Monday, 30 April 2012

Z is for The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Link to Goodreads
Apart from being a fantastic story, this book stood out for me because it's narrated by Death. As a result the viewpoint is pretty much omnipotent. Done badly, using an unexpected narrator can either be a gimmick or a mistake. But done well, like in The Book Thief, it makes the story very special and memorable.

I've recently completed a story narrated by a ghost. Now, I'm actually foolish enough not to pay attention to rules or conventions, so I'd probably have always written that particular story in that way; but it's reassuring to know that non-conventional narrators are accepted - and can really add something to the way a story is told.

The Book Thief takes the very serious and important issue of Nazi Germany and weaves a wonderfully poignant and sad story amongst the plight of the Jewish people. I cried, several times. Whatever I say here won't do the novel justice - I'm not a great reviewer - but I highly recommend this book to everyone.

And this brief post concludes the A-Z Challenge. I'm not sure how to finish - it's been lots of fun and I've discovered some great new bloggers, but I'm also a little bit glad I'll be able to get back to normal. My laptop could do with some down-time.

Thank you to everyone who's stopped by or followed me this month.

If you've followed me during the course of the challenge, and I haven't yet followed you back, please comment and let me know - it was just an oversight and easily rectified! I'm looking forward to getting to know you all in the coming weeks and months.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Y is for Yesterdays by Guns N Roses

As it's the last Saturday of the challenge, and yet again I'm struggling to find a good Y book/author that I've been inspired by (I'm really not a fan of this last section of the alphabet), I've decided to have another musical post.

There is absolutely no reason for this song, I just love it and I hope you do too. There was no video on YouTube, so just lie back and enjoy the music!

Happy Saturday, and happy last two letters of the challenge! See you on Monday :-)

Friday, 27 April 2012

X is for Extras

My post for X was going to be the rock band Extreme, who I listened to almost on a constant loop, when I was writing my first submitted novel (submitted, but probably never to be published). However, YouTube didn't want to share their best stuff, just the easy listening selection, so I bottled it - I didn't want you to think I had bad musical taste!

So this post is about the other stuff that inspires me, the eXtras! (Hubby is disappointed I haven't used xylophone or xenophobia, but I hope you're more forgiving.)

My Manchester City mug! I like football and this is my team! (Just so you know, it's only first on this list because it's the first picture, not because it rates higher than my kids!)

My fountain pen, given to me by my uncle for my 21st birthday. I promised myself I'd only use it to sign my first published book. However, I was young and stupid and didn't realise how long it would take to have a book published (or that when I finally did, it would be an ebook with no cover to sign) - so a couple of years ago I started using it to write my first drafts, and I'm sure it adds something very special to my work.

Pretty notebooks - I've always been addicted to stationery shops. I love looking at notebooks, folders, pens, files! The notebook in this picture was a present from my son for my birthday last year. I'm waiting for ideas before I use it - I don't want to waste it - I want this to be the notebook that I compose my Booker winner in :-)

My kids. Of course. I don't write childrens stories, but what I really hope is that when they are older, they'll be interested in the things I've written. I've spent all their lives huddled in corners with pads of paper, sometimes letting them spend just a little too long on the Playstation while I finished a chapter. It would be nice to show them what I've been up to!

And Hubby. I wrote a post about him here, so I won't repeat myself. If you're interested, I'd be delighted for you to read it. Here's a gratutious link to his blog - he's a musician, by the way: Peter Crawford.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

W is for Fay Weldon

The Goodreads link
Fay Weldon first came to my attention when I was 12, and my mum was watching the BBC version The Life and Loves of a She-Devil, which tells the story of one of the most extreme acts of revenge in literature. If you are unfamiliar with the story, an unattractive and downtrodden housewife embarks on a complete plastic-surgery reinvention of herself and procedes to irrevocably punish her ex-husband for the suffering he caused her. (Dennis Waterman played the husband - I am unsure whether he sang the theme tune :-))

Link to Goodreads
(Rosanne Barr made a version in 1989, if you're interested, called She-Devil.)

