Tag: authors

#20 – Caroline Mitchell – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 20 with Caroline Mitchell – best selling crime & thriller writer

“I say ‘how could you not have ideas?’ Look around you.”

Episode 20 – Caroline Mitchell – Show Notes
  • Writing a synopsis and the hook before starting to write
  • Coffee, music and social media before a day’s writing
  • Dark themes, exploring the darker side of human nature and the ripple effects from crime. Nothing is black and white in the police.
  • Silent Victim is a story of grooming and a body buried in the backyard
  • Keep learning all the time, always push yourself
  • Dictation; first draft without touching the keyboard
  • Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Mel Sherratt, Angela Marsons
  • Combination of her past experiences in the police along with fresh ideas
  • Pivoting to reach more readers
  • Madeleine’s tip – explorations in dictation

“If the gin comes out I’m not having a good day.”

“Dialogue is lot more natural when you dictate.”

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#19 – Karen Rose Smith – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 19 with Karen Rose Smith – Romance & cosy mystery writer

“Writing, along with cats, is my therapy.”

Episode 19 – Karen Rose Smith – Show Notes
  • Writing after back surgery to deal with pain
  • Husband and cats
  • Dictation; more editing involved but writing goes faster
  • Relationships; family, romantic and in small towns
  • Writing every day hones your instincts
  • Writing 13 books before being published
  • Getting manuscripts in early and saying no
  • Daisy Tea Garden mysteries; tea shops, Amish country, family relationships
  • Emilie Loring, Glenna Finley, Kathleen E Woodiwiss, Harlan Corben, Jodi Piccoult, Dan Brown, Lisa Scottoline
  • Madeleine’s tip – dealing with comparisonitis

“When I’m alone in the dark with the tape recorder, I’m good”

“Reading a genre you don’t write sharpens your skills”

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#18 – David Moody – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 18 with David Moody – Horror writer & indie-publishing pioneer

“I’m a torturer at heart.”

Episode 18 – David Moody – Show Notes
  • An extreme plotter
  • Best time for plot development is during running
  • Procrastinating as a full-time writer
  • Hybrid publishing and the dark ages of indie publishing
  • Writing in 45 minute chunks
  • Ordinary people in extreme apocalyptic situations
  • Setting rules and having discipline
  • The cloud – accessible from everywhere for when inspiration strikes
  • Richard Matheson, John Wyndham, and learning from James Herbert; the writing and the man
  • The ‘sidequel’: creating two trilogies to create one big story
  • Madeleine’s tip – the Four Tendencies

“Definitely, irritatingly, a plotter”
“The less time I’ve got, the better my writing is.”
“I always feel dirty when I say this but I’m just a people watcher.”

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#16 – George Mann – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 16 with George Mann – Paranormal mystery & Dr Who comic writer

“You’re chasing ghosts if you’re chasing trends.”

Episode 16 – George Mann – Show Notes
  • Dreaded Chapter 7
  • Inspiration from music – songs associated with every book
  • Theme of Identity
  • Mystery and fantastical, the bizarre and the weird. More Peake than Tolkien.
  • Trying to be Peter F Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter, and failing.
  • Wychwood was a switch into a modern day setting.
  • Getting police procedures right
  • Initial premise for Wychwood – a BBC Sunday night crime drama with dark spooky elements
  • M. John Harrison, Steven Eriksen, Susan Cooper, Peter Robinson
  • Madeleine’s tip – Artist’s Date

“Write something for yourself.”
“It’s part of the writer’s job to read widely.”

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#14 – Gareth L. Powell – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 14 with Gareth L. Powell – near-future thriller & space opera writer

“The more I read, the better I write”

Episode 14 – Gareth L. Powell – Show Notes
  • Losing the knack of the short story
  • Writing relics – Tiki, rune & painted pebble
  • Always character focused – the story is a learning experience for the characters
  • ‘William Gibson’s short story collection kicked me in the head’; writing real people into scifi
  • You don’t know if you’re measuring yourself against the right people
  • Write 100 words every day
  • Balancing two different novels in different genres at the same time
  • Space opera inspired by technology available for the Titanic; the call for help
  • Madeleine’s tip – The Heroine’s Journey

“Ack Ack Macaque is the bastard child of Biggles and John Belushi in the film 1941”

“I wanted to get back to sarcastic self-aware spaceships.”

