Friday, 23 October 2015

The Winter Place Blog Tour: Five Writing Tips From Alexander Yates

As part of The Winter Place blog tour, I am pleased to have Alexander Yates sharing his tips for writing. 

I’ve been a creative writing teacher for about five years now, and a published author for nearly as long. In that time I’ve run courses in multiple countries, teaching both children and adults (currently I’m finishing up a class for Vietnamese university students, here in Hanoi). And in that time, I’ve realized something important: I’m not sure I know what I’m talking about. Every piece of advice I’ve ever given, I’ve also ignored. So please take the following tips with a grain of salt. Here are five things that I try, and sometimes fail, to do as a writer.

1) Just get to the end! 
When writing a longer project (like a novel, or even a novella) you’re always better off setting revision aside in the early stages so that you can focus on completing a full draft. After all, it’s only when you have a complete manuscript that you’ll truly understand what this project is meant to be. Also, doing this will keep you from falling into the trap of endlessly writing and re-writing a chapter that’s destined to wind up on the cutting room floor.
Or… at least that’s how it works in theory. I’m currently on my 4th full rewrite of the opening chapters of my next novel. So I see this as similar to advice about eating right—just because I believe it to be important, doesn’t mean I always do it.

2) “Inspiration” is not a thing you wait for.
Waiting for your muse to strike? Well, why not help your muse out a bit by opening up that story you’ve been working on? The unexpected flash of inspiration that arrives unbidden while you’re chopping onions, or going for a jog, happens more often in bad movies than it does in real life. There is no substitute for time at the keys.
(Note: This is not to say you shouldn’t jog. Jogging is also important.)

3) Don’t beat yourself up for slow days.
Even when you diligently make time for your writing, that doesn’t always mean you’ll actually feel productive. Sometimes you’ll feel slow, or foggy. Sometimes you’ll do nothing but re-work the same lousy paragraph for hours on end. It’s important to realize that slow days like this aren’t only inevitable, they’re also part of the bargain.
Here is my bare-bones definition of an acceptable writing day: I opened up the document. I didn’t escape to facebook, or anywhere else online. That’s it.

4) When in doubt, a description!
When I don’t know what should happen in a given scene, I jump into a detailed description. Whether it’s about an object, a vista, or an article of clothing one of my characters is wearing; description always gives me a way to move forward. But this particular piece of advice could just as well read: “When in doubt, some witty repartee!” or, “When in doubt, go to your strengths!” Description happens to be mine. Find the thing you do best (this is generally also the thing you most enjoy doing) in your writing, and you can use it to get out of almost any problem.
5) There is nothing you love that isn’t worthy of being written about.
Even if what you love seems silly to other people. Even if what you love sometimes seems silly to you. The fact that you love it is all that counts. After all, you’re going to need that love to get you through all the slow days.

For more information on Alexander Yates, you can visit his website or follow @TheOtherYates on twitter. The Winter Place is his first novel for younger readers and is published in October 2015

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Sophia Khan is Not Obliged by Ayisha Malik

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 439
Publisher: Twenty7 
Released: 3rd of September 2015

"Brilliant idea! Excellent! Muslim dating? Well, I had no idea you were allowed to date.' Then he leaned towards me and looked at me sympathetically. 'Are your parents quite disappointed?'

Unlucky in love once again after her possible-marriage-partner-to-be proves a little too close to his parents, Sofia Khan is ready to renounce men for good. Or at least she was, until her boss persuades her to write a tell-all expose about the Muslim dating scene.

As her woes become her work, Sofia must lean on the support of her brilliant friends, baffled colleagues and baffling parents as she goes in search of stories for her book. In amongst the marriage-crazy relatives, racist tube passengers and decidedly odd online daters, could there be a a lingering possibility that she might just be falling in love . . . ?

What I Have to Say 

This book captured my heart in the way that very few romance books do. Sophia was just such a great character. She was strong and well written, with a voice that felt more like she was just chatting to you than that you were reading a book. She was hopeless at recognizing when guys liked her and even more hopeless in recognizing when she liked them back. She faced racists on the tube and potential in-laws down with a witty sense of humour and complete faith in herself and what she wants. 

The story was good enough for a romance book. with quirky characters and strange happenings bringing it up in places. I think I didn't like the main plotline so much because I'm not really into romance that much rather than the story itself. But the book had plenty ways to make up for this. 

I picked this book to request from Netgalley simply because it had a Muslim character. I'm a big fan of diversity and always find a book about ten times more interesting if it has a person of another culture or just a different perspective in it. I don't know enough about Islam so I can't say how realistic Sophia is as a Muslim, but I can say that she was wonderfully British in her opinions on biscuits so they got that bit right. It was great to see how she was so religious while not having that define her entire personality. Sometimes authors portray religious people as having nothing to them but their faith, so I'm glad that this one didn't. 

