On the shelf: December 2021 reads

In December, I read:

  • Tall Bones by Anna Bailey
  • The Evidence Against You by Gillian McAllister
  • Explore Everything: Place-hacking the city by Bradley L Garrett (non-fiction)
  • The Switch by Beth O’Leary
  • The Strawberry Thief by Joanne Harris

I bought Tall Bones after hearing Anna Bailey speak at the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Festival in Harrogate last summer. This atmospheric, haunting and chilling debut novel is set in small-town America and revolves around the disappearance of a 17-year-old girl after a party in the woods. The depiction of teenagers in a rural setting felt very authentic to me and I really enjoyed the twists and turns and the shocking reveal. However, for me, it was the characters that really made this novel special and I’m very much looking forward to her next book.

If you are an aspiring writer, I would recommend Gillian McAllister’s The Honest Authors Podcast, which she co-hosts with Holly Seddon. I really enjoyed The Evidence Against You – the protagonist’s father was convicted for the murder of her mother seventeen years ago, but was he innocent? After being released from prison, he wants to reconcile with his daughter and tell her the truth, but can she trust him? I loved the central relationship between father and daughter as they tried to come to terms with their past and discover what really happened.  

Explore Everything is a book about urban exploration that I read for research for my next novel. I found this book fascinating and it really made me question issues such as property ownership, our surveillance society, and the ethics of trespass.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary was a fairly light read, set in Yorkshire and London, and is about an urban twenty-something who swaps lives with her grandmother in the Yorkshire Dales. I preferred The Flat Share by the same author, but this was still an enjoyable read.

I’m a big fan of Joanne Harris and The Strawberry Thief matched up to my high expectations. The latest in the Chocolat series, this is about the younger daughter of Vianne Rocher, Rosette. When an old man leaves his woodland to the innocent teenager, old secrets and rivalries emerge. It made me realise that I have missed one of the books in this series, so I need to go back and read The Lollipop Shoes. I love the way Harris weaves magic into her novels and I found myself completely immersed in her world. It was an excellent book to herald the new year.

On the shelf: November 2021 reads

In November, I read:

  • Ask No Questions by Claire Allan
  • The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell (non-fiction)
  • Haven’t They Grown by Sophie Hannah
  • The Catcher in the Rye by J D Salinger
  • We Can’t All be Astronauts by Tim Clare (non-fiction)

I have read all of Claire Allan’s psychological thrillers and enjoyed them. Ask No Questions wasn’t my favourite, but it was still an interesting read about a journalist investigating the death of a young girl 20 years ago. Has there been a miscarriage of justice or was the right man sent to prison for the crime? 

The Art of War for Writers has lots of great advice for writers, delivered in very short chapters (some only a page or two). It’s a book I will probably dip into again when I need some inspiration.

Haven’t They Grown has a really intriguing premise – what if you saw a friend that you had lost touch with 12 years ago and her children hadn’t changed a bit? My brain was on overdrive reading this psychological thriller and trying to guess the answer.

One of the teenaged characters in my next book is reading The Catcher in the Rye, so I wanted to make sure I got the references right. I haven’t read this book for years and I had forgotten most of it. Nothing really happens, to be honest, but it’s a great example of voice and character in action.

I have been following and enjoying Tim Clare’s podcast, Death of 1,000 cuts, particularly his ‘Couch to 80k bootcamp’ which really helped me kickstart my writing when I got stuck. We Can’t All be Astronauts follows Clare’s journey to becoming a published writer. You can’t say he didn’t pull out all the stops, from infiltrating London Book Fair pretending to be a publisher, to appearing on a TV reality show. Really funny in parts, but there is also a very serious side as Clare explores the impact of his mental breakdown and how writing aided his recovery. A lot to think about in this highly engaging memoir.

Dream Big, Act Now: The benefits of life coaching for authors

Don’t get your hopes up.

It’s something we get told all the time as writers. Don’t get your hopes up and then you won’t be disappointed.

It’s well meaning. A way of protecting our self and others, but it’s also limiting. So it was fantastic to finally hear someone deliver the opposite message.

How about having a big dream? An impossible dream? A once-in-a-lifetime, million-to-one dream? How about dreaming of becoming a bestselling author?

And, crucially, taking steps towards that dream while 100% believing that you will achieve it one day.  

