52 Books, Week 2: The Girl With All The Gifts

First up, let’s be honest: I’m a tiny bit tipsy right now. I’ve just been out with my coworkers for our ‘Christmas’ meal (come on, we work in retail; we’re not going to get a Christmas meal at actual Christmas!). But I’ve decided to do this blog post every Sunday, so while it’s still Sunday, it’s getting written!

The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey

Start date: Sunday 10th January

End date: Sunday 10th January

Reread/New: New

Yes, you read that right: I read it in one day. That’s a day where I had to work, too; I read it in a couple of hours when I got home, after starting it on my half-hour break and being so captivated I could hardly put it down. It’s not a short book – it took some dedication but honestly, I really couldn’t stop until I could find out what happened.

I only picked this up in Waterstones on a whim; it has a bright yellow cover and stood out to me from a table in the sci-fi section. When I took it to the till, the guy who served me was so excited about the book I decided it would have to be the one I read first this week – he just managed to grip me with his enthusiasm.

‘The Girl With All The Gifts’ is a post-apocalyptic thriller – a genre that I’m very interested in at the moment seeing as I’m trying to write one myself. It features zombies (though, as appears to be fashionable at the moment, the word ‘zombie’ is never mentioned), and plague, and doom and destruction and all those good things. It came out a couple of years ago, and apparently the person who wrote it is some kind of Marvel big shot (I had no idea of this when I bought it – I did literally judge the book by its cover).

This is a book that, while it is focussed largely on the effects of a plague that destroys much of humanity, gains most of its addictive qualities from its characters: the enigmatic Melanie and her relationship with Miss Justineau, a proxy mother-daughter situation that really grips you and makes you root for the pair of them to survive through their various trials and tribulations. They have to try and normalise the abnormal, something that always makes me want to keep reading. It fascinates me – probably because there’s not a lot abnormal in my own life at the moment!

The characters really were the best part of this story – the main plot point is a journey from apparent safety, through near-certain peril, to an unknown future. So far, so normal for this genre. Without the characters, it would have faded into obscurity. Melanie, Miss Justineau, and particularly Parks, who I loved. Even Caldwell, who while she was somewhat deplorable, you could appreciate the detailed motivations of her character. It reminded me a lot of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, even though the situation of the plot was very different.

Would I recommend this book? Most certainly. Go and find it if you have any interest in post-apocalyptic fiction or zombies, or anything really. You might find it’ll surprise you.

Other Books From Week 2

Tooth and Claw – Jo Walton

Paper Towns – John Green

How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 – Sue Townsend

All rereads, all much-loved. After the somewhat weighty main read I had this week, I wanted a few chilled-out favourites to keep me occupied through a bit of a difficult week. If nothing else, please go away and read Tooth and Claw, it’s basically Pride and Prejudice with dragons, and a must for all lovers of fantasy and feminism.

I don’t think that’s gone too badly for a post where I’ve had a couple of beers too many (including Cormoran Strike‘s favourite, Doom Bar) and I’m watching Call The Midwife with a stack of home-made fudge. I’ll try to be a bit less distracted next week!

NaNoWriMo 2015: THE END

FINALLY.

50, 508 words.

Well, I couldn’t bear to get to November 30th without 50,000 words under my belt. It would feel wrong.

It did hit me sometime mid-afternoon yesterday that I still had 10,000 words left to write… and I was lying in a bath feeling like a freshly reanimated corpse, only one more day left with that wordcount bar merrily open.

Then I rallied. At about 2 o’clock this morning, to be perfectly honest.

I’ll come out and say it right away: I’ve done NaNoWriMo every year since 2008 and this was the hardest one yet.

Things that have joined forces to sabotage my NaNoWriMo 2015

1) Moving house – my husband and I now live in a beautiful flat, so beautiful I actually want to spend time cleaning it and keeping it nice. It’s oh so easy to use it to procrastinate. Tricky chapter to write? Nope, can’t, I need to polish the stainless steel bin.

2) The Third Person – Fuck the third person. Fuck it into exceedingly sore oblivion. Admittedly, I’ve done a lot better with it than I thought I would. Even with the other procrastination, this has been a constant rock around my ankle. Every time I’ve been stuck before, in my first person stories, I’ve just been able to peer into my characters’ head and see my way around thing with their eyes. Having to keep to just one character’s prospective at the time has been somewhat exhausting.

3) Apocalyptica and friends – my two lovely friends came to visit this weekend and we went so see Apocalyptica play live at the Manchester Academy. It was such a good night out (we went right from headbanging to semi-clothed cello players to bopping along to Cher within twenty minutes) but I certainly didn’t want to spend any of it wrestling with my stubborn protagonists.