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#13 – J. Elizabeth Vincent – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 13 with J. Elizabeth Vincent – fantasy writer & freelance editor

Writing is like any other job; some days you do it well, other days not so well.

Episode 13 – J. Elizabeth Vincent – Show Notes
  • The Hero’s Journey
  • Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month) turned into Raven Thrall
  • Making writing a priority in life
  • Editing other people’s work helps you learn
  • Writing short stories for prologues or back stories
  • Inspired by Stephen Donaldson, Jim Butcher, Seanen McGuire, Patricia Briggs
  • Raven Thrall is ‘Jessica Jones with wings’
  • Madeleine’s tip – The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler

Fantasy is the highest form of escapism.”

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#09 – Garth Nix – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 09 with Garth Nix – uber best selling YA & children’s fantasy writer

“The foundation of my writing is reading, and broad reading.

Episode 09 – Garth Nix – Show Notes
  • Having multiple stories on the go all at once
  • Momentum in writing – spending 80% of his time to write first half, 20% to complete the second half
  • Writing stories for yourself, which make you curious to find out what happens
  • Reading widely equips you with instincts for your writing and gives you the broadest set of tools to draw on
  • The role of a good editor to make you a better writer
  • Experimenting with form and points of view but the story dictates how it should be told
  • Madeleine’s tip – Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages

“As you add more energy into it, it (the story) takes on a life of its own”

“I don’t think ‘how am I going to challenge myself?’, I think what is the best way to tell this story.”

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#08 – Dave Hutchinson – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 08 with Dave Hutchinson – award winning sci-fi writer & prophet

“You know in your head what a good book is. Try and be that good book.”

Episode 8 – Dave Hutchinson – Show Notes
  • A natural short story writer and more comfortable in 1st person but currently writing novels in 3rd
  • Winging it
  • Europe books: prophetic by accident
  • Write something that satisfies you as a reader. Read widely – it’s all writing
  • Discovering ordinary people in sci-fi
  • Struggling with the fourth Europe book
  • Madeleine’s tip – no internet before writing

“I’m a better writer than I am a plumber.”

“John Le Carre is the guv’nor.”

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Recent reads – Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

Today I’m talking about Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley, a collection of personal essays by science fiction author Kameron Hurley, published by Tor in 2016.

Hurley is an award winning author and her personal essays covers feminism, geek and internet culture, the perils of being a writer, health and rebellion. Hurley critiques and challenges in a raw and honest way, drawing on her own personal experiences and life story.

Coincidence is a funny thing. I picked up this book right after finishing The Female Man by Joanna Russ (a feminist sci-fi novel I reviewed a few weeks ago). Hurley credits Joanna Russ with lighting her feminist fire. In fact, the book is dedicated to a “Joanna’.

The book is divided up into sections starting off with a section about writing and  the rollercoaster ride of a writers life. As a writer myself, I found this section heart-warming and depressing at the same time. My favourite essay was the first, named Persistence and the Long Con of Being a Successful Writer. The title says it all.

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Interview with Beverley Lee on dark fantasy novel, The Making of Gabriel Davenport

Today I’m speaking with Beverley Lee as she launches her new dark fantasy novel, The Making of Gabriel Davenport.

Beverley is also the moderator of April 2016’s Monthly Writing Challenge. A great way to form habits in your writing. But let’s hear about Beverley’s exciting new release.

How would you describe The Making of Gabriel Davenport?

It’s a dark fantasy, set in the present but with definite ties to the past.FC

In a house built on truth something lays hidden.

Beth and Stu Davenport moved to the English hillside town of Meadowford Bridge to give their young son, Gabriel, an idyllic, rural childhood. But in a single evening, the Davenports’ dream is shattered by a hidden, ancient darkness– and their lives are forever changed.

Years later, Gabriel Davenport, now a capable, curious young man, makes the ill-fated decision to go looking for answers about his mysterious past. As soon as he begins his quest, his life becomes a place of shadows. The people he loves and trusts are acting abnormally. The strange woman who lives upstairs is even more haunted than usual. Even his most trusted friend seems to be hiding something.

As one fateful night deepens, and the line blurs between darkness and light, Gabriel must confront the terrible events that destroyed his family all those years ago. He is faced with a choice: continue living the life that was never his to begin with, or give himself over to a terrifying new reality more sinister than anything he’s ever known.

The darkness is watching.

