Category Archives: writing tips and problems

Sunday Post – 25th February, 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.

I’ve been back in the thick of it as term time has resumed at Northbrook. We had a department meeting this week, which was the most exciting in years with a new head who is very focused on expanding the role of Adult Learning in the college and in the community. I am now thinking about next year’s courses.

On Wednesday evening we had a great meeting with our Writers’ Group and are discussing the possibility of going on a week-long writers’ retreat in Devon at the start of October. During Thursday, my staunch writing buddy Mhairi came over and we discussed our projects, when she stopped me taking Miranda’s Tempest off on a new shiny direction that was luring me away from my former narrative arc. That’s what writing friends are for, people!

On Friday, Himself and I collected Frances from school so we were able to catch an early train to London on Saturday, as Grimbold Publishing were part of a featured event laid on by Forbidden Planet. I’ve never been to this store before – and found I’d arrived in heaven. In addition to being able to catch up with wonderful folks like Kate Coe and Jo Hall – there were all these books… shelves and shelves and shelves allll devoted to science fiction and fantasy! Frances was equally thrilled at the range of manga comics, so after a lovely afternoon chatting about books, browsing among books and buying books, we came home again… Though the trip home on the train was a tad quiet as we’d all buried our noses into our favourite reading matter.

Writing-wise, it hasn’t been a great week, but let’s hope I can do better in due course. Though it has been a very good reading week, given that I had some time after my meeting on Tuesday and a train journey to and from London to fill…

This week I have read:

The Hyperspace Trap by Christopher G. Nuttall
A year after the Commonwealth won the war with the Theocracy, the interstellar cruise liner Supreme is on its maiden voyage, carrying a host of aristocrats thrilled to be sharing in a wondrous adventure among the stars. The passengers include the owner and his daughters, Angela and Nancy. Growing up with all the luxuries in the world, neither sister has ever known true struggle, but that all changes when Supreme comes under attack…
This is a really enjoyable adventure set on a passenger liner – think Titanic in space. I loved the slow build so we get to know the characters and care about them, before it all hits the fan. There are plenty of twists, though I did see a couple of them coming. All in all, an excellent read for fans of quality space opera.

 

Into the Fire – Book 2 of Vatta’s Peace by Elizabeth Moon
When Admiral Kylara Vatta and a ship full of strangers were marooned on an inhospitable arctic island, they uncovered secrets that someone on Ky’s planet was ready to kill to keep hidden. Now, the existence of the mysterious arctic base has been revealed, but the organisation behind it still lurks in the shadows, doing all it can to silence her.
I loved Cold Welcome, the first book in this series, so I was delighted when I realised this offering was now available. It picks up immediately after the first book, when everyone has returned home and should be relaxing with their loved ones after such a terrible ordeal – only that isn’t happening. Once more Moon is cranking up the tension in this, well told futuristic thriller.

 

The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – Book 1 of the Black and Dods series by Diane Janes
1929.
The night before she’s due to make a speech to the Robert Barnaby Society on the subject of the famous writer’s ‘magic chair’, committee member Linda Dexter disappears. When her body is discovered two days later, fellow members Frances Black and Tom Dod determine to find out the truth about her death.
This cosy murder is consciously set in the 1920’s tradition with a slow buildup and plenty of prospective suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed the historical details of Fran Black’s life, which takes a hard look at the lot of a woman living on her own at a time when they had only just got the vote. This one held me right to the end and I am definitely going to be looking out for more books, in this entertaining series.

 

The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon: Using Speech Recognition Software to Dictate Your Book and Supercharge Your Writing Workflow by Scott Baker
As writers, we all know what an incredible tool dictation software can be. It enables us to write faster and avoid the dangers of RSI and a sedentary lifestyle. But many of us give up on dictating when we find we can’t get the accuracy we need to be truly productive.