Years later, when I was 18, ITV adapted The Cloning of Joanna May. This time, an aggrieved man clones his ex-wife.

I've since read a couple of her novels, and marital relations play a big part in her work, particularly those relations which are no longer working, or no longer what they seem. On the whole, her writing is good, but what drew me to include her in this series (apart from the W in her name!) is the sheer scope of her ideas. Plastic surgery when it was still quite a bizarre thing to do; cloning when the idea of clones was first being mooted.

If nothing else, she is inspiration to keep an eye on the news and pick up on those tiny little 'and another thing...' snippets that appear at the bottom of the page, or the end of the new bulletins. You never know what you'll pick up on!

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

V is for Henry V by William Shakespeare

Did you see what I did there? V. Ha, inspired! Actually, I've never read/seen Henry V, so this post is going to be about Shakespeare in general. Because I hate him. No, sorry... I used to hate him.

The Complete Works of Shakespeare
At school, I hated him. I studied Antony and Cleopatra at GCSE, and it put me off. Far too much politics!

Then I started A Levels and we read Much Ado About Nothing. This was much easier to understand: firstly it's about love - simple! - and my teacher was fantastic at explaining line by line, and pointing out all the rude bits, and when the Kenneth Branagh version was released I could understand it all! Yay for me!

Jump forward to 2011 - my son aged 12 saw that Hamlet was coming to a theatre near us and wanted to go. So, fearing he wouldn't understand or enjoy it - and fearing I wouldn't either - I took him. (Just him and me, which rarely happens, and probably helps to explain my fondness of this memory.) We had a great time. What amazed me the most was how caught up in the action my son was. He asked a couple of questions at half-time, and explained a couple of things to me too!

Shakespeare should not be read from a book. It is pretty much incomprehensible. Seeing it on stage should be compulsary for anyone attempting to study it. Shakespeare wrote plays! Plays belong on the stage!

I wouldn't say I love Shakespeare now, but I certainly appreciate everything that has happened in literature because of him - and I'm looking forward to seeing another production with my son one day - and therefore Shakespeare has to be part of this series.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

U is for Un-studying Literature

Back on D Day (no, not the one in 1944, the one at the beginning of this challenge) I wrote about Tess of the D'Urbervilles, and what I'd really have liked to say to the English teacher who made me study it. As I am totally lacking any U references at all, I thought I'd use this post to continue my rant.

About three days into my English Literature A Level, I realised I shouldn't be on the course, because that was the time I realised literature shouldn't be studied, it should be enjoyed.

I know... that's a mind-bending statement, isn't it? Well, no - not unless you're an English teacher.

Think about the writers we study:
  • Shakespeare
  • The Brontes
  • Thomas Hardy
  • Charles Dickens
  • Wordsworth
And, what do all these writers have in common? They were all popular writers. They weren't writing high literature - that's the mantel we've placed them on. They were writing prose that the common man in the street would find enjoyable. They probably didn't place too much store on the symbolism and metaphors used. They just wrote, the same way you and I do, telling their story in the most effective way.

So, this week, what I'd love to say to my English teacher is:

We shouldn't be doing this. We should be enjoying the books the way they were intended. We should think about the themes, enjoy the story, perhaps even consider the moment in history they are portraying - what better way to understand history than through the eyes of people who lived in it. Yes, these authors had important things to say about the world they were living in. They don't deserve to have their prose broken down into blocks of text for 18 year olds to pour over in sticky school halls, extracting every last significance out of every last full stop and semi-colon. Sometimes, Mr English Teacher, Sir, I'm sure they chose to describe the sky as cloudy because it just was, not to foretell something terrible in a hundred pages time!

