Wednesday 25 July 2012

Lots of Planning and Reading

I've learned the hard way through writing Books 1 and 2 that I need to plan my books. I need to plan them lots. I'd already planned the separate plots of Book 3 but while I'm having a break away from Book 1, I'm planning the chapters and weaving the plots together. By doing so much planning, I'm hoping (fingers tightly crossed) I won't hit any major problems when it comes to writing it this time.

I'm really enjoying creating new characters and bringing them and their stories to life. This is my favourite part of writing, conjuring people in my head and getting to know them.

What's your favourite part of writing? And do you plan or do you dive straight in? And if you plan, how much do you do?

I've also been working my way through my towering to be read pile. Split Second by Cath Staincliffe and The Girl On Paper by Guillaume Musso have been my favourites so far this month and I'm almost half way through Sworn Secret by Amanda Jennings and finding it difficult to put down.

What are you reading? And what would you recommend?

Monday 23 July 2012

Saved by Cake Challenge - July

I have decided to challenge myself to bake a different cake/biscuit from Marian Keyes' book, Saved By Cake, each month, between March and December. I am a beginner at baking and use the same recipes over and over again so it'll be nice to try something new. I will take photos and post them on here each month - the good, the bad and the ugly.

Rocky Road Cake

The recipe for Rocky Road Cake looked really simple with no actual baking involved so my two children (who are 9 and 3) helped me with this one. They were very good chocolate and biscuit breakers and, even better, they allowed me the great honour of sweeping up the (mountains of) crumbs after, the little angels.
While they were busy breaking the biscuits, I melted the chocolate, butter and enough golden syrup to kill my diabetic partner on the spot. Once that was done, the kids chucked the other ingredients in the bowl and had a turn to stir it all together and then it was shovelled into the tray and left in the fridge.

And that was it. So easy. The hardest part was fighting with the clingfilm to get it to stay in the baking tray!

The Slab

I cut the slab into 16 pieces like the recipe said but next time I'd cut them a bit smaller because it's so dense, I found it hard going (I know, I know. Madness. Usually I'm of the opinion the more cake the better) and I wouldn't put as many nuts in. I was lazy and bought the pre cut up nuts and they were tiny so they littered the cake and I'm not very keen on nuts. My 9 year old on the other hand, who won't touch a nut, loved them. She won't eat a Snickers but she'll eat Marian Keyes' Rocky Road Cake.

For more Saved by Cake Challenges click here

Thursday 19 July 2012

Happy 1 Year Blogiversary To Me!

Time flies when you're having fun and time has definitely flown this past year. I can't quite believe it's been a year since I set up my blog one afternoon to 'see how difficult it is'. It wasn't difficult at all and I've been waffling ever since.

My first post was an introduction and we're still pretty much the time but a year older and we have a gazillion stick insects now *shudders* I still can't stand the creepy little dudes.

At the time I was rereading Babyville by Jane Green, one of my all-time favourite chick lit books and I was 37,000 words into Book 1.

Since then I have completed Book 1 and submitted it to agents and got through two drafts of Book 2. I've read lots of books and started reviewing some on here and on Novelicious and have taken part in my first blog tour, interviewing author Ellen Sussman.

I've joined Twitter (@Writer_Jenn on there), which has been brilliant and have taken part in a few blog hops.

Thank you to everyone who has visited or commented on my little blog. Here's to another 12 months of blogging. I hope it's as much fun as the past year has been.

I have compiled my top ten favourite posts over the last year here

Monday 16 July 2012

Monsoon Season by Katie O'Rourke

Riley moved from Massachusetts to Tucson, Arizona after graduating college, leaving all her family and friends behind. She didn't know anybody in Tucson but soon struck up a strong bond with her roommate, Donna. Soon after, she met Ben while waitressing and quickly fell in love and moved in with him.

But now Riley is travelling back to Massachusetts to move back in with her parents. Ben doesn't know where she is and she hasn't told her parents about the break up, let alone the reason why it ended so abruptly.

Ben witnessed his father beating his mother during his childhood and now Ben seems to be repeating history.

The first part of Monsoon Season is told from Riley and Ben's perspective but then continues the story from the viewpoints of those around them too. I found it interesting to see how an abusive relationship affects the friends and family of the couple, especially Ben's mother, Teresa. I would have liked to have seen more of Teresa as she had been in Riley's position herself. How would Ben turning out like his father affect their relationship in the long run?

I liked how Monsoon Season began with Riley leaving Ben, dealing with the aftermath of an abused partner deciding enough is enough. For Riley, leaving was hard but staying away is proving to be just as difficult as feelings can't be switched off overnight.

The style of writing was very easy going, despite the subject matter, and the pages slipped by without me noticing so I was very surprised when, after just two days, I was already 75% of the way through and I finished it the following day. I found Monsoon Season to be an interesting and thought-provoking read, showing an abusive relationship from all angles and the effect it can have.

Monsoon Season will be released in e-book format on Thursday 19th July.

Thank you to Constable & Robinson for sending me a copy to review.