This book changes all of that. With almost two decades of using Dragon software under his belt and a wealth of insider knowledge from within the dictation industry, Scott Baker will reveal how to supercharge your writing and achieve sky-high recognition accuracy from the moment you start using the software.
This book is certainly well written and very clear. While there are a number of excellent tips which should help me improve my mastery of Dragon, I’m not sure that I will ever get to a stage where my accuracy will rival my typing – after all I was a fully-trained touch-typist who earned a crust as secretary in a former life. But as my hands and wrists are getting increasingly unhappy at cranking out 400,000+ words a year (NOT all novels or stories, I hasten to add) I need to do something before it turns into a full-blown repetitive strain injury.

 

Into the Thinnest of Air – Book 5 of the Ishmael Jones Mystery series by Simon R. Green
Ishmael Jones and his partner Penny are attending the re-opening of Tyrone’s Castle, an ancient Cornish inn originally built by smugglers. Over dinner that night, the guests entertain one another with ghost stories inspired by local legends and superstitions. But it would appear that the curse of Tyrone’s Castle has struck for real when one of their number disappears into thin air. And then another . . .
This is another entertaining adventure in this paranormal murder mystery series. There is certainly plenty of tension as guests disappear one by one in the creepy castle that is cut off from the outside world. I was hooked into wanting to know what happens next and will be writing a review in due course.

 

Escaping Firgo by Jason Whittle
When a bank worker takes a wrong turn in life and on the road, he finds himself trapped in a remote village hiding from the police. Before he can find his freedom, he has to find himself, and it’s not just about escaping, it’s about settling up. Because everybody settles up in the end.
This is a delightfully quirky read – and at only 52 pages, moves along at a decent clip. I thoroughly enjoyed following our protagonist’s adventures, as he endeavours to escape from Firgo and will be reviewing this one.

 

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 18th February 2018

Review of Defender – Book 2 of the Hive Mind series by Janet Edwards

Teaser Tuesday featuring Into the Fire – Book 2 of the Vatta’s Peace series by Elizabeth Moon

Can’t-Wait Wednesday featuring The Magic Chair Murder: a 1920s English Mystery – A Black and Dod Mystery:1 by Diane James

*NEW RELEASE SPECIAL* Review of Fire and Bone – Book 1of the Otherborn series by Rachel A. Marks

Friday Face-off – Halfway up the stairs isn’t up and isn’t down… featuring Murder Must Advertise – Book 10 of the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers

Review of Killbox – Book 4 of the Sirantha Jax series by Anne Aguirre

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

It Comes Down to Reading https://jenniefitzkee.com/2018/02/22/it-comes-down-to-reading/ Just in case anyone has gone away thinking that learning an appreciation for books and reading is now an outdated irrelevancy superseded by newer technology…

Let’s Discuss – Predictability in Fiction and Film https://www.spajonas.com/2018/02/23/lets-discuss-predictability-fiction-film/ Accomplished indie author S.J. Pajonas raises this topic and has some interesting things to say regarding this topic. Do you like knowing what is coming up?

Blackwing: LITFIC edition https://edmcdonaldwriting.com/2018/02/19/blackwing-litfic-edition/ Genre author Ed McDonald pokes gentle fun at some of the snobbery that still pervades certain corners of the writing world…

Bar jokes for English Majors https://bluebirdofbitterness.com/2018/02/20/bar-jokes-for-english-majors/ I loved these – though there were one or two that had me blinking and wondering what the joke was…

Do Not https://zenandtheartoftightropewalking.wordpress.com/2018/02/19/do-not/ I love this poem by talented writer Viv Tuffnell – it contains a strong message for anyone who is feeling pressured and manipulated.

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

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Sunday Post – 5th February 2017

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Sunday Post

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

I’ve had a more normal week, having fortunately recovered from the never-ending Headache Hell – thank you everyone for your good wishes and sympathy. Last Monday I had an unexpected treat in the form of Frances accompanying me for the day as her school had an Inset Day and Rebecca’s arrangements for her care were blown apart at the last minute. Unfortunately, it’s my busiest day but she was an absolute sweetheart, uncomplainingly sitting in the corner of Sally’s lounge reading and drawing as I taught Tim, then coming along to Fitstep, where she joined in. We had some time together in the afternoon before she went home and I had to start getting ready to teach again in the evening.