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Writer’s Residence in a Scottish Castle – interview with Margaret Skea

Hmm…who would like the opportunity to write for a month in a Scottish castle?


So when I heard that Margaret Skea – fabulous historical fiction writer – had secured a residency at Hawthornden Castle, I was overcome with jealousy.

I caught up with Margaret after her experience and she shares a glimpse into the writing fellowship program at Hawthornden Castle as well as the imposed periods of silence, broken boilers in February and eating porridge from a pewter bowl.

Hawthornden Castle

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When did you feel like a “real” writer round-up?

In early December, I ran a series of posts asking writers…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

I was lucky enough to get responses from Gail Carriger, Val McDermid, Joanne Harris, Ben Aaronovitch, Victoria Schwab, John Scalzi, Kim Newman, Neil Gaiman, Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Barbara Freethy and Kate Elliott.

There were a few themes running through the responses

  • Doubt and the imposter system persists (regardless whether you’ve sold millions)
  • Sometimes it’s your first big deal or success
  • Sometimes it’s not until you reach magic book no. 5

But mainly, you are a real writer when you write….

Now it’s your turn, when did you feel like a “real” writer?


When did you feel like a “real” writer? Part 6

Back again with another two writers answering the question…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

Today we have two successful women with the same perspective.

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You’re a real writer when you write!

Words of wisdom!

I have one more answer up my sleeve, which I will post with a wrap-up of all the comments.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the pithy insights so far.


When did you feel like a “real” writer? Part 5

After feedback from Melanie Bernard, I’ve taken a slightly different angle today and asked my question to indie-published writers too.

The question again…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?


  • Joanna Penn – non-fiction and thriller writer. And one of the best writing podcasts around.
  • Mark Dawson – super successful indie published crime-thriller writer.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 6.02.17 PMScreen Shot 2015-12-07 at 6.02.03 PM

The number 5 again? Does something magical happen at Book 5?

I would start feeling like a “real” writer too, if I had Mark’s success.

Tomorrow, another two authors answer my question.

When did you feel like a “real” writer? Part Four

Another couple of writers answer my question…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?


  • Kim Newman – author of the bloody amazing Anno Dracula (go get it now if you haven’t read it) and film critic.
  • Neil Gaiman – .writer of everything.

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neil gaiman

Was it 1982 or 2009 for you?

Tomorrow, another two writers answer my question.

When did you feel like a “real” writer? Part Three

Two more great writers answer my question…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?


  • Victoria (VE) Schwab – writer of multiple fabulous YA/MG series and my fave, A Darker Shade of Magic
  • John Scalzi – Hugo Award winner and prolific twitterer


VE Schwab


john scalzi

Two different perspectives here. Do you need money or being published to feel like a “real” writer?

Tomorrow, another two authors answer my question.


When did you feel like a “real” writer? Part Two

Another couple of brilliant writers answering my question…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

This time I annoyed Joanne Harris and Ben Aaronovitch. A little bit of self-deprecating self-doubt and Daleks.

  • Joanne Harris of Chocolat fame (and heaps more) and a great twitterer.

joanne harris

  • Ben Aaronovitch, writer of seminal 80s Dr Who stories and creator of the fab Rivers of London series.

Ben Aaronovitch

Did Ben mention Daleks?

Tomorrow, another two writers answer my question.

When did you feel like a “real” writer? Part One.

A few blog posts ago, I decided that I wanted to ask authors when they felt like a “real” writer. It appears that doubt is a continuing trait for writers and I wanted to hear from the sources.

Since then, I’ve been bothering my favourite writers on the internet asking this question.

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

Today I’m sharing responses from Gail Carriger and Val McDermid.

  • Gail Carriger – steampunk doyenne and author of the Parasol Protectorate series.

gail carriger - real author

  • Val McDermid – Crime fiction legend and creator of Wire in the Blood

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Scary but interesting to hear how successful writers still feel like “imposters”.

I have responses from another six brilliant writers, so stay tuned for their responses.


How I “finished” – tip #2: Finding my tribe

Finding my tribe

Writing takes up loads of time and not everyone understands the highs and the lows. Sometimes I need someone to whinge to!


While my off-line support team are brilliant, finding a tribe of writers online has been really helpful.

The Monthly Writing Challenge twitter group has especially helped with accountability, habit-forming and general encouragement.

They understand when I’m having a writing day where the words are like pulling a pineapple from an orifice.

