Books, Writing

To Beta, or Not To Beta?

Beta reading is your opportunity to provide feedback to another author. Some will have teams of betas, others will work with just a very select few. How beta reading is approached is a very personal choice; there is no right or wrong way, it’s what the writer is comfortable with.

I have beta read on two occasions (same book, later version was heavily revised), and really enjoyed the experience. Not only did I get to read something very few people had set eyes on, but I also got to enjoy it in its original incarnation. I am now beta reading another manuscript, and expecting one more to come my way soon.

SO, WHAT IS A BETA READER?

  1. Someone who will read your unsolicited manuscript.
  2. Provide feedback and critique.

WHY DO I NEED ONE?

Betas can help writers see the woods for the trees. As a writer, you’ve spent months, maybe even years on your opus magnum, it’s precious to you; this makes it harder to see the flaws. You love the story, and that’s what counts. Right?

Wrong. It’s for this reason that a beta will provide an invaluable service.

  1. Overall feedback on the story.
  2. Critique on plot, tone, pacing, characterisation, and dialogue.
  3. Spot plot holes.
  4. What they liked/didn’t like.

Ideally, your beta should be a fellow writer or bookworm who works and/or reads in the same genre. You might have written a great thriller, but someone whose interest lies in historical romance probably won’t be a good fit.

It’s also a good idea to have a few betas, too many can muddy the waters though, how much critique do you want to sift through? Three is a good number as you are more likely to spot an overall theme in their feedback.

Family and friends aren’t always the best choice, more than likely they won’t want to upset you!

WHAT ABOUT PROFESSIONAL BETAS?

Beta reading isn’t a recognised skill such as editing or proofreading i.e. you can’t get a qualification in beta reading. Your best source for betas is the wonderful writing community of which you are already a member! Social media is a fantastic place to find people more than willing to read your manuscript. If you have a Twitter or Instagram account geared towards your writing endeavours, you will find betas amongst your connections. Facebook and Good Reads have critique and beta groups.

Of course, you do have to consider the implications of copyright and trusting someone with your work, so don’t just e-mail off your manuscript to someone you’ve only had one or two interactions with. Do your research, ask other writers if they can recommend someone.

This article has some very useful information on writing copyright.

WHAT SHOULD I ASK FOR?

This is entirely down to you, here are some examples (not exhaustive):

  1. What was your overall impression?
  2. Favourite character and why.
  3. Least favourite character and why.
  4. Were there any parts that bored you? Please elaborate your answer.
  5. Any particular prose or phrases that stood out as well written?
  6. Were there any scenes that seemed unnecessary?
  7. Were there any sections where the pacing suffered?

Again, this is where you, the writer, decide what you want to get out of the beta read. Tailor the questions to suit the genre, if there is romance involved, or violence, for example. Do they illicit the reactions you want?

Remember, betas are not for proofreading or line editing, services which do work on a hire basis. They are not there to pick up on grammar and punctuation, writers should already have a pretty good grip on these, and they will be fine tuned during final edits.

I hope this post has proven informative, if you would like to comment, please do. Additional tips are always welcome!

Writing

Nine Years of Writing, Faffing, and Editing…

Back in 2017, I wrote those immortal words, “The End”. I had done it, I had written a book. An ACTUAL novel! The sense of achievement was amazing.

Horizon Skies has had many iterations over the years, but in 2012, I sat myself down, notebook and pen in hand, and I began to write. I knew the story, it had been playing out in my mind like a movie for years, it was desperate to be told.

After finishing it, I took a break, then went through the painful editing process. It was at this time, that I wasn’t ruthless enough. I loved the story, and didn’t feel it needed changing. I tweaked and tidied, made it look presentable, and then sent to to my betas.

Feedback was generally positive, no real changes were suggested, there were a few questions, and my magic system and world building stood out as elements that weren’t fully explored. Two areas of the book that, to be honest, I hadn’t dedicated much time to.

I pressed on, however and in 2018 queried with agents. Of course, I was roundly rejected, which I was prepared for, and I expected it to happen. How many first time writers are lucky enough to snag an agent straight away? I was encouraged by some of the positive rejections I received though, this at least meant I was on the right track.