4) The common cold – I haven’t had a damn cold all year. Yesterday morning, I woke up after the great night out and thought “This is a weird excuse for a hangover”. It wasn’t a hangover. It was a fucking cold. It meant I didn’t write a word yesterday – I was far too sick and drippy to want to go anywhere near the laptop. Though it didn’t remain such a procrastination point…

5) 30 Rock – I’ve only just got into it and I love it. I need to be physically prised away from Netflix.

Anyway, last night – well, the early hours of this morning – thanks to the cold of doom, I couldn’t sleep. I tried to snooze in bed, but my nose wouldn’t stop running and I thought I’d drive my husband mental with all the honking into toilet roll. There was some truly attractive snorting going on. I couldn’t prop myself high enough off the bed to clear my chest, so I just gave up and pottered out to the living room.

(Just a point: in my old house that would have been impossible without finding a nice squishy slug trail to stand on in your bare feet, or maybe even an even nicer bit of mouse poo.)

I sat on the sofa, propped up with every cushion and pillow in the house, grumbled to myself a fair bit, snorted and honked to my heart’s content, and wrote and wrote.

I got over 3000 words done before I drooped and fell asleep, for a little while at least (I was up at five for work).

In true NaNoWriMo tradition, I’ve spent all day with the novel firmly in my head, determinedly spewing out as many words as possible whenever I could. I wrote a relatively impressive 9848 words today – not anywhere near my record, but not half bad. Though it wasn’t a single marathon; it’s come out in bits and pieces since 2 o’clock in the morning. And now with less than five hours to go, it’s done!

…the 50,000 words are done, anyway.

This book is going to be a monster. I’m 50,000 words in and I’m not anywhere near halfway through. Remember how I’m writing a time travel story? How my time travellers were going to spend the most significant part of their story enmeshed in the complex, dirty underworld of Victorian London?

They are nowhere near bloody Victorian London. My two protagonists are, for some reason that I’m not one hundred percent sure of, getting drunk in Manchester’s gay village.

So what’s next for my writing?

I hate to say it… but I’m not going to be carrying this story on for a little while. I have NaNoWriMo fatigue, and if I have to write about bloody Watchmakers for another five bloody minutes, I will find a pocket watch from somewhere purely so I can stamp on it.

Oh, I still love the story and I love my characters.

But my other books are yelling for my attention. I have editing to do. First person editing. I have two books that are finally, finally almost ready to get out into the world, and another one that isn’t anywhere near finished but makes me really happy when I’m writing it.

I’ll be quite happy to say goodbye to The Hummingbird and the Timepiece for a little while. I’ll go back to it one day… but for now, it’s not the project for me.

Now how about a final look at my stats graph… traditionally batshit as always.

stats 30.11

*taking my final bow from NaNoWriMo 2015*

NaNoWriMo 2015: the halfway point

…or, you know. Not quite.

My NaNoWriMo stats graphs are always a bit erratic – almost every year, I have a massive word-cushion-making couple of days right at the start, then do sod all for a few days before another giant jump upwards.

I mean, last year I practically embroidered my word-cushion, it was so substantial. The same thing the year before.

*blows loud raspberry at the word cushion*

For the first time since 2011, I am running behind with my NaNoWriMo.

Good lord, it's not been going well

Just look at that for a crock of shite!

Nah, honestly, it’s not that bad. I’m miles behind everyone else, but I just did 4000 words right off the bat in two hours before my shift today, so I’m not that crazily worried. I’ve got a day off tomorrow with nothing planned but writing and dyeing my hair, so I think I can catch up.

No; I know I can catch up.

I’ve not got any problems with the actual writing part any more, it’s just been finding the time to write, with all this house-moving and working business.

Yes, I’ve beaten this third person business down, now. I am on it with the third person. The third person is my bitch, etc etc etc.

And I don’t half love my characters.

I was worried at first that I was turning Lucian Ruby (my main dude) into a creepy creep rather than a charmingly naive anachronism. But he’s got there, he’s worked himself out (and I’ve worked him out) and I think I can now get his parts written without making him sound like he spends his spare time hiding in bushes with a pair of binoculars. He’s not going to kidnap anybody and keep them in his cellar.

Ooh, maybe I should give him a cellar. That would be useful for other plot points about his past, actually… *blog post vanishes so I can scribble maniacally in my big folder of notes*

Anyway. Yes, I’ve got over all my third person blocks now. I’m getting into my characters’ heads just as well as if I was writing in my usual first person format. Their thoughts are still getting across. And for the first time in a long time, it feels like I’m telling an actual structured story, rather than just haphazardly following a fictional someone around and letting them ramble about their eventful life.

