Thursday, 27 December 2012

You Had to be There

Have you ever watched a supposed comedy film that started out really funny, but trailed off towards the end? Or towards the second half, in some cases? Of course you have - unless you don't watch comedy films at all or you have few enough brain cells that you'd be amused by people getting kicked in the groin. I always sort of assumed that this was because it was impossible to write enough comedy to fill, say, ninety minutes.

Then I started watching more stand-up gigs, both live and on TV/DVD. A lot of these shows are the same length, or longer, than the average feature-length comedy film. And yet they're able to keep the humour going throughout. I saw Russell Kane at the Hexagon a few weeks ago and could hardly breathe for laughing. Seriously, I had a weird pain in my side all the next day. He never ran out of material, I never got bored and needed a story (my other theory as to why comedy films stop being funny - they believe the audience needs an actually solid story.) (FYI, you can have humour and a story. They're not mutually exclusive.)

So I got to thinking, maybe being a part of the joke is important. A comedian is addressing the audience, characters in a film are pretending they don't exist. Seeing a comedian perform live is a strange thing, you laugh at things you'd never have normally laughed at because of the atmosphere. You think things are funny that normally you wouldn't. It's the same with TV shows - I can't watch comedies alone because they're just not as funny. Laughter is a communal thing. And I think maybe that's why comedy films don't always work - because the audience isn't really a part of the joke.



Saturday, 22 December 2012

ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

Cas Lowood is no ordinary guy - he hunts dead people. People like Anna. Anna Dressed in Blood. A beautiful, murderous ghost entangled in curses and rage. Cas knows he must destroy her, but as her tragic past is revealed, he starts to understand why Anna has killed everyone who's ever dared to enter her spooky home. Everyone, that is, except Cas. Just your average boy-meets-girl, girl-kills-people story.

Eeesh. I really wanted to like this book. In fact, I did really like it. For a while. It's interesting and amusing and it was refreshing for me to read a book written from a male perspective, since probably 90% of the books I've read this year were from a female perspective. And the other ten had multiple voices. So I was really enjoying it.

Until I was about two-thirds of the way through. Okay, call me extraordinarily picky if you want (believe me, I've been called worse) but I expected the climax of a book entitled Anna Dressed in Blood to be the big showdown between the ghosthunter and, you know, Anna Dressed in Blood. That particular showdown happened around two-thirds of the way through the novel, and then the rest was focused on a totally different ghost. This did not work for me. At all. In any way shape or form. It was like the author had decided that the stuff about Anna wouldn't fill a whole book, and so they slapped on another twenty thousand words or so of the sequel idea they'd been playing around with. And it really bothered me, it ruined the book for me. Okay, so ruined is a strong word, but I certainly stopped enjoying it and can't say I liked the book because of it.

There were good aspects, though. I liked Cas, the main character, despite thinking at the start that he was oddly cynical about ghosts considering he went around killing them, and I was delighted when the cat got eaten, and I thought the writing was good. I have no complaints about the style or anything like that, except for the names. I can't stand the name Carmel anyway, and I'm getting a bit sick of this whole MC-has-a-stupid-name-so-they-only-ever-go-by-a-nickname thing. I mean, his name is Theseus Cassio. I'm sure it probably means something and is bound to be important in the sequel, but no. It's a stupid name.

Overall, I have to say that I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. The sudden change in plot partway through the story bothered me and I'd have to warn anyone about that if they wanted to read the book, which would probably then ruin the tension for them. I don't mind a twist ending - in fact, I actually like them - but this wasn't a twist ending. This was a mess and I'm still annoyed about it even now.



Friday, 21 December 2012

My Top Five Books of 2012

Perhaps I should have done the books first, being a writer and all, but I was in the mood to write about films when it occurred to me that I wanted to do these two lists. Anyway, deciding on the books for the list was actually a lot easier for me than the films, because I've been so very disappointed by so many of the books I was desperate to read this year. I also hit the slightly major snag of most of the books I read this year not actually being released this year. So I've tried to eliminate them, though not entirely successfully. So, once again, in reverse order, I present to you my top five of 2012.

5 - Divergent by Veronica Roth
Yeah, this is one of those not entirely successful eliminations. This actual copy, however (the UK paperback) was only printed in February of this year, so it totally counts. This is a young adult dystopian, but this one felt a bit different to the others. Or maybe I read it before I got sick of all the same-y dystopian books. Either way, it was a really good read once I got into it, I tore through it and went in search of the sequel, Insurgent, only to discover it was not due to be published in the UK for another couple of months! Needless to say, I was unimpressed. What I found really interesting about this book, though, is that I enjoyed it so much while disliking or being indifferent to essentially all of the characters in it. I didn't like Tris, I didn't like any of her family or friends, even her enemies were a bit crap. The only one I came close to liking was the love interest, Four, but I started to go off him in the second book. It's strange, I didn't find the characters especially likeable or even interesting, and yet I loved the book. Funny how these things work out sometimes.

4 - What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang
I actually only read this last week, so you may well remember my review of it. Essentially, every human being is born with two souls, but one of them fades away around the time the child hits adolescense. Except for when that doesn't happen, like with Addie and Eva. And that's just not good. I've only just realised that one of the big questions I was left with after this book is why people suddenly developed two souls. As far as I can recall, it's never addressed in the book, and I found that a little distracting. It almost makes me want to strike this one from the list and slot something else in, but not quite. I did really enjoy this book. It was a stand-alone book that was so bursting with potential that there was room for a sequel, rather than being 300+ pages of setting up for a new series, which so many of the books I read this year were guilty of. I think what I liked so much is that it was such a unique concept (to me, at least) and it was great to see that, especially when it was written so well. I'll be definitely keeping an eye out for Kat Zhang's books in the future.

3 - Sorry by Zoran Drvenkar
I have literally no words to describe this book. It was just so odd. The basic premise is that four people set up a company that apologises to people. You hire them to apologise to someone you might have wronged. I can't really say anymore without spoiling it, because it's a strange and quite intricate book, but it's beautifully written. If beautiful is the right word for it. I honestly don't know what to say about it, except that it affected me quite a bit. I'm not much of a "feeler" but this book definitely struck a chord. It's not for the faint-hearted. Or anyone with a sensitive disposition. There are horrendous moments, both graphically described and hinted at just enough to unsettle you. I was wary when I discovered that it was written in German originally, and that I was buying the translation, because I have this theory that translated books lose something along the way, but the writing was razor-sharp and suited the book perfectly. Also, check out that cover. I would have bought it for that cover even if the blurb had bored me completely.


2 - The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle
Another very recent read, and another one that didn't disappoint. I was browsing through Goodreads - which is never a good idea for me - and came across a blurb that contained the words "Amish" and "vampires." I was sold. We actually don't see very much of the vampires in the book, it's more the threat that they impose on this isolated community and how the people deal with it. It wasn't a perfect book, there's no such thing (probably) but I very much enjoyed reading it. I'm not so sure on the idea of it having a sequel. The ending of the book (which I thought was a little rushed) definitely leaves room for one and sets up some potential plot points, but I'm not sure. I think this book would have strongly suited an ambiguous ending, I think it would have been quite fitting. Still, that won't stop me from reading the book when it comes out. I'm quite looking forward to revisiting the world and spending some more time with Katie, the main character, though less enthused about being reunited with Alex, who was a bit bland for my liking. I feel I should point out again that I really did like this book.

1 - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Yeah, so, you remember way back up at the top of the page where I said I'd failed to keep the books on this list to ones that were released in 2012? This is the big one. I went back and forth on including it, but this is the best book I've read this year. Not only is it the best, it's also my favourite. It needed to be recognised, and I couldn't bring myself to name any other book in the top spot. This book is, if you'll excuse the pun, simply magical. I don't know how Erin Morgenstern has crafted such a beautiful, engaging and intriguing piece of prose, but it truly is spectacular. There is a multitude of characters, but never once did I get confused or forget about any of them, and - perhaps most importantly - they all played a role in the story. There wasn't a single stock character or someone shoehorned in just to deliver one piece of information. I'm not a good enough writer to explain how excellent this book is or to describe how I felt about it (I can only do that if I'm criticising something) , all I can say is that you have to read it. Don't even think about picking up another book until you've read this one. It's long, but don't be put off by that. I really don't think there is any such thing as a perfect book, but this one comes pretty damn close.

