in my schedule.

Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

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Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh was published in 2017.

A recipe book may not be the usual kind of book that I review on my blog but it’s the newest book I’ve bought and it’s very pretty.

I don’t buy a lot of recipe books. For starters, Sweet is a fairly hefty hardback book and at the moment it’s waiting for me to make some space on my bookshelves. Also, as pretty as the pictures may be, I never want to buy a recipe book unless I know there is an excellent chance that I will make at least half of the recipes that the book contains. After all, if I’m looking for a certain type of recipe then I could always search for one online instead so, if I’m buying a recipe book I want to get the most out of it.

However, I didn’t buy Sweet just because I was looking for a recipe book at that particular moment.

A couple of week’s ago I saw Sweet in the shop and it caught my attention. It wasn’t the first time that I’d thought about buying the book but, last year it had never been on my mind when I was in the mood to dig out the baking pans. When I picked up the book to flip through it again I’d like to say that the decadent picture of the banana cakes with rum caramel on page 100 wasn’t the only reason why I bought the book that day but, it was probably a big factor (haha).

Sweet is full of tantalising pictures that show off most of the creations detailed in the book but it’s not just the pictures that make this particular recipe book delightful. I must admit that I was rather charmed by the introduction written by Yotam Ottolenghi. I laughed more than once when I was reading it and although the clear instructions of a recipe might be serious I love how the introduction revealed that they had fun in creating every sweet bake.

I also loved the detailed glossary contained in the back pages because it’s always nice to have as much information as possible when your attempting something for the first time. For example, I didn’t know what pandan was so having the explanation, as well as a suggestion of what can be used as a substitute, in the back of the book was very helpful. I’m not a professional pastry chef but I’ve always loved learning about new and interesting ingredients.

I love to bake but it’s not a hobby that I turn to all of the time.

There can be lengthy periods of time when I don’t feel really motivated or I find a recipe that looks amazing but, I can’t find the right sized pastry rings anywhere for making fraisiers (something that is both true and vaguely annoying).

So, I’m really glad that I bought Sweet. When I bought this book I thought that the pictures showed some beautiful sweet creations and I liked the way that the instructions were laid out clearly. I will admit that I was very lucky to find the book for half price (Sweet costs £27 RRP) and the reduced price did give me that final push in deciding to buy it.

Overall, I think that this book might just be exactly what I need to tempt me back into the kitchen.

There’s not exactly a blurb but, there is a lovely quote on the back cover of Sweet:

There’s nothing like a perfectly light sponge flavoured with spices and citrus or an icing-sugar-dusted cookie to raise the spirits and create a moment of pure joy. 

Learning New Skills

I’m going to deviate a little bit on this post today because… I haven’t done any creative writing since the beginning of April.

Yikes.

Okay, yes I have been busy for the past couple of weeks (everything’s calmed down again now) but I really, really have not felt the urge to pick up a pen/sit down at the keyboard.

Instead, I’ve been doing a lot of reading and trying different creative projects.

For example, today I learned how to make a Hooky Rug.

It has a funny name but, it’s surprisingly easy and fun once you learn how to do it. Louise saw it demonstrated on the BBC program MAKE! Craft Britain a few weeks ago and after trying it herself she encouraged all of us to give it a go. Using the technique, here is a picture of a completed seat cushion that was made by Louise (really surprisingly comfy):

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I love going to the Darlington Arts Community Café that is run by Louise because it’s nice to do something creative when you’re surrounded by like-minded people but, I also love our occasional sessions where I get to learn a brand new skill.

For our hooky rugs we used some old t-shirts that we cut into strips (this is the part where you really need to use patience) and once we had our hessian and a hook we just pushed the hook through one of the gaps in the hessian, grabbed the t-shirt material and pulled a small piece of it through to the front.

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Of course we started with a small test piece and as you can see from this next photo Louise was more practised. She had much smaller gaps between her material than I did, haha (you can see the hooks we were using in the photo as well):

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Then we moved onto drawing our designs and this photo was my initial design:

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Then it was just a case of following the pattern and adding the t-shirt material. I started with two shades of green. It’s not completely finished yet but I’m pretty happy about everything I did while I was sitting in the café at the local bookshop.

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It was great to spend an afternoon learning a new skill and I was constantly seeing the results as I was working on it.

I got a little bit stuck once I’d finished the outline that I wanted because I changed my mind about the colours I was going to use in the rest of the space. After a few suggestions, I like the idea of adding some bright colours and turning it into some sort of abstract garden so I’m looking forward to finishing it.

 

Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones

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Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1986.

The book I borrowed from my sister was a copy that was published in 2009 (love the book cover which is featured at the top of this page).

Howl’s Moving Castle is a magical fantasy story featuring wizards, witches, curses and pretty much everything good about the genre. It’s also a trilogy but, I have only read the first one so far.

