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.
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


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


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


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.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Seven Things

I would like to thank my mum, my dad,
 and everyone who knows me...
I’ve been nominated for yet another award...  

It’s the Very Inspiring Blogger Award. I’m sure my blog is neither inspiring nor very inspiring, but my nominator is Katie Hayoz and I would deny her nothing. We were joint runners-up in the Mslexia Children’s Novel Competition way back in 2013 and I have loved her ever since. Obviously she’s a brilliant writer or she wouldn’t have reached the dizzy heights of Mslexia stardom that she did, but she’s also a kind and wonderful person and you should read her blog, because if you want inspiring, that’s where you will find it.

Anyway, the Very Inspiring Blogger Award is given by bloggers to bloggers and here are the rules:

1. Link back to the person nominating you for the award ü
2. Display the Very Inspiring Blogger logo ü
3. Reveal seven things about yourself (see below)
4. Nominate seven others to receive the award (see below)

Okay.  So seven things about me that you won't find on my profile:

1. I once fell through the roof of a greenhouse. Easy when you know how.

2. If I tell you I used to go to school with someone, chances are I am lying. 

3. The book I am currently reading is We Were Liars, by E. Lockhart. I saw some great reviews on Goodreads, and bought it immediately. It’s awesome so far. Don’t tell me how it ends…

4. Given the choice, I would only watch comedy on TV. I’ve got an eclectic comedy taste and will give anything a try, but if it doesn’t make me laugh I won’t persevere. Would I Lie To You is one of my favourite comedy quiz shows.

5. I went to school with Bruce Springsteen.

6. I returned to teaching last year and not only do I love it, I am learning an incredible amount, and my writing has definitely improved because of it.

7. Apples grow in my garden and I make apple chutney with them.

So there you go, seven things about me - most of which are actually true.  Now here are seven writer/ bloggers who inspire me. Maybe they will inspire you, too:

Friday, 16 May 2014

20 Questions to Christina Banach, author of MINTY

I was recently asked to review Minty, by Christina Banach. It's always a bit scary when someone asks you for a review, because of course you want to be positive and enthusiastic about their work, but you also want to be honest. And since this is a debut novel, I has no idea what to expect. But happily, in this case, I was able to be positive, enthusiastic AND honest. You can read my review here if you're interested.

In return, Christina has generously agreed to answer my twenty questions, which actually turned into a few more than twenty...

This is Christina...
Christina is a former head teacher, living in Scotland with her husband and two rescue dogs. She loves walking, delicious food and wine, the theatre, exploring new places, surfing the Net, listening to music and anything that makes her laugh. (She also has a bit of a thing about shoes and handbags!). 

WS: So, Christina, how did you came to be a writer?
CB: I came to writing late in life. As a child I’d scribbled stories, made my own comics, and wrote elaborate scripts for plays. My teachers told my parents that I had talent – that I’d be the next Enid Blyton (Enid was the JK Rowling of her day!). I never took them seriously, though. Instead, I became a teacher. Although I loved working with young people I always felt there was something missing in my life. It took a bout of ill-health, and time off work, before I picked up my pen again and began writing. After that, I couldn’t stop. So, in January 2006, I resigned my head teacher’s post to become a full-time writer, completely ignoring that sage advice, ‘don’t give up the day job’!

...and this is her fabulous book.
WS: And can you tell us briefly, what Minty is about?
CB: Minty is a contemporary young adult (YA) ghost story told from the point of view of the ghost. It’s a cross between The Lovely Bones (without the grim murder!) and Ghost, and is a real weepy with heart and warmth at its core. It tells the story of fourteen-year-old twins Minty and Jess. They do everything together and, although they sometimes bicker, they are completely inseparable. But then a day trip to the coast puts their bond in jeopardy. As Minty tries to rescue her dog from drowning she ends up fighting for her life. Will she survive? If doesn’t, how will Jess cope without her? 

It’s a book about friendship, loss, and coming to terms with consequences. Above all it’s about love and hope. 

Get your copy here or from your local bookshop!

WS: And what was the inspiration for writing this novel?
CB: The idea for the book appeared early one summer morning in 2006, just as the sun came up. During the night I thought I sensed my late father's presence, so, unable to get back to sleep, I sat in the sunroom contemplating what had actually happened. While doing this I heard my dog panting and put out my hand to stroke her. Until I remembered – my pet had died the month before. That's when Minty's story came to me. 

WS: Who is your intended audience?
CB: Minty is written for young adults although, from the amazing feedback I’ve been getting, it appears to have struck a chord with adults too. Love and loss are such a part of the human condition so maybe that’s why all ages can relate to Minty and her family’s dilemma. 

WS: And why should they read your book?
CB: Well, it’s a heartfelt story shot through with humour. (WS: I agree!) Not only is it entertaining but also makes you think about life and what might come after. I’ve been told that it’s haunting - that the story lingers in the reader’s mind long after they’ve turned/swiped the last page. Some teens have also said that it’s totally gripping and unlike anything they’re read before. Just typing that feedback makes me smile inside. It’s such an honour to have someone love your book. 

WS: Would you say the story has an underlying message?
CB: Consciously, I never set out to write a book with an underlying message, but I suppose there is one, and it’s probably this: carpe diem. Seize the day – make the most of life, whatever knocks may come your way.

WS: What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
CB: I’m very disciplined. My usual routine is to rise early in the morning, spend some time on social media (sometimes too much, it has to be said) and then it’s out of bed, shower, and on with the writing. I’m usually at my desk by eight at the latest and work on until lunch, although have been known to forget it’s lunchtime, especially if the work is going well. After a quick snack it’s on with more writing until it’s time to take my dogs for their afternoon walk. Once they – and I – have been exercised it’s back to the manuscript until my husband arrives home from work. After dinner I might surf the Net a little (lot!) or press on with the manuscript, depending on what stage I’m at in the writing process. I aim to take at least a day off per week but rarely manage it. 

