Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Bring Me Sunshine New Trailer!

The very kind Kathy Golden over at Book Trailer Services is just starting out and made this super trailer for Bring Me Sunshine.

I think it's fair to say that I am DELIGHTED!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Life is Good

I’ve been commissioned to write/compile a book for a care-leavers project which is coming to an end. I'm collecting stories, experiences, thoughts, ideas, top tips for independent living and lots of other things, and adding a few of my own. By day I’m out and about – interviewing people, talking to people, hearing their stories, finding out what’s made the difference in their lives, and how this particular project has impacted on them – and I’m doing a lot of listening; to young people, old people, support workers, mentors, outdoor ed. instructors, project leaders, cleaners, managers … everyone who’s had anything to do with the project and who would like to have their say about it now.

By night, I’m sat at my desk writing up my interview or story or bunch of top tips or the latest little piece of wonderfulness which has crossed my path …

And then I go to bed, happy.

Even though when you read the news or watch TV you could be forgiven for thinking that we’re all just on this great big downward spiral to doom … I just want to say it’s not quite like that. There is some great stuff going on in the world.

Real people. Doing real things. Changing real lives.

And frankly, that’s uplifting. 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Procrastination? Bah... no problem.

Writing is hard. It’s not just a matter of typing a few thousand words. The process involves digging deep into your inner psyche to come up with a story, attaching emotion to that story (which means you have to feel that emotion at some level), making sense of it (for your readers), making it interesting and enjoyable, and turning it into something which doesn’t resemble the creative emotional regurgitation it really is.

It's no wonder we procrastinate sometimes. Here are my tips to help you get past the Big P. 

1. Remove the time pressure. What’s the hurry anyway? You don’t have to write a whole novel in one day. Allow yourself to take it easy because even 100 words a day will get you there in the end.

2. Set yourself an alarm and write until it goes off. Start with fifteen minutes, because you can do anything for fifteen minutes, and all those fifteen minutes sessions will soon add up

3. Do it in the morning before you do anything else. (Okay - coffee allowed.) Your brain waves are at their most creative when you first wake so this is the ideal time to tackle a creative project. 

4. Eat that frog. Seriously - if the worst thing you had to do all day was eat a frog, you’d know that once you ate it, everything else would be a cinch. So do it. Eat that frog and there’s nothing else to worry out.
Toby's day improved dramatically after the frog incident.
5. Ask for help. Stuck with a plot point, continuity issue or character flaw? Tell someone else and ask their opinion. They might not have the answer, but just getting it out of your system could well leave enough room for you to come up with a solution yourself.  

6. Take the phone off the hook. Block facebook, twitter and pinterest. Shut your workspace door.

7. Alternatively, write with a friend. You can keep each other on track, reassure each other, and give each other moral support.

8. Form a habit. Do something the same time every day so that it starts to become a habit. When you don’t do it, you’ll miss it.

9. Make a list of everything you need to do, and include writing on that list. Tick off everything you achieve, as you achieve it, and commit to finishing the list every day.

10. Allow yourself to reflect on the great feeling you get when you actually achieve what you set out to.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A few words about pacing

You can go fast, or you can go slow. 
Barry didn't mind either way; he had the best view. 
Pacing allows you to control the (illusion of) speed of your story. I say the illusion, because there’s no evidence to suggest your reader actually reads any quicker or slower at different stages of a story.

Fast scenes convey action and excitement. They give the reader a sense or urgency. Importance. Quick bursts of necessary information interspersed with longer sentences quicken the pace, and then slow it back down. (But avoid repeating patterns if you don’t want to irritate.) 

Slow scenes give your characters and readers a chance to relax and catch their breath; to feel the impact of your story. They take time to develop the senses, drawing on the imagination to fully engage the mind. They allow for periods of calm and quiet, and in so doing, enhance the intensity in the action scene.

Stories with no variation in pace do not reflect true life. Life is not all fast paced, or slow paced; if it were, it would either be intolerably stressful or dead dull boring. You don’t want your reader to experience either of those emotions.

Understanding how to control pace is an important skill for all authors. There are lots of ways to do it, although some are better suited for micropacing – line by line – and some are better suited for macropacing – pacing the story as a whole.

If you want to speed things consider the following:
  • More action scenes
  • Giving your reader a series of incidents in rapid succession
  • Cliff hangers and hooks
  • Dialogue
  • Telling not showing
  • Short words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters
  • Your choice of words
If you want to slow things down consider these:
  • Taking time to describe setting
  • Adding context
  • Lingering over character development
  • Switching focus to sub plots
  • Prolonged dialogue
  • Long words, sentences, paragraphs, scenes and chapters
  • Your choice of words
There are no rights and wrongs, because every story, page and paragraph will be what you make it. How fast your story moves, depends entirely on you. But you must know what you want to achieve and how to achieve it.
Originally posted on the now defunct Magic Beans blog

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Structuring a chapter

When you are daunted by the weight of revisions and re-writes ahead of you, it pays to break your edits into small chunks. (See previous post). Somewhere between points 1&2 lies the need to structure each chapter individually and be sure of its purpose in the story. It is useful to look at chapter structure in the same way as you might look at whole plot structure - in that you have setting, set-up, rising action, climax and falling action. 

