Friday, 21 July 2017

friday doodle - impractical hat

This week I picked up Spirals in Time: The Secret Life and Curious Afterlife of Seashells by Helen Scales, because... well, mainly because it caught my eye at the library, and because I don't know anything about molluscs (turns out, they're way more interesting than you probably thought).

Also the illustrations are gorgeous. This is my attempt at copying one:

Friday doodle: A mollusc in an impractical hat (part one of a series of impractical hats)

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

say bye-bye hair, not bye-bye library

Libraries are great; I think we can all agree on that (I hope we can, otherwise you and me may need to rethink our friendship).

The Family Library in Douglas is particularly great. It's got a wonderful selection of children's and YA books, it's super-friendly, the people there are delightful, and they're always running events for kids (and kid-like adults). For example, during half-term, they brought in visitors from the local wildlife park, and my mum-in-law met a snake:

They also run the mobile library, which provides books to people all across the Island who might otherwise not have easy access to library facilities.

(As a side-note, when I grow up I want to drive a mobile library. It's a truck full of books. I can't imagine anything better.)

Unfortunately, like so many libraries across the country in this bleak and unenlightened time, the Family Library is currently at risk of closure due to funding cuts.

So, last week, I got rid of my (rather substantial) mop of hair and we raised £125 for the library:

If you like libraries (and again, I hope you do, really I'd hate for us to fall out over this) and have a few extra pennies in your pocket, please consider flinging them at this very worthy cause, either here or via my Just Giving page.

Also, until the end of July, I'll be sending all profits on my ebooks to the Family Library, so if you fancy owning a copy of TERROR ISLAND or HOME GROUND and also contributing to a good cause, please click on through.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

being bold for change

A few weeks ago I was kindly invited by Stacy Astill to speak at Henry Bloom Noble Library for International Women's Day, along with a fabulous collection of local authors, poets, and musicians that highlighted the huge variety of talent we've got on this island.

This year's International Women's Day was about being bold for change. So I said a few things on the subject of change, and I talked about it in terms of writing, because really I don't know much about anything else. But when I say 'writing', feel free to substitute any activity you care passionately about.

So, in terms of writing, a lot of stuff has changed over the years. The way we write, the physical process of it, has changed from pen and ink to keyboards, to mobile phones and writing software. It's never been easier, technologically speaking, for us to physically put words onto the screen.

How we're published has changed. There are more ways than ever before to get your work out there. Publishing is no longer a closed industry reliant on paper copies of books - now everyone has the option to publish their work in hardcopy, or print on demand, or ebook. You can post serialised novels on blogs. You can write interactive stories via Twitter polls. You can send your work around the world in an instant. You can ask for and receive immediate feedback from people throughout the globe. Never before have we had the chance to be read so widely.

What we write has changed. With the ability of everyone to self-publish, many old barriers have been taken down. You can write whatever you want and put it out there in the world. If you want to write a period romance with added dinosaurs - no one can tell you not to.

Who we write about is changing. Old stereotypes are being ditched (and some new ones are being created). With the upsurge in self-publishing, we've never had a better chance to create diverse characters - in terms of race, background, goals, motivations, lives, ability, everything. The world is changing and I want to believe literature is changing to reflect that.

How we read is changing. The electronic age has given us quick, immediate access to almost every book under the sun. You can buy and read the latest novels without having to leave your bed.

How we share our love of books has changed. Online sites like Amazon and Goodreads let us review our favourite books with a few simple clicks. Social media lets us connect with people who love the same novels as us - and gives us access to communicate directly with the authors we love.

But none of these are entirely positive things. There is greater diversity in books, yes, but we still have a long way to go. Look at your bookshelf and make a mental note how many main characters are non-white, or female, or differently able. Even if you believe you read diversely, you're likely to be surprised.

We may have immediate access to books via internet, but this is causing problems with piracy and the decline of the high-street bookshop. We are able to voice our opinions, but so can the vocal minority who will shout us down and tell us we're wrong to love the books we love, to defend the authors we care about, to want to see greater diversity and equality and change in what we read.

And while it might be easier to put words onto screen, the process of writing is as difficult as it's ever been. We are, and always will be, plagued with self-doubt and negativity. We question why we write, what we should write, whether we're any good, whether what we're doing will change anything. The obstacles are still the same - we all have other commitments, jobs and kids and families, and we never have enough time for the things we love doing. Some attitudes have changed, but some sadly have not, and there will always be those who'll ask, why are you writing? What's the point?

Here's what I think:

We write because we have a passion. Because we must. Because we persist.

We write to change things.

