Unexpected

Sometimes all of the planning and ideas in the world won’t result in progress if everything refuses to string themselves together.

I really wanted to write this month but first I struggled to find the time, then the motivation and then I was wondering if I would manage to write anything at all. I know we’re only about half way through the month but it wasn’t looking great.

Then, yesterday afternoon, I was unexpectedly inspired.

Sometimes I’m inspired by a word or a phrase or a picture (I’ve blogged about this sort of thing before). Apparently I can also be inspired by the inflection in someone’s voice as they say a particular word or phrase. Although, in this instance that moment was just one of many lately that joined together and brought me around to my latest idea.

It’s nice to genuinely feel this excited about an idea again.

This particular short story that I’ve started has reminded me about the kind of writing I would truly love to be doing. The last couple of years have been an exercise in trying different styles but it’s not always easy to write that way. Never settling. Always on the lookout for what is new. Occasionally you have to trust that what you’re already writing is good enough or you’ll never finish anything.

Of course it’s nice to try out new styles, formats, ect. but, I think that right now I need to be writing something I love. That doesn’t mean that the story itself is something I’ve done before. It just means that I’ve circled back to a familiar genre but I’m armed with more experience. When I say familiar genre in this instance I mean that this particular story has elements of fantasy although I’m planning on keeping the story contained to one setting. I’m not going to tackle any expansive world building right now and that is the beauty of a short story – one or two settings is enough. A part of me is hoping that this story will ease me back into the genre because it’s been a while since I focused on it.

One of the first clear parts of the story that came to me was the setting which is a mountainous region during the autumn. Autumn is one of my favourite times of year and a secluded setting that can naturally change quickly is great as it should offer many chances to move the story along without too many unnatural pauses or jumps.

My two characters are completely new but they didn’t exactly come from nowhere. Looking back I can see that I’ve had parts of their personalities in mind for a while but I’m ready now to pull those thoughts together. I can picture them more clearly now and I’m ready to try letting them run loose on the page. The experiences I’ve had don’t just benefit my understanding of genre because I’m much happier about writing complex characters than I ever was before.

It’s not just the genre that’s making me feel encouraged to write this story. I genuinely like the plot. Right now, the story I’m writing is the story I’d love to read.

So, it may be a short story but I’m happy with that for now. Like I said, I really wanted to write this month.

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Three

Posting this month means that I have now been blogging consistently for two years. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty proud of myself for that and I’ve enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would.

In the beginning I started blogging because a big part of me missed talking about writing and reading on a regular basis. Then, last year I took a look at my to-read list and thought, ‘that is a lot of books’ so I started posting some book reviews as well. Now, my to-read list is slightly smaller and I have a comfortable outlet for my writing/reading thoughts. It’s been a good couple of years.

Posting every week has been great for me but I recently started a new job that means my schedule is less free than it used to be. From this month I’ll be changing it up and I’ll only be posting twice a month. Hopefully I’ll do my usual post on the second Wednesday of the month and my next book review on the last Wednesday on the month. I think this will also make it easier on me to keep up with the reviews since that some of the chunkier books left on my to-read list will probably need some more time to finish.

I’m also really looking forward to recruiting some new guest bloggers this year. I’ve met a lot of great people over the last year or so and I’d love to host other people’s thoughts about what they’re reading or writing. I had a lot of fun working with Cara on the initial guest blog.

I mentioned last month that November is NaNoWriMo but, to be honest, there hasn’t been a whole lot of writing so far from me. Again, life has been busy but I’m determined to do at least a few thousand words that I can be proud of. Little steps are just as important as big ones when it comes to starting any kind of project. Plus, I had a great time doing Inktober last month so I’m taking that as a positive sign of creativity. I believe that my picture for day 11 was my best day.

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I’m looking forward to my third year of blogging.

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

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Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan was first published in 2005.

