Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Guest Post, by Michelle Abbott


Just Say,
by Michelle Abbott

Michelle Abbott is the Spotlight Author Co-Ordinator over at the Rave Reviews Book Club, and this week it's her turn to be in the Spotlight. She is on a whirlwind blog tour - and if it's Tuesday, I must be hosting! Welcome, Michelle ...
  
Michelle is a self-published author who loves to write new adult romance about heroes who begin as the underdog and are protective of their girl. She's an avid reader of romance, is addicted to coffee and loves wine and chocolate, so yeah, not the most healthy eating and drinking habits :-) She spends way too much time online when she should be writing. She collects teddy bears and occasionally knits a couple of rows on a sweater she started years ago, which she may eventually finish in time to wear for her funeral.

Below, she offers us a sneak peak of her work in progress, which she hopes to have ready to publish by the end of the year. Like all her stories, it will be gritty and slightly dark. It’s set in Hemsby in the UK. This sneaky peak is from the start of the second chapter, is in draft form and has not been edited. It is subject to change! 

<<<>>>


For the past hour I’ve had to listen to Luke ask, ‘Are we there yet?’ but now we finally are here, his nose is buried in his picture book and he doesn’t say a word. I get out of the car and stretch my muscles. It’s a beautiful day. The sky is blue and cloudless. It’s warm but there is a cooling breeze. I unbuckle Luke from his car seat and he scrambles out. There’s no sign of the removal van, but it’s only 2 PM, there are plenty of daylight hours left. I gaze up at our new home. It sits above a Chinese take-out, which I imagine will get busy later, probably noisy too. For now, it’s empty and quiet. Next to the take-out is a newsagent come toy shop, which will be handy so long as I can steer Luke away from the toys. Next to that is a rock shop. I glance in the window, they have sticks of multi-coloured rock labelled, ‘from Hemsby.’ I take Luke’s hand and climb the steps to our apartment. I unlock the door and step inside. I bypass the kitchen and walk through to the lounge. It’s filled with light, due to the large picture window which overlooks green fields. I mentally place our furniture in the room. Our TV will go in the corner, next to the window. Our sofa will go along the far wall. I’ll display my photographs on a side table which I’ll place next to the window. My coffee table will go in front of the sofa.
“When is our stuff coming, Mummy?” Luke asks.
“It’ll be here soon, honey,” I tell him, as I walk through to the kitchen, which is at the front of the apartment and overlooks the main street.
Luke follows me and tugs at my t-shirt. “Can we go to the amusements now? I want to go on the rides.”
I ruffle my hand through his sandy coloured hair. “Tomorrow sweetheart. Mummy will be busy today.” I take his hand in mine. “Do you want to see your bedroom?”
Luke nods his head and follows me. As we enter the room I point towards the wall to the left. “Your bed can go there. I’ll put up a shelf for your books.”
Luke runs to the window. Gripping the window ledge, he stands on his tiptoes and peeps out. He turns to face me; his bottom lip is poked out. “I can’t see the sea, Mummy.”
I scoop him up in my arms. He wriggles and squeals as I tickle him. I put him back down. “You can’t see the sea from any of the rooms, but it will only take us five minutes to walk to the beach.”
Luke jumps up and down. “Can we go there now? Can we? Please?”
I take his hand and walk back out onto the balcony. “Tomorrow, I promise.”
He looks up at me, his green eyes squinting from the sun. “Is Daddy going to come and visit us?”
I twist the gold hoop in my left ear, and glance down as a family emerges from the newsagents. Two little girls holding buckets and spades are talking excitedly while their parents walk along hand in hand. I let out a breath of relief when I see the removal van approaching. I smile down at Luke. “Our furniture is here.”
          An hour later Luke is sitting on the floor building with his bricks. The TV is on in the background. I figure it’s enough to keep Luke amused for a while. I use the blade of a pair of scissors to open a cardboard box labelled ‘living room.’ I unwrap the newspaper to reveal the silver framed photo of me holding Luke when he was first born. He was the only good thing to come out of my relationship with his dad. I place the photo on the windowsill.


Michelle’s Links:

Michelle Abbot

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Dear Author, Where do you get your ideas from?

One of my young readers contacted me this week. She had lived in foster care for several years and had ended up in a school like High Fell Hall, the school in Where Bluebirds Fly. She was very open about her own troubled life and said my book had made her feel that good things do come out of bad. She wanted to thank me, but she also wanted to know where I got the idea. 

