Tag Archives: character

Mid-Year Review Book Tag nominated by @LoveBooksGroup

Massive thanks to Kelly Lacey of Love Books Group for nominating me to do this mid-year book tag. 2017 is whipping by and it’s interesting to reflect on which books I’ve enjoyed this year so far.

So, here goes…

  1. Best book you’ve read in 2017 so farYear of Yes by Shonda Rhimes. Shonda, writer of Grey’s Anatomy and Scandal, challenged herself to say yes to every opportunity she was offered for a year. As an introvert who lacks self-confidence, I enjoyed this book immensely. I loved reading about Shonda’s writing process, her family life and her challenge. Oh, ok then, I loved it all. I’d love to hang out with this fierce woman.
  2. Best sequel you’ve read in 2017 so far: The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay. I read the three books from the Promise Falls trilogy this year. Linwood Barclay is my favourite crime writer and I was impressed with the way the final instalment tied things up.
  3. New release not yet read: Exit West by Mohsin Hamid and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman.
  4. Most anticipated release of the second half of 2017: A Stranger in the House by Shari Lapena. 
  5. Biggest disappointment of 2017: Thankfully I haven’t had one yet!
  6. Biggest surprise of 2017: Exquisite by Sarah Stovell. I first heard Sarah talk at Newcastle Noir this year and I was so taken in with the themes she talked about that I just had to read ExquisiteIt was a surprise because I hadn’t heard anything about it prior to Newcastle Noir. It’s a story that keeps you second guessing until the very end – very cleverly done. 

  7. Favourite new author: Bizarrely, I’d never read Stephen King until 2017 but I read Bazaar of Bad Dreams which is a collection of short stories. I think I bought it because it was on offer and I liked the look of the cover – yes, I did judge a book by its cover – but when I read it, I really enjoyed the stories.
    In fairness, though, Matt Wesolowski is my favourite new author. I want to tweet him every day and ask when we can expect his next novel.
  8. Newest fictional crush: Haven’t got one as I’m pretty taken with my husband – we got married in March this year. 
  9. Newest favourite character: Archie from Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland. Everyone should have an Archie in their life.
  10. Book that made you cry: Year of Yes and Lost for Words.
  11. Book that made you happy: Year of Yes.
  12. Best book to movie adaptation of 2017: I haven’t seen any film adaptations although I’m looking forward to seeing My Cousin Rachel. I am loving The Handmaid’s Tale which is currently being shown on Channel 4.
  13. Favourite review you’ve written in 2017 so far: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski. The book just really captured my imagination and I loved writing about it. 
  14. The most beautiful book you bought / received in 2017: The Lake of Dreams by Kim Edwards. I bought it for myself last weekend at Barter Books. I just love the colours and shading on it. As previously mentioned, Bazaar of Bad Dreams is also a very colourful book. I think this has established how vacuous I am.
  15. Books to read by the end of 2017: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret AtwoodThe Girls by Emma ClineIt Devours: A Night Vale Novel by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout… The list goes on. I’d also like to read more Agatha Christie. 

I’m passing the Mid-Year Review Book tag onto Emma Welton @damppebbles, Juliet @bookliterat and Sheila Howes @thequietgeordie. I look forward to finding out what you choose!

Vic x

 

Guest Post: Sue Miller on trying to make the world a better place.

As most of you know, I am responsible for the Newcastle leg of Noir at the Bar – and I love it. One of the best things about hosting NATB is how many new writers I get to meet. Thanks to my friend Chris Ord, I was introduced to Sue Miller, another local writer. 

Sue read for us at Noir at the Bar earlier this year and I’m delighted to host her on the blog. Sue likes to use her writing to affect social change so she’s here today to talk to us about trying to make the world a better place. 

Thanks to Sue for sharing her insights with us.

Vic x

 

Sue Miller on trying to make the world a better place.

