Thursday, 3 August 2017

5 Writing Commandments to Live By - Mike Thomas

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Unforgivable by Mike Thomas! Unforgivable is the second in the Will MacReady series, about a detective working in Cardiff and following on from Ash And Bones. Here's Mike to talk about some excellent writing commandments and don't forget to look out for my review coming later on today.

5 Writing Commandments to Live By

Every writer has Things That Work For Them. Y’know, those rituals and self-imposed guidelines and downright oddball things they do just to get a couple of pages out during a working day. Some author chums don’t wash much and live – surrounded by coffee cups and cigarette butts and a cat – in their PJs. Nabokov and Hemingway used to write standing up. Hell, Dan Brown whacks on a pair of gravity boots and hangs upside down just to get in the right frame of mind for typing about stolen maps and Jesus and old stuff with dusty clues on.
Personally, I like to wear as little clothing as possible, but we won’t get into that too much as it involves skimpy underwear, nipple tassels, and mood music. Instead, here’s five slightly more palatable suggestions for successful writing…

  1. Get Those Pesky Words Out
Your magnum opus ain’t going to write itself, so aim for 1,000 words a day, minimum. Sit down, stop being all tortured artist – ‘I can’t work in these conditions!’ *checks Twitter for the 37th time that morning* – and do some work, because that is what writing a novel is: work. It is your job. Even if you don’t hit that magical 1k (and why not?) at least you’ll have something on the page. Something is better than The Flashing Cursor of Uselessness on its lovely, empty white screen. As Stephen King – you may have heard of him – says: ‘When asked: “How do you write?” I invariably answer “One word at a time.”’ But you shouldn’t really listen to other writers too much. We’ll come to that in a little bit.

  1. Stuck in the Middle with You
It doesn’t work for everyone, but it’s a proven method for me: I always, always finish my writing day in the middle of a paragraph or sentence or at the very end of a scene where there’s a hook that gets me more than a tad excited about writing the next part of the story. I just stop. Word count reached, or more than reached and you’ve run out of time because you have to iron the dog or make the kids massage your back after such a terribly trying day typing and drinking fizzy drinks? Stop. This is just so I know exactly where I am going to start the following day, and I cannot wait to get back to the keyboard.

  1. Save, save, save
A very personal one this, and a strange, paranoid habit that I just can’t break. I have my documents set to auto save every five minutes. And… I also click on the save icon just about every time I finish a sentence or a decent paragraph. I am obsessed about it because a long time ago I was on fire while writing a previous novel, had got close to eight thousand words in a marathon writing session… and my computer crashed. I lost all of it. Every. Single. Word. So I vowed never to let it happen again. I may have gone a little overboard: as well as the auto saving and clicking the little ‘save’ icon every three minutes, I religiously back everything up to cloud and then email myself whatever documents I’ve been working on that day. If I added up all the seconds spent saving and emailing and saving again – just in case – it would probably be enough time to write an entire novel. But I’ve not lost a word since so that’ll do me.

  1. Delay the Fun
See those fun things over there? The kids, the PlayStation, the Twitter account? Ooo, those mentions! Those notifications! Hard as it is, ignore it all. And be selfish. You have to write – this is your job, remember? – and that can include the mental space to work through a plotline or decide what a character is going to say (or, whisper it, stare out of the window and laugh as you remember that really funny bit in the last episode of Family Guy). Anyway, shopping, cleaning, cooking, remembering you have a husband or wife – it can all be done later on. And social media: turn off your notifications completely. I have no alerts on my phone, laptop or tablet. Nada. I enjoy making new friends, making jokes and chatting with those friends. But I will get back to you when my work is done. If that’s too late for you, then tough.

  1. Be Yourself
Don’t focus on other people, especially other authors. It achieves nothing and can make you feel worthless. Who cares how many Twitter followers they have, or if they haven’t followed you back, or have unfollowed and blocked you because you kept sending them excerpts from your new7,000-pagee fantasy/fetish hybrid novel ‘Gundar the Vikingdwarf IV: The Ice Realms of Smashfist’ (actually, never do this)? Just do your own thing. In fact, don’t listen to any author advice whatsoever. Including this. Do what works for you. Don’t emulate, or in any way try to copy, otherwise how are you going to find your own ‘voice’? If you’re really going to read those ‘How to Write a Bestseller’-type self-help books just take the little from them that you’ll need and ignore the rest. And when you are published ignore your Amazon sales rankings. Nobody in the entire universe understands their algorithms – not even the smart dudes at CERN – so stop refreshing the page and get on with your work.