I borrowed the copy I was reading from my brother who has read pretty much all of Rick Riordan’s books apart from a few of the newer ones just because he doesn’t own them yet, haha. It’s a book series I’ve been meaning to start for a while but, if you know my blog then you probably know that my to-read list is long.

When I started reading, to be perfectly honest I was thinking about the movie during the first couple of chapters and noticing the differences more than anything else but, once I got past that I loved how much more detail the book had and there were pivotal moments that played out in the book that were preferable.

The first book is packed full of figures from Greek mythology and I love that. There’s something about Greek myths that have always fascinated me and I think that taking those ancient stories and giving them a place in a modern setting is absolutely brilliant. Rick Riordan does it very well.

It’s definitely an adventure story with lots of locations and behind it all is the idea of what it really means to be a hero. There are monsters and fights and powerful items but, there are also moments to remind the reader’s that the main characters are kids who really don’t have enough guidance from the supposed adults (it’s funny how much that occurs in YA fiction).

Percy and his friends are young but I liked how each of their motivations were explained through their backstories in the first book. It explained a lot of their jaded attitudes which had the potential to be out of place in other circumstances. There was a lot about the way Percy Jackson’s world is introduced that I liked. The idea that the Greek God’s are represented through symbols everywhere if you start looking was great because it connects the two parts of Percy’s life.

I enjoyed reading this book and there’s probably a lot more that I could say about it but, there’s so much packed in to just the first book that I’m just going to recommend that you read it.

There’s definitely some great quotes in this book. However, I admit that I’ve picked out a slightly random quote that just amused me on page 195.

‘I’m not saying hello to a pink poodle,’ I said. ‘Forget it.’

‘Percy,’ Annabeth said. ‘I said hello to the poodle. You say hello to the poodle.’

NaNoWriMo is back again

It’s that time of year again. NaNoWriMo begins next month and, as always, I am not prepared.

However, I do have an idea.

I’ve heard that helps.

In previous years I haven’t reached the official target of 50,000 words (it doesn’t look likely that I will do it this year either) but it does make me want to write at least a little bit every November. Luckily, I find it to be motivating.

Last year I may not have hit the target but I did much better than I thought that I would. I wrote a series of stories that were 10,000 words each and I really enjoyed the experience.

So, this year I’d like to jump into writing a novel again but at the moment I’m only armed with a vague idea, a couple of characters and a side plot which I love but it won’t carry me through several thousand words.

What am I doing to prepare?

For starters, I’m blogging about how much I am not prepared haha.

Last year I made a colourful bubble map with my stories broken up and although I’d rather write a novel (or a novella) this November I’m tempted to do something similar. Either breaking it down into chapters or even sections will give me a good boost from the beginning because starting from scratch means that there is a big hike to the top. I never used to be so careful in my planning but NaNoWriMo is a huge challenge and a bit of a break down honestly helps.

Despite my love of fantasy that’s not the genre I’ve been drawn towards more than anything else lately. Instead, there’s a genre that I like but I’ve never been confident in writing until now. Detective fiction has a style and a flare that is actually a bit unique when you look properly but I love a good, classy take on what became known as the noir genre after it appeared on the screen. I’ve toyed briefly with a similar idea before when I was at university but it’s never been more than a concept.

I’d like to change that.

I’m actually quite excited for my femme fatales, dingy detective offices and dark alleyways but there’s a few twists I have in mind to hopefully create a good, original story.

A new character came to my mind as recently as this weekend and I immediately wanted to write about her. I don’t know how many words I’ll manage to get down this November but I’m glad to have an idea I’m excited about.

Hopefully this NaNoWriMo will be a good one.

Lost In A Good Book by Jasper Fforde

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Lost In A Good Book by Jasper Fforde was first published in 2002.

This is the second book in the Thursday Next series. In August I read and reviewed the first book, The Eyre Affair, and I bought the second book immediately after I finished it. I didn’t last long before I started to read Lost In A Good Book.