Comparing yourself to other authors? Fine, if they inspire you to work harder. Dealing with rejection? OK, it happens. What can we learn from it? Handling a tricky negotiation with your editor or agent? Bring it on.

The Dream Author coaching programme, run by Sophie Hannah – a bestselling author herself – isn’t about learning craft. There are lots of brilliant courses out there that will teach you everything you need to know about plot, character, structure, theme, etc. And it’s important to take the time to learn these things, particularly if you have just started to write.

Life coaching is more about managing your emotional and psychological responses to writing and publishing, dealing with the rollercoaster ride of your creative journey, learning to deal with agents and publishers, handle rejection and accept the ups and downs of a professional writing life with equanimity.

It’s bigger than that though. The tools you learn through the course will help you in all aspects of your life including work, relationships, home, health and money.  

The 14-month course comprises weekly webinars and exercises to work through. Sophie offers coaching via email or through the webinar where your issues can be raised anonymously and discussed. This is incredibly positive, and I recommend everyone to take advantage of it.

The course deals with issues such as procrastination and motivation (Sophie’s a big fan of scheduling); money and the business side of writing; making good decisions; celebrating success and constantly working towards your dreams.

Am I a bestselling author because I signed up to the Dream Author programme? No.

Am I working towards my dream goal while believing 100% that I will achieve it one day? Absolutely.

You can find out more about the Dream Author coaching programme here: Dream Author Coaching with Sophie Hannah | Find Out More

Photo by Lucas Clara on Unsplash

NaNoWriMo 2021: The final week

I finally finished my NaNoWriMo challenge on 4 December.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is an international challenge to write 50,000 words in November.

Knowing that I would find that difficult to achieve, I set myself a goal of adding 18,000 words to an existing manuscript that will hopefully turn into book four.

22 November – day 25

Goal: 539 words                               Achieved: 564 words                                      Total: 12,625

Intended to get up early to write before work but ignored the alarm and went back to sleep! Managed 564 words quite easily after dinner. A new plot line so very sketchy and will need fleshing out.

23 November – day 26

Goal: 475 words                               Achieved: 414 words                                      Total: 13,039

I went to a café on the way to work this morning and wrote 414 words by hand. I also made a lot of notes about one of my characters (a local MP) and her backstory. I really like this character and although she is no longer a POV character, I think I will want to use her again in another novel further down the line.

24 November – day 27

Goal: 961 words                               Achieved: 1,529 words                                  Total: 14,568

Another virtual write-in with my writing group this afternoon. We meet over Zoom, chat about writing for a bit and then do some focussed writing, checking in every 90 minutes or so to cheer each other on.

1.30pm – 2.30pm

Session one – merrily typing away when I came to a section that was basically a long rant and no longer relevant to the plot. Had to delete about 500 words which put me right back to the beginning again so only managed to add 119 words. ☹

4.15pm – 4.45pm

Session two – Added another 315 words. Definitely taking one step forward and two steps back at the moment and deleting a lot of words as I go along.

7.30pm – 8pm

Session three – lifted another chapter from the first draft, adding another 1,095 words. Needs some tidying up though.

25 November – day 28

Goal: 532 words                               Achieved: 572 words                                      Total:  15,140 words

Day off. A productive day with a chat with my agent this morning and lots of stuff done on the new house but unfortunately not many words written. Eventually I forced myself to write in the evening and managed 572 words – a new chapter towards the end of the book.

26 November – day 29

Goal: 360 words                               Achieved: 819 words                                      Total: 15,959 words

Planned out the chapter by hand at lunchtime then wrote up my notes while cooking dinner. Had to delete some of the words I wrote yesterday but added another 379 words in about half an hour.

After tea I took some more words from my first draft and copied and pasted them into the manuscript, adding another easy 440 words. Happy days! Just over 2,000 words to do now before the end of November.

27 November – day 30

Goal: 541 words                                               Achieved: 0                                        Total: 15,959 words

Horrendous night and day thanks to Storm Arwen which cut off our power. No words written as I tried to sort out the house and heating, etc.

28 November – day 31

Goal: 0 words                                                    Achieved: 0                                        Total: 15,959 words

Family day, no words planned. At this rate, I am not going to hit my target. Another bad day weather-wise and ended up staying with relatives instead of going home so no words written again.

29 November – day 32

Goal: 541 words                                               Achieved: 896 words                      Total: 16,855 words

Moved across the final bit of text from the first draft and by doing so, built up the word count by 896 words. The last half of the book still needs a lot of editing.