I’m twenty thousand words in now, and time travel wise, my characters haven’t gone that far yet. One of them went back to a Merseyside suburb in 1999 to prove a point, and now the pair of them have just landed in Hyde Park on the morning of Princess Diana’s funeral. Not the most inspiring of times to visit so far, but they’re getting there. In the next couple of chapters, the real adventures are going to be starting.

Tomorrow is going to be a very fun day of writing for me, let’s just say that.

The Hummingbird and the Timepiece

It’s just a matter of hours now until NaNoWriMo 2015, when writers everywhere will panic, procrastinate and caffeinate through November. And, hopefully, manage to write 50,000 words of whatever tickles their fancy. This is what tickles mine this year.

I should preface this by saying: I’ve never written anything like this before.

Shit’s getting deep, people.

The Hummingbird and the Timepiece is, above all, a story about obsession. It’s the story of what happens when one man tries to align both his passions, for a woman and for his self-appointed life’s mission, and how the two together destroy him.

Oh, and it’s also a story about time travel.

The idea for the story came to me while I was sitting in my usual writing haunt of the moment, Foundation Coffee House in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. I always sit in the window where the plug sockets are, and it’s a great opportunity to watch the never-ending parade of Northern Quarter hipsters strutting by. The hair, the fashion, the beards… it can be quite the show.

I started to imagine their stories, and being far too easily distracted (I was trying to finish another novel at the time) I started to throw some supernatural merriment into my imaginings. Then before I knew it, I was swaying along to Hole In My Soul by Apocalyptica, a plot almost entirely formed in my head.

Hummingbird Street is a practically an alleyway, too small for a car to pass through. But it’s just big enough for the dusty storefront of Hummingbird Watches, where the most hipster-esque of hipsters sits all day, tinkering with his watches and scowling at passers-by. His name is Lucian Ruby, and he doesn’t want to be friends. With anyone. He prowls into the Northern Quarter twice a day in search of caffeine, and that’s it.

Bethany Lovelace is a history student, bored with her life, working in a coffee shop and experimenting with Victorian cookery books in her spare time. She can’t stand most of her clientele – she’s not that keen on her housemates or her family either. When she meets Lucian Ruby, she’s certainly not keen on him.

Lucian Ruby, however, is captivated. This is the woman he’s been dreaming of for years – she must be the companion he’s been waiting for. An awkward family wedding throws the two of them together, and Lucian Ruby can finally reveal himself; not a hipster, but the genuine vintage article. Obviously, Bethany can’t help herself when Lucian Ruby’s handcrafted watches prove to be a lot more than simple timepieces – but is she really the companion he’s dreamed about for so long? And is he willing to give up the quest tearing a hole in his soul if it means he can keep travelling with Bethany Lovelace for just a little longer?

There’s my merry little blurb. I don’t think it gets across quite the hole I’m digging myself into this November – this is a monster of a novel. It involves travelling everywhere from Princess Diana’s funeral to the eerie asylums of Victorian Britain, from fifties greasers to the day before the Titanic sank. There might even be a brief foray into Civil War Atlanta, I’m still in two minds about that one.

This is going to be the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Not just because of what I’m planning to do to my poor main characters – poor, poor Lucian Ruby, with whom I’m already a little bit in love – but because of the way I’m going to write this.

I’ve always been a first person kind of girl. I get into my characters’ heads and I stay there, speaking their words and rambling happily. This time, I need to get into multiple heads, look at things from multiple viewpoints. I need to keep secrets. I need big reveals.

I’m going third person.

As you can see from my clumsy blurb, it’s not my strong point. I haven’t written more than flash fiction in third person since I finished my first novel at sixteen, realising quickly that I worked a lot better when I could peep through a single character’s eyes and explore their world that way.

So long, comfort zone. Hello, omniscient narrator (who’s already getting on my nerves and I’ve still got nearly fourteen hours before we’re properly introduced).

Oh, and not to mention the built-in procrastination of the fact I’m moving house next week, and getting to 50,000 words will probably cease to be my priority, at least for a little while.

It’s definitely going to be an interesting November.

NaNoWriMo 2014

Once again NaNoWriMo is over. November has been my favourite month of the year ever since I found out that National Novel Writing Month exists – 50,000 words (at least) of a new novel, being done in thirty days… 30 days hunched over my laptop, pounding out words while surrounded by buckets and buckets of coffee. Absolute bliss. No matter what else is going on in my life, I always, always make time for NaNoWriMo.