Just like the first book, Lost In A Good Book was rather surreal but I really enjoyed it. I was blown away by how clever Jasper Fforde must be to keep track of the many elements in Thursday Next’s world because the second book turned out to be even more complex. I would’ve found it difficult to believe that before I read it.

In The Eyre Affair the main character Thursday Next works for a department that polices the distribution of books. The book Jane Eyre becomes heavily embroiled in the plot as Thursday chases Hades. In Lost In A Good Book the idea of literally jumping in and out becomes more frequent. We’re introduced to the Great Library where all books can be found and it’s librarian who used to be known as the Cheshire Cat. Jurisfiction is the fictional world’s police force and Jasper Fforde borrows many characters from fiction to help Thursday navigate her way. Reality and fiction affect one another and Thursday becomes a Jurisfiction apprentice to Miss Havisham from Great Expectations who has a fierce rivalry with Red Queen from Alice In Wonderland. The concept of a team made up of people and characters working to protect books from the inside is delightful.

Lost In A Good book was very witty and although it was obvious that the megalithic company Goliath was always lying to Thursday I enjoyed every plot twist and turn.

There were a lot of short lines and jokes full of literary references. Personally, I think that the idea of Jurisfiction cadets being tossed into The Pilgrim’s Progress and being told to find their own way out is, quite frankly, hilarious. It is not an easy text to read, I imagine it would be very tricky navigating through from the inside. I’m glad that Jasper Fforde has an amusing, relatable view of literature because it makes this series very fun to read in my opinion.

As well as members of Thursday’s family who appear in The Eyre Affair the reader’s are introduced to Thursday’s grandmother who claims that she needs to read the ten most boring books. I have to admit I found that hilarious, especially when Thursday started giving recommendations.

This book was packed full but I have to mention chapter 23 when Thursday once again teamed up with Spike from SpecOps 17 a.k.a. ‘Suckers and Biters’ who deal with vampires and werewolves. As Spike says in chapter 10, the minimum entry requirements have been reduced to “anyone mad enough to join me”. Although Spike isn’t a main character I love that he’s willing to help out Thursday when she needs it. His job may not be fun but he’s lovely.

In the end of the book, more than a small part of me is a little bit jealous that Thursday’s literally living in a fictional world. It sounds like a great adventure.

After reading Lost In A Good Book I was happy to buy the third one, The Well Of Lost Plots. I’m looking forward to reading it.

Just like the first book there were plenty of quotes to choose from but Miss Havisham was excellently unexpected in her behaviour so I wanted some words from chapter 19. The whole chapter was utterly mad but made me chuckle anyway.

Havisham came down with a heavy thud and lay still, the breath knocked out of her. I kneeled beside her as the Red Queen hopped past, laughing loudly and making ‘nyah, nyah’ noises.

Learning something new

I was told the other day that I look very content while I’m reading. While it’s true that I feel pretty content so long as I’ve got a book in my hands – digital or otherwise – it was a bit surprising to be told this during my break at work. At the time I needed a short mental break and I’d given in to temptation to start reading Jasper Fforde’s book, Lost In Translation, despite the many books that have been on my to-read list for longer. It’s fine. I just peeked at the first page and was hooked… again. Haha.

Anyway, reading is one of my favourite ways to relax but, I also love it when a book teaches me something new. Thanks to my efforts to get through my to-read list since last November I’ve read a lot of books lately and they’ve featured a wide variety of subjects. From 20th century politics (The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared) to millinery (The Mystery Of The Clockwork Sparrow) to sailing ships (The Accidental Pirates Voyage To The Magical North by Claire Fayers) my experience as a reader this year has been great.

Fiction doesn’t mean that there are no facts involved and I admire any writer who can find a balance.

I’ve blogged before to say that starting with something familiar can be a good way to begin a piece of writing (Starting With What You Know…) but, as a reader I like the overall concept or theme of a book to be slightly more unusual. My favourite books are always tied in with learning a new fact or two.