Monday, 23 April 2012

T is for Tasting the Grass by Annalisa Rowe

Okay, so I admit, this is another cheat post, because it's about me! (Rowe is my maiden name.) I tried very hard to come up with an inspiring T, but I obviously have a huge gap in my literary knowledge. At this point, U isn't looking too good either! Anyway, back to T...

Tasting the Grass (I posted it here last year - feel free to read and comment, either here or there) was published by New Fiction magazine in October 1994, back when there were a proliferation of small press magazines to submit to.

It was my first published story, and - as you can see - I still have the magazine.

I started writing for submission - as opposed to just writing - in 1993 when I left school and was unemployed. I wrote loads that year, and the next, and finally I was accepted. I had another acceptance the following month... and then nothing. Every couple of years, I'd maybe have one or two stories accepted or win a prize - if you check this link to my CV page, you'll see my stop-start career. My big break never came.

Over the years, I've had some wonderfully encouraging rejection letters and critiques through competitions. Each time I thought I was on the verge. I'd see the same names alongisde mine in the longlists, and then gradually those names would start moving up into the winning places, and finally they'd have their books published. Names like Helen Dunmore and Sally Zigmond.

But I'm happy. In that time - has it really been 18 years! - I've got married, had two children, worked and re-trained. Each time I've truly thought about giving up, I've had success with a submission, and of course carried on. Because, really, I never want to give up writing.

And then, last year, my biggest success so far came with the acceptance of Cat and the Dreamer.

So, in a roundabout way, this post isn't about me at all - it's about saying don't give up! If you truly want to write, then write and see where it takes you - it's taken me 18 years to get to this point. If you want to make lots of money, perhaps you should try a different career. 

And as Joanne Trollope famously said about her own career: "It's taken me 20 years to become an overnight success."

Saturday, 21 April 2012

S is for Sliding Doors

Internet Movie Database entry
The eagle-eyed among you will notice Sliding Doors is a film. Well yes, yes it is. But it's also a film that I wish I'd written, and therefore it counts as inspiration.

The story takes two very distinct paths after Helen tries to catch a Tube. In one reality she catches the Tube; in the other, she misses it.

From this relatively small incident, Helen's life completely changes in both realities - one in a postive way, the other less so. What makes this such a great story is the ending. It pretty much sums up my philosophy of life. But I'm not sure I want to spoil it. If you've seen the film, you'll know. If you haven't, it would be so cool if you check it out - especially as it has John Hannah at his sexiest!

This plot device would be difficult to manage in prose. In the film, Helen has her hair cut in one of the realities, so immediately the viewer knows where they are. Alternate realities are abound in fiction, but usually taking a significant event and imagining how the world would be if the opposite had happened. To do both in the one film/book would take a lot more planning than I think I could manage!

Friday, 20 April 2012

R is for The Rendezvous by Daphne du Maurier

I've never liked Daphne du Maurier's novels. I find them very difficult to get into, and incapable of holding my attention; but her short stories are a completely different matter entirely. In fact, I'd go as far as saying that she's a bit of a master in the art.

Daphne du Maurier on Wikipedia
In the first story of this collection a seemingly happily married woman wakes up one morning and committs suicide. An investigator is brought in by her distraught husband to work out why. This investigator retraces the steps of this woman's life, talking to her old headmaster amongst others, until the tragic tale is told. It probably doesn't follow the 'rules' of how a modern short story would work, but it's a story that holds your attention until the very end - which is surely the point!

In another, a writer's new relationship isn't quite what he'd hoped for, while a fellow writer is getting all the glory.

Other stories hint at the paranormal, implement fantastic twists, or are just perfect enough to stay with you for a long time afterwards.

Why is this in my list - apart from starting with R - I hear you ask? Simply because they are good stories, told well. They are subtle enough that with just one sentence she can turn the whole story on it's head. A true gift. Sometimes I feel that modern short stories are written to shock or confuse; I am often confused by recent short stories, and sometimes I'm not sure what the story is. With du Maurier's short stories, you are under no illusion, and you are enveloped into her rich, imagined world.

