Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is top ten books I’ve read this year, looking back, I haven’t read many books this year! So I’ll share the ones most worth talking about.

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1-5 A Song of Ice and Fire – George R.R. Martin – these beasts took me about 3 months but they were the most amazing things ever! (Except book four but no series is ever perfect).

6. Shopaholic to the Stars – Sophie Kinsella – I was actually a bit disappointed with this one but I’ve been waiting for it for 4 years, so it deserves a mention.

7. The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion – One of the best books I have ever read. I’m getting the sequel for Christmas.

8. The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova – At 700 pages it’s a long read but it’s fascinating, all about Vlad the Impaler.

9. This is Shyness – Leanne Hall – I’ve just finished reviewing it and it was one of the most original stories I’ve ever read. (You can find my review here)

10. The Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling – Technically not a new book, I re-read it for the one hundredth (and something) time when I was stressed about something. I find re-reading my favourites very therapeutic, don’t you?

That’s my list! I think I need to read more new books next year – that can be my resolution! How about you? What have you read? Link up below!

I’m Dreaming Of …

I don’t know about you, but when I watch or read an overwhelming about of something it infiltrates its way into my dreams.

At the moment I’m watching the Walking Dead continuously to catch up to where it is now. It’s great being able to watch it back to back but I’m dreaming about zombies practically every night. They’re not nightmares, most of the dreams are pretty fun action movies which I’m either starring in or watching from afar (yes I dream in third person occasionally).

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And it doesn’t end with zombies either. I watched an episode of the Newsroom (world’s greatest program) and dreamt I was reporting the Zombie apocalypse. I had a job interview, dreamt my interview was during the apocalypse. There was a shopping centre involved last night but I don’t remember the specifics. The point is, I’m waking up every morning pretty relieved that we haven’t in fact been over run by zombies.

Dreams are a funny thing. They can be amazing, awful, even boring. It’s brilliant when you wake up having no idea what you’ve dreamt about and then it comes back to you at one brilliant moment in the day.

They’re also a great source of inspiration for anything creative. It’s your mind mulling over while it rests (and I love mulling over a plot).

I’m only half way through season 4 Walking Dead so I imagine my zombies will be in my dreams for a while. But what about you? What fiction are you dreaming about? Do you get inspiration from your dreams?

Top Ten Tuesday – Sequels I Can’t Wait for

Top Ten Tuesday a weekly blog meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.  This week they ask us to share lists on:  Top Ten Sequels I Can’t Wait To Get.  

I’ve really had to think about this one and not all of them are even books, it turns out I read a lot of stand-alones or the author has already finished the series.

1) Moriarty – Anthony Horowitz – It’s the sort of sequel to his Sherlock Novel House of Silk. (It’s on my Christmas list).

2) Oblivion – Anthony Horowitz – I started this series as a teenager and never finished it. I must read the last book!

3) GOT – The Winds of Winter –  Martin, hurry up now.

4) The next Shopaholic – Sophie Kinsella – she said soon but its not soon enough!

5) The Rosie Effect Graeme Simsion – It’s been out ages but I just haven’t had a minute!

6) Maise Dobbs – Jacqueline Winspear – I read her third book Pardonable Lies for a module at Uni and now I want to start and finish the series.

7) The next star trek film – J.J Abrams –  not a film but I’m excited.

8) Mockingjay part 1 – I’m taking bets (with myself) where they’ll finish the film. Very excited to see it.

I cannot think of anymore! A rushed effort I’m sure! What are your TTTs? Please link up in the comments

What Makes a Story – #4 – Speech

I’ve been utterly useless at posting recently (life has gotten in the way) but I’m determined to see these series of posts out. So this time I’ve been thinking a lot about speech and as a writer and reader poorly executed speech really grinds my gears.

So what is poorly executed speech? I think the best way to explain that it to look over some examples.

1) “I am coming” “I did not go to the park” “I will not succeed”

All of these examples lack contractions. If you’re writing a modern story, set in a modern time, use the contracted versions (i.e. shouldn’t, didn’t doesn’t) unless you’re emphasising a point. The simple reason it annoys me is because no one actually speaks like that and it always feels as though the writer has never tried reading their work out loud. Read your work out loud, it’s crucial for getting the feel right.

Of course if you’re using an antiquated setting then the full words are better. It’s all about context.

But, the more accurate you make your speech, the more accurately you construct your characters. And you know I think it’s all about the characters.

2) “Could you pass me that biscuit, please?” … “Sure, here you go.”…. “Thank you” …. “You’re welcome.”

