9 books to buy

9 books to buy

In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re full-on into shopping mode in time for the festive season. One of the best presents, in my opinion, that you can give is a book.

I suppose I would say that as a writer, but I’m not flogging my own novel in today’s blog post. Instead, I want to share nine novels that have stayed with me long after I turned their final page.

For children and teens

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

The Graveyard Book begins in a very dark way – murder. It introduces us immediately to the assassin, the man Jack and the peril that our protagonist, Bod is in.

Gaiman’s portrayal of Bod as a child, at different ages, is completely believable. In fact, the whole book, although strange on the surface (a child living in a graveyard among ghosts and ghouls) uses the familiarity of family, childhood, and growing up to bind the story together.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

I was introduced to the ‘Skulduggery Pleasant’ books when my son found the first book in the series at our local library. Back then, I would still read to him on a night-time. I think I probably enjoyed the book as much as my son did.

Skulduggery Pleasant is the dead wizard detective pictured on the cover who, along with 12 year old Stephanie, investigate her late uncle’s death.

Magic, danger and, well, more danger and magic. What more could you ask for?

Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks

This is the first in the Word & Void trilogy and tells the story of a 14 year old girl called Nest who has strange powers, magical animal friends, and a quest to protect the children in her neighbourhood from demons and the like.

Running alongside Nest’s story is that of a Knight of the Word, John Ross, come to Nest’s town to protect her and the world from the encroaching Void.

For fantasy lovers

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

I love novels where an adult remembers what befell them as a child, and that is exactly what happens in this fantasy novel.

‘Ocean’ has Gaiman’s quiet, beckoning tone of storytelling, drawing you in until you have to know what will happen to the characters.

It’s a story of regret, bitter-sweet reminiscence, and the courage of a child who is wonderfully but terrifyingly out of his depths in a discovered world of magic.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

This is a novel of magic, illusion (magical, mechanical and emotional), gameplay and love, set at the turn of the twentieth century in Europe and the USA which leaves you with more questions about the circus than you started with.

The circus arrives without warning.
   No announcements precede it, no paper notices on downtown posts and  billboards, no mentions or advertisements in local newspapers. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett

The ‘Word Wizard’ Terry Pratchett is no longer with us but his writing was so brilliant and prolific that I’m sure he’ll continue to have and attract an audience for decades more, if not forever.

‘The Colour of Magic’ tells the adventures of unlikely hero and terrible wizard, Rincewind.

I love the world that Pratchett created in his Discworld novels. I mean, who wouldn’t want luggage with legs and a mind of it’s own?

For those who love the classics

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

I came across this book through my studies and it has stayed with me as an example of great writing ever since. Mary Shelley became an inspiration to me too, not only as a writer, but as a creative pioneer, and an incredibly strong woman.

Forget the Boris Karloff Frankenstein’s monster or Herman in the Munsters, this classic novel is a story of arrogance, struggle, abandonment, and heart-break.

I’m on the monster’s side, by the way.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

‘The Moonstone’ is told through the eyes of members of the family affected by the Moonstone’s seeming curse, their elderly butler Gabriel Betteredge, the family solicitor and the retired policeman Sergeant Cuff.

Considered to be the first detective novel, ‘The Moonstone’ describes the days and events before, during and after the theft of the fated diamond.

This novel is, if you’ll excuse the pun, a gem of a read whether you enjoy crime fiction or Victorian novels or both.

Curtain by Agatha Christie

My final book is an old battered copy of the last ever Hercule Poirot novel. This book belonged to my parents but I didn’t read it until I was an adult. This is by far my favourite Agatha Christie novel, if the only one that ever moved me to tears.

Set in the same country house as the first Poirot novel, ‘Curtain’ sees Hercule old and ailing as his loyal and long-time friend Arthur Hastings does his best to help his friend discover ‘whodunnit’ before Poirot takes his last breath.

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So there you have it, my nine recommended books to buy for your friends or family, or just for yourself, this Christmas.

Happy shopping!

NaNoWriMo – How I did in November

nanowrimo how I did in November

Last month, I tried my hand at the NaNoWriMo challenge of writing 50,000 words in a month in an attempt to kickstart Novel Two of the Haven Chronicles.

I got off to a good start, but then real life got in the way, in the form of:

My final word count ended up at just over 16,000 words. It’s not 50k but it is a constructive chunk of work (and several chapters into my novel).

