Saturday, 12 April 2014

Book Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep
Stephen King
2013
Kindle Edition

First a confession; I was not looking forward to this book. I saw no reason for a follow up to The Shining, a book that left a deep claw mark in my psyche. I was concerned that there was no way King could create something that would come close to its impact. I was only partly right; King has weaved a wonderful story here, in the same universe as The Shining, rather than a straight-up sequel. As always his visualisations and characters are engaging throughout. Make no mistake though - this is no where near The Shining in scares, imagery or power. But then again, it isn't meant to be.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Where Am I?

Way back at the beginning of the year I set myself some big goals, and then broke them down into nibble-sized chunks to be completed over a 12 week/quarterly basis through the year. That's right, I'm turning my life into business plans - boring but so far it seems to be working. Below are the goals I set in January and where I am with the dawning of April:

- Improve fitness, specifically with cardio and making exercise a regular part of my life.

DONE! I joined the gym in January and have successfully gone three times a week, every week, since. When I started I could barely run for more than five minutes and everything hurt, all the time. Everything still hurts but I can now run for a full half hour without stopping and have regularly done classes I could never imagine being able to do before. Turns out Spinning is well named; I always thought it sounded like a medieval form of torture and I was right - but it is also brilliant fun. Or I'm weird. Maybe both. The important thing is I hit my weight goal and no longer feel like a blancmange.

- Write two short stories

FAIL! Except I haven't - let me explain: I originally thought I would write two stories to completion and have them out in the big bad world by now seeking publish and payment. I thought this despite having no idea of what kind of stories I would write or the markets I would send them to. That was my first mistake. I did come up with a nifty story idea though and rather than give up on it when it got tough I kept going, reworking it and cutting away anything that wasn't working. I also discovered some fantastic resources for ideas and plotting which will speed up future endeavours. So I consider this a win more than anything else.

- Read at least four books

DONE! I have finished an unexpected SIX books since January. All of them were fiction and for the next 12 weeks I want to try to get a non-fiction book in there. At the end of last year I realised I hadn't read nearly as much as I could have, and not as widely as I'd like so I'm in a good place to change that for the better this year.

- Book a holiday somewhere you've never been

DONE! In July I will be going to Rome with my man for eight glorious nights in that magical city. I have always wanted to see Rome, especially after studying so much of Roman history during my Classics degree, so I am extremely excited about this. Squeel!

Overall I'm pretty pleased with progress, despite not having any completed stories to show for it. I feel more confident when I'm writing now, and a lot more organised, which can't be a bad thing. I'm now thinking about the next quarter and what I want to achieve by the time 1st July rolls by… initial ideas are:

  • Read at least four books, with at least one being non-fiction
  • Increase my strength and get toned in time for the Rome holiday
  • Finish the short story I'm working on, including all edits.
  • Plan out a longer fiction piece and identify research areas
  • Write one blog post a week
  • Learn and practise HTML and CSS

Six goals seems doable but the major goal for the coming months and in fact for the whole year is: Live a Creative Life. That seems a pretty good place to start, and an excellent place to be.



Friday, 28 March 2014

Books, Prisons and Presents

After feeling uninspired for so long it's a relief to get my focus back, and one area will be this blog; I've only been posting reviews and updates on writing in the main because I wasn't giving myself enough time to come up with anything more interesting. That ends now and you know what that means; I'm back on my soapbox, to wave my arms at the sky and proclaim warnings about the ides of March. Or I'll just rant about something stupid I saw online.

This week's "you've got to be kidding me" moment came along when I read that books had been banned in UK prisons. Reading past the press hyperbole, my blood pressure lowered (slightly) when I understood that packages from outside are no longer allowed to be delivered to prisoners in the UK under new rules introduced by Justice Secretary Chris Grayling. He's yet another minister in charge of an area he has absolutely no first hand experience in, but that's a frustration I'll not go into right now (apart from saying I think it's ridiculous that this is how government works. The Greeks must be spinning in Hades.)

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Book review: The Twelve

The Twelve
Justin Cronin
2012
Kindle Edition

I was reticent to take on Cronin's second part to his vampire-end-of-the-world epic so soon after finishing the first, mainly as I didn't want to have another 800 page saga to work through. Thankfully this book is only 500 odd pages long and feels a lot shorter than it's predecessor thanks to a plot that is a lot faster paced and less time spent describing every single minutiae of proceedings. For some that may be a turn off (it was something that made The Passage unusual) but in the interests of readability I was thankful for the change. I've kept spoilers to a minimum in this review but be warned it may give away minor plot points for this and the first book.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Not Quitting

This is my "don't know what to write about but I'm gonna make something up" post. Not too much is happening right now in my life and for that I am hugely grateful; while moving at the speed of light can be exciting it is also utterly exhausting.

I was involved in a little launch of a new/old service that can now be found on a certain e-tailer that is loved and hated in (sometimes) equal measure. At times it felt like we were never going to get there, but we all kept our heads down and kept trucking on. Two weeks on since launch and the trials are still pouring in but at least it feels like I've reached the end of a very long road and can again start thinking about the future and where I want to be in 6 months/1 year/5 years. The good thing is that my mini goals I set myself for the first 12 weeks of the year are still very doable and in progress. It's been nice to have a chance to reboot the determination.