I love manners, I think they’re really important in society but not so much in books. Speech sequences like this are waffle and some writers can make them go on for pages. If your characters are having a conversation, make sure they’re talking about something: a) important to the plot or b) amusing or interesting. Long manner sequences, and the like, do not fall into either category. Cut it out.

3) “Look at that star.” I said.

“It’s amazing,” he said.

“Isn’t it just?” I replied.

“I wish it was nearer.” he said.

“Me too. It looks so shiny.”  I said.

Please ignore the pointless subject matter of this quickly improvised speech (I know, I’ve just broken my own rule). The point I’m trying to make is that there are a lot of ‘saids’ going on. Getting the said balance right is a tough one. Sometimes, you have to sit back and let the form of your work do it’s job. If it’s clear there are two people having a conversation and their speech is on separate lines, you won’t have to put said all the time. Just chuck it in occasionally to make it extra clear.

I once read something that said ‘said’ is the only word you should use to describe speech, if you have to say ‘said haughtily’ or ‘nastily’ etc then the speech itself hasn’t done its job.

While I don’t fully agree with that, I do take the point that speech needs to be full of quality and not fluff or filler.

I’ve taken such a strong view on speech because I love speech-y novels, I’d take speech over description any day because it helps me visualise a scene better. And if the speech is naff and unrealistic, it spoils the book a little bit.

What about you? What are your pet peeves about speech in novels? Do you like books with a lot of speech in?

I’d love to hear from you!

Top Ten Character-driven books

This week’s TTT is top ten character driven books and is, as always, hosted by the delightful The Broke and the Bookish.

I love Top Ten Tuesday, but I’m seriously struggling not to repeat myself. This is a really special one for me, because as anyone who reads my blog will know, I LOVE characters. I think they make or break a story.

So here I go:

1) GOT – I talk about this every bloody week so I don’t need to say anymore. Love you George. a-game-of-thrones-the-story-continues-the-complete-box-set-of-all-7-books

2) On Beauty – Zadie Smith. This is writing back to Howard’s End by Forster. You don’t need to read Howard’s End to enjoy it (in fact I would recommend never reading Howard’s End). Smith is a character master. They’re the most vibrant characters and she explores fantastic themes of race, academia, and of course, beauty.

3) Sherlock Holmes – A.C. Doyle. I think with any eponymous novel there is certain necessity that the work is character driven but I think we can all agree Holmes’s is very interesting. Watson too. Irene and Moriarty? In the original they’re not that fascinating. In fact, they’re barely in it.

4) One Day – David Nicholls. Again, I know, I talk about this every week. But it’s one of my faves and you can’t talk about characters without talking about Dexter and Emma, after all, it’s the story of their lives.

51pSErJc3oL5) The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruis Zafon. This story is all about the mystery of the characters, the plot moves slowly at time but the reveal is worth it.

6) World War Z – Max Brooks. There is no real plot to this book, no characters as such either. But I wanted to include it because the book consists of a series of interviews and they just feel so alive. Brooks really captured lots of different voices which I loved.

7) To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee. I think Atticus Finch may be one of my favourite ever characters. Reading through a growing child’s eyes took some amazing talent on Lee’s behalf. It’s a wonderful story about people.

8) The Hours – Michael Cunningham. This is the story of three women, in three different times. Virginia Woolf, Clarissa Vaughan and Laura Brown. It explores themes of Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway (except in a readable not modernist way). This is not a happy book but it is a very interesting one.

9) Where Rainbows End – Cecilia Ahern. I have a real soft spot for this book. Ignoring the logic issues of this book, it’s just lovely. CeceliaAhern_WhereRainbowsEndThe whole thing is written in letters, emails etc over the lives of two people who love each other but always seem to just miss each other. Heartbreaking. Lovely. Read it in a day.

10) The Book of Human Skin – Michelle Lovric. I go on a lot about this one too … but it’s great. So many different voices tell the story. There’s the mad Minguillo, the madder nun, the lovely doctor, the battered heroine. Ah it’s amazing. Read it immediately.
What about you? What’s your TTT?

What Makes a Story? #1 – Characters

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what makes any story (novel, film, tv series) good or bad, so I’ve decided to do a series of posts based on what makes a story. This week I’m going to talk about characters.

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To be completely biased, characters are the make or break of a story for me. I always think you can have the best plot in the world but if the audience don’t feel anything for the characters then you’re sunk.

The book I read most recently was horribly disappointing and the main reason for that was that I didn’t care about the characters. I didn’t hate them, I didn’t love them, I just thought they were pathetic. Now, pathetic characters are fine IF they are meant to be pathetic, if they’re meant to be protagonists then you’ve got a problem.