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Q is for Quite Contrary by Suzannah Dunn

Link to the Goodreads page

It was a big relief when I realised I had a Q for this challenge - it was one of the first letters I had, to be honest - are you jealous?

Suzannah Dunn has been a huge influence on me. Before she started writing historical novels, she wrote quite dark contemporary novels. Her first publication was a novella called Darker Days Than Usual - although I can't remember what it's about, I read it a long time ago! What I do remember is that it was published by Serpent's Tail, which was a publisher I thought was perfect for me, because they published Suzannah Dunn. I remember it was 20,000 words long - and again, that seemed perfect. (I was going to link to Serpent's Tail, but they don't seem to mention her on their web site anymore... there's a lesson to us all!)

Then I read an interview where she described Quite Contrary, a novel of 56,000 words. If you're just passing through for the A-Z Challenge, you won't be aware that I write too short (I've also mentioned it here) and I'm obsessed with word count, so this in itself was reason enough for me to be interested. And then, by chance, I found it in a bookshop and bought it.

I've actually read this book several times. I like the quiet thoughtfulness, the rhythm of her voice, the speech patterns. I love the timeshifts, and how each new memory alters the reader's perspective, and also the main character's perception of her childhood. If you like a lot of action in your fiction, this might not be the book for you, but if you enjoy exploring a character's erm... character, then check it out, and - as always - please let me know what you think!

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

P is for Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

(Source) Gratuitous Mr Darcy moment
Hands up who guessed this would be my P? Hands up who thought it might have been my A or J? If you've followed me for any length of time, you can't have escaped my love of this book! It's one of the only things that I can quote from on a regular basis, in context. And usually it's only my sister who understands what I'm talking about. I even made a comment the other day on someone's blog, then deleted it because it was a P and P quote and I sounded nerdy! :-)

(In fact, I'm so nerdy, I know exactly where this photo comes from in the series - do you?)

I first discovered Pride and Prejudice by watching this 1940s version. My overriding memory of the film was being dissatisfied by the conversation between Lizzy and Lady Catherine at the end. The argument happens vaguely as it does in the book, however when Lady Catherine departs, Darcy is waiting for her in the carriage - she tells him that Elizabeth is just the kind of woman she likes, and Darcy should propose to her immediately. Which he then does!

Pah! Even without having ever read Austen before, I just knew this wasn't right. So I bought the book, and the rest is history!

Everything you need to know about Jane Austen,
via Wikipedia

I'm not sure this book ever inspired me to write, but it certainly was one of the few books at the time (16 or 17 years old) which totally captivated me and emersed me in its pages. And, for that, I will always love it.

In the picture - right - the book at the bottom is a gift from work colleagues when I left my job in a college library, directly above it is my annually-thumbed copy and - of course - I have the BBC Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version (first on video, then on DVD, after watching it when it originally aired, in my mum's kitchen with Hubby, who was then just Boyfriend).

P and P led to Sense and Sensibility, which led to Emma. But none has the same pull. In fact, it's been about a year since I last read it, so if you'll excuse me...

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

O is for Once Upon a Time...

Way back on F day, Gwen at Fulfilling Dreams wrote a post on writing fanfiction. I found this really interesting because my son had just that week started writing a Batman story. (I think I'm the happiest mother ever - how cool my son wants to do something I do!)
The Goodreads entry

It made me think of my first stories, and I guess - in a way - I wrote fanfiction too. The very first thing I remember writing was a story about Snow White and Rose Red... see fanfiction! (See... once upon a time... tenuous but it's there!)

Fairytales were the first stories I remember as a child. And I enjoyed them because they were great stories, not because of the merchandise that came with them. I loved listening to the rhythm and flow of the words, I loved the horror and fear and hiding under my duvet when the witch appeared. Nice, gory, but safe stories.

