Sunday, 19 August 2012

Writing Resources which make sense

So, I have quite a few books on writing, one or two of which I've even read all the way through. 
Yesterday, I finally finished 'Bird By Bird' by Anne Lamott and found it very funny, helpful and not at all patronising which, I've heard, some writing books are. 

I love the way she writes - she's amusing, brutally honest and explains her writing 'tips' with personal anecdotes. I think this method of teaching helps you understand the 'why' of a piece of advice and how it works towards making you a better writer. I'm looking forward to reading more of her work given the humour and style of this book.

But the first book I ever read about writing was Stephen King's 'On Writing' which, again, was more like a vague autobiography interspersed with advice. The two main points I took away from this book were:
  • Don't give up. Mr King received many, many, many rejections but persevered. I'm not saying that you'll become as famous and prolific as he is but don't quit at the first hurdle. Three rejections does not mean you can't write for crap. It just means those agents didn't like it or it's not quite polished again. Keep going - write something else, rewrite whatever you sent out, get it professionally critiqued if you have the money. I know I've said this before but, if you are in the UK and write romance of any kind, the RNA New Writers' Scheme is fantastic - very thorough and encouraging and not expensive. 
  •  Write every day. All writers say this so it must be important! Even just fifteen minutes a day to get your writing 'muscle' working is okay. 
That's not all he has to say though so if you're looking for inspiration and motivation, this is the book to get hold of. 

Next on the list is going to be 'Gotham Writers' Workshop: Writing Fiction' which, as the name cunningly suggests, is more like a creative writing class to be taken in your own time. I did start it once upon a time but life took over (baby and emigrating!) so it's back to the beginning I go. 

Of course, there's a mountain of websites and blogs online too. The ones I visit the most are:
Oh wait, those last two aren't anything to do with the craft of writing but they are delicious and hilarious respectively. Give them a read, if only to find a new recipe for weekend baking and be warned off having kids have a bloody good laugh (and maybe get another new recipe for the weekend too - bonus). 

I also follow quite a few authors because I like their books and they write in the same genre as me. Authors are often spectacularly generous with advice and tips.  They will also direct you to other blogs and websites which might be useful in your quest to finish your novel, get an agent or, if you decide to go this route, self publish.

And there are lots of Twitter accounts that tweet about the writing industry - Advice to Writers and Publishing Talk to name a couple - publishers like Harper Collins and Choc Lit and, of course, a huge amount of authors. This is where you can get some really great links to interesting articles, blog posts and give aways (favourite!)

What websites and Twitter accounts do you read or follow that you think are helpful to writers of all levels? Are there any writing books that you recommend to fellow aspiring writers? Or ones that you found completely useless?

Of course, it could be said that all this faffing about on the Internet and Twitter valuable time spent researching could be detrimental to the first rule of writing - Write! 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Slow Publishing and the 2012 BBC top 100 books

 So, a writing buddy of mine has decided to slow publish his book - slow publish? What's that? I'm so glad you asked because it's a very innovative way of creating interest in your novel - you give it away for free but in a modern day Charles Dickens way - installments by email. Clever, eh? 

 Interested? You can sign up here to receive emails which contain small installments of the book, The Soles of My Shoes. Or, you can buy the book in it's glorious entirety here for a real live paperback version and also here for your Kindle - go on, buy it! Support a new author!! 

I have purchased my copy and it is eagerly waiting, impatiently nudging aside the classics and non-fiction titles on my Kindle, waiting to be read alongside a nice cup of tea and a stack of biscuits (or cake. Probably cake. Lemon drizzle as I just received a big bag of lemons fresh off a lemon tree. Delicious).

On the subject of reading, I recently increased the number of books on my Goodreads Challenge from 50 to 60 but seeing as I am now at 49, I think I might increase it to 80. That's a proper challenge. With 20 weeks to go, I think it can be done and I am going to try and fit a few classics in there too so it's not just short or easy to read books (that would be cheating and there's no point in cheating if it's just cheating yourself, is there?) - I'm currently wading through A Tale of Two Cities but I fancy it will be hard going. Looks like The Soles of My Shoes will be read much sooner than anticipated! 

 In fact, my plan is to cross another 17 books off the 2012 BBC top 100 books to read before you die (or 'book'et list - you know, like bucket list... clever, right? RIGHT?) list so that I have read a very respectable 60 out of 100. 

That's not going to be easy as the 57 books I haven't read from that list are mostly classics or modern literary novels that I thought about reading for about, oh, a nanosecond. Anyway, if I manage to get to 60, then I'll have read ten times the amount of titles off that list that your everyday Joe has read (according to the Beeb but I'm not so sure about that. Surely not? Please, surely not). 

If you want to see how many you've read and either be horrified or enormously smug, here's the current list:

 1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
The Lord of the Rings - J R R Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter series - J K Rowling
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Bible
Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulk
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller’s Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - C S Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C S Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - L M Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy.
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - A S Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Colour Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - E B White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

How many of these have you read? Let me know in the comments (not to sound pathetic but it would be nice to have some interaction here - please, please? Ok, that was pathetic but I'm not taking it back). Join in the challenge of getting to 60 or 75 or even 100 but I can tell you now that I will never get to 100. I cannot bring myself to read the entire bible or Ulysses. Just never gonna happen. And I probably won't ever get through Dune  - have you seen the size of that book - it's probably longer than the bible (but also, I suspect, way better. However, I'm going to have to cheat on this one and just watch the film - it  has Sting and Kyle MacLachlan in it and the really pretty girl from Twin Peaks - how could it possibly be bad?).