I hired a professional editor, Lucy Rose York, (I highly recommend) and found her advice and feedback invaluable. She went through my manuscript in detail, gave me really concise editorial notes, and I realised I’d been too precious about Horizon Skies. Whilst the book didn’t need a complete overhaul, she pointed out areas for improvement, parts that could be moved to earlier stages in the story, and again reminded me to elaborate further on my magic system.

Who knew magic systems could be so difficult?!

For two years, I faffed about with Horizon Skies, picking it up, and thinking “I can’t do this again.” The thought of having to edit further was so disheartening.

I did though, during lockdown in 2020, I started working on it again. I made some major cuts, and fleshed out a character arc.

These changes weren’t enough though. I went back through the annotated manuscript Lucy had sent me, and worked through all her suggested edits. Some I didn’t agree with, but for the most part I did what was suggested. It was hard work, minor changes could take up hours, but when reading back the amendments, I could immediately see how they improved the story.

Yesterday, I finished writing my final interlude piece. I’ve been inspired by Brandon Sanderson to slot in some small chapters to provide a bit of background, make the world building a bit more interesting, and elaborate on the magic system. It’s still a rough draft, but I’ll tweak it up when I transcribe it into my Word document.

After that, I’ll do a grammar edit and proofread. Whether or not I get it beta read again, or go back to Lucy remains to be seen. I don’t feel I can do anymore with the story. How much editing, revision, and rewriting is someone supposed to do? I could tweak forever. I just want to get it back out to the agents, and see if this time, I can make a success of it.

Writing

The Writer’s Dream.

What do you dream of achieving as a writer? Will it be enough to simply have your work out there, being read by a handful of book lovers, or are you dreaming of the big time? Movie deals, perhaps a Netflix adaptation? Maybe you’d love to see your hard work immortalised with a special edition hard back boxset? How about a queue round the block for a fully booked signing session?

Whilst it’s important that us writers keep our feet on the ground whilst our heads are in the clouds, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having those dreams. It’s happened for plenty of authors in the past, why not you?

My dream is to be able to work full time as writer. I don’t think that’s too much to ask for. I must admit to having romanticised the notion in the past. When I first queried agents, I imagined I’d receive a slew of manuscript requests, and there’d be a bidding war for me. Ha! The reality was very different, instead I was rejected (some were positive though) and had to face up to the reality that I wasn’t going to be “The Next Big Thing”.

Here I am, a few years after querying, but having learned so much more. When I read through Horizon Skies now, I spot constant areas for improvement. The early chapters still show my immaturity as a writer, and I even cringe at some of the dialogue! This proves to me that I have improved my craft, I can write, I’m actually pretty good, so why not dream big?

Dreams are so important, they give us something to strive for. If we don’t dream, how can we ever explore the possibility of being able to achieve that dream?

Whatever form your writing dream takes (or maybe you’re not a writer, maybe you’re a poet, or a dancer, or studying) believe in yourself that you can do it. Practice every day, indulge your passion for what led you in that direction, connect with like minded individuals who are in the same field. It’s amazing how bouncing off others can give you motivation, encouragement and a sense of belonging. Above all, remember this sage advice from the late, great Sir Terry Pratchett

Life, Social, Writing

A Not So Little Announcement.

I have been a prolific user of social media over the years, starting off with Facebook, then Twitter, Blogger, a stab at Instagram, and even Vero. On the whole, I do believe social media can be a force for good, but it’s trapped in a quagmire of toxicity and hate (particularly Twitter) which is not being tackled.

I’ve had a few Facebook and Twitter accounts as I’ve decided to leave, then come back and start again. My first Instagram account felt like a huge waste of time, I was constantly spammed with ads and offers; add to that the constant barrage of idealistic lifestyles, and you end up feeling like a failure for not leading a fantastic and aesthetically pleasing life!

What I have realised though, especially after taking a proper break from Facebook, was that I really didn’t miss using it. I’ve crept back in with a few posts here and there, but honestly, who needs it? People managed perfectly well at keeping in touch before social media, and it was always fun getting photos developed after a holiday!