Plot structure
But you also need to consider the goal of each scene, and you won’t necessarily have a resolution, unless of course this is your scene of absolute climax.
So, let’s look at an example in this story – SALLY FINDS TREASURE.
The EXTERNAL goal of the whole story (as opposed to the internal, emotional goal) is for Sally and her new friends to find hidden treasure.
Here is the scene where it looks like all this might go wrong.
THE GOAL - What is the goal of this scene?
  • To put Sally in jeopardy
SETTING – Where is this?
  • A lonely beach, West of Cumbria
SET-UP - What needs to be done to set this up?
  • All the children need to be on the beach with their buckets and spades.
RISING ACTION - the drama which puts the ultimate goal in doubt.
  • The children play in the sand – burying each other and having fun at first
  • Sally and Todd have an argument
  • Sally storms off into the nearby cave to sulk
  • The tide starts to come in to the cave
  • Sally is trapped by the incoming tide…
End of chapter - NB there is no falling action or resolution yet.
In the following chapter, the headstrong Sally will need to find a way to free herself, OR call the others to save her. But either way, it’s ultimately this act which will lead to the discovery of the hidden treasure.
Sally’s INTERNAL goal is to be accepted as part of this new peer group. Her INTERNAL conflict and emotions will give the scene even more depth.  
So, Sally will be playing happily, but when she argues with Todd this happiness turns to anger and forces an impulsive reaction, causing her to run away. Sally will experience fear, and possibly indecision – being torn between admitting she was silly to run off, and never wanting to speak to the other children again.

Both EXTERNAL and INTERNAL conflicts should be part of the overall CONFLICT within the whole story. 
If you were to go through each chapter in your novel in this way, by the time you reach the end you will have a very good sense of everything in its place, and be able to approach any rewrites with confidence, before moving on to the fine tuning.

And they all lived happily ever after ... kind of.

Small Chunk Your Edits - The 3 Point Plan

You can't eat it all in one go.
Doesn't matter if you've planned your book to the last detail or written it in one mad impulsive splurge fueled only by coffee, cake and the urge to create (think, NaNoWriMo), there are always things you can improve.

And when first come face to face with the prospect of editing, it’s very easy to be daunted.

Don’t be!

1. My advice is to start big. Start with structure. Does the plot hold together? Is the pacing right? Do the characters have credible motivations? Are they doing things in the correct place and at the correct time, or do you need to rearrange a few scenes/signal an important plot point/get rid of irrelevant detail/iron out your continuity bumps … and so on.

If you are in any doubt about this, it pays to write a chapter by chapter synopsis of the main plot points. As you go through your manuscript doing this you get a clearer picture of the structure without getting drawn into detail. It may take several drafts to get it right, but when you finish this blow by blow account, you will have achieved some objectivity and know which bits need changing - and which bits don’t.

2. Move on to the chapters and individual scenes and repeat what you just did but in finer detail. Every chapter, every scene, needs scrutiny. You can add language to your edits here, making sure that each character has a distinguishable voice and behaves in an appropriate way. You’ll need to check pacing and make sure your beats are in the right place.  Get rid of extraneous detail and unnecessary exposition which neither adds to the plot nor enhances character. Be aware of your showing and telling

3. And when you’re through with that, it’s down to the fine tuning. Look at the words. Are the words appropriate? Would your protagonist really use that word? Does that sunset really need to shout cliché? And so on. Look for repeated words or phrases. How’s your spelling and grammar?

The reason you start with the big stuff is because this is the framework everything else hangs on. You need solid foundations before you can let loose on the paintwork and plumbing, and finally the decoration.

Now stand back and admire your work.

Monday, 17 November 2014

5 Great Rules For Writing Dialogue

Originally posted on This Craft Called Writing

Rule #1 – Dialogue should never be pointless

When your characters speak they come alive. Or at least they should do. If they are Mr or Mrs Boring and have little of relevance to say, if they are inclined to lecture, if they live in a vacuum or have no personality, then chances are your reader will not care if they live or die or dance the fandango stark naked.

The point of dialogue – as with everything else in your narrative – is to further the story. And by that I don’t mean you have to be dropping major plot points into every conversation; it’s there to enrich your fictional world by showing your reader something about character, providing texture or pace, and to build tension and drama...

"Did you do the washing up?"
"Yes, but I left the dishes to drain."
"They will be dry when we get home."
"That's what I thought too."
"This dialogue is pointless, isn't it?"
"Yes, Darling."

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Character development - out of the blue

Discovering that her mother
knew swear words, was quite
a shock for Sadie
You've put flesh on the bones of your protagonist, (let's call her Hortensia) and chances are, you've fallen in love.

But let me remind you, the first flushes of love are not necessarily the best way to get to know a girl. Good times are great, but you never completely know someone until you've been through the odd tough situation together; the testing times. That's when you see what they're really made of.

So here’s a little exercise for getting you over that hurdle. I shall assume that you’ve already done a bit of character development. Maybe you’ve got a picture of Hortensia on your wall, you know her favourite colour, star sign, credit card number; the usual kind of stuff. You probably know a bit about her family background, her motivation, hopes and dreams and  her best friend's middle name. All of this is great. It’s the stuff of first and second dates… maybe longer.

But then you run up against a problem. Maybe Hortensia's cat dies. Maybe she loses her door key and it’s raining and she has to be somewhere, in like, 10 minutes!!! Or maybe, you spill orange squash all over her brand new cream Axminster. You did what??? Do you have any idea how much it will cost to clean a rug of that quality? Like, you don’t even care? Well we’re through. Hear me? Through!!!

