Sunday, 30 August 2015


It's getting started that's the hardest part. Sitting down at the desk and being greeted by the blank page, or the new document, and the sure and certain knowledge that no words you put down are going to live up to the glorious vision of excellence that exists in potentia just beneath the surface of all that pure white. That writing the wrong word, an awkward phrase or failing to capture that perfect image will ruin your literary masterpiece forever, set it in stone as inferior to the novel that exists in the library of the never-written.

That's nonsense, of course. There may be book clubs and literary awards in the realm of dreams, but they are of little use in the physical world. Think of your favourite novel. At some point, its author had to push past the idol of the perfect novel and actually commit their words to paper. And aren't you glad they did?

I am a notorious procrastinator. I love writing, I really do. During a dreadful period of writer's block, my friend Hannah said to me with concern, "Katie not writing isn't really Katie at all." Didn't I know it! Perhaps it is reflective of me being unable to deal with reality without an escape into my own invented world, where I am the queen and control the things that are out of my hands in real life. But who's to say that's a bad thing? Perhaps it's true that we humans need a little madness to stay sane. I make sense of the world by translating it through the medium of story. It's how my brain works, for good or bad. And without that, life can become incomprehensible, overwhelming. Getting stuck into a story, moulding it, dreaming it, breathing it - that is when I feel most like myself, like I've found my purpose. And yet, to sit down and start putting words into some intelligible order is the hardest thing in the world. Some of this is the aforementioned fear of the blank page. But even with the acceptance that the first draft will probably be dreadful, (and that doesn't matter, honestly it doesn't, just put it on the page and you can perfect it in the editing stage,) the fact remains that writing is hard work, and, especially now you can get the internet in any room of any house, without even needing to plug in a wire, distractions are everywhere, and easy. I think that is why I write mostly into the evenings, and sometimes into the early hours - out of guilt about having nothing to show for a writing day except a handful of social media updates and perhaps a page of my colouring book for grown-ups.

Since I rediscovered creative writing in time for last November's NaNoWriMo*, I've tried to become more disciplined in my writing habits, and adjusted my outlook on my life and work situation to view living with my parents and working part-time as a gift, an opportunity, not a sign of failure. I'm most productive when I have a routine, especially when I have more than one day off together. Yes, I still waste a lot of time, but I have a collection of useful tools and rituals to help me to get focused.

There was a time when I wrote best in ink on paper, and certainly I still find some benefits in that. For one thing, they have not yet - to my knowledge - invented an internet-connected pen. And there is something about handwriting that makes me feel as though inspiration itself is flowing out through my hand, down the pen and onto the page. I pretty much write exclusively in fountain pen these days, with bottled violet ink. Not only does this make me feel like a "proper" writer, but it must be better for the environment, and in the long run, my purse, than buying dozens of biros that vanish into the abyss in every woman's handbag.

But I really only do my brainstorming and planning in ink. I outline each chapter, scene by scene, in a writing journal, but the stories themselves get typed into Scrivener. I've tried a couple of different writers' programmes, but Scrivener is the one that stuck. Not only does it allow you to create separate documents for each chapter or scene, but there is room for all your notes, character profiles and research, all in one place. The scene-by-scene layout has given me more freedom to move on, knowing I can easily find where I left an unfinished section, to write scenes out of chronological order, or to rearrange my story in different ways. There are tools for searching within a novel, reading all the parts of each subplot together, storyboarding and wordcount targets, even going back to previous drafts if you realise you liked it better before making modifications.

The other useful software I've discovered is called Freedom, which cuts out your internet connection for a period of time, forcing you to work on what you're actually supposed to be doing. But surely just switching off wi-fi will do the same thing? you say. Aha, I reply, but it's just as easy to switch it back on again. Freedom won't let you do that before your time is up, not without rebooting your machine. And that's probably too much effort for the sake of a bit of procrastination.

But even without the internet, there are a myriad other ways to distract myself at home, and if my mind just will not settle, sometimes it's worthwhile to take myself to my local coffee shop for an hour or two.  LoveCoffee in Newport has a spacious upstairs, and is rarely so busy that I feel obliged to vacate my table as soon as I've finished my drink. I can quite happily spend a morning there outlining, journalling, or working on my draft.