People often ask me this difficult question. Since I write realistic contemporary fiction, my answer is usually ‘real life’. This is a quite a broad subject.

Inspiration is not a single light bulb moment,
but that moment repeated hundreds of times.
To be succinct, I told my reader how inspiration had come while I was working at a school similar to High Fell Hall. This was my initial inspiration for Where Bluebirds Fly, but it’s not the complete answer.Writers don’t just get one inspiration for one story and that’s it; we get a whole truckload of inspirations dropping on us constantly while we write, and that’s what makes it such a difficult question to answer.

The original idea was to write a story about a girl (Ruby) who carried a bag of rocks with her everywhere she went. It was supposed to be a story about how the weight of these rocks got in the way of everything she did and stopped her living the wonderful life she was born to live. The rocks were a metaphor for all the emotional baggage she carried around with her, and the story was supposed to be about how Ruby learned to let go and find her true and precious self.

My background in therapy and teaching informed me about school life and the play therapy sessions Ruby attended. The first draft was fairly faithful to the metaphor and my personal experiences, but not enough to sustain a whole book.

Subsequent drafts (of which there were many) drew inspiration from …
  • a newspaper story about two girls who grew up not knowing they shared a father
  • a theatre trip to see Wicked
  • The Wizard of Oz
  • the  dozens of bird statues and art works on Morecambe promenade
  • a conversation with a friend who told me how she had trained a robin to come to her kitchen windowsill for food
  • seeing a Kingfisher flying upstream, while I was out walking my dog
  • my own lovely grandma, who used to call me Ducky
  • my dad and his garden full of wonderful things
  • a multi coloured cloak once used in a school play but relegated to the dressing up box
  • me, when I too was a messed up kid, struggling with identity
  • the little moments -- like waking up in clean sheets and remembering the feel of a good night’s sleep, an overheard conversation on a bus, a fossil found on a beach ...
... and a hundred other things buried deep in my unconscious mind that I don’t even remember.

Because stories, just like people, are complex; they are influenced and inspired by all sorts of things you can’t put a name or a date to. In the case of a book, you reach a final definitive draft, and when people ask you “Where do you get your ideas from?” you supply them with a definitive answer.

But of course, there really isn’t one. 