I’m back on Instagram, giving it a proper go this time, aiming my posts and follows at the writing and reading communities. As books are my biggest passion in life, I can connect with people who have the same interests as me. As a writer, connecting with others is very important. It’s useful for swapping hints, tips, advice and sharing in each other’s stories. I had this initially on Twitter, but my trending feed is full of depressing stories. Another black life is taken by a white cop in the US, the Tories continue to get away with lies and corruption, Meghan Markle is bullied and slagged off on a daily basis. No one is held accountable, and Twitter as a company utterly fails to deal with abusive accounts.

Not that Facebook is much better. You’ve probably all heard the stories of their involvement with Cambridge Analytica, data harvesting, and allowing the Russian interference which influenced the outcome of both US and UK elections a few years back.

All social media companies are complicit in deceit and corruption somewhere along the way. They’re almost as powerful as the right-wing owned mainstream “news” outlets who lie and deceive with impunity.

To cut a long story short.

After some thought, I have decided to permanently close my Twitter account. I will be keeping Facebook as I do have my author page on there which some of my friends follow, but I won’t be using it for personal reasons. I will now only be active on Instagram, and my blog.

I know a lot of my writerly connections on Twitter are also on Instagram, and I’m finding it quite difficult to connect with some of you on Instagram! I would love to stay in touch, so if you haven’t yet connect with me, and would like to, please do! My handle is @AspirestoCreate and it’s all about books, reading and writing.

Hope to see you there!

Life, Mental Health, Writing

2021 So Far, So…

If 2020 was the annus horribilis, then 2021 is shaping up to be the annus phaulia (courtesy of Google translate, forgive any etymological oversight).

If you’ve kept up with my blog, you’ll remember back in January, I had a breakdown, resulting in me taking almost two months off work, popping the happy pills, and signing up to an online CBT course.

I returned to work full time a few weeks ago, the pills seem to be working their magic, and the CBT course is proving to be very useful. There was, it turned out, light at the end of the tunnel after all. I am in a much happier place, and feeling a lot better. I must mention the fantastic care I’ve received from the NHS’ Mental Health services (severely underfunded and understaffed). If it wasn’t for having access to the service, I’d be in a straitjacket . We in the U.K. have a responsibility to fight tooth and nail for our wonderful NHS.

I digress…

My writing mojo made a reappearance! After months of languishing in the doldrums, my half hearted attempts at editing Horizon Skies almost put paid to me ever getting the damn thing back out there. During the last few weeks of my sick leave, I not only started editing properly again, but came up with some new ideas for the novel. I have worked out more backstory for book two, added in some interludes, put more detail in around the magic system, and tightened up elements of the plot. I’m really happy with the latest progress, and my aim now is to send the second round of queries out in the first week of May.

On a sorrowful note, my boyfriend lost his father to leukaemia on the 18th March. Pete’s dad fought a long, hard battle with the disease, and never truly let on to us the extent to which he was suffering. He was 79 when he died, which is a great age, but there is still a sense that he was robbed of a full life. He was robust, active, and always cheerful; were it not for the illness, I believe he would have had another good 10 years in him.

Grief is a strange emotion, and we all process it in different ways. With the difficulty of the last few weeks behind us, we can now start to move on, and work on healing. I’m enthusiastic about my writing, and have tried to do as much as I can so I can put the final draft of Horizon Skies together.

I’ve also given Instagram a second chance. I could never get on with it before; too many ads, spam messages from profiles I wasn’t interested in, and the inability to share posts a lá Twitter. However Twitter has become incredibly toxic, and I’m tired of seeing so many negative trends and events. I’ve discovered with Instagram, that I can avoid all that as my account is geared purely towards my passion for books. It is quite difficult to gain followers though, and takes a bit more work (hashtag the hell out of every post!), but quality over quantity is more important.

Watch this space!

Writing

Practice Makes Perfect.

I’ve enrolled on to a Creative Writing Course!

Ok, I’m already a writer, just not a very professional one. But I do have a published story to my name (the popular Grey Ice), I’ve been writing this blog since 2015, and I have completed a novel. Yay me 😁

As with any profession though, there will always be room for improvement, and as my initial plan to go on an Arvon writing retreat this year has been scuppered; I decided to take a look at distance learning.

