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

On the Shelf: October 2021 reads

In October 2021, I read:

  • The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins
  • Watch Her Fall by Erin Kelly
  • Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line by Deepa Anappara 
  • Confessions of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell
  • Crossing the Lines by Amanda Huggins (proof copy)
  • The Strangeworlds Travel Agency 2: The Edge of the Ocean by L D Lapinski

I am a big fan of The Hunger Games trilogy, so I was excited to read the spin-off which takes us back to the origins of the Games when Cornelius Snow is a young man, acting as a mentor to one of the tributes. I wouldn’t recommend starting with this book if you haven’t read the others, or you weren’t a fan of the original books, but it was great to be back in this world and I am hoping this is the start of a new series.

Watch Her Fall is set in the world of ballet, and it was fascinating to get a peek behind the curtains of a professional dance school. I was a bit disappointed though that the whole book wasn’t set in this world though. A very enjoyable read and a good, twisty plot that kept me guessing.

I had come across Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line when it was appearing on the shortlists of writing competitions before it got a publishing deal. I’d always loved the title and the opening sequence, and the rest of the novel didn’t disappoint. It follows a group of street kids in India solving the mystery of the disappearance of children from their shanty town. Heart-breaking at times, and hard-hitting in its depiction of poverty, I am definitely following this series.

Confessions of a Bookseller is a non-fiction book I was given for my birthday. I enjoyed the wry humour and the ups and downs of running a book shop.

Crossing the Lines is an atmospheric and haunting coming-of-age story of a young girl escaping her fate and returning to her roots. With compelling characters and evocative prose, this is a journey of self-discovery that will stay with you long after you read the last line. Crossing the Lines was a proof copy and was published in November 2021.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Strangeworlds Travel Agency 2: The Edge of the Ocean. It’s a middle-grade book so I am not its intended audience, but I just love the world(s) L D Lapinski has created. I am definitely going to be reading the rest of this series. I’ve bought these books as Christmas and birthday presents and they always get the thumbs up from young readers.

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.

A COVER AND A NEW TITLE FOR BOOK TWO!

You’re invited to the wedding of the season…but you might not live to tell the tale!

The cover of my second book was revealed on social media this week and I love it!

I love the striking contrast between the red, white and black. Coincidentally these were the colours of my own wedding which makes it extra special.

Some of you will know that I originally called the book The Wedding Guest, but the title was changed after discussions with the publisher, One More Chapter.

The Wedding Murders features Libby Steele, a plus-one at a celebrity wedding. She’s the guest of her boyfriend Matthew who used to be in a Britpop band with the groom. It’s the first time the band have been reunited since their acrimonious split in the 90s and Libby soon realises they all have secrets to hide.

When a bridesmaid goes missing just hours before the ceremony, Libby suspects there’s a killer on the loose…

I was lucky enough to get an endorsement from the amazing Sophie Hannah which blew me away. This is what she said about the book:

‘This gripping murder mystery will keep you riveted from start to end. Fans of Lucy Foley and Agatha Christie will love it.’ 

You can’t get much better than that! But here are some of the other lovely endorsements I’ve received from published authors:

‘An intensely compelling, riveting story with a nail-biting climax!’ Abby Davies, author of Mother Loves Me

‘A fast-paced thriller with plenty of twists and turns’ Sophie Flynn, author of All My Lies 

‘A gripping tale with plenty of twists and turns making for a most enjoyable read!’ Roz Watkins, author of The Devil’s Dice

I really enjoyed writing this book. It will be published as an ebook in February 2022 and a paperback in April 2022 and is available to pre-order now.

If you’re a book blogger, you can request a review copy on Netgalley.

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!

On the shelf: July 2021 reads

In June 2021, I read:

  • The Midnight Library by Matt Haig
  • The Perfect Couple by Jackie Kabler
  • The Happy Family by Jackie Kabler (proof copy)
  • The Cult by Abbie Davies (proof copy)
  • Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
  • A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders (non-fiction)
  • Girl A by Abigail Dean

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig has a brilliant concept. A woman, wanting to end her own life, finds herself in a library surrounded by the stories of what her life could have been if she had made different decisions. I thought it was a beautiful and thought-provoking novel.

I was fortunate enough to be sent two proofs to read this month from my publisher. The Happy Family by Jackie Kabler is a gripping read with all the elements of a classic psychological suspense: suspicion, secrets and shocking reveals. The Cult by Abbie Davies was one of my favourite books this year. Creepy and full of tension, with great characters, plenty of twists and turns, and a nail-biting finish, it was a real page-turner.

Silver Sparrow is the story of two girls and their bigamist father. I loved the tension in this book which is told from the two girls’ perspectives. This is the second novel by Tayari Jones that I have read, and I am keen to read more.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain by George Saunders is a collection of essays about writing, critiquing seven short stories by Russian writers. I learnt a lot from this book, but ultimately, I think it was more aimed at writers of literary fiction.

Girl A by Abigail Dean was quite a harrowing read. It follows the lives of a group of siblings who have escaped their childhood ‘house of horror’ with their neglectful and abusive parents. It was another thought-provoking read.  

In July 2021, I am going to read:

  • Little White Lies by Philippa East
  • Definitely Dead by Kate Bendelow
  • The Dare by Lesley Kara
  • Our Little Cruelties by Liz Nugent
  • The Island by C L Taylor

In other news, I am venturing out this month and attending the Theakston’s Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. I really thought it would be cancelled this year due to COVID so I am over the moon that it is going ahead and that I will get to see some of my favourite writers.

What are you reading this month?

On the shelf: June 2021 reads

In May, I read:

  • The Other People by C J Tudor
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Midnight at Malabar House by Vaseem Khan
  • The Dinner Guest by B P Walter
  • Kingdom by Jo Nesbo (DNF)
  • Don’t Close Your Eyes by Holly Seddon
  • Runaway Train by Lee Matthew Goldberg (proof)
  • Her Last Holiday by C L Taylor

I really enjoyed Midnight at Malabar House. I’ve not read any of Vaseem Khan’s books before, but I am definitely keen to read more. This novel, the first in a new series, is set in a newly independent India and features Persis Wadia, the country’s first female detective. She’s a wonderful character and the plot kept me guessing until the end.

Another highlight for me was The Other People. I have enjoyed all of C J Tudor’s books so far, but I think this one was her best. It features a broken man fruitlessly searching for his missing daughter. Everyone tells him she’s dead, but he refuses to stop looking. There are several different plotlines, and it takes a while for them to fuse together, but when they do it’s a fantastic revelation.

I’m usually a big fan of Jo Nesbo, but I couldn’t finish Kingdom. I won’t post any spoilers, but the subject matter was not for me, so I gave up on it.

Runaway Train by Lee Matthew Goldberg was a proof. This coming-of-age story is set in 90s California and I defy you not to sing along to the soundtrack! I loved the feisty heroine and her emotional journey as she takes to the road, comes to terms with the death of her sister and finds her voice. 

In June, I am planning to read:

  • Finders, Keepers by Sabine Durrant
  • Fatal Harmony by Kate Rhodes
  • Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
  • The Perfect Couple by Jackie Kabler
  • The Broken by Tamar Cohen

Have you read any of these? What did you think?