Tuesday 28 January 2014

By Hook or By Book

It seems a long time since I've written a post about reading, as opposed to writing. So since I'm currently mid-way through book 3 of a 4 book series that I only started last Friday ... and I've managed to go to work and have a life, you may conclude that I've been up late at night and am totally smitten by a new author!

Don't you just love it when a book sucks you in completely? When you're not so much reading as living the story, when the real world dissolves and you find yourself obsessed by the characters, the story - everything, really? Or am I just weird that way?

It doesn't happen often to me. And I don't even know what it is that speaks to me from a book, but I do know that it's something to do with the way a particular author writes that resonates with me somehow. Take Matthew Reilly as an example. He writes what can only be described as lad-lit adventure: guns, chases, bigger guns and even bigger guns. As this review says, it's overwritten and utterly implausible with paper-thin characters and action scenes that can out-Bond James himself. The writing itself is not brilliant either - if you check out other reviews, they're completely polarised between love and hate. And yet there's something about his books that has you on the edge of your seat, turning pages (or flipping ereader buttons) desperate to find out how our hero survives. Because we know he will - the good guys always win. But what is it about Reilly as a writer? If I knew what it was, I'd bottle it and make a million....

So what am I obsessing about right now. Faeries. Yep. You got it. Julie Kagawa's Iron Fey series, which I found in our local bargain book shop and about as far away from lad-lit action as you can get! It's labelled as the next Twilight, but that is just so wrong. Twilight made no sense at all to me - the internal logic was wrong and Bella herself was a needy drip of a girl who should have been strangled at birth. This series is so, so much more.

Any book that deals with fantasy (or science fiction, albeit with different rules) has to be consistent within its own environment. There has to be a logic - a structure - and a purpose. You can't invent spells and then conveniently find ways around them a few pages later. You can't solve every problem with magic. As I read somewhere (and if somebody tells me where, I'll edit this and credit the author), magic has to come with a price. Without sacrifice, there is no choice and without choice there is no conflict. That's where so many fantasy novels fall over - when things simply happen to the character, rather than events being driven by the choices the character makes.

In Kagawa's series, the world-building and internal logic is exquisite - everything is true to itself. Parallel worlds make sense, the laws of faerie work, nothing contradicts what has gone before and the characters are resourceful and courageous. And of course our bad-boy faery is drop-dead gorgeous as all heroes have to be. Kagawa stays true to most of the faery mythos but adds her own unique and clever spin on it that is just so awesome, I wish I'd thought of it! It's light-years ahead of Twilight's twaddle.

So I'm hooked. Again it's something in the writing that sings to me, although the genre helps. I admit I'm an easy target when it comes to faeries. I've always longed to believe in alternate realities and parallel worlds. And I so wish I could write like this.

Monday 20 January 2014

My Writing Process

Today I'm taking part in the #MyWritingProcess blog tour. This is where you follow a thread across the blogs of lots of different writers, who all answer the same questions about their writing ....

My host is author Kathleen Jones, who writes both fiction and biographies. I can particularly recommend her novel The Sun's Companion, which I read and reviewed over at Eclectic Electric.

So, on with the questions...

1) What am I working on? 

Currently, I'm writing what I think will be a novella, called Rat's Tale. This is a spin-off from my dark crime thriller series - there are 3 books and while each is its own separate story, they do follow on from each other chronologically and the main character's story comes to an end in the third book, with everything resolved and all the loose ends neatly tied up. Except there was one minor character who was still talking to me, whose story hadn't quite finished, and over the past few weeks he's started telling me what happened next. And I listened and had to start writing it down. So Rat's Tale is his story. I don't think it will be a novel - I don't think there's enough material - but I'm hoping to put a bit of meat on the bones and get a novella out of it.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre? 

That's a tough one. I guess I maybe fall between crime and thriller territory - though hopefully not into the cracks! Crime is often police procedural, or at least told from the perspective of somebody whose work is connected with law enforcement in some way (coroners, forensics, private detective, law etc). Thrillers are often bigger scale - with the fate of the entire world resting on the actions of one person. Eco-thrillers, medical thrillers, techno-thrillers.

I write on a smaller scale. I don't write who-dunnits or even why-dunnits, but more will-they-survive-its. Although I have police characters, they're not major characters and I'm not interested in how they solve crimes (I get enough of that in the day job, thanks). I'm far more interested in the psychology - how crime affects the victim, how they move on with their life. And of course, for those who know my work, the pervading thread through all my books explores the differences between good and evil and how the bad guys can sometimes be better than the good guys when you look at things in a different way...