For Christmas last year, I was bought the Ready, Set, Novel! writing journal from the creators of NaNoWriMo. Now, after studying creative writing for three years at university, I've concluded that there is only so much writing theory that one can learn from books before one has to learn by doing. And a lot of writers' idea books are more of a distraction than a help, good for brainstorming, but bearing little relevance to an extended project. But Ready, Set, Novel! has proven an exception for me, so much so that I bought a second copy to start planning for this year's NaNoWriMo. Even if you are completely lacking in ideas, Ready, Set, Novel is designed to help you to discover what you're actually interested in writing about, and when you have your initial ideas, takes you through the process of honing them into a novel, fleshing out characters, finding the tone through the use of setting, and discovering not only what happens in your story, but what it's about. It's helped me to discover more about my characters, the shape of the main plot and even to make sure that all of the subplots are satisfactorily resolved.

And then, onto the writing itself. Some people create music playlists to help them to get inside their character's heads, and in the right frame of mind to write. Personally, although I do have music I associate with my characters, I can't have it on during a writing session, because it's another distraction. What I do have is a carefully selected scented candle which is appropriate to the theme, characters or setting of my work in progress - at present I'm using Yankee Candles' "Champaca Blossom." Allegedly, smell is the most evocative of the senses. I'm trying to train my brain into associating a particular scent with settling down to work on a particular novel.

But even so, it takes a lot of willpower to get started. I bully and bribe myself just to reach this word count, to spend an hour writing, to finish this chapter by this date. And for a while my brain protests. It's looking at the clock. It's checking the word-count gadget after every sentence. But gradually, the characters wake up, and sometimes they do what I wanted them to, and sometimes they surprise me. From time to time, I'll discover that I've just solved a plot problem that's been troubling me for weeks, without even noticing until it's there before me in black and white (or purple and cream.)

Maybe your story doesn't really write itself, and maybe the characters don't really make their decisions on their own. But on a good day, the pieces come together in the back of your mind, and the result makes so much sense that you can't quite believe that it came from inside yourself. That is when your story comes to life. It's the best feeling in the world.

*National Novel-Writing Month

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the companies whose products I have mentioned in this post, nor am I receiving any payment for recommending them. Any opinions are my own,

Monday, 17 August 2015

Bout of Books 14

Bout of Books

Monday 17th August

3.30PM: Well, here we are in the fourteenth Bout of Books readathon! For those of you who don't know me, my name is Katie, and I work part time in a bookshop on the Isle of Wight (a small island off the south coast of England.) When I'm not working, I write fiction (although I'm as yet unpublished,) and am currently writing the first draft of a geeky chick lit novel. Although right now, I seem to be finding all sorts of ways to avoid writing! I've set myself two more scenes to write today, but perhaps I'll find my brain works better if I take a break and read for a little while...

4PM: ...or maybe not. Instead of a reading update, allow me to present my Fictional World Travel challenge entry: the challenge is quite simple, to show off a selection of books set in different countries around the world (not your own.) I've also omitted the USA, because, let's face it, probably a good half of my books are set there, if not more.

The Fictional World Travel challenge was created by and hosted at
Between Library Shelves

The Book of Tomorrow - Cecelia Ahern (Republic of Ireland)
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and his Years of Pilgrimage - Haruki Murakami (Japan)
A Man Called Ove - Frederik Backman (Sweden)
The Miniaturist - Jessie Burton (The Netherlands)
Pink - Lili Wilkinson (Australia)
Anne of Green Gables - L. M. Montgomery (Canada)

To those of you who don't know me, let me say that Anne is one of my greatest loves, and so don't be surprised if you see her pop up again over this week.

I'm going to shut down my computer until 5, and see how much of A Man Called Ove I can get read by 5PM.

Monday's Stats:

Currently reading: A Man Called Ove Frederik Backman
Pages read today: 260
Books finished this week: 0
Quote of the day: "People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was colour. All the colour he had."

Tuesday 18th August 

Today already hasn't gone to plan. It's my last day before going back to work, and I was trying to have an early night and earlier morning to try to ease myself back into a workday routine - but I couldn't sleep. I used the time to finish off A Man Called Ove, which is a really lovely book. The titular Ove is a grumpy old curmudgeon, probably a Swedish relation of "Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells," who seems to live to complain. But as the book progresses, we see how Ove has come to be this way, and how underneath it all he's really a very kind, very lonely man. A Man Called Ove is in turns sad and funny, often both at the same time, with a wonderful cast of characters, a story about how one person has an effect on a community in many small ways. 

Today was going to be another writing day, but I'll save that for the evening, I think. I have less than one scene before I finish the chapter, hopefully a bit of humour after all the melancholy I wrote yesterday. I'll be having a beach barbecue with my friends this afternoon, but now I'm going to make myself a big mug of coffee and maybe some cake, and curl up with my next book: The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. 