A good character:

  • Has solid motivation – you always know why they’re doing what they’re doing
  • Demonstrates their characteristics – it’s no good telling readers that the character is brave – you have to show them
  • Has a backstory – you don’t need to know every detail of their lives but a strong character shouldn’t feel like they’ve been plucked from thin air
  • Speaks like a real person – I mean this both in the sense of what they say and how they say it – setting and genre play a big part of this. If they’re in the Victorian times, the speaker is less likely to use contractions but if set in recent history and present day, speech feels awkward if there are not contractions (see what I did there?)
  • Makes the audience care – this is the big one. Even if they’re hit and miss with the other four things, if you care about the character, the author/creator has done their job.

Some examples of great characters:

Jaime Lannister – A Song of Ice and Fire  – fantastic motivation, back story and he’s good and bad.

Don Tillman – The Rosie Project – never has a character had so much heart.

Dexter Mayhew – One Day – amazing character development over twenty years.

Becky Bloomwood – Shopaholic Novels – funny, loveable and always in a mess.

Minguillo Fasan – The Book of Human Skin – a sociopath who you’re partly in collusion with.

Poppy Shilling – A Rural Affair – funny and painstakingly honest. Someone you’ll cheer on.

Will Traynor – Me Before You – a quadriplegic patient with a broken spirit that’s brought back to life

And … Josiah Bartlet – the president in ‘The West Wing’, if only he did run the world …

These are only some of my favourite characters – who are yours? What do you think makes a great character?

 

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday • Authors I’ve Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme/feature hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

This week’s theme is author’s I’ve only read one book of and need to read more. I found this week’s theme quite difficult. If I like an author I’ve normally read more than one of their books, so I’ve mixed it up a bit. My list of ten is five author’s who I want to read more of and five whom one book was enough.

Authors I want more of:

Erin Morgenstern – I’ve only read The Night Circus so far and it’s one of the most amazing books I’ve ever read!

Michelle Lovric – Amazing, amazing writer! If you haven’t read The Book of Human Skin pick it up immediately.

Jacqueline Winspear – Another brilliant writer. I read the third in her Maisie Dobbs series – Pardonable Lies – and I keep meaning to pick up the rest of the series.

Catherine Alliott – I read A Rural Affair this year and it was lightest and funniest book I’d read in ages. Alliott proves you don’t have to write a serious story to be a great writer.

Jojo Moyes – I think she features on almost all my TTT lists! So I’ll stop going on about her and get down to reading some more.

Authors where one book was enough:

Kate Furnivall  – I’m struggling through one of hers at the moment. I’m distracted from the story, which is actually interesting, by her clumsy writing.

Rupert Thompson – Not for me. I read half of Divided Kingdom before giving up. The story wasn’t my cup of tea and I couldn’t get along with his writing. The story felt like it was being reported rather than told.

Sarra ManningNine Uses for an Ex-Boyfriend  – Not a bad writer but not a good story teller. This book looked fun but it was so dull! It was an entire book of the protagonist moaning. And these nine uses were never mentioned …

Dawn FrenchOh Dear Silvia – Oh dear Dawn! I love you as a comedienne but I could not get along with your book.

Thomas HardyThe Mayor of Casterbridge – it was a tough call between him and James Joyce but on the sheer weakness of his female protagonists it has to be Hardy. Get your pillows ready, he is a snooze.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my list! Please link to yours in the comments!

Judging Books by their Covers . . .

As a figure of speech, ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ is a lovely sentiment, look to the inside and don’t be superficial. It’s a really great lesson. But when you’re talking about actual books, you know what, I completely judge a book by it’s cover.

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The cover is the first thing you notice, it can make you want to pick the book up or make a mental note never to touch it.

My friend Maddie refers to the chick lit section of WHSmiths as ‘the pink and purple bit’. She’s got a point. Chick lit covers are 9/10 pastel shades or varying degrees of pink. You don’t even need to read the title to know that’s their genre. The same goes for the supernatural, there’s a lot of black. In fact the more you think about it, the more you can pick out a genre and audience before actually reading the title of the book. (Also try googling these and looking what images come up: historical novels, teen novels, chick lit novels… you’ll start noticing similarities).

I’m not saying that the first impression is necessarily the right one, but I can’t help it. If the cover’s appealing, I’ll read the title, if I like that I’ll flick to the blurb, if the blurb’s good, I’ll read the book. This has backfired on me for better and worse.

CeceliaAhern_WhereRainbowsEndFor instance, Cecilia Ahern ‘Where Rainbows End’, has, in my opinion, an appalling title, 12367267-2an unappealing cover and a crap blurb – but you know what, I really enjoyed the book.

