Category Archives: Personal musings

June 2020 Roundup – Reading, Writing and Blogging… #BrainfluffJune2020Roundup

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Lockdown has continued throughout June, though we have been able to see more of our family, which has been wonderful. We were particularly thrilled to be able to meet up on my birthday and have a picnic. Most of the time, though, we have been continuing with the new normal. Himself going off to work, while I have stayed at home reading and writing… While we have had some wonderful warm weather, the cooler windy episodes means spending time with visitors outside hasn’t been practical.

Reading

I read seventeen books in June, which is still more than usual – though I am increasingly unsure what usual means anymore. I had a single DNF and once again, I’m struck by the overall quality of the books I’ve read. My Outstanding Books of the Month were TUYO by Rachel Neumeier and The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal. Neither were audiobooks, as most of the month I’ve been in the thickets of The Priory of the Orange Tree, which I am listening to at 1.5x slower as the narrator’s voice is quiet. I might have completed it by Christmas…

My reads during June were:

AUDIOBOOK The Naturalist – Book 1 of The Naturalist series by Andrew Mayne

Hostile Takeover – Book 1 of the Vale Investigation series by Cristelle Comby – see my review

The House on Widows Hill – Book 9 of the Ishmael Jones mysteries by Simon R. Green – see my review

Set My Heart To Five by Simon Stephenson – see my review

The Empire of Gold – Book 3 of the Daevabad trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty – see my review

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia – see my review

Flower Power Trip – Book 3 of the Braxton Campus mysteries by James J. Cudney

The Case of the Deadly Butter Chicken – Book 3 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall

NOVELLA To Be Taught, If Fortunate by Becky Chambers

The Ruthless – Book 2 of The Deathless series by Peter Newman

Entangled Secrets – Book 3 of the Northern Circle Coven series by Pat Esden

Perilous Hunt – Book 7 of the Fallen Empire series by Lindsay Buroker

TUYO – Book 1 of the Tuyo series by Rachel Neumeier – see my review – Outstanding book of the month

The Calculating Stars – Book 1 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal

The Sin Eater by Megan Campisi

The Fated Sky – Book 2 of the Lady Astronaut series by Mary Robinette Kowal – Outstanding book of the month

Ghost Ups Her Game – Book 9 of the Bailey Ruth mysteries by Carolyn Hart



Writing and Editing

I worked on editing a friend’s book for the first quarter of the month, then turned to a space opera adventure I’d written several years ago to see if it was any good. I worked on rewriting and tidying it up and hopefully will have it ready to publish before the end of the year.

I then published my short story Picky Eaters about a grumpy elderly dragon, who suddenly finds himself in the middle of family life when he gets unexpectedly evicted from his lair and has to move in with his daughter. I have been really pleased with the reception, as I’d hoped it would provide an enjoyable escapist read. All proceeds will go to mental health charities.

Because I was editing and rewriting, my wordcount is far smaller this month, but that’s how it goes. Overall, I wrote just under 31,000 words in June, with just over 21,000 on the blog, and just under 10,000 on my writing projects.


Blogging

I am finding being able to chat about books a great comfort on my blog, but as Himself is now on holiday from the last week in June, I haven’t been around to comment and visit as much as I’d like – sorry about that. Hopefully once we get back to normal, I will be around more. I hope you are all keeping well, both physically and mentally. It’s an ongoing strain and I’ve been rather frayed at times, even though I’m also aware we have been very lucky… so far. Take care and stay safe.x






The Book Character Quarantine Tag #Brainfluffbookblog #TheBookCharacterQuarantineTag

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I saw this tag on Maddalena’s blog Space and Sorcery last week – and absolutely loved it, so decided to take up her generous general invitation to join in the fun…

Winne the Pooh by A.A. Milne
So… I know exactly what would happen to Pooh Bear if he found himself in a lockdown situation, as it happens several times in his adventures. He would retire to a suitably comfy spot with as many jars of honey as he could manage and emerge some time later, rather plumper and very sticky. I tried to replicate this behaviour with salt and vinegar crisps for the first few weeks of lockdown – and while I, too, became noticeably plumper, I also ended up with a rather sore tongue…

Pooh Bear would definitely be tubbier by the end of lockdown…


Captain Vimes from the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett
Assuming COVID-19 was brave enough to try and gain a foothold in Ankh-Morpok – I’m sure there are viruses and bacteria there far older and more terrible that could swallow it whole – our brave Captain Vimes of the City Watch might well harness Lady Sibyl’s little dragons and use them to sterilise the streets with FLAMES. After all, you wouldn’t want to use water from the River Ankh to wash anything – apart from anything else, it’s something of a hassle to cut through the crust of filth and pollution to actually get to the liquid below.

Sam Vimes wouldn’t let a little COVID-19 mess with his City…


Kvothe from The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss
I think finding himself in lockdown might well be the making of Kvothe. After all, he’s got a memoir to complete. He’s made a great start – The Name of the Wind and The Wise Man’s Fear are highly readable and gripping accounts of his adventures. He just needs to stop wandering through the forest, counting leaves on the trees, or chopping down a small plantation for firewood, or visiting every alehouse in the kingdom – and knuckle down to finish the tale. Maybe being quarantined will be the nudge he’s looking for. Quick – ink and parchment for Master Kvothe!


Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
Hm. Well no one will go hungry if they are sharing lockdown with Katniss – and you won’t need to queue at Tesco’s or sit up half the night waiting for a spot to open up for online shopping, either. Not while she’s here with her trusty bow and arrow. Just be prepared for a few less squirrels visiting your bird table…

Mark Watney of The Martian by Andy Weir
Highly trained and extraordinarily resourceful, I’m thinking that you won’t have a dull moment if you’re sharing lockdown with Mark. For starters, there’ll be a steady stream of jokes – some funnier than others. And he’ll be growing produce in no time flat, as well as organising everyone on a strict rota so that your household – no make that the street – will all be self sufficient within the first month. Which is probably the time it will take him to invent a vaccine for COVID-19, though be prepared for that to include quantities of poo and potatoes…

Be prepared to be VERY organised…

Sunday Post – 9th February, 2020 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Another busy week… It didn’t start all that well as I woke up on Monday morning with a headache, and took the decision to cancel my lesson with Tim. I probably could have struggled through it – but didn’t seem fair to either of us. Fortunately, resting up and looking after it meant that come lunchtime it had faded, so I was able to go to Pilates, at long last. But oh my – wasn’t I creaking on Tuesday! Fortunately Fitstep on Wednesday sorted that out… My poor sister woke up on Wednesday to no heating, so on Thursday afternoon I nipped up the road and waited for the engineers to come and sort it out – and she took me out for a meal at The Arun View in the evening. We had a lovely time – she’s been under the weather with a heavy cold that won’t leave, so we haven’t had a chance to get together recently, so it was lovely to be able to have a good old natter.

On Friday, Himself and I travelled up to Brighton to see Frankie perform in the school production of Bugsy Malone – he was Doodles and so got splurged early on, but we both thoroughly enjoyed the show. And on Saturday, we were back up in Brighton – this time to look after the three grandchildren, while Gareth took Rebecca to see Upstart Crow in London. It was quite a big deal – obviously the older two are very used to us – but this was the first time we’d looked after little Eliza alone, giving her supper, bathing and putting her to bed. It went like clockwork and the children were all a delight, although poor Frankie was very much under the weather with a feverish cold. It was the dogs who disgraced themselves by messing in the house!

We got home after 1 am, so I didn’t rise very early this morning – but decided to have a walk along the seafront as Storm Ciara was blowing a hoolie, and the rain hadn’t yet started lashing down. Which are the pics… Thinking of everyone at risk of flooding around the country and hoping those affected are safe.

Last week I read:
You Let Me In by Camilla Bruce
Everyone knew bestselling novelist Cassandra Tipp had twice got away with murder. Even her family were convinced of her guilt. So when she disappears, leaving only a long letter behind, they can but suspect that her conscience finally killed her. But the letter is not what anyone expected. It tells two chilling, darkly disturbing stories. One is a story of bloody nights and magical gifts, of children lost to the woods, of husbands made from twigs and leaves and feathers and bones . . . The other is the story of a little girl who was cruelly treated and grew up crooked in the shadows . . . But which story is true? And where is Cassie now?
I was drawn to this one by the paranormal element – and didn’t expect it to be such a heartbreaking, disturbing read. That said – despite the darker aspect, this is a beautifully written book and one that has stayed with me. Review to follow.

The Case of the Reincarnated Client – Book 5 of the Vish Puri series by Tarquin Hall
When a young woman comes forward claiming to be the reincarnation of Riya Kaur, a wife and mother who vanished during the bloody 1984 anti-Sikh riots, Puri is dismissive. He’s busy enough dealing with an irate matrimonial client whose daughter is complaining about her groom’s thunderous snoring. Puri’s indomitable Mummy-ji however is adamant the client is genuine. How else could she so accurately describe under hypnosis Riya Kaur’s life and final hours? Driven by a sense of duty – the original case was his late father’s – Puri manages to acquire the police file only to find that someone powerful has orchestrated a cover-up…
I thoroughly enjoyed this quirky book set in India, following the adventures of P.I. Vish Puri, a middle-aged private detective. To the extent that Himself went and bought the previous four books in the series for me as an early Valentine’s present. I love that man!

AUDIOBOOK Uprooted by Naomi Novik
Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose.
I’d read this one back when it first came out and absolutely loved it – though was a bit horrified at just how much of the story I’d forgotten, as I listened to it all over again… It was a real treat – and made me grateful for having the chance to get lost in books, even as I’m cleaning the bathroom.

 

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of The Last Smile in Sunder City – Book 1 of the Fletch Phillips Archives by Luke Arnold

Friday Faceoff featuring The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Journaled to Death by Heather Redmond

Sunday Post 2nd February 2020

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last couple of weeks, in no particular order:

William Gibson talks at Bristol’s Festival of Ideas https://rosieoliver.wordpress.com/2020/02/04/william-gibson-talks-at-bristols-festival-of-ideas/ Rosie did a very good job in summing up this fascinating get-together.

Frozen Wavelets presents: Waiting for Beauty by Marie Brennan https://earthianhivemind.net/2020/01/17/frozen-wavelets-presents-waiting-for-beauty-by-marie-brennan/ Steph gives us this gem of a story by one of my favourite authors – proving she can also handle the demands of short fiction as well as novels…

The Silvery Sands of Rosehearty Beach https://ailishsinclair.com/2020/02/rosehearty-beach/ What lovely pics of a beautiful place with an intriguing name…

Writing a Novel When You’re Too Busy to Write a Novel https://writerunboxed.com/2020/02/03/writing-a-novel-when-youre-too-busy-to-write-a-novel-video/ This quirky animated video is fun, whether you’re struggling to write said book, or not. Then you can just thank your luck stars you haven’t boxed yourself into this kind of impossible corner…

Screen Time vs Serene Tim https://wandaluthman.wordpress.com/2020/02/03/screen-time-vs-serene-time/ This practical tips might prove helpful when faced with setting boundaries around this vexed issue with our children…

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week.

