Book Review: We Were Liars by E Lockhart

I have been recommending this book to so many people so I thought it would be a good one for my first review. Also we did it for book club last week so I’ve been waiting to hear what everyone else thought as well!

We Were Liars is a story about the Sinclairs, a wealthy American family, who spend every summer on their Granddad’s private island.  The Sinclairs are ‘tall, merry, and rich’ and nothing is allowed to affect that facade. The Sinclair’s world is controlled by Harris Sinclair, whose four daughters compete for his affections and argue constantly about their entitlement to the family wealth.

The story is told by Cadence (or Cady), who we know from the beginning is ill in body and mind.  She relates the story from her fifteenth summer on the island to the seventeeth, all the time trying to remember what happened during ‘Summer Seventeen’ which made her so ill.  We go on Cady’s journey with her, trying to unravel the truth and eventually finding it.

The four ‘Liars’ from the title are the three eldest grandchildren, Cady, Mirren and Johnny and also Gat, who is not part of the family, but spends every summer with them.  Gat is different from the Sinclairs in the way he looks, thinks and behaves, so when Cady falls in love with him, it threatens to upset the structure of the world they all live in.

I think that the characters are all interesting and vivid. Most of the adults are unpleasant, often tragic and I rarely sympathised with any of them. The teenagers are selfish and products of their surroundings and upbringing but also likeable.  They are opinionated, passionate and dramatic, making statements which they believe in but do not fully understand.

I loved the writing.  It sounds a bit cliché, but whilst I was reading this book, I often paused on a page to re-read a paragraph or sentence with a smile on my face.  The way Lockhart expresses certain emotions or situations is just so brilliant and lovely to read!  Here’s what I mean:

‘It tasted like salt and failure. The bright red shame of being unloved soaked the grass in front of our house, the bricks of the path, the steps to the porch. My heart spasmed among the peonies like a trout.’

I also really liked the way that she sets the scene. Rather than lengthy pages of description Lockhart often conjures up a picture of where the characters are in just a couple of sentences. 

The ending is shocking and profound.  A couple of girls in my book club had only just finished it and were still reeling.  It brought some to tears. There was some debate amongst us whether when the truth comes out it is plausible or not. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions but I am a believer. Enjoy.


NaNoWriMo Prep

This year is my first go at National Novel Writing Month… Am I naive and slightly mad?  Yes.  Excited (heart racing etc)?  Yes absolutely.  That too.  If you have no idea what I’m talking about, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo for short) takes place during November each year where hoards of people sign up to write 50,000 words of their novel.  In a month.  Definitely mad then.  When I’ve explained what I’m doing to a few friends and family, they have given me the same look of fondness that I imagine I would see if I’d said I was training to run the London Marathon.  That would be a lovely analogy but I think in this case I’m looking at a marathon-sprint…

Anyway, this week is prep week.  I’m trying to cram in as much as I can before next week (half term=small noisy distractions), then once school is back it’s November, eek!  I’ve found that the NaNoWriMo website in particular is great for advice and ideas (  I am definitely a planner rather than a pantser, so here’s what I will be doing this week…

  • Go back over the plot map which I have on a large piece of lining paper stuck on the wall above my desk.  I love to visualise what I’m doing and it lets me see how I need to get from A to B (in theory).  I also need to make sure the timeline still works.  It’s getting a bit messy so I might need to make a new one…
  • Revisit character plans and flesh them out – they need the most work this week I think.  I need a baddy.
  • Sketch out some stuff about location.  It’s based around real places but there are also ‘other-worldly’ elements which I need to be clear on.
  • Go back over general premise, themes etc.
  • Write a synopsis
  • Look at our calendar and work out when I’m going to write the thing!

And for the pantsers out there, apparently too much planning is not recommended…

Good job I’ve only got a week!

Anyone else out there signed up to NaNoWriMo?  Any planning tips??