It also forced me to look at the plot-line for Book Two and decide whether it really worked. That’s the thing with writing – or at least, it is for me – until you put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, you don’t know if what you’ve written is the right way to go.

This month is all about finishing a commissioned murder mystery play for a theatre group up in Scotland and preparing for Christmas. I’ll return to Novel Two, with an altered plot-line, once Christmas Day is over.

Chester Literature Festival

Chester Literature Festival

So, wow, that was quite a month.

In case you hadn’t already worked out from my last blog post and many many social media posts over the last few weeks, this month I took part in two author slots at the Storyhouse Theatre for the Chester Literature Festival.

This was my first foray into appearing in front of an audience (a) as an author and (b) to give a reading from my novel. I’ve performed on stage before, but this was a completely different experience. I wasn’t hiding behind a role or stage make-up. I was standing up there and saying, ‘this is me and this is what I write’.

Elevenses

The first reading was the Elevenses slot on a Sunday morning in the Storyhouse Kitchen, which is a big open seating area in the theatre. I knew there would be people there just for the bar and food, and other people passing through to buy tickets, but I hoped that even if nobody turned up specifically to see me, some of them would take the time to listen.

That’s me, giving my first ever author reading.

As it was, I ended up with an audience of children who sat and quietly listened as I read a couple of chapters from ‘Haven Wakes’.

And at the end, I got applause, not just from the children but from lots of the adults who were sat around in the Kitchen too.

Amongst those adults was fellow writer and long-time writerly buddy Suzanna Williams. Great to meet up with you, Suz.

Your Voices: Celebrating Local Writers

My second reading took place the following Sunday night in the Garrett Theatre at the Storyhouse as part of the ‘Your Voices’ event.

I was just one of five writers who gave readings that evening:

  • poet Trevor MacCormack, reading from his collection of poems, ‘Looking Back’
  • novelist Swapna Das, reading from her collection of short stories, ‘A String of Pearls’ and her novel, ‘The Forgotten People’
  • Historical and Cli-Fi (climate fiction) novelist Kell Cowley reading from her two novels, ‘The Vagabond Stage’ and ‘Shrinking Sinking Land’
  • and performance poet, Ruthie Adamson aka Wonky Wordsmith, performing her poetry. Ruthie’s poetry appears in three anthologies – ‘The Quality of Mersey’, ‘Smoke’ and ‘Hidden Voice Publishing Anthology Volume 1’
Just 4 of the 5 – this was taken before Trevor arrived.

One of the best parts of the evening, beside giving my reading, was getting to meet up with fellow storytellers and swap experiences.

A big thank you to Sam and Emily for organising and co-ordinating the Festival, and for your help and kind words at my two slots.

I’d love to take part in next year’s Chester Literature Festival (by which time, I should have a second novel published) so as they say ‘watch this space’.

Our books!
Trevor’s collection of poetry, Looking Back

Events in November

Where you can find me in November

This month, I’ll be taking part in the Chester Literature Festival to give readings from my debut novel, Haven Wakes.


On Sunday, 17th November, you can catch me at the Storyhouse in Chester giving a 20 minute reading as part of LitFest Elevenses. My slot begins at 11.00 am in front of the big screen in the Kitchen.

This event is completely free to attend so why not come along and grab yourself a coffee while you listen to a couple of chapters from my novel.


On Sunday, 24th November, starting at 8.00 pm in the Garret Theatre in the Storyhouse, I’ll be taking part in Your Voices: Celebrating Local Writers.

Tickets for this event cost £3.00 and can be purchased through the link above.

I’ll have copies of Haven Wakes with me at this second event if you’d like to buy a copy at £8.99. Unfortunately, I won’t have the resources to take card payment, so it’ll be good old cash only.


I’ll report back later on how my Festival appearances went. Wish me luck.

Kick starting Book Two of The Haven Chronicles

kickstarting book two of the haven chronicles

NaNoWriMo (or to the uninitiated ‘National Novel Writing Month’) kicks off at the beginning of November. So what’s it all about?

Well, the aim is to write write write for the entire month, working towards a total word count of 50,000. I’ve never yet made it all the way to 50k words (I think my maximum output has been around 25,000) but knowing I’m writing alongside other NaNoWriMo writers really spurs me on.

This year, I’ll be using NaNoWriMo as a way to kick start the first draft of the second novel in the Haven Chronicles series.