I work a full time job, so my free time is limited to weekends and evenings. Plus, my job is very busy, demanding and stressful. The writing retreat would have been an ideal break, but I can go another time. With distance learning, I can dictate my own study time, work at my leisure, and still get online support from a tutor.

The Open University offer some great courses, sadly though, even the online package prices are way beyond my means. It would have been so nice to go for something like a degree though. Again, maybe I’ll be able to pursue that another time.

I trawled the internet, looking at various courses with publishers, literary agents, and colleges. Eventually settling on Open Study College which I was already aware of, and who have a very good reputation, as well as being affordable! I signed up, and within a couple of days, received my study pack.

I believe that if one is serious about a particular vocation, or ambition, wishful thinking is not the way to achieve that goal. I know this, because I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. When I was younger, harbouring dreams of becoming an actress, I used to imagine being “discovered” by famous film directors (Charlize Theron was discovered in a bank, so it can and does happen!), but honestly Steven Spielberg wasn’t going to be visiting Southampton for any reason.

As an adult, hurtling towards my 48th spin around the sun, I’ve realised over the last decade how actually putting in the work to achieve something can get results. Putting myself out there on the Amdram circuit meant I’ve been able to act on stage, and knuckling down to get on with my writing meant I was able to finish my novel, and work on other pieces. I’ve written a slew of short stories, blogged on various subjects, and have other novels I’m working on.

My other half is a great example of working hard to achieve his goals; he’s ambitious with big dreams, but puts in the work to achieve those dreams. He’s toured Europe, played gigs in the US, has released his own music, videos, and even performed lockdown gigs. He’s a prime example of someone who deserves every success because of how much work he puts in.

I need to apply the same work ethic, but I also need to improve on my existing skill set. There’s a lot I don’t know about writing. I read a huge amount, which is an absolute necessity, but I need to learn a bit more about technique, style, even improve on grammar, (and I’m already a member of the Grammar Police).

Musicians, singers, dancers, acrobats, athletes etc, all practice their chosen skills; writers should too.

Writing

Veganuary

Thinking of trying vegan for the month of January? Or going vegan full time? Here are my top tips on how to go about it.

1 – Sign up to Veganuary, where you’ll receive a 31 day e-cookbook with lots of recipes and nutritional advice.

2 – Sign up to The Vegan Society which is packed full of information on how veganism came about, what it means to be vegan, research, campaigns etc.

3 – Invest in some decent cookbooks. This is a bit of a minefield, as there are hundreds to choose from, covering everything from budget vegans to those who consider themselves a bit of a chef in the kitchen. My go to’s are Chloe Coscarelli, Bosh, and So Vegan. Bosh and So Vegan are very popular as they appeal to the mainstream, and both are good places to start as they make vegan cooking fun and informative.

4 – Join a Facebook group for support and encouragement. I’m a member of non-Judgy Vegans UK, which is a fantastic group, not just about food, but for all aspects of veganism.

5 – Don’t just cut meat and dairy out, and eat nothing but vegetables. As healthy as vegetables are, you need to ensure you are still eating all the food groups. Lentils, beans, and pulses contain lots of fibre, minerals and vitamins. Dark, leafy greens such as Cavolo Nero and Kale are excellent sources of vitamins K, A, B6, manganese and calcium as well as a whole host of essential nutrients. Mushrooms are a typical meat replacement, forming the basis for many dishes and items from burgers and sausages to the mince in a shepherd’s pie. They’re versatile, highly nutritious, low in fat, and highly sustainable (you can grow them yourself using kits or go foraging).