On Wednesday evening I managed to make my writing group for the first time this year – it was lovely to touch base with writing friends getting much-needed feedback, accompanied by cups of tea and fabulous home-made cake. Mhairi and I met up on Friday afternoon as we hadn’t seen each other for faaar too long. We sat in the Sea Lane Café, watching the white-caped waves pounding the shore through a grey rainy veil while we put the world to rights.

As you can see from my blogs – I’ve rather binged on NetGalley and had a series of new releases all coming out in quick succession, but I’m delighted at the quality and variety of the books I’ve been reading recently. I’ve also managed to get a bit more writing done, thank goodness.

It has been raining every day this week, except Saturday and Himself says the Arun has flooded around Pulborough – not a surprise given how saturated the ground is. Still, at least it isn’t snow…

This week I have read:

Traitor to the Throne – Book 2 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton

Mere months ago, gunslinger Amani al’Hiza fled her dead-end hometown on the back of a traitortothethronemythical horse with the mysterious foreigner Jin, seeking only her own freedom. Now she’s fighting to liberate the entire desert nation of Miraji from a bloodthirsty sultan who slew his own father to capture the throne. Forget everything you thought you knew about Miraji, about the rebellion, about djinni and Jin and the Blue-Eyed Bandit. In Traitor to the Throne, the only certainty is that everything will change.

This one was a joy. I loved Rebel of the Sands but Hamilton has produced an even better sequel, managing to provide an interesting dynamic in amongst the kidnappings, mayhem and murder where Amani is forced to consider the consequences of what she is doing. This was an aspect of the story I particularly appreciated. And that ending – what an amazing twist right at the very end! I’m now waiting impatiently for the next slice of this adventure.

 

Griffen: Shadows of a Mirror Realm by A.J. Blakemont

griffenShe has nothing—not even a roof above her head. She has unimaginable powers, but these powers come at a price: she has to feed on the mental energy of human beings, killing them in the process. Her name is Griffen and she is a newborn. She is a copy, a paranormal twin of a young woman, Letitia. Griffen is not the only one of her kind—there are others like her, living among humans or hiding underground. Romantics called them doppelgangers, ghostly twins, the harbingers of death. Scientists who know that they exist call them simulacra. They call themselves mirror souls. Who are they and what are their goals?

The above blurb caught my attention on NetGalley and the worldbuilding in this paranormal adventure is the book’s strength – I really enjoyed learning about Blakemont’s superbeings. However, I didn’t particularly bond with Griffen until well into the book.

 

The Turn – prequel to The Hollows series by Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison returns to her beloved Hollows series with The Turn, the official prequel to the theturnseries that will introduce fans and readers to a whole new side of Rachel Morgan’s world as they’ve never seen it before! Can science save us when all else fails?

This is a wonderful treat for those of us who have real any of Harrison’s The Hollows series and followed Rachel’s adventures in a world where humanity was decimated by a virus. And in this book, we discover exactly how that happened… A great introduction to this series if you haven’t yet had the pleasure – and if you have, don’t miss this one. It’s Harrison at her awesome best. I shall reviewing this one in due course.

 

My posts last week:

Sunday Post – 29th January 2017

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Radio Boy by Christian O’Donnell

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Traitor to the Throne – Book 2 of the Rebel of the Sands series by Alywn Hamilton

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Old Bones – A Detective Inspector Slider mystery by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2017 – January roundup

Friday Faceoff – Welcome to the Hotel California… featuring Hav by Jan Morris

NEW RELEASE SPECIAL – Review of Griffen: Shadows of the Mirror Realm by A.J. Blakemont

 

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

Meet Guest Author Richard Ankers https://thestoryreadingapeblog.com/2017/02/04/meet-guest-author-richard-m-ankers/ Regulars who read this spot will know I frequently post Richard’s quirky short fiction. This moving and well written article explains what persuaded him to try his hand at writing.