Sunday Post – 21st July, 2019 #Brainfluffbookblog #SundayPost

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

I feel like a cracked record – but this has been yet another really busy week. Last Monday I completed my Creative Writing course. It was a lovely way to end ten wonderful years of teaching with two beautiful bouquets of flowers and a voucher for dinner at my favourite vegan restaurant in Brighton. Being creative types, someone also sang a song they’d written for me and someone else recited a very funny poem about my teaching experiences with them… It’s been an emotional time, saying good-bye.

However, I didn’t have too much time to brood as Tuesday saw us sorting out three kitchen cupboards, me catching up with book reviews and and paperwork, then packing in readiness for my trip up to Lincolnshire to visit my friend Mhairi. On early Wednesday morning. Himself accompanied me as far as St Pancras station in London, and then I completed the rest of the journey on my own. Although I’d taken my Kindle, I spent most of my time looking out of the window at the lovely rural scenery. Mhairi was there to meet me after an uneventful journey that took some five and a half hours. We had a lovely time together catching up with Mhairi and her lovely mum and I was made to feel very welcome, especially by their gorgeous Alsatian, Jake, who very quickly was treating me like one of the family. In the middle of all the laughter and chatter – and one of the most delicious Indian dinners I’ve ever eaten at the local restaurant in Spilsby – we managed to complete our tax returns together. We’ve been doing this now for several years and it is so much better tackling such a horrible, stressful job alongside someone else. So I now feel very virtuous that I have that grotty chore out of the way for another year.

All too soon Friday morning came around and it was time to set off for home again – next time I visit Mhairi I will stay longer. Himself was waiting for me on the platform at King’s Cross and it was lovely to see him again, even though he’d scarcely had time to miss me… Yesterday we did an inventory of the freezer before going shopping, so this month we are going to be mostly eating frozen food (suitably defrosted, of course) to help eke out the pennies as tomorrow the builders arrive to start tackling the dangerous concrete canopy over the back door. Wish us luck!

Last week I read:

Witch-Hunt – Book 1 of Lodestone by Wendy Scott
Sabrina is thrust out of her sheltered life at Mistress Florisah’s healing school after the destruction of the witch-ancestor portraits and the appearance of Lauren the Destroyer’s ghost. An anti-witchcraft regime is poised on Karthalon’s borders threatening full scale genocide, unless Sabrina, the last of Lauren’s bloodline, can destroy the Lodestone and restore magic to Valloaria. Hundreds of years before Lauren had wrought the cataclysmic demise of the Council of Witches by unleashing the Lodestone and now Sabrina is the only one who can undo Lauren’s legacy.
This is a story about an act of desperate vengeance and the ongoing consequences that Sabrina is now trying to undo.

 

The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury
When Aladdin discovers Zahra’s jinni lamp, Zahra is thrust back into a world she hasn’t seen in hundreds of years—a world where magic is forbidden and Zahra’s very existence is illegal. She must disguise herself to stay alive, using ancient shape-shifting magic, until her new master has selected his three wishes.
I recalled the buzz around this retelling of the Aladdin story from the viewpoint of the jinn when it first came out, but somehow hadn’t got around to reading it. I’m glad I did so now, as I’d hit something of a slump. This was so much more than a romance – and I will be reviewing this one in due course.

 

Changeling – Book 1 of the Sorcery and Society series by Molly Harper
If 14-year-old Cassandra Reed makes it through her first day at Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies without anyone discovering her secret, maybe, just maybe, she’ll let herself believe that she really does belong at Miss Castwell’s. Except Cassandra Reed’s real name is Sarah Smith and up until now, she lived her whole life in the Warren, serving a magical family, the Winters, as all non-magical “Snipes” are bound by magical Guardian law to do. That is, until one day, Sarah accidentally levitates Mrs. Winter’s favorite vase in the parlor…
I enjoy magical school stories and this one is an engrossing read with a young, upbeat character who mostly prevails without becoming too smart or clever. Review to follow.

 

The House at Sea’s End – Book 3 of the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths
Ruth Galloway has just returned from maternity leave and is struggling to juggle work and motherhood. When a team from the University of North Norfolk, investigating coastal erosion, finds six bodies at the foot of the cliff, she is immediately put on the case.
This is a series I started a long time ago and am now catching up on. I mostly enjoyed this one, though there are times when Ruth’s hit and miss mothering annoys me. But it is a refreshing change to find a protagonist trying to juggle a working life with the role of a mother and having to make all those hard decisions that confront so many women caught in the same situation.

 

My posts last week:

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar & Max Gladstone

Friday Faceoff featuring Dichronauts by Greg Egan

Review of INDIE Ebook Ascending – Book 1 of the Vardeshi Saga by Meg Pechenick

Review of AUDIOBOOK Mythos – written and narrated by Stephen Fry

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Forbidden Wish by Jessica Khoury

Review of ARC Jack Jetstark’s Intergalactic Freak Show by Jennifer Lee Rossman

Sunday Post – 14th July 2019

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last few weeks, in no particular order:

Morningstar’s Thoughts on Reading https://literacyletters.wordpress.com/2019/07/18/morningstars-thoughts-on-reading/ What a fabulous definition of why we all read…

Down the Rabbit Hole… to a Book Cover! https://ailishsinclair.com/2019/07/book-cover/ These pics are so much fun – especially if you are a fan of Alice in Wonderland.