 

On the other hand, Claire Merle ‘The Glimpse’, has, an intriguing title, an interesting cover and a good blurb – yet I couldn’t get past the first fifty pages it was so bad.

So what about you? Where has your cover judgement let you down? What have you picked up that was an unexpected delight. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Top Ten Tuesday – Top Ten Books I Really Want To Read But Don’t Own Yet.

This is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is top ten books I really want to read but don’t own yet. I cheated a little bit making this list as four of them haven’t been released yet … but I do really want to read them. (Writers and publishers hurry up!)

1) The Girl you Left Behind – JoJo Moyes – Heard amazing reports and its so high up on my TBR list, I just have to buy it!

2)  The One Plus One – JoJo Moyes  – Love her writing. Me Before You had me crying for days, I want to read all her work but this one really calls to me!

3) Shopholic to the Stars – Sophie Kinsella – I have been waiting 4 years for this book! I’m madly in love with the shopaholic series and I think Kinsella is a great writer.

4) The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion –  I told everyone I have ever met to read the Rosie Project and I’m really excited about the sequel! Not long to go …

5) The Suicide Shop – Jean Teule – I came across this on a review online on wordpress and it just sounds so quirky I can’t wait to pick it up.

6) The Universe Versus Alex Woods – Gavin Extence – I’ve downloaded a sample on my kindle – halfway there already

7) The Murder of Roger Ackroyd – Agatha Christie – The queen of detective fiction breaks all the rules in this book. I’m very excited for the twist.

8) Us – David Nicholls – I love David Nicholls, so I was so excited when I heard he’s got a new release coming soon!

9) Something by John Green – Maybe not the Fault in our Stars because the hype’s so high, but I want to see what all the fuss is about with Green.

10) The Winds of Winter – George R. R. Martin – Come the F*** on George! I’ve jumped on your bandwagon, you’ve got me hooked, now just give me a bloody release date!

There’s my slightly cheated list! Let me know your TTT either in a link or in the comments!

I am what I say … or am I?

If you’re an artist, a writer, designer, painter, director, actor … should you keep your thoughts to yourself for risk of discouraging potential fans? Or should you say what you think? In short, how much are artists representative of their art?

Let’s look at some examples.

1) Oscar Wilde – Author, essayist and playwright. Wilde firmly believed art contained no moral Unknowninstruction. “Books are well written, or badly written. That is all.” He thought that whatever meaning the reader interpreted, came from the reader and not the work or the writer. Ironically, Wilde’s own novel was used against him in his trial as proof of his homosexuality. His work might have worked against him at the time but Wilde’s notoriety has helped his work stay canonical. In history, art and artist have been bound, despite that artists protestations.

 

2) Mel Gibson – Actor. A more recent example. In 2006, Gibson reportedly said anti-Semitic mel_gibson320remarks when he was arrested for drunk driving. It was a bad night all round for him on the PR front. No one is contesting that racism is wrong or that drunk driving is dangerous but should the actors actions off screen effect the way you view their films? (Good) Actors are chameleons, slipping their skin to throw themselves into a role, so little of themselves remain in the character. Is there a separation between liking the actor, admitting he’s good at his job, and disliking the man, in this case because he’s a racist? Or are the two too closely linked?

JK3) J.K. Rowling – Author. In more current news, Rowling gave a sizeable contribution to the Scotland ‘Stay Together’ campaign. Arguably, this is much less controversial than the other two examples but raises the same point. Rowling’s support for this political issue has nothing to do with her work. But there are people out there that would turn away from it because they hold the opposite political view, even though this political view would be cited nowhere in her work.

 

These are just three examples but there are tons more, some more controversial than others. Should we view art and artist separately or not? Historically they have been viewed as one and the same and you can see the reasons why. On the one hand, you’re paying these people and you may not want to see them better off for views or actions you disagree with. But there is a case to be made for viewing them separately, you may be paying these people but they’re not politicians (yet). You’re not paying them for their views, you’re paying them for their work, which can have nothing to do with them as a person.

It’s a fact that you can’t please everybody. Whether it’s your religion, politics or lifestyle choices, you are going to offend somebody … but you can avoid deliberately annoying them (or inciting hatred). Artists in the public eye tread a fine line, sometimes the less controversial you are the better you do, i.e Matt Damon, and sometimes controversy can boost you up, i.e. Oscar Wilde or Miley Cyrus. (I never thought I’d use those two in the same sentence).

I try to separate the artist and the art in my mind but sometimes it’s hard. What about you? Do you think they should be viewed separately? Have you heard something about an artist that made you boycott their work?