Last month, I was given the opportunity to review Darren Dash's upcoming novel, Midsummer's Bottom. Readers of his previous books will soon discover that it's nothing like anything he's written before. Taking a daring dip into the lighter side of fiction, you'd almost be forgiven for thinking that this book was written by an entirely different author... almost. Dash's signature wit and humour shine on every page, and it soon becomes clear that this is the voice of the writer we have come to know and love.
Every year, a group of amateur actors come together to perform their annual showing of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream -- much to the dismay of the named fairies in the play. MEET The Midsummer Players. Their dedication to the bard's beloved play is second only to their abysmal reputation as actors. ENTER the fairies of the real A Midsummer Night's Dream. Cursed to attend every performance ever attempted, they have long reached their wits end. When Oberon and Puck hire a human agent of chaos to infiltrate the players and turn them against each other, not all goes according to plan...
It can often take me a little while to get into a book. But Midsummer's Bottom sucked me in from the first page. Dash quickly introduces us to a cast of colourful characters and brings them all to life on the page, Small details and quirks pull you deeper into his world, and I found that I was smiling to myself often. Despite the constantly changing and evolving points of view, the book flows in a pleasant way that makes it easy to devour. This is magical escapism at its best.
One of the things I like most about this book is that you never really know what's coming next. Darren Dash weaves a masterfully woven web of twists and turns, leaving you with no choice but to sit back and be entertained by the unfolding drama. As a reader, I felt like I was looking down on a bizarre, fantastical play, with a birdseye view of this humorous story.
Midsummer's Bottom is a laugh out loud comedy, a rollicking romp that will leave you with a warm, satisfied feeling long after you finish. I really enjoyed this book and so, for me, it deserves nothing less than five stars.
You can buy Midsummer's Bottom here.
I often have no idea what to blog about.
Sure, I'm a writer. That's probably an odd thing for a writer to admit on her blog. Primarily, though, fiction is my jam. And figuring out what to talk about on my blog, month after month is often far harder for me than it should be.
That is why I've decided to open up my life to you and give you a direct peek into my world. Near the beginning of the year, I wrote about how keeping a writing diary has been helping me to stay on track with my writing goals. Now, I'm going to show you what 's inside it.
Those of you that have kept any form of diary before will know that the content of one's diary is an extremely personal thing. Publishing that content to the world wide web is going to feel like standing naked in the middle of Tesco's. However, by sharing parts of this journey into writing and self-publishing my debut novel with you, you'll come to realise that if I can achieve my dream through grit and spit, then by damn, so can you!
Oh, there's one more thing you should know before we proceed. I am a slow writer. I am George Martin slow (sorry George!). I have an awful habit of being perfectionist. Therefore, my word count goals are often SMALL in comparison to most. Okay? Good.
I'll start at the beginning.
January 1st, 2018
GOAL: Finish 2nd draft of Crimson Touch by the end of April.
I'm working on chapter 18. I feel like I want to go back over some previous chapters and edit/improve, but maybe that is because I've hit the 'saggy middle'.
I will try not to go back too much, or spend too much time revisiting completed chapters. This would be COUNTERPRODUCTIVE!
Half a page written, despite feeling ill.
January 3rd, 2018
Picked at a few words, did something else instead...
6th January, 2018
Not a good week. Ill Monday, Tuesday, Friday, Saturday. Sunday should be better. Then, I have next week off to smash my writing goals.
8th January 2018 -- Monday
First good writing day this year. I wrote one and a half pages. Not a bad start to the week!
Feeling 80% better today.
This is the kind of thing I put in my writing diary. I put my current thoughts into words. I celebrate my wins and I record my worst days. This is purely used as a deterrent, because when the bad days start to pile up, it's awful to look at. They're harder to ignore on paper, and you can't make them go away.
I love that feeling of moving into a new year. Shedding off the old, worn out crap you no longer need, leaving that dead weight behind and emerging as a new shiny version of you. I love reptiles! Get the reference?