About that ‘Writing Vacation’ https://writerunboxed.com/2019/07/19/about-that-writing-vacation/ I read this feeling really nicely smug that I hadn’t fallen into these traps on my writing retreats – and managing to get a great deal written.

Is Our Company Enough for Pets? https://chechewinnie.com/is-our-company-enough-for-our-pets/ Cheche raises an uncomfortable question here for those of us who are or who have been pet owners…

5 oddly specific storylines I like in books https://thisislitblog.com/2019/07/16/5-oddly-specific-storylines-i-love-in-books/ Shruti shares with us her top five favourite storylines – which had me wondering about mine. What about you?

Thank you for visiting, reading, liking and/or commenting on my blog – I hope you have a wonderful week…

Interview with JEAN LEE – Author of Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN #Brainfluffauthorinterview #JeanLeeauthorinterview

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I’d like to welcome Jean Lee, author of the recently released Fallen Princeborn: STOLEN which blew me away – see my review here. I’ve been reading Jean’s amazing blog for a while now and it’s always a pleasure so I was delighted to have a chance to chat to her about her writing.

How does Wisconsin inspire you as a writer?

Wisconsin breeds the fantastic.

We are home to peculiar, toothsome beasts like the Hodag, devourer of all-white bulldogs.

We are home to unique, word-some writers like Neil Gaiman: “There’s that tiny off-kilter nature in the Midwest that’s in the details,” he says when asked about writing…

Neil Gaiman says ‘American Gods’ is

rooted in Minnesota-Wisconsin weirdness

The writer found a strange quality in the Midwest that fuels his “American Gods.”

We are home to hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Picturesque, perhaps? Plainfield was indeed picturesque once—until Ed Gein was arrested in November of 1957. You may know the rest. Basically, Gein inspired many of the fictional horror icons we know today: Norman Bates, Leatherface, and Buffalo Bill are all rooted in the reality of Ed Gein.
We drove through the wild patches between the hidden towns often when I was a child. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In the small farming town of my youth, I could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Wisconsin is filled with hidden towns, small growths of community where railroads and highways meet, places that no one finds unless they mean to find it. Rock Springs was a town of 600 when I was a child, a little grain-fill stop for the railroad. We didn’t even have a gas station until I turned 5, and our library, a small portion of the town’s community center, could fit in a utility closet (it probably was a utility closet at one point). Farms and wild wood filled the gaps between towns. Unless, of course, you went towards Wisconsin Dells, where the wilderness is trimmed and prepped and ready for its mandatory close-up before the tourist rushes to the proper civilization of water parks and casinos.

We drove through those wild patches often. I never tried to occupy myself with books or toys in the car. There was too much to see, out there in those scattered homesteads, too much to wonder about. What happened inside that dying barn? Why is that gravel drive roped off, and where does it lead? Where are all the people for those rusted cars littering the field?

This is the Wisconsin I live in now. The land dips and rises in unexpected places. The trees may crowd a rural highway so much you can lose yourself driving, only to have the tunnel burst open to sunshine and a white-crested river running beneath a bridge you’d swear had never seen a car before. In Rock Springs, one could stand on the lone highway through town and hear snowflakes land beneath the orange street lights.

Both Charlotte and Liam, the Fallen Prince, are strong, nuanced characters – when you first started writing this book whose story did you most want to tell?

At the outset, the story was all about Charlotte. It was strictly in her point of view, the story opened with more of Charlotte and her sister’s life before boarding the bus, and so on. I wanted Charlotte to escape her wretched life and fly. But once I got her into River Vine, I began to see an ensemble take shape, a family of characters bearing their own shames and despairs, all struggling to free themselves and find hope in the future.

Liam wasn’t much to me at the outset–just a pompous artist who had some growing up to do. It was Arlen, the teacher, that got me to slow down and see what he saw: a kind heart that had been brutalized so often it had forgotten what it meant to feel. The more I drafted, the more I came to see Liam’s inner struggle to grow beyond his cage.

When did you start writing Fallen Princeborn: Stolen?

2010. Yup, that’s a while ago, but life tends to fill the years, and in my case, I had just become a mom. Postpartum depression hit hard. Very, very hard. I felt very cut-off from life. I couldn’t feel the joy of motherhood. I found myself often staring out a window, trapped in walls yet somehow exiled outside of feeling. I’d look upon my sleeping baby and feel nothing but guilt because I couldn’t feel complete with motherhood. Then a friend introduced me to the awesome challenge that is National Novel Writing Month. From November 1st-30th, you are to write 50,000 words of a story not yet started (that’s cheating. Outlines are permissible, though.). The story may need more than 50K words, but what matters is that you reach that length in thirty days.

I swung it that year, and felt AMAZING. I was escaping the trap, driven to feel with characters outside of this world. I couldn’t just sit and dwell on individual lines or plot points—I had to keep going, and because I had to march on in the narrative, I found myself marching on in real life, too. I wasn’t staring out the window waiting for minutes to pass. I was…I was back, you know?

I felt a part of life again, enjoying the touch of my daughter’s tiny hands around my finger and her boundless grey-blue eyes. I reveled in these things. I felt…complete.

How did you figure out the names of your characters?

