From the way it opened, and continued so much of the narrative by describing events; telling us how the world changed, informing us how life now differed, and a smattering of dialogue to show the characters having serious, in-depth economics and survivalist discussions, it rang alarm-bells for me. I’m confused more than anything, I was reading this as a backdrop to my creative writing course and yet it seemed this book broke many of the cardinal rules: telling instead of showing; skipping chunks of action in a summary paragraph (which we’ve been led to believe is lazy writing).
There was a couple of massive time jumps, which as a reader I always find awkward, and for a writer it seems like they are avoiding writing a section they may not enjoy writing… I don’t know, it’s how I perceived it.
I checked out the reviews on goodreads and elsewhere, and thankfully, it’s not just me. Others felt bored by the constant, dense discussions on economics and the collapse of the American dollar. I’m not taking an exam for an econ class, I don’t need this much backstory. Even halfway through the book, not much seems to have happened, except that cauliflower has become too expensive, even when it’s possible to get fresh produce because the American governments have snatched all farmland from the remaining farmers to export the goods to rake in a little money.
The family members all resent each other, but they make stupid decisions which bring them to a stupid end: all end up in Florence’s home but she answers the door and they get house-jacked (is that a word?). They spend a night or two in the shanty town that’s taken over Prospect Park, and acquire a gun, then they decide to head north to the Uncle’s farm to help out… No spoilers but there’s suddenly a massive time jump.
Hit the 73% mark and as well as the jump, another weird twist… If anyone’s read it, let me know if I missed what happened or if it was a metaphor. Alas, there was a bit more actual story that was finally interesting, then another time jump, then a fairly flat ending.
It is interesting, maybe if you know what you’re heading into (an essay with dialogue) and it creates a strange feeling, will the apocalypse really be so dull? Even if the economy crashes (again) and to such an extent that electricity, water, and food are rationed, I’d still like to think that the basic nature of human beings would be to find some hope or light in the situation and survive humanely, not exist blandly until a paper-cut kills us.
I’m slowly trying to work my way through the reading list for my MA course. I’ve never been a fast reader – unless I’m completely absorbed by what I’m reading (see Harry Potter) so when it comes to reading technical books or deep literature then it’s going to be a bit of a slog.
Pictured above is two of my newest additions to my rampant collection. The Self-Editing for Fiction Writers book, by Brown and King, I already know will be an invaluable resource so I’m trying to take notes and read it carefully enough to get as much out of it as possible (and so I don’t struggle to reread it before assessments). It was highly recommended by someone on our course and I promptly picked up a copy on amazon, reasonably cheaply.
The second book Searches and Seizures by Stanley Elkin was a bit of a challenge to locate a copy of! I managed to find an old second-hand copy on amazon again but it was sent from Better World Books in Mishawaka, Indiana! The book has travelled further than me. Also, I’m certain I ordered another book off them before. Alas, this book was recommended through another book on my reading list: Reading like a writer by Francine Prose. The Elkin book is three novellas, but the Making of Ashenden is the one Prose suggested to read… about a man who falls in love with a bear. Odd, but interesting. I’ve only glanced at the first page but Elkin has a unique style of writing and description.
I finished reading Brief Cases by Jim Butcher, the newest collection of short stories from the Dresden Files world. It’s helped a little to ease the pain from waiting so long for Peace Talks to come out, but I understand the author has had major personal happenings in the last few years, so I won’t add to the complaints. I’m likely to do a more in depth review of Brief Cases, as I want to start doing for more books I read – simply because I have a terrible memory after I’ve read something, reviews would be a good way to keep track. The short version is Brief Cases was amazing – especially the original novella Zoo Day – brought Maggie into much sharper focus, not just as a character (finally) but what may come of her in the future.
I’m still reading On Writing by A.L. Kennedy from the reading list last year. It’s a very interesting insight into one of Scotland’s cult (?) writers. I like how she describes her own process as lasting years but a constant slog, even while travelling and ill. Most of the book is blog posts lifted straight from her site, so I enjoy just reading a post or two at a time, hence why it’s taking me so long to get through it.
The Elements of Style by Strunk and White must be top-of-the-list for all writing students whether English Lit, Composition, or Creative Writing, like me. But it really ought to be top-of-the-list for everyone who ever uses English. Ever. It’s a short volume, but concise and definitely something I’ll refer back to time and again.
Other than these, I’ve been working through my new Italian books for my course starting mid-September. They are A1 beginners books and while I do already know all of this stuff, it doesn’t hurt to revise the basics. Language learning is more of a wander than rushing straight to the final destination. Plus, it’s been 3 years since I did my C1 classes in Spain -_-
As I announced a few weeks ago, Amazon Academy was returning to Scotland for a second year, and bringing the Author Academy along again!
March 17th was a perfect day for the event (not least because I was on a holiday from work, but I’d submitted my third assessment a few days prior), the sun was scorching from first thing in the morning – and it was dry! Well, ish.