Maybe not to change the world, or opinions, or attitudes, or to make grand sweeping gestures that will benefit mankind, but because the smallest change is still a change. We can read and share diverse books. We can post reviews online. We can support our libraries and independent bookshops. Every time you buy a book, you're voting. You're telling the industry, this is what we want to read and how we want to buy. This is what we want more of. Every time you use your library card, you're telling the government, we need this resource.

Best and most of all, we can change ourselves through the positive act of creating something, or sharing something we love, or telling people about the things we care about. We can change our own opinions - the internal critic that says, how can I write when the world's such a mess? How can I write when no one will care what I say? How will this make a difference?

Change is difficult, we all know that. We're only one person. But everyone is just one person. Everyone can be bold and change something.

That's it, lecture over, please buy my books. :)

Friday, 27 January 2017

more books what I read in 2016

Thanks to the wonder of my reading spreadsheet, I can bring you further details of what I read last year. I know, you're spoilt.

In total I read 91 books. Breaking that down into genre first:

Almost exactly half (44) were Young Adult, which is no surprise because a) I'm trying to write YA books at present so need to keep up to date, and b) because OMG it's the best genre. It bears repeating that in the broad category of YA, you've got the whole spectrum of genres - crime, horror, thriller, literary, sci-fi, fantasy, everything. I tried to read as variously as possible, aided by my random-selection process (see below).
I also read 9 Middle Grade books (as categorised by my local library), 7 sci-fi, 6 "literary" (judged by me as such, usually because they didn't fit into another convenient category), 4 thrillers, 3 women's fiction, 2 crime, 2 horror, 2 fantasy, 2 poetry compilations, and 1 historical romp. Also 4 non-fiction books and 5 graphic novels.

(This isn't including all the children's books I read with my Youngest, although to be honest a few of those were for me more than him.)

By author gender, it's pretty much a 60-40% split female-male.

Despite the hundreds of ebooks I'd acquiring on my Kindle, I only read 5 ebooks and listened to 2 audiobooks

I also kept track of the reasons why I picked up a particular book, mostly for my own curiosity. 30 of the books were by authors I'd previously read. Which means a solid two-thirds were by authors I'd never read anything by before. And it paid off, because I discovered some of my new favourite authors this year.
Of the rest, 14 books were random selections from the library. I absolutely judge a book by its cover - it's the only way, since I hate reading blurbs (I've had to stop reading tag lines on the cover as well, due to the number of books that think "you'll never guess the surprise twist at the end" is a) not a spoiler, and b) likely to make me do anything but put the bloody thing straight back on the shelf). For a few months I choose books based on cover colour (there're a lot of blue books right now, I noticed). I tried not to limit myself by genre, although obviously there's a YA bias.
13 books were directly recommended to me, either online or in person.
21 were books I'd heard mentioned on Twitter or in the Bookseller or somewhere else.
7 were for authors who attended Manx Litfest 2016, where I wanted to effectively fan-girl at them.

So looking towards 2017... I should read more non-fiction. And I've seriously neglected the crime and horror genres. Oh, and I should read more ebooks. Apart from that, I think I'll just read everything.

Thursday, 19 January 2017

books I really liked in 2016

It was rather a good year for books, don't you think? For starters, three of my top five favourite authors had new books out in 2016 (apparently in an effort to make me spend more money I haven't got), and I also discovered two new authors to add to my top ten. So here, in no particular order, are the best books I read last year:

This came out in 2015, but I didn't read it till after new year, so it counts as 2016 for me. Anyway, it's brilliant - everything you'd expect from the fella who brought you JOHN DIES AT THE END and THIS BOOK IS FULL OF SPIDERS, and features my favourite female protagonist in ages.

MISTLETOE AND MURDER (and its prequels) - Robin Stevens
The fifth in a series of very English, cosy murder mysteries, which have earned a place on my best-of list because I read all five in quick succession. They're like being wrapped in a huge softy blanket with a mug of hot chocolate - comforting and delicious.

FANGIRL / CARRY ON - Rainbow Rowell
FANGIRL is an absolute delight. It's the story of a college girl who writes fanfiction about Simon Snow, who is definitely not Harry Potter. It gets right everything I love about fanfiction and the community that surrounds it. And CARRY ON is the logical conclusion - a novel-length Simon Snow fic, which I didn't enjoy as much as FANGIRL, but which does have Baz in it. *swoons a bit*

THE LIE TREE - Frances Hardinge
Oh my gosh, this was good, wasn't it? Thoroughly deserves every superlative thing everyone's said about it.

I don't think I've lost my shit so badly over a fictional work since Firefly. This duology is legitimately beautiful, with its world-building (familiar to anyone who's read Ms Bardugo's Grisha books), its cunning twisty-turny plotting, its characters... oh man, the characters. I have a girl-crush on at least three of them. It made me laugh out loud and cry like a baby. I honestly thought I was too old to have a new favourite book, but this has proven me wrong.