Honourable Mentions
- This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers - a take on the zombie novel that I've never seen before and well worth a read.

- The Help by Kathryn Stockett - a beautiful book that I couldn't let myself include because it was published in 2009.

- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins - my opinions about this book and its film adaptation are splashed all over this blog, as you may have noticed, but, despite reading it this year, it too was published a fair while back. 2008, in fact.



Wednesday, 19 December 2012

My Top Five Films of 2012

So, since every website I ever visit seems to be rounding up the best stuff of the year, I thought I'd do the same. Looking back at all the films I've seen this year, it seems to me that 2012 has been a bad year for cinema. Maybe with the Olympics dominating the summer and the US Elections taking over pretty much the rest of the year, the studios decided to just not bother too hard this year. Or maybe I'm just pickier than usual. Either way, I've seen some real stinkers this year - The Bourne Legacy, Dark Shadows, Prometheus. And that's before you get me started on The Hobbit. Okay, so I haven't seen it and never will, but come on, it's the biggest movie of the year and it's The Hobbit. The Hobbit.

So, all complaining out of the way, here are my top five films of the year. In reverse order, obviously, to make it super tense.

5 - Anna Karenina
I may well be one of the only two people who actually saw this movie (and we actually saw it together) but I think it deserved a lot more attention that it actually got. I didn't know the story beforehand, the words Anna Karenina conjured up images of people in furry hats walking through snowy squares and not a whole lot else. It took me a little while to get into this film (maybe five minutes or so) because of the strange way it was orchestrated. The whole film is set up like a stage production, which I didn't expect, but turned out to be both wonderfully done and mesmerising to watch. I'll also admit that I'm not a huge fan of Keira Knightley, Jude Law or Aaron Taylor-Johnson, but there wasn't a weak link in the acting chain, and the supporting cast were just as good. If you didn't see this in the cinema then you really missed out, but get the DVD and curl up with it on a cold night.


4 - The Hunger Games
Teenagers fight to the death on television. When I first heard about this film, I became a little obsessed. I fully intended to see it and then devour the books (because I prefer to do it that way around) but then the book was a set text for one of my university modules. I read it in an afternoon. The next day, I read the second one in an afternoon. I was worried the film would be a disappointment, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. I think Jennifer Lawrence was well cast and any excuse to gawp at a Hemsworth is fine by me. I'm still not completely sold on Josh Hutcherson as Peeta, as both love interests have to have something going for them in a love triangle and he is completely outshone by Hemsworth. My only real issue with this film (other than the fact that it takes so long to get to the actual Games, but this is an issue from the book, too) is that it was edited down to get a much more financially-rewarding 12A certificate. Blood splashes or no blood splashes, I don't really think it's suitable for under-12s and the film should have been kept as it was.

3 - Silver Linings Playbook
The most recent of the films on this list, and another one starring Jennifer Lawrence. This one also has Bradley Cooper, though, so it was pretty much guaranteed a spot on this list. No, that's very shallow of me, and not really true at all. The chemistry between the two leads helped a lot, but I think the film had a strong premise and excellent writing, and would have found its way here even without the two main stars. It's a bit of a sappy film, there's no denying that, but it's also so funny. After I'd seen it, I heard it described as a romantic comedy and baulked at the idea - to me a romantic comedy is a nonsense bit of fluff most likely starring Katherine Heigl - but after some thought, I realised that this is a romantic comedy, but it's more than that. It's what all romantic comedies should be. It's romantic and funny and moving and in a short space of time you really grow to care about the characters. It swept the board at an award ceremony recently and I really hope it gets some Oscar nods. It fully deserves them.

2 - The Help
I thought long and hard about including this film, since it was technically released in October 2011 and was nominated for the Oscars this February. But I saw it - in an actual cinema - this year, so I've decided that it counts. I didn't think I'd be interested in this film, I'd already passed over on reading the book the summer before it was released because the premise - black housemaids in the 1950s - bored me so thoroughly, but then they cast Emma Stone and I started paying it a little more attention. Like Silver Linings Playbook, it is as funny as it is moving. I can't speak to the accuracy of its portrayal of life for black housemaids in Mississippi in the 1950s, but I can speak to the heartbreaking moments and the scenes that made me cry with laughter. It's a stunning film that boasts an outstanding cast and deserved a lot more Oscars than it went home with. You should definitely try to see it and then read the book. It's a very faithful adaptation, but the book explains why everyone calls Eugenia by the nickname Skeeter...

1 - Lawless
And so the very prestigious honour of being my top film of the year goes to Lawless - a film about bootleggers, based on a true story and starring Tom Hardy. And some other people, but Tom Hardy stole the show, as he so often does. It's hard to know what to say about this film, which really just needs to be experienced. It's brutal and violent and unflinching. It's also funny and kind of sweet, really. In places. The love story that unfolds between the God-awful Shia LaBeouf and Mia Wasikowska could melt even the stoniest of hearts. To be fair, LaBeouf did not spoil this film. He didn't add to it either, and I think almost any other actor could have done the job better, but he didn't ruin it. The movie does belong to Tom Hardy, though. I said it in my review of the film at the time, but I think it bears repeating now - he manages to be menacing while wearing a cardigan. A cardigan. If that doesn't make him one of the greatest actors of our time, I don't know what does. If you haven't seen this film, you need to correct that immediately. And then get cracking on the rest of the list.

Honourable Mentions
There were a few more films that I wanted to mention, but couldn't. I thought about doing a top ten, but I didn't have enough films I loved to fill one out, so here are the few that would have been in the list but couldn't quite break the top 10:

- Looper - Bruce Willis had hair and the time-travel stuff was a little wonky, but otherwise an enjoyable film.

- The Perks of Being a Wallflower - a gloom-drenched misery-fest which was also kind of great. And much better than the book.

- Breaking Dawn Part Two - a fitting end to the Twilight series, that managed to provide laughs, tender moments and, most importantly for someone who has read all of the books, a few surprises. I've never experienced an atmosphere like the one at the midnight screening, and for that reason alone, this film deserved a mention.



Monday, 17 December 2012

WHAT'S LEFT OF ME

What's Left of Me by Kat Zhang

Imagine that you have two minds, sharing one body. You and your other self are closer than twins, better than friends. You have known each other forever. Then imagine that people like you are hated and feared. That the government want to hunt you down and tear out your second soul, separating you from the person you love most in the world. Now meet Eva and Addie. They don't have to imagine.

Ooh, *shivers*. Okay, so I was really looking forward getting my hands on this book and I was not disappointed. If I'm being completely honest, it wasn't quite as good as The Hallowed Ones, the last book I read, but it's definitely up there.

I was concerned that I would struggle to keep the two girls, Eva and Addie, separate in my mind, that they wouldn't be distinct enough, but they were. I think Addie could have done with some more development, the book is told by Eva and therefore focuses a lot more on her, and I hope this is something that will be explored in later books. That's right, this is the first in a series. And it works as a book on it's own. Points galore in its favour. I was also concerned about remembering all the pairs of names - every main character has two souls and therefore two personalities - but I didn't find it a problem at all. The only one I couldn't remember was Lyle's alter ego, and I'm pretty sure his was only mentioned once in the entire book.