October is all about getting my chapter plan complete so I’m ready to start writing on 1st November.

If you fancy having a go at NaNoWriMo yourself, here are my top tips to survive the month:

1. Plan your book

I don’t necessarily mean have a complete chapter plan to hand before you dive in, but having a brief sketch of the main points of your novel – main character, antagonist, setting, beginning and end – can really help.

2. Decide when you will write

If you already have a regular writing slot, then brilliant, carry on with that. If you don’t write regularly though, it might be best to put some thought into when you will write during the month of November. What’s realistic? Remember, you still have to eat, sleep, go to work, wash, walk the dog, or whatever else your life entails.

3. Decide where you will write

Do you have a place that you always use for writing or does it tend to shift? Will you have access to a quiet corner to write each day in November? Do you need quiet? Maybe headphones will help, or perhaps you like to write to a level of noise and hubbub. Will you type, write by hand or dictate? You might want to set up a writing station for the month, even if it’s a mobile writing station to work around the rest of the household.

4. Warn your family and friends

Let them know how important the month is to you and that you may not be as readily available as normal. It might be that during your time slot, you don’t answer your phone or check social media and emails. If people know in advance that you’re not to be disturbed during a particular time slot in the day or evening, then things will probably run much more smoothly.

5. Gag your internal editor

I know, I know, sometimes it’s just too tempting to check back over your writing and give it a little tweak. Don’t. That isn’t what NaNoWriMo is about. Write, write and write some more. Keep your editorial demon happy with the thought that once the month is over, there’ll be a whole load of material to edit.

6. Make some NaNoWriMo buddies

Just because you’re head down writing like a maniac this month doesn’t mean that you have to do it alone. Chat with the members of your Home Region (for me, that’s Wales), connect with your real-life buddies who are also taking part in NaNoWriMo, or have your say in the online forums. There are virtual write-ins and word sprints to take part in too.

7. Don’t let the word count distract you

Don’t get hung up on continually entering your word count into the NaNoWriMo website and checking how everyone else is doing. Of course, all NaNoWrimers know what the minimum word count is to reach the magical 50k (1,667 per day). Use that as a rough guide but when you’re sat at your writing station during your writing slot, just write.

Haven does something else

haven does something else

It’s been one week since Haven Wakes was published by Burning Chair, and I’ve been delighted with the response so far – so many kind words, reviews, and shout-outs on social media.

So what now? Well, I suppose I’d better write the next book in the series.

Book two in the Haven Chronicles has the working title of ‘Haven Journeys’ but I don’t think that’ll be the final title. It does, however, give a hint of what Steve will be doing.

Haven Wakes introduced you to:

  • our main boy, 12 year old Steve Haven
  • his normal life
  • his world
  • a new, hidden, magical world
  • his new, magical friends

The second book in the series will continue Steve’s adventures. I can’t tell you too much, but the second book may include:

  • Steve’s magical friends mentioned above
  • the powers that be in the magical world
  • a jaunt off abroad (with less jaunt and more danger)
  • more background to the world of magic
  • a new dilemma for Steve

What will I be researching to help me write Book 2? Many, many things but I can tell you that I’ll be looking into how a desert city might look in the future.

My target is to finalise my chapter plan by the end of October at the latest and have the first draft finished early 2020. Wish me luck.

Haven Wakes is almost here

Haven Wakes is almost here

It’s Monday morning – the last day before my debut novel Haven Wakes is published – and I’m preparing for the big launch tomorrow.

To say, I’m excited has to be the understatement of my life, but I’m also incredibly grateful for this chance to share my stories.

I’m grateful to my publishers, Burning Chair for setting me off on this brilliant, new career path.

I’m grateful to my family for never giving up on my dream, even when I sometimes doubted it.

I’m grateful to all the beta and ARC readers, bloggers and reviewers who have helped me to hone and promote my novel.

I’m grateful to the friends who have been my cheerleaders over the last few months.

And I’m grateful to every reader who joins Steve on his journey into magic.

I’ve always been a writer, but tomorrow I become a published author. I still get a bit giddy when I think of that (I really should drink less coffee at the moment) and I haven’t stopped smiling for days.

Tuesday is a brand new start for me, and Haven Wakes, and all of the novels I have lined up to write.

Bring it on.