30 November – last day of NaNoWriMo!

Goal: 1,145 words                                           Achieved: 0                                        Total: 16,855 words

I don’t think I am going to achieve this goal and hit 18,000 words but I’m going to try!

4 December

Goal: 1,145 words                                           Achieved: 1,151 words                  Total: 18,006 words

I finally hit my target on Saturday, 4 December, finishing the challenge with 1,151 words.

The manuscript now stands at 60,006 words. I don’t think I am going to have much chance to work on this again until April, as I will be working on book three.

It definitely worked for me to set a smaller target than the suggested 50,000 words and I enjoyed tracking my progress on the website.

Did you do NaNoWriMo this year? How did you get on?

Photo by Thought Catalog on Unsplash

ON THE SHELF: SEPTEMBER 2021 READS

In September 2021, I read:

  • Hostage, Clare Mackintosh
  • When She Was Good, Michael Robotham
  • The Dark Side of the Mind, Kerry Daynes (non-fiction / research)
  • The Colours of Death, Patricia Marques
  • The Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman
  • The Wedding Party, Tammy Cohen
  • Trust Me, T M Logan

I bought The Colours of Death by Patricia Marques after seeing her speak at Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. I was intrigued by the premise of the book in which the detective has telepathic abilities. I really enjoyed the way the author added an element of science fiction to a traditional police procedural, and it was fun to read a book set in Lisbon, a place I have never visited. I will definitely look out for her next book.

When She Was Good was a Richard and Judy selection and I thought it was excellent, one of the best books I have read all year. I’m really happy to have discovered Michael Robotham and am looking forward to reading his other novels.

I love Tammy Cohen’s books, but I was a bit apprehensive about reading this one as it has a very similar premise to my next book. However, I was really pleased that while they are both set at weddings, the plot line and characters were totally different. Again, this had a great setting of a Greek island.

T M Logan’s books are always page turners and Trust Me was no exception. I really enjoyed this book. Hostage is also a thrilling read – set on a transatlantic flight from London to Sydney.

I read The Thursday Murder Club to see what all the fuss was about. It was OK. I thought the second half was better than the first. It was a bit too gentle for my liking. Not sure whether I will read the next one.

NaNoWriMo 2021: week three

A fairly productive third week of NaNoWriMo and my enthusiasm for the book is still going strong.

I’m definitely finding it easier to write in the morning and I am also loving the virtual write-ins with my writing group.

4,358 words written this week bringing the total up to 12,061 words.

12 November – day 15

Perfect Crime Festival in Liverpool – no words

13 November – day 16

Perfect Crime Festival in Liverpool – no words

14 November – day 17

Goal: 400 words                               Achieved: 498                                                    Total: 7,703

Scheduled time: 8.45pm

Struggled to get back into the swing of things at first and spent a lot of time moving sections around, but eventually the words started flowing. There are some elements of the police procedure that I’m not confident about and will need to research further.

15 November – day 18

Goal: 500 words                               Achieved: 711                                                    Total: 8,414

Scheduled start time: 6.30am

Woke up early and got straight onto my laptop. Managed over 700 words in about 20 minutes. I find early mornings are great for writing. I wrote an emotional scene with plenty of dialogue. I may need to add a bit of description and conversation breaks later.

16 November – day 19

Goal: 600 words                               Achieved:  1,056                                               Total: 9,470

Scheduled start time: 5pm

A slow start as I was working on chapters that were more or less done, but then I incorporated another plot point from the first draft and the words started flowing. I have now passed the half-way point of NaNoWriMo!

17 November – day 20

Goal: 530 words                               Achieved: 446 words                                      Total: 9,916

Scheduled start time: 1.30pm

Another write-in on Zoom with my writing group today. I won’t be able to attend the full session as I have got lots of house stuff to do this afternoon but hoping to get an hour done and bring my total word count for this book up to 52,000.

Constant disruption during the hour I set aside for writing, which was very frustrating! Created a new scene in Blackpool and fiddled about with some of the later chapters but no significant progression today. Disappointing.

18 November – day 21

Goal: 800 words                               Achieved: 2,145 words                                  Total: 12,061

A day off today, so I plan to do four stints of writing throughout the day, aiming for 200 words per session.