The thing that really stuck with me, though, was how much this book reminded me of Philip Pullman's Northern Lights, a book that I adore. The idea of the daemon, and the later determination of certain people to separate children from their daemons, was one that really struck a chord with me when I read it years ago, and one that came back to me whilst reading this book. People - ostensibly, the government - don't want two souls to exist within one body. They want to separate them, and my thoughts just kept coming back to Northern Lights. Maybe that's one reason I liked this book so much, despite the fact that at times the dialogue seemed strange to me and the teenagers sometimes seemed an awful lot older than they were supposed to and Addie just wasn't as characterised as she should have been. Because I did like this book, a lot, and I've read lots of reviews by other people that loved it. So maybe I just shouldn't worry about why I liked it so much, and just be pleased that I did. Bring on book two.



Wednesday, 12 December 2012

The End of Zombies

Ending a zombie story is a tricky beast. I'm thinking about writing one and am already worrying about how to end it (FYI, I don't even have character names or a solid idea yet, but I'm stressing over the ending). To my mind, there are only three ways to do it. Feel free to sound off in the comments if you think I'm wrong. I might nick your ideas if they're good, though!

1 - Everybody dies. All your characters, all the people who aren't your characters. Everybody. Dies. Or becomes a zombie, which is usually pretty much the same thing.

2 - They reach a safe place - military fortress, deserted island, whatever - and can live happily ever after with the dead banging on the doors but unable to get inside and start eating brains.

3 - Just stop. Pick a point and say "that's it. Done. Leave it there and let the reader decide what they want."

Normally, I'd say option one is the best, mainly because I'm not a huge fan of happy endings. Thing is, you can't really do it if you're writing in first person (putting in a stupid newspaper report or whatever at the end is just annoying - don't do it), and that's actually what I intend to do. The idea I'm circling involves letters, and who writes letters in the third person?

Option two is...well, that's not great either, and not just because I hate a happy ending. It's just so implausible that any place exists where zombies haven't gotten inside. Add to that implausibility that this magical safe place is also able to house people long term (I'm talking sustainable sources of food and water and whatever else it is that people need) and I think you're asking too much of your reader. Or thinking too little of them.

Which leaves us with option three. An ambiguous ending, done well, is a truly impressive feat. Just stopping a book with no warning or explanation or resolution...well, it's a bit of a cop-out, isn't it? Generally, when I read something that doesn't have what I consider to be a proper ending, I think it's because the author wrote themself into a corner and then couldn't think of a way out. I doubt that's true, an editor would have stepped in at some point prior to publication if it was (I hope!), but it does feel a bit like cheating. Unfortunately, it's the option I'm leaning towards right now. It just seems to fit the story if one day the letters just stop. There's no way of knowing what happened to the writer - if she survived the zombies or became one of them - and there's something about that which just feels right.

Also, I'm aware that "themself" is not a word and I do not care. It should be a word. In the same way that "irregardless" just sounds better than "regardless" even though I know it's not actually a word. While we're at it, it also bothers me that "habitable" and "inhabitable" mean the exact same thing.



Monday, 10 December 2012

THE HALLOWED ONES

The Hallowed Ones by Laura Bickle

If your home was the last safe place on earth, would you let a stranger in?
Katie is on the verge of her Rumspringa, the time in Amish life when teenagers are free to experience non-Amish culture before officially joining the church. But before Rumspringa arrives, Katie's safe world starts to crumble. It begins with a fiery helicopter crash in the cornfields, followed by rumours of massive unrest and the disappearance of huge numbers of people all over the world. Something is out there...and it is making a killing.

Okay, so something amazing happened this week. I read this book. I read this book and loved it. Seriously, it's been so long since I read a book this good, I can't even remember when it was. I've got a moderate interest in the Amish people and a very mild obsession with vampires, so this book was perfect for me. Which was troubling, because I'm going out of my way not to expect too much of books. But this...well, put it this way, it was so good I won't be lending my copy to anyone. They'll have to buy their own, and they should. You all should.

I was concerned that I wouldn't be able to connect with the main character, given that her world and beliefs are so completely different to my own, but I found Katie to be incredibly easy to relate to. Like Katie, I've never really done anything I shouldn't. I've always done the right thing, I've never made a huge mistake. And sometimes I worry that I'll regret that, that I miss out on so much because I think everything through and make the "right" decision. I felt like I completely understood Katie and where she was coming from  - despite our life experiences being worlds apart - and grew to really care about what happened to her.

Of course, no book is perfect. There were a few little things that niggled at me, like the fact that some words are italicised. I understand it was to emphasise the German words used, but it irritated me. Who doesn't know what ja means? And it was written in the first-person, and I couldn't help thinking that Katie wouldn't separate those words and feel the need to mark them as different in her mind, so why were they isolated in the text? Another slight issue was Alex, the Outsider. I just felt his character needed more, he needed as much as depth as Elijah, although obviously those depths needed to be different. There just didn't seem to be as much going on with Alex. My biggest problem with this book, though, was the ending. It was rushed. Too rushed. Honestly, I think it needed another chapter at least to unfold properly, but other than those small things, I don't think there's anything I'd change about this book.



Sunday, 9 December 2012

CREWEL

Crewel by Gennifer Albin

Sixteen-year-old Adelice is a Spinster. She can weave time and matter. But no one knows just how talented she is. Guild Ambassador Cormac Patton has taken a shine to her. The Guild demands loyalty...even in love. So Adelice's handsome, mysterious valet Jost pses a dangerous threat to her place at the Coventry. Everyone at the Guild has their secrets. But Adelice is about to unravel the deadliest one of all, a sinister truth that could destroy reality as she knows it...

Is it just me or does that description (taken from the blurb) sound like an utter mess? Not necessarily in a bad way, in a sinister and intriguing sort of way. Except the book turned out to be pretty straightforward, pretty standard dystopian fare. I know a lot of people are praising the creativity and originality of the weaving concept, but that was actually the biggest problem for me with this book. I couldn't visualise it. Maybe I skipped over an important detail, but I couldn't decide whether the weave was like actually threads when it was on a loom, or more like sparkly magic stuff. And every time I got to a part where weaving was involved, my brain would stop me and remind me that I didn't fully understand what was happening. This made it really difficult for me to get drawn into the story and as a result, I didn't really enjoy it.

Other than the weaving stuff, the book reads like so many others. Take The Hunger Games, for example. They take Katniss, a girl from a deprived background and give her lots of nice things, feed her up and make her pretty, then make her do terrible things. That is this book in a nutshell. I mean, sure, here there is a ridiculous and implausible "love" web, something that's hinted at in The Hunger Games, but Crewel...well, it was just ridiculous to me.

It's also very much a first-in-a-trilogy book, by which I mean that there isn't a proper story structure. There's no real beginning, middle or end. Stuff happens, but it just all feels like setting up for later. In the last couple of chapters, there's a sudden rush to reveal a bunch of things, presumably to make me buy the second book, but I was beyond caring at that point. Those revelations should have been knitted into the story, drip fed to me to keep me intrigued, but it really did all happen at the very end.

I know I have a low tolerance for first books in trilogies, but this book was really disappointing for me. I thought it was going to be something a bit different, but really, I feel like I've already read it several times over with different names plugged in. Which is a shame. Here's hoping the rest of the books in my to-read list are a bit more exciting!



Friday, 30 November 2012

Flashfiction Friday #14: NaNoWriMo Week 5

Okay, as of today, NaNoWriMo 2012 is finished. And I completed my 50,000 words yesterday. I started off this month really thinking I wouldn't be able to manage it, so I'm pretty proud of myself for doing it. Of course, the first draft of the novel is nowhere near finished. I reckon I'm only about two-thirds of the way through, so the next month is going to be interesting! Anyway, I was thinking about giving you all the final paragraph of the 50,000 words, but it's kind of a spoiler, so I plucked out another part. Enjoy.
__________________________________________________________________

Michael thought about this for a moment, putting the end of the pen back in his mouth. Should she say something? Point out that it was her damn pen he was chewing on? If she did, he might try to give it back to her. Maybe she should just slip it in his bag or pocket or something as he was leaving. Then wash her hands really carefully.

He snapped his fingers in her face again.