The event was held at the SECC out by Finneston in Glasgow, so while it wasn’t quite the schlep to Edinburgh like last year, it still takes me about an hour on the bus to get out to that end of town, plus there’s a bit of an underestimated walk through the tunnel to the conference centre.
I got there in plenty of time, and was quickly regretting the bundle of coats, though it was raining a little just as I exited the tunnel and had to charge into the main building. There was a little time of waiting around, unlike in Edinburgh where we were welcomed early with seats, this was standing around the main foyer. It didn’t matter too much, soon they let us in, and the event staff were far more vigilant about arrivals this year – each person’s name had to be checked off on a phone/tablet list of guests.
Somewhat akin to last year, I was misdirected. I don’t know if there is something magical that happens when I speak and no one hears what I’ve actually said, or simply if the workers themselves forgot that the Author Academy was an equal yet separate event. So there was a snafu with checking off my name, involving me clarifying to a second person that it was the Author Academy I’d signed up for. I got checked off, but still wasn’t given a name tag, and the first person instructed me to go right into the main hall. Hmm.
Arrived in the main hall area where they were serving coffee and FRUIT?! I’m sorry, as healthy as they were trying to make us, can you imagine how awkward it would be networking and meeting new people while trying to peel a tangerine or talk with a banana in your mouth? Alas, I asked in this room for my name tag and lo and behold, there wasn’t one. A girl with horrendously high-heels shuffled to the far end of the tables to get me a blank one and I was faced with a handwritten name tag for the second year. I asked someone else where the Author event was taking place and it was way back through the main entrance and around… blah blah blah.
I was about to go hunting when a nice lady came up to me to chat; M, she’d heard me talking about the KDP and we quickly struck up a convo about writing, travelling, and writing about travelling (she’s a travel writer and photographer) and before I knew it, the coffee break was over and it was time to head to our conference room.
Can you guess what happened? As we were being herded along another corridor, I was called out by security for not having a GREEN badge on (I knew it was wrong!) but he insisted that I go get the right badge before he’d let me through. Argh! Thus it involved more frantic displays of power from the event staff as I found my right badge with my name and they are yelling at me that I need to be checked in (“I’m ALREADY CHECKED IN!!”) And whoosh! Back through the right door. M and I sat against the back wall of the room as it was fairly stuffy and we didn’t want to be sardine squish in the centre seats. I sighed. Already exhausted and very uncomfortable, plus all the drama meant I hadn’t gotten any coffee at all… Le sigh.
Beyond that, the talks were good, much the same as last year but with a few updates: paperback printing has done fairly well (not a lot of money in it for the writers, but some customers prefer to have the option) and proof and author copies are now available to purchase at cost price.
There were a few familiar faces from last year, Steven A. McKay and Linda Gillard who were joined this year by L.J. Ross and Barry Hutchison all introduced by Darren Hardy, the head of KDP. The whole panel were wonderful and gave plenty of great advice for getting started (Just write!) and while discussing the merits to publishing with Kindle Direct Publishing, they were very sincere that it’s so easy and with 70% royalties you’d be mad to even attempt traditional publishing. Barry gave a great example of this, he thought he’d hit the motherload when Asda wanted to bulk purchase his books to go into their stores, 10,000 copies no less – until six months later when he received the royalty cheque for a measly £200 (£0.02 a copy)!
Linda spoke again about how she started as a traditionally published author yet after a couple of books the publisher complained that her work was mixing and crossing genres and could not possibly be sold – yet has become a bestseller on Kindle. Thankfully with Kindle as you are marketing your own work, there is less pressure to write to a specific singular genre. Additionally that was another thing Barry touched on, he had published a children’s book which coincidentally came out at the same time as a David Walliams book and the publisher put all their effort into promoting the latter’s book rather than Barry’s! Might as well DIY it all!
L.J. Ross was the one who surprised me the most, having only published her first book in January 2015 she is about to now publish her 8th book and has sold over 475,000 copies of her books via KDP! Her books are crime fiction set around her hometown area of Northumberland and have proved vastly popular, scaling the best seller lists in their genre and many features within mainstream newspapers. Plus she writes a new book in around 4 months… boy do I feel lazy.
There was a mid-morning coffee break which allowed for some more chat and mingling, then an hour for lunch served in the main hall. I had forgotten to message the venue before hand and was a bit concerned that there might not be anything for me to eat. At last year’s event I hadn’t known there would be lunch but the two options were salmon (which I like, but I can’t eat hot fish) and a pasta stuffed with ricotta cheese. I ate with trepidation last year, but since I’ve been completely dairy free for nearly a year now, I knew better than to attempt anything with dairy. Alas, my fears were unfounded as the caterers had provided a wide variety (about 5 different options) of food. They were served in tiny bowls, like ramekins, but I was just so thrilled at there being a vegan option, Spinach and Chickpea curry with rice (I’ve been hunting down the recipe to make this myself and I forgot to take a picture!). It was a mild, creamy curry sauce but with the right consistency I could tell it was definitely vegan, much like my vegan cheese sauce I make at home. As we had entered the hall, M noticed how many name tags still lay uncollected on the tables. I guess that is the problem with free events that people sign up and may not bother to turn up, missing out on all the free stuff allocated to them. Because there were so many no-shows, the catering staff had a ton of uneaten food still to punt, so were wandering around with trays asking if we wanted extras! I did, despite worrying about being polite in company, I couldn’t pretend that one tiny bowl had filled me… so a second was needed. (To be fair, I could have eaten ten!) The vegan desert option was fruit salad, of which I’m not always keen on the weirder fruits but I ate it anyway, still had room to fill.