About The Author

Mike Thomas was born in Wales in 1971. For more than two decades he served in the police, working some of Cardiff’s busiest neighbourhoods in uniform, public order units, drugs teams and CID. He left the force in 2015 to write full time.

His debut novel, Pocket Notebook, was published by William Heinemann (Penguin Random House) and longlisted for the Wales Book of the Year. The author was also named as one of Waterstones' 'New Voices' for 2010. His second novel, Ugly Bus, is currently in development for a six part television series with the BBC.

The first in the MacReady series, Ash and Bones, was published in August 2016 by Bonnier Zaffre. The sequel, Unforgivable, was published in July 2017.

He lives in the wilds of Portugal with his wife, two children and an unstable, futon-eating dog.

More details can be found on the website

Thursday, 20 July 2017

YALC Reading & What I'm Hoping To Do...

London Comic Con and YALC are nearly here again! From July 28 to July 30 it's going to be wall-to-wall authors, celebrities and stalls selling all manner of things, all equally hard to resist.

This year I decided to be at least semi-organized and I put together a reading list and a schedule for YALC panels and signings. Blank spaces are for when I intend to be celebrity stalking  spotting...

Reading Schedule

I've read seven of the thirteen titles I'd planned so far, although in not in the order I have in my schedule! Where I went wrong was trying to start with Strange the Dreamer, I had such a bad book-hangover afterwards I couldn't get into another book for two days. Back on track now though, and kicking myself for taking so long to read some of my chosen books. I'm going to try and get some mini reviews up of my YALC reads soon, my laptop has gone kaput though so typing everything on my teeny tiny tablet. In other words, bear with me!

If you're going to YALC or LFCC please do come and say hi! If I don't get my nerve up to post a photo on Instagram I'll be the one with pink hair and a green walking stick...

Monday, 17 July 2017

Spooky Settings That Inspired Robyn Silver - Paula Harrison

Paula Harrison is back with the next book in the action packed 'Robyn Silver' adventure series. I absolutely loved The Midnight Chimes and The Darkest Dream is even better. The boldest, brightest new heroine has returned: and Robyn Silver’s life hasn’t got any quieter since defeating the evil vampire Pearl in The Midnight Chimes. She’s now a fully fledged Chime Child and monster-hunter-in-training alongside best friends Aiden and Nora. The three suddenly start seeing nightmares -  in the form of black beetles - appear around town. Who wants the people of Grimdean to be losing sleep - and why?
To celebrate the release of 'The Darkest Dream' here is a fantastic guest post from Paula Harrison about places that helped to inspire her. I don't need to say anything about the fact that this is actually a list of some of my favourite fictional places...

Five spooky settings in stories that helped inspire Robyn Silver: The Darkest Dream
One of my favourite parts of writing Robyn Silver was inventing the spooky settings. Some are classically spooky such as Grimdean House, a mansion with monsters imprisoned in the basement, secret tunnels inside the walls and a barn full of bats in the garden. Sometimes I enjoyed the thrill of turning a familiar place into a spooky setting, such as the time Robyn and Nora meet a monster at a park, skulking behind the swings. So here are some of my favourite spooky settings that helped inspire my writing.
Thornfield Hall
Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronté is the classic gothic mansion. There are odd noises at night and strange laughter, and a suspicion that someone or something is haunting the corridors. Jane Eyre prides herself on being sensible but she can’t help being affected by the eeriness of Thornfield.
Willoughby Chase
The house in The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken uses some of the same Gothic tropes as Thornfield Hall. The mansion is very grand and full of unexplored corners. It’s bitterly cold and wolves have migrated to England, making it incredibly dangerous for the characters to venture outside. This added peril and the bleakness of the winter makes Willoughby Chase a striking and memorable setting. Joan Aiken maintains a constant sense of threat both within the house and without.
Howl’s Moving Castle
The door to Howl’s castle, in the book by Diana Wynne Jones, is a portal that opens on to four different places. This idea is used to brilliant effect by the author. The main character, Sophie, feels trapped during early parts of the story but ends up regarding the place as her home.
The village of Huntercombe is where Will Stanton lives in The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper. This ordinary English village, based on a place in Buckinghamshire, is the backdrop to a fight between the forces of the Light and the Dark. Susan Cooper is a master at building atmosphere and familiar places including roads (Oldway), the manor house and the church are used to build tension. The ordinariness of these settings makes each spooky scene feel more real.
Alderley Edge
The Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner is set in Cheshire around Alderley Edge. Garner chose to set the story in a real landscape and this gives the action even greater impact. The use of the mines in the story is a particular favourite for me, as Susan and Colin are trapped inside and have to find their way out without alerting the hundreds of goblins (the svart alfar) that live underground. But like The Dark is Rising, the eeriest moment is when the forces of evil besiege the farmhouse they’re staying in. The familiar setting makes action far more chilling.