6 – Dairy

  • Cheese – Everyone loves cheese, right? Did you know, cheese contains casein which has an opiate effect on the brain? It’s why it’s one of the hardest foods to give up. Many vegans advise to give it a few months before trying vegan cheese in order to allow tastebuds to adjust. For cheese fiends, the supermarket choices will probably disappoint; they’re predominantly coconut oil based, can be too sweet, chalky, flavourless, bad at melting etc etc. It really is trial and error to find one you’ll like. In my house, we have Applewood, my other half eats it in sandwiches or on toast (it melts beautifully), I prefer to use it in cooking. You can always splash the cash of course, and try the many artisanal vegan cheeses on the market such as Tyne Chease where you’ll find specialist flavours and combinations to suit the fussiest tastes!
  • Milk – I found milk the easiest to give up. Before going fully vegan, I’d already made the switch to soya eventually transitioning to oat. In terms of sustainability, oat is the best, almond is the worst. Almond milk has the same environmental impact as dairy. There is a huge variety of blends and brands available; from cashew to hemp to oat, and even pea milk. I find soya is great for cooking, but barista edition oat is more versatile as it works in tea, coffee and cereal. Make sure your milk is fortified for extra nutrition.
  • Eggs – A poached egg on potato cake at the weekend used to be one of my favourite things. I have since swapped this treat for a yummy tofu scramble every Sunday. If you like your eggs savoury, there are lots of ways to achieve the alternative. For the bakers amongst you, you’d be surprised at the number of vegan friendly alternatives that work just as well in cakes.

7 – Honey – also a no-no. Bees do not make honey for us, they make it for their Queen and their colony. Honey is their food, they need it to survive.

8 – Clothing – vegans do not wear wool, silk or leather as these are animal byproducts. Some vegans give old items to charity, or continue to wear them until they’ve worn out. It’s a personal decision, I’ve still some old leather shoes in my wardrobe. Haven’t worn them in years, won’t wear them again, just need to decide what to do with them. Clothing is usually where there is a dividing line between someone who is vegan and someone who is plant based. One follows the lifestyle, the other follows the diet.

9 – Convenience foods. The rise in veganism has led to an amazing range of convenience foods in the supermarkets. No longer faced with a paltry selection of nut roasts and veggie burgers, we have sausages, pies, nuggets, roast “joints”, pasties, plant-based pieces to use in stir-fries, stews and casseroles. There is so much more choice now. These are great if you don’t have much time or inclination for cooking from scratch, but beware, these items are likely more expensive than their meat-based counterparts (£5 for a 2 pack of Beyond Sausage is a good example; I don’t care how good they are, I’m not spending that kind of money!). It’s a good idea to shop around, bulk buy when things are on offer, and compare prices (my shops take twice as long now, as I scrutinise everything!). I always have a few freezer items for those days when I simply want to just bung something in the oven. Veganism doesn’t have to be expensive, but it can be if you rely on convenience foods all the time. Miguel Barclay has a popular cookbook for vegan meals coming in at £1 per person.

10 – Batch cook – got some time at the weekend? It’s a great time to batch cook, and freeze meals for the week ahead. I only cook for two people, but as most recipes cater for four or more, I freeze the additional portions. It saves money on the weekly shop, and it’s a quick solution for dinner on those days when you simply can’t be bothered.

11 – Household products, toiletries and cosmetics – A product maybe vegan, but isn’t necessarily cruelty-free. Yet another minefield to negotiate! These shopping guides from Cruelty Free International and Naturewatch will help you make the right choices to avoid products that have been tested on animals.

Here are some links to additional resources:

Vegan for the animals

Earthlings or Dominion – warning – these films are incredibly graphic, and not for the faint of heart.

Vegan for the environment

Cowspiracy looks at the impact of animal agriculture on the planet, does contain some graphic imagery.

Vegan for health

Forks Over Knives goes into the science of following a whole food plant based diet in tackling a variety of health conditions.

The Game Changers veganism through the eyes of some of the world’s top endurance athletes.

What The Health looks at the links between the modern, western diet, disease and the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry.

Earthling Ed is a vegan educator and activist who believes in power through knowledge. His channel is definitely worth a watch as he delivers his message in a calm, measured way.

Barnivore is a useful little app for checking beer, wines and spirits for their suitability.

Phew!

Remember – there is no such thing as the perfect vegan, our presence on this planet alone has an impact, from the houses we live in to the cars we drive, and the jobs we do. We do the best we can to reduce our impact through the actions we take. Your vegan journey is a personal one, go at your own pace, and ignore the haters.

From my own personal experience, veganism has given me a new love of food, a better connection to the environment, and a love and respect for all animals. I once said, “I couldn’t go vegetarian.” I went vegetarian Christmas 2014. I followed that up by saying, “I couldn’t go vegan, that’s a full lifestyle.” I went vegan 31/03/17, and I haven’t looked back since.