We got chatting to another lady, much to my surprise I discovered she lives just down the road from me! Lunch flew by so quickly and it was time to go back for the last panel of the day. This was very much a recap of last year as well, dealing with the business side of things, creating a blog, running a newsletter and facebook group, getting the word out about your writing. The most important point made, however, was just to keep writing. Don’t get so bogged down in the business or promotion side of things that you have only one book to talk about – get more books written so ultimately the more you can earn and sell.
A great piece of advice was from L.J. Ross, who said that if you are writing a series, make sure that you have most of the second book done before putting the first book on sale, as fans will be chomping-at-the-bit to read more. It does make sense, including why so many readers are more invested in Kindle series, not having to wait two years on the publisher to hand out the sequel, instead getting it in a few months almost as soon as the author is finished polishing.
After the last panel, we were treated to another networking time, with complementary prosecco and Birra Morretti (vegan). I grabbed a glass of fizz and talked with a few girls I’d met earlier, passed out some business cards and looked at the selection of promo material on the tables.
Now I must point out, I was zonked even though it was barely even 3 in the afternoon, I’d been up since half-five and spent the whole day surrounded by huge crowds of people (far out of my comfort zone). I think the Prosecco hit me a little fast, I could feel my cheeks burning already… but then I noticed someone lying a few books on one of the tables and decided to do my nosy.
Someone swiped one copy right away and I felt bad pawing the only remaining copy, it was Wolf’s Head by one of the panellists, Steven, the first book in his Forest Lord series featuring Robin Hood!
While I was deliberating to take the book or not, a lady sidled up to me and asked if I wanted it signed, I froze, then she told me, “I’m his mother!” That warranted a laugh, I can totally see my mum doing that in the future.
So I got the chance to meet Steven, he signed my copy, I managed to speak in English the whole time (had been singing Italian songs on the bus on the way there), mentioned seeing him last year, thanked him for his time and discovered that he also did Creative Writing at the OU (small world, a sign perhaps?). Then the Prosecco and sleep deprivation had hit me too hard and it was time to call it a day on the event.
It was a scorching day when I left, too hot too quickly though, and I melted further on my way back up the tunnel to the bus stop.
But you know what?
It was all totally worth it! Great fun, met knew people, didn’t spend a penny the whole day, and I left feeling bouncy and inspired. I have a plan!
So at the time of writing this I’m currently reading Flawed by Cecelia Ahern. I love her writing and her style. To be fair I haven’t read all of her stuff, but of what I have read, I’ve loved. The wit, the whimsy, the unbelievable – she makes it real, she makes you care. Now this is a slight departure from her usual stuff, it’s YA for starters and it’s the first in a series. I should warn you before you read any further, if you are sick to the back teeth of YA dystopian novels, then stop reading and await my next blog, if not then keep reading – but you have been warned!
I won’t give away spoilers but to say that at just over halfway through, I can already see the familiar triangle forming, the reluctant teen forced into a situation in which she must give up her desire to flee and instead learn to fight. Everything she took for granted is now gone, those she trusted are no longer trustworthy etc. But, I don’t even care! There is another different edge to this story, it’s not Hunger Games targeting the kids, it’s targeting everyone – a bit more Minority Report in its brand of justice. Effectively, there are a list of things a member of ordinary society must abide by, lest they be tried and condemned as Flawed, at which point they are branded with a perfect F… the irony isn’t lost on the narrator. Celestine is seventeen, and as annoying as most studious seventeen-year-olds are, more concerned with following the rules to a tee and her future life at uni than whether her world is fair and just for all. As she is annoying, this will allow for the greatest character development, she is falling fast and when she hits bottom, then I can feel sorry for her. Too many main characters start off as noble, likeable, honorable, selfless, etc, whereas Celestine is a proper teenager; bitchy, moody, out of her depth, and rightfully pissed off at her treatment.
I’m still trying to decipher the landscape, perhaps like most Ahern books it is set in Ireland or at least a fictional version, thus it already has a different taste than the deluge of American world dystopias. This book has been on my TBR pile for a while but I’m glad I’m cracking on with it, it’s fun and enjoyable! Who decided that there can only be one bestseller of each genre? Who decided that after Hunger Games, Maze Runner, and Divergent that the world had tired of YA dystopians? Because according to the sheer volume of such books that are being sold in print and on Kindle, it’s not coming from the readers!