 I figure there's at least 5 books I will never actually pick up even to flick through although, having said that, I did manage to plod my way rather painfully through Madame Bovary which I think is quite possibly the most boring book I have ever read. Say what you will about Stephenie Meyer but at least she keeps it entertaining (flame me in the comments if you will but each to their own and all that)...

Friday, 3 August 2012

Bakeware, books and blankets...

All our 'stuff' has arrived - our worldly belongings are once again ours! Seven breakages in total - three of which were wedding presents. Boo. On the plus side, blankets and our goose down duvet arrived - bliss on these cold Perth nights! AND our bed is here and it is beautiful, oh so comfortable and very adult-like. I can't help smiling like a crazy person whenever I see it. I heart it so much.

It's very French looking which obviously equals sophistication and, well, grown-upness. Currently, it is let down by the non-matching packing box bedside tables that flank it. Very student digs and decidedly un-grown up. It may take some time to find suitably chic furniture to accessorise it with. For now, the packing boxes stay. 

If you have read this blog recently, you will know that I was very much looking forward to getting my kitchenware back - I had visions of myself whipping up batches of brownies and chocolate chip cookies, maybe a dense chocolate loaf cake or two... I quite like chocolate, you see.

BUT, the sweet treat I actually made first was a rosemary loaf cake. I know! Rosemary! Not a whiff of chocolate. I even made the Chardmeister go and buy a rosemary plant which cost us $16! For a tiny plant! Later that day, we discovered that a neighbour has an entire frigging border of rosemary. This is our life.

 So, yes, a rosemary cake. Anyone who knows me but at all will be shocked by that. I am shocked by it. But also very glad because I would have been rigid with anger if my brownies had burnt on top or cooked too much or my cookies received too much heat in the oven because, previously unbeknownst to me, this oven runs hot. And the fan does not appear to work properly. Cake tops burn but remain silkily batter-like inside. Cookies would have been incinerated, brownies would have been cooked properly throughout - God forbid. 

Until I get used to the oven and figure out it's Australian oddities, chocolate related baking will have to be held off. Which would totally suck if it weren't for the deliciously warming, sweet comfort of the Brown Sugar Pudding (courtesy of Better Homes and Gardens - thank you. So much) below. Arm yourself with some thick cream though, you will need it to cut through the sugary goodness!

Brown Sugar Self-saucing Pudding  serves 4 (generously)

1 cup dark brown sugar
200g self raising flour
2 tspns ground allspice (or a generous tspn of vanilla extract instead. Delicious)
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
125g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
4 tbspns treacle (I used molasses - not sure if there is really any difference!)
2 tbspns cornflour
  • Butter 4 individual ramekins or one deep pie dish
  • Combine 1/3 cup of the sugar with the flour, allspice or vanilla, egg, milk, butter and two tablespoons of the treacle/molasses until it becomes a smooth batter
  • Pour into prepared dish(es)
  • Thoroughly mix together the remaining sugar and cornflour and sprinkle evenly over the top of the batter
  • Stir the rest of the treacle/molasses into one and a half cups of boiling water until dissolved and pour over the pudding(s)
  • Bake immediately at 180C for about 30 minutes - I can thoroughly recommend putting a tray underneath to catch any sauce that bubbles over the side although if you didn't, cleaning the oven the next day might help shift some of the many calories consumed...
  • Serve with whipped or very thick cream (creme fraiche would be pretty good too, I think)
  • Do some extra exercise the following day when you can move again (or at the very least make your bed extra vigorously and push the hoover round rather more enthusiastically that you normally do)

 And, as well as making this beautiful, stodgy, sugary, saucy pudding, I also made curtains. Curtains! They are nowhere near professional quality but I made them and they look okay. They are wide enough and long enough and they hang (pretty much) straight. They are super colourful and block out light. What more does one want from curtains?

See that funny little book shelf thing in this photo to the left? That was bought very cheaply from an op shop and, although you can't see in the photo, is painted a particularly nasty shade of pale greeny-blue yuck and trimmed in harsh black. I plan on sanding that mo-fo down this weekend and painting it but what colour? If it stays in Lady M's room, it will need to be a bright primary colour really - blue? Maybe green to match the trim of the curtains? Either that or white. White like our fantastic bookshelves from, duh duh duuuh, Ikea, where else?

 Bookshelves that stretch across the whole wall and are filled with all our books. And then covered in all manner of animal ornamentry and way too much pretty crockery and glasware to look good. The search is on for a dresser that will fit in with the rest of the decor (shouldn't be hard, it's all very mismatched really. Vogue worthy it is not).

See? Crowded with photos and cups. Could look better, right?

And, just so you know, the shelf in the middle could be filled up but is strategically left almost bare because Lady M is a curious sort of child (as they are all wont to be, right?) and likes to pull things off the shelves to destroy play with. Hence the clutter of crockery and rammed in books you see in the top half of the shelving.

Anyway, I have long dreamed of having a library wall in a house I lived in and now that dream is realised. Oh Australia, how I love thee! If only your books weren't so damned expensive, I could create another wall of bookshelves...

And speaking of buying new books - here's some I won't be purchasing any time soon. Particularly after this hilarious and very clever GoodReads review
Has anyone read any of this trilogy? Would you admit to it if you had? I'm not a literary snob at all. If you look at  those shelves above closely, you can very much see that for yourself but these books just look badly written in every single way - no character development, weak plot, lots of repetition, apparently unlikeable protagonists and, worst of all, not very good sex scenes considering it's supposed to be erotica.

I bet if I read it, I could take away lots of pointers and tips for things NOT to do in my own writing. Kind of like a writing how-not-to. A How to Lose An Agent In Ten Pages kind of thing... For £3, might it be worth a read just from that point of view?