Yes, that’s the kind of level you need to get to with Hortensia. It’s all about being in the moment with her and seeing how she reacts. And this is how you do it...

1. Think up a series of about a dozen unexpected incidents. (EG you spill orange squash on the Axminster, a bird poops on her perm, she trips on a loose paving slab… It doesn’t have to be bad. But it can be!) 
2. Write these 'unexpected' events down on little pieces of paper, and fold each one up small so that you can’t see what’s written.
3. Start writing about a day in the life of Hortensia and after a few minutes, grab one of the pieces of paper and incorporate that event into her day. How does she react? What does she think/feel/do? What happens as a consequence?
4. Keep going with this; opening a new unexpected event every few minutes or more. You don't need to use all the events; you can save some for your next character.

By the time you've written a few pages, you'll have a much better idea about what Hortensia will do when the chips are down. 

But do you still love her?

Friday, 14 November 2014

Top 10 tips on writing for children

Children love stories.
Make sure you write them a story worth reading

  1. Your story should always be about a child, a group of children, or a creature children will relate to; for example, an animal or being from another realm.
  2. The central character should be of a similar age, or slightly older than your target audience.
  3. The plot should focus on the main character, although there may be related sub-plots which feed into it.
  4. It should always be the protagonist who solves the problem or dilemma.
  5. The setting should be in a world engaging to children.
  6. Keep the story moving.
  7. The language and content should be appropriate to your target audience.
  8. Spend time with children and soak up their world.
  9. Don't lecture.
  10. Do your homework – read children’s books

5 Reasons Why We Write Realistic Fiction For Young Adults by @ApplecoreBooks

1) Real life is what we know

We are both teachers and have both specialised in working with young people whose lives are fraught
with real life problems; the lonely and isolated, the economically disadvantaged, the emotionally unsupported, the kids whose families are falling apart through a myriad of reasons and it’s affecting their schoolwork because they can’t concentrate, can’t think, and feel powerless to act.

2) To give young people a voice 

We want to give those young people – and especially the ones who can’t express themselves (for whatever reason) – an honest voice; otherwise they might never be heard. When a young person says, “I can relate to that,” we know we are getting somewhere. When a young person says, “your book helped me,” we feel that we have done a good job.

Beyond this, giving them a voice will also help to boost their self-esteem. Just because they have to experience crap in their lives, doesn’t mean they have to feel bad or hopeless or unworthy. Our name is a metaphor; it’s the bit of the apple most people don’t want, and yet it’s the bit with all the seeds for new growth. As with apple cores, every single child has the seeds within them to grow into the person they would really love to be ... Read the rest of this post over at Bang2Write

Thursday, 13 November 2014

How to punctuate dialogue …

I first posted this over at the Magic Beans Blog, and it was by far the most popular post over there. Since I have now closed that blog (for the sake of efficiency and personal sanity), I am going to repost here!

Lucy and Charlie opted for vanilla
I receive quite a few manuscripts with poorly punctuated dialogue, and it’s a shame, especially if the rest of the writing is good. Bad punctuation shouts ‘inexperienced writer’ and really gets in the way of the reader experience. Your reader needs to be clear about who is speaking or they may just give up before the end of the first page. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so learn these simple rules and make a good impression from the start.

NB For the purposes of this post, speech marks = quotation marks = inverted commas

1. Use speech marks – “What, these?” – around spoken words. (You don’t need them around thoughts.)

2. All punctuation – full stop, exclamation mark, question mark, or comma – goes inside the closing quotation marks...

           "Do you want an ice cream?" said Charlie

Unless it is not part of the material being quoted.

            Did Lucy say, “Yes please”? Charlie wasn’t sure.

3. Every speaker should get a new line, and if a character embarks on an action before they speak, that should also go on the new line. For example:

“Would you like an ice cream, Lucy?” said Charlie.
Lucy clapped her hands and squealed. “Yes please!”

If a character speaks, continues with action or thought and then returns to speak, you can keep this all within the same paragraph.

"Which flavour would you like?" Charlie said, as he searched in his purse for the pennies. "They have strawberry or chocolate."

And you may continue with this same paragraph until another character speaks or acts.
NB - A paragraph is a sentence or group of sentences that support one main idea.

4. If you end a piece of dialogue with “she said” or any other tag, then the dialogue sentence should finish with a comma, not a full stop (unless it’s a question mark or exclamation mark). The tag should start with a lower-case letter (unless it begins with a name, obviously).

            “I want a strawberry one,” said Lucy.           

5. If the dialogue is followed by action, it should end with a full stop like any other sentence.

            “No! I want a chocolate one.” Lucy jumped up and down and clapped some more.

6. If your speech comes after tag, use a comma before the first speech marks, and a capital letter for the start of the spoken sentence.

            And then she said, “No! Strawberry. Changed my mind.”

7. Most of the time, dialogue tags or associated actions go before or after the dialogue, but sometimes you’ll want to position a dialogue tag or action in the middle of the speech.

"Quick! Make a decision,” said Charlie, “before the van goes ..."

When a tag line interrupts a sentence, it should be set off by commas, and the first letter of the second half of the sentence is in lower case. Usually, you do this to indicate a pause.

8. To signal a quotation within a quotation, use single quotes:

"Shall we read ‘The Hungry Caterpillar’?" Charlie asked Lucy.

9. Only use end quotes when your character has finished speaking. If a quotation spills over into more than one paragraph, don't use end quotes at the close of the first paragraph.