Yes, I am partial to a good fantasy story but, putting that aside, I think that Howl’s Moving Castle is a great story. To sum it up a little bit, despite the fact that the book title points out the character Howl, most of the story and the characters are seen through the eyes of Sophie Hatter. Sophie is from the town Market Chipping in the land of Ingary and the story begins in the hat shop which belonged to Sophie’s father but when she is cursed by the Witch of the Waste she finally leaves to find her fortune.

I love Diana Wynne Jones’ imagination. Her world’s are so detailed and Howl’s Moving Castle is no different. There are so many different types of scenery in the book as Sophie goes from a hat shop to the Waste to castles and farms and palaces but none of them left me wondering, “I wonder what that looks like.”

There are a lot of enjoyable moments in this story and I found myself laughing out loud more than once at Howl’s self-obsessed moments and Sophie’s grumbling. I know that Sophie’s cleaning spree after seeing the messy state of Howl’s living room is hilarious. Also, Howl’s overdramatic reaction (a.k.a. tantrum) after Sophie cleans the bathroom is very entertaining.

It almost feels like a fairytale as Sophie, the heroine, saves a whole manner of creatures and people during her journey. In the end of the story misunderstandings are cleared up, the real villains are revealed as well as defeated and a lot of curses are broken. It’s a very satisfying ending in my opinion.

Like any avid reader I try not to let alternate versions affect my opinions of the book I’m reading but I watched Studio Ghibli’s film version Howl’s Moving Castle several times before I read the book. In fact, it was my sister and I watching the film last Friday that finally prompted me to wrestle the book out of her hands (haha, joking. Thanks for lending me the book and promising to lend me the next two in the series).

I didn’t have a quote in mind when I started writing this blog but, as I flipped through the book again before I posted this I chose to feature this short conversation between Michael, Calcifer and Sophie on pages 123-124. They’re talking about Howl and it might not be the nicest thing to say about a person but, it tells the reader a lot about Howl’s character and how he’s seen by those who are closest to him.

Calcifer and Michael exchanged glances. “Did he forget to spend at least an hour in the bathroom this morning?” Michael asked.

“He was in there two hours,” said Calcifer, “putting spells on his face. Vain fool!” 

“There you are, then,” said Michael. “The day Howl forgets to do that will be the day I believe he’s really in love, and not before.” 

Inspiration

Inspiration can come from anywhere.

For example, last night my mum called our cat a “cute little monster” (she totally is) and I made a note about a world where people have pet monsters. It might be a bit quirky and I have no idea if that’ll ever become anything more than just a note but it caught my attention enough that I wanted to remember it.

The example of that little note is tied with inspiration in my mind because I can imagine drawing more than one possible story from it. Maybe the monsters in that world are actually pretty friendly on the whole or they’re really scary pets of really scary people or they’re actually pretty evil but their owners love them anyway when they’re not destroying the furniture.

It can sometimes be difficult for me to write without these little bursts of inspiration.

I know that a lot of people feel and say that only writing when you’re inspired won’t get you very far and yeah, if you really want to make writing your primary focus then you’ve got to put the work in. However, in my experience, motivation and inspiration go hand in hand when it comes to the creative process. Honestly, sometimes it is just really, really hard for me to find the will to write creatively.

This is why I often joke that my muse goes on holiday a lot.

I guess that, when I think about it, that moment of inspiration is a pretty important factor of writing to me. For an idea that I genuinely like I can usually track it back to one moment where it started to take shape. Balancing the excitement about starting to write with the will to carry on, well I’ve done it before but I think that it’s a lesson I’m going to keep learning for a really long time.

It’s not really enough to just have one spark of inspiration before you begin because that’ll always fade. Finding new elements of the same piece that are inspiring is always followed by more motivation when I’m writing. They can be small, almost inconsequential sparks or huge plot points that light up everything else. If they’re never really the same as each other then inspiration can be a continuously exciting part of the process.

So, when it comes to inspiration whether it’s an off-hand comment or something you see or hear or touch just remember that you’re notes only really need to make sense to yourself. I wouldn’t worry too much about people seeing scraps of paper that say nonsensical things like ‘Pet monsters – use cat as inspiration’.

Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter

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Not If I Save You First by Ally Carter was first published in March 2018.

I have been excited to read this book since Ally Carter announced that she was writing it. That might seem a like an exaggeration but in this case it is totally true. Over the last few months I have read the short snippets via Twitter, I followed the progress of the cover designs (love the USA cover but I’m totally happy with the cover created by Lisa Horton on my UK copy) and I gave in and read the first chapter when it was revealed online. I couldn’t resist the temptation.

Then, a week ago, on the day it was released I walked into my local Waterstones, picked the book off the shelf and headed straight to the counter. Steve (the guy behind the counter) looked at the book, looked at me and then looked back at the book before he shrugged and said, “Well, somebody had to.”