Charlotte’s name came from a baby book in the long, long, LONG process of choosing a name for our firstborn. After weeks of highlighting and crossing out names, we had narrowed ourselves down to Charlotte and ____. Well, we went with ____ for our kid, so I kept the name Charlotte for my heroine. I’d grown attached to the name over those weeks. It carries both feminine and masculine traits, both delicacy and strength. A perfect fit.

Nature was ripe for names, since this small society has been cut off from the rest of the world for centuries. From this I uprooted names like Poppy, Ember, and even Campion (it’s a kind of rose). Many of the other names I chose after studying The Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook. I loved having this broad overview of names across various cultures. It’s through this book I discovered names that fit some aspect of my characters’ nature, such as Dorjan—“Dark Man” and Liam—“strong-willed warrior.” It’s important to have names that matter. Be it the history, the meaning, or because my child almost carried it—the name needs to matter.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Writing’s a must. When I write, I channel the depression away from my family and into a universe where my characters can fight it.

It’s never completely gone, you know, depression. We can slay it, burn it, bury it—but it never dies. Only by spinning stories can I transplant some of that darkness into villains, heroes, and worlds. From the darkness grows the adventure and the hope.

What has it been like – juggling writing, teaching and three kids?

Three years ago, you may as well have asked what it’s like to juggle three bowling pins with spikes on fire. Back when I was trying to write in bedlam, I stole whatever time I could before dawn. The television usually bought me at least an hour in the day to outline, draft dialogue, or keep up with my blog. The children’s naptime never felt long enough, but I made due.

Once the boys began preschool, I could at least promise myself one hour of writing time a day. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? But that’s the thing about writing and keeping a job and running a household: every minute to write’s a blessing. Sometimes those days crash and burn. Other times—like when the boys didn’t have school—we found other ways to be creative.

Now that Blondie, Biff, and Bash are in school all day, I always have time for writing, be it for the blog, editing, drafting, etc. Granted, summer’s still a trial, but because I didn’t give up on writing when time was scarce, I have many stories to share here in the daylight hours.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Research can feel like a big time-suck, but when it comes to publishing, DO YOUR RESEARCH! There are so many scammers out there with their “author services” and “exclusive anthologies.” They’re going to talk you up, make you feel amazing, and before you know it you’ve paid four digits for lousy editing on a slap-dash affair no one’s going to see. Scope out the small presses. Join author groups online to gather recommendations for editors, book designers, and cover artists. Your story deserves to be seen, but when it’s ready.

Yes, an author platform really does help. Don’t think of it as yet another time suck; rather, treat it as the regimented prose exercise. Reading countless other voices, writing tight posts on a regular basis—all helps the craft, not hinders it. No, it’s not the novel you dream hitting the best-seller list, but making a website, commenting on social media—these simple actions give your name an author’s history. Other writers/publishers/agents/readers can trace your name back to studies, comments, and whatever else you write. You build that platform, you build a writer’s resume for the publishing business to see.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

When my sons’ principal calls. Nothing f***s over the creative mindset when you have to come and talk about one son, or the other, or both. Again.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I do write under a pseudonym, actually. When you’re a preacher’s kid, all your actions and talents are scrutinized—“you play piano just like your mom!” “You sing just like your dad!” “You write just like your father.” “You should be just like your mom and become a teacher.”

There comes a time when you get sick of all the comparisons, and just want to be known for something YOU do, not what your parents do. So when I started my site Jean Lee’s World, I wanted to see who’d like my writing for my writing, NOT because of who I am or whomever I’m related to. Writing under another name’s also allowed me to work through past traumas and current depressions without bringing any family members under fire, which is important to me. These are my demons, not theirs.

How did you begin writing the short stories that accompany your novel?
The short stories began as a writing experiment last year. My husband had been listening to John Carpenter’s Lost Themes, and a story began to shape in my head of a child dying at the hands of a cuddly creature before a dark skulking thing gets involved. When I showed the short story to my publishers, they encouraged me to write more short stories as little introductions to the universe of Charlotte and these imprisoned shapeshifters. Thus Tales of the River Vine was born, with stories following both antagonists and protagonists across the years.

The challenge with such “prequels,” as they are, was to find emotional centers without chipping away at the emotional arc of Fallen Princeborn: Stolen. Take the last story of the collection, “Tattered Rhapsody.” Originally I intended the story to be called “Dirty Charlie,” featuring Charlotte the Wise-Ass taking on some gang members at her high school for profit. Girl’s got to earn bus money somehow, right?

But the story felt wrong. I couldn’t pin it at first. Charlotte’s there, she’s showing her strength, her protective instincts for her kid sister. And yet, the story felt…heartless.
Then it hit me: Charlotte’s heart doesn’t speak with her fists. It speaks with her music.
And just like that, the story’s heart found a pulse, a rhythm both despairing yet defiant. Just like Charlotte.

I hope you enjoy reading “Tattered Rhapsody” and the other Tales of the River Vine and telling me what you think. They’re all FREE on Kindle, Nook, and other publishing platforms!

 

 

 

AUTHOR ANNALS #2 – WRITING RETREAT #Brainfluffauthorannals

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I was fortunate enough to be invited to go on a writing retreat with some of my writing group members. I’ve been part of this group now for nearly ten years and we try to meet up twice a month over tea and cake every other Wednesday evening to share each other’s work and provide constructive, but honest criticism.