The title: 20/20 Vision: They didn’t see it coming isn’t just a play on words. I fully expected 2020 would be the year of the next election.


I dedicated the book to my newborn grandson. I hoped that the world he will grow up in will be a safe and loving place. But I wasn’t optimistic. I wanted to do something.

I thought about writing articles. I worked hard to make things better in my community. I cared as best I could for my family and friends. In the end I thought I’d try to bring my concerns together into a story. Maybe that would be a way to be heard because:

  • we always have choices.
  • if we don’t address issues of what’s fair and what’s right now, what are we bequeathing to our children?
  • there are enough resources to go round, if we manage them responsibly
  • I sensed a growing narrative with winners and losers, where ‘rights’ were becoming ‘entitlements’, borders and barriers were going up between ourselves and those we labelled as not ‘like us.’

I was in a very dark place, struggling to find optimism for the future, despairing of the choices of cuts, the short sightedness of activity around me. Not that I was perfect.

This was before Brexit and before Trump. Before the calling of an election designed to ‘strengthen our hand’ in negotiations with people that were once partners and friends. I didn’t see any of those coming.

The worlds of traditional and social media are currently full of the noise of pre-election promises. I’m weary of it already.  What I’m hearing are promises, when history teaches us words are cheap, it’s actions that cost.

People who know me well were shocked by just how dark 20/20 Vision is in places. The story reflects where I continue to be every time I turn on the news, tune into social media; Facebook-there’s a mixed blessing. One of my book reviews says we live at a time when people think they’ve done their bit simply by clicking on ‘like’. In a country where free education is available for all I’m aghast at the low level of some of the commentary there. Words are easy, the real challenge is to think, listen and act.

History tells us it is hard to hope, we will always snatch those resources to which we believe we are entitled. We can choose to take from those we think of as ‘different’ to preserve those we perceive as ‘our own’. What of fairness? What of love?

My next book has a working title: Border Control. That’s all I see coming now.

Sue Miller

Review: ‘Six Stories’ by Matt Wesolowski

If you haven’t already read Six Stories, I recommend that you rush to your nearest bookshop and purchase it now. And then read it. Most likely in one sitting.

Six Storiespublished by Orenda Books, is the book everyone is talking about and I, for one, would be happy to wax lyrical about it until… well, the end of this blog post but you know what I mean. In fact, I loved this book so much that if you meet me face-to-face, you will undoubtedly hear me refer to this book at least once during our conversation. I appeared at Pure Fiction on Thursday night and mentioned Six Stories during the Q&A. I did also mention other books too, obviously.

Anyway, Six Stories is a real stroke of genius. Following on from the success of podcasts like SerialSix Stories revisits a mysterious death that occurred on the fictional Scarclaw Fell in 1997. The official verdict was death by misadventure but, twenty years on, the podcast aims to reexamine the circumstances and relationships surrounding teenager Tom Jeffries’ death. The elusive presenter, Scott King, interviews the key players and encourages listeners to draw their own conclusions.

You can tell Wesolowski has taken a real interest in podcasts and he mimics the style of them with considerable aplomb. As with Serial, Six Stories builds up a picture each week and, just as you think you can conclude something, you’re given a new piece of information that confuses or confounds your theory.

This is a brilliant character study and an interesting take on the benefit and wisdom of hindsight. I also loved the sinister undertones (although it made walking around my house at night slightly terrifying).

Six Stories is utterly compelling and despite being entirely engrossed, I defy you not to be shocked by the ending.

An original concept with skilled execution – totally unputdownable!

Vic x

Guest Post: Anne Coates on Writing a Sequel.

Having worked with Urbane Publications, I’m happy to host one of their authors – Anne Coates – on the blog today.

Anne’s here to discuss her process for writing a sequel. Thanks to Anne for taking the time out of her busy schedule to talk to us.