“Okay, you have got to stop doing that.”

“And you have got to stop zoning out.”

“Then you should probably be less boring when you talk.”

“You think coming up with a plan that will keep Stan from tearing both our heads off is boring? Fine, you deal with that shit on your own, then.”

“What? Why would Stan tear our heads off?”

“Oh, interested now, are we?” Michael opened the laptop again and picked up his chair to turn it very deliberately. Tessa fought the urge to kick him very hard under the table. The only thing that convinced her not to do it was the fact that she wasn’t wearing shoes. Growing up with an older brother had taught her that kicking someone in the shin while barefoot usually hurt you a lot more than it hurt them.



Thursday, 29 November 2012

CLOCKWORK PRINCE

Clockwork Prince by Cassandra Clare

Love and lies can corrupt even the purest heart...

So, this is the sequel to Clockwork Angel which I reviewed last week or the week before. I don't tend to review sequels, since I can't really see the point in it. But this book was bothering me and I wanted to get my issues down somewhere.

Very little actually happens in this book. I mean, yes, there are betrayals and backstabbing and going off to drug dens in the middle of the night, but really, very little has actually changed by the end of the book. Two of the characters are engaged (a decision that has divided the readers of the series, though actually, I can't see the big issue there) and a major character's history has been revealed (although not the one that I personally was interested. Seriously, does anyone else think that Mortmain might actually be Tessa's father? It would explain so much. I know he plans to marry her, but Clare is no stranger to incestuous love stories).

That's about it, though. For a while, it looks as though Charlotte and Henry will be removed from the Institute, but that doesn't happen. For a while it looks like Sophie might finally get an interesting story, but that doesn't happen. I will say one thing, though - the love triangle that I complained didn't actually exist in the first book comes to life here. It didn't really move me, as I don't actually really like either Jem or Will (though, gun to my head, I'd have to choose Will), but at least it was there this time.

The writing's fine. In places, I thought it dragged a little bit, but I do quite like Clare's writing style. It's just that this book was so lacking in story, and it's not a short book. My copy runs to 496 pages, so that's a long time for not much to be going on. Honestly, I think maybe the whole series (obviously I haven't read the final instalment in the trilogy, but I'm making an assumption based on the first two) could have been condensed into a single volume. It sort of reminded me of the second trilogy in the Mortal Instruments series, in that maybe there just isn't enough story to sustain it.



Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Plotting or Pantsing

So, last night I realised that I hadn't written a blog post for today and was struggling for something to actually write about. Then help arrived in the form of a tweet from my friend Mark:

Mark's writing his first novel. For the record, I did not bully/pressure/or in any other way coerce him into writing it. Maybe I gave him a little nudge, but he was already standing on the edge of the cliff, waiting to jump. Now, the fact that he'd started writing it and then asked about planning was a bit of a red flag for me. But then I thought about how I actually like to plan my writing, and it occurred to me that I've done just that.

For my first NaNoWriMo (in 2010), I chose to write a novel I'd come up with a couple of days before, rather than something that had been brewing and formulating for months. All I really had was the idea - guy catches a deadly parasite and has to a) hide this fact from his girlfriend, and b) try really hard not to give her the deadly parasite. That was all I had, and I got something like seventy thousand words out of it. But it's unusual for me to work that way.

I don't plan out every detail. I have to have the key events, I have to know the shape of the story (though I'm not so fixed on having to know how it ends). I have to know a little bit about the characters and the rough shape of the plot. But that's it. I tend to come up with an idea that I like, and it grows and evolves over a couple of weeks. When I'm not thinking about it, I come up with new things - plot events, characters, bits of dialogue, ten-page conversations...they just come to me. I write them all down in text files and then, once that new-idea-fever has died off a little bit, I know I'm almost ready to write. That's when I go through what I've written down and plunked in a folder with a generic title (the one for my now-titled WIP is "Devil") and put them into an order. Each key event in the story gets its own subfolder and then the text files are sorted and arranged in the order I'll use them. And then I'm ready to start. Basically, for me, writing is joining up the bits I've already written.

Of course, this is just how I write, and not even all the time. I have sat down and planned meticulously (though I never finished that particular novel) because there was a confusing timeline that I had to keep straight. I have, as demonstrated above, starting writing without having really any clue about the story I was writing. Both have benefits. I know people who hate to plan because it stifles creativity, I know people who hate to go with the flow because they need the structure to be able to write. Neither one is right or wrong, it's all about finding what works for you. I'm lucky in that I've found my method pretty quickly (and painlessly) but just do what feels natural. And if it doesn't work, try something else next time.



Friday, 23 November 2012

Flashfiction Friday #13: NaNoWriMo Week 4

Tessa resisted the urge to throw her coffee in his face, mostly by telling herself it wasn’t even that warm anymore. “Tell me, Michael, why does Stan like you so much?” Tessa asked, tapping her pen against her bottom lip.

“I’m a likeable guy.”

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

“You obviously don’t pay enough attention.”

“Is this you being likeable?”

“Clearly not. Would it help if I bought you another drink?”

“You say that like you bought the first one.”

Michael heaved a sigh, catching the dust on the newspapers and sending it into Tessa’s lap. “Look, I don’t care whether you like me or not. I’m not here to make you like me. I’m here because you screwed up and lost this guy, and now I have to spend my time fixing your mistake. You think I want to be here? Because I don’t. I also don’t care whether you like me.”

“Understood.”

“Really? Can we work now?”

“No. Do you know what the clock means?”

“The clock?” Michael asked. “What clock?”

“The one in Stan’s office. You know, with all the hands?”

“Right. Stan’s clock,” he said. “No, I never asked. Never asked about the snake either.”

“Snake?”

“Yeah, for a few weeks he had…I’m not sure exactly but I think it was an anaconda circling the room whenever I was there. It was kind of weird.”

“No shit.”



Wednesday, 21 November 2012

SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK

I was so worried about seeing this film. I was really looking forward to it - bear with me, those two comments together don't make me a crazy person - and usually when I'm looking forward to a film, I end up disappointed by it. This one did not disappoint.

Pat (Bradley Cooper) is back home living with his parents after spending eight months in a psychiatric institution. He's got a plan to get his life back together and win back his wife, Nikki. Except he meets Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence) and his plan is a little derailed.

It's a lovely film. I hate lovely films, I know, and my friend called this one "heartwarming." And yet, I loved it. I really did. It's funny and moving and at no point did it become preachy. Both characters are suffering from mental illness - Cooper's character has bi-polar disorder and Lawrence's is depressed - but the film isn't about that, it's about the people and their lives and just trying to get through life with a positive attitude.

I was impressed by Bradley Cooper, who, honestly, I've always really considered to be just a pretty face. I don't think I've ever seen him in a film where he was required to actually do any real acting, but he was very good here. I cared about the character and where he would end up. I hate to say it, but I was rooting for him. I only ever root for villains. Jennifer Lawrence was good, too, though she did cause a little debate between my friend and I - I think she's just a bit jealous because Lawrence is the same age - as were the rest of the cast.

Overall, it's a wonderful film. Like I said before, it's both funny and moving and I really cared about the characters. I almost cried at one point. I didn't realise it was based on a book until a few days ago, and I suspect that the film is very different, but I can see why it's already generating awards buzz. Of course, it won't win because the films I love never win (The King's Speech beat Black Swan, and The Artist beat The Help) but you should definitely try to see this film. You won't regret it.



Tuesday, 20 November 2012

CLOCKWORK ANGEL

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare

Magic is dangerous - but love is more dangerous still
When sixteen-year-old Tessa Gray arrives in England during the reign of Queen Victoria, something terrifying is waiting for her in London's Downworld, where vampires, warlocks and other supernatural folk stalk the gaslit streets. Friendless and hunted, Tessa seeks refuge with the Shadowhunters, a band of warriors dedicated to ridding the world of demons. Drawn ever deeper into their world, she finds herself fascinated by - and torn between - two best friends and quickly realises that love may be the most dangerous magic of all.