I think that’s everything. But please let me know of you can think of anything else!

          “Happy writing,” said Charlie.

PS - added 6th June - You might also be interested in my guest post - 5 Great Rules for Writing Dialogue - at Lorrie Porter's Blog - This Craft Called Writing.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Gratuitous puppies by way of an apology

I was horrified to open up my blog today and see that the last time I posted anything was August.

Gratuitous puppies

As shocked as I was, I also wasn't surprised. Because the last few months have been crazy busy.

I've been finishing a book, fleshing out another one, working on a stage play (an entirely new departure for me, but it's going to have singing and dancing and a cast of thousands), critiquing, selling myself on social media, doing school visits, teaching (and you know, ugh, all the planning & preparing for that), washing, ironing (managed a whole hour in the last 2 months), cooking, cleaning, tending to the sick and the elderly, being a mum, running a hotel, taxi service and recipe information line, eating, sleeping ... Did I mention having fun? Because yes, I've even had some of that...

Awww ...
But the bottom line is, there simply aren't enough hours in the day to do everything, and something had to give. So apologies for lack of bloggery. When I can see the wood for the trees, or the blue sky above the clouds, or the pumpkin at the end of the rainbow ... or something, I'll let you know.

In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed for my new baby (aka my latest book), which is right this minute out there, on its own for the first time, looking for a new home. And if you happen to come across it, please be nice ...

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Dear Author, Where do you get your ideas from?

One of my young readers contacted me this week. She had lived in foster care for several years and had ended up in a school like High Fell Hall, the school in Where Bluebirds Fly. She was very open about her own troubled life and said my book had made her feel that good things do come out of bad. She wanted to thank me, but she also wanted to know where I got the idea. 

People often ask me this difficult question. Since I write realistic contemporary fiction, my answer is usually ‘real life’. This is a quite a broad subject.

Inspiration is not a single light bulb moment,
but that moment repeated hundreds of times.
To be succinct, I told my reader how inspiration had come while I was working at a school similar to High Fell Hall. This was my initial inspiration for Where Bluebirds Fly, but it’s not the complete answer.Writers don’t just get one inspiration for one story and that’s it; we get a whole truckload of inspirations dropping on us constantly while we write, and that’s what makes it such a difficult question to answer.

The original idea was to write a story about a girl (Ruby) who carried a bag of rocks with her everywhere she went. It was supposed to be a story about how the weight of these rocks got in the way of everything she did and stopped her living the wonderful life she was born to live. The rocks were a metaphor for all the emotional baggage she carried around with her, and the story was supposed to be about how Ruby learned to let go and find her true and precious self.

My background in therapy and teaching informed me about school life and the play therapy sessions Ruby attended. The first draft was fairly faithful to the metaphor and my personal experiences, but not enough to sustain a whole book.

Subsequent drafts (of which there were many) drew inspiration from …
  • a newspaper story about two girls who grew up not knowing they shared a father
  • a theatre trip to see Wicked
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • the  dozens of bird statues and art works on Morecambe promenade
  • a conversation with a friend who told me how she had trained a robin to come to her kitchen windowsill for food
  • seeing a Kingfisher flying upstream, while I was out walking my dog
  • my own lovely grandma, who used to call me Ducky
  • my dad and his garden full of wonderful things
  • a multi coloured cloak once used in a school play but relegated to the dressing up box
  • me, when I too was a messed up kid, struggling with identity
  • the little moments -- like waking up in clean sheets and remembering the feel of a good night’s sleep, an overheard conversation on a bus, a fossil found on a beach ...
... and a hundred other things buried deep in my unconscious mind that I don’t even remember.

Because stories, just like people, are complex; they are influenced and inspired by all sorts of things you can’t put a name or a date to. In the case of a book, you reach a final definitive draft, and when people ask you “Where do you get your ideas from?” you supply them with a definitive answer.

But of course, there really isn’t one. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Day in the Life of a Writer