Vic x

Anne Coates

Writing the sequel to ‘Dancers in the Wind’.
By Anne Coates

The manuscript for my second book had to be with Urbane Publications on 1 October – thirteen days before the launch of ‘Dancers in the Wind. So as I was writing guest posts for my book blog tour, I was putting the finishing touches to ‘Death’s Silent Judgement, which continues Hannah Weybridge’s story a few months after the conclusion of book one.

dancers in the wind

Dancers in the Wind was conceived and written some twenty years ago – then left for dead. Last year, I completely rewrote it and found a published who was willing to take it on as part of a trilogy. I had written three chapters of book two all those years ago but it wasn’t really much to go on. I knew who had been murdered and where but not why.

The victim had been mentioned in ‘Dancers but had been working abroad. There were characters I had grown fond of in the first book that I wanted to keep but once in a while I came up with the problem of names. I have two characters named Sam in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement – one had a small but key role in the first book, to be developed in the second. The other was the name of a friend’s son who wanted to be a character in the book. So two very different men named Sam but in life there are often people of the same name in one’s office or social circle.

An added challenge was to ensure that characters were consistent so I had my blue book with descriptions of everyone from book one, which I added to as I wrote the sequel. There is a whole set of new characters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement plus some from book one have come to the fore while others have taken a back seat. Some are gearing up to play more dominant roles in book three. I love the way characters take over, give me clues and nudge me along the way. One character, in particular, led me to a dramatic revelation which I’d had no idea of at the beginning.

One dominant factor which perforce must undergo changes, is that the Hannah of book one is fairly naive. By book two, almost everything she does is tempered by her earlier experiences, she has had to sharpen up. The events of the first book have left her feeling vulnerable and at risk. What she encounters in ‘Death’s Silent Judgement does nothing to alleviate this.

Dancers in the Wind has some of the action at King’s Cross and quite by chance, ‘Death’s Silent Judgement is centred in Waterloo, another London rail terminus. I’m not sure if railway stations will be a recurring theme in later books!

As I approach book three, the reviews I’ve had for ‘Dancers in the Wind have given me more confidence. Then I think, “What if I can’t pull it off again?” But I know I’ll keep on writing…

Guest Post: David McCaffrey on Beat Sheets

I’ve already started arranging the next Noir at the Bar NE. It may not be until February but we have more than half of the performers booked. One of those readers is David McCaffrey who has been very complimentary about Noir at the Bar.

David has very kindly taken time out of his busy schedule to chat to us about beat sheets. My thanks go to David for sharing his wisdom – see you in February. 

Vic x

Guest Post: David McCaffrey on Beat Sheets

Christopher Vogler wrote a book called ‘The Writers Journey‘, a writing textbook that focuses on the theory that most stories can be boiled down to a series of narrative structures and character archetypes. Basically he says that every story told has been told before and that every fictional story consists of the same components.

I explored this once in my blog where I discussed the writing process, but the gist of it is this –

1.) The hero is introduced in his/her ORDINARY WORLD
2.) The CALL TO ADVENTURE.
3.) The hero is reluctant at first. (REFUSAL OF THE CALL.)
4.) The hero is encouraged by the Wise Old Man or Woman. (MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.)
5.) The hero passes the first threshold.  (CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.)
6.) The hero encounters tests and helpers. (TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES.)
7.)  The hero reaches the innermost cave.  (APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE.)
8.) The hero endures the supreme ORDEAL.
9.) The hero seizes the sword. (SEIZING THE SWORD, REWARD)
10.)  THE ROAD BACK.
11.) RESURRECTION.
12.)  RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR

Every story can be structured around the above, not always in the same order, not always every element, but they are there in one form or another.

In line with these components, it is important that you plug variables into your story before you start writing for one simple reason: so you don’t back yourself into a corner.

It’s really easy to begin writing a story off the top of your head or with the most basic of narratives and think that you can just string all the various plot points together.  And some authors can do this (the talented John Nicholson being one of them), but many need a structure, an outline of the aforementioned variables in order to understand where their story starts, begins and ends. This outline can prevent you ending up somewhere inescapable.