Yeeeah, so I had mixed feelings about this book, which we'll get to in a moment. This is the first book in the "Infernal Devices" series, a spin-off/prequel series to the "Mortal Instruments." Now, I liked the original MI trilogy quite a lot, but felt that the fourth and fifth instalments were pretty awful, really. This book fell more to side of those later instalments. I found it really quite boring until very close to the end. Honestly, I was trawling through it and tempted to give up, and then in like the last four chapters it suddenly became interesting. I can't put my finger on what exactly changed, but something did and I got really into it. Then it ended.

Re-reading the book's blurb (in order to copy it out above) it struck me how it doesn't really describe the book at all. Especially the references to the love triangle and being torn between two friends. As far as I'm concerned, these things didn't actually happen. Clare was clearly setting up for a love triangle to exist in the rest of the trilogy, but it doesn't exist yet. Call me crazy, but that kind of bothers me. Especially since Tessa doesn't actually seem all that drawn to Jem, just Will.

Maybe I'm the reason I didn't enjoy this book. Maybe I read it at a time I wasn't really wanting to read it and I should have given it a few weeks. This was strongly indicated that it took me 84 pages to make the connection between the Pandemonium Club in this book and the nightclub named Pandemonium in the Mortal Instruments. Yeah, 84 pages. I like to think this is because I forgot it existed and was reminded by the trailer for the film, which I saw for the first time the morning of the day I twigged. 84 pages. That was hard for me to admit.



The Four Person Conversation

I like to write dialogue. Seriously, my writing is like 90% dialogue, 5% dialogue tags and 5% everything else. Which is fine by me. Others might disagree and say that there should be a lot less dialogue, but I think it's the best part of a novel. It's where the characters come alive.

In fact, the only part of writing dialogue I don't like is when I have three or more participants in a conversation. Three isn't so bad as long as you're using first person, then you can have I, he and she said. If you're not writing in first person, you hit a barrier. You have, in most cases, two people of the same gender. Now, some people will tell you this is why the characters all need to have distinct voices, so that the reader can tell who is talking without a dialogue tag. These people are right, of course, but it's a lot harder to do than they make it sound.

And then we hit the four-person conversation. In my work in progress, there's a scene where four of the characters are bowling. And talking. I thought it was going quite well, then I realised that one of the characters hadn't said anything for two full pages. I'd completely forgotten about him because he just didn't have anything to say. Because that's the real problem with multi-person-conversations - finding stuff for them all to say. It has to be interesting stuff, boring bits get cut out eventually and you're probably left with a character not saying anything if you've just made them talk for the sake of it. Not everyone has something worth saying in a conversation.

In the end, I claimed that poor Kimble had gone to find some different bowling balls to explain why he'd been silent for so long, but that kind of feels like cheating. Suggestions??



Saturday, 17 November 2012

BREAKING DAWN PART TWO

Okay, so I was planning to write a review of the final instalment in the Twilight series - Breaking Dawn Part Two. Mostly so I could brag about going to the midnight screening (this is a stupid thing to do, by the way. I've done it for like four films now, and it's horrible. The atmosphere's great but I was exhausted before it started and then couldn't get to sleep afterwards. Just don't do it.)

Then I actually saw the movie. Now, for weeks now I've been seeing stuff about how they changed the ending. And I don't want to spoil it for anyone. I'm so glad I didn't know what they'd changed. I approve of the change that was made - for the most part - and I think not knowing is a huge part of that. The reaction/atmosphere in the cinema was incredible. I've never experienced anything like that. It was really very strange.

So, I'll just say this - if you haven't seen or liked the other movies, don't bother seeing this one. It's an excellent send-off, but if you didn't like the others then why would you care? And if you are planning to see it, be sure not to read anything about it online beforehand.



Friday, 16 November 2012

Flashfiction Friday #12: NaNoWriMo Week Three

Here's another extract of my work-in-progress, One Previous Owner, which is also this year's NaNoWriMo project. It's going well, I fell behind - really behind - but I'm caught up now. I was even ahead for a couple of days! So, enjoy! (And beware - bad language ahead).

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There was a shriek of brakes. Tessa hit the ground. Where the hell was she? She looked around desperately and found herself in the middle of Main Street. Literally in the middle of it. She was sprawled on the tarmac, the side of a car inches away from her.

Shit. Tessa jumped up and dusted off her hands just as the driver of the car got out.

“What the fuck are you doing?”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t see you.”

“You’re in the middle of the fucking road!”

“There’s really no need to shout,” Tessa said, trying to calm him down and not attract any more attention. She had a feeling everyone in the vicinity – drivers, passengers and pedestrians – was watching her. “I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. It won’t happen again, I’ll be more careful in future, I swear.”

“I could have killed you!”

“Yeah, but you didn’t so-”

“Did you hit your head? Are you concussed? You can’t just waltz out into the middle of the road like that. You’ll die? Do you understand that? Do you realise that?” He was leaning towards her, face inches from her own, and she could see that he was more scared than he was angry. He really thought he might kill her.

“I’m so sorry.” It was all Stan’s fault. Sending her back to the centre of a busy road was just too far.

The driver sighed, running a hand through his floppy brown hair. It was sticking to his forehead. He was sweating. Tessa suddenly felt terrible. He was just some random, normal guy, probably driving home from work or to pick his kids up from school or something. Just an ordinary, suburban dad, heading home to see his family.

“I’m sorry,” she said again, feeling like she might cry.

“Stop apologising. Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“No, I’m okay. I really didn’t mean to scare you like that.”

“Just don’t fuck about by the road in future, all right?”

Tessa bit back a comment about him speaking to his kids like that and nodded, trying to look both sincere and ashamed of herself. Apparently it worked because he looked her up and down once more and then, satisfied, got back into his car. Tessa stumbled back to the sidewalk and found two familiar faces watching her in horror.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Flashfiction Friday #11: NaNoWriMo Week Two

Okay, so I forgot to post this last week, but in my defence I was busy graduating from university, complete with stupid cap and gown. So, I'll put one up now (Thursday night) and then another one tomorrow. In this scene, Tessa has just been summoned to Stan's office. Stan is the devil. And not in a metaphorical sense. He's the actual devil. Enjoy!

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“There were people around. We talked about that,” Tessa said, sinking gingerly into the leather armchair on her side of the desk. The word armchair sounded too comfortable. It was that sort of shape, but it was stuffed to the point that it was hard and uncomfortable, with strangely sharp edges.

“You work for me.”

“Do you want people to know you exist?”

Stan shot her a look. It was those eyes that sent a shiver running deep through her, down to her soul. Well…something deep inside anyway. They were huge and black, not dark brown, actually black, so that you couldn’t see where the pupil ended and the iris began. It was like looking into deep pits, you could just sense that they’d be able to swallow you up.

“I mean it,” Tessa persisted, trying not to show weakness. “You remember how much trouble it caused when you zapped me away from the dinner table on Christmas Day?”

Stan flinched. “Um, hello? You work for me. We don’t recognise Christmas as a holiday.”



Wednesday, 14 November 2012

THIS IS NOT A TEST

This Is Not a Test by Courtney Summers

It's the end of the world. Six students have taken cover in Cortege High, but shelter is little comfort when the dead outside won't stop pounding on the doors. For Sloane Price, the end has never been something to fear. Six months ago, her world collapsed, and since then, she's failed to find a reason to keep going. As the days crawl by, and the motivations for survival change, the group's fate is determined less and less by what's happening outside and more and more by the unpredictable and violent bids for life - and death - inside.

So, basically, I heard "zombie apocalypse - teenagers trapped inside a school, five want to live, one is suicidal." And I was sold. I wanted to read this book. It wasn't quite what I expected. I'm not sure what exactly it was that I expected, but this wasn't it.