Tuesday's Stats:

Currently reading: The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
Pages read today: 150
Books finished this week: 1
Quote of the day: "There is a female chivalry, woman for woman, as strong as any other kind of loyalty.Or perhaps it was we didn't want brought home to us the deficiencies of imagination in our own men."

Wednesday 19th August

I think today is not going to be a reading day. I went back to work after a ten-day holiday today. It wasn't terrible, but it has marked the end of summer for me, and autumn in retail brings its own particular struggles. Perhaps I'll have an early night, and read a bit of a Discworld book in bed. I'm enjoying The Golden Notebook, but it's perhaps not a book designed for speeding through on a readathon; it's full of politics and feminism and big ideas about the compartmentalisation of life and personality. The protagonist keeps a series of journals on a variety of themes: politics, writing, and personal life, and the novel features segments from each. But right now I don't feel much like reading it, instead flicking about on the internet. I'm feeling the urge to settle down to rewatching some youtube videos instead - maybe rewatch some of Green Gables Fables in preparation for the new season covering Anne of the Island in a modern-day university, which is coming very soon. 

Thursday 20th August

7PM: Maybe it wasn't the best of ideas to take part in a readathon in the week I was due to go back to work for the autumn. Yesterday's reading was a grand total of about seventeen pages. The evening was spent faffing around online, watching Green Gables Fables and colouring. Today, although the back-to-work blues are still hanging around a bit, I'm feeling a bit happier and more relaxed, so I'll push on with a bit more of The Golden Notebook. You do really need to sit down for a long stretch of time and get stuck into that book; it's not very good for reading just a few pages over lunch break. I've just got in from work, and on my way I accidentally picked up a cute and funny little "Happiness Is..." book from the gift section at TK Maxx, and another "colouring therapy" book from the supermarket. I'm going to make a toastie and some soup for my dinner, and read a while, then, later, I might do a readathon challenge, and watch more of Green Gables Fables. 

Thursday Stats

Currently reading: The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
Also read: Happiness Is...
Pages read today: 117, plus approx 250 in Happiness Is... (the latter had about 2-10 words on each page so doesn't really count.)

Friday 21st August

3.30PM: Friday is my Saturday, as I'll be working tomorrow, so I spent the morning doing chores: tidying, cleaning, two loads of laundry. I'm now settling down with some more of The Golden Notebook, which I'm finding very interesting as I can relate so well to Anna, with her many notebooks and journals. I have so many notebooks, each with their own purposes: about the novel-writing process, book review notes, and one just for favourite quotations. Then there's the different versions of me I present online - I do not sync my Facebook and Twitter accounts, for instance, but choose what to write for which audience, even in a simple status update. But I might switch to a different book later on.

Friday Stats:

Currently reading: The Golden Notebook - Doris Lessing
Pages read today: 244

Saturday 22nd August

Work again today - but it was decidedly quiet for a Saturday, especially one in the summer holidays. It was really hot and sunny when I ventured out at lunch time, so I suppose most people were on the beach or in their gardens, making the most of the good weather. A couple of days ago I was sure autumn had arrived, and I've been wearing sweaters and fluffy slipper boots already. But summer was apparently not as over as we'd thought. (I've seen the weather forecast for next week, though. Sigh.) I made the most of the peace and quiet to start clearing some space in the stock room for the autumn new releases and Christmas gift books, which could start arriving at any time. We've already got a few annuals in! I swear it gets earlier every year. I also had the chance to sit down and talk to my manager about something that had been weighing very heavily on my mind - part of the reason that my reading's been so difficult the last couple of days. I find it very difficult to admit when I'm struggling, but I knew I couldn't carry on bottling things up, and now I feel a lot better after talking things over with her. 

I finally finished The Golden Notebook, which I've really enjoyed reading - it's a very different sort of novel, a kind of examination of everything that goes into the writing of a book, all the things behind the scenes that might not make it onto the final draft, but which contribute nonetheless. However, I'm glad to have reached the end of it, and am moving on to one of the few Discworld books I've never read - Thief of Time. The final book in the series is released next Thursday. I still can't believe it's ending, though Sir Terry has been gone for nearly six months now. 

Saturday Stats:

Currently reading:
Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett.
Also read: The Golden Notebook
Pages read today: 120
Books finished this week: 2 (or 3 if you count Happiness Is...)

Sunday 23rd August 

5.30PM: Okay, so I haven't actually read anything today, or done any of the jobs I'd planned. I got up quite early for a Sunday, but unfortunately migraine struck. I've had a nap, and the pain's mostly gone, but the visual part has remained so everything looks shadowy - not good for concentrating on a book. Probably sitting at a laptop isn't doing it any good either, so I'll put that away for now. I'll try to read a bit after dinner.

