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!

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.

5 reasons I write Fantasy

5 reasons I write fantasy

Since I first wrote a fantasy story, back when I was a child, I have always been drawn to this genre, both as a writer and a reader.

Let me tell you why.

Seeing beyond the mundane with a writer’s eye

I don’t think I’m the only writer who does this, but I’ve always looked at the world from a curious, searching and to an extent alternative eye.

When I look at a photo, it’s the quiet background details that stand out to me, such as the reflection cast on the window glass behind the family posing for a holiday snap or the half hidden gateway beyond the beautiful garden.

My inspiration is often drawn from a ‘what if’ mindset. What if the family were unaware of the shadowy presence that stood just beyond the photographer’s shoulder? What if that half hidden gateway led to a world of mystical wonders?

My ‘what if’s always lead me to fantastical scenarios and magical characters.

It’s all about the magic

By definition, fantasy stories must always include some element of magic, be that magic spells, magical artefacts or mythical creatures.

I suppose my love for magic began with the fairytales I read as a child. There was the fairy godmother in Cinderella and her transformation of the pumpkin (to a carriage), mice (to footmen and horses) and of our heroine herself, the curse cast over Aurora in The Sleeping Beauty, and the little mermaid’s transformation into a human.

Magic opens up so many more possibilities for a story, like a magical doorway to escape through, runes that imprison, and mystical healing powers (all of which you’ll find in Haven Wakes).

Fantastical beasties

There are countless mythological and magical animals in fantasy stories to write about or use as a basis to invent a new animal.

There are mermaids, and goblins, and giants, and dragons, and… I could go on forever. Alongside those childhood fairytale favourites, I also read a lot (and some more) of mythology stories.

My mind brims over with fantastical beasties to include in my stories, and I love them all – even the dark and sinister ones.

Fantasy spans all age groups

You’ll find fantasy fiction written for all of the readership age groups. There’s the Harry Potter and Skulduggery Pleasant books for the younger readers. Fantasy-loving teens can enjoy books by writers like Cassandra Clare and Suzanne Collins. For adults (young, new or more mature), there are plenty of fantasy novels like the Game of Thrones novels, the Terry Pratchett Discworld books, and The Night Circus.

Haven Wakes is written for an 11+ readership but I also have ideas that would work better for teens, and others that would definitely be for mature readers. Writing in this genre doesn’t limit the age of my potential readership.

I keep coming back

I’ve read plenty of other genres, especially as a literature graduate, and I’ve tried my hand at writing outside the fantasy genre (I spent two decades writing murder mystery plays) but the genre that I return to time and time again as both as a reader and a writer is fantasy.

It’s where I feel most at home. It’s the genre I read when I need to escape the hardships of life, and the genre I write when at my most inspired.

Progress, a chat with my muse, and much much walking the dog

Progress, a chat with my muse, and much much walking the dog

When I started this blog, it was with the honest intention to post on here a couple of times a month. So what happened to my June posts? Well, I’ll tell you.

Progress on my novel

Do you know what a developmental edit is? I didn’t until the lovely folks at my publisher, Burning Chair, let me in on the secret.

A developmental edit is what happens when your publisher/editor takes your manuscript and scours it for improvement opportunities. In essence, they make it better, on a line by line basis and also from a godly overview perspective.

June was spent applying the findings of my developmental edit to Haven Wakes. Here’s what I learned:

  • Where it’s relatively easy to rejig a manuscript in the making (move the order of chapters around, change a character’s motivation, send the cast to the beach rather than the city), making changes to a manuscript that you have fixed in your brain because, in your mind, it’s finished, can seriously chafe your aura. It means mentally retracing your steps, if only just a few, to make the necessary changes.
  • I am exceedingly protective of my baby, I mean, manuscript.
  • A second pair of eyes is always useful. I thought Haven Wakes was already a fully formed being, but 98% of the changes that my editor suggested will produce a much more polished, pacy and intuitive read (sorry, couldn’t think of a third ‘p’).

I finally emailed the edited version to my publisher this week, with some re-ordering of events, and a couple of completely new sections too. Fingers crossed they like it.

A chat with my muse

You know how avid readers have a tendency to buy new books even though they’re not only mid-read of one book but also have a humongously long to-be-read list? Well, writers are similar in that we are prone to coming up with brilliant ideas for new stories long before we’ve finished the one we’re working on.

My muse keeps doing that to me. “Yes, I know you’re editing your manuscript but if you could just stop for a moment, I’d like to tell you about the next book. I have this wonderful idea to…”

I tried to ignore her but, in the end, she won. She’s good, my muse, very imaginative, but also a touch random. I have pages of ideas for book two (including some cross-continental travel for my main characters) but it’ll take a massive sorting session to put them in order.

