Books which don’t “spark joy”

Marie Kondo (who I have blogged about previously) has a new TV show on Netflix and I see it’s causing controversy among some journalists (who don’t seem to fully understand her methods) when it comes to books.

I haven’t seen the show yet but I have followed her methods for decluttering where you sort things by categories, so you tackle clothes first, then books etc.

I’ll admit that before I sorted my books I thought I wouldn’t be getting rid of many, if any. I have always considered myself a booklover and was proud of my shelves, literally warping under the weight of so many books. I have even been told that my first word was “book”. Yet when I piled them all up together, as Marie advises, I realised there were several that did not “spark joy” at all.

Incidentally, I believe people take the phrase “spark joy” more literally then Marie Kondo intended. Things which are practical and frequently used should be kept. They don’t literally have to bring great joy each time you touch them!

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I donated at least four bags of books to charity shops the first time I went through the process. I don’t regret getting rid of any of them and struggle to even remember what they were. I know one was a book I had to read as part of my degree which I hated. There were some paperbacks which I enjoyed ten or twenty years ago but had never read since. And then there were out of date guide books along with a copy of the Writers & Artists Yearbook from the year 2000 which was no use to me whatsoever.

Books can be wonderful, magical, inspiring, informative and life-changing. However, they can also be boring, disturbing, badly-written, irrelevant and out of date. And if you have a stack of these on your shelves, or on the floor doing nothing but gathering dust and there to be tripped over, then why wouldn’t you get rid of them?

 

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Script writing

Over the weekend I finished working on a screenplay adaptation of part of my novel for a competition. It was the first time I had tried writing a script using the proper format. As well as working out how my story might work as a TV drama instead of a novel, I had to get to grips with all the conventions of a script so it was a steep learning curve!

I had to remember to add the character’s name again with (CONT’D) if their speech was broken up with some scene action, to make sure all my scene headings were correctly formatted and said whether it was day or night; as well as making sure there weren’t any headings or character names hanging at the bottom of the page.  There was also the issue of timing to consider. Correctly formatted, one page of script equals approximately one minute of action.

Adapting the story was fairly instinctive for me to do because when the idea and the characters first came into my head, I thought the storyline would make a good TV drama. And the very first scenes I wrote (in pencil!) were more like a script than a novel.

There are several differences between a TV drama and a novel obviously and I reflected on those as I worked out how to adapt the story. Some of the changes I made were:

  • Reducing the cast of characters, particularly taking out many of the minor characters.
  • Taking out sub-plots and most of the back stories for the main characters.
  • Changing the order of the action in order to condense the storyline.
  • Showing some scenes which the main characters don’t witness in the novel. Those scenes are either imagined or explained later by others.
  • Adding in some dialogue where in the book I had summarised a conversation.

I am not expecting to win anything, especially as this was a first attempt, but it was a fun challenge!

If anyone is interested in writing a TV drama, or simply reading some fantastic scripts – the BBC Script Library has a great selection, including recent programmes like Mrs Wilson, Bodyguard and A Very English Scandal.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/scripts

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Favourites of 2018

I read 39 complete books in 2018 (the same number as in 2017), as well as a couple I started and gave up on, and a few novellas. The books included novels, both traditionally and self-published; non-fiction titles and some re-reads of old favourites.

Fiction-wise I think things were a bit hit and miss this year for me. My favourite was The Dry by Jane Harper. I’m really looking forward to reading the follow-up Force Of Nature which I have on my Kindle already and her newest, The Lost Man. Another Australian book I enjoyed was Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty. It was great to hear her speak at Conway Hall in London. I also loved Tin Man by Sarah Winman. A couple of colleagues had recommended it and I’m glad they did.

My standout favourite non-fiction title was Educated by Tara Westover. I loved hearing her speak at the Wimbledon Book Festival and blogged about it here.

I gained a new perspective on issues of mental health and race from Mad Girl by Bryony Gordon and Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge and would recommend both of those books, along with Notes On A Nervous Planet by Matt Haig.

I didn’t go to the cinema much in 2018 but I loved Crazy Rich Asians. I’d read the book the week before, and unusually I preferred the film. I got a real sense of just how extravagant the  crazy-rich people’s lifestyles were, in a way I couldn’t fully imagine just by reading, plus I loved the humour that came across on screen.

On TV, my favourites are split between Call The Midwife which I always enjoy  (although I don’t think the Christmas special lived up to previous ones), and Unforgotten. I thought that the third series would be the last but I was thrilled to hear that there will be one more. Bodyguard was the series which got everybody talking and I was one of those who was gripped by it. I also enjoyed Mrs Wilson which was a fascinating drama.

Factual programmes I liked included A House Through Time, Back In Time For Tea and Mark Kermode’s Secrets of Cinema series which I’d recommend for writers as well as film fans.

I have several books already on my Kindle which I can’t wait to get started on although the book I am most looking forward to in 2019 is Big Sky, the latest Jackson Brodie novel by Kate Atkinson. The first in that series, Case Histories, is one of my favourite books so I am eagerly awaiting the new one!

 

 

End of year round-up and a look forward to 2019

It is almost inevitable that as one year draws to a close, we start to reflect on what went well, what could have gone better and what we want to achieve next year.

There were no big developments in my writing this year. However, I have tried on more than one occasion to write a second novel, intending to keep the momentum going after I published The Canal at the end of 2017.

I made good progress with the first draft but then I lost interest around the time I was changing career in the early summer, which was a big personal development for me.