Have you found a tribe?

Tomorrow – Tip #3 Marinate for 4 weeks.


Self-doubters of the world unite

I’m in the first weeks of a new novel. Actually it’s Book 3 of my Monolith series.

I don’t believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me – Tennessee Williams

While many of the characters are familiar old friends and the world is a place I know well,  I’ve transitioned from ‘close to final’ edits (fingers crossed) of Book 1 to a brand new blank page.

My brain is comparing my poorly structured Book 3 vomit draft with my almost complete Book 1.

Next to Book 1 with its 18 months of hard graft and polish, Book 3 feels like a steamy pile of poo. I am the super hack.

I do have high standards. I look at everything I have done and think, ‘Why wasn’t that better?’ Part of my motivation is from crippling self-doubt – I have got to prove myself wrong – Michael Palin

But misery loves company.

Rather than cheer myself up with positive quotes and affirmations, I’ve collated a bunch of other doubters. Doubters who are much more successful than me.

What still concerns me the most is: am I on the right track, am I making progress, am I making mistakes in art? – Paul Gauguin

Self-doubt is part of the process.

No fine work can be done without concentration and self-sacrifice and toil and doubt. – Max Beerbohm

So I’ll acknowledge it and…

Have you got a favourite doubter quote?

Recent reads – Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler

One of the curious things about my writing life is I write sci-fi but I don’t often read it. I’ve recently made an effort to read some “masterworks” to fill my gaps.

Don’t you hate it when you find a brilliant “new” writer, only to find out they are already dead? I’m definitely late to the Octavia Butler party, the trail blazing African American female sci-fi writer. Before reading a word of her work, only her bio, I was filled with deep respect for Butler.

First I read Bloodchild (mainly because it was free and I am cheap). I thoroughly enjoyed the story of the alien host and her human servants. Although reading the end notes, I jumped to the conclusion (like many others) that it was a story about slavery. Apparently not!

Then while on a recent trip to the US, I came across Parable of the Sower in a bookshop. The luxury of holidays gave me time to devour it quickly. If I’d been at home (and not required to be social), I would’ve curled up in a corner until I finished it.

In Parable of the Sower, Lauren is 17 and lives in a neighbourhood compound in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. Her father is the local preacher and community leader where the neighbours band together to keep themselves safe from the dangers outside the walls. The outside world is dangerous, filled with drug addicts who revel in fire.

Lauren listens to her father’s sermons but she has her own ideas about what God is. Over time her thoughts formulate in her mind, she is creating her own religion. It is called Earthseed.

One night, the compound and Lauren’s world is breached. She leaves and must fend for herself on the highways of California, looking for safety and a new life. All the while, building on her ideas for a new faith.

But the Parable of the Sower is much more than a dystopian road story.

As an aspirant writer, this is one of those books that made me want to put my pen down and give it all away. The prose so crisp and precise. The concepts so big and mind-chewing. This is what I want to be when I grow up.

As I said in my review of AYTGIMM, I’m ignorant about religion. The Parable of the Sower passage from the Bible has no meaning to me. I brought no preconceived ideas when I started reading.

With the chaos around her, Lauren sees God as objective. God is change and cares only about survival. There is no moral overlay about right or wrong. It just is. This reminds of the concepts in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile. Another book which wowed me.

I was struck by a single line. “Some people see nature as God.” Pow. There’s my worldview in a nutshell in a way I’d never considered it before. The way some people see God is the way I see nature/the universe. Awe inspiring and all powerful. But like Lauren, I never placed the moral overlay on nature. She doesn’t care about you and me as individuals. She only wants to continue on.

This book has stayed with me for months now. What more can you ask for in a book? Entertainment plus a soul searching challenge on your view of the universe.

Why I write – a response

This post is inspired by Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Mind blog. He put out a flash fiction challenge to write about “why I write?”

Here’s my story of “Why I write”.

I was a kid into books. I love stories. I love to be lost in books and transported by words. But I used to think storytellers were other people. Not me. They were artists. Artistic, high lit, tortured poetic wordsmiths. When I dashed down some words on a page, they were plain old crap.

It took years to learn lesson#1.

The first draft of anything is shit – Ernest Hemingway

So I hid the shit in a drawer and went back to watching TV.

But the desire still ate away at me. Whenever I thought about my life goals – writing a book was always number one with a bullet. So I’d enrol in some writing courses. I’d dabble but never had the confidence to take myself seriously.