Firstly, Summers has done something really unusual - she's focused on the boring bits of the apocalypse. And because of that, it's actually really interesting. There's less bashing zombies' brains out with bats, and more sitting around and wondering what to do. I know that doesn't sound especially interesting, but it really was. My problem was that I didn't like any of the characters. Seriously, not a single one. At all.

I wasn't on board with the ending either. I've been thinking it over for a couple of hours and I'm still not happy with it. For those of you who have read it, the problem started when Sloane found her phone and the text message on it. Everything that followed was just a mess. Honestly, I thought the sender of the message was setting up a trap for her, and I kind of wish that was what had happened. As it was...meh. I didn't really care. Maybe I would have cared more if I'd cared what happened to Sloane, but I didn't.

The writing was good, it kept me interested right up until the last section, and so I'll definitely give Summers' books another go. I think maybe this book just wasn't for me. I enjoyed it, but I didn't love it like I was expecting to. I feel a theory about zombie books formulating...



THE PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Charlie's not the biggest geek in high school, but he's by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent, yet socially awkward, Charlie is a wallflower, standing on the threshold of his life whilst watching everyone else live theirs. As Charlie tries to navigate his way through uncharted territory - the world of first dates and mix tapes, family dramas and new friends - he realises that he can't stay on the sidelines forever. There comes a time when you have to see what life looks like from the dance floor.

This is one of those rare - very rare - cases when I think the film is far better than the book. This was just so lacking in any depth or real detail that it was more like reading a newspaper report than a novel. It's written all in letters, Charlie is writing to a person we never discover the name of (presumably the reader) about his life. This severely narrows the scope of what is said, he doesn't describe anything, he just tells us what happened. And, honestly, I found it kind of dull. It made me appreciate the film version a whole lot more. I think it's very telling that the author - who also wrote and directed the film adaptation - is primarily a screenwriter rather than a novelist. The detail that you would see on screen is missing from the text, and I think the novel suffers for it.

My other major issue with it is the ending. I won't spoil it for anyone who hasn't read the book or seen the film, but the revelation at the end seems to come out of nowhere in the book. It feels rushed and clumsy, and I felt that the author had suddenly decided Charlie needed a reason for not being exactly like all the other kids. Personally, I don't think this was necessary at all, every kid is different, and the writing of it just wasn't up to scratch. In the film, it's built up to, dripped into the story as we go along, but it just appears in the book and it didn't work for me at all.

Overall, I probably wouldn't recommend this book or read it again. I might watch the film again, but the book was a real disappointment to me.



First or Third Person

So, my work in progress has hit a bit of a snag. Okay, so it hit this snag several months ago, when it was still just an abstract idea that was forming somewhere in a dusty corner of my mind, but I'm having to deal with it now.

I hate writing in first person. I don't even like reading it. You'll probably roll your eyes at me, but my problem is when a first person narrator describes something, be it themself, another character, a setting, anything. Well, not anything, just anything they'll have seen or experienced before the moment at which it is being described. See, to me, a first person narration is like an internal monologue, it's what the person is thinking as they do it. So, when a character looks in the mirror (which is a hideously clunky device and you shouldn't ever use it), why on earth would they tell the reader that they have long blonde hair and big blue eyes and porcelain skin? They might mention a spot that's appeared overnight, or that their roots are starting to show, but would they really comment on an aspect of their appearance that hasn't ever changed? I think not.

And that's an issue for me. I'm too busy suspending my disbelief as far as the narrator describing their every action to deal with them describing their own appearance and the world around them. It bothers me to read and I find it incredibly difficult to write. Of the seventeen novels I've finished, only two of them were written in the first person. So the natural choice for my work in progress was to just use third person, same as I always do, but then Tessa's voice started to bleed into my thoughts. I'd be jotting down a conversation I could imagine her having, and the tags would be in first person. Her thoughts would burst into the narrative.

I can't decide what to do. I could take the easy option and do what I always do, but I think maybe this story calls for first person narration and I'm just going to have to get over it.



Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Creating Characters

I've never really created a character before. I know that probably sounds silly, a glance to my bio on the right tells you I've written seventeen novels. They must be damned boring if they don't have any characters in them.

What I really mean is that usually, my characters just sort of appear in my head fully-formed. Or at least, almost fully-formed. They often come without names, their personalities are intact and so are their physical features, I just have to slap a name on them. Really, that's the only decision I make about the characters, (and it's a hideously difficult process). Occasionally, I'll tweak ages, but that's pretty much it. They just spring into being, like meeting a new person in real life. You don't chose how old they are or what they look like or how they behave, they're just there. And for me, that's what my characters are like.

Right now, however, I'm working on creating a character. I realised my main character (who was pretty much cooked but went through several names before I was happy) needed a friend. This friend did not occur naturally, I had to build her. I had to decide gender, height, build, hair colour, likes, dislikes, annoying habits, wardrobe, hobbies, family...everything. And I've really enjoyed doing it. I think I always felt a bit sorry for people whose characters didn't just come naturally, (I'm a horribly smug person, I know), and had to work on that bit too. But now, I kind of wish I'd had to do this sooner, because designing people is really fun.

Naming her was still a complete pain, though.



Monday, 5 November 2012

SKYFALL

Well, what is there left to say? I may well be the last person in the world to review this film, so I'll keep this short, sweet and (hopefully) specific. Needless to say, there will probably be spoilers. You have been warned.

I was not overly enamoured with this film. I'm not a huge Bond fan anyway - I've actually only seen the Daniel Craig ones and the God-awful Moonraker (don't ask) - but I was looking forward to this film immensely. The universe conspired to keep us apart, and I was actually feeling terrible when I finally sat down to see it. It's just a cold, but sometimes just a cold can make you feel rotten and I suspect I would have enjoyed the film more had I been feeling better myself. Anyway, my main issues with this film were, in no particular order:

1) It's too long. 2 hours 20 minutes isn't terribly long by recent film standards, but the opening felt dreadfully slow. I think the problem is the credits sequence, which I'm led to believe is a Bond staple. It's too long and it was put too far into the film. It would have been fine after just a couple of scenes, but it occurs too far in and just disrupts the flow of the film.

2) Javier Bardem is not in it enough. He was fantastic. In villain terms, think Heath Ledger's Joker. He was excellent. Unfortunately, and this ties into problem number one, we don't get our first glimpse of him until over an hour into the film. We all know he's the main villain, which makes everything that comes before his first appearance feel a bit redundant. It's not, it's all relatively important, but it feels redundant. Even after Bardem appears, he's not in it very much. It's a testament to how well written and acted the character is that he makes such an impact with such minimal screen time. I was reminded of Hannibal Lecter, who apparently was actually only featured on something like six pages of the book (I wish I could be more specific, but I've never actually read any of the books).

3) Okay, this really probably is a spoiler. The stuff in the house, when they're preparing for attack, (that's vague enough to not be a spoiler, right?)...did that part make anyone else think of Home Alone? Seriously, that just popped into my head and kind of ruined the finale of the film for me. They should have been better than stealing from Home Alone. I'm sure it's a coincidence, but it completely undermined the film for me.

4) Daniel Craig wears too many clothes. Hey, I'm shallow, what are you going to do about it?



Sunday, 4 November 2012

BEAUTY QUEENS

Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Teenage beauty queens get stranded on a desert island.

I was hooked. That was all I needed to hear. I had to read this book. If only I'd known it was going to be a dull, didactic, cliche-ridden book without a story that panicked halfway through and threw in some stupid, ill-thought-out and frankly just irritating plot developments. Even the jokes wore thin after a couple of times because they're the exact same jokes all the way through the book.

Yeah, I was disappointed. The obvious comparison for me (having never read Lord of the Flies) was Michael Grant's Gone, which I really didn't like. I think with both of these books, the idea was great but the execution wasn't up to scratch. Both featured multiple POVs, while remaining in the third person, which actually made it very dull. You're never with any character long enough to make a connection and it all sounds the same. 