Allowing your reader to explore is where research comes in. Personally, I like doing research because, as I said above, I like learning something new. If you want a piece of writing to be convincing then you should know your subject well enough to talk about it with confidence and if that subject becomes a big theme throughout your book it’s even more important to get your facts right.

This is why it’s popular to think that writers are good readers. If you’re reading a lot then you’re bound to come across subjects that are unfamiliar and if you find a topic that sounds intriguing doing more research should naturally follow (not always, I know, but it does happen in my experience).

Research can happen at any point during the writing process and I know many people who have different techniques for keeping track of information that might come in handy later on if it’s not used straight away. The trick is not getting lost in a research spiral so that you forget about why you started researching in the first place.

So, I would say that new is good but a balanced book is better.

The Accidental Pirates Voyage To The Magical North by Claire Fayers

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The Accidental Pirates Voyage To The Magical North by Claire Fayers was first published in 2016.

For me this book is one of those unashamed ‘read what you love’ books. It’s packed with pirates and adventure and magic. It’s the kind of book I personally love because anything could happen next. After every chapter I just wanted to know what was on the next page which is a great talent for any book to have. Very simply, I read it because I wanted to.

It is, perhaps, a little bit dark at times. I say this because it’s marketed towards young teens, ect. but there’s a quite a bit of fighting, forced servitude and supposed evil magicians with shady plans. Though, I guess that any book about pirates is bound to have some immoral elements to it.

Magic is a big part of the plot and, like all imaginary worlds, it has rules. For example, magic in this book is connected to something called starshell and I thought that Brine’s allergy to magic was inspired. I loved the imagination that went into the creation of the fantasy world (it’s much harder than you might believe) because it wasn’t just new rules for magic that Claire Fayers created. She created a new map for the way her physical world was put together and she created stories within her story to invent a unique history. I couldn’t finish this book without being impressed by the talent behind it.

As for the story itself, it was definitely an adventure and I love books set at sea. Reading about ships always really makes me want to travel and the book also has an island that is basically a huge library which I thought was awesome. Stories are a pretty consistent theme throughout the book from the library to legends that are shared of epic battles at sea.

The pivotal characters in the book are three children around the age of twelve. Brine, Peter and Tom (who appears later in the book) are really quite young as they set sail with pirates but, their childhoods weren’t particularly child-like. They each display an awareness that I suppose you could say is drawn from experience. As for the other characters they were a rather motley crew and everyone’s antics definitely kept the plot interesting.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the book although I would like the chance to re-read it without interruptions at some point in the future. As for buying the second book, the first one was a gift so maybe I’ll get lucky and be gifted the next one, haha.

I made a list of at least four quotes from the book that stood out to me but I’ll happily end with this short quote from page 94-97 because I think it’s delightfully insightful.

Stories were just secrets in reverse, really. You hid something important inside a whole load of words where no one could ever find it.

Perspective and Hindsight

A couple of weeks ago I had a sudden thought about an old story. It would have so much more meaning if it was told from a different character’s perspective.

I should mention that this character was entirely new, had a completely different back story and wasn’t even the same age as my original protagonists.

It’s not always easy to admit that you prefer one idea more than another, especially if you worked on your original idea long before you changed your mind. However, rewriting a story doesn’t have to be strange or negative at all. It’s certainly not forbidden and a character change doesn’t have to be the only reason why a story may evolve over time.

Every writer has to come to terms with the letting go at one point or another. Whether you’re changing plot points, settings or anything else, we can’t hold on too tightly or we’ll never write more than one story.

There are many reasons why a writer may feel motivated to change something. Sometimes it will make sense at the time to write from a particular characters’ perspective. Then, you look back like I did and you discover that there is a new character. Their story may feel more relevant or important at the time and it’s not a terrible impulse if you want to explore the new idea.