I started afresh for NaNoWriMo, and my aim was to have a first draft completed by the end of this year. We are only a few days away from that point and unfortunately, the first draft will not be finished, although it’s almost there. I have learnt that I should have pushed myself more during November for NaNoWriMo when I had no other commitments, and not to have overestimated how much I would be able to write during the run-up to Christmas when I had so many other plans.

For 2019 I plan to continue with the second book and get it published. I will also spend more time marketing The Canal so that sales, which have tailed away lately, might start to pick up again.

In terms of this blog, I haven’t posted for a while (not sure if anyone is even still reading it!) so one of my new year’s resolutions is to start blogging more regularly, and also to contribute to other blogs. I will also be tweeting and updating Pinterest more frequently too.

I’ve had a good year of reading this year, discovering new authors (including Jane Harper) and reading more by my old favourites (like Liane Moriarty who I was lucky enough to meet). I will do a blog post of my favourite books of 2018 in the next few days.

Next year I want to continue to read more books, but also to take more chances on authors I know nothing about, and also to read more of the classics, something I have never done very much of outside of secondary school and university. One advantage of having a longer commute to my new job is that it gives me more time for reading so I need to make the most of that time!

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One Year Anniversary of Publishing!

One year ago I first published my novel The Canal. I thought I would reflect on what went well and what, next time around, I’d do differently.

First of all, it was quite an exhilarating feeling pressing “publish” but then really daunting once I realised people were actually reading it!

I’m glad that I published through KDP – Kindle Direct Publishing, which was pretty new at the time, rather than CreateSpace. I deliberated for a while about which platform (both owned by Amazon) to choose. It’s meant I haven’t had to deal with moving my book over now that CreateSpace is on the way out.

In terms of things which didn’t go so well, I really wish I’d done more of a thorough proof using the Kindle viewer. Once it was published I realised there were some formatting issues as well as a few typos. I was in a hurry to publish – I should have been more thorough in the final proof. Of course, with an e-book it’s easy enough to change but I didn’t spot these issues until after several people had bought it. I will know for next time!

Actually, that brings me on to another point. The launch day was a fairly arbitrary day. I was in a sort of competition with someone else who was publishing a book (unbeknown to them), and that’s partly what made me rush the final stage. I should have ignored everyone else and just focused on what was right for me and my book.

I’m undecided about whether I would set up pre-orders or not if I self-publish again. There are definitely good reasons for doing this, so it’s something I’ll consider. I also published the e-book a month before the paperback. It was good to have some breathing space in between both processes, but I can see the benefits in launching both at the same time.

One thing I wish I’d done is capitalise a bit more when the book made it into a top 100 list on Amazon. I assumed it would climb even higher but it didn’t! Another thing I will do next time round, is try and get my beta readers to write a review, ideally close to the launch day.

All in all, the process of publishing was straightforward and it’s been an interesting year, but now it’s time to focus on the next book. I am starting my second novel yet again, and doing NaNoWriMo in the hope this will help me get the first draft finished more easily.

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Author Talks and Book Festivals

I caught up with Front Row Late on BBC Two at the weekend and heard Satnam Sanghera say that he had, “a pet hate with literary festivals as they tend to be in quite posh towns or villages, in fields, in tents.” That description could probably be applied to the Wimbledon Book Festival which I went to on Sunday, braving rail replacement buses, pouring rain and a long walk up a hill.

I was there to hear Tara Westover speak about her memoir, Educated, which I couldn’t put down earlier this year. She was funny and fascinating and I could have listened to her speak for a lot longer than the slot she had. The talk did indeed take place in a tent festooned with William Morris print material.

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That was my second author talk of the week. On Monday I heard Liane Moriarty, one of my favourite fiction writers, speak in London. She discussed her writing process (she doesn’t meticulously outline her plots which is what her husband had told people), how she gets her ideas, and how people assume her books are autobiographical. Apparently when she was single and childless and wrote about a character in the same circumstances who hated children’s parties, Liane was never invited to another birthday party again, much to her disappointment as she loved them.

Both talks were very different but a great insight into the lives of two very different writers. I loved having the chance as well to get a book signed by Liane (I bought Educated on my Kindle which is harder to autograph!). I had temporarily forgotten I was living in 2018 and so the opportunity for a selfie took me by surprise but I took it.

It’s true that not all towns have literary festivals or events like this but they are worth looking out for if you get the chance to go to one.

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Review of The Worried Writer podcast

As I have previously blogged, I am a fan of the Creative Penn podcast. Just over a year ago I listened to an episode featuring Sarah Painter whose own podcast The Worried Writer is one I now regularly listen to.

Sarah is an author of magical and historical novels as well as a non-fiction title, Stop Worrying, Start Writing, which she wrote after starting her podcast.

I believe Sarah was inspired to start podcasting after listening to the Creative Penn and I can hear the influence. Each episode starts with an introduction, a personal update and then the main interview, with occasional solo episodes. However, while Joanna Penn interviews a diverse range of guests on a wide range of writing topics, Sarah Painter’s guests all discuss their writing worries.

The show aims to help writers overcome fear, self-doubt and procrastination, issues which seem to trouble most writers whether they are just starting out or they are household names. Previous guests include CL Taylor, Julie Cohen, Gillian McAllister and Mark Edwards. And Sarah’s very gentle Scottish accent seems appropriate somehow for the subject matter!

The episodes come out monthly so it’s not too arduous to catch up with the backlist, something I would recommend!