I loved the words happily ever after - although as I've never read the Grimm's originals, I don't know if those words even appear in them

These days, I'm led to understand, the wolves run away and survive, the witches and evil step-mothers are reformed - everything has been watered down and sanitised. It doesn't seem right, somehow!

And now it's your turn: what was your favourite childhood story - fairytale or otherwise?

Monday, 16 April 2012

N is for Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller (a rant)

The Goodreads entry
I read this book once. I thought, "Not bad, quite good". I took it back to the library and thought nothing more of it. I assume you are all book-lovers, so you'll recognise how insipid this reaction was. But, read on...

This post isn't really about Notes on a Scandal. As I was struggling for an N post I picked on this book, but in truth I could have picked any number of books.

Today's post is actually about books that are made into film. Now, I maybe in the minority here - and I do love going to the cinema and watching films - but what annoys me is later, after I've decided a film is my all-time favourite, finding out that it was actually a book first.

Internet Movie DataBase
Books and films are different media. You can do different things with them; you can use different devices to tell the story. A full novel will never fit neatly into 120 minutes. Plus a lot of the time, the film doesn't even follow the storyline of the book, or it changes the ending so completely that people debate whether the book or film was better.

(I realise that on C day, I talked about Fight Club - a film I like, which was first a book - so I hope this doesn't come across as too hypocritical. I was just as disappointed to discover Fight Club wasn't an original screenplay.)

It often seems like the film is cashing in on the success of the book, and the author cashing in on the success of the film. Fair enough, I concede that money is important, we need to buy food and fuel - that's not really part of my argument.

The real complaint I have is if you're the scriptwriter tasked with the adaptation, why change the story? If you want to do that, why not write your own original script? Worse, if you're the original author writing the script, why tinker with the plot you thought was perfect? (That last example may or may not have happened, I'm just covering my bases on that one.)

Some authors claim that the film is a separate entity so they don't mind what the director does with it, but I'm not sure if I could detach myself like that. Maybe one day I'll be in this position myself, but hopefully I'll have the strength to say stick to my story, please.

Because today's post isn't a recommendation, I'd love to hear your opinions on books being turned into film. If you're a screenwriter, I'd love to hear from you too.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

M is for Paradise by Toni Morrison

At school, I tried to read Beloved. It wasn't part of the syllabus - I don't think - but it was in the library, and there was a waiting list. So I signed up for it too, because if this book was being read by so many, it must be really good. But I really couldn't get into it - I faltered by the second or third page. Which makes it all the more strange that I picked up Paradise at all!

And over to Goodreads...

Paradise is wonderfully written, and non-linear. I find my own prose drifts around, either with a certain amount of structure or with none at all. Toni Morrison has structure in abundance, and it's a joy to read. Each section of this novel is about a different woman, surging towards a common point in time. At first the reader has no idea how these women are connected, but all is revealed as the story progresses.

For me, it's these first few pages of each new chapter, when the women haven't been properly introduced that are the magical parts. The reader is taken into  uncertain situations which are slowly revealed. Yes, some of these situations are terrible, such as a woman who's child has died - and the gradual dripping of information keeps you turning the page, needing to know more.

I was inspired by this mostly because the chapters were self-contained stories, and at the time I was struggling to write anything longer than 3000 words. By making chapters self-contained, I might make a novel. The novel I wrote - which will probably never be published - told the story of a woman over the course of twenty years. Each chapter moved the story on by a couple of years, watching the decline of this tragic woman. It'll never be published in its current form, because it's too darn depressing, but it was a great way to learn, and Toni Morrison is a great teacher.

Friday, 13 April 2012

L is for The Little House by Philippa Gregory

It's my birthday today!! So I'm not really here, I'm spending time with my family and being thoroughly spoilt with presents and chocolate... hopefully. I'll catch up with all your comments tomorrow, but be sure to whisper!
On with today's post...

