Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Limerbooks #1

I have written some limerickesque lines of dubious quality about books I have enjoyed. Can you guess which books they are about?

Don't go trawling through my Goodreads, that's cheating!

Also, I know some of these lines don't exactly scan, you don't have to tell me...


There once was a woman called Linda
Who lived in a time before Tinder
She married and divorced
A small scandal it caused
Then with a French duke she did linger


There once was a girl called Cia
Who studied hard without fear
But her father's bad dreams
Tore life apart at the seams
And death became suddenly nearer


There was a brave orphan named Laura
Her long-lost uncle adored her
He lied about his job
But let her get a dog
Things were never the same as before


There once was a girl who couldn't stop eating
Her sister accused her of lying and cheating
She found out one day
That she wasn't meant to stay
But she refused to let her strange life be fleeting


There once was a princess who didn't know
That into a monarch she would one day grow
She just wanted to be cool
And do okay at school
And for the popular boy to be her beau

Let me know your answers in the comments or tweet me!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: The Wolf Wilder, by Katherine Rundell

From The British Library
In pre-revolutionary Russia, the pampered aristocrats often keep wolves as pets. But wolves are not happy to sit on velvet cushions in gilded rooms their whole lives long and eventually they snap, and a pampered aristocrat, or a servant, loses a finger or a toe. The aristocracy believe that if you kill a wolf, you will be cursed, so the wolves are sent away to the wolf wilder, who will teach them how to survive in the wild - how to hunt and howl and be as fierce as they should be. The wolf wilder is Feo's mother, and she has been teaching Feo everything she knows.

Trouble arrives one night in the form of the Russian army, who are not happy to have wolves released in the forests nearby, where they hunt and kill elks and birds. Feo and her mother are ordered to shoot the wolves or be arrested. But Feo has grown up tough and strong and brave - after all, wolves are her only friends - and she is determined not to give in.

This was such a lovely book! Full of charm and adventure and very real peril. I loved the idea of wolf wilders, the opposite of animal tamers. It's a concept that is both cute and scary, much like the book itself. The wolves are realistically unpredictable, sometimes they help Feo, sometimes they create more trouble.

I also loved the other human characters. Feo's mother was fascinating and I wish she had been in the book more. Rakov is a terrifyingly heartless villain, keeping the stakes high. The friends Feo makes while on her journey are so wonderful I can't bear to describe them - I think you should get all the fun of meeting them with a fresh mind. The descriptions of Feo's environment are wonderful too - I could easily imagine Feo's warm and much-loved home, and the harsh, snow-filled world outside.

I would very much recommend The Wolf Wilder to readers who want to lose themselves in a story that blends history and fairytale.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

On Choosing to Read Books that Sound Similar to the Book You're Writing, and Book Review: Suite Scarlett, by Maureen Johnson

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Many writers say that, out of fear of being influenced, they don't read books that may be similar to the book they are writing until they have finished writing it. This has never made much sense to me.

Firstly, it is highly unlikely that what you're writing is that similar to what other people are writing. Neil Gaiman summarises this very well in the intro to The Good Fairies of New York, a book that he avoided reading for five years because he was afraid it would be too similar to American Gods, and that of course was totally different to American Gods.

Secondly, how are you going to know if it is similar unless you read it? How can you accidentally be influenced by something you are reading and paying deliberate critical attention to? I have never had much patience for the 'writing comes from somewhere outside of me, it's not something I do so deliberately' idea. I think it is an excuse. It's often trotted out to explain a lack of diversity in books. 'It's not my fault all the characters are white and middle-class! The story and the characters just came to me'. No it didn't. You made it up. You continued to make it up as you were building it from the germ of an idea into a full-length novel. It's your job, as the writer, to turn a critical eye on your work and correct the unconscious biases that you expressed through it. It's not a sacred gift from outer space/the gods/the muse that you may not alter once it arrives.

Similarly, I think that writers should read books that sound like they might be similar to their own current projects - with the resolution to learn from it and then change the book they are writing if necessary so that they are more distinct. If you go in with this attitude, how can you be influenced by accident?

That said, I can understand why a writer might not want to change their ideas in response to another book - if they really love the idea as it is. It does kind of make sense, although that's not how I feel - I know complete originality is impossible, but I can give it a good go! And maybe that's why I haven't finished writing my novel yet!

I first heard about Suite Scarlett on the blog Reading With Tequila (No link as it's long gone), and wanted to read it because it's about a girl whose parents' business is failing and the YA novel I've been working on is about a girl whose parents' business is failing. I wanted to check for similarities, maybe pick up some pacing guidelines, that sort of thing.

Nuh-uh. Foiled. Suite Scarlett is completely different from my novel in almost every way. It was obvious from less than a chapter in. So I got to put the writing part of my brain on hold and just enjoy it, which is always good.