This retreat was at a converted barn with 8 double bedrooms, all with ensuite bathrooms. Six of us were there for most of the week, while three others joined us for part of the week. The barn was tucked away down winding single-track roads etched into the red West Country earth at a farm on Exmoor near the hamlet of Roadwater. The weather was fabulous, so we’d aim to write from 9.30 am, stop for lunch at 1 pm and go for a walk at between 4-4.30 pm, though I only broke off a couple of days for the walk. And then we generally stopped writing at about 6 pm and took turns to prepare the wonderful meals organised and provisioned by Sarah Palmer, who not only organised the whole thing, but happens to be a fabulous cook. After clearing up, we sat around the table and read our work aloud to each other and gained valuable feedback. We then played quizzes or chatted until going to bed, before repeating the whole process again the next day. Bliss…

My bedroom view was across the lawns to the main farmhouse, with a large lavender bush right outside the door opening onto the gardens, which was open most afternoons because otherwise it was too hot. It was so lovely – this was where I chose to write

The internet connection was practically non-existent in the barn, apart from the occasional text and if we wanted to make a phone call we had to climb the hill at the back of the property. I found this a huge advantage, though others weren’t so impressed, but it meant that there was no question of messing around on the internet in displacement activities – it was all about the writing.

It’s been such a treat to have spent that amount of time as a writer – the part that often gets tucked away until the end of a busy day, or squeezed between other chores – that I’m very aware just how very lucky I’ve been to have such a wonderful opportunity. But did I make the most of it? Nope. I made some fundamental mistakes that meant I didn’t make as much progress as I should have.

The biggest problem was my lack of preparation. During the last year, I’ve published a space opera adventure The Sunblinded trilogy, which meant I spent hours in the head of my main protagonist, Lizzy and immersed in the world. I don’t know what made me think that I’d be able to seamlessly switch into Kyrillia’s viewpoint in Mantivore Preys and absorb all the details, backstories and most importantly of all – the speech rhythms and dialect differences of Arcadia without at least rereading the first book, Mantivore Dreams. But I didn’t and I paid the price. While Felina, the protagonist who made a takeover bid for the book during my last retreat, had poured from my fingertips, Kyrillia didn’t. The going was slow and I kept having to break off to check up on various details.

That said, having read several scenes to the group, who gave me suitable feedback, I’ve returned from Somerset with a stronger start to the book. And while I was there, I also had an epiphany regarding Miranda’s Tempest which is currently on the backburner, until the Arcadian trilogy is finished.

But the biggest advantage was to get a break from my everyday life in a setting that made me feel happy and peaceful, with the mental space to realise that my current work rate simply isn’t sustainable. I need more sleep and fewer hours in front of the computer – I suspect my raised blood pressure is part of that problem, too. So now I’m back home, I hoping to put in place some major changes… watch this space!

Sunday Post – 15th April, 2018

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

In the event, we didn’t make Highdown Gardens last weekend as the wind and rain was unceasing – until the grandchildren went home on Tuesday morning, when a rather watery sun appeared. In something approaching desperation, on Monday I took them to see Peter Rabbit at the local cinema. They were underwhelmed and I’m sure that odd scuffling sound I could hear was poor Beatrix Potter spinning in her grave…

I’ve continued to make progress with Miranda’s Tempest – to the extent that Himself is trudging through the manuscript, looking for the inevitable mistakes and plotholes. Oh, the things that we writers put our long-suffering spouses through… It was back to Pilates and Fitstep on Wednesday morning, so I have been working through the subsequent stiffness as throughout the holiday period I’ve been wearing out my glutes on the typing chair. On Wednesday evening, I was invited to a meal with some writing pals, where we ate an excellent vegetarian casserole – I’ve already nicked the recipe and will be trying it out very soon – and read aloud our current WIPs. It was a wonderful evening – I’m very lucky to have such lovely friends and thank you, Sandra, for being a fabulous host.

On Thursday, Mhairi came over. Her arm is still in a sling, but I’m mightily impressed at just how much she can now do singled-handed. We went out for lunch and discussed books and advertising campaigns – after which she decided that I needed space vessels on my spiffy new covers. Running Out of Space is now up with the latest improvement and I’m thrilled with it. Dying for Space should be appearing, complete with exploding space yacht, in the coming week. Friday was destined to be a day where I cleared a lot of routine admin in preparation for my catch-up class on Tuesday – but Sky evidently had plans of their own as the internet went down without any warning and it wasn’t until some two hours later that I realised it wasn’t anything to do with me or my equipment. Thank you Sky for the non-notification! I now need to crack on over the weekend to ensure I stay on schedule with my workload and get everything done before the end of my Easter break.

This week I have read:

The Ashes of London – Book 1 of the Marwood and Lovett series by Andrew Taylor

London, September 1666. The Great Fire rages through the city, consuming everything in its path. Even the impregnable cathedral of St. Paul’s is engulfed in flames and reduced to ruins. Among the crowds watching its destruction is James Marwood, son of a disgraced printer, and reluctant government informer.

In the aftermath of the fire, a semi-mummified body is discovered in the ashes of St. Paul’s, in a tomb that should have been empty. The man’s body has been mutilated and his thumbs have been tied behind his back.

Under orders from the government, Marwood is tasked with hunting down the killer across the devastated city. But at a time of dangerous internal dissent and the threat of foreign invasion, Marwood finds his investigation leads him into treacherous waters…
This well-written, historical murder mystery set during the time of the Great Fire of London held me throughout as Taylor’s vivid depiction of this difficult political period gives a wonderful backdrop to the crime. I’ll definitely be looking out for the next book in this series.