I was a little bit of a rebel this year. I’d already written 10,000 words of this year’s novel, my young adult epistolary story, Étouffé. I ended up reaching 94,581 words, not including those first 10,000 – I’m counting that as a success. Actually, it’s one of my best years ever.

The story is, of course, nowhere near finished. Halfway through at the very most.

The idea for Étouffé came to me years ago. Actually it was… oh, bloody hell, it was six years ago. Now that makes me feel elderly. I was working in France over the summer as an au pair for three tiny children whose parents ran a riding school. It was the furthest I’d ever been into the middle of nowhere, and I quickly came to realise quite how much I hated the countryside, I hated horses, I hated everything about the farming life. Everyone was so wholesome. To my not-quite-nineteen year old mind, it was horrifying.

What’s more, I had no laptop, no internet, and an ancient phone that could just about manage to text, but nothing more. I did think I’d come prepared for the summer, dragging an entire suitcase of books with me on the train through France, but it wasn’t enough.

I started to take out my frustrations in writing, creating a teenage character not unlike myself, thrust into country living. I decided it would be the other way round from me, though – a haughty Parisian beauty dragged to the English countryside to move in with her new step family.

That’s about as far as I got, though, in a bright green exercise book with squared paper, bought from the only supermarket I’d seen in about a fifty mile radius. I scribbled furiously while my charges were asleep, hiding in my bedroom from a giant, slobbery dog called Basil whose one mission in life seemed to be to lick me to death.

Of course, very little of that first few thousand words has survived. The main premise is still there, and the basis of the characters, and my narrator’s somewhat traumatic backstory (of which she is mostly unaware). But over the years I’ve come up with a decent plot and structure, and a cast of characters who have really come to life in my head.

I’ve got to say, this project has had the highest level of planning of anything I’ve ever written before. I had 20,000 words of plotting, characterisation, settings and timelines before I even started. I got so immersed in Tilly, my main character, that I even started to act like her. Not a good thing – she’s a selfish, self-centred bitch for at least a third of the novel. All this crazy planning meant that right from day 1 of NaNoWriMo, I was powering out of the gate; for the first time in years, my stats graph isn’t littered with big blocks of nothingness, followed by the occasional spurt. This time it was steady, but still leading to almost double the 50,000 word target. In fact, I think I would have got to well over 100,000 words if the last few days hadn’t fallen at the start of one of my most stressful weeks of work since I moved to Manchester.

I’m going to credit part of my success this November to having an actual physical writing buddy – my friend Sara happens to be in Manchester for uni for a few months, and we could actually have our own little write-ins in the best Costa in Manchester. It’s awesome to actually have company, to be able to bounce ideas off one another, to laugh about our occasionally dimwitted moments of sentence construction and plot idiocies. So thanks, Sara!

Now might be a good time to actually throw in the typical stats-graph picture…

NaNoWriMo 2014

Look! A steady incline! Makes a welcome change from years past…

So that’s my NaNoWriMo 2014 story… with so much going on in my life at the moment, I have no idea what my 2015 November will hold. I’ve put aside Étouffé for now, purely because I have other things that should be a priority, writing-wise. But it’s been a lot of fun writing this first half (or third, or whatever) of it, and I feel it’s going to be one of my most entertaining novels.

In case you haven’t heard my spiel yet, I’d recommend NaNoWriMo to anyone who thinks they might have a book in them. With the support from the forums and the healthy competition between friends, it’s the best way to churn out that first draft; maybe it won’t be perfect, but you’ll end the month with 50,000 more words than you started it. The other eleven months of the year can be for the whole perfection part: November is for your brain dump. If I can manage to sit down for an hour or so every day and churn out 3000 words at a time, then anyone with two fingers and a computer is more than capable.

Rereading List: June 2014

Two days off work have been absolute bliss. I had so many plans: I was going to plod on with my stuck-in-a-corner editing, turn the house from the Pit of Hell into – well, the Pit of Purgatory, perhaps – and I was going to actually leave the house and be sociable. Ha. None of that happened beyond a brief sojourn into the kitchen to tackle Mount Dishes.

Instead, I’ve been collapsed alternately on the bed and the recliner, with my Kindle in one hand and the laptop in the other, with the TV blaring endless boxsets.

I didn’t even have the energy to read anything new. I’ve gone back to my standard comfort-reads, books which make me happy and I can read over and over again. Here’s what I’ve been occupied with for the past two days.

Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

Pretty much a given, but I’m determined to reread the whole series – again – before I get married in August. You know, goodbye to childhood and all that. Why yes, I should have said goodbye to childhood approximately seven years ago when I actually left home, but shh. I’m such a Potter fangirl, I have the Deathly Hallows symbol tattooed on my leg and I’m pondering more Potter-related tattoos as I write. For the wedding, we’re making confetti out of old Potter books from charity shops, and it made me feel so physically sick to chop them up that Kev’s got to finish it.

If I go into the full reasoning and explanation of my Potter-love, I’ll be here all week, so I’ll just leave it as that for now.

Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell

This is probably my favourite of all the books I’ve downloaded since I got my precious Kindle eighteen months ago. I’d never heard of this author before, and I was sucked in immediately when I saw its protagonist is obsessed with fanfiction. I’ve had my moments in the world of fanfiction, and I was interested to see it portrayed as something beyond ‘freakdom’ – which, in my experience, the rest of the world has firmly decided it to be.

The book is about a teenager called Cath, who along with her twin sister is just starting college. While her sister, Wren, throws herself into college life, Cath prefers to hide in her room writing epic Simon Snow fanfiction. To keep it short, it’s the story of how Cath branches out and gets a life, while remaining true to herself and her real interests.

I really identify with this story, only I wasn’t as strong as Cath. I tried to change everything about myself as soon as I went to university, wanting to fit in and be liked. I tried to suppress my nerdiness, and tried really hard to like pop music and manicures and girly things. I had a lot of fantastic experiences, but ultimately I ended up depressed.

Anyway, that’s another story. There’s something about Rainbow Rowell’s writing that’s made me read this book again and again without getting bored, it’s like there’s always something new to notice, either in the main story or in the Simon Snow extracts (very much inspired by Harry Potter, obviously). It really is the kind of book you can just sink into and get lost, and then suddenly three hours later hear the front door go and your fiancé’s home from work and you haven’t done any of the washing you’d promised.

Incidentally, the author is touring in the UK next month, which I only realised a couple of days ago. Very annoyed I missed out on tickets for her Liverpool event, which is the closest to me, but there are still tickets for other cities if anyone else wants to go!

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The Wedding Diaries/The Baby Diaries – Sam Binnie

Now we move to a little set of books that I’ve been rereading almost maniacally of late. You might be able to tell why, looking at the titles. I’m getting married in two months. TWO MONTHS. We’ve not got a massive budget – considering the national average cost for a wedding is something like £20k, we have NO budget – and I can’t stand reading books about huge white weddings more or less falling into the heroine’s hands. They’re just so… fake.

However, ‘The Wedding Diaries’, the diary of Kiki Carlow as she prepares for her marriage, comes across as no-nonsense and totally realistic. It explores a solid relationship, with a great family in the background too, muddling towards their wedding while realising that all the princessy over-the-top dreams can’t come true.

‘The Baby Diaries’, as you can probably predict, follows the same couple as Kiki gets pregnant and has a baby (I don’t think that can count as a spoiler considering the title of the book). Anyone who knows me at the moment can tell from a mile away that I’m the world’s most broody person: it feels like someone is physically tugging at my uterus when I see a baby in my shop, especially the tiny newborns that some people insist on toting around the Trafford Centre.

Throwing my uber-broodiness into the mix, I’ve read this book more than once lately. The story might be a formulaic ‘pregnancy and beyond’ story, but it works, and the characters are some of the most real I’ve encountered. Even though I’m still some way from motherhood myself, I identify with Kiki in so many ways; just off the top of my head, her horror at cutesy names for unborn children (Buglet?!) is right up there with my way of thinking (if I see one more person on Facebook referring to their bump as ‘Bubs’ I might scream).

Above all, it made me think about aspects of my own future that I’d not really considered before. Thanks to research for my own books (too much damn research) I know a lot about pregnancy and childbirth already, but I’d not massively considered the actual parenting choices. I’d definitely not considered attitudes towards my own potential parenting: there’s a scene in this book where Kiki gets more or less shamed off a bus because her baby is crying, and it made me think how I would deal with situations like that myself. More to the point, it reminded me not to be quite so judgy, myself. I’m probably guilty of quite a lot of bus-related tutting.

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Sorry, I do find it hard to be particularly succinct when it comes to reviewing books – I just want to bellow “I LIKE IT IT’S GOOD LISTEN TO ME READ THIS”. To be honest, that’s pretty much what happens when I’m in the kitchen at work trying to persuade someone to read something. The point is, I’ve enjoyed these few books to the point of rereading again and again: why not give them a try and see if you feel the same?