Saturday, 9 August 2014

A Day in the Life of a Writer

Writing a book ? Pah, can't undertand what all the fuss is about.
I entered a competition last month over at the Rave Reviews Book Club. I didn't win, but then again I didn't do it to win ... all right, all right, I did. But hey, it was fun. The aim was to write a short story entitled A Day in the Life of a Writer and subsequently win amazing prizes which money can't even buy ... all right all right, it can. But hey, I'm poor.
My little effort would probably never have seen the light of day, but then I saw one of the other contestants, PS Barltett, author of Fireflies, had blogged her losing entry and I decided to follow suit. 
So here it is, my little work of fiction ... all right all right, it's not entirely fiction. But hey, it is #MyLife and I hope you enjoy it.
#MyLife
Her brain is dead. She can’t write a thing. Being a writer is the worst job in the world. Staring at the blank screen, hoping to find the missing plot point, (and failing) she contemplates other employment. I used to earn a living wage, and make important decisions . . . I used to be able to string a sentence together, she thinks. What’s happening to me?
A restless night of tossing and turning and sweaty tangled hair has only added to the problem. You can’t think straight when you’re tired, and hungry, and a mess.
            She scans the jobs pages instead. Recent experience essential. Really? Because her only recent experience is experience of staring at a blank screen; unless you count reading, reviewing and time spent on social media of course.
After breakfast, she sits down with her manuscript. That plot point will come, she tells herself. Today is a day for positivity. Deliberate optimism. She read about that somewhere so it must be true.
She drinks coffee and eats cake.
            But two hours later there’s still nothing to show for her labours, except a handful of retweets, a bunch of entertaining but distracting blog posts and a couple of status updates. #AmWriting, she lies, and gives up; the dog needs a walk; the carpet needs a vacuum; the washing needs a helping hand if it’s ever going to make it into the machine . . . and yes, she needs a shower. Or maybe she could skip that today? She sniffs. Probably not.
The great thing about the dog is that she has to get out of the house – rain or shine. If it wasn’t for Gnasher, she never would; she’d probably never even get out of her pyjamas. She tells other dog walkers this. "A day in the life of a writer," she laughs.
And they laugh too. They think it’s a joke. They think writing is glamorous. They think she’s rich, like JK, or EL James. They talk about film deals and Booker Prizes and declare how wonderful it must be to be creative. They tell her they will look out for a copy of her book, and ask who her publisher is . . .
“I’m an Indie writer,” she declares.
“Indie? As in independent? As in self-published?”
“I am my own publisher, which is really rewarding because . . .” But Gnasher has fouled the path and she needs to pick it up. #MyLife
Back at home she returns to her desk and reads the story so far. This time, I’m going to get it right. She is poised to continue . . . but the words aren’t there and the page remains blank. So she has that shower, vacuums the carpet and even makes a lasagne for dinner later. The story calls her, but she cannot hear it over the noise of the washing machine and her own inner spin cycle of despair. Those other stories were just flukes. This one is never going to work. It just doesn’t add up. Round and round and round. #AmProcrastinating.
And then, finally, all out of excuses, she returns to her desk, and Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads. She engages with other writers who, like her, are having an off day; a why-do-I-bother day; a my-writing-life-is-over day. “Aww, don’t give up,” twitter friends tells her. “Your books are awesome. You’re a brilliant writer.” They go ahead and tweet for her, comment on her blog, cheer her from the sidelines.
Reasons to be thankful, she thinks . . . the wonderful support of other writers out there . . . the family you never meet . . . the marvellous community of generous, caring, souls.
She makes more coffee, eats more cake, stares at the blank page and knows she can’t put it off any longer. This is the moment. This is the point at which it all can change. And she will make something of this novel if it’s the last thing she does . . .  
One hundred words later, she smiles. It needs some work, but this is just the first draft after all.
Two hundred, three hundred, four hundred, five . . .  
The words are coming thick and fast. And that missing plot point? Suddenly and without warning, it flies in – inspiration out of nowhere, and lands slap bang in the middle of her page, just at the exact right moment.

Hallelujah! She’s on fire. Being a writer is the best job in the world.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Holy Crucial Moment!

I’m reading a book. 

If you’ve read it, you’ll know which one I’m talking about, but if you haven’t it’s not important. For the purposes of this post I shall call it Batman and Robin. It’s an intriguing story about first love in which the two slightly off-beat, weird, non-conformist teenage protagonists might or might not get it together.

Love's young dream
The thing is, I was enjoying Batman and Robin very much. It’s sweet, subtle, and clever. And there’s a slow dribble of back-story from which a rather disturbing and heart-breaking picture of Robin’s horrible family life emerges. I was hooked and completely emotionally involved . . . until the moment when some unlikely thing happened.

Briefly, Robin hears gunshots in his house and, terrified, climbs through the bedroom window to phone the police from a neighbour’s house. But when the police arrive, they send HIM back in through the window (to where the gunshots were) so that he can open the door and let them in…

"Holy Catastophe, Robin.
We have to save this plot!"
And I’m sorry, but I just don’t believe this would happen. Wouldn’t the police be calling up armed support? Wouldn’t they be looking after the young Robin? Wouldn’t they be the ones climbing through the window to remove his younger siblings to safety? It's unbelievable and I can't understand how this could have got through the editing stage. What's more, I don’t understand its purpose in the narrative, other than to set up a situation in which we know there is the potential to be shot in Robin’s house. Surely there are better ways of doing this?

Suspension of disbelief is essential for a story to work, whatever the genre. If readers are to invest emotional energy and involvement in our stories, we (the writers and editors) must eradicate anything which seems implausible and gives them reason to question our words. Big no-nos include:
  • Getting facts wrong
  • Inconsistency (with character, plot or setting)
  • Characters failing to react
  • Coincidence
  • Lack of clarity
  • Plot holes

I’m not entirely sure which category Robin’s half-baked policemen fall into – it’s somewhere between 'getting facts wrong' and 'plot holes' – but I’m afraid they have ruined the book for me. Disbelief is no longer suspended. Disbelief has been set free from its cage and is now crashing through the rest of the narrative wearing critical hobnailed boots. Disbelief has created a gaping chasm in which I am forced to question the mechanics of the text.

My emotional commitment has disappeared and I am lost.

Do they or don't they?
I'll never know.
Do they or don't they? I might not even bother reading to the end; which means of course, I’ll never know if the Holy Love Birds finally get it together.