11.30PM: The worst of the migraine's gone now, and I've read a bit more of Thief of Time. I didn't realise that this was a book featuring Susan, Death's granddaughter, in a prominent role! Yes, there was a book about some of my favourite characters which I hadn't read or known about! What a lovely surprise. It's wonderful to lose myself in the Discworld, with Terry Pratchett's trademark wit and wordplay, and it looks as though it'll be a worthy sequel to Hogfather in some ways. 

Sunday Stats:

Currently reading: Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett
Pages read today - 65 so far
Books finished this week: 2 (or 3 if you count Happiness Is...)
Quote of the day: "When you look into the abyss, it's not supposed to wave back."

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Sunday Summary (16/8/15)

Five things that made me happy this week (with special thanks to Ellie the Lit Nerd.)

1. Having a week off work. It's been fairly crummy weather, although there were a couple of gorgeous sunny days, and last Sunday I went to Ventnor beach with my family, swam in the sea twice, and then had hot chocolate from my favourite beachside cafe, Lady Scarlet's. They also do lovely ice cream and sundaes gluten-free cakes, and if you have coffee, they give you milk in one of those old-fashioned 1/3rd pint glass bottles.

2. Writing. Despite not working, I seem to find my natural writing time is late into the night. I find it's easier to get into a routine when I have several days off at a time, rather than just one day, and I've finished one chapter of my work in progress this week, and am aiming to get another one done before I go back to work on Wednesday.

3. There were, however, a couple of days when I didn't manage to get any writing done at all, and on Friday, I switched on my laptop to find it wouldn't boot up past the "welcome" page, before turning to black. I've had that computer a long time, and had a lot of work done to it, so I decided it was tuime to treat myself to a new laptop. I bought a very petite, blue one - it looks a bit like a "my first laptop" toy. I do intend to get my old one fixed, if I can, though.

4. Last week was also Cowes Week, the big sailing regatta, when lots of posh and boat-obsessed people come to the Isle of Wight. We're not so interested in the boats, but there was lots of street food, and a falconry display in Northwood Park, where we watched a bird called Swoop doing some very impressive flying and diving - to the song "Danger Zone" from Top Gun! And on Friday it was the annual fireworks event, which is a bigger deal on the Island than November 5th! The weather was a bit drizzly, but it was better than last year, and my friends and I congregated on Cowes Green for the evening to watch the fireworks.

5. One of my family friends, Lois, threw an Alice in Wonderland themed tea party yesterday afternoon, and my mum, dad and I were among several of the guests who went in costume (I was the Mad Hatter.) Lois has recently retired from working as a librarian, and threw the party in celebration of the novel's 150th anniversary.

Bout of Books: 

Bout of Books

I've also decided to sign up once more for the Bout of Books readathon, which begins tomorrow, although I'll have to share my reading time with my writing. Still, I'd like to get my current book finished (A Man Called Ove) and read three more from my to-read shelf. These may or may not include The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, Goodnight Beautiful by Dorothy Koomson, Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook, and/or Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett.
The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 17th and runs through Sunday, August 23rd in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 14 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. 
- From the Bout of Books team
Will you be taking part? If so, what books are on your pile - or do you prefer to just read whatever takes your fancy at the time?

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Month in review: July

Hello to you all. In the books world, July was all about Go Set a Watchman. Whether you couldn't wait for it, or were nervous about it, or tried to avoid it entirely, it was everywhere. I used the two weeks running up to Watchman's release to read through the small pile of library books, loans, and gifts, which I did not count towards my "read 3, buy 2" policy for this year. After Go Set a Watchman, with all the hype and discussion, I fell into a little bit of a reading slump, a sense of "Now what?" It may not be a full-on reading slump; I've still read four books (plus a penguin mini-classic) in the past two and a half weeks, which is still pretty good, but I haven't felt that draw to my bookshelves, or that immersion into a really engrossing novel. That's okay. It happens, and it's nothing to beat myself up about.