About The Author

Paula Harrison is a best-selling children's author, with worldwide sales of over one million copies. Her books include The Rescue Princesses series. She wanted to be a writer from a young age but spent many happy years being a primary school teacher first.

Website | Twitter


Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Can't Wait Wednesday #189 - The Glass Town Game

Can't Wait Wednesday is a new weekly meme hosted here to spotlight and talk about the books we're excited about that we have yet to read. Generally, they're books that have yet to be released as well. It's based on Waiting on Wednesday, hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine
This week's choice is -

The Glass Town Game - Catherynne M Valente
ISBN - 9781481476966
Publisher - Margaret K McElderry Books
Release date - September 5th, 2017

Charlotte and Emily must enter a fantasy world that they invented in order to rescue their siblings in this adventurous and fiercely intelligent novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

Inside a small Yorkshire parsonage, Charlotte, Branwell, Emily, and Anne Brontë have invented a game called Glass Town, where their toy soldiers fight Napoleon and no one dies. This make-believe land helps the four escape from a harsh reality: Charlotte and Emily are being sent away to a dangerous boarding school, a school they might not return from. But on this Beastliest Day, the day Anne and Branwell walk their sisters to the train station, something incredible happens: the train whisks them all away to a real Glass Town, and the children trade the moors for a wonderland all their own.

This is their Glass Town, exactly like they envisioned it…almost. They certainly never gave Napoleon a fire-breathing porcelain rooster instead of a horse. And their soldiers can die; wars are fought over the potion that raises the dead, a potion Anne would very much like to bring back to England. But when Anne and Branwell are kidnapped, Charlotte and Emily must find a way to save their siblings. Can two English girls stand against Napoleon’s armies, especially now that he has a new weapon from the real world? And if he escapes Glass Town, will England ever be safe again?

Together the Brontë siblings must battle with a world of their own creation if they are to make it back to England alive in this magical celebration of authorship, creativity, and classic literature from award-winning author Catherynne M. Valente.

If you're a fan of Catherynne Valente, the Brontes, Tales of Glass Town, Angria & Gondal or all three then this is a no-brainer really. I grew up reading the Brontes and my love for Catherynne Valente's work is no secret so this book is at the top of my wishlist!

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Stunt Double - Tamsin Cooke

Finn is a free-running black belt, with a talent for acting-but when his big break arrives, it's not the role he was expecting at all. 

Recruited as a stunt double, he's pushed to his limits-scaling walls at high speed, jumping from dizzying heights, and diving into rocky waters-all without any safety gear. He's determined to push himself, but as the stunts get more dangerous, the lines between movie and reality are really starting to blur, and it becomes clear that he'll be luckily to escape this shoot with his life.

'Sometimes real life can be more exciting than the movies' and Finn is about to discover this himself. After finally getting a speaking role in the same teen action movie as his former friend and now arch-nemesis Blake, Finn is horrified when he loses the part to a girl. He doesn't have to brood for long though as Agatha Novak, the famed but rather eccentric director, catches him somewhere he shouldn't be. Fast forward a couple of days, Finn is now Blake's stunt double and they're heading out to Papua New Guinea to film some of the more daring stunts.

What Finn, Blake, Anna and Mawi don't realize is that Novak has an alternative agenda and doesn't care what lengths she has to go to achieve it or who she hurts. Only after Anna is injured and most of the crew disappear do the teenagers start to notice that things aren't quite as they seem. Suddenly finding themselves in 'life or death' situations it would appear that real life is maybe about to get both more exciting and dangerous.