But really, am I bothered?



Friday, 4 July 2014

TWO REVIEWERS, ONE BOOK

Last week, the lovely/enigmatic/crazed* (delete as appropriate) KINDLE NINJA asked me if I'd like to do a book review with him/her. It is impossible to say no to a Ninja, so I said yes. 

We chose, Between Octobers by A.R. Rivera because we were both grabbed by the Look Inside bit on Amazon, and after reading, we settled down at the Ninja's pad for a full and frank discussion. 

And this is what we came up with...



Grace Zuniga, a yearling widow, is convinced she can never fall in love again. She has surrendered to a quiet life on a quiet street, existing in a world that revolves around her two young sons - until an ordinary day in October when she steps into an elevator and meets Evan, a Hollywood playboy. They embark on a romance that is anything but ordinary… 



KINDLE NINJA (KN): Hi Wendy. Thanks for agreeing to participate in this madness I call a joint review. I would normally offer you milk & cookies, but this particular segment has no budget…

WENDY STORER (WS): Outrageous! Did my agent know about this when she booked me?  I can’t work without food…

KN: Between Octobers by A.R. Rivera. I suggested this book because when I had a “Look Inside” I was impressed at the quality of writing. I thought the opening chapter was brilliant.

WS: Me too. It’s a great start, full of intrigue and suspense to engage the reader; it certainly pulled me in and got me asking questions.

KN:  You immediately know something’s wrong on page 1.

WS: Yes, apart from the whole trapped in a box thing, I love the way the pregnancy is underplayed at this point – it’s just a bump – because that ups the stakes immediately.

KN: We meet Grace Zuniga (or Gracie) in a state of panic, and practically defenceless. As the story progresses (or backtracks), we get to know her better. What did you think of Gracie?

WS: I wanted to like her, because you certainly feel for her, and for the most part I did, but I am not convinced Gracie is well enough developed as a character; we only learn things about her as it is required in the plot. It feels a little as if the author is making her up as she goes along, rather than her being a real person. For example, she tells us Grace is a frequent runner (when she is running away from her captor) but we don’t see any evidence of this beforehand. She tells us she is a nurse and later she does charity work, but we hardly see any evidence of this in her story. Her children seem to come and go without issues of child care being evident, Ronnie doesn’t even get a mention until he’s needed on set (as it were), the dog dies and no one questions it, a new dog arrives out of nowhere and it’s just accepted…I don’t have a really clear picture of Gracie’s life and when new things kept popping up, conveniently, it annoyed me.

KN: I don’t particularly look for set up for every character or situation, because honestly, I wouldn’t be able to keep track of them. If they were mentioned in passing and they aren’t critical to the storyline, I think that’s forgivable. However, if someone or something is crucial to the resolution and there was no proper set up, that will annoy me.

I actually like Gracie. Not a very complex character, but interesting. I thought the background provided was enough for me to like her, anything more would just be filler.

WS: I hear what you’re saying, but things like the running (for example) – if you know this is something Grace has up her sleeve, it could actually improve the reading experience. It’s about trusting the reader, and understanding what to give them and what to hold back. If we already knew that Grace was a runner, we’d be with her, one step ahead of her captor; instead of which, I was just, so she can run? How convenient.

What about Evan? Did you like him? At first, I found him a little too good to be true, bordering on creepy, and I questioned his motives. But he had hidden depths and I had to re-evaluate as the story progressed.

KN: I thought Evan was a little more complex than Gracie, but he was only interesting to me when he was with Gracie. They were good together. I thought the “toilet” scene was hilarious (could just be me though lol).

WS: Yeah, I liked that one too. Actually I thought the way Evan’s fame was handled was pretty good generally; it made for a lot of dramatic tension.

KN: Did you like any other particular scene/situation?

WS: The birth scene springs to mind – such an awful ‘place’ (emotionally, mentally, physically) to be, that you’re with Gracie all the way. I don’t want to give any spoilers – but let’s just say, this scene is packed with tension and I did actually cry! (I know, I’m a wuss.)

KN: What did you think of the narrative structure?

WS: I found the present tense narrative – for present and past events – quite limiting. Present tense was absolutely right for the kidnap chapters of the book, but NOT for the lead up/past chapters.

The first person point of view also meant that we are in Gracie’s head too much.