3) Why do I write what I do? 

Because the voices tell me to. 

Seriously, it's true. There are people living in my head and the only way I can get them out is to tell their story. I suspect the reason they chose my head in the first place is because I have a background in law enforcement. There are things I can't tell, experiences I can't repeat, but I can capture their essence in fiction. And having done drugs from a law enforcement angle, I wanted to have a look at the other side.

4) How does my writing process work?

Badly. I so admire those writers who plan their novels, who write out chapter headings and list scenes and plot points - who know where they are going and how to get there safely. 

I'm a pantser, completely, utterly and probably irretrievably. I get an idea - a snatch of conversation, a character or sometimes a real person I've seen on the street and I pick at it and see where it takes me. Suddenly, the smooth shiny nugget of idea will crack and I'll dig a fingernail in, split it open and run with it. I write when I'm passionate, when my fingers can't keep up with my brain, when I'm living and breathing it during my entire waking life. I have no clue where it takes me - I find out the plot as I go along. I experience the same highs and lows as and when my characters do. It's hell to write but the ride is amazing! 

And now I pass the baton on to Jan Edwards who will be answering the same 4 questions on 27th January. I've known Jan for over 20 years, since we met at a writers' conference in the early 1990s and discovered we'd both got lumped in with all the other people who wrote "weird stuff". Clearly it was true, because we hit it off and have been close friends ever since. Jan's a writer of fantasy and horror with lots of credits to her name. She also edits anthologies for The Alchemy Press.

Sunday 19 January 2014


So it's all about wearing purple, isn't it? With a red hat.

But fifty isn't old these days. It's scary to think when my mother was fifty, I was twenty-nine and married with a house and mortgage of my own. My own daughter is almost eighteen and I don't feel old at all. I have jeans. I wear leggings. OK, I've taken to dying my hair every few months now, but then early grey hair runs in the family and I was pulling rogue ones out in my mid-twenties. At least the Chinese genes mean that hopefully I won't go bald...

So here I am, aged fifty. Do I feel any different? Not really. Older and wiser? Well that'd just be boring...

And I can still sing karaoke down the pub. Whether or not it's dangerous to the eardrums is a matter of opinion, but we had a good time!

Things that are bad about being fifty: insurance gets more expensive, I have to dye my hair more often than I used to, my near vision is on the edge (just about avoiding reading glasses so far), and sometimes I feel like life is speeding up so fast - that the years are blazing by - and now I'll never be an astronaut/dancer on Top of The Pops/whatever other dream I had as a child.

Things that are good about being fifty. None of the above matters as much as it did at forty. At fifty, I know where I've been and where I'm going. I'm comfortable with who I am - my weight (yes, we'd all like to lose a bit, but I don't obsess any more), my family, my life. I've stopped trying to please other people and I've stopped worrying about what they might think. I have a far better social life now than I did ten years ago and I'm finally achieving what I've wanted to my whole life and starting to gain recognition as a writer.

I got a red hat for my birthday (thanks, Jan x). Roll on the next ten years!

Wednesday 1 January 2014

Rat's Tale

The sound of footsteps woke him. Not the noise they made on the linoleum of the hospital corridor outside his room, but the rhythm – the way they stopped, there was a dull thud and then they started again, closer to his door now.

He was a light sleeper. He always had been; the instinct for self-preservation was far stronger than the need to rest, but since the shooting, it had been worse and despite the armed guard outside his door, he still didn’t feel safe in the private hospital room. Too many people wanted him silenced for him to feel safe anywhere in this country now.

That dull thud. Exactly the noise a body might make as it fell off a chair onto the floor. An armed guard’s body perhaps?


He was wide awake now – as wide awake as he could be, with the cocktail of antibiotics, painkillers and whatever else they kept giving him at regular intervals. Eyes still closed, he heard an almost imperceptible squeak as the door to his room opened.

Lenny turned over in bed, yawning, letting his eyelids flicker open briefly to see a dark silhouette against the light from the corridor. The door swung shut silently. He listened for the sounds of movement, breathing, anything to give him a clue about who was in the room and where they were.

There was no way he could run, no chance of being a match for anybody physically. It was less than four weeks since he’d been shot and he’d only recently lost the Frankenstein line of staples snaking down his side. There was still a long and messy scar. With his right arm in plaster from palm to bicep, more bruises than he could count only just fading from his face and body and he was in no position to fight off an attacker.

And I don’t think he’s come for a chat.