Stunt Double is a fantastic read, you never quite know who is in on the real reason for the cast and crew to be in Papua New Guinea and who isn't. Novak doesn't hold back on some pretty cruel ways of persuading the children to do what she wants, in fact some of it is really quite scary for a boy thousands of miles away from everything and everybody he knows. The reason for their current location was amazing, without giving anything away it really was something spectacular and something so unbelievable that it made it seem all the more real. 

Tamsin Cooke has written a real page-turner of an adventure story, with a great cast of characters both young and old. Although Finn and Mawi were definitely my favourites I had a soft spot for our batty director who thoroughly deserved everything she got for dragging children into an incredibly perilous adventure, although I think Finn was quite rightly in his element! If you're looking for an addictive read, full of action with a healthy dose of friendship, then Stunt Double is perfect. I can't wait to find out if we're going to see more of Finn as although this story is finished, there's a "what? what just happened? now that's a bit of a cliff-hanger!" moment and I sincerely hope his adventures as a Stunt Double continue.

Stunt Double - Tamsin Cooke
ISBN - 9780192749826
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Release date - July 6th, 2017
Find - Goodreads | Book Depository

On Finding Inspiration In A Car Park - Tamsin Cooke

Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for Stunt Double, the fantastic new novel by Tamsin Cooke. As this guest post goes to show, you really can find inspiration anywhere!

Finding inspiration in a car park!

Inspiration can strike absolutely anywhere – in dreams, while dog walking, from music or paintings, - you name it. Inspiration can even hit you when sitting in a car at the side of the road in the middle of an industrial estate!

I knew that I wanted to start a new story and this time I wanted to have a boy as the main character. But I didn’t have a solid idea. I’d been thinking about storylines involving travel or mistaken identity.

Then one evening, feeling hot, sweaty and rather irritable (although you probably didn’t need to know that), I sat watching the door to my teenage son’s free running club. He’d been having a fantastic time - running, vaulting, somersaulting, swinging – basically doing anything he could to get from one point to another in the fastest possible way. But now he was late and in a hurry.

At last, he emerged. He ran through the car park dodging vehicles, vaulted the wall and swung over the bonnet of our car.
‘Don’t you dare!’ I shouted before he could leap straight through the back open window.
He opened the door and flopped inside.

But I didn’t turn on the engine. Instead, I froze. My son had reminded me of a stunt performer. And it occurred to me – wouldn’t that be the most amazing job for a teenager? It’s full of risk, adventure, and glamour. Suddenly I remembered the Fall Guy – a television programme I watched as a child about an undercover
stuntman who captures criminals using his skills and knowledge of stunts. I used to love it.

‘Are we going then?’ asked the impatient teenager.
Still, I didn’t move.  It was a real ‘Eureka!’ moment.

When I get an idea for a story, images fly into my head. I conjure up scenes and they play out in my brain like an act from a movie.  At that moment, although sitting in the car in the industrial estate, in my mind I could see a bridge – the sort that splits into two parts allowing a ship to go through, like Tower Bridge in London. A boy was scrambling up one of the rising wings of the bridge. Running as hard as he could, the wing rose steeper and steeper. He grabbed onto the edge and pulled himself up, until he was perched on the ridge, ready to jump across.
‘Cut’ shouted the director.
Suddenly I noticed the wires connecting his body to a crane in case he fell. And there were camera crew filming his every move.

‘Mum, are we going?’ said my son, jolting me back to reality.
‘Would you like to be a stunt performer when you’re older?’ I said, turning on the engine.
‘What are you talking about?’ he asked.
‘Never mind.’

I drove home as fast as I could (not like a stunt driver I must add!) and started Googling stuntmen.  To my dismay, I discovered stunt performers have to be over the age of 18. Arggh! Then I realized this was going to be fiction. I could make it work. Plus being a teenage stunt double was no longer just exciting, it was illegal too!

Over the next few weeks, I scoured the Internet, researching movies and stunt performers. I talked to a director and met a real life stuntwoman  - who might be one of the coolest people in the world!  Every time I learnt something knew, another new idea sparked. The more I learned, the more inspired I became.  Scenes flew into my head and I frantically scribbled down the ideas.  I am a planner. I can’t just write and let a story evolve. Soon I had the whole story mapped out.