Monday 9 July 2012

Split Second by Cath Staincliffe

Emma is on her way home from work when three youths swagger onto the bus. They spot someone they know - another teenager, Luke - and start to harass him, taunting him with vile, racist names. Emma knows they should be stopped but she's afraid to stand up to them. Surely the driver will throw them off the bus for causing trouble. And what about the rugby player-framed man at the front of the bus? Shouldn't he step in?

But the only person willing to stick up for Luke is another youth. When Luke is struck, his head banging against the window, Jason demands they leave Luke alone. The three turn on Jason, giving Luke the opportunity to slip away. He is chased off the bus, with Jason following closely behind.

Emma is shocked when she reads the fate of the boys in the newspaper. One has died from a stab wound while another is seriously ill in hospital.

Split Second delves behind the headlines, telling the story of those affected by such crimes, showing how they cope with their grief and anger and the guilt and then courage of the witnesses who are willing to come forward to first help the police piece together the facts and evidence and then stand up in court to ensure justice for the victims.

Right from the start it was clear Split Second was going to be an intense read with no happily ever afters but it was a powerful, emotional read that kept me turning the pages to see what the outcome would be. I really felt for Emma, whose confidence had been crushed from an early age. She hadn't felt able to stand up for Luke on the bus, which left her weighed down by guilt but she somehow found the strength to go to court as a witness and I think this allowed her to grow as a person.

Split Second is a tough but compelling read and one that is very relevant today.

Thank you to Costable & Robinson for sending me a copy to review.

Saturday 7 July 2012

A Chat With Ellen Sussman

Ellen Sussman's second novel, French Lessons, tells the story of three language tutors in Paris and their students over the course of the day. You can see my review here and Ellen has very kindly agreed to answer a few questions of mine.

When did you realise you wanted to become a writer?

Believe it or not, I decided I wanted to be a writer at age 6! I remember climbing onto my older brother's bureau and picking books off of his bookshelf. I'd write down the titles and then make up stories to go with the titles. I never changed my mind about that career choice, despite years of rejection letters. I must be the most stubborn person or the most determined!

Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to publication?

I published many short stories in literary and commercial magazines over the years, but I didn't achieve real success until I published my novels. French Lessons hit the New York Times bestseller list -- my dream come true! It was certainly not an overnight success but rather years and years of hard work.  

What was your inspiration for French Lessons?

I'm going to provide a link for that story: 

Who has been your favourite character to write to date?

I think I'm partial to Josie, probably because she is the product of pure imagination. Riley was based on me and my experiences living in Paris for five years. (But I never had the hot French tutor!) Jeremy was based on my husband and our experience travelling in Paris. In both cases Riley and Jeremy because their own characters, very different from their inspiration. But Josie was invented out of thin air. And I felt freer creating her character because of that. 

If you were stranded on a desert island and had only one book (conveniently) about your person, what would you like the book to be (bearing in mind you may be stranded for months on end with nothing else to read)?

Oh man, is that tough. I'd want an empty journal -- a large one. I'd want to create my own fictional worlds to keep me entertained and to keep me company.

Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

I've just finished a new novel, The Paradise Guest House. It's about a young American woman who is caught in the terrorist attack in Bali in 2002 and returns to the island a year later to find the man who saved her. 

Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions, Ellen.

The French Lessons Blog Tour will continue until 12th July

Friday 6 July 2012

The End... Again

I have reached the end of the second draft!!!

Now excuse me while I collapse.

After 9 weeks, cutting out 30,000 words and writing 30,000 more, It. Is. Done. For now. I'm going to have a little break and then I'll start round three. At 94,000 words, it needs trimming down quite a bit and I'm sure there will be improvements to be made.

But for now Wahoo! And relax.

Thursday 5 July 2012

I'm getting married in the morning...

... Ding dong! The bells are gonna chime.
Pull out the stopper!
Let's have a whopper!
But get me to the church on time!

Ok, I'm not getting married in the morning. And there'll be no church. But I am getting married quite soon. After almost eleven years together, a house and two kids, The Partner and I are making it official. We've booked the register office and given notice and will be getting married on 14th September.

It will be the World's Smallest Wedding with just me, The Partner, our two girls and a couple of witnesses (who will be staff working in the town hall so we don't even know them). Perfect, no fuss, my-kind-of-wedding. Most of the organising is done (because there isn't much to do with it being so small) - rings have been bought (just waiting for Partner's to arrive in the store), register office is booked and paid for and the girls' dresses and accessories have been bought. They aren't having traditional bridesmaids dresses (nothing is traditional, not even my ring is an 'actual' wedding ring). They've picked the dresses they want to wear and I'll be doing the same. No 'proper' wedding dress for me (might not even be a dress).

The best part is the holiday afterwards, which we booked a couple of weeks ago. It's not technically a honeymoon as we'll be taking the kids and we're going for a family resort rather than romantic. I can't wait!