For me, writers block is not having the research in which to frame and support your story. I learnt right at the beginning that research is key, especially for the kinds of novels I write as they are mostly psychological thrillers that require an element of philosophy and detail to make them believable.

In line with this, you need something that is high concept, meaning it can be described in one or two words.

“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.” This tells you exactly what ‘Jaws 2 is about in one sentence.

“His crimes – unspeakable. His death – inevitable. His suffering – just beginning.”

My debut novel ‘Hellbound had the above tagline and in only a few words gives you an idea of what the book is about.

Once you have your idea and concept, it needs to be backed up by that most important of elements – research. You need to be steeped in your subject matter in order to sell your concept realistically. If your story outline is a skeleton, your research adds flesh to its bones. It fleshes out the whole idea so you begin to see what it will truly look like once complete.

Then we get to what I was taught is the most important element of writing, at least for me – having a beat sheet.

Once I have the above in place, I write a beat sheet that consists of bullet points with key elements of each chapter in a very simplified form acting as my map. Bestselling author Steve Alten once said that a beat sheet was like lining up dominoes, so that if you push over the first one it will travel right to the end meaning that if the beat sheet is tight then your story will have every element in place before you start putting one word on paper.

It’s better to get your beat sheet right before you start then begin writing and realise that you have a character who disappeared inexplicably halfway through the story or a massive plot hole you hadn’t considered.

Not having those dominoes lined up can result in you becoming frustrated and potentially lost in your own writing process.

Granted, a beat sheet can also be classed as an outline and many authors hate writing outlines because it requires all the underlying planning to have been done to answer all the difficult questions about your story. But with your research you would have the answers to those questions and the rest is a piece of cake.

Your beat sheet doesn’t have to be detailed. It can be one or two words – sex, Joseph dies, Maggie drives to work… as long as you know what it means, that’s enough.

The beat sheet stops you having to confront the most horrific of questions – what shall I write next?

Your research and a tight beat sheet can prevent this most awful of writing circumstances. With it, you will always know where you are in your story, what happens next, what will further the dramatic tension etc.

And because they are just bullet points, if something is moving too slow or there is too much action in a particular scene, you can simply move the bullet points around until you are happy and the beat sheet is tight again.

The beat sheet not only tells you what the scene is, it tells you why it’s there in the first place. And for me, the best thing of all is with a beat sheet you are simply going into those bullet points and just fleshing them out, adding narrative around them because the framework is already there.

You might veer off as you go as different story beats come to mind or naturally develop with the story. This is the beauty of using a beat sheet: they leave you free to explore and flesh out the narrative that drives the story forward. As long as you end you where you intended at the very beginning, it isn’t as important how you get there – the story will take care of itself.

Make the beat sheet clear and simple. Remember, this is your document. You’re not trying to sell the story to anyone else, you’re just trying to get your head around the story as a whole.

Besides, it’s always nice after you’ve written a three hundred page novel to look back and see that it just started out as a forty bullet point piece of A4. You would probably struggle in reverse if asked to summarise your story in forty bullet points, but it goes to show that as Christopher Vogler believed, every story can be boiled down to key elements.

And we thought we all had original ideas!!!

Review: ‘Becoming’ by Chris Ord

Becoming

‘Becoming’ is a thoughtful, unique book regarding identity, morals and the idea of “community”.

The setting of Holy Island, and Northumberland in general, made this book more enjoyable for me because, thanks to Ord’s descriptions, I could imagine the action taking place in the wild coastal and countryside settings.

The characters in this novel are well-drawn and Gaia, the main protagonist, is a brilliant representation of a teenage girl. Comparisons may be drawn between Gaia and Katniss Everdeen but for all the right reasons. Chris Ord manages to capture the juxtaposition between being a vulnerable teenager and headstrong, principled young woman well.