Writing a book ? Pah, can't undertand what all the fuss is about.
I entered a competition last month over at the Rave Reviews Book Club. I didn't win, but then again I didn't do it to win ... all right, all right, I did. But hey, it was fun. The aim was to write a short story entitled A Day in the Life of a Writer and subsequently win amazing prizes which money can't even buy ... all right all right, it can. But hey, I'm poor.
My little effort would probably never have seen the light of day, but then I saw one of the other contestants, PS Barltett, author of Fireflies, had blogged her losing entry and I decided to follow suit. 
So here it is, my little work of fiction ... all right all right, it's not entirely fiction. But hey, it is #MyLife and I hope you enjoy it.
Her brain is dead. She can’t write a thing. Being a writer is the worst job in the world. Staring at the blank screen, hoping to find the missing plot point, (and failing) she contemplates other employment. I used to earn a living wage, and make important decisions . . . I used to be able to string a sentence together, she thinks. What’s happening to me?
A restless night of tossing and turning and sweaty tangled hair has only added to the problem. You can’t think straight when you’re tired, and hungry, and a mess.
            She scans the jobs pages instead. Recent experience essential. Really? Because her only recent experience is experience of staring at a blank screen; unless you count reading, reviewing and time spent on social media of course.
After breakfast, she sits down with her manuscript. That plot point will come, she tells herself. Today is a day for positivity. Deliberate optimism. She read about that somewhere so it must be true.
She drinks coffee and eats cake.
            But two hours later there’s still nothing to show for her labours, except a handful of retweets, a bunch of entertaining but distracting blog posts and a couple of status updates. #AmWriting, she lies, and gives up; the dog needs a walk; the carpet needs a vacuum; the washing needs a helping hand if it’s ever going to make it into the machine . . . and yes, she needs a shower. Or maybe she could skip that today? She sniffs. Probably not.
The great thing about the dog is that she has to get out of the house – rain or shine. If it wasn’t for Gnasher, she never would; she’d probably never even get out of her pyjamas. She tells other dog walkers this. "A day in the life of a writer," she laughs.
And they laugh too. They think it’s a joke. They think writing is glamorous. They think she’s rich, like JK, or EL James. They talk about film deals and Booker Prizes and declare how wonderful it must be to be creative. They tell her they will look out for a copy of her book, and ask who her publisher is . . .
“I’m an Indie writer,” she declares.
“Indie? As in independent? As in self-published?”
“I am my own publisher, which is really rewarding because . . .” But Gnasher has fouled the path and she needs to pick it up. #MyLife
Back at home she returns to her desk and reads the story so far. This time, I’m going to get it right. She is poised to continue . . . but the words aren’t there and the page remains blank. So she has that shower, vacuums the carpet and even makes a lasagne for dinner later. The story calls her, but she cannot hear it over the noise of the washing machine and her own inner spin cycle of despair. Those other stories were just flukes. This one is never going to work. It just doesn’t add up. Round and round and round. #AmProcrastinating.
And then, finally, all out of excuses, she returns to her desk, and Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads. She engages with other writers who, like her, are having an off day; a why-do-I-bother day; a my-writing-life-is-over day. “Aww, don’t give up,” twitter friends tells her. “Your books are awesome. You’re a brilliant writer.” They go ahead and tweet for her, comment on her blog, cheer her from the sidelines.
Reasons to be thankful, she thinks . . . the wonderful support of other writers out there . . . the family you never meet . . . the marvellous community of generous, caring, souls.
She makes more coffee, eats more cake, stares at the blank page and knows she can’t put it off any longer. This is the moment. This is the point at which it all can change. And she will make something of this novel if it’s the last thing she does . . .  
One hundred words later, she smiles. It needs some work, but this is just the first draft after all.
Two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, five . . .  
The words are coming thick and fast. And that missing plot point? Suddenly and without warning, it flies in – inspiration out of nowhere, and lands slap bang in the middle of her page, just at the exact right moment.

Hallelujah! She’s on fire. Being a writer is the best job in the world.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Holy Crucial Moment!

I’m reading a book. 

If you’ve read it, you’ll know which one I’m talking about, but if you haven’t it’s not important. For the purposes of this post I shall call it Batman and Robin. It’s an intriguing story about first love in which the two slightly off-beat, weird, non-conformist teenage protagonists might or might not get it together.

Love's young dream
The thing is, I was enjoying Batman and Robin very much. It’s sweet, subtle, and clever. And there’s a slow dribble of back-story from which a rather disturbing and heart-breaking picture of Robin’s horrible family life emerges. I was hooked and completely emotionally involved . . . until the moment when some unlikely thing happened.

Briefly, Robin hears gunshots in his house and, terrified, climbs through the bedroom window to phone the police from a neighbour’s house. But when the police arrive, they send HIM back in through the window (to where the gunshots were) so that he can open the door and let them in…

"Holy Catastophe, Robin.
We have to save this plot!"
And I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe this would happen. Wouldn’t the police be calling up armed support? Wouldn’t they be looking after the young Robin? Wouldn’t they be the ones climbing through the window to remove his younger siblings to safety? It's unbelievable and I can't understand how this could have got through the editing stage. What's more, I don’t understand its purpose in the narrative, other than to set up a situation in which we know there is the potential to be shot in Robin’s house. Surely there are better ways of doing this?

Suspension of disbelief is essential for a story to work, whatever the genre. If readers are to invest emotional energy and involvement in our stories, we (the writers and editors) must eradicate anything which seems implausible and gives them reason to question our words. Big no-nos include:
  • Getting facts wrong
  • Inconsistency (with character, plot or setting)
  • Characters failing to react
  • Coincidence
  • Lack of clarity
  • Plot holes

I’m not entirely sure which category Robin’s half-baked policemen fall into – it’s somewhere between 'getting facts wrong' and 'plot holes' – but I’m afraid they have ruined the book for me. Disbelief is no longer suspended. Disbelief has been set free from its cage and is now crashing through the rest of the narrative wearing critical hobnailed boots. Disbelief has created a gaping chasm in which I am forced to question the mechanics of the text.

My emotional commitment has disappeared and I am lost.

Do they or don't they?
I'll never know.
Do they or don't they? I might not even bother reading to the end; which means of course, I’ll never know if the Holy Love Birds finally get it together.

But really, am I bothered?

Friday, 4 July 2014


Last week, the lovely/enigmatic/crazed* (delete as appropriate) KINDLE NINJA asked me if I'd like to do a book review with him/her. It is impossible to say no to a Ninja, so I said yes. 

We chose, Between Octobers by A.R. Rivera because we were both grabbed by the Look Inside bit on Amazon, and after reading, we settled down at the Ninja's pad for a full and frank discussion. 

And this is what we came up with...