Much much walking the dog

Working on my novel this month has meant taking a ‘bigger picture’ view. For me, this requires a bit of open space and a lot of sky.

I’ve spent much of this month out walking the dog and envisioning the bigger picture for Haven Wakes and its follow-up novels.

If I let this character live, what do I do with them in book 2?

If this character intervenes here, how does this other character get away so they can do what needs to be done?

How could I bring this character back in future books?

What clues do I need to seed in book 1 for the rest of the series?

That’s the kind of question I’ve been considering on my dog walks.

What else can I tell you?

The book cover for Haven Wakes is still in the works but it’s coming along nicely. For me personally, and maybe for all writers, seeing my book cover come together is one of those giggly moments when you realise that your dream is becoming a reality.

My short story is at the editing stage and should provide a lovely taster for the world of Haven Wakes. I’m hoping that it’ll be the first of many related short stories.

We’re still on target to release Haven Wakes later this year. You’ll be the first to know when there’s a definite launch date.

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There’s a lot of lovely blue sky out there today so I’m off to walk the dog for some of that bigger picture thinking. Talk soon.

Inspiration: My top 5 World Builders

I love a good novel, but as a reader the thing that elevates a novel to the next level for me is when that story isn’t alone. It stands as merely one of many paths into a world created by the author.

There are some real writerly experts out there who are adept at crafting worlds that pull us back in time and time again.

Here are my top 5:

Stephen King

Prolific. I think that’s one of the most fitting words for the writer Stephen King. The prolific-ness (is that a word?) is down to not only the number of novels he’s written, but also the many genres he’s crossed and writing forms he’s successfully tackled.

He’s known mainly as a horror writer, but his stories have spanned fantasy, science fiction, and thriller too. He writes novels and short stories, stand-alone novels and series, and has even been involved in screenplays.

You might think that because he’s written across so many genres that it would be impossible to build a world to contain them all, but you’d be wrong.

In his Dark Tower series, Stephen King creates a hub that links to all the outlying worlds where his stories take place. If you’re a long time reader and fan, you suddenly see exactly how the stories work together.

I’m not sure if Stephen King had the Dark Tower hub in mind when he began writing his books, but for me, it works incredibly well.

Clive Barker

For me, Clive Barker has always written books that are both horror and fantasy. Two of his books – Weaveworld and Cabal – are linked, taking certain species and their culture from Weaveworld and turning them on their heads by locating them in our own world in Cabal.

In Weaveworld, a magical world is hidden away inside a tapestry to keep it safe from mankind and those who would harm and abuse it. In Cabal, a disturbed young man who is apparently guilty of murder finds his way to a sanctuary for supposed monsters called the Nightbreed.

I loved this dark mirror effect of taking individuals who are seen as good and talented in one book and presenting them in the other book as monsters when seen from the perspective of those who are ignorant to their culture and intent.

J K Rowling

I couldn’t talk about world building and not mention J K Rowling. Her take on the world of witches and wizards, the related culture, and all the magical beasties imaginable, has been a game-changer in the fantasy genre.

The Harry Potter books, and slightly later the films, became a phenomenon in themselves. You only have to look at the amount of merchandise available all over the world and the massive range of fan fiction to see how much the Harry Potter monster still has us in its clutches.

It was reintroduced, or maybe just strengthened, in the Fantastic Beasts films and books, adding a past and even more rich layers to J K Rowling’s magical world.

However you approach it, be it from the Harry Potter books, the stage play or the Fantastic Beasts films, it feels like a tightly-woven world with a colourfully imagined culture.

Derek Landy

‘Buffy meets Dr Who meets Ghostbusters’ is how the Skulduggery Pleasant website describes this series of fantasy novels.

A dead, sorcerer detective (that’s Skulduggery) and a normal teenage girl who is pulled into the dangerous and magical life of her late uncle are our guides in this dark, exciting and multi-faceted world.

I found Skulduggery Pleasant in our local library as a book to read to my son. I can’t say who enjoyed it most, me or him, but this series has been a favourite of my family (me, my son and my daughter) ever since.

Cressida Cowell

My daughter began to read the How To Train Your Dragon series of books long before there was a film (or three). She was fascinated from the first book and even now, as a teenager about to leave school, the HTTYD books are still a treasure to her.

The world of Hiccup, his Viking tribe, and the dragons he comes to love, paint a heartfelt picture of a place I’m sure most children (and many adults) would love to visit.

What inspires me most about these books is the fact that there is a level of familiarity that most people can connect with. There’s a boy who feels he’s an outcast and not living up to his family’s expectations. Then, there’s Cressida Cowell’s take on the Viking culture too.

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What about you? Which fictional worlds do you love?