If you like your books fast-paced and full of moral dilemmas alongside some excellent character development and beautiful imagery, ‘Becoming’ is the book for you!

Vic x

Guest Post: Chris Ord on ‘The First Novel?’

In my job as a copy editor, many manuscripts are sent to me for critical evaluation. Few have left me as impressed as ‘Becoming‘ by Chris Ord. Chris approached me earlier this year and I had the pleasure of reading his debut novel prior to its release. 

Becoming‘ is now available to download or buy in physical form and, although it’s a YA novel, it really is one that I’d happily recommend for adults too. Chris is here to talk to us about his experience as a first time novelist and share some of the lessons he’s learned. Thanks for taking the time to appear on the blog, Chris – I can’t wait to read your next novel.

Vic x

Becoming

The first novel?
By Chris Ord

 

On September 23rd 2016 I published my first novel ‘Becoming’. It feels strange, almost surreal typing that, as only a year ago my words were filled with nothing more than intent. Now they fizz with the excitement of achievement, the realisation of something I have wanted to do all my life. There are mixed emotions though. There is pride and satisfaction, but apprehension too. Now the book is out I appreciate I’m revealing my creation to others – friends, relatives, and strangers. I’m exposing a bit of my soul. Now is the time for judgement and thick skin. I loved writing ‘Becoming’ and if others love it too that is a bonus. I wanted to write a story that I would enjoy reading, one that engages and entertains, but also challenges and provokes. If I achieve any combination of these I’ll be happy.

Except I have a confession, ‘Becoming’ isn’t my first novel. It’s the first I have published. I have another buried in my hard drive, seen only by the handful that ever will. I took a long time to write that novel, about twenty five years. Twenty four and a half of those I was gathering thoughts and intention. I called it research and planning. In truth, I was dithering. I had lots of ideas, some I wrote down, most I didn’t and forgot. There was one that kept coming back, and I decided there must be a reason so it had to be the story.

Chris Ord

I reached the age of forty five and two family bereavements forced reflection and an existential crisis. Loss and grief made me realise I had to take chances before it was too late. So I gave up my full-time job in August 2015 to write. The years of planning were over. The moment was now. I was going to write that book. It was a risk, but I knew it was time to do what I love.

Most of the advice I read was to write what you know. This reassured me, as I needed all the structure and safety I could get. I was stepping into the unknown, trying to find an approach that would work, a method that would hold my hand. Writing from personal experience made perfect sense.

I developed my characters and my hero, someone whose story I had wanted to tell. I had a scenario. It was loose at first, but I was fine with that as I wanted the story to unfold and develop. I was looking to keep the process exciting and fresh, and I figured the more I made a storyboard before I began, the more barriers I was putting in my way. I know some writers like to plot their stories from the start, and I suspect with some types of novels it is essential. I don’t. Each to their own, as you have to find what works for you. I wanted to get the words down and see where they would take me.

I gave myself a minimum daily target of 1,000 words which I stuck to and often exceeded. The first draft flowed and the writing was fun. It was like a series of puzzles, and I love problem-solving. I had tough days, and scrapped a lot of words, but I kept going, spurred on by the growing sense of achievement. It was exciting and motivating to see the words mount and the story develop. I was disciplined, and above all else I would say that is the key quality you need to finish a novel. I suspect there are many great unfinished novels that would be completed with more structure and discipline. Page after page created my new world. Every day I would escape there and build, moulding and reshaping, bringing new characters to life, and getting rid of others. It was an exhilarating journey, and finally, the day came, I completed the first draft and was overcome with joy and relief. I had done it. I had written a novel, or at least a rough, unfinished first draft of a novel.

I asked myself – what do I do now? We all have someone who reads our work first. It has to be someone you trust, but who won’t sugarcoat the feedback. The early drafts are the beginning, but far from the end, and you need a first editor to tell you what does and doesn’t work and why. Eventually you will need a good copy-editor to look at a draft you’re happy with. External, professional input is vital, as no matter how good you think your work is it can be better and there are things you will miss. Before my draft ever got that far I wanted to give it to someone else for the first judgement.