The Blood – Book 3 in the Jem Flockhart series by E.S. Thomson

Summoned to the riverside by the desperate, scribbled note of an old friend, Jem Flockhart and Will Quartermain find themselves on board the seamen’s floating hospital, an old hulk known only as The Blood, where prejudice, ambition and murder seethe beneath a veneer of medical respectability.
Yep. Two historical murder mysteries set in London in a row… It doesn’t happen to me all that often, given that my go-to genres are science fiction and fantasy. But this was an amazing read – I’m still reeling from the vivid portrayal of the hospital ship peopled with some strongly eccentric characters that wouldn’t look out of place in a Dickensian novel. I now need to go back and find the previous books in this engrossing series – though this book could easily be read as a standalone.

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 8th April 2018

Cover Reveal for Dying for Space – shiny, new and more appealing!

Teaser Tuesday featuring The Blood – Book 3 of the Jem Flockhart series by E.S. Thomson

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring Obscura by Joe Hart

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of School for Psychics – Book 1 of the School for Psychics series by K.C. Archer

Friday Face-off – The more I see, the less I know for sure… featuring Cryoburn – Book 14 in the Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

#Music & ComicArt Help Fill The #Imagination Room for #Writers https://jeanleesworld.com/2018/04/12/music-comicart-help-fill-the-imagination-room-for-writers/ Once again, this clever and amusing author has some insights on the process of writing that I’ve found really helpful…

Bullet Through Apple (detail) https://photolicioux.wordpress.com/2018/04/13/bullet-through-apple-detail/ What a fascinating pic…

Exasperating Men https://readlorigreer.com/2018/04/12/exasperating-men/ This thoughtful article pinpoints the reluctance of many men to take themselves off to the doctor for necessary medical attention – with sometimes fatal results…

10 of the Best Poems About Music https://interestingliterature.com/2018/04/11/10-of-the-best-poems-about-music/ Another cracking list of enjoyable poems from this excellent site.

A Flying Visit – Seeing the Details https://scvincent.com/2018/04/06/a-flying-visit-seeing-the-details/ Sue Vincent features some delightful details on a visit to Stratford-upon-Avon. This is a gem…

Have a great week and thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site.

Sunday Post – 22nd October 2017

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This is part of the weekly meme over at the Caffeinated Reviewer, where book bloggers can share the books and blogs they have written.

Life has been slowly getting back to normal after being laid low by flu. I resumed teaching my Creative Writing classes this week – it was lovely to see my students again. Though I didn’t make my Pilates and Fitstep classes on Wednesday because I was too wiped out – I’m still running out of energy far too quickly. On Friday, I was also teaching Tim and it was great to catch up on how the filming has been going of his comedy Robin Hood script. In the afternoon, we picked up the grandchildren, who will be staying until Tuesday evening as it is half term. Yesterday morning (Saturday) we took them shopping to spend their pocket money and in the afternoon, while J and Oscar stayed at home to play Bloodbowl together, I took Frances and Tim to the climbing walls at the Out of Bounds centre in Rustington. Both of them thoroughly enjoyed themselves while Storm Brian raged outside with gale-force winds and torrential downpours. There was a magnificent double rainbow stretching across the River Arun as we drove back into Littlehampton.

This afternoon we’re going to have a family readathon – I wasn’t able to take part in the Dewey 24-hour occasion on Saturday, so thought it would be lovely to run a mini-version for all of us to have a go… Wish us luck!

This week I have read:

The Mongrel Mage – Book 19 of The Saga of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr
In the world of Recluce, powerful mages can wield two kinds of magic the white of Chaos or the black of Order. Beltur, however, has talents no one dreamed of, talents not seen in hundreds of years that blend both magics. On the run from a power hungry white mage, Beltur is taken in by Order mages who set him on the path to discover and hone his own unique gifts and in the process find a home.
I was thrilled to discover this on the Netgalley boards and immediately requested it – I love his writing and this one didn’t disappoint. I’ll be reviewing it in due course.

And that’s it… only one book. I’m currently a third of the way through a 700+ page beastie that is a dense demanding read – and I don’t want to rush it as it’s also a joy. Thank goodness it’s on the Kindle because if I was trying to hold up the physical version, I’d probably sprain something…

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 15th October 2017

Review of Empire of the Dust – Book 1 of the Psi-Tech novels by Jacey Bedford

Teaser Tuesday featuring Gnomon by Nick Harkaway

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Mongrel Mage – Book 19 of The Sage of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr

Reblog of Running Out of Space blog tour including Top Ten Character Names from Running Out of Space and how the author came up with them

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Austrel by Paul McAuley

Reblog of Running Out of Space blog tour including my article ‘It’s All About the Words…’

Friday Face-off – Me and My Shadow featuring A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Review of Healer’s Touch by Deb E. Howell

Interesting/outstanding blogs and articles that have caught my attention during the last week, in no particular order:

Yellow https://richardankers.com/2017/10/21/yellow/ On Monday – apparently due to Ophelia causing a major disturbance – the UK was bathed in a sickly yellow light that caused the street lights to come on during the afternoon. This is Richard’s take on it…

Little Robin of Marlfield Lake https://inesemjphotography.com/2017/10/20/little-robin-of-marlfield-lake/ These lovely photos feature a cheeky little chap clearly not at his best – which makes him even more endearing…

…the most wonderful moment of my writing career… and it’s not what you may think… https://seumasgallacher.com/2017/10/20/the-most-wonderful-moment-of-my-writing-career-and-its-not-what-you-may-think/ Seumas always writes great blog articles and this is another classic.