I’d get discouraged and distracted.

Then I found Nanowrimo. Nanowrimo helped me churn out three or four unfinished lumpy novels. I proved to myself I could sit down and write 50,000 words in a month but they didn’t work. They didn’t resonate with me. My urban fantasy felt too cheesy. When I tried to write crime, my skin crawled when I tried to get inside the heads of serial killers or murderers. I was an imposter, none of it felt truly like me.

So I put it away again and went back to post-grad study.

Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try – Yoda

I started to get all angsty, mid life crisis riddled. My life circumstances changed and I had a bit of time on my hands. I imagined dying tomorrow with this one ambition left unfulfilled. It would be my one regret.

So I sat down and did it.

This time, it’s war – Aliens (1987)

Now I realise I need it. Practising every day, I’m learning the craft and improving. I read and learn from others. I’m prepared. I know it’s a bumpy ride of “I suck. I rock.” I know that the vomit draft is the easy part, the hard part is the six months of Revise. Delete. Rewrite. Repeat. I know the odds are stacked against me, there are millions of books published every day competing for readers. I know all this and I do it anyway. Cos I love it and it makes me happy.

That’s why I write.

Michael Whelan’s Yours Truly

Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – Enid Blyton

Here’s the first instalment of a new blog series where I revisit my favourite children’s books, beginning with Enid Blyton’s The O’Sullivan Twins.

I loved Enid Blyton …

Good old Aunty Enid is the grand dame of influences. A little passe and politically incorrect these days but Blyton was the influence for me. From Noddy to The Enchanted Wood to the Famous Five to the Naughtiest Girl/St.Clares/Mallory Towers series, Blyton was my author.

I owned a large illustrated copy of The Enchanted Wood and dressed up as Silkie for Book Week (another reference to Book Week dress-ups in a future blog post). The Famous Five probably whet my appetite for mysteries and I also remember the 70s telly series fondly. Sing along with me now… “George and Timmy the dog..”

I loved most of Enid’s book but her boarding school books were my absolute favourite. Maybe I need some therapy to understand why. I loved the idea of midnight feasts, “short sheeting”, French prep, being “sent to Coventry” and lacrosse. I longed to go to boarding school and devoured all of these books.

Then I re-read the O’Sullivan twins…

I don’t spend much time in the children’s section of bookshops, so I was shocked at the number of Enid Blyton books still on the shelves. I thought in these days of Harry Potter, YA and MG galore, Aunty Enid would be less popular. Wrong.

From the first few lines of The O’Sullivan Twins, I was transported back. The words and the character were so familiar. How many times had I read this before? I giggled along at the quintessentially British language and the tropes. It was all there; midnight feasts, “bricks” and “old girls”, lacrosse matches, French prep, descriptions of cake and “being sent to Coventry”. The now sensible O’Sullivan Twins return to St.Clare’s for their second term, this time accompanied by their “feather-headed bleating” cousin Alison.

But as I progressed through the book, I was transported back to the feelings of a tweenie. I was shocked by the way the girls treat each other, there’s an awful lot of bullying in this book. Girls ganging up on each other, gossiping and isolating individuals for their “mean and spiteful” behaviour. And this is exactly what I remember about being a tweenie.

This is a moral tale for playing by the rules and conforming. Margery is the sullen outsider who redeems herself and teaches the twins a lesson about assumptions. I was surprised how old the girls were (fourteen to sixteen). The girls at St.Clare’s lead a terribly sheltered life, yet there is tragedy and teen angst, father-daughter relationships, family accidents and poverty. Aside from their fathers and one mention of a gardener, there are no men in the world of St.Clare’s. Is that what Blyton was trying to do? Create a series of books to teach young women the right way to behave in WW2 Britain?

With my writer hat on, I was surprised at the “head-hopping” or point of view changes within the same paragraph. I thought ‘head-hopping’ was a big no-no. But if Aunty Enid can do it…?

When I finished the last page and said goodbye to my old friends, my feelings on boarding school have changed. I couldn’t think of anything worse than going to St.Clare’s with all the bullying and conformity. But I am hankering for an afternoon tea with “Buns and jam! Fruit cake! Meringues! Chocolate eclairs!”

What are your memories of Enid Blyton?

It’s not you, it’s me – should I feel bad for abandoning books?