I happily took that to mean that I was the first person to buy a copy from there. Yes, book sellers love to market Ally Carter’s books at teenagers but I’m 23 and I am totally willing to tell you all of the reasons why I continue to read and buy her books.

Haha, but don’t worry about me listing all of those reasons right now because I have something slightly more specific to talk about.

Not If I Save You First is a stand-alone novel which is mostly set in Alaska. Now, as much as I love Ally when she writes a series it was kind of nice to know that I was buying a book and I wouldn’t be left waiting a year or so until I could find out what happened next. That being said, I really fell in love with Maddie.

Madeleine Rose Manchester a.k.a. “Mad Dog” is awesome. I loved that she was in her element because she has more knowledge of the area than any other character. She’s definitely the kind of girl you’d want on your zombie apocalypse team – prepared, adaptable and she knows the importance of Vaseline to prevent chapped lips.

Being set in Alaska, it’s almost like the book is set in a familiar environment even if you’ve never been there. It’s wild, dangerous and sometimes beautiful. The book didn’t put me off the thought of ever visiting Alaska but it is definitely a reminder that it is better to be prepared and a little bit cautious. Throughout the book Maddie is very blunt about all of Alaska’s qualities. It could be seen as an effect of the amount of time she spends on her own in a harsh environment but her direct attitude about her home also resembles her interactions with Logan and all of the other characters and really becomes part of her personality. I love that.

Every time I read the blurb of Not If I Save You First it makes me smile a little bit and since I’m going to put in a picture of it I will explain why. The actual plot of the book isn’t exactly warm and fuzzy since that survival is pretty much the key theme but the blurb is short, witty and definitely reminds me that I’m about to read an Ally Carter book. That’s why I smile.

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It’s a great adventure story when you just consider the plot but there’s so much more to the book. Maddie uses being underestimated to her advantage. Logan can’t help noticing and remembering details which helps him to survive. Even Stefan has an edge as he learns quickly and applies those lessons even under extreme circumstances. As I said before, survival is the key in this book.

Like all of Ally’s books, Not If I Save You First has a lot of really great quotes. I finally picked one from close to the middle of the book because it might be another lesson about surviving but it’s also so sassy and I love it:

Maddie looked like she’d never been more insulted in her life, “I never leave the house with just one knife. Seriously. Do I look like a one-knife kind of girl?” 

Why Poetry?

Poetry has never been my first choice when I want to sit down and read. That’s not to say that I don’t like it or value it. It’s just that, when it comes to reading I’ve loved narrative fiction since I was tiny. So, for the majority of the time I’m more likely to pick a novel or a novella because I love a good, chunky story.

However, poetry has had it’s own place even if it’s only been infrequently read, studied or written over the years.

I’ve been known to write a full page of poetry in five minutes and then I haven’t written a single word of poetry for months after that. Last October I threw myself into writing 35 poems for my ‘Sky Full Of Stories’ collection that I entered into a poetry competition and I haven’t written any poetry since then. To be fair, it was a lot of poetry to write in a short amount of time and it left me feeling a little bit drained of inspiration (plus, I spent November focusing on writing a series of short stories) but I really haven’t written a stanza since then.

Poetry is so much more versatile than anything we’re taught at an early age (it’s not all limericks or Wordsworth). There’s actually a lot of freedom in writing poetry as it’s full of guidelines with very few definite rules as you try to find your niche. In the end, learning about styles of poems such as sonnets can teach you these rules but even sonnets have their own subcategories and sub-rules. Writing poetry isn’t a craft with a singular line from A to B.

As for reading poetry, it’s easy to love poetry when you find a style, author or subject that you relate to. Unfortunately, it’s also easy to dismiss it when you don’t find what you’re looking for.

I don’t know that I could pick out a particular poem that I liked from when I was doing my GCSE’s or before but, I tend to talk fondly about studying W.B. Yeats and Carol Ann Duffy at college.

You don’t have to like all poetry – that would be asking a lot – but, whether you like modern poetry, something more classical or a quick haiku, it’s worth looking around to see if you can find the poem/poet that you like.

I started writing about poetry for this blog post because it’s been on my mind lately. I haven’t put pen to page (almost all of my poetry is written on paper before it goes anywhere else) but, that’s how the process usually begins for me. I’ll start to think about poetry and then I’ll write until I feel that I can walk away without needing to write another word. So, maybe I’ll have something new to post under the ‘Poetry’ heading at the top of my site over the next few weeks.

As for something else I haven’t done for a while, I’m approximately five months behind on updating Goodreads with the books I’ve been reading. Trust me, I am rolling my eyes at myself for forgetting. Goodreads can be a great way of keeping track of the books you enjoy but only if you remember to use it, haha. So, I’m playing catch up there as I update it and I’m super excited about adding the book I bought today to my ‘read’ list as Ally Carter’s new book ‘Not If I Save You First’ was officially released today.

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