My only wish? That I’d done it sooner.

Life, Writing

Reflections

It’s been a funny old year. I don’t normally reflect on each year that passes, that’s never been my nature. Like many people, I suspect I’ll be looking back on 2020, not with fondness, but with incredulity.

Let’s face it, 2020 has been a clusterfuck of monumental proportions.

Politically, we are in turmoil, however I congratulate our cousins across the Pond for finally seeing sense in the November elections. In the UK, we’ve simply set ourselves up for another four years of abject jingoism disguised as getting our sovereignty back. (We never lost it). Add to that, the epic mishandling of a deadly virus that’s killing people in their thousands, because of *checks notes* “the economy” and you’ve got something resembling the sinking of the Titanic, with the musicians serenading the screaming passengers as the country sinks into oblivion.

Writing wise, it’s been tough. I’ve procrastinated with the best of them, dipped my toe in and out like a Channel swimmer in January, had a huge lightbulb moment a few months back; which resulted in eight chapters of a brand new story in a week, then nothing. My notebook stares back at me in disgust as it gathers dust, whilst I’ve got the entire story mapped out in my head, but pen hasn’t touched paper for a while.

Horizon Skies, which I finished in 2018, continues to suffer. I’ve done lots of editing, tried to tighten up parts of the plot, but it’s beginning to feel like it will never be 100% complete. My new aim now, is to use my Christmas week off to finish it, with a view to resubmitting to agents in January. If it fails again, well, I haven’t thought beyond that. I know self-publishing is a viable route, but even that is a minefield! I need to work on my story arc for Sanctuary Of Stone (standalone fantasy) and continue with Daughter of Tomorrow (working title). Ugh.

At least, Christmas has been lovely this year. I’m not a very festive person usually, however I was quite looking forward to it this year. Despite being in tier 3 lockdown, Pete and I enjoyed yummy food, LOTS of drinks, wonderful pressies, and had a bit of a laugh. Without the pressure of having to travel anywhere I felt like I was finally able to relax and not worry for a few days. My anxiety has been spiking a lot recently, my day job has had some very stressful moments, and self-care really is the order of the day.

On a final note, if you’re a regular visitor to my blog, thank you for your support, and for taking the time to show an interest. I will try to make more effort with it in 2021 as it’s always been a great place for me to exercise those writing muscles. If you’re a new visitor, I hope you’ve enjoyed your visit, and that you will come again! Before you go however, please take a moment to provide some feedback.

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year xxx

Books, Writing

Keep Reading

The header is a quote, all writers should be familiar with.

Stephen King may not have been the first to coin such a phrase, but it’s the one I come across most often.

Understanding the importance of reading to be used as a tool when writing is absolutely vital, particularly for any budding writer.

Aside from the obvious pleasure reading brings, the education a good book provides is invaluable:

  • World building – excellent examples of this can be found in Brandon Sanderson’s work; he even invented an entire universe, named the Cosmere.
  • Magic systems – from the simplistic tropes of elemental magic to more complex practises, creating a unique type of magic will help your writing to stand out.
  • Structure – is there a clear beginning, middle and end? Are loose ends neatly tied up or left open for a sequel?
  • Pacing – do the chapters flow or jar? Does the momentum continue at a steady pace or do you find yourself struggling to read past the first few chapters?
  • Characterisation – there’s nothing worse than one dimensional characters. This maybe fiction, but characters should have personality, quirks and foibles. Can you empathise with the mc?
  • Vocabulary – seriously, I make a note of any words I come across in a book, look up its meaning, and look for a way to work it into my own writing. Better than any thesaurus.

These are just a few examples of what you can learn from reading in order to make a better writer.

Other things to consider:

  • Who, or what, inspired you to write?
  • Has a particular writer or book grabbed you in such a way, that it lit that fire inside?

I can remember clearly, the first time I thought about writing. It was after reading a book titled The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by the late Joan Aiken. An alternate history set in the mid-19th century in which England has been overrun with wolves, and two young cousins fall into the clutches of an evil older cousin. I loved it, and my first attempt at writing was to completely plagiarise the story. I was still in junior school then, and didn’t know you couldn’t pass off someone else’s story as your own…Obviously, it’s never seen the light of day.