No one will be surprised by the inclusion of Chris Ewan on this list. That man could write a shopping itinerary that'd have you biting your nails in suspense. LONG TIME LOST is a great story about what can go awry with the witness protection programme. Tense, smart, super-well-paced, and set partially on the Isle of Man, wonderful.

Oh, this was great too. I've not read any of Mr Hill's other books (I'm such a slacker), but this has really turned me into a fan. It managed to be full-on apocalyptic fiction without falling into the constant doom-cycle that afflicts so many similar books.

ZEROES - Chuck Wendig
This year I discovered audiobooks. I'm still not wholly convinced, but I'll admit they are useful - I spent a long weekend painting and decorating while listening to ZEROES, which made the task a lot less horrendous. Also, I thoroughly enjoyed this smart tech-thriller. Mr Wendig looks likely to become one of my favourite authors.

EX-ISLE - Peter Clines
Speaking of favourite authors (and audiobooks). EX-ISLE is the fifth addition to the EX-HEROES saga, and Mr Clines is still on top form. Zombies and superheroes AND characters you care about so much you draft angry emails to the author when he inevitably does something unforgivable to them, hashtag angryface.

BCN is quite possibly the most beautiful comic strip available on the internet at present time. It's funny, it's smart, it's so true to life, and the artwork is gorgeous. I'm in awe of this lady's talents. And now it's available as a book!

Woo, new girl-crush alert! Ms Ellison writes games and writes about games and is generally everything I aspire to in life. For this book she travelled around the world, visiting independent game developers and crashing on their sofas. A wonderful blend of travel writing and game theory.

I picked this up because Dr Blackie was a visiting author at Manx Litfest this year, and I'm very glad I did. A fascinating account of Celtic myths and stories, told from a feminist perspective. I'd recommend this to everyone.

Annnnd last but most definitely not least, David Wellington is back yet again with a new pseudonym and a new genre, proving (again) that he's a terribly talented bastard who can spin story-gold out of everything he turns his hand to. I loved this epic sci-fi space-battle tale and can't wait for the next instalment.

I think that covers most of the very best books I read last year, although I'm sure I missed a couple. Next time you're in your favourite independent bookshop, please do check out some of these recommendations. At best you'll discover something wonderful; at worst... well, you can always shout at me, I suppose.

Friday, 6 January 2017

2016 - end o year stats

So. What've we been up to in 2016?

However you look at it, it's been a heck of a year, but I'm going to ignore all the important stuff for now and go with my usual yearly round-up of how much I've written in the past 12 months, because that's something I feel relatively positive about and because I have some nice solid statistics to fall back on, rather than my own shouty opinions.

(I'm not posting all this to boast, btw. I just like stats, and I like being able to take stock of what I've done in a year. Also I hope it'll show that everyone's output is different, we all work at different speeds, we all have different definitions of what is a fair amount of work, and no one should ever make themselves (or anyone else) feel bad for doing more or less than the next guy.)

In total, I wrote 414,204 words, which equates to approximately 1131 words a day average. To compare, in 2015, I wrote 359,224 words (about 984 words a day average).

These totals include everything - first drafts, rewriting, editing, blog posts, competition entries... anything I can claim with a straight face as creative writing. I also included drawing as writing (using the vague definition that a finished picture is worth a thousand words).

Breaking this down into positives:

I wrote the first drafts of two new stories, one of which is now my favourite thing I've written.
I edited two other novels to close-enough-to-finished level.
I polished TERROR ISLAND and released it as an ebook.
I filled up two notebooks with notes, ideas, and random crap.
I wrote every day, even if it was just a couple of sentences (although there were a couple of close calls).
I read 91 books.

And into negatives:

I didn't get as much drawing done as I wanted. Maybe only two or three days included any drawing.
I didn't blog very much.
I didn't crit as many stories for other people as I should've. In fact, I still have three crits outstanding, which is very poor behaviour on my part.
I still don't reply to my emails in a timely fashion.

But in general, I'm happy with my output for the year. I feel like I've done okay. I really hope everyone else feels they've done okay too, despite this horrid year, and achieved something they can be content with.

I'm going to do a separate post about the books I've read, because I'm sure you're anxious to see my stats about those too. :)

Happy 2017, peeps. Stay safe out there.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016

yes, yes, i'm ignoring the important news of today. Instead, here's something wonderful:

Over at they're creating Pokemon that evolve along with your word count (if you're signed up for the official NaNo website with a current novel). It's adorable.

Here's mine:

rakiekeig's NaNoWriMon

Good luck to everyone NaNoing this year!