I am now writing more;  however the short story is fighting me at every turn. No matter what direction I try to take it the story just doesn't flow. The characters stand about, sighing a lot and looking at me expectantly. This is not the first time this has happened to me but it is the first time that I haven't given up. Rather than abandon this thorn-ridden, rage inducing tale in favour of a shiny new idea, I'm struggling on. This in turn has brought me to experiences I have not had so far when writing stories. The act of giving up has prevented me from reaching this awareness before and I could kick myself for being so easily dissuaded from the rocky road.

I am now at the point where I have recognised the core problem, and it isn't the story. It's me. No, not in a "I'm rubbish and will never be good at this" kind of way, but in a "huh, I'm trying to write something that really is not me". I've been trying to shoehorn this thing into a genre that I like but that does not reflect me in any real way. So the story is soulless and without direction.

To fix this I'm rejigging the whole plot and changing a lot of features of the main character to bring more of me into the story. This may also involve bringing in a fair amount of creepy spookiness that was not otherwise in the straight laced Science Fiction idea I had originally. I'm thinking of it as embracing the darkness, and it's taught me to not set out to write a particular style but to stick with what feels natural to me. It's much the same as trying to find your 'voice'; you can search everywhere but ultimately it's just you and your words. They can only ever be your words, and there's your voice.

I think I may have found my voice. Turns out, it's a lot more twisted than I thought it was.

To anyone else struggling with creative endeavours I highly recommend not giving up. Keep at that project that's driving you insane and that you're starting to hate. You might be surprised what you find out about yourself in the process.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Realising My Reading Habits are Unusual

My reading habits are not the norm. Not because I read fiction about hedgehogs in space (though I totally would if that was a thing) but because the majority of the books I have read in my life are by women writers. After reading a great piece about the lack of women writer's represented in bookshops, not to mention in literature generally, I realised I am not typical in my reading choices.

When I first took those tentative steps into the realm of Fantasy and Science Fiction I was blessed to have a mum who loved these genres too. And who also had an unusual habit of picking stories by women. She did this for the same reason I now do; they tend to write about women main characters. It's not that I will discriminate against male writers. In fact I'm currently reading my fourth book in a row written by a man. And in all those cases the main protagonists have, in the main, been male. Again this isn't a problem but I begin to feel a bit under represented if I carry this on too long. Tellingly the next book I've chosen to read is written by Tanith Lee and is based around a female main character.

Mum's collection has definitely had an influence; growing up it never crossed my mind that women writing Science Fiction or Fantasy was unusual, or even something that would present any hurdles. I know better now. In any bookshop, in any genre (apart from Romance) it's a tough task to try to find new books written by women. Seriously, go count them the next time you're in a bookshop or online. It's thoroughly depressing. And yet women appear to make up the majority of readers. So what's going on?

Personally I see a great many women writers on my Twitter feed, but then again I would wouldn't I? It's classic subjective bias. In the industry itself we have women editors saying they'd love to sign up more women writers but find they just don't get the same amount of submissions as they do from men. We also have existing women writers (particularly in the Science Fiction & Fantasy genre) stating they've experienced discrimination because of their gender. I'd add that it's no coincidence that "Joanne Rowling" went with the moniker of "J. K. Rowling" when she came to having her fantasy series published that features a little boy as the main character. Because industry logic seems to be that boys won't read a book if it has a women's name on it and boys/men are the target market (despite not reading as many books as girls/women). Hell, it's no coincidence that I go by my initials rather than my name on the interweb - I get less hassles that way. I also want to use it as my writer name, but mainly due to liking the opportunity to use my otherwise forgotten initials and liking my privacy, rather than because I think it will help sales. Though I do admit, it crossed my mind.

A lot of this boils down to issues far larger than just the literary sphere. In Europe and the USA we still have deeply entrenched gender roles going on, along with the usual stereotypes this brings. If anything, I think we're becoming more obsessed with gender division, not less, if the current trend in gender segregation of toys is anything to go by. What it all means though is it marks women who write Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror, or any genre other than Romance, as unusual (and the resultant curse of always being called a "woman writer" *shudder*) and it marks boys who read as "soft" or "wimps" *deeper shudder*. All thoroughly depressing but what can we do about it? Here's my plan:

1. Ignore it utterly and write the best stories I can in whatever genre I like.
2. Encourage everyone to read. Every. One.
3. Never be put off from doing something just because it's deemed "unusual".
4. Call out anyone who says otherwise, as long as it's safe and productive to do so.

It's not that we should read books because they're written by a woman, or not read them because they were written by a man, but we should, at the very least, notice if we tend to swerve one way or another and think about why. In fact, most choices we make in life could do with us stopping to notice if there is some bias in what we're doing that we weren't even aware of. But, for me, the most important thing is to keep being as unusual as possible.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Book Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book
2008
Kindle Version

 I wasn't sure what to expect from The Graveyard Book. While I love Gaimen's work the fact this was a children's book (and make no mistake this is very much a children's book) had me wondering what this was going to be like. While it seemed odd at first, with a very serial style to it I was not disappointed. This is usual Gaimen dark and twisted, but done with kids in mind. In fact this may be the perfect book to introduce younger readers to Gaimen's works and I know had I read this at 10 - 12 I would have been absolutely in love with it.