This is definitely a book for fans of diversity and feminism. I would be really interested to hear a muslim's opinion on this book and Sophia. 

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Monster by C.J. Skuse

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Pages: 384
Publisher: MIRA Ink
Released: 24th of September 2015

At sixteen Nash thought that the fight to become Head Girl of prestigious boarding school Bathory would be the biggest battle she’d face. Until her brother’s disappearance leads to Nash being trapped at the school over Christmas with Bathory’s assorted misfits. As a blizzard rages outside, strange things are afoot in the school’s hallways, and legends of the mysterious Beast of Bathory – a big cat rumoured to room the moors outside the school – run wild. Yet when the girls’ Matron goes missing it’s clear that something altogether darker is to blame – and that they’ll have to stick together if they hope to survive.

What I Have to Say 

This was really good. Sometimes CJ Skuse's characters can be a little annoying. In both Dead Romantic and Rockaholic, the characters were very unobservant and didn't have much common sense. So it's nice to see a smart character in Monster, especially as she looks after the other characters. 

I really liked the way that elements of the boarding school life contributed to the plot to make the characters more isolated. The fact that Matron had the girl's mobile phones and had shut off the internet really added to the plot in a convenient way which added to the general atmosphere of the book.

The elements of this book really added up to form a perfect whole. The boarding school setting, the intelligent and resourceful main character and the mysterious Beast of Bathory really made a book worth reading. If I had to pick a negative, it's that the battle between the two girls to become Head Girl was such a small part of the book, when at the start it seemed like it would be a bigger thing. 

All in all, this is a great book. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Sophie Someone by Hayley Long

Synopsis (from Goodreads

Pages: 256
Publisher: Hot Key Books 
Released: 3rd of September 2015

'Some stories are hard to tell.
Even to your very best friend.
And some words are hard to get out of your mouth. Because they spell out secrets that are too huge to be spoken out loud.
But if you bottle them up, you might burst.
So here's my story. Told the only way I dare tell it.'

Sophie Nieuwenleven is sort of English and sort of Belgian. Sophie and her family came to live in Belgium when she was only four or five years old, but she's fourteen now and has never been quite sure why they left England in the first place. Then, one day, Sophie makes a startling discovery. Finally Sophie can unlock the mystery of who she really is. This is a story about identity and confusion - and feeling so utterly freaked out that you just can't put it into words. But it's also about hope. And the belief that, somehow, everything will work out OK.

What I Have To Say 

This book didn't work for me. It was a really good story, but the style it was written in put me off. I get what the author was trying to do, but I don't see how replacing certain words makes something easier to tell. If it was just the words that were traumatic for her that were replaced, I think it would have been easier to understand. It's just that I don't see how replacing words like "fingers" and "head" makes it easier to tell a story. 

It was a very interesting book about language and bi-lingual children. It looks a lot at language and how things can be hard to talk about. It goes a lot into identity. When Sophie finds out what her parents have been hiding from her, she loses her entire identity. I liked how the different parts of the story were named to show how Sophie lost and then found her identity.

I did enjoy this story, it really only was the style of writing that put me off. It's a shame because I think without that it could have been a book I really would have loved.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

All of the Above by James Dawson

Synopsis (from Goodreads)

Pages: 316
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Released: 3rd of September 2015

When sixteen-year-old Toria Bland arrives at her new school she needs to work out who her friends are in a crazy whirl of worry, exam pressure and anxiety over fitting in. Things start looking up when Toria meets the funny and foul-mouthed Polly, who's the coolest girl that Toria has ever seen. Polly and the rest of the 'alternative' kids take Toria under their wing. And that's when she meets the irresistible Nico Mancini, lead singer of a local band - and it's instalove at first sight! Toria likes Nico, Nico likes Toria, but then there's and friendship have a funny way of going round in circles.

What I Have to Say 

This is definitely my favourite James Dawson book. I'm not so keen on horror, so I read the books mostly for the fantastic, usually very quirky characters he writes. This book was perfect for me, because it had a plot driven by the characters rather than the other way around. 

The characters were wonderful, though a couple of the background characters were easy to mix up and slipped the mind a lot. The ones that were in the spotlight, however were the kind that are easy to fall in love with. Quirky sixth formers who I found very realistic. 

The issues that Dawson looks at during the book are ones that I think are very important. He looks a lot into sexuality and gender, but also touches on self harm and eating disorders. It's the sort of book that really can have an impact on you. 

This book is fantastic for diversity.