WS: And do you plan your writing – or is your first draft your plan?
CB: Am I plotter or a pantser? Good question! I’m a bit of both, I reckon. Once I decide to run with an idea, and the characters have entered the stage, I plunge into the research – surfing the Net, reading books, going on field trips etc – taking copious notes as I go. Once I have enough material I do a lot of brainstorming on character and plot: thinking of scenes, exploring character arc, considering the structure and so on. I always know how the book will start and how it will end. Or so I think…that’s when the pantser part of me comes to the fore, because once I actually begin the first draft anything could happen. The important thing for me is to get that first draft written, and if it deviates from all my carefully thought-out plans, so be it. It’s all about telling the story that demands to be told. 

WS: You live in a beautiful part of the UK; does your environment influence your writing? And if so, how?
CB: As with most writers, I’m a keen observer of everything and anything that happens around me: what I hear, the things I see; how such and such smells, or feels to the touch - tastes; what kind of atmosphere a particular place evokes – they all end up in my memory bank (and notebooks!) to be used later when writing my manuscripts. 

WS: What has been your best experience as a writer?
CB: Am I allowed to have three best experiences? 
WS: Um...okay, just this once J 
CB: Oh thanks Wendy! The first was when my agent said she loved my book and wanted to sign me. The second was when new publishing house, Three Hares, signed Minty; that was a true ‘pinch me’ moment because I was their first acquisition. The third was on Minty’s book birthday last month. Now that was an awesome day. Truly unforgettable. 

WS: And what about your worst experience as a writer? (Sorry to lower the tone.) L
CB: That has to be when I entered Minty into the Undiscovered Voices 2010 competition and it didn’t get anywhere. It knocked my faith in me as a writer – and the book itself. But I got over it, and it spurred me on to write a better novel. Thank goodness I did or I wouldn’t be answering these questions. 
WS: And there's a message there for everyone - NEVER GIVE UP!

WS: Do you also like to read? 
CB: Do I love to read? You bet! 

WS: Who are your favourite authors?
CB: I recently answered this same question over on another blog (fellow writer Sarah Broadley’s, Great Big Jar) whereupon I told her that if she came back next week I’d give her a completely different set of answers. So, if you don’t mind, I’m going to do just that. The thing is, it’s a big ask to whittle it down to a few - there are so many wonderful writers out there. But anyway, I’ll get to the point. Amongst my favourites are: Suzanne Collins, Douglas Kennedy, Adrianna Trigiani, Jenny Valentine, Anne Cassidy, David Nicholls, Cathy Cassidy, Dave Cousins, Teri Terry, Ian McEwan, Sophia Bennett…oops, I think I’ll stop there!

WS: What do you think makes a really good story?
CB: Great characters and a compelling plot. Lots of hooks and read-on-prompts, the kind that keep you reading well past your bedtime. Believability, even if I’m reading fantasy. An element of humour. Something that moves me, and makes me think. A story that plucks me out of my own experience and drops me right into the fictional world. For me, these are essential. 

WS: Do you have any unique talents or hobbies?
CB: Nope. Sad, eh? 

WS: Okay, so what would your fancy dress costume of choice be?
CB: I really have no idea. I once went to a party as Wonder Woman, will that do?

WS: Wonder woman, eh? Yes, I can see it now. And what super power would you like?
CB: Indefatigability. (I wish!)

WS: Who would you invite to the dinner party of your dreams?
CB: I’m guessing I would have a big table – yes? If so I’d invite Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and my late dad, because they’re my heroes; Jane Austen and Graham Norton, for their sharp observations; Hugh Jackman and Liam Neeson for their rugged good looks; Marilyn Monroe and Oprah Winfrey because I’d like to get to know the people behind the legends; Danny O’Donoghue from The Script, Paolo Nutini and Adele and because they could entertain everyone at the end of the meal; and last, but not least, my husband because he’d probably be doing most of the cooking so it would be rude not to invite him!

WS: And since you're a bit f a foodie, what would be on the menu?
CB: We’d have scallops with pancetta, pea puree and cauliflower foam to start with (oh yeah, I’m rocking the fine dining here!), followed by a champagne sorbet, then – no, scrap that! Let’s send out for pizza and chocolate. To heck with the food, it’s the company that counts! And anyway, we’d be too busy yacking to concentrate on the grub.  J 

WS: If you could say thank you to one person, who would it be and why?
CB: It would be my husband, for his unfailing love and support, and for uttering those three magical words, ‘go for it’ when I called him from work and told him I wanted to resign from my head teacher’s post. Without him I’d still be unpublished, I’m sure.

WS: Is there a phrase or quote about writing that you particularly like?
CB: Absolutely. It’s Hitchcock’s axiom: a good story is life, with the dull parts taken out. 

WS: Where can we find you when you’re not writing?
CB: Walking my dogs along a beach or in the fields near our house. Or I could be in Edinburgh, my favourite city in the world. Or on a cruise ship (I love being on the sea). Or…any number of places. But the best bet is usually inside my house, tucked in bed, propped against the pillows, reading a book. Now that is my idea of bliss!

WS: And finally. what can we expect from you in the future?
CB: Lots, I hope. I have several stories on the back burner but my next project is another contemporary YA novel. It’s a ghost story-come-psychological thriller and, so far, has been a blast to write. 

WS: Thank you for taking time out to take part in this interview. I wish you the very best of luck with all of your projects, but I am sure you don't need it. 
CB: Thanks for letting me stop by your blog, Wendy. It's been a pleasure. x

You can find Christina here >>>

Twitter:       @ChristinaBanach