The inspiration behind Haven Wakes

The inspiration behind Haven Wakes

If you ask what inspired me to write Haven Wakes, I’d have to say…

Hang on, let me think for a moment. Hm. This could take a while.

Well, I suppose the first thing was:

Magic

Ever since I read my first fairytale, I’ve been fascinated by magic – magic witches, magic beasties, magic wands and books – and just how a world rich in magic would operate.

In Haven Wakes, magic is hidden from the non magical world, kept in protected areas where magic-users can live with a level of freedom and acceptance. It’s part of their DNA but it comes at a cost.

So that’s the first – magic. What else inspired me?

Colourful folk

My childhood was spent ricocheting between Leeds, where my mum came from, the homes of various family members in Scotland (my father’s birth-country), and York where we lived.

In Leeds, I would meet the people of my mother’s past. There was the little old lady who lived in one room with her grown-up son and a gathering of cats, having filled the rest of her large terrace house with junk shop finds.

There were the elderly couple whose narrow home squeezed into a gap in a terrace of houses. She was tall with rosy cheeks, big arms and a warm, overflowing sense of humour.  He was small, quiet, and a man of the earth, always happiest in his garden.

The Scots were just as colourful. There was the auntie who would send me home after each visit with a gift of dolls or jewellery,  the uncle who would catch crabs in the harbour to the music of his portable radio, and the other auntie who would tell me tales of Nessy the monster and how to call her.

All of them were magical to me.

The travelling salesman and the dark fairy

I wrote a story called The Crystal Prince many years ago and where I might have left the story gathering dust on a shelf, two characters from that tale always called to me to re-write them.

One was a travelling salesman called Hartley Keg. He’s the kind of person who makes you smile, even when you don’t want to, who always has the right gadget to hand for any dilemma, and who carries a force of personality that speaks of authority and trust.

The other was a dark assassin, dangerous and intent on her mission. Even though she was a villain in the original story, she was always one of my favourite characters. I pulled her out of my writerly filing system, re-writing her for Haven Wakes as a dark fairy reluctantly on the side of our hero.

What will the future bring?

I live in a house of technology-fiends with gadgets galore, and that’s before you even think of computers.

My teens are the generation that has grown up with computers and mobile phones and VR just there. Whereas it was something new, at some point, to me and their Dad, they just accept all of that tech as a normal part of life.

During my lifetime, there have been so many technological changes in a relatively short period of time. Computers have gone from room-sized, to possible to fit on a desk, to small enough to sit in your palm. Phones used to be big, clunky, resin monstrosities. Nowadays everyone, including me, seems lost without their hand-held, fit it in a pocket, mobile phone.

Cars talk to us and soon self-driving cars may be the norm.

My inspiration for the futuristic world of Haven Wakes came from the thought of where these technological advances will take us. Robots? Fabrics that change colour at the flick of a switch or the brush of a hand? 3D printed food outlets? You’ll find all of that in my book.

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So there you have it, all the things that inspired Haven Wakes. I’m sure there are others too, but these are the main ones.

Magic

Colourful folk

Hartley and the darkling

Thoughts of future tech

And now Haven Wakes will serve as inspiration itself for book two in the series. But that’s another story, quite literally.

7 facts about how I write

7 facts about how I write

When my publisher asked me to create a blog post to explain how I write, I thought, ‘that’ll be simple to answer, I just…

And then it struck me. There’s no just about it. The act of writing, in fact, the whole process of writing, isn’t just anything. It’s complicated, and meandering, and sometimes a complete mystery.

So instead of discussing the whole mysterious and mystical machination that is writing, I broke it down into 7 facts about how I write.

I think

Or is that daydream? What I mean is that before, during and after the act of writing, I do a lot of thinking about my story. I have this whole internal conversation going on most of the time.

It might be

  • snippets of conversation,
  • or where the story is going next,
  • or changes I need to make to a chapter,
  • honing a description,
  • or even the name of a character.

Long before I put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, the action of writing begins with a thought.

Brainstorming

This is probably my favourite bit of the writing process. Before I begin to write, before I work out the plot or what will happen in each chapter, I have a mahoosive brainstorming session where I throw all of my ideas about a story down onto paper.