10 Classic Children’s Poems Everyone Should Read https://interestingliterature.com/2017/02/03/10-classic-childrens-poems-everyone-should-read/ And every poem featured here is a gem. Some have entertained generations of children – some are more modern, but I love them all…

Save Money on Professional Edits – 6 Easy Ways to Clean Up Your Own Manuscript
https://warriorwriters.wordpress.com/2017/02/03/save-money-on-professional-edits-6-easy-ways-to-clean-up-your-own-manuscript/ Any advice by the great Kristen Lamb is worth reading – but she’s right, this article could save you cold hard cash as good editing is expensive and you don’t want your editor to waste time on issues you can fix.

Increasing Discoverability – The 2017 Challenge https://hierath.wordpress.com/2016/12/31/increasing-discoverability-the-2017-challenge/
After reading Jo’s article a few years ago, I started taking part. As a result I have encountered a number of talented authors who deserve to be better known.

Creative Writing and Resources for Writers: an Interview with Teacher and Sci-Fi Author S.J. Higbee https://kristentwardowski.wordpress.com/2017/01/30/interview-s-j-higbee/
I was a bit poleaxed when Kristen first approached me, asking for an interview. But I really enjoyed answering her questions and sharing some tips I’ve picked up after 8 years of teaching Creative Writing classes.

Many thanks for visiting and taking the time and trouble to comment – and may you have a wonderful reading and blogging week.

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2016 – April Roundup

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Now April has zipped past and we are a third of the way through the year, how am I doing with my writing and publishing targets that I concocted on New Year’s Eve when all right-thinking folks were partying?

• I’ve been working on the first major edit of Breathing Space since I completed it last year, and in addition to the earlier fixes, I ended up doing a major rewrite of the final battle scene, as I wasn’t all that happy about it. There was a long build-up, and the final action scene was too short and not sufficiently satisfying. I’ve also completed reading Running Out of Space on my Kindle and after going back and tweaking the final manuscript with the niggling errors I discovered, I’ll be working on Breathing Space once more. Dying for Space is currently with a beta-reader, so I’m waiting for her feedback, before embarking on the final line edit.
Challenge – To have The Sunblinded trilogy published during 2016. The editing run is still rolling forward and I still feel reasonably confident I’ll get them published this year.

• I had a lovely surprise this month – I submitted a short story for the anthology Eve of War and then forgot about it – as you do. So when a request for my biography and a copy of the arc bounced into my Inbox, I was delighted. The anthology is being published in June, which is great.
Challenge – nope. Nothing about this particular project was on my to-do list – because I’d forgotten about it.

• I read 17 books, did not finish one and wrote 16 reviews during April. So it’s been another storming month with my reading challenges. I wrote seven New Release Special reviews during March, although some of these won’t be published until the launch date of the books in question.
Challenge – To review a minimum of 100 books during 2016 and widen my reading to include more authors new to me. So far this year, I have read 53 books and 10 books during April by authors I haven’t read before, so I am also hitting this particular target. I’m very much in reading mode at present, but if I hit a slump or get buried in all the chores that go with self-publishing The Sunblinded trilogy, it could all slide away.

I’m very pleased with my blogging and reading targets, as I produced a blog every day, except one, when I was away. During April, I wrote just over 13,000 words on blogs and just under 11,000 words on teaching admin. Again, novel writing is non-existent at present, so my wordcount on writing projects is a measly 1,500 words, which brings April’s total to just over 25,500 words. Am I on target? Yes. But there is a long way to go and lots that could still go wrong, so I’m not able to relax just yet. In fact, I think this is going to be a year when I continue to put my head down, keep working and hoping for the best… Wish me luck, I’ll need it!

Shoot for the Moon Challenge 2016 – March Roundup

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Another month that has slid by far too fast – and here we are with Spring springing and a quarter of the year already gone… So am I on track to meet my crazily ambitious writing and publishing targets?

