Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Monkeys with Typewriters

Monkeys with Typewriters by Scarlett Thomas

This is by far the most inspirational book about writing I have ever read. The subtitle is How to write fiction and unlock the secret power of stories.

The author is a CW lecturer, and the book is more in depth than any other How To Write books I've read, but wasn't too academic. I found it very readable, and many times I stopped and stared into space, trying to apply what I'd just read to my current WIPs. I had two Epiphanies about my novel from reading this book. 

First epiphany - early on in the book she talks about Aristotle's story arcs - tragedies vs comedies. I realised the historical story in my novel is a tragedy, and the contemporary story needed to follow the comedy story arc to balance it. (Comedy as in happy ending, not funny ha-ha.) Currently my contemporary story wibbles along, but doesn't quite follow the arc. I can put that right now I've recognised it.

Second epiphany - near the end she talks about the 3 things you need when writing your novel. 1. Narrative questions - what's going to keep the reader turning the pages. There needs to be one main one and several smaller ones. Tick. Got those. 2. Thematic question - what's the novel really about, what does it make the reader sit and ponder? Tick. Got that.3. The 'seed' word. You think of all the single words which describe what your novel's about (usually abstract nouns) and try to find the one which encompasses all the others. Then write with that idea in mind at all times. She said once you realise what the seed word is for your novel, it'll make the hairs stand up on the back of your neck. I had a think, and realised for my novel the seed word is 'identity'. Ping, went my neck hairs! 

I bought this book after reading a review of it on Cally Taylor's blog. I am very glad I did. I feel like I've just taken a CW course! Definitely recommend it.

Ice and a Slice

Ice and a Slice by Della Galton

Review on my other blog here.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Bad Mothers United

Bad Mothers United by Kate Long

Lovely Kate sent me a signed copy of this, her latest book, the sequel to her first, The Bad Mothers' Handbook. Fans of the first had asked her to write a sequel, so she bowed to pressure and did. And I for one am very glad! Although I've loved all of Kate's books, its the characters from Bad Mothers' Handbook that stayed with me the longest - that might be partly because I loved the TV show made from the book as well. So it was lovely to be treated to another 400+ pages about Nan, Karen, Charlotte and Daniel.

The Bad Mothers' Handbook ends with Charlotte coming to terms with teenage motherhood, Karen coming to terms with the news that she was adopted, and Nan fading away with dementia in a nursing home. There's hope for their futures but clearly more to tell.

Bad Mothers United picks up three years on. Charlotte's at university, with Daniel at her beck and call. Karen's working as a teaching assistant and bringing up baby Will during term time. Nan, sadly, has passed on, but we get transcriptions of recorded conversations with her, made by Karen as part of her project to document her family's history, so she lives on through those. (It's kind of Kate Long's trademark, using some quirky way of telling parts of the story other than straight narrative, and it works very well.)

Quite early on in the book you begin to think that Charlotte is not worthy of having such a lovely boyfriend as Daniel, and indeed, eventually he realises how much she is using him without giving much back. Even so, when he decides to cool things between them it's a bit of a shock - no Daniel in the book for a few chapters! Karen has a dishy new neighbour, but one apparently with secrets to hide. And her ex-husband Steve is hanging around far too much - when he's not whizzing off on his mid-life-crisis motorbike, that is. Karen's also very down, missing Nan so much she's almost seeing ghosts. Charlotte then has the bright idea to track down Karen's real mum, to cheer her up.... and at that point you just know that disaster is looming around several corners...

The characters are written with such warmth they become real friends by the end of the book, and once again you don't want it to finish. The northern dialogue is done so well you feel you can actually hear those Lancashire accents. And the plot lines are tied up in wholly satisfactory ways. I doubt there'll be a third book - Charlotte's finally grown up by the end of this one. It's rare that a sequel is as good as the original, but this is quite possibly better. I absolutely loved it.

Saturday, 2 March 2013

The Long Road to Sunrise

The Long Road to Sunrise by David Hough

Previously published under the title A Tangle of Roots by BeWrite, and about to be republished under the current title by Cloudberry books. David gave me this book in return for a plug on the womagwriter blog which I was only too pleased to do.

As with all David's books, this one is an absolute page turner. Once you start reading, there's no putting it down. The man certainly does know how to tell a story!

Douglas's world is thrown upside down when contact is made from a woman in Australia, who is the child of Douglas's wife, adopted before Douglas came on the scene. They decide to go to meet her, and hear her story. The woman, Faith, had what you might call an unusual childhood. She'd been adopted by an Australian couple who took her as a small child to the Amazonian jungle where they were filming a natural history programme for TV. Her parents were killed by a warlike tribe, and Faith was taken in and brought up by another, more peaceful tribe. But that was only the start of her troubles.

As her story unfolds, Douglas and his family find it hard to comprehend that so much has happened to this poor woman. Meanwhile, Douglas's nephew who has been brought up by them, is falling in love with Faith. He persuades her to go back to the jungle, making a new TV programme about her young life there. But then the warlike tribe capture her, and Douglas and his nephew must travel there themselves to rescue her...

Drama is piled on top of drama in this book, keeping you up all hours reading it. I felt the ending was a little rushed and left a few unanswered questions, but overall this is not a book I'll forget quickly. I loved the Amazonian scenes - having been there myself last year really brought them to life.