KN: I felt that the internal monologue slowed down the pace of the story considerably, which diminished the suspense. Had the author cut down on those, the switching from past to present events would have been more effective, with more sense of urgency.

WS:  Totally agree with you. But I did love the way we kept returning to this kidnap story line all the way through. It was the exciting/action part of the story and kept me reading to see who it was who had kidnapped Grace and how it was all going to work out.

Towards the end, the chase thing is gripping and I loved the way the past and present came together.

KN: Did you guess who the kidnapper was?

WS: Not until it was obvious. There were too many ‘possibles’, with too few clues as to who s/he actually was. When it is obvious, it’s better – more tense, more exciting, more believable – but again, I felt that the author lacked trust in her writing (and in the reader) and threw in too many red herrings as to who the kidnapper could have been. Did you get the same feeling of frustration?

KN: The first time that character was introduced, my ninja sense started tingling. I sensed the character will do something sinister. But I quickly dismissed the thought as it was still very early in the story. So I still enjoyed the chase and red herrings.

Did you like the ending?

WS: Yes and no. Yes, because it was unexpected and shocking. No, because it was unexpected and shocking! But also because I just thought it went on too long; it could have ended much sooner and had more impact.

KN: I wished it ended differently.

How would you rate ‘Between Octobers’ as a debut novel?

WS: I wanted more action and to get out of Gracie’s head and experience something concrete, if you see what I mean…but because the concept was good and the overall structure and plot were really good, (plus I did enjoy it)…I’d give it 4 stars. What about you?

KN: I love the character of Gracie. I like her interaction with other characters. The first few chapters were very engaging and the suspense held my interest. The only problem was that there were lengthy interior monologues that served little to no plot function. The beauty of the set up was lost. BUT I was already so heavily invested in the character that it was difficult to disengage.

I give ‘Between Octobers’ 4 stars.

WS: Hooray, then we agree! Can I get some food now, please?


The Kindle Ninja is a seasoned book reviewer, and you can read lots of reviews by him/her over at his/her blog.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Don't hold me to that . . .

I have been tagged again – this time by Marlena Hand, in the ‘Meet My Main Character' blog chain. When I first saw her post I thought, ooo what fun! But a week later I am wracked with indecision. Not because I don’t know enough about my main character; it’s just that she is still, after all, a work in progress, and everything may change by the time I am ready to let her loose on the world.

You see, this story started life as a women’s novel. I wrote a few full drafts and while there were things I liked about the story, it has never felt completely right. I never really fell in love with my main character – a rude and aggressive 35 year-old alcoholic female. (What’s not to love?) For some inexplicable reason, we just didn’t get on.

And then one morning I woke up to a brainwave. I could reinvent her as a 17 year-old!

Months of rewriting later, I am about half way there! It’s a pretty drastic change in some ways, and in other ways, it’s perfect. It's easier to love a YA/NA anti-heroine, but there's still a lot of work to be done to get her just right…so although I will join in and answer the questions, please don't hold me to anything.

The Q&As

  1. What is the name of your main character? And is he/she fictional
    Mae, and yes – entirely fictional. (Any resemblance to persons living or dead etc…)

  2. When and where is the story set?
    Mainly in a recycling centre in South Cumbria

  3. What should we know about her?
    After punching a pizza delivery boy, Mae has been given a community payback sentence by the court. Her brother has died. She is 17 years-old, drinks too much, swears too much, has alienated all her friends, and is not handling her grief very well at all. Her step-dad has moved out  -- as a result of Mae’s anti-social behaviour -- so she lives alone.

  4. What is the main conflict?
    Hard to pick one without giving the game away, but I will tell you that Mae is in conflict with many people and things: her step-father, her friends, one particular woman at the recycling centre, authority, herself…

  5. What is her personal goal?
    At the beginning of the story, Mae does not have a goal; she’s lost and directionless. By the end, this has changed. A long time personal goal is rekindled – to be a chef – but something far bigger than this comes into play. I’m not going to tell you what that is…

  6. Is there a working title for this novel?
    Mrs Outhwaite

  7. When can we expect the book to be published?
    2015 – hopefully.

So now it’s my turn to tag some other writers to tell us about their main character. But only if they want to. Kate Hanney, Katie Hayoz, Emma Haughton.

Monday, 16 June 2014

The Chocolate Book Challenge!