Session 1, 9am

Started by adding another scene from the first draft so a very easy 1,610 words in about 25 minutes. According to my NaNo stats, this puts me back on target to complete 18,000 words by the end of the month. Hurrah! I could take the rest of the day off but I’m not going to!

Session 2, 10.30am

Another 535 words added. Really excited about this book now! 54,061 words written

Session 3, 2pm

Ground to a halt! No more words done this afternoon. Sadly, real life took over.

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Nanowrimo 2021: Week two

Week two of NaNoWriMo and I have written another 3,835 words.

NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It is an international challenge to write 50,000 words in a month. I am being a ‘NaNo rebel’ and aiming to add 18,000 words to an existing manuscript, which will hopefully be book four.

I gave myself two days off this week to attend the Perfect Crime Festival in Liverpool. I came back full of ideas and inspiration, and it was great to spend time with other writers and readers. I now have a huge ‘to be read’ list!

Another thing I did this week was a virtual write-in with a group of writers I met on the Jericho Writers’ self-edit course. We met over Zoom to write, and it proved very productive.

I’m a little behind on my goal, but confident I will catch up.

WEEK TWO

5 November 2021 – day 8

Goal: 530 words                               Achieved: 0                                                        Total: 3370 words

No words done today, really tired and very busy with the house move.

6 November 2021 – day 9

Goal: 530 words                               Achieved: 998 words                                      Total: 4,368 words

Scheduled start time: 8pm

Started writing at 7pm. Lifted a chapter from the first draft and copied and pasted it into the manuscript so an easy 998 words tonight, leaving me a bit of time to plan a new chapter to work on tomorrow.

7 November 2021 – day 10

Goal: 632 words                               Achieved: 637 words                                      Total: 5,005 words

Scheduled start time: 8pm

I was planning to write later on this evening but managed to get some writing done waiting for tea to cook. The words were flowing as I started writing a new chapter. Managed 637 words in about 45 minutes. Will continue this chapter tomorrow.

8 November 2021 – day 11

Goal: 500 words                               Achieved: 823 words                                      Total: 5,828 words

Scheduled start time: 6.30am

Woke up early to write before work and managed 823 words, continuing the new chapter I started yesterday. I’m really pleased with it although I need to do some research so had to add a few notes to myself in the text. I use square brackets and capitals e.g. [FIND OUT WHERE THIS IS] when I need to do some research but don’t want to stop writing. I find early mornings good for writing. After a cup of tea, my brain feels quite active.

9 November 2021 – day 12

Goal: 0 words                                    Achieved: 0                                                        Total: 5,828 words

Scheduled start time: 8.15am

Busy day today so decided not to set myself a goal. Any words written will be a bonus.

10 November – day 13

Goal: 972 words                               Achieved: 1,377 words                                  Total: 7,205

Scheduled start time: 1pm

Today I am doing something I have never done before, a virtual write-in with a group of writers I met on a self-editing course. We are going to be writing our novels over Zoom, keeping each other going when the words stop flowing. I have high expectations of achieving nearly 1,000 words with this type of focussed writing.

It was brilliant! Despite a few interruptions I managed to add 1,377 words to my manuscript which was way more than I was expecting. I enjoyed the companionship of writing alongside others and the chats in between focussed writing sessions. I would definitely do this again.

11 November – day 14

Goal: 0 words                                    Achieved : 0                                                       Total: 7,205

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

ON THE SHELF: AUGUST 2021 READS

It has been so long since I updated my reading list, that I have nearly forgotten what I’ve read and when! But here goes.

In August, I read:

  • The Silver Collar by Antonia Hodgson
  • My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier
  • People Like Her, Ellery Lloyd
  • Away with the Penguins, Hazel Prior
  • The Silver Road, Stina Jackson
  • Klara and the Sun, Kazuo Ishiguro
  • A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, Solzhenitsyn

I am a big fan of Antonia Hodgson, and The Silver Collar was a signed copy that a friend bought me at the Theakston’s Old Peculier Festival in Harrogate. This is the fourth in the historical crime fiction series featuring Tom Hawkins and his wife, Kitty. They’re really enjoyable books. Definitely recommended!

I read My Cousin Rachel for a book club that I was subsequently unable to attend. I had seen the film, so knew the plot, but the ending still caught me off-guard. Reading du Maurier always encourages me to up my crime writing game!