Reading Goal Pressure http://chucklesbookcave.blogspot.co.uk/2017/10/chuckles-chat-39-reading-goal-pressure.html?spref=tw This is well-written post is about an ongoing problem for many book bloggers.

Conflict of Interest https://jeanleesworld.com/2017/10/19/conflict-of-interest/ Family life is so rarely the honeyed version we see portrayed all too often in adverts – and Jean’s honest and thought-provoking article depicts a situation every working mother has had to confront at one time or another…

Thank you very much for taking the time and trouble to visit, like and comment on my site and may you have a great week.

Shoot For the Moon Challenge 2016 – June Roundup

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Here we are – halfway through the year, already. Though it feels as if we are permanently stuck in April, given the shocking weather. So how am I doing with the targets I set myself back on New Year’s Eve?

• I’m now working on the line edit of Breathing Space. Events like my birthday, the end of the college moonyear at Northbrook and changing over my computer have slowed everything up over the last week and a bit, but overall, I think I’m more or less on track. I now have the covers for all three books – Running Out of Space, Dying for Space and Breathing Space organised, thanks to the wonderful Janet Sked.

During the All Night Write event, I started work on the opening passage of Bloodless, which will be the first book in the Jezel Campo murder mystery series. While it wasn’t my best effort – there was too much going on to really get into my writing zone – it did feel great to actually get back to writing, rather than editing.
Challenge – To have The Sunblinded trilogy published during 2016. Still on target…

• I read 10 books in June and will be reviewing all of them. I have slipped slightly behind on my reviews of NetGalley arcs, as I miscalculated just how long it would take me to read Justin Cronin’s The Passage. It’s a remarkable book, but a really hefty read and I had a whole lot of other things going on. I have read 76 books so far this year and enjoyed most of them.
Challenge – To review a minimum of 100 books during 2016 and widen my reading to include more authors new to me.

I should be able to achieve this target, though it won’t necessarily be with such a wide margin as the numbers might suggest so far. The numbers of books this month I managed to read has fallen and I’m expecting that trend to continue through the summer while I get through the mountain of work I’ve got waiting for me. However, I am really enjoying blogging and interacting with fellow book bloggers.

• I have now completed this year’s Creative Writing classes at Northbrook College, other than a one-day Summer Surgery course on Friday 22nd July. It has been a successful year, with most students continuing to improve and several celebrating successes in competitions.
Challenge – To have at least two of the four courses I hope to run next year planned and written by the end of the summer holiday.

eve-of-war-finalThere are still a couple of my 2016 Shoot for Moon challenges that need serious attention, but I am reasonably pleased with where I am halfway through the year – I just need to sustain my momentum. I was delighted that my short story ‘Miranda’s Tempest’ was published in the anthology Eve of War. I wrote just over 13,000 words on my blog in June and just under 5,500 words on teaching admin, as well as nearly 1,000 words on Bloodless – though a fair chunk of those won’t ever see the light of day!

How about you – how did you get on during June? Are you where you want to be halfway through 2016?

My 1,000th Post – Shoot For the Moon Challenge 2016 – May Roundup

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I was all set to write a special one-off post about this being my one thousandth blog –moon but I really couldn’t think of anything to say, other than thank you very, very much for taking the time to read and comment on my reviews and articles.

So how have I done during May – have I managed to keep within touching distance of my very ambitious targets for this year?

• I’m now on the last lap of the third major edit of Breathing Space. It’s taken quite a long time, but I’ve been quite pleased with it, so far. It’ll be interesting to see if the closing scenes work, as I’ve had several goes at them to ensure the ending is sufficiently satisfying – though it will be leading into a crime series with my protagonist, Jezel Campo, solving the murder mysteries, so I’ve left a dangling plotline that I can pick up again in Bloodless. I’ve also been working on the blurbs for all three books and I’m finally happy with them.
Challenge – To have The Sunblinded trilogy published during 2016. Still on target…

• I read 13 books this month and reviewed 11 of them. Five were new releases, but I’ve gone a bit mad this month with all the NetGalley arcs I’ve stacked up for review, so will need to keep on top of it all. There’s a good chance it will all come crashing down about my ears… Though I got carried away because I’ve been having so much fun reading books I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up off the shelves. Only one, so far, has been an utter disaster – which is very good going, given that I’ve read 66 books so far this year.
Challenge – To review a minimum of 100 books during 2016 and widen my reading to include more authors new to me. So far, I’m comfortably on target for this particular challenge, as during May I read another 6 authors I haven’t encountered before.

IMG_0153Overall, it’s been a good month. My classes are going well at Northbrook, though I can’t believe we are now nearing the end of this academic year. Tim is now thriving with the one to one teaching he is getting and we now have a solid plan as to what we’ll be working on next year. I thoroughly enjoyed going to Lesley’s book launch at The Kew Bookshop last week, and will be reviewing The House With No Rooms next week. I wrote just under 14,000 words for my blog and just over 6,000 words on teaching admin during May, bringing my overall writing total this year to just under 114,500 words. Sadly, none of those were new manuscripts – but once I decided to publish my novels, inevitably editing has to become a far greater chunk of the workload than the initial writing.

Here’s hoping everyone has a successful June and that the weather starts to act as if summer has arrived!