• As I reported last month, both Running Out of Space and Dying for Space were a nice surprise when I sjhigbeefinalcame to look at them again. But Breathing Space was bound to pose more of a challenge as this was the first time I’d looked at the manuscript since I’d finished writing it last January. I’m now about halfway through the first major rewrite. I’ve introduced a murder and a kerfuffle in a tunnel and fixed a hatful of niggling formatting errors, mistakes with the Spanish and typos. Hopefully by the end of the month I will have completed this pass and be checking the Kindle format for Running Out of Space on my Kindle.
Challenge – To have The Sunblinded trilogy published during 2016. After my failure last year, I am reluctant to give any firm dates when this will happen until I have everything in place, but at present, I am certainly on schedule.

• I have finally completed checking Miranda’s Tempest – my fantasy novel charting the fortunes of Miranda and Prospero after they leave their enchanted island in Shakespeare’s The Tempest. It was slow, fiddly work and I didn’t want to rush it, but I completed the job to my satisfaction during the second week of March. I’ve put it on one side and will look at it one more time before sending it anywhere after I’ve completed the edit on Breathing Space to check it’s fit to submit.
Challenge – to get Miranda’s Tempest fit to send out by the end of the Easter holidays. I want to get at least one more pair of eyes to check it over for me before sending it out, so am waiting for feedback…

I read 15 books and wrote 14 reviews during March, which I think is some sort of record. Again, it’s been a blast to read so many great books. I wrote seven New Release Special reviews during March, although some of these won’t be published until the launch date of the books in question. I have acquired more NetGalley ARC copies, and am in the process of organising my reading schedule, so I don’t miss downloading books by accident – which happened a couple of times last year. I am continuing to widen my reading and during March I encountered five authors I hadn’t read before. Read my Discovery Challenge March Roundup here.
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 on course for hitting this target, although it’s early days and later in the year it could very easily slip, when I’m grappling with some of my other targets.

I’m very pleased with my blogging and reading targets, as I produced a blog every day, something I don’t think I’ve managed before. I wrote just over 13,500 words on blogs and just under 12,000 words on teaching admin. As I’m in the depths of Editland, I have produced a paltry 2,000 words on creative writing, which brings March’s wordcount to just over 27,000 words. Am I on target? So long as I manage to get this editing pass of Breathing Space completed by the end of the month and the Running Out of Space formatting continues to behave well. But it’s going to be a close-run thing, of course it is – after all, I’m shooting for the Moon…

The Blog-hop Challenge

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Thank you Sarah Letourneau for nominating me to contribute to this World Blog-hop. The challenge is to answer the five questions below and nominate two more people to take on the Blog-hop. Here goes…Bunny Hop

1. Include a quote.
I think it comes from the great Terry Pratchett – Writing is the most fun you can have with your clothes on… Yep. I’d agree with that.

2. Why do you create what you do?
Because it’s an addiction that really has me by the throat. I’m aware that I and my family pay a price. The hours I spend sitting at the computer pouring these words out (so far this year 277,800 and counting…) means I’m not doing other things. Some of those things aren’t crucial – let’s face it, who really cares whether the house gets dusted once a week? Or even a month? But I don’t keep up with friends as much as I should, and there are also times when I’m not the best daughter/mother/granny/sister/wife I could be – because those damn words keep swirling around in my head and if I don’t let them out, I stop being my usual sweet-natured, saintly self and instead turn into the snarling bitch from Hell…

3. How does your creative process work?
I used to just plunge in and start writing – whether it was a novel or a story, but I’m far more circumspect about doing that with a novel, these days. My favourite part of the whole business is writing the first draft, but if I’m too gung-ho then the re-writing is a massive effort of tidying up dead-ends, extra characters that didn’t go anywhere and pruning redundant plotlines. So these days, I will make some attempt to write a plot outline – and I make a strenuous attempt to have an ending planned. However inevitably in the middle of a chapter, about a third of the way in, the book will suddenly swerve off the main road speed off down a left turn. I’ve learnt to go with the flow – seven times out of ten it will work out.