If a writer’s opinion changes over time I don’t see why there’s any reason that a character’s circumstances or opinion can’t change as well. Occasionally, I forget that it’s okay to rewrite everything. This reminder is just as much for me as it is for you, haha. I think that a part of me just likes having words on the page and starting from scratch with an idea I’ve already explored in one way feels a little bit like giving up on the original. I need to remember that it’s not like that at all.

We’re learning all the time and that’s a great truth for any writer. Life experience has a lot to do with writing because it’s much easier to connect with a reader if they can find a tiny bit about themselves in a piece of text so opinions are a big part of any experience. Don’t be worried if looking back helps you see something in a different way. Explore the idea and maybe the original piece of writing will make a great prequel or sequel someday.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

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The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde was first published in 2001.

The first chapter wasn’t the easiest opening to read because there is a lot of unusual information shared very quickly but I loved the unique first line. The Eyre Affair is very imaginative and could be considered a fantasy story as the social, governmental and criminal justice system is entirely restructured (compared to reality) by Jasper Fforde. Honestly, the first page made more sense after I’d finished the whole book and I went back to check a couple of details.

After the first chapter I started to get used to the idea and I started to enjoy the format. It helped that the character wasn’t all-knowledgeable so she asked for clarification when she was unsure about the information that she was given. Of course the answer was “classified” a couple of times but the reader was never left uninformed if the information was important to understanding parts of the story.

Thursday Next is the protagonist of the book and she has a job as a LiteraTec, also known as Literary Detectives, in SpecOps 27 which is a term that probably won’t mean much outside of Fforde’s created world. However, it also totally sounds like a job I would love to have. There was a lot of literary references but it’s not like you need to read every book that’s mentioned before you read Fforde’s novel. For example, I haven’t read Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë which becomes featured heavily in the story but I was never left lost and wondering if I was missing something. Actually, I rather enjoyed Thursday’s opinion of Jane Eyre.

Once the antagonist of the book became clear I have to admit that I started to become more interested in the story. (Warning, the next sentence is a bit of a spoiler) Acheron Hades was a clever villain but that doesn’t mean that I was rooting for him as he almost seemed too chaotic to be a long-term antagonist. As the book continued more of Thursday’s motivations and personality was crafted to reveal a complicated character that became more likable in my opinion. Admittedly, in the end, I was like “yes! Get him!” when Thursday faced Hades for the final time. Speaking of which, I am glad that confrontation linked back to an earlier part of the book and reminded the reader of Thursday’s encounter with Spike (whose real name is Stoker) from SpecOps 17: Vampire and Werewolf operations. Although he wasn’t present in the book for long I thought that Stoker was an excellent character with a slightly dark but cheerful sense of humour.

There were actually a lot of characters to try and keep track of. Although referring to each other in different ways by first name/ last name/ nicknames is realistic it doesn’t always make it easy on the reader to follow. I got the general idea but, I think that rereading the first book and reading the rest of the series will be easier now.

I thought that the idea of changing the original manuscripts to affect every other printed copy was kind of diabolically fascinating. It might seem strange but a part of me is jealous that Jasper Fforde came up with such a distinctive concept because I honestly think that it’s brilliant.

There was a lot packed into the first book of the series from time travel to quirky inventions to an extended war that isn’t the main conflict in the plot but it does affect the motivations of various characters.

The book was witty, imaginative and I bought the second book titled Lost In A Good Book as soon as I finished the first one so I’m confident that I enjoyed reading The Eyre Affair.

A lot of this book makes more sense if you read it in order so I didn’t have an immediate quote for the end of this blog in mind but, after a bit of searching I picked out a couple of fun lines that just made me smile. I don’t have an exact page number because this is one of the few books I bought on kindle but it comes from chapter 9.

In the early seventies he had developed an extraordinarily beautiful machine that did nothing more exciting than predict with staggering accuracy the number of pips in an unopened orange. 

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