I condensed all of my ideas into a one-page synopsis and sent it off to my agent Anne Clarke who then sent it off to my publishers. To my utter joy, Oxford University Press said YES. For those of you old enough to remember the orange juice advert on TV, I felt like the man from Delmonte had said Yes!!! Just like movies are given the green light to start filming, I was given the green light to start writing.  Stunt Double was born!

Huge thanks to Tamsin for the fabulous guest post and don't forget to check out my review of this fantastic adventure story.


Thursday, 6 July 2017

Sweet Little Lies - Caz Frears

What happens when the trust has gone?

Cat Kinsella was always a daddy's girl. Until the summer of 1998 when she sees her father flirting with seventeen-year-old Maryanne Doyle.

When Maryanne later disappears and Cat's father denies ever knowing her, Cat's relationship with him is changed forever.

Eighteen years later, Cat is now a Detective Constable with the Met. Called to the scene of a murder in Islington, she discovers a woman's body: Alice Lapaine has been found strangled, not far from the pub that Cat's father runs.

When evidence links Alice to the still missing Maryanne, all Cat's fears about her father resurface. Could he really be a killer? Determined to confront the past and find out what really happened to Maryanne all those years ago, Cat begins to dig into the case. But the problem with looking into the past is that sometimes you might not like what you find. 

What do you do if you think your father may have murdered a seventeen-year-old girl? For Cat Kinsella, the answer is to cut herself off from her family and join the police force. 

At the tender age of eight Cat is on holiday with her family in Ireland when a local girl goes missing. Convinced her father had something to do with the disappearance she tries her best to destroy her relationship with him.  Eighteen years later though, a body turns up in London a stone's throw away from the pub Cat and her family lived in. The body is initially identified as Alice Lapaine but after appeals to the public it becomes apparent that it is actually Maryanne Doyle, the girl who vanished. Just how did she end up in London and where has she been all this time?

Cat, part of the team investigating the murder, knows she should come clean about knowing the victim but desperately wants to know if her father is capable of murder or if maybe she has misjudged him all these years. Still reeling from her involvement in a previous case Cat's boss wants her involvement to be minimal but naturally she ends up in the thick of it, risking her relationship with her sister who won't hear a bad word about their father.

For a debut novel, Sweet Little Lies is superb. The story is told both in the present in London and in Ireland eighteen years ago. The difference between the two Cats is considerable, whilst the younger Cat is confident, outgoing and safe in her relationship with her father, adult Cat is rather bitter, secretive and struggling with the fact that she may have got everything wrong. Not wanting to admit this she plunges deeper into the case, risking her career for wanting to prove a point.

Cats Frears has written a fantastic first novel, the writing kept me hooked from start to finish and unable to put the book down until I'd read the last word. The majority of the plot takes place either in the police station or with her colleagues, apart from the chapters involving her family (their Christmas celebration was spot on for a family who obviously don't get on very well) but this adds to the story. It was great to see the connections between Cat and her fellow officers, especially Steele, her boss who was taking an greater interest in Cat's mental health than she would have liked, and Parnell, an older male officer who was the acting boss on the case as well. Given her troubles with her father it was interesting to see her closeness with Parnell, the almost father-daughter relationship they were developing.

The best thing about Sweet Little Lies though? The plot. I had no idea where the story was going or who the guilty party was or what the reason for the murder was. You think you've worked it out and then the story zoomed in another direction. Was it the husband who had no idea who she really was? Was it the 'moron' brother who has grown up to be anything but moronic? Is it connected to Ireland or has Maryanne somehow managed to get involved in something completely unconnected, something that got her killed? All I can say is you probably won't work it out, not until the last few pages when you'll suddenly realize what's going on and want to know how did you miss the clues pointing to the culprit? It's something that Parnell himself was trying to work out when someone's identity was revealed so you won't be alone!

I thoroughly enjoyed this debut novel, it's easy to see how it won the Search For A Bestseller competition and I really hope this isn't the last we're going to see of Cat and Parnell as I loved getting to know them. If you like police procedural stories with a twist then Sweet Little Lies is worth a read.

Huge thanks to Bonnier Zaffre and Netgalley for providing me with a review copy of Sweet Little Lies.

Sweet Little Lies - Caz Frears
ISBN - 9781785763359
Publisher - Bonnier Zaffre
Release date - June 29th, 2017

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