I have never been one to commit to books, or movies or TV shows. I can walk away at any time, even just a few moments before the end. If it hasn’t grabbed my attention, I can move on. No qualms. Maybe I’m just a commitment phobe.

But now as I’m spending hours and hours of my time writing and editing, every time I put aside a book for something newer and shinier, I have second thoughts. A little tinge of guilt…should I feel bad when I abandon reading a book?


On the guilt inducing side…

I feel for the writer, now that I have some idea of the process. The hours, weeks, months and years poured into crafting every single word. Sometimes I feel bad for skimming over sentences, thinking back to my last writing session, where I laboured for forty five minutes over a single sentence. A sentence some callous reader could just skip over!

Then I think about how the writer made it through the gauntlet of the publishing world (although a lesser consideration these days with the thriving indie market), through the anguish of finding an agent and getting selected by a publisher. If it made it through the publishing gauntlet, it must be good, right?

On the other hand

Life is short. There are so many other books I could be reading. There are so many other fish in the sea. If it isn’t doing it for me, I should move on guilt-free.

This does not mean the book is bad. It just isn’t right for me at this moment. If I’m in the mood for a mystery with a hunchback lawyer from the 15th century, then an urban fantasy with a mixed race London bobby in the magical division is not going to cut it.

Of course, reading anything after a fantastic book is hard. Rebounds are always fleeting.

Other times, I’ve abandoned a book only to pick it up again later and devour it. Sometimes I’ve just got to be in the right mood.

After this conversation with myself, I’ve decided I don’t need to feel guilty about abandoning a book. It’s not you book, it’s me.

Do you abandon books?

Tips from an author with 300 million books sold – James Patterson

James Patterson is in town this week. Whilst I’m not really a fan, you can’t argue with a guy who’s sold 300 million books. I went along to hear him speak and hoping to catch any snippets any wisdom. Hoping, perhaps some of his success would rub off on the audience. Here’s my take on his story, his process and the importance of self-promotion.

My first impression, what a down to earth guy! Witty, self-deprecating and a little bit cheeky, the talk was very entertaining, with many chuckles. Not at all what I expected…

His story

  • Started reading again for pleasure while working the night shift in a mental hospital
  • Every short story he submitted was rejected
  • His first novel – The Thomas Berryman Number was rejected 31 times before winning the Edgar Award for Best First Novel
  • At his acceptance speech for the Edgar, he said “I guess I’m a writer now.”
  • The highlight of his Hollywood career was appearing the Simpsons, as a fantasy of Marge’s.

His wisdom included…

Writing craft and his own process

  • The best writing is crisp and short, including short chapters. He repeatedly used the word “crisp”.
  • His strength – to turn anything into a story
  • His weakness – patience to truly hone his work, rather than moving on to the next project
  • On co-writing, he sees it as a team effort. Screenwriters/TV writers work in teams. He also uses researchers.
  • On characters, the reader does not need to know everything about a character, only what makes them interesting.

Why people like thrillers (especially his own)

  • Solving puzzles
  • Involvement with both the hero and the villain
  • Satisfactory endings – so lacking in everyday life or true crime

Key takeaway – Self promotion

I was really interested in how he developed his own ad for “Along Came a Spider”. Working in advertising at the time, he pitched an ad to his publishers. They rejected the idea, but he went ahead and did it himself out of his own pocket. This advertisement helped push the book into the best seller lists. A great example of taking control of your own marketing and brand.

He told a great follow-up story, where he watched a woman pick up his book in a shop and was filled with delight, only to see her slip the book in her handbag without paying. Does shoplifting count as a sale?

He also spoke on the need to support independent bookshops (worried about the Amazon monopoly) and building a passion for reading in children. Here here!

An enjoyable evening with a few nuggets of wisdom for this budding writer.


Recent reads – The Profession by Steven Pressfield

Since listening to Shawn Coyne on The Creative Penn podcast, I’ve been obsessed with the Story Grid – advice for editing novels.

The Story Grid (book soon to be released) is a story design system and a step-by-step process for analysing and improving your writing. It teaches you to be your own editor. Definitely one for process-minded, plotter, spreadsheet nerds like me.

Shawn Coyne works closely with Steven Pressfield (of War of Art, which I blogged about in my recent post on Kicking Resistance in the nuts) and one of my recent completed reads was Steven Pressfield’s The Profession. While reading, I had one eye firmly on the Story Grid system, looking for the tips and structure outlined by Coyne. Luckily, The Profession is also a cracking read.