I gather from previous posts that I’m supposed to pick one book to represent each category of Dark, Milk and White chocolate, and give my reasons for doing so. But since I am both naturally rebellious and greedy, I’m going to pick three titles for each. 

Seriously, it is hard enough whittling it down to three books, never mind one.

For me Dark Chocolate represents the ‘grown up’ stuff – serious issues which pack a punch. Books for older teens/adults.

The three books I’ve chosen have all left me crying into my pillow, traumatised and quite probably scarred for life. If you want angst, if you want your heart torn out and dragged across barbed wire, if you want an excuse to hide in a darkened room for the next few days . . . any one of these will do it for you.

Forbidden by TabithaSuzuma
The story of an incestuous but loving relationship between a brother and a sister. And Oh. My. God. It’s brilliant – it’s awful. It’s not a justification of incest, but neither does it condemn it – just makes our hearts bleed for the poor siblings who fall victim to it. It’s had over 18,000 ratings and 4,000 reviews on Goodreads and it still scores a healthy average of 4.7 out of 5; it’s that good. 





Safe by Kate Hanney
Grim real life, gritty and desperately tragic. A story about the hardest elements of society. My heart ached for Danny and his little sister Lacey, and never stopped aching even when I’d reached the end. You won't go away from this book feeling ooh, ahhh, and all warm and fuzzy inside . . . you will be left in a state of complete limbo. Dangling. In shock. Wondering WTF?  



The Death of Bees by Lisa O’Donnell 
The story of two sisters left to fend for themselves when their parents die. This book is seriously dark. Think abusive parents. Think about killing them and burying them in the back yard. Think fifteen year olds having sex with ice cream men who sell drugs . . . Brutal, but not without humour, and most importantly, it’s not without humanity.  Just don’t read it before you sleep at night – especially if you have daughters.



My Milk Chocolate selections are still pretty dark to be honest, with more than their fair share of emotion and surprise but they don’t actually hit you over the head with a sledgehammer, and they are all rather clever; in the same way as a bar of dairy milk lures you in and keeps you going back for more.

We Were Liars by E.Lockhart
This story is beyond clever – but you probably won’t realise how far until you get to the end. And then, WOW!!! All you can do is stand there and wonder how you didn’t see it coming. I can’t sum it up – here’s the Goodreads blurb . . .
A beautiful and distinguished family. A private island. A brilliant, damaged girl; a passionate, political boy. A group of four friends—the Liars—whose friendship turns destructive. A revolution. An accident. A secret. Lies upon lies.True love. The truth.
Make of that what you will.


Now You See Me by Emma Haughton 
A boy goes missing, and years later he turns up again without any explanation about where he has been. A pacy psychological thriller with complex characters and bags of plot. I didn’t expect the end to be quite as satisfying as it was. Hard to say more about this book without spoilers so I’ll shut up.

But while I’m here, it’s worth noting that Now You See Me has been nominated for the Edinburgh First Book Award – if you want to vote for Emma, you can cast your vote here. 



Untethered by KatieHayoz
My only paranormal choice; paranormal because it involves astral projection. I don't normally 'do' weird and freaky stuff like this, but there's so much more to Untethered than paranormal. It’s also about jealousy and obsession and the real life problems teens have to deal with. I laughed out loud and cried more than once, but mostly I was just gripped. There’s depth and subtlety to this novel, with an underlying message about self-acceptance, and paranormal or not - it's worth a read.




And finally, my White Chocolate books. These are all books I have adored for years, but which are more suitable for younger readers.
 
The Illustrated Mum by JacquelineWilson
Dolphin and Star live with their heavily tattooed mum, but mum is a manic depressive and as fun as that can be on manic days, the rest of life is not so sweet. I love this book and Jacqueline Wilson changed my life the day she wrote this. 




Broken Soup by Jenny Valentine
Another book from years ago which I still remember fondly.  It’s the story of Rowan and what happens to her family after her brother dies. Apart from the heart ache and the tears, it’s also funny and well observed.  It’s not going to keep you awake at night, but it’s perfect comfort food.





The Dog Star by Jenny Nimmo
Marty longs for a dog and when she sees the dog star, she makes her wish. A real live dog appears beneath her bed and it seems that her wish has come true . . . This is a book I read to my children. I could barely get through some pages without sobbing. It’s a beautiful beautiful story for younger children and it will stay with you forever. Seriously you should get this one.