One of the things my fiancé got me for Christmas this year is a brand new notebook. Now, apart from being incredibly cool just look at that eye ;-), within it is a whole lot of blank pages, ready to be filled with whatever I please.
There's something extra special about a brand new notebook. Sure, you can rip out the old pages of a barely used book from last year, but it just doesn't carry the same weight. This magical feeling I'm talking about is unique to crisp, blank notebooks brimming with potential. It's not to be taken lightly and it's not to be squandered on just any old shopping or to-do list. In other words, use it's power wisely.
If you've read my previous blog post, you'll know that I didn't accomplish everything I wanted to last year. That's because I had given myself no accountability. This year, I'm starting as I mean to go on. I've started... a writing diary.
It's simple, really. Every day that I write, I check in with the diary. Every day that I think about writing, and it falls through, I check in. The days that I don't write speak for themselves as big date gaps.
This simple method is highly effective. I'm not even publishing these diary entries online, I'm simply recording my progress. However, as someone who doesn't like to fail, I know that by recording the outcome of each day (or not), my progress is set in stone. Therefore, if I have a bad day, the only way to balance this out is to have a good day later that week. If I have several procrastination days in a row, well... that would take some making up indeed.
My point is, if no one is expecting anything of you, then will you ever achieve what you want to achieve? If you're not pushing yourself to your limits, then how will you ever know what your limits are?
I am my own accountability this year.
2018 is approaching at full speed. It's going to be massive, I can feel it. Well, it could be... if I can get my head in gear.
You see, in 2015 I wrote a novel in a year, from scratch, having never completed one before. It was awesome, it was excruciating, it was one hell of a learning curve. I was pretty hard on myself, though. In fact, I became so obsessed with rigid goals and weekly word counts that in the process, other important aspects of my life took a back seat. It was unhealthy.
In 2016, I procrastinated quite a bit. It was productive procrastinating, as I managed to write and publish two other books, Bite-Sized Fiction For Busy People and Get Organised! An Idea Tracker For Writers. However, the novel that I'd poured my heart and soul into had been shelved indefinitely.
Fast forward to this year and I can tell you now that this one started well. I mean really well. I bought a course on How to Revise Your Novel and flew through the lessons. I was unprepared for how much work that was left for me to do after writing the book. Guided by a pro, though, I was soon back on track and once again learning fast. Learning about revision. Aka, the second draft, aka the dreaded rewrite.
Revising the first draft of Crimson Touch was intimidating. It was like that one time in my school years during swimming lesson, where everyone graduated from the little pool to the big pool all at the same time -- all apart from me. And instead of being extra patient with that one child with a deep fear of water, they decided to push me up too, before I knew how to swim.
So, yeah. Umm... where was I going with this, again? Oh yeah. Revising that novel was like being a child again, clinging to the side of a pool that I can't touch the bottom of while not knowing how to swim. I can't think of a more perfect way to describe that feeling of being lost in the vastness of your own epic ideas, with no idea of how to get from A to B without drowning.
Anyway, like I said, the year started well; about as well as it can when one only has a vague notion of what one's journey entails. I'm sure if Frodo and Sam had known that their journey was going to be such a soul sucking slog, they would have thought twice about leaving their cosy holes, even if it was to save the world! However, as months went by and my motivation began to wane, I decided to take the opposite approach to my previous straightjacket discipline and go down the 'do what you want, when you want' route. Yes, I know. Not my best idea. As you can imagine, I didn't get a huge amount done in the latter half of the year, and my project had hit and miss results.
But guess what? I did learn yet another valuable lesson.
So, what have I learnt in these past few years, exploring who I am as a writer? I'll tell you...
1) Discipline is good, within reason.
2) Sometimes, you need to take one step back in order to take two steps forward
3) Good intentions do not write books.
Today, I made a solid action plan for 2018. I know I have what it takes, I believe in myself and if I follow the plan, I get to share Crimson Touch with the world. Hopefully, before I'm old and grey...
There is nothing I want more. So I'm going to blog about my struggles and triumphs over the next twelve months, logging my progress and using this blog to hold myself accountable. Sound good to you?
Until next time then.