Grace Zuniga, a yearling widow, is convinced she can never fall in love again. She has surrendered to a quiet life on a quiet street, existing in a world that revolves around her two young sons - until an ordinary day in October when she steps into an elevator and meets Evan, a Hollywood playboy. They embark on a romance that is anything but ordinary… 

KINDLE NINJA (KN): Hi Wendy. Thanks for agreeing to participate in this madness I call a joint review. I would normally offer you milk & cookies, but this particular segment has no budget…

WENDY STORER (WS): Outrageous! Did my agent know about this when she booked me?  I can’t work without food…

KN: Between Octobers by A.R. Rivera. I suggested this book because when I had a “Look Inside” I was impressed at the quality of writing. I thought the opening chapter was brilliant.

WS: Me too. It’s a great start, full of intrigue and suspense to engage the reader; it certainly pulled me in and got me asking questions.

KN:  You immediately know something’s wrong on page 1.

WS: Yes, apart from the whole trapped in a box thing, I love the way the pregnancy is underplayed at this point – it’s just a bump – because that ups the stakes immediately.

KN: We meet Grace Zuniga (or Gracie) in a state of panic, and practically defenceless. As the story progresses (or backtracks), we get to know her better. What did you think of Gracie?

WS: I wanted to like her, because you certainly feel for her, and for the most part I did, but I am not convinced Gracie is well enough developed as a character; we only learn things about her as it is required in the plot. It feels a little as if the author is making her up as she goes along, rather than her being a real person. For example, she tells us Grace is a frequent runner (when she is running away from her captor) but we don’t see any evidence of this beforehand. She tells us she is a nurse and later she does charity work, but we hardly see any evidence of this in her story. Her children seem to come and go without issues of child care being evident, Ronnie doesn’t even get a mention until he’s needed on set (as it were), the dog dies and no one questions it, a new dog arrives out of nowhere and it’s just accepted…I don’t have a really clear picture of Gracie’s life and when new things kept popping up, conveniently, it annoyed me.

KN: I don’t particularly look for set up for every character or situation, because honestly, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of them. If they were mentioned in passing and they aren’t critical to the storyline, I think that’s forgivable. However, if someone or something is crucial to the resolution and there was no proper set up, that will annoy me.

I actually like Gracie. Not a very complex character, but interesting. I thought the background provided was enough for me to like her, anything more would just be filler.

WS: I hear what you’re saying, but things like the running (for example) – if you know this is something Grace has up her sleeve, it could actually improve the reading experience. It’s about trusting the reader, and understanding what to give them and what to hold back. If we already knew that Grace was a runner, we’d be with her, one step ahead of her captor; instead of which, I was just, so she can run? How convenient.

What about Evan? Did you like him? At first, I found him a little too good to be true, bordering on creepy, and I questioned his motives. But he had hidden depths and I had to re-evaluate as the story progressed.

KN: I thought Evan was a little more complex than Gracie, but he was only interesting to me when he was with Gracie. They were good together. I thought the “toilet” scene was hilarious (could just be me though lol).

WS: Yeah, I liked that one too. Actually I thought the way Evan’s fame was handled was pretty good generally; it made for a lot of dramatic tension.

KN: Did you like any other particular scene/situation?

WS: The birth scene springs to mind – such an awful ‘place’ (emotionally, mentally, physically) to be, that you’re with Gracie all the way. I don’t want to give any spoilers – but let’s just say, this scene is packed with tension and I did actually cry! (I know, I’m a wuss.)

KN: What did you think of the narrative structure?

WS: I found the present tense narrative – for present and past events – quite limiting. Present tense was absolutely right for the kidnap chapters of the book, but NOT for the lead up/past chapters.

The first person point of view also meant that we are in Gracie’s head too much.

KN: I felt that the internal monologue slowed down the pace of the story considerably, which diminished the suspense. Had the author cut down on those, the switching from past to present events would have been more effective, with more sense of urgency.

WS:  Totally agree with you. But I did love the way we kept returning to this kidnap story line all the way through. It was the exciting/action part of the story and kept me reading to see who it was who had kidnapped Grace and how it was all going to work out.

Towards the end, the chase thing is gripping and I loved the way the past and present came together.

KN: Did you guess who the kidnapper was?

WS: Not until it was obvious. There were too many ‘possibles’, with too few clues as to who s/he actually was. When it is obvious, it’s better – more tense, more exciting, more believable – but again, I felt that the author lacked trust in her writing (and in the reader) and threw in too many red herrings as to who the kidnapper could have been. Did you get the same feeling of frustration?

KN: The first time that character was introduced, my ninja sense started tingling. I sensed the character will do something sinister. But I quickly dismissed the thought as it was still very early in the story. So I still enjoyed the chase and red herrings.

Did you like the ending?

WS: Yes and no. Yes, because it was unexpected and shocking. No, because it was unexpected and shocking! But also because I just thought it went on too long; it could have ended much sooner and had more impact.

KN: I wished it ended differently.

How would you rate ‘Between Octobers’ as a debut novel?

WS: I wanted more action and to get out of Gracie’s head and experience something concrete, if you see what I mean…but because the concept was good and the overall structure and plot were really good, (plus I did enjoy it)…I’d give it 4 stars. What about you?

KN: I love the character of Gracie. I like her interaction with other characters. The first few chapters were very engaging and the suspense held my interest. The only problem was that there were lengthy interior monologues that served little to no plot function. The beauty of the set up was lost. BUT I was already so heavily invested in the character that it was difficult to disengage.

I give ‘Between Octobers’ 4 stars.