So there we have it. An impressive selection box if ever there was one.

It's my turn to tag another author in this challenge now, and I'm going to tag Katie Hayoz - because I reckon she should know a thing or two about chocolate, what with her living in Switzerland and everything...

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

WHO IS THE KINDLE NINJA? (part 2) - The EXPOSÉ

So, if you haven't read the precursor of this blog post you can catch up here.       

Who is he/she?
If you have, you will know that I have become obsessed with the true identity of the KINDLE NINJA.

And so, posing as a brilliant author of YA contemporary fiction, I approached him/her with a FAKE Reviewers Questionnaire, brimming with in-depth questions designed to expose the TRUTH at last. 

The unsuspecting Ninja has today returned the FAKE questionnaire, fully completed, and readers - I now present this to YOU! MWAH HA HA HA HA...

The Q&As…

Me: You obviously read lots of books, but do you have a favourite genre? 
KN: Crime / Mystery, and recently *clears throat* YA.
(Likes a 'Mystery' eh? Very interesting...)

Me: What makes a book a good read?  
KN: Complex characters, engaging  story, unpredictable outcomes.  If it stirs up all sorts of emotions. (If you can make me cry, you’re brilliant).  

Me: Have you ever rated anything 1*? 
KN: No. But there are books I couldn’t finish (although I plan on finishing when I’m back in that ‘reading zone.’)
Family Life
 
Me: When did you become a NINJA?  
KN: I was born a ninja in the late ‘70s  ;)
(Ahh, now we're gettting somewhere...that makes the KN thirty something...)

Me: Why? 
KN: Parents were ninjas. 

Me: Is it in fact true that you are a famous A-lister, trying to hide your identity by masquerading as a book reading Ninja?  
KN: That’s just a rumour ;) (It’s also a rumour that I’m a covert book agent hah!)
(The classic double bluff, methinks...)

Me: Can you tell us how you spend your day?  
KN: I do Ninja stuff in the morning.  Then work with creative types the rest of the day…and Tweeting when no one’s looking.
(A secret tweeter? So, an expert in the art of deception...) 

Me: What is your favourite food?  
KN: Pizza.  (Italian food)

Me: Are you a wanted criminal? 
KN: My parole officer said not to answer questions like this.

Me: What is your favourite colour? 
KN: Blue.
(I see what you did there.)

Ninja Puppy
Me: Do you have any NINJA pets? 
KN: Yes. I rescued a puppy from a vicious dog that punctured the puppy’s stomach. Puppy survived like a true ninja. She’s now 3 years old.
(Awww...this melts my heart.)

Me: Are you on a witness protection scheme so that no one knows who or where you are?
KN: Hey, not so loud.
(Oops! Sorry...)
                                          
Me: What can you see if you look out of your window? 
KN: What window?

Me: Do you even have a window?  
KN: Exactly.

Me: Do you have a middle name? Kindle ___ Ninja? 
KN: J.
(Jack? Jill? Jinja?)  

Me: How do you kill a Ninja? 
KJN: You can’t.  

Me: Do you write stories as well as read them? 
KJN: No. I tried, but failed miserably, lol. So I leave the writing to people like you.

Me: If so, what’s your genre? 
KJN: If I were to write a novel or a short story, it would be a crime / psychological thriller.

Me: What do you see when you take off your NINJA MASK?
KJN: If I take off my ninja mask, be very afraid. Face is covered for a reason. LOL
(What hideousness can it be?)

Me: Are you an alien?  
KJN: No. That would be the inmate two cells down  my neighbour.

Me: Should I be scared of you? 
KJN: No. I’m one of the nicest ninjas around.
(I'm begining to think you're right.)

Me: Is there anything else we should know about you? (Star sign, telephone number, credit card details etc…)
KJN: I like cookies.

Thank you for taking part in this interview. J

Thank you, Wendy. It was fun. J (So this is how it feels to be interviewed  by a brilliant author).

*****

I think we've learned a lot today. I am now 100% certain that the KINDLE NINJA is a thrill-seeking, thirty something masquerading as a NINJA to hide his/her true identity as a BOOK AGENT, practised in the art of deception, and currently practising from inside the walls of a top security prison. But it's not all bad; he/she is kind to animals and loves cookies.

Or have I been out-ninja-ed by the Ninja???