The Profession is set in the near future, following the story of Gent, a soldier for hire. The Middle East is a mess of corporations, tribal war lords and nation-states, all vying for supremacy and protecting their interests by hiring mercenaries. Gent, after years of warfare and campaigns, knows no other life.

I am a warrior. What I narrate in these pages is between me and other warriors. I will say things only they will credit and only they understand.

Gent works for a disgraced US General, Salter. His devotion to Salter is absolute. He loves this man and unquestioning, follows this man into anything.

Now, on the face of it, this is a book for blokes. It’s a geo-political thriller with gun fights and machinations, warriors and mercenaries and there’s a lot of gear porn in it. Loads of description about guns and bombs and helicopters. Information I skipped over.

Yet underneath the testosterone, there is something epic about this story, something mythic. I’m no historical scholar and Pressfield’s other works include Roman historical novels,  but there was something familiar about the tale of Gent and his loyalty to Salter. It resonated. Is it based on a myth or is it completely original? I’m not sure and I don’t care. Richer than your average thriller, I was moved by Gent’s anguish as he faces the tests of his love and devotion to Salter and choosing right from wrong. It felt bigger than just blowing stuff up.

Back to the Story Grid, I flicked backwards and forwards between reading this for pleasure and looking for the elements of the Grid in it. One of the key elements of the Story Grid is internal and external value at stake. Although I was looking for the structure through out the book, this was a great example of the battle between the main character’s internal and external values. How the character changes through the story and how inner conflict and external conflict play out.

I recommend The Profession for an intelligent, fast paced read (and for writers, I recommend the Story Grid.)

Recent Reads – The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman

I’m on a real historical fiction jaunt and my most recently finished novel is The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. Originally published in 1982, this was re-released in 2013 with additional author notes.

This is the re-telling of the story of Richard III, a large monstrous figure, who Penman feels was wrongly treated by history and this is her version of the events. I’m no history buff (which makes my sudden penchant for historical event even stranger, more on that later) and had little more than a passing knowledge of Richard III and his story – his caricature as a deformed Machiavellian king. I came to this story with an open mind and went along for the ride. And it was a rollicking ride over 1,200 pages, keeping my interest along the whole way. Others with pre-conceived ideas about the “real” Richard III may not have as much fun as I did. With her excellent storytelling, I could suspend my disbelief and go along with Penman’s tale of a man betrayed by his friends and history.

The novel starts in 1459 and is split into four books; Edward, Anne, Lord of the North, Richard by the Grace of God.

I was surprised how two-thirds of the novel was devoted to the reign of his brother, Edward. Perhaps this build-up was what kept my interest, I was waiting to find out what happened when Richard actually became King. The battle scenes are lively and colourful, providing great insight into the battle strategy and the bloodiness of medieval wars. The politics and alliances are wild and tempestuous, outstripping any of the political shenanigans in modern day.

I struggled occasionally with the names of the characters but this is where the facts constrain the author. There were far too many Edwards, Georges, Johns and Richards. Then titles were awarded, then stripped. Who is Earl of Warwick now? Those medieval people needed more variety in their names.

The female characters were strong, from the equally evil Marguerite d’Anjou to Elizabeth Woodville and Richard’s own mother, Cecily Neville. The book highlighting the influence of strong women in the shadows and mainly left out of history. My interest waned a little with the love stories, but I do have a heart of stone.

The book concludes with Penman’s author notes and a 2013 update following the discovery of Richard’s remains under a carpark in Leicester.

I highly recommend this book for great storytelling, pace and character. But I will leave the believability of Penman’s version of events up to you.


Now, why am I obsessed with historical fiction at the moment? My current theory is I enjoy exploring how well formed and believable characters respond to great moments in history. Seeing from a personal perspective makes the bigger historical events more real. As a reader, I have the benefit of dramatic irony and knowledge of what’s to come, I am better informed than the characters and I’m curious to see the effect on their lives and how they’ll react. In some part relating back to my own life and wondering how would I have responded if my husband was killed in battle and I had to seek sanctuary in a church, or if the Russians came into my town after WW2. I also learn a bit of history along the way.

Do you like historical fiction? Why does it resonate with you?