Scarlett Martin lives in the Hopewell, a formerly glamorous, but now faded and decrepit, New York hotel with her parents, elder sister Lola, brother Spencer, and younger sister Marlene. Although they still just about own the hotel, they've had very few guests in recent years, which means that Lola and Spencer have had to get jobs in addition to helping out at the hotel. They each hold a key to one of the suites, and it is their responsibility to clean and maintain it and look after the guests. On Scarlett's fifteenth birthday, she is presented with two very exciting gifts: a mobile phone, and the key to the Empire Suite - the biggest, most luxurious, and most commonly-empty suite at the Hopewell.

It should be an easy job, allowing Scarlett plenty of time to enjoy her summer, but all too soon she has a guest, the eccentric, demanding, and extremely meddlesome Mrs Amberson...

I absolutely loved Suite Scarlett. I'm a complete sucker for books in which teen characters have to deal with money problems (which is why I'm writing one) and I love weird and wonderful families, difficult siblings, and above all, secret plots! Mrs Amberson is a complete busybody and is delightfully frustrating - just when you desperately want her to stop sticking her oar in, she'll redeem herself. Scarlett's relationship with witty, obstinate Spencer is lovely, and I found Lola and her rich-but-dull boyfriend fascinating. It's a very easy read, one for when you want to relax and be charmed by a book, and I'm really looking forward to getting my hands on the sequel, Scarlett Fever.

I'm hoping that the novel I'm currently editing will be less cute and have a bit more grit to it, but if any reader likes it as much as I like Suite Scarlett, I'll be very pleased with myself.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Local Library Love: Beckenham Library

Today is National Libraries Day and in celebration I am beginning a new occasional feature:

This feature will celebrate my favourite local libraries, and if there is a library close to your heart that you'd like to write about, let me know - I'd love to have some guest blogs on this topic.

Today I am going to be sharing my favourite library of all with you, the very first library I ever visited, Beckenham Library.

That's how the entrance looks now that they have self-issue/return machines, but when I was a kid there used to be two desks behind that wooden window-frame, one for returns, and one for taking out books. I didn't mind queuing up to take out books - after all, I had plenty to read while I was waiting! I also remember that time there was a Hot Guy working at the library, and I stood in the queue anxiously wondering if he'd judge me on my book choices...

The first space you enter is the generously-sized children's section. I loved rummaging through the boxes of picture books, finding books for my homework (and for fun) on the non-fiction shelves, and, later, picking up Enid Blyton and Jacqueline Wilson novels I didn't have at home. If it wasn't for this library, I would not have been able to read every single Goosebumps book! I was also obsessed with one particular book about jewellery from all around the world - I was always really interested in different cultures. I got it out over and over again for what must have been at least three years. A few years ago I found it in the library sale and bought it for the sentimental value!

The children's section was full of kids, which is great for the library and for the children of Beckenham, but it meant I couldn't take any photos.

However, if you turn left as you go in, you'll find a corner that is my little slice of heaven, the teen section. I may be getting perilously close to 30 but this is still, in my opinion, the best part of the library. Nobody was browsing here so I took plenty of photos.

Here is a photo which shows off the wall displays:

I discovered so many of my favourite YA books here. When I was doing my MA and trying to read as much teen fiction as humanly possible, I came in one day and found Simmone Howell's Notes from the Teenage Underground by chance. I'd never heard of it before. I was able to read and fall in love with her second novel, Everything Beautiful, as well, thanks to the library. I also found Notes from the Teenage Underground in the library sale, a few years later, and bought it, though I was so disappointed it would no longer be on the library shelves!

I've also borrowed books by Malorie BlackmanSarra Manning, Robin McKinley, Kate CannGabrielle ZevinCecil CastellucciCarolyn MacklerJulia BellSusie DayTanuja Desai HidierSophie McKenzieMitali PerkinsE. LockhartKirsten MillerT. S. Easton, and Marcus Sedgwick, as well as quite a few Buffy tie-in novels.

I remember how excited I was when I got a teenage library card and my borrowing limit went from six to eight. I used to go to the library on a Saturday morning, and borrow eight books. As teen books back then were often really short, I'd have read six of them by Sunday evening, and would then have to make the other two books last for the rest of the three weeks before I'd go back to the library! I used to reread the best bits over and over.

Graphic novels and revision guides! I wasn't a big graphic novel reader when I was a teenager - I was averse to illustrations in books, preferring to imagine everything in my own head - but there was usually another person going through this box on a Saturday morning!

That chair used to be where the graphic novels and revision guides are and they used to be on the end of where the quick reads are now. I didn't spend much time sitting in it though - the seats in the adult section are more comfortable...

though not much better, at least there's some padding! There are proper tables and chairs in the centre of the main library and also some desks in the reference section, but obviously they were being used, so I couldn't take any photos.

Thanks to the general fiction section I got to read books by Angela Carter, Ali Smith, Stella Gibbons, and many more whose names don't spring to mind right now. I used to be able to see a list of every book I'd ever borrowed by logging into the library catalogue but they changed the software and the history has gone, and I've misplaced the handwritten lists I kept before joining Goodreads.

