Becoming a better reader

I am naturally a galloping reader.  I rattle through books at top speed, eager to know what happens next, then (if the book is good) I’m gutted when I get to the last page.  I feel like I’ve lost a great friend.  

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with this approach – it’s an indicator of how much I’m enjoying the book in question and the fact that it’s a good page-turner.  But I sometimes think some of my appreciation of the book is lost in the speed at which I devour the words.  

Since I’ve started writing the way I read has definately changed.  Before I read mainly for enjoyment (I’m talking about novels here) but now I also read to learn.  I think about the author’s style, genre, characters, language and anything else I can absorb along the way.  I still read quickly but I think I appreciate and reflect more as I go along and it means that not only do I know whether I’ve enjoyed the novel, I also have a clearer understanding why.

I’ve just finished The Fearless by Emma Pass which I enjoyed a lot.  A great adventure, which I gobbled up at the usual speed.  But I stopped and reflected several times along the way so when I read the final page I knew exactly why I enjoyed it: sound plot, straightforward language, strong characters, each with their own clear voice (the chapters are written in the first person from the point of view of one of the three main characters which is very effective) and vivid settings (I was in no doubt where the story was without any unnecessary long descriptions). 

I think my point is that I enjoy books more now that I’m becoming a better reader!  I would love to know what your reading style is and whether you are a galloper or a reflector when it comes to reading…..

Book Review: Half Wild by Sally Green

When this book arrived it felt like a real treat – I’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since I finished its predecessor, Half Bad.  It’s the second in the Half Bad trilogy, which tells the story of Nathan Byrn – a half white, half black witch living in a world where (putting it mildly) the two do not get along.

In order to talk about Half Wild I need to say what Ioved about Half Bad (apologies if this turns into a review of both!).  I listened to an interview with Sally Green on Women’s Hour last year and felt drawn into the story as she spoke about it.  There are of course plenty of stories out there about witches and wizards and all things magical but this one sounded different.  And intriguing.  A genre I love, written by a former professional (in her case accountant, in my case lawyer).  I must read this book, thought I!

Half Bad is all about Nathan himself, how he becomes a fully fledged witch and deals with some pretty horrendous things along the way.  I think that it is so tempting, especially in this genre to throw your main character straight into the acton, not giving them a chance to process what is happening to and around them.  After all we are eager to get into the adventure as quickly as possible!  But Half Bad does both adventure and character so effectively.  Sally takes us straight into the action and intrigue (I was hooked instantly) but this is unmistakably Nathan’s journey and his way through it is wonderful to read.

Nathan is a great character, developed further throughout Half Wild; again an engaging balance between action and character.  I enjoyed the other characters too: Mercury, Celia, Van, Gabriel, Annalise and Marcus to name a few – not typically all good or all bad but instead all wonderfully flawed and rounded.  Even the ‘baddies’ have elements which you want to like about them and nothing is black or white (in the usual not the witch sense!) – this theme is clear through both books.

I’m not going to give away much about the plot of Half Wild but Nathan’s story continues – he discovers his powerful Gift, given to him by his father, Marcus (a powerful Black Witch with dubious violent tendencies) and he learns how to use and live with it.  He is determined to rescue the girl he is in love with and his relationships with the other key characters develop and deepen.  And the story of the increasingly dangerous conflict between White Witches and Black Witches continues.

Sally’s writing style is punchy and distinctive and suits the story and the voice of Nathan so well.  I liked the use of the second person point of view at the beginning of Half Bad, which returns briefly at the very end of Half Wild, setting it up beautifully for the story’s conclusion in book three, which is due to be out in March next year.  So you have plenty of time to read the first two before then!

PS I know you shouldn’t judge books by their covers, but these two are brilliant, as are the blurbs on the back 🙂

PPS There’s a great interview with the author here: http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/mar/27/sally-green-interview-waterstones-half-bad-wild

Do The Work

I am a bit behind with a few things this week.  Blogging, NaNo novel (for new readers I am taking part in National Novel Writing Month and attempting to write 50,000 of a novel during November), laundry, general house sorting, to name a few.  I’m blaming half term, (wonderful) family visiting and then a trip to Disneyland Paris, so some lovely distractions!

On Monday I was finally back at my desk writing and I only managed a paltry 744 words that day.  Still, the important thing is that I wrote something.  Some words (however bad they are) are better than no words at all.

A couple of people have asked me, ‘So when do you write?  Do you have to pick a good time when you feel inspired?’  My answer to that has always been,  ‘Actually it’s mostly just about doing the work.’  The most important lesson I have learned this year is that I need to turn up.  So many things demand our time, some more important that others and most do need doing at some point.  But I’m learning that if there’s something I’m passionate about doing, then I need to prioritize it.  Make the time, not find the time.  I need to get on with it.

Of course, some inspiration is useful once in a while (!) but I’ve found that most of my important ideas about plot, characters etc strike me when I’m not actually sat down typing.  I have exciting notebooks full of scribbles all over the place, but the real work takes place here.  Fingers to keyboard.

There is a great pep talk by Kami Garcia on the NaNo website about this which you can look at here  http://nanowrimo.org/pep-talks/kami-garcia

Love the tough love!  So I better get on with it.  Do the work.

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 (www.nanowrimo.org).  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…http://blog.nanowrimo.org/post/62067178090/no-plot-no-problem-in-which-a-planning-limit-is

Good job I’ve only got a week!

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

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.