I can write a story…

My son presented me with a piece of paper last week entitled ‘L/O: I can write a story’.  L/O?  ‘That means Learning Objective Mummy.  Now then you write and I will tell you what to write down.’  He paused and looked sideways (thinking), then back at me.  ‘Do you have any ideas?’  Then followed a story about a cat called Tom whose day starts badly because he jumps on his owners’ bed and scratches the duvet (we then had to stop for tea and haven’t written the rest yet).

The happy willingness of my son to write (or dictate) an off the cuff story got me thinking about how self conscious I often feel about writing.  Sometimes just getting the words down in front of me is so difficult.  Why do I feel like that?  No one else needs to read it.  It also made me think about how much I love stories and the fact that there are stories everywhere we look.

Over the past few months I’ve discovered something that has helped me to get past my self-consciousness – writing prompts.  I’ve taken a word, phrase or picture, thought about it for a few minutes and then just let whatever comes into my head flow onto the paper; usually scribbling for about 15 or 20 minutes.  I try not to cross anything out, but just fill the page and see where the story takes me.  I’ve found it quite liberating and fun, as it doesn’t matter how bad it is, its just meant to get the writing muscles going.  I know that this is probably very familiar stuff for a lot of people, but if you fancy trying it, here are a few ideas…

  • Next time you are on a train or bus choose a person and write a story about where they are going and why.
  • Turn on the radio and write a story about the first three words you hear (this is from a Creative Writing course that I did with the Open University.  The first three words I heard were something about genes so I wrote a story about loving to wear my jeans as a child.)
  • Write a story beginning with the words ‘Choose twelve people…’
  • Think of an object you clearly remember in your house growing up and write a story about it.

If you have any interesting writing prompts which you have found helpful I would love to hear about them.  Enjoy your stories.

Collaboration and magic

On Sunday I was at the Nottingham Playhouse listening to Cassandra Clare and Holly Black talking about The Iron Trial – the first in their five-book Magisterium series.  I have to confess I went along not really knowing what to expect!  I haven’t read the Iron Trial yet (although I have read and enjoyed several of the Mortal Instruments books) and as my friend and I walked into the auditorium it became apparent that we increased the average age by about 20 years!

I really enjoyed it though.  It was inspiring to listen to Cassandra and Holly talking about how they came up with the idea for the story while they were in an airport waiting to board a plane (‘I said…then she said…then I said…’).  They introduced us to the main characters by telling us about their hopes and fears and showing us sketches of them which I thought was effective and a great incentive to read the book and get to know them better.

What I was really interested in though was the collaboration part.  How do two people write a book together and how does the process work?  Listening to them chat about bouncing ideas off each other and critiquing each others work I felt quite envious.  What an invaluable thing – to find someone who is literally on the same page as you (forgive the pun); someone who will be on your team, so that you can help to make each others work better.

In amongst all the Shadowhunter-related questions (characters in Cassandra’s books, in case you haven’t read any) I managed to ask them how the writing process worked for them, as individual writers and together.  I found their replies fascinating.  As individual authors they plan and write books completely differently.  Holly is a visionary.  She gets her inspiration for a story from a picture and bases it around that, writing and rewriting chapters as she goes along, changing everything constantly.  Cassandra on the other hand plans and outlines everything.  She knows exactly where she is going from the start.  To write the Iron Trial together I don’t think they had to compromise the way that they write as individuals; instead they came up with a new way to write together.  So they literally write together.  In the same room, at the same time.  Each writing a page or so at a time, then passing it back and forth for the other to read, change etc.

I know from experience that there is a wonderful buzz when you work on something with someone else.  I love the idea of collaborating to write a book (or series of books in their case) together and I got the sense that they loved doing it.  Even though apparently they fell out a couple of times in the process!  So I’m excited and intrigued to read The Iron Trial.  Have you read it?  Or any other books which have been written by more than one person?  Let me know what you think.