People Like Her is a fresh, modern thriller about the life of influencers. I was keen to read this Richard and Judy pick, and it did not disappoint. I particularly liked the dual narrative in this book and how it worked to keep the reader on their toes.

I think Away with the Penguins was my favourite book in August. It was funny, sweet and heart-warming. I can’t wait for the sequel which is out soon! I think this is the first time I have bought a book based on the title alone, not knowing anything about it beforehand.

If you’re looking for atmospheric Scandi noir then Stina Jackson is definitely one to read. The Silver Road is her first novel and I enjoyed it just as much as The Last Snow. I read this on my kindle, and I liked it so much, I bought it in paperback as well.

I found Klara and the Sun a thought-provoking read, but it wasn’t one that really engaged me. One thing I really admire about Ishiguro is that he refuses to stay within a genre and every book is very different from the last. I was interested in a lot of the concepts in this novel, particularly around artificial intelligence, but the plot was a bit lacking for me.

A friend lent my A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich because it was one of her favourite books. I’m afraid it wasn’t for me; it was just too bloody miserable!

And that was that for August! I’ll update the blog with September’s reads soon!

nanowrimo 2021: week one

For those of you not familiar with it, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month and is a writing challenge every November to write 50,000 words in a month.

It’s a great opportunity to meet other writers, get motivated and push up your word count. You can adapt the challenge to your own circumstances.

Find out more at www.nanowrimo.org

The last time I did the challenge was in 2018 and I ended up abandoning the novel. This year, I am going to be a NaNo rebel and not stick to the rules. I am aiming to write an additional 18,000 words of an existing draft (book four) by the end of the month.

29 October 2021 – day 1

Goal: 900 words                                               Achieved: 907 words                      Total: 907 words

Scheduled start time: 9.30am

I am moving house on Monday – the first day of November – so decided to start the challenge two days early.

Started writing about 9am by reading through my first draft. Quite early, I spotted changes that could be made so worked on the first six chapters, adding 907 words to my word count and splitting a few chapters to make the story develop a bit more slowly. I really enjoyed being back with these characters.

Finished about lunchtime. The NaNoWriMo website is not allowing me to register my wordcount which is disappointing – will try again tomorrow. The plan is to do the same tomorrow, working through the chapters and adding story and character as I go.

30 October 2021 – day 2

Goal: 900 words                                               Achieved:  629 words                    Total: 1,536 words

Scheduled start time: 9.30am

Woke up early and wrote 629 words between 6.30am and 7.30am. These weren’t new words but a section from the first draft that I edited to fit into the story so really easy. Still can’t update the website which is disappointing.

I am reading ‘The Art of War for Writers’ by James Scott Bell for inspiration while I write. Hoping to do another session this morning and that’s my word count done for the next few days while we move house.

Update: no more new words, real life took over! Managed to update the website this morning.

31 October 2021 – day 3

Moving house – no words

1 November 2021 – day 4

Goal: 0 words                                    Achieved: 618                                                   Total: 2,154

Couldn’t sleep so got up at 4.30am and wrote 618 words. 😊

2 November 2021 – day 5

Goal: 300 words                               Achieved:  302 words                                    Total: 2,456

I didn’t think I would get much writing done today with the house move but forced myself to do 45 minutes in the evening. Not sure I was very inspired and kept moving sections around but managed 302 words.

3 November 2021 – day 6

Goal: 300 words                               Achieved: 351 words                                      Total: 2,807

Scheduled time to start writing: 8.30am

Working today but set off early and wrote in a café. Wrote 351 words by hand in a notebook. Not had chance to type them up yet. Deliberately created some conflict between my two main characters in the form of an argument. Also had a couple of ideas about plot lines and a new suspect, so it was a good session. I enjoyed writing in a café and wrote some pen portraits of the people there.

4 November 2021 – day 7

Goal: 500 words                               Achieved: 563                                                    Total: 3,370

Scheduled time to start writing: 8pm

Really tired from the house move but started writing at 7pm. First, I typed up the words I had written in my notebook yesterday, expanding some of it and adding a bit more to chapters 13 and 14. Achieved another 217 words easily and then started procrastinating and getting distracted.

Spent an hour doing other things (writing related) and then set a timer for 20 minutes and switched off the internet. Managed to write 346 words in about 15 minutes. I find this kind of focussed writing really helps.

TOTAL WORDS, WEEK ONE: 3,370 WORDS

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