I use an A3 art pad so there are no lines to limit my scribblings. I write down

  • the title of the novel, or ideas about what the title might be
  • conversations between characters in my novel
  • characters – whether they have a name or not
  • settings
  • questions the book should answer
  • things to include to get the story where it needs to go
  • plans for future novels in the series so I know what path to follow
  • if this happens, then what? scenarios
  • topics I need to research
  • mythological beasties
  • spells and other magical details
  • character descriptions and backgrounds
  • details about the world my story is set in
  • problems I need to solve in my story
  • clues I need to reveal
  • locations of off-stage characters
  • character family connections

and anything else I need to know before I can begin to write.

It’s only when I’ve regurgitated all of those details that I can begin to build the story.

Later on, I’ll use my brainstorm chart as a reference tool to return to too.

I’m a devoted plotter

I’d love to be one of those people who can just begin a story with no plan, but I always write myself into dead ends and plot holes.

I make a plan of the different stages in the story (what will happen in the beginning, middle and end) and then carve the middle section up into anywhere from three to five sections.

Then I plot the path of my story in a sequential manner (this happens, then that, then that, and so on until the end).

Now, comes the fun bit, working out exactly how I’ll present my story:

  • Do I want to start the story-telling at the ‘beginning’ mentioned above, or do I want to start the story later?
  • Do I want to jump back and forwards a little?
  • Do I want to reveal everything, or will some scenes be shown through witness statements or clue-solving?
  • Is the story revealed through one person’s experiences or two simultaneous character paths?
  • Finally, does my story end with the ‘end’ mentioned above, or does it go on further?

I’m a firm believer, however, that plotting should always carry a level of flexibility. After all, when a character decides that they want to walk rather than take the train, they’re usually right.

Where I write

I generally write at my computer in my study. I say study, it’s actually the dining room and my desk is the dining table. My family have long since given into the fact that my need for a devoted place to write and work is more important than their need to eat around a table. Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to afford a garden office, or at least a shed.

I tend to switch between typing and handwriting my story, depending on my mood. If I’m struggling over a chapter or section, then making that change usually helps.

Very occasionally, I’ll write in the garden or at my local coffee shop, but generally I find those places too distracting to get any work done.

I don’t wait for inspiration

I’ve learned this lesson from working as a playwright and copywriter with client timescales to meet. I can’t just wait to be in the mood to write or have some wonderful idea to write about. If I did that, I’d rarely get any writing completed.

If there’s writing to do – whether it’s for a copywriting client or the next chapter of my work in progress – I have to just park my bum, pop on my glasses and get on with it.

Boring but true.

20 minute bursts

My writerly brain works best if I write for twenty minutes at a time. Why? Well, twenty minutes allows me to get quite a large chunk of writing done but doesn’t allow me to get bored or distracted. I end my twenty minutes still enthusiastic about my writing and wanting to return to it after my break.

I also find that taking a break allows my brain to cool off enough to solve any problem I may be having with my writing and/or plan out how to continue when I get back to it.

Reading back

When I return to a piece of work after a break, I read back over what I wrote during the previous twenty minute burst. This serves a number of purposes:

  • It reminds me where I left off.
  • It gets me back into the same tone of voice and pace of writing.
  • It allows me to check that the last twenty minutes weren’t wasted and that I didn’t get off track.

It might take a little extra time to read back but it always helps me to continue with whatever I’m working on.

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So there you have it. This is some of how I write.

Visit my Books page to find out exactly what my novel is about.

Inspiration: Roald Dahl Day 2019

roald dahl day 2019

Around the time I decided that I wanted to be a writer and actively began to write stories, I discovered the books of Roald Dahl.

It began with the wonderful Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The book was bought for me as a gift and although it wasn’t the kind of story I’d read before, the back cover description drew me in:


I was 9 years old, and this book was about chocolate and adventure. What wasn’t there to like?

I finished the book in a matter of days and begged for more. A friend of my father bought me the next instalment of Charlie’s adventure, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

Those two books began a lifetime love of the writings of Roald Dahl. Over the years, I’ve bought and read all of his children’s books and passed most of them on to my own children.

Dahl has a wonderfully dark imagination, mixing scares (evil aunts and murderous witches) with children who are brave and often at odds with their circumstances and lives. There’s fantastical settings (like a giant peach) and real-life relationships (Danny the Champion of the World).

Today is Roald Dahl Day. Whether you’re a child, a parent, a teacher or just a grown-up who likes great writing, there’s all kinds of good stuff to be accessed on the Roald Dahl website. Have a look.