I was expecting quite a light, fun read and I didn't get it at all. My main issue with it was how much it tried to force its message down my throat. I don't mind learning from books, but I hate it when a book tries to teach me something. This book tried really, really hard. And honestly, the message itself didn't sit quite right with me, mainly because I have mixed feelings about the whole "appearances aren't important" thing which is so key in this book. Let's just grow up and face it - appearances are important. They have a huge impact on our lives. They shouldn't matter, but they do. I think the world might be a better place if more children were taught that.

The other part of the message was feminism. I don't like to call myself a feminist because I believe in women being equal to men. I know that's the definition of feminism, but so often nowadays feminism is really just man-bashing. And that's not okay, by my book. Feminism is about equality, not women being better than men, and I think that's the one thing about this book that I actually liked. I never felt that it was telling me women were superior to men. What's more, in the stupid flash-forwards in the stupid epilogue, several of the characters were married and had children. Because the point of feminism is equality and the right to choose. If you want to be a wife and mother and stay home with your kids, why does that make you anti-feminist? Anyway, that's the only good thing I can say about this book. The rest of it was essentially drivel.



Saturday, 3 November 2012

Flashfiction Friday #10: NaNoWriMo Week One

Okay, so technically it's Saturday, but I won't tell if you won't. So, since NaNoWriMo started this week, I was thinking that instead of doing the usual Flashfiction Friday, during November I'd post a paragraph or so from my NaNo novel. Mainly because I'm lazy. I'm already a couple thousand words behind (I'm not very well at the moment) but I'll catch up, and doing this will hopefully guarantee that I keep writing! I've never had trouble with that before, but I am kind of worried that I'll fail this year. So, in the interest of keeping going, today I'm sharing the first 400-and-something words of my work in progress One Previous Owner. Enjoy.

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Someone was cracking gum. Tessa gripped her pen tightly, picturing herself stabbing it into the culprit’s throat. She knew that sounded violent, but Dr Connolly kept saying that was okay. Healthy, even. Violent thoughts are fine as long as you don’t act on them.
            Whoever it was cracked their gum again. Obviously Dr Connolly forgot how annoying teenagers can be. Tessa bet if she could get just one of them, nobody at this school would ever crack their gum again. She’d probably get away with it, too.
            Especially since gum was banned from the school premises. After that incident with Laura Whitman’s hair (and Lacey Collins’ eye, though nobody ever remembered that part of the story) the teachers were hot on the gum thing for like a week.
            Tessa looked up at Mrs Peters, wondering if she was planning on doing anything about the incredibly noisy rule-breaker (seriously, Tessa thought, just chew quietly. It was like people wanted to get caught), but she was squinting at her laptop screen as always. She claimed to be marking students’ work, but since she hadn’t handed back an assignment on time in over four years, there was a pool going about what she was really looking at on the screen. Tessa’s money was on eBay. Mrs Peters was definitely the type to buy bits of old rope or knitted mice on the internet.
            Tessa sighed, earning herself a dirty look from Cathy Green (this action alone was enough to convince her that Cathy was the gum-chewer), and then went back to the questions she was supposed to be answering.
            What is your proudest moment?
            What is your favourite thing to do on a Sunday afternoon?
            If you could change one moment in history, what would it be?
            The last one was a new one. Mrs Peters had been Tessa’s English teacher for the last four years, and she’d asked them all the other questions five times now. It was her first day of class, break-you-in-gently exercise, but that last one was new.
            Tessa dashed off some stupid comment about wearing blue nail polish instead of green to see Stan, since the teacher wasn’t going to read it anyway, and looked at the last couple of questions.
            What is your greatest hope?
            What is your biggest regret?
            And there she was, right back at Stan again. Tessa wondered what Mrs Peters would say if she put the truth? She wasn’t going to read the answers, but if she did, Tessa didn’t imagine selling my soul to the devil would go down too well. If she was lucky, she’d get detention for not doing the exercise properly. If she was unlucky, which by this point she knew she was, well...Tessa figured she’d spend the rest of her days strapped to a bed in a padded cell.
            Well, things could be worse.



Wednesday, 31 October 2012

NaNoWriMo 2012

Happy Halloween!

Okay, that was hard for me. I don't do Halloween. It's just really not my thing. Anyway, whatever your feelings about the 'holiday,' it does mean one good thing - NaNoWriMo starts tomorrow. For those of you who don't know, NaNoWriMo is short for National Novel Writing Month and is a challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in just thirty days. That works out at about 1,667 words a day.

This is my third year doing NaNo, and I've been looking forward to it for weeks. I'm doing something a little different this year, though. The last two years, I've started writing my novels on the spur of the moment. I didn't really know what story I was going to write until a day or two before. Or afterwards. This year, I've planned it out. Actually, I'm supposed to be planning right now, but life kind of got in the way. Also, I really hate to plan.

So this could be the first year I lose. Good luck to anyone else who's taking part this year, and I really would encourage people to have a go. It doesn't matter if the 50,000 words you write are complete crap that you're ashamed to show to anyone. Getting the words down is the first step, then you work on improving them. So switch off your internal editor for thirty days and join the writing frenzy. You can find out everything you'll ever need to know about the challenge here: http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/dashboard



Tuesday, 30 October 2012

FUN SIZE

First of all, let me explain my reasoning behind going to see this film:
1) It's by the people who created Gossip Girl. So, the people who did Gossip Girl in the days when Gossip Girl was good.
2) The trailer made me laugh.
3) I was warned that seeing Skyfall would be a family event and that I wasn't allowed to go and see it without the rest of my family in tow. Which meant I had to find something else to see. Given that Taken 2 had a very similar caveat and I've seen a load of films the last few weeks, the pickings were slim.

Okay, now that that's out of the way, the film itself. Which was awful.

I mean, seriously, this might be one of the worst films I've ever actually seen. And I have seen Slap Her, She's French. Don't ask, there's no justification as far as that one is concerned.

If you're going to make a movie without a story, it either has to have characters you care about or it has to be funny. If wanting to shake them and ask them why they were so stupid counts as caring about the characters, the film had the first one, but I don't think that does count. And it was so painfully un-funny that we honestly thought about giving up and leaving. If there hadn't only been a couple of other people in there (or none at all), we probably would have done it.

So please, I beg you, learn from my stupid mistake and don't go and see this film. Unless you're really drunk, it might make a good drunk-movie. And, okay, if I have to say one good thing about this film, the kid is adorable. He doesn't talk, so he stays cute. But that is it. Literally it. What's interesting is that my brother says Johnny Knoxville, arguably this film's biggest star (and if that doesn't tell you everything you need to know, I don't know what would) is listed on IMDb as uncredited. Johnny Knoxville didn't want his name on this movie. Even the guy from Jackass considered this complete crap. Enough said? I have to go and punish myself some more for my stupidity.



BREATHE

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

The trees are gone. The surviving citizens live inside a glass Pod. Mostly. There are those who live outside, believing that the Earth can one day be a safe home again. And there are those who live inside and are determined to do whatever they can to fix things.

Does that description sound a bit vague and possibly a bit lame? Good. Okay, maybe that's unfair. The book isn't bad and I'm starting to think I've hit a saturation point as far as YA Dystopians are concerned. There are a lot of them about and I've read a lot - there are at least two more sitting in my To-Read pile. I like YA Dystopian, but they're all starting to sound a bit same-y.

This one, Breathe, had what I consider to be quite an original premise. Something vague and bad happened - this is not the original part - and all the trees died. There is literally not enough oxygen left for humans to survive on, only a lucky few were able to buy/win entrance to the Pod, and are now charged for every bit of oxygen that they consume. This to me sounded great, but the actual book didn't meet my expectations.

The story is very much typical of the genre - the people who run the Pod are evil, the people in the Pod have no idea how evil their government is, a couple of teenagers find out the truth and decide to fight, a war looms but never actually happens, the book ends without anything really having happened because it's the first in the series.