WS: Hooray, then we agree! Can I get some food now, please?

The Kindle Ninja is a seasoned book reviewer, and you can read lots of reviews by him/her over at his/her blog.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Don't hold me to that . . .

I have been tagged again – this time by Marlena Hand, in the ‘Meet My Main Character' blog chain. When I first saw her post I thought, ooo what fun! But a week later I am wracked with indecision. Not because I don’t know enough about my main character; it’s just that she is still, after all, a work in progress, and everything may change by the time I am ready to let her loose on the world.

You see, this story started life as a women’s novel. I wrote a few full drafts and while there were things I liked about the story, it has never felt completely right. I never really fell in love with my main character – a rude and aggressive 35 year-old alcoholic female. (What’s not to love?) For some inexplicable reason, we just didn’t get on.

And then one morning I woke up to a brainwave. I could reinvent her as a 17 year-old!

Months of rewriting later, I am about half way there! It’s a pretty drastic change in some ways, and in other ways, it’s perfect. It's easier to love a YA/NA anti-heroine, but there's still a lot of work to be done to get her just right…so although I will join in and answer the questions, please don't hold me to anything.

The Q&As

  1. What is the name of your main character? And is he/she fictional
    Mae, and yes – entirely fictional. (Any resemblance to persons living or dead etc…)

  2. When and where is the story set?
    Mainly in a recycling centre in South Cumbria

  3. What should we know about her?
    After punching a pizza delivery boy, Mae has been given a community payback sentence by the court. Her brother has died. She is 17 years-old, drinks too much, swears too much, has alienated all her friends, and is not handling her grief very well at all. Her step-dad has moved out  -- as a result of Mae’s anti-social behaviour -- so she lives alone.

  4. What is the main conflict?
    Hard to pick one without giving the game away, but I will tell you that Mae is in conflict with many people and things: her step-father, her friends, one particular woman at the recycling centre, authority, herself…

  5. What is her personal goal?
    At the beginning of the story, Mae does not have a goal; she’s lost and directionless. By the end, this has changed. A long time personal goal is rekindled – to be a chef – but something far bigger than this comes into play. I’m not going to tell you what that is…

  6. Is there a working title for this novel?
    Mrs Outhwaite

  7. When can we expect the book to be published?
    2015 – hopefully.

So now it’s my turn to tag some other writers to tell us about their main character. But only if they want to. Kate Hanney, Katie Hayoz, Emma Haughton.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Chocolate Book Challenge!

I gather from previous posts that I’m supposed to pick one book to represent each category of Dark, Milk and White chocolate, and give my reasons for doing so. But since I am both naturally rebellious and greedy, I’m going to pick three titles for each. 

Seriously, it is hard enough whittling it down to three books, never mind one.

For me Dark Chocolate represents the ‘grown up’ stuff – serious issues which pack a punch. Books for older teens/adults.

The three books I’ve chosen have all left me crying into my pillow, traumatised and quite probably scarred for life. If you want angst, if you want your heart torn out and dragged across barbed wire, if you want an excuse to hide in a darkened room for the next few days . . . any one of these will do it for you.

Forbidden by TabithaSuzuma
The story of an incestuous but loving relationship between a brother and a sister. And Oh. My. God. It’s brilliant – it’s awful. It’s not a justification of incest, but neither does it condemn it – just makes our hearts bleed for the poor siblings who fall victim to it. It’s had over 18,000 ratings and 4,000 reviews on Goodreads and it still scores a healthy average of 4.7 out of 5; it’s that good. 

Safe by Kate Hanney
Grim real life, gritty and desperately tragic. A story about the hardest elements of society. My heart ached for Danny and his little sister Lacey, and never stopped aching even when I’d reached the end. You won't go away from this book feeling ooh, ahhh, and all warm and fuzzy inside . . . you will be left in a state of complete limbo. Dangling. In shock. Wondering WTF?  

The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell 
The story of two sisters left to fend for themselves when their parents die. This book is seriously dark. Think abusive parents. Think about killing them and burying them in the back yard. Think fifteen year olds having sex with ice cream men who sell drugs . . . Brutal, but not without humour, and most importantly, it’s not without humanity.  Just don’t read it before you sleep at night – especially if you have daughters.

My Milk Chocolate selections are still pretty dark to be honest, with more than their fair share of emotion and surprise but they don’t actually hit you over the head with a sledgehammer, and they are all rather clever; in the same way as a bar of dairy milk lures you in and keeps you going back for more.

We Were Liars by E.Lockhart
This story is beyond clever – but you probably won’t realise how far until you get to the end. And then, WOW!!! All you can do is stand there and wonder how you didn’t see it coming. I can’t sum it up – here’s the Goodreads blurb . . .
A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies.True love. The truth.
Make of that what you will.

Now You See Me by Emma Haughton 
A boy goes missing, and years later he turns up again without any explanation about where he has been. A pacy psychological thriller with complex characters and bags of plot. I didn’t expect the end to be quite as satisfying as it was. Hard to say more about this book without spoilers so I’ll shut up.

But while I’m here, it’s worth noting that Now You See Me has been nominated for the Edinburgh First Book Award – if you want to vote for Emma, you can cast your vote here. 