The Little House is a pyschological thriller about a new mother and the way her mother-in-law tries to take over. The writing is very stubtle. I was a new mother when I first read this book, and several of the early incidents happened to me - like not havng any clean nappies to hand at an inopportune moment, like not having time to have a shower and having milk stains down a top I wore yesterday, like not having time to hoover or clean the house.

The Goodreads page
The mother-in-law - who is nothing like the mother-in-law I have - is on hand to tell this poor new mother how she'd managed to always have a clean house, clean clothes, a fully made-up face to greet her husband. How she didn't have any help when she had a new baby.

Gradually, without the reader realising, the story escalates until the young mother is sectioned; with even her husband, the new father, believing that his wife is lacking as a mother and a danger to the baby. And when you look back, it all seems so reasonable. I remember a cold goose-bumpy feeling. Could I, could my friends, suffer the same fate?

I won't give the story away, if you haven't read it, but it's worth checking out.

What I took from this novel was pacing, the importance of balance and detail when you're creating the world in which your characters live.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

K is for Snake by Kate Jennings

Snake is another book I bought without knowing anything about the story or the author.

The Goodreads link
This is the story of a disastrous marriage, told with a highly distinctive voice. Kate Jennings is foremost a poet, which shines through in the beauty of the images and words. In my own prose, I like to work with rhythm, writing and re-writing until I have the right sound, even though I am very bad at writing poetry.

I bought Snake because it was a short novel. Very short. I think I tried to estimate the words once, but I can't remember how many there were. Each chapter is a couple of pages or less - in some cases, just half a page. That's an awful lot of white space, and it only has 160 pages!

My regular readers will know I struggle to write enough words. This book proved that if you have a great story and the right publisher, and the right editor with the right vision (and on top of that, lots of luck) a novel will be published. And, because it proved everything I hoped for my own work, I had to have it.

(Many years after I bought Snake - in fact, this year - Cat and the Dreamer was published... an e-novella... Click on the links on the top left hand corner, if you're interested! I'm not doing badly, am I? Day 10 and this is only my second mention!)

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

J is for Ten Sorry Tales by Mick Jackson

 I could cheat on this post, because I wrote a review of this book here some time ago. Wow, it's a good book! Feel free to check out the link, I'll wait...

Are you back? Good.

I love this book because it shows how easy it is to create strange - really peculiar - characters and still draw your audience in. Most of my characters are rooted to the real world; I hesitate to write this kind of larger-than-life weirdness because I worry about making them believable. I worry that readers will throw their hands up in despair that I haven't taken the time to make them more sympathetic and real.

Of course, Ten Sorry Tales is a collection of short stories, and I know from experience it's much easier within a short story to dump your reader in an odd situation with odd characters and never have to actually explain yourself. What made me laugh is that the things I adore in this book are the very same things that people on Goodreads have disliked.

I've tried to make some of the characters in my current WIP slightly more abstract - it's a novel at the moment, but who knows what it will end up as. I've got a man who likes to write all over his body, and a woman who's so shy she practically disappears into the soft furnishings. They may or may not work in the environment I've put them in, but I've got the confidence to try.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

I is for I Love to Boogie by T Rex

Okay, I think it's time for some more music. Usually, when I'm writing  - imagine words flowing with abandon, fingers burning with friction - I need to look up and move around occassionally.

There are two songs I can't not dance to, which can be awkward. I Love to Boogie is one of them: I've attempted to dance to this song while on a cross trainer (elliptical) at the gym, while walking in a supermarket, and once - dragging my sister into the boogie - in a service station car park on the M5. (The other one is Footloose, if you're interested.)

This is a live version, and a bit rockier than the single. What I'd really love is if you'd stand up and have a bit of a dance - go on, you've been at this keyboard for a while now, you've visited plenty of blogs, this is time for you! Let me know if you danced!