The other three times it doesn’t and I have to stop, work back to where the turning went wrong and start again. As I’ve become more experienced and learnt my own writing rhythms, I can spot when it’s going wrong far more quickly and backtrack and sort it out fairly fast. I’m a bit of a conflict junkie, so there are times when I’ll get caught up in burying my long-suffering protagonist under a mound of knee-buckling problems to the extent that it simply doesn’t work. But while there are times I’ll break off from a book for a while, I’ve only a couple of times completely abandoned a novel without finishing it. The first one was when in chapter 3, my lantern-jawed hero was suddenly castrated in a tragic accident – which was when I realised my destiny didn’t lie in writing straight romantic fiction…

4. How does your work differ from others in your genre?
My writing voice is very strong – for good or for ill. I’m one of those Marmite writers readers either love or loathe. I write mostly science fiction and some fantasy. I’m particularly fascinated by the dynamics of family life and in what form it will survive when we are living on different planets, or family ships carrying cargo, as my current protagonist’s family do, for instance, in my Sunblinded trilogy.

And the collection of short stories I’m shortly self-publishing, entitled Picky Eaters, explores what happens when Granddad has to move in with his daughter after Sammy Jo and Billy Bob, his grandchildren, manage to upset the neighbours so they run him off his mountain dwelling. And Granddad is a crotchety dragon cursed with the gift of time-travelling…

5. What are you working on right now?
I’m writing Breathing Space, the last book in a trilogy I hope to be self-publishing next year. It charts the adventures of my Iberian merchanter’s daughter Jezell Campo, from when she is a wannabe trainee officer on her father’s ship, to the final book when she is on a mission to track down and kill a psychotic murderer threatening her family. The first two books, Running Out of Space and Dying for Space are completed bar the final edits and I hope to have the first draft of Breathing Space finished before Christmas.

I’m enjoying writing the book, although it has thrown me a few curved balls – it’s one of the addictions about the writing process, it never gets boring… While I have other books I’d like to be traditionally published, Jezell Campo is going to be my PI in a series of science fiction crime series I’ve planned out, which I’m really excited about. This is one project is one I’d like to keep under absolute control.

I’m also working on next term’s course notes Keep Writing on the Right Track. Each term has a particular teaching focus and next term we’ll be looking at those issues that can derail a writer. I do a lot of thinking and reading before I start writing the handouts – which will be at the beginning of next month at the latest. I hate running any project right up to the deadline as the sort of pressure never produces my best work.

My continual work in progress are the reviews and occasional other articles I produce for my blog – another passion. I’m an avid and enthusiastic reader and have become somewhat addicted to writing reviews sharing my excitement about a good book I’ve recently enjoyed. I don’t write negative reviews because these days I simply don’t bother to complete books I don’t like – Life is too short.

My nominations for blog-hopping are:
Mhairi Simpson, for her site Reality Refuge.
I met up with Mhairi back in 2011 at Fantasycon and we just… clicked. We poured out our passion for writing fantasy and science fiction, swapped life histories and discovered we had a lot more in common than the fact we’re both strong-minded blondes… Her blog reflects who she is – brave, articulate and with a tendency to run into situations at a full gallop. She writes fantasy, including several self published excellent short stories and edited the critically acclaimed anthology Tales of Eve – I reviewed it here – which include stories from the likes of Juliet E. McKenna and Adrian Tchaikovsky. She is also one of the most endlessly inventive people I’ve ever met and spending a week-end in her company makes me feel brand new and excited about writing all over again… If I could bottle her, I would.

C Miller. Another impressively talented YA Fantasy writer who regularly blogs. Check out her book Reave. She writes with a passion that sweeps you into her world. Her blog is enjoyable and well written, while she is enthusiastic and supportive of other writers – all in all a thoroughly deserving nominee, who I guarantee will answer the questions interestingly…