Wednesday 4 July 2012

Insecure Writer's Support Group - July

The idea of the Insecure Writers Support Group is for writers to blog on the first Wednesday of the month about their fears, struggles and triumphs they have experienced with their writing.

The end of Draft Two is in sight and I can't tell you how relieved I'll be when it's done. I'm exhausted, more mentally than physically. So I'm very much looking forward to a little break. I've still got faith in the story but I need some time away from it. Do other people ever feel like this?

The book needs another draft so I'll take a few weeks off from it so I can go back to it with fresh eyes. In the meantime I'll do a bit more planning for Book 3 and pick up on my family tree project, which I haven't done for ages and I'm itching to get back to it.

What do you do when you've finished a draft? Do you have a break or dive straight back in? Do you celebrate your achievement in any way?

Tuesday 3 July 2012

Yours Truly by Kirsty Greenwood

Natalie Butterworth is quiet and compliant, pushing away her own thoughts and feelings to go along with what everyone else wants. She never stands up for herself or challenges the actions of others so she does nothing when her mum and sister take over the planning of her wedding. They plan everything to their own taste and even buy Natalie a wedding dress without consulting her first. Natalie hates the dress but she doesn't say anything for fear of hurting their feelings.

Weeks before her wedding to Olly, Natalie and her best friend go to see a hypnotist show at their local pub and Natalie ends up being hypnotised to tell the truth whenever she's asked a question. But by the time Natalie realises what has happened to her, hypnotist Amazing Brian has disappeared. Natalie must track him down and reverse the spell before she wrecks her relationship with Olly with her brutal honesty and he calls the wedding off.

From the very beginning and through to the end, Yours Truly is laugh out loud. I couldn't wait until Natalie was hypnotised as the people who needed a few home truths clocked up and when it happened I wasn't disappointed. I was grinning, knowing what was about to happen, as Natalie's fiance asked 'How was that, then, baby?' after a bit of passion. There are lots of brilliant moments in the book when telling the truth lands poor Natalie into trouble and although I was cringing on her behalf, it was great fun.

I loved Little Trooley, the village where Natalie ends up during her search for Amazing Brian, with its eccentric - and heart throb - characters. I wouldn't mind being snowed in there at Christmas.

Yours Truly is my perfect kind of chick lit; funny, lighthearted and with a bit of romance sprinkled on top (and not a designer shoe or handbag in sight). It was an absolute pleasure to read, especially as it is set in the North - I'm afraid I got rather excited with the references to Picadilly Gardens and Key 103!

I thought the cover was perfect and it reminded me of Lisa Jewell's cover for Thirty Nothing, which is one of my all-time favourite covers. Kirsty designed the cover herself and you can see how it came about and grew over on Novelicious.

I would urge any fans of chick lit or romantic comedies (or any other variation of the genre) to give Yours Truly a go. I can't wait to see what Kirsty writes next.

Yours Truly will be launched tomorrow (4th July) and Kirsty will be celebrating with giveaways on Novelicious and Twitter.

Monday 2 July 2012

French Lessons by Ellen Sussman

Nico, Chantal and Philippe are tutors at a French Language school in Paris. Nico has feelings for Chantal and they recently had a one-night stand but Chantal doesn't return Nico's love. She is with Philippe, despite his numerous flings with other women.

Josie is in Paris alone. Her married lover bought the tickets for them before he was tragically killed so, escaping from her private grief, Josie has taken the trip by herself. After hiring a tutor for the day, she meets Nico and finds herself confiding in him. For the first time since Simon died, Josie finds herself having a conversation and even laughing.

Riley is a mother of two young children who has been living in Paris for a year. She hasn't told anybody but she hates living in Paris. Her husband is always working and her son speaks the language better than she does. To rectify this, Riley has been taking lessons with tutor, Philippe.

Jeremy is in Paris with his actress wife, Dana. It is their anniversary but Dana is busy shooting her latest film. To occupy her husband during the day, she hires Chantal to improve his french.
Jeremy loves his wife but he can't help feeling overshadowed by his wife's career. He feels like she is slipping away from him and he doesn't know how to bring her back.

French Lessons is set over the course of a single day, with a section for each tutor/student pairing. I wasn't sure how such a tiny time frame would work for an entire novel but it did and it had a surprising fast pace instead of being packed with simple, mundane activities.

With the separate sections and the fact that the students never meet, it felt a bit like three short stories, anchored together by the three tutors and the events of the day. Each pair end up watching the film shoot at the river, giving the three stories a universal feel. While the three students never meet, they are all in a smiliar prediciment, feeling lost in some way or another and struggling with love and their own personal circumstances.

My favourite character to read about was Riley. I really felt for her, stuck in a foreign city where she doesn't seem to fit in and she feels herself drifting away from her husband. She is lonely and trapped and can't seem to find a way out.

On a superficial note, I loved the map and sketches that divided each section of the book and I liked the simple, elegant cover.

Thank you to Constable and Robinson for sending me a copy to review.

French Lessons will be published on Thursday 5th July and I will be chatting to Ellen Sussman on Saturday 7th July.