Monday, 9 April 2012

H is for Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling

It may surprise my regular readers that I am inspired by Harry Potter, when I don't write YA, fantasy or series (serieses? is there a plural of series, or is it like sheep?).

The hype passed me by for the first three books, largely because of the reasons above. But the first four were a present for my son when he was a year old. And because they were in the house, I picked them up, read them, and enjoyed them.

When five, six and seven came out (okay, I'm not such a fan that I can immediately recall the titles - lol), I bought them. In fact, I read each of them in one day. It became a ritual - I'd pre-order my copy, clear the day (kids out with dad, no housework) and just read. Bliss! A further fact: I ended up with two copies of the final book because Hubby was invited out to meet his friend who was dressing up as HP, and bought me another copy in case the pre-ordered one didn't arrive!

Anyway, none of that had anything to do with why these books are included in this list. When I read all the books in quick succession (while bedridden with flu), I was struck by the obvious planning and plotting that went into the stories. For example, in the Philosopher's Stone a cat walks across the page; and only in a later book does the significance become apparent. The smallest things tie in to bigger things later on, and that impresses me.

I don't plan or plot. If something important happens, you can be sure that I've re-edited to foreshadow events, rather than the foreshadowing always being in place.

But that's obviously not how Rowling worked because she didn't write all seven books at once, so as a feat of planning and plotting Harry Potter is on my list.

And now, I've got to ask: has anyone not read these books, and why?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

G is for Madeleine's Ghost by Robert Girardi

Firstly, thanks to all my new followers, and to everyone who's just stopping by to have a look. I'm blown away by the sheer numbers of people involved with the challenge, and I'm probably being a bit lax with keeping up with all my visiting duties! If you've followed me and I haven't followed back, please leave a comment - it's just an oversight! And now, here's today's post...

Link to the Goodreads entry
Have you ever walked into a bookshop, scanned the shelves and bought a book based on the cover and nothing else? That's what happened with this book, because I thought the cover was fantastic.

It can be quite a difficult decision, choosing books. I'm now on Goodreads, which is helping me enormously, but before that I'd see good reviews and interviews, decide to buy that book - and then totally forget which book it was when I was standing in a bookshop.

So I rely on other methods, such as the cover, the title and the last line. Oh yes, I always read the last page, usually instead of the first page... and I'm not the only one, so an extra bit of advice is: always make your last line really strong!

This story, luckily, was just as good as its cover. Robert Girardi has a great voice, and a wonderful way of envoking the sights and sounds of New Orleans. It was a book I read almost in one go - it has such an easy, fluid style, and you really want to find out how the different threads of the story come together at the end.

But that's not why I'm inspired by this book - it's purely the cover....

Friday, 6 April 2012

F is for The Five People You Meet In Heaven by Mitch Albom

The Five People... on Goodreads
The Five People You Meet In Heaven is on my list of books I wish I'd written. I only read it last year - I bought it on the strength of the title. So I guess what I learnt from this book is that titles really matter.

I'm quite proud of my titles. When a story appears in my head it's fully formed, including the title, character names, beginning and last lines - the trouble comes when I try to write it all down! Recent titles I've been particularly proud of are:
  • Our Beautiful Child
  • The Guitar at the End of the World
  • My Mother's Mother's Mother
None of the above are published yet, so no need to go in search of them!

The premise of this book is wonderfully comforting - in Heaven you meet the five people who have affected your life. It may be your husband or wife, or it might be that person you met just once in a shop who handed back the wallet you'd dropped. You meet the people who have contributed to your life.

Isn't that the most beautiful thought?

One day I'd like to write a book that someone considers so wonderful they want to own it, and love it, and never let it out of their sight.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

E is for Everybody Hurts by REM

You'll probably have noticed that Everybody Hurts is not a book.