Nowadays, inspiration comes to me from all sorts of sources. The books I read, films, TV shows or the voices in my head. Honestly, sometimes they just don’t shut up!

Horizon Skies, my debut, currently languishing in the “please finish these final edits!” area of my head space, has been doing the rounds in my head since my early 20’s. It was a story I simply had to tell. I don’t know if it will ever be published, it may forever be consigned to the rejection pile, but at least – I did it. I wrote a book. 

If it hadn’t been for all those stories of my childhood, including books by Noel Streatfield and Monica Hughes, I may never have discovered the passion for writing I have now. Reading remains my number one pastime, my books have always been a constant in my life. When the crap has really hit the fan, diving into a Terry Pratchett or James Herbert has rescued me, allowed me to live a different life for a few hours.

So, if you’re wondering how to be a writer, make sure you’re a reader first. The knowledge and experience will enrich your world.

 

 

Writing

Not Another Post-Apocalyptic Zombie Dystopia Novel!

I’ve always had an idea in my head for a film about the rage outbreak, as depicted in 28 Days Later. I’ve imagined the opening scenes, time and time again. This idea has been germinating for years.

Like Tina in Bob’s Burgers, I have a complicated relationship with zombies. My favourite zombie film is Dawn of the Dead; The Walking Dead Tina Belcherand Fear The Walking Dead have been part of my life for years (although, I do think TWD has really had its day) as well as another great TV show, Black Summer (visceral and brutal). That’s not to say I like all zombie films and shows, for every good one, there are probably at least ten that are utterly dreadful (Zombie Nation, take a bow.)

Recently, I read an interesting trilogy of books called Plague Land, Plague Nation and Plague World which isn’t really a tale of zombies but a strange infection that physically assimilates humans into its invading mass. How the infection starts, spreads, and how the dwindling humans desperately try to escape made for a curious read. I’ve simplified the story as there is so much more to it, but I’m not a reviewer.

 

There’s also the usual dystopia novels I’ve read over the years. The most devastating being The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a bleak, heart rending story of one man and his son trekking across a devastated US to reach the coast where the father believes they can find safety. The book, like it’s film adaptation, packs an emotional punch to the gut, but is so subtle, the tears did not flow until I’d finished the last page. I’m not sure I want to write something that emotionally wrenching.

The next paragraph contains spoilers for The Last of Us Part 2.

As a gamer, I’ve really enjoyed The Last of Us parts 1&2. Like all good RPG’s, the stories are wholly immersive, gripping, and invoke all sorts of reactions. Part 2 in particular, with its character swap part way through in which the player HAS to play the antagonist plays with your feelings as their personal story unfolds. I may have been #teamellie all the way, but for the hours I played as Abby provided an alternative perspective to the story. Her tale of vengeance becomes clear, you understand why Ellie and Joel are the bad guys in HER world. Whilst I may not have rooted for her entirely, I was able to empathise, and this puts a big question mark over the morality at play.

They say to write what you know. 

As a fantasy writer, I have been well prepared for writing Horizon Skies (my current nemesis) and Sanctuary of Stone (stalled WIP) as most of my library is fantasy fiction. From a young age, when I first read The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, fantasy novels have fuelled my imagination more than any other genre. 

I do read other genres though; I have horror (James Herbert) dystopia, science fiction and a few contemporary novels. I’ve read classics (Jane Austen and Charles Dickens), and I love Kathy Lette. It’s important not to restrict one’s reading material, particularly when the goal is to be a writer. I’ve currently got it into my head that I want to read Dante’s Inferno.

All of this, the TV shows, the movies, and the books; all have given me the tools to write this new story. Ok, it’s not an original idea, I’m well aware of that. But, maybe I can add my voice, my take on it, and write something that will appeal. I’d love to join the ranks of female authors who have written successful novels in this genre. 

In less than a month, I’ve written eight chapters, the story continually plays out in my head. I know where it’s going, how it’s going end, who survives, who doesn’t, and a lot of awful stuff in-between. Aside from writing a good story, this is also an opportunity to explore my darker side, a place in my imagination not populated by myth and magic, but with fear and anxiety.