And as for the three main characters... The book's told from each of their perspectives, in first-person, a chapter at a time. And, unfortunately, all three voices sounded pretty much the same to me. I frequently had to figure out which person was narrating, which at least distracted me from how bored I was of the story.

It's not a terrible book. I'm probably being a bit unfair to it just because as YA Dystopians go, this is nothing special. Not bad, but not particularly good either. Maybe I'll give it another try once I've read something completely different for a while - okay, we all know that's not actually going to happen. I'll just have to cross my fingers that Crewel and What's Left of Me are a bit more impressive.



Friday, 26 October 2012

Flashfiction Friday #09: Atomic Vomit

"Look at this mess! I can't believe you sometimes. You treat this house like a hotel and now this? You're cleaning this up. Don't look at me like that, you're going to do it. Nobody else is going to do it for you. It's time you learned to take responsibility for yourself and your actions. If you want to go out with your friends and stay out all night drinking, fine. But don't you come back home and throw up all over my bathroom. Look at it! It's all over the walls as well!"

"Well, you can't blame me for that."

"I can't wait to hear why not."

"If you use a paint called 'Atomic Vomit,' you're just asking for trouble, aren't you?"



Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Naming Game Part Two

Last week, I spent some time talking  complaining about how difficult I find it to name things - characters, places, chapters, whole books. This week, I've been thinking about series of books and how often the individual titles follow some kind of pattern or whatever. Some examples, you say? Of course:

- The Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare - City of Bones, City of Ashes, City of Glass, City of Fallen Angels, City of Lost Souls.

- The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris - Dead Until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, Dead to the World, Dead as a Doornail.

- The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling - Harry Potter and the...

- Bumped and Thumped by Megan McCafferty

- Matched, Crossed and Reached by Ally Condie

- Uglies, Pretties, Specials and Extras by Scott Westerfeld

And these are just some of the ones I can see from my desk. In fact, in my whole room, I can only see two series where the titles aren't connected to one another: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (followed by Catching Fire and Mockingjay) and Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking trilogy, comprised of The Knife of Letting Go, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men. I'm counting the Anita Blake series as related because they started off that way, I figure Laurell K. Hamilton just ran out.

And that's exactly the problem. If you're planning a trilogy or a sequel, naming that first book becomes that much harder if you're having to consider future titles as well. The book I'm about to start writing is tentatively titled One Previous Owner, and actually Two Previous Owners would be fine for the sequel. The problem is with book number three, where the pattern won't work. I'd say it doesn't matter, that the three can all have completely different titles and it won't make a speck of difference, but the data suggests otherwise. Is there a reason publishers prefer related titles? I suppose it makes branding easier.

But what about readers? Do you prefer series where the titles all work together? Have you ever even thought about it before?



Tuesday, 23 October 2012

BZRK

BZRK by Michael Grant

This book should have been called BZZZZZZZZZRK. Because it was so boring. See what I did there?

Sorry, couldn't resist. I'll try to be professional/grown-up about it from this point on.

This wasn't the book I thought it was going to be. I first picked it up in a bookshop and read: A global war is raging. You can't see it. It's happening inside you and it changes everything. There was also, I believe, a reference to something being in the meat. I was thinking parasites in the meat that we eat, something really creepy and sinister and possibly related to BSE. That's mad cow disease, right?

It turns out I was defeated by my own principals. A little while ago, I joked that I would stop reading blurbs that weren't on the back cover of the book where they're damn well supposed to be. I believe I came across the hardback edition of this book, which had the lines above on the back cover, and the full description inside. Presumably, suitably hooked by the lines on the back, I didn't read the actual blurb. I will not be making this mistake again.

This book is pure sci-fi, but it's missing something. And it's the something that makes books interesting. I didn't care about any of the characters, I didn't connect to them or the story. Interestingly, most of the characters have designated code names so that they don't become too attached to each other (or something like that) and I think that had the same effect on me. I just didn't care. The only characters who had proper names (they had a nickname as well, but it's different) were the villain/s. And they/he was so exaggerated and ridiculous that it just wasn't threatening at all. And the technology...I really don't know what to say, none of it worked for me.

I struggled with the terminology. I've finished the entire thing and still couldn't tell you the difference between nanos, biots and macros. Or maybe it was just macro, never plural. Who knows? Honestly, I don't know whether this was because they were actually confusing or poorly explained or I didn't care enough to properly figure out what was happening. 

Some time last year, I read Gone, the first instalment of Michael Grant's popular series. I didn't like that either, I had very similar problems with it. I found it very boring, an interesting concept but the world was populated by so many dull characters that I just couldn't get into it. I think this goes to show that maybe I just can't get along with Grant's style and I ought to save myself some time and stop trying. If you liked Gone, you might well like this. I didn't, but there you go.



Monday, 22 October 2012

Shameless Self-Promotion

Happy Monday!

No meme today because the 30 Days one is finished, and I haven't found a new one to do yet. I like the idea of a Monday Meme.

So instead, I thought I'd share a little bit of news that I forgot to mention a few weeks ago. One of my short stories has been published in an e-book anthology, called Visions: Contemplations of Life in 2050 and Beyond. It contains 25 short stories looking ahead to the near future, and how the world and our lives might have changed. I haven't had a chance to read all of the other 24 stories, but the ones I have read have all been really interesting, so I think it is well worth the £1.91 that Amazon are selling it for.

(click on the picture to go to the book's Amazon.co.uk page)

At the moment, it's only available as an e-book - we're hoping to eventually do a print run, but that's all a bit up in the air at the moment. For those of you who, like me, don't have a Kindle or anything like that, you can download free software from Amazon so that you can read it on your PC or Mac or a range of other devices. You can find the details of that here.



Saturday, 20 October 2012

HATE LIST

Hate List by Jennifer Brown

Here's the blurb of the book:
Five months ago, Valerie Leftman's boyfriend, Nick, opened fire on their school cafeteria. Val was as shocked as everyone else - but, despite her own serious injury, she's implicated in the crime because of the list. The list she and Nick made of people they hated. The list Nick used to pick his targets. 

Now, after a summer of seclusion, Val is forced to confront her guilt as she returns to school to complete her senior year. Haunted by the memory of the boyfriend she still loves and navigating rocky relationships with her family, her former friend, and the girl whose life she saved, Val must come to grips with the tragedy that took place, and her role in it, in order to make amends and move on with her life.

What drew me to this book, other than the intriguing title, was the fact that it focuses on the aftermath of the shooting, not the shooting itself or the time leading up to it. Sure, I expected to see the shooting and be told a fair bit about why Nick did it, or the reasons people think he did it (since he killed himself, too, and couldn't explain to anyone), but I figured the vast majority of the book would focus on Valerie's return to school. That was the part I was interested in. Unfortunately, it's the smallest segment of the book. I don't have the numbers to back this up, but I think the shooting and the immediate aftermath, as opposed to the "five months later" part, are at least half the novel. It's not what I expected.

When reading this book, it occurred to me that it falls somewhere between We Need to Talk About Kevin and the movie Mean Girls (although that comparison may be down to the Hate List itself, which struck me as being like the Burn Book). It's an odd place for it to sit, not sure if it wants to be light teen-lit or something with more depth. Honestly, it felt a little shallow to me. Maybe that's just because I was expecting a different novel to the one I got, I wanted to see the range of emotions and reactions to Valerie coming back to school, but people either ignored her or were a bit cold. Given that half the reason Nick opened fire on the students is that they ignored him, (the other half is that they picked on him a bit), this didn't seem the "navigating [of] rocky relationships" that was advertised.

I also think the pacing was off. Some parts were rushed through, others dragged out for too long, some thrown in haphazardly for no apparent reason. I couldn't put my finger on exactly what the problem was, but the balance wasn't right. Maybe I'm just being hard on it because it wasn't the book I expected it to be, wasn't the book I wanted to read. It's not a terrible book, but I doubt I'll be recommending it to anyone.