I'm a bit nervous about posting this one now, though - because last week a lot of people took part in a Sad Songs blogfest, and this song was featured heavily. However, although, this song can make me cry when I'm in the right mood, for the purposes of this blogfest it's not a sad song, okay?

I was reading a blog a few weeks ago that was talking about themes. (I can't remember whose it was, so I can't credit it - sorry!) I admitted that I didn't know what my theme was, and then I heard this song on the radio and thought that's it!

It's not just the theme of one story or one novel. It's the theme I apply every time I pick up my pen - it is my theme. Everybody does hurt at some point in their lives, but that hurt will be cured (or, if you've read some of my work, killed).

I hope the Sad Songs blogfest hasn't put you off wanting to listen to this song again!

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

D is for Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

D'ya geddit? D'Urbervilles!

As luck would have it, today's post ties in with the Insecure Writers Support Group, because Tess of the D'Urbervilles made me insecure when I read it at A Level. I found it difficult to read and to understand, and I really didn't see the point. It made me feel I shouldn't be in the class. Everyone else had really important things to say about it, and I didn't. Because what I really wanted to say, but was too insecure to say, was:

Project Gutenberg free download
Mr English Teacher, Sir, this story is based on a small misunderstanding which should have been easily cleared up, if Tess had been the kind of strong heroine that I've come to expect in literature. Lizzie Bennett is a strong heroine. Even Jane Eyre is strong (even, because I don't much like that book either - I'm a rubbish Literature student, Sir).

Maybe Tess is the kind of girl who was abound in 19th century England. But it's a hard task to imagine - as a 20th century girl (as I was) - that level of docility and sappiness. I can't do it, and I won't do it. I would say more, but I'm on a word count limit!

(At this point, you need to imagine me packing up my folder and walking out of the class, leaving my copy of Tess on the desk, only returning when we move onto the next topic - which was probably metaphysical poetry).

Ah, that's better. Twenty years of insecurity unburdened!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

C is for Chuck Palahniuk

 I heard about Chuck Palahniuk after watching Fight Club. I thought it was a good film with great actors; and a fantastic twist!

I discovered Fight Club was actually a book, so off I went in search, and I was hooked on the style, on the shape and form of the prose - and the much more realistic ending. Then I discovered that Fight Club wasn't actually his best book. I've read Invisible Monsters and Haunted (which I never completed - trying far too hard to be gory and becoming a parody of himself, sadly), but my absolute favourite is Diary.

Haunted, incidentally, is the novel that caused several men to faint at a reading as Palahniuk gave a graphic account of some damage to the male anatomy.
Chuck Palahniuk's Goodreads page
Diary is about a woman who always wanted to be an artist but never thought of herself as any good. She got married, had a daughter, acquired a pushy mother-in-law, and then her husband ends up in hospital in a coma. The flashbacks are really well-handled, in that they don't glare off the page, they flow with the rest of the story.

The plot jumps along at quite a pace, and I must admit, the idea of a man in a coma for the whole novel inspired a character in my latest novel MS. It also - much to my dismay, because I'm not sure how to recitfy it - leant itself to the tone of half of my novel, until a point where Palahniuk's voice fades out and mine appears. One of my betas who knows me very well actually noticed the change of voice, so I know it's obvious, and I know I can't attempt to sell a novel that's half written in someone else's voice. Especially a voice as obvious as Palahniuk's. But because it's so strong, and because it lends itself so well to that part of the novel I can't even re-write the first sentence - it's just so perfect the way it is!

I would add that if you're going to check him out on my recommendation, go for some earlier stuff. The repeated hooks - almost refrains - that I thought worked well in Fight Club and Diary are used to excess later on. Maybe he thought because it worked in a couple of novels it would work in them all! Actually, I may have more mixed feelings about Palahniuk than I thought!

My aim of this post wasn't to advertise, but coincidentally...
C is also for Cat and the Dreamer, my new novella.
Please feel free to check out the links on the top of the left-hand column :-)
Thank you!