Untethered by KatieHayoz
My only paranormal choice; paranormal because it involves astral projection. I don't normally 'do' weird and freaky stuff like this, but there's so much more to Untethered than paranormal. It’s also about jealousy and obsession and the real life problems teens have to deal with. I laughed out loud and cried more than once, but mostly I was just gripped. There’s depth and subtlety to this novel, with an underlying message about self-acceptance, and paranormal or not - it's worth a read.

And finally, my White Chocolate books. These are all books I have adored for years, but which are more suitable for younger readers.
The Illustrated Mum by JacquelineWilson
Dolphin and Star live with their heavily tattooed mum, but mum is a manic depressive and as fun as that can be on manic days, the rest of life is not so sweet. I love this book and Jacqueline Wilson changed my life the day she wrote this. 

Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
Another book from years ago which I still remember fondly.  It’s the story of Rowan and what happens to her family after her brother dies. Apart from the heart ache and the tears, it’s also funny and well observed.  It’s not going to keep you awake at night, but it’s perfect comfort food.

The Dog Star by Jenny Nimmo
Marty longs for a dog and when she sees the dog star, she makes her wish. A real live dog appears beneath her bed and it seems that her wish has come true . . . This is a book I read to my children. I could barely get through some pages without sobbing. It’s a beautiful beautiful story for younger children and it will stay with you forever. Seriously you should get this one.

So there we have it. An impressive selection box if ever there was one.

It's my turn to tag another author in this challenge now, and I'm going to tag Katie Hayoz - because I reckon she should know a thing or two about chocolate, what with her living in Switzerland and everything...

Wednesday, 11 June 2014


So, if you haven't read the precursor of this blog post you can catch up here.       

Who is he/she?
If you have, you will know that I have become obsessed with the true identity of the KINDLE NINJA.

And so, posing as a brilliant author of YA contemporary fiction, I approached him/her with a FAKE Reviewers Questionnaire, brimming with in-depth questions designed to expose the TRUTH at last. 

The unsuspecting Ninja has today returned the FAKE questionnaire, fully completed, and readers - I now present this to YOU! MWAH HA HA HA HA...

The Q&As…

Me: You obviously read lots of books, but do you have a favourite genre? 
KN: Crime / Mystery, and recently *clears throat* YA.
(Likes a 'Mystery' eh? Very interesting...)

Me: What makes a book a good read?  
KN: Complex characters, engaging  story, unpredictable outcomes.  If it stirs up all sorts of emotions. (If you can make me cry, you’re brilliant).  

Me: Have you ever rated anything 1*? 
KN: No. But there are books I couldn’t finish (although I plan on finishing when I’m back in that ‘reading zone.’)
Family Life
Me: When did you become a NINJA?  
KN: I was born a ninja in the late ‘70s  ;)
(Ahh, now we're gettting somewhere...that makes the KN thirty something...)

Me: Why? 
KN: Parents were ninjas. 

Me: Is it in fact true that you are a famous A-lister, trying to hide your identity by masquerading as a book reading Ninja?  
KN: That’s just a rumour ;) (It’s also a rumour that I’m a covert book agent hah!)
(The classic double bluff, methinks...)

Me: Can you tell us how you spend your day?  
KN: I do Ninja stuff in the morning.  Then work with creative types the rest of the day…and Tweeting when no one’s looking.
(A secret tweeter? So, an expert in the art of deception...) 

Me: What is your favourite food?  
KN: Pizza.  (Italian food)

Me: Are you a wanted criminal? 
KN: My parole officer said not to answer questions like this.

Me: What is your favourite colour? 
KN: Blue.
(I see what you did there.)

Ninja Puppy
Me: Do you have any NINJA pets? 
KN: Yes. I rescued a puppy from a vicious dog that punctured the puppy’s stomach. Puppy survived like a true ninja. She’s now 3 years old.
(Awww...this melts my heart.)

Me: Are you on a witness protection scheme so that no one knows who or where you are?
KN: Hey, not so loud.
(Oops! Sorry...)
Me: What can you see if you look out of your window? 
KN: What window?

Me: Do you even have a window?  
KN: Exactly.

Me: Do you have a middle name? Kindle ___ Ninja? 
KN: J.
(Jack? Jill? Jinja?)  

Me: How do you kill a Ninja? 
KJN: You can’t.  

Me: Do you write stories as well as read them? 
KJN: No. I tried, but failed miserably, lol. So I leave the writing to people like you.

Me: If so, what’s your genre? 
KJN: If I were to write a novel or a short story, it would be a crime / psychological thriller.

Me: What do you see when you take off your NINJA MASK?
KJN: If I take off my ninja mask, be very afraid. Face is covered for a reason. LOL
(What hideousness can it be?)

Me: Are you an alien?  
KJN: No. That would be the inmate two cells down  my neighbour.

Me: Should I be scared of you? 
KJN: No. I’m one of the nicest ninjas around.
(I'm begining to think you're right.)

Me: Is there anything else we should know about you? (Star sign, telephone number, credit card details etc…)
KJN: I like cookies.

Thank you for taking part in this interview. J

Thank you, Wendy. It was fun. J (So this is how it feels to be interviewed  by a brilliant author).


I think we've learned a lot today. I am now 100% certain that the KINDLE NINJA is a thrill-seeking, thirty something masquerading as a NINJA to hide his/her true identity as a BOOK AGENT, practised in the art of deception, and currently practising from inside the walls of a top security prison. But it's not all bad; he/she is kind to animals and loves cookies.

Or have I been out-ninja-ed by the Ninja???

If you would like to find out more about the KINDLE NINJA >>>