What I read

Abarat - Clive Barker
The Rabbit Back Literature Society - Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen
The Coincidence Authority - John Ironmonger
The Outcast Dead - Elly Griffiths
Nunslinger - Stark Holborn
The Night Guest - Fiona McFarlane

The Man in the High Castle - Philip K. Dick
Go Set a Watchman - Harper Lee
The Beginner's Goodbye - Anne Tyler
Weirdo - Cathi Unsworth
Interesting Times - Terry Pratchett

And (Penguin Mini Classics)
The Fall of Icarus - Ovid
The Night is Darkening Round Me - Emily Bronte
Lord Arthur Savile's Crime

With a new to-read pile for August, I'm starting to feel a bit more excited about reading again. I bought two new books yesterday, both from the children's section: First Class Murder, the latest in the Wells and Wong series about schoolgirl detectives in the 1930s, and Katy by Jacqueline Wilson, a modern-day retelling of What Katy Did. I'm often very wary of retellings, but I think that some of the literary webseries, such as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Green Gables Fables (as well as, recently, Project Green Gables.) have softened my purist's attitude, and I find it very interesting to see how they translate to the modern day. And What Katy Did is a book full of really good characters, incidents and stories... but it is ultimately very Victorian in its moralising in the second half, and the "character development" turns an adventurous, ambitious, feisty little girl into a dull, sanctimonious little angel. I think the characters and family life of Katy and the Carrs would fit quite well among Jacqueline Wilson's original novels: she writes about dysfunctional families, often with lots of children and maybe a single or remarried parent, and her characters are believable children. Let's see how she handles this classic.

Provisional August To-Read Pile

Thief of Time - Terry Pratchett
First Class Murder - Robin Stevens
A Wizard of Earthsea - Ursula Le Guin
When We Were Orphans - Kazuo Ishiguro
Dark Places - Gillian Flynn
HhhH - Laurent Binet
Goodnight, Beautiful - Dorothy Koomson
Reasons She Goes to the Woods - Deborah Kay Davies
Katy - Jacqueline Wilson
The Rook - Daniel O'Malley

I've really got stuck back into my writing in the last month or two. Where I work part-time, I'm trying to make the most of my days off as an opportunity to work on my novel, which I began for NaNoWriMo last year. I'm setting myself achievable targets and am really pleased with how it's coming along now. And I've also come up with my idea for this November's project: a children's book set in a girls' boarding school, involving time travel. But unlike the usual time-travel narrative in which someone goes back from the present day into the past, this girl, Olive, comes from 1940 and has to figure out how to pass as a 2015 teenager, with many lessons to learn, while trying to get back to her own past and her family. It's taken inspiration from Charlotte Sometimes, Cross Stitch and Captain America, and I'm going to have to reread a load of my old school stories from childhood, in order to figure out Olive's character and world. 

Which is handy, seeing as Bex is organising another ReReadathon for September, not one but two weeks this time. I fully intend to reread last year's favourites: 11.22.63 and The Martian, as well as at least one Sarah Waters novel, but I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to read a Chalet School, Malory Towers and maybe a Trebizon or two for comparison. 

And away from the world of books, reading or writing them, I've finally got around to buying Star Trek: Deep Space 9. We don't have many places left on the Island which sell DVDs, and especially not older ones or box sets (although CEX the exchange shop opened this week - yay) so I'd been looking in every HMV or CEX whenever I went to the mainland, with no joy. But suddenly I remembered that Hive sells DVDs as well as books. Hive is an online shop I don't mind using - normally I go out of my way to buy in a shop if at all possible - because it supports local independent bookshops.

My Trekkie friends either seem to like DS9 best of all, or hate it. I'm really impressed with it so far; I've only seen about half a season, but I already like it more than The Next Generation. (Gasp! Controversial!) TNG is pretty much how I imagined Star Trek to be before I ever had any interest in Star Trek. It's got some good characters, and some really interesting, thought-provoking storylines, but I never quite warmed to it the same way I did the original series. I felt like it was trying to be more of the same. Picard's crew is still seeking new life and new civilisations, boldly going where no-one has gone before, their ship is even called the Enterprise. DS9, by contrast, is set on a space station, and it's not even a Federation space station; instead, a team from the Federation has been called to work alongside the Bajorans, whose space station DS9 really is, and there is the conflict as the two teams learn each other's ways.

Deep Space 9 ties in nicely with the franchise so far. The pilot opens with a flashback to the biggest season finale of The Next Generation - the Borg attack in which Captain Picard was assimilated, and the battle of Wolf 359, where a Starfleet officer's wife is killed. This officer is Benjamin Sisko, three years later the commander of Deep Space 9, who has been bringing up his son alone. It was good to have some of the issues I'd had with the series so far addressed: the throwaway nature of the doomed redshirts and unseen nobodies, and why it is really not a great idea to have civilian spouses and children onboard the Starship Enterprise. Yes, she is a ship of exploration, not of war, but you might be forgiven for forgetting that, considering the number of space battles all her incarnations have seen, and of course the redshirt mortality rate!
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