Recent reads – Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

It’s historical fiction time! I first picked up a Ken Follett book in a secondhand bookshop when travelling through Nicaragua. I was looking for a big thick saga to read by the pool and Pillars of the Earth ticked all the boxes. Follett has been a guilty pleasure ever since.

Edge of Eternity is the latest Ken Follett novel, the third in his Century series, continuing to follow families in Russia, Germany, the UK and the US from 1961 to 1989. This is another doorstopper of a book, running over 1,000 pages (yay Christmas holidays, otherwise this would have taken me months to read) but there’s an awful lot of history crammed inside.

I was entertained right to the end, keen to see how the characters reacted to the events of 1989, considering a significant amount of the book was set in Eastern Europe. These sections were particularly interesting to me. However Edge of Eternity is weaker than Follett’s previous novels. Many characters were thin with the focus more on the historical details. Tania, the Russian journalist, was one of the exceptions and Maria Summers, the African-American bureaucrat. Although at the end, Maria’s regrets had my feminist alarm bell ringing. I was also surprised there was no mention of Chernobyl, although I guess Follett could not have included everything, otherwise it would be a 2,000 page book.

All in all, not as good as Pillars of the Earth or Falls of Giants, but still entertaining enough to keep me gripped for 1,000 plus pages.

edge of eternity

Recent reads – Csardas by Diane Pearson

When I’m writing my speculative fiction, I try to read from another contrasting genre to cut down on the influence. So during Nanowrimo 2014, I read historical fiction instead and the novel “Csardas” by Diane Pearson.

Csardas, a family saga set in Hungary, traces the lives of three privileged families from the simple days prior to WW1 right through the establishment of the Communist regime post WW2. The novel begins following the “enchanting Ferenc sisters” Eva and Malie as they enter society and as the world collapses into WW1. It follows the losses and uncertainty of war and the impact on their suitors and their families as everyone tries to make sense of the new world. This story continues following their brothers and eventually their children.

With a large number of character, only three really captured my interest. The two sisters, the sensible and strong Malie, the frivolous and silly Eva and later in the novel, the son of a peasant on the neighbouring Kaldy estate, Janos. We follow Janos from his abject poverty to his blossoming career in the new communist world, a man who cannot connect with his own feelings.

This book had a little too much romance for my liking (yes, I am a bitter old prune), however the struggle for the old guard to come to terms with the new world captured my interest, especially shown through Eva who bitterly complains about not receiving roses, when they barely have enough bread to eat.

Interesting, yet saggy in the middle.


Recent reads – The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

I’m a bit late to this party but The Rook is a highly awarded book which I thoroughly enjoyed. The travesty is I picked it up from a local second hand book shop in the $2 bin. Bargain for me, but such a shame. Worth every cent!

The Rook is an urban fantasy set in modern day London. Myfanwy Thomas, a high ranking official in a secret paranormal government agency, has regained consciousness, she has two black eyes and no memory of who she is. Luckily she has letters in her pocket from herself, explaining what to do next.

In a similar vein to Ben Aaronovitch (but can I suggest maybe better?!), The Rook is funny, weird and richly imaginative speeding along with gripping action and bizarre monstrous characters.The world of Myfanwy and The Chequy is so vivid and well detailed, I can almost picture the television series.
Hunt this one down and immerse yourself in Myfanwy’s world. When’s No.2 coming out?


Recent reads – My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning is the tale of Axie/Ann Muldoon, an Irish immigrant child from the slums of New York.

Opening in 1880 with Ann using a tragedy as an opportunity, we follow Axie back to her humble beginnings , starving and cold, begging with her younger brother, Joe and sister, Dutchie as her mum lies ill in bed.

The story follows Axie/Ann throughout her life as she taken to an orphanage, is moved out West to find new families and eventually finding her own occupation.

Ann begins to help women with their fertility, in a time when men had begun to usurp the role of midwifes. She eventually becomes the Notorious Madame DeBeausacq, controversial and wildly successful purveyor of remedies for women’s health.

Axie is lively and spirited, inspirational and tragic, a successful woman never forgetting the streets where she came from with a dogged devotion to her family.

I found this novel compelling and heart breaking, particularly the backdrop of the world of women’s health during this period. The men who sought to demonise the ancient craft of midwifery and the women who helped others, assisting with births and providing remedies to prevent/promote pregnancy.

An interesting historical read about a controversial business woman. Recommended.


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