Another section I love - the craft books! I am guilty of renewing some of these books for years!

I always like to check out the displays in the library. Bromley Libraries have their own list of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, a selection from this list can be seen above. I also find it nearly impossible to resist checking out the new books displays! I have given into temptation looking at these shelves so many times - and so has someone else, recently, judging from the gap on the bottom row below!

There are so many other parts of the library that I love - the sci-fi and fantasy section, which helped me, as a teenager, work my way through most of Anne McCaffrey's back catalogue, the horror section, where I tried various different vampire series, the music section, where I found sheet music to borrow, and most recently, the cookbooks.

By the reference section is Literature, where I found writing how-to books aged 14 and realised that writing could be an actual career. Until then, I just kind of assumed I'd write a book someday as a matter of course but would have to do something else as my real job. I haven't published any novels yet and I do have a day job, but I still have that aspiration I first discovered at Beckenham Library, and two first drafts!

I can't overstate how much this library means to me. I would never have read as widely as I have if it wasn't for this place and its wooden shelves filled with worlds and possibilities. My mum signed me up for a library card when I was two, and I had taught myself to read by the time I was four. I don't come from a wealthy background and could never have bought all the books I wanted to read, so the library was an essential part of my life. It makes me really sad to think that communities across the country are losing their libraries.

Is there a library with a special place in your heart? Let me know in the comments.

Many thanks to the London Borough of Bromley for granting me permission to take these photographs, and to the lovely library staff that have helped me over the years.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Reading Challenges 2015 Wrap Up

I decided not to do any reading challenges in 2014. For the full story, see this post.

However, in 2014, a lot changed in my life and I started reading more frequently, so I decided to sign up for some reading challenges yet again! I decided to stick to more relaxed challenges only. I went through the Novel Challenges list and discounted any challenges with rules that were too strict. I skipped challenges that required me to stick to one goal as I wanted to be able to challenge myself more if I was doing well.

I hoped to stick to the spirit of 2014 - reading for fun - and to try to resist the temptation to create a spreadsheet! "Let's see how long THAT lasts..." I said, and I did resist for the entire year! It's okay, I made a lot of spreadsheets for work. I still love spreadsheets.

So, how did I do?

British Books Challenge

DONE - I beat the goal of reading 12 books by British authors in 2015!

I last attempted the British Books Challenge in 2011 and I managed 7 books out of the 12 I originally planned to read. As I found it so hard I avoided it in subsequent years, but for 2015 it was being run by the wonderful Michelle at Fluttering Butterflies who is a) lovely and b) persistent, so I found it impossible to resist!

I also vlogged the British Books Challenge, which I think helped a lot as it encouraged me to read enough books to talk about in each vlog!

British Books I Read In 2015:

1. Five Children and It, by E. Nesbit
2. Trouble, by Non Pratt
3. The Bookshop Book, by Jen Campbell
4. Beware The Dwarfs, by Terri Paddock
5. Gypsy Girl, by Kathryn James
6. Elizabeth is Missing, by Emma Healey
7. Remix, by Non Pratt
8. The Sin Eater's Daughter, by Melinda Salisbury
9. Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett
10. The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins
11. The Lost and the Found, by Cat Clarke
12. The Year of the Rat, by Clare Furniss
13. Crow Mountain, by Lucy Inglis
14. Have a Little Faith, by Candy Harper
15. Keep the Faith, by Candy Harper
16. Lorali, by Laura Dockrill
17. Counting Stars, by Keris Stainton
18. Killing the Dead, by Marcus Sedgwick
19. Return to the Secret Garden, by Holly Webb
20. The Wolf Wilder, by Katherine Rundell
21. Witch Wars, by Sibéal Pounder, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson
22. Cuckoo Song, by Frances Hardinge
23. The End of Mr Y, by Scarlett Thomas
24. Lobsters, by Tom Ellen and Lucy Ivison

Dive into Diversity Reading Challenge

Dive Into Diversity Reading Challenge

As this has no specific goal I'm not sure how I did..! However, although I read a few novels with LGBT themes, I didn't read many by non-white authors. I think I need to make a serious effort with this next year.

Fairytale Retelling Reading Challenge

The Daily Prophecy
I don't think I managed to read a single Fairytale Retelling. Eep.

2015 Classics Challenge

I got talked into this one on Twitter, and I'd already read one book that qualified at the time and had another lined up! But then I kind of stopped...

1. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank L. Baum
2. Five Children and It, by E Nesbit
3. Forever, by Judy Blume


DONE - though I only read two of the previously-unread Artemis Fowl books in February, it took me until July to finish the series!

The TBR Double Dog Dare

DONE - I  only read books I already owned until April 1st with the following exceptions:
  • books for my book club
  • books I get sent for review that I REALLY want
  • books for #FinishItFeb
How did you do with your reading challenges last year?


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