If you would like to find out more about the KINDLE NINJA >>>


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

WHO IS THE KINDLE NINJA? (Part 1)

The story so far…

The Kindle Ninja
in action
Some weeks/months ago, I joined the Rave Reviews Book Club – an online book club dedicated to propelling its members into super literary stardom. (And yes – I’m nearly there, so it’s definitely working.)

Several members bought my book – Bring Me Sunshine – and wrote complimentary reviews. But one member – WHO SHALL REMAIN NAMELESS – decided to do their review as a VIDEO.


As you can imagine, I was overcome with gratitude and felt quite emotional that anyone would do this for me, especially someone I had never met or am ever likely to meet. And so, I sent him/her a gushing email and a few direct Twitter messages, read his/her blog and had various tweet exchanges. But it seems like the more we communicate, the less I know about KINDLE NINJA, and it’s beginning to frustrate me.

The Ninja Inner Circle
Who is he? Who is she? Surely someone out there must know?

The truth is, the Ninja’s identity is a closely guarded secret known only to a very few people in the NINJA INNER CIRCLE. Us mere mortals know very little about the Ninja.


Here’s what we do know –

·        The Kindle Ninja reads and reviews books – often reading more than one at a time.
·        Sometimes his/her Kindle falls on his/her face while he/she reads in bed.
·        He/she keeps a very entertaining blog in which he/she lures unsuspecting authors in with the promise of milk and cookies.
·        He/she is left handed, has given up soda and plays with LEGO. (Or LEGOs if you’re in the US).
·        He/she is quite probably nocturnal, choosing to do reviews at night.
·        He/she is a member of RRBC.
·        And of course, he/she is obviously extremely discerning about books and makes incredibly brilliant video reviews…

But this is not enough. I need to know more.
Do you know
this Ninja?

And so this week, I hatched a cunning plan and persuaded KINDLE NINJA to be interviewed by me, for my blog. Mwah ha ha…poor unsuspecting Ninja…playing right into my hands. I have this morning sent the questions away and any day now, I shall have my answers.



Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Writer for hire

So there I was, the hired writer, in the middle of a group of six young men (aged 15 – 21) who had all been (or still were) in the care system.

Our meeting was part of a longer term project which helps young people manage the transition from care to independent living, and broadly, the plan was to create some content for a newspaper they were putting together. Unlike a lot of young people out there, care leavers don’t necessarily have anyone to hold their hand through the maze of practical and emotional challenges facing them, and the newspaper was going to be a vehicle both to give them a voice, and to pass on their experiences to others.

It’s a great project, and having worked with children in care before now, I was delighted (if nervous) to take part. I’d never met these particular young men before and I really had no idea how they would respond to a middle-aged writer of fiction for teenage girls strolling into their residential weekend, expecting them to be creative.

As it happens, it was a day of two halves. Three of the boys were motivated and keen to express themselves in story and spoken word. The other three were not. 

What I had to offer was more like ‘work’ than play and most of their time with me consisted of discussions about smoking, weed and fighting, with misogynistic rap songs playing too loudly to allow for discussion. They flexed their muscles, swore a lot, dislocated their shoulders for fun, talked about dealers, and preferred ‘chilling’ to writing. I wasn’t in any position to lay down the law.

But you know what? After a while, they got bored and started to ask questions. “What’s it like being a writer? … How long does it take to write a book? … What’s it like when you get rejected?” And somehow we drifted into interview mode and they agreed to work with me on a one-to-one basis. One of them ended up writing a poem so raw and so real it bought tears to my eyes. Another one came up with designs for the cover of my new book. The third one told me about his favourite recipe that he’d learned to cook – a twist on pasta bake – and I’m having it for tea tonight.

At some point in the middle of the day, I was asked to read the young men an excerpt from my book – Where Bluebirds Fly. It’s the story of a teenage girl with mental health problems who is taken into care at a residential school. So okay, there are some obvious similarities, but Where Bluebirds Fly has always been (in my mind at least) a story for girls, aged 10 – 14. I really didn’t expect six young men, aged 15 – 21 to like it. But every single one of them sat there and listened, without even a whisper. And when I’d finished, they told me it was, “class”, “really good” and “brilliant.”

By the end of the day, not only had all six of these young men given me a day to remember and treasure, they had contributed something meaningful and important about their lives which they could share with other care leavers. I am immensely proud to have been a part of that. 

If you would like to support this project, you can do so here.