I read somewhere you should never give your work to anyone you share Christmas dinner with. In my case we share a bed. Some would urge caution at giving your unfinished work to your wife. They may tell you what you want to hear, not what you need to. Thankfully, Julie doesn’t sweeten her feedback. She’s an English graduate, well-read, a teacher and, more importantly I trust and value her opinion. She’s honest, usually more than I would like. I used the term brutal to describe her comments, but she prefers honest and constructive.

I gave my wife a polished draft of my debut convinced she would love it. She was impressed, enjoyed it, and there were many things she admired about the novel. I was relieved. The quality of the writing was much higher than she’d expected, and I recall the phrase ‘it does read like a proper book’. My excitement was short-lived though. It was good, and there was a lot to build on, but it wasn’t there yet. It didn’t work. The characters and writing were strong, but the story was flimsy, too weak. This stung me, so I read it again, determined to convince myself she was wrong. She was right, as always. Her candour and constructive criticisms helped me realise where the faults lay in the book. I had followed the advice and written what I knew, but it was too personal, and though the characters were strong I had been so desperate to capture them that I had wrapped their relationship around a dull plot. It read more like a screenplay than a novel, and there was too much dialogue and not enough action. I had tried to use the characters as a vehicle for my ideas and it felt contrived. In sum, it was a valiant first attempt, but it wasn’t good enough, at least not yet. I could do better.

This realisation was a blow. I had put months of my life into this, and the excitement of completion had convinced me that this was the one. Yet time and reflection away from the draft, along with some objective feedback left me with a big decision. Did I persevere with the draft and make it better? Could I rewrite it, make it more literary and less cinematic? How could I improve the story-line and make it more dramatic and compelling? Failing all of that, should I put it to one side, learn from the experience, move on and write something else? I guess these are the questions writers ask all the time, or at least should.

This was a learning process and though I hadn’t succeeded with this novel, at least I knew where I had gone wrong. I had followed the advice and written what I knew, but for me this reassuring structure had been a constraint. For the ‘known’ I had drawn on the autobiographical too much, taken personal experiences and woven a shaky plot around them. Sometimes this works. In my case it didn’t. My desire was to bring particular characters to life, but in doing so I had overlooked a critical element of all good writing, the story. Of course, characters are important, but readers love a good narrative. More importantly, I hadn’t written a book I would want to read, I had written one I thought I should write. I had played safe and sometimes safe is dull.

I made a bold decision, set the manuscript to one side, buried it in a cyber vault. I decided to start again, write another, something different, based around a wild and imaginary scenario and setting. I focused on the story and let my imagination run free. This novel would not be about what I knew, but would be one that I would love to read. I kept my structure of determination and daily discipline, and allowed things to develop and unfold. This was the journey that led to ‘Becoming’, my second novel, but the first I am happy with, and have published. The failed first attempt was very important though. Without the failure and the lessons taken from it, ‘Becoming’ might never have been written.

What have I learned from my experience of writing my first novel? Discipline and humility are two of the most important qualities you need to be a writer. Being honest, even brutal, with yourself may be the next. Criticism of your writing will hurt, but being critical from draft one will save you more pain in the long term. Trust the opinion of someone who will be frank with you about your work. Don’t let ego or excitement overcome common sense and critical judgement. Give yourself plenty of time between edits, as it is good to look at something again with fresh eyes. At times it is important to admit to yourself that something doesn’t work. The first novel you complete may not be the first you should let the world see. Readers are often strangers who owe you nothing. If your first attempt makes the grade I applaud you, but there’s no shame in burying it. Keep it though, as it may come in useful in the future, and some of it will be good enough to steal. We learn from every writing experience, especially the ones that don’t turn out as we had hoped. We need the courage to move on and be better, but also to never give up.