I've never been a morning person. In fact, I'd go as far to say that I downright hate them.
It takes me a good hour or so after waking to actually feel awake. Caffeine is nice, but doesn't pack that punch I desire first thing in the morn -- or at least, it doesn't with me. I'll get up for work at 7 and often feel like the walking dead until about 10 o'clock. By which time, most of the morning has already passed.
Last year, I was officially diagnosed with narcolepsy. This explains a lot.
I won't bore you with the details (a post for another day, maybe). But it's only since accepting this and therefore, removing that mental block that's been holding me back, that I've discovered that mornings don't have to be the enemy.
Now, I want to share with you some of the things I've learned work for me. And if they can help me, then hopefully, they'll help you too.
1. Acknowledge that you're awake -- This is a bit of a weird one. Yes, you read that right. Acknowledge that you are awake. If you can get your head around this one, though, then I'm confident that it will change your life.
There are two words that I can use to sum up this method, and they are MIND FRAME.
Your alarm goes off. It's screaming at you. You just want to be left alone. What do you do? You hit snooze and grab another 10 minutes or so. When it goes off ten minutes later, you hit it again. 10 more minutes, you think. It won't hurt. I'll skip breakfast. But when you finally do have to rise, you're no better off than if you'd have crawled out of bed on the first alarm.
I'm not judging you. This is me. I do this dance nearly every morning! It's frustrating and makes you feel yucky. Recently, though I've started using this method to get me going faster:
Sometimes, I just don't care about anything other than sleep. On these occasions, the snooze button wins ;-) However, when I can make this work for me, I feel energised in way that I didn't I didn't even know was possible.
Put simply -- how can you move forward into the day if you're still looking backward at your bed?
2. Like the room that you wake up in -- This one will go hand in hand with any of the other methods in this post. To be honest, it's less of a stand alone method and more of an enhancer. But why do I have to like the room I sleep in, you might think? I don't sleep with my eyes open.
Well, you would be right on that account. But there's method to my madness. You see, whether you realise it or not, the mood you wake up in will set the tone for the rest of your day. And when you first wake up and look around you, what you see will have an impact on your mood.
I like my bedroom. It's pretty small and I'm not the tidiest person in the world, but I've filled it with things that make me happy. This makes my often futile attempts to wake up in the morning that bit more effective. I'm drawn towards the hi-fi to get the radio on. The books in my 'to be read' pile are stacked in the corner of the room, just waiting to be picked up and devoured. But if reminders of looming deadlines, old junk and things that just don't call out to you are what you see when you first wake, it's no surprise that your morning motivation is at an all time low.
Leaving your warm bed in the morning can feel like a big ordeal, especially in the winter. You can't remove that feeling completely. What you can do, though, is make your waking world a more appealing place to be in.
3. Move and stretch -- Some people can jump straight out of bed and start dancing. No, I'm not kidding. They'll know who they are when they read this post. If you're anything like me, though, your energy comes much, much later.
Don't panic. This method doesn't have to be hard. I'm not talking about exhausting workout routines or morning jogs here (although good for you if you can!). There are kinder ways to get the blood flowing and wake yourself up than putting yourself through that.
I'm talking about a simple move and stretch routine.
For my birthday this year, my sister got me a yoga mat. Since then, I've discovered the simple pleasures of bending and stretching, of slowly but surely working through all the kinks and waking up each part of the body, one area at a time. I'm certainly no pro. I have an old back injury and I've never been able to touch my toes. But yoga is not only good for your body, it's also good for your mind.
I've used yoga as an example here, as this is what works for me. However, if you're looking for more inspiration on finding what words for you, why not start with this gentle 5 minute wake-up workout or these 7 energising moves to jump start your day?
Pair this with your morning coffee and you'll be feeling like a human being in no time.
4. Create a waking up ritual -- I've mentioned in a previous post how creating a pre-writing ritual can be an effective way to get more writing done. In the same way, building an effective wake up ritual can work wonders for those of us who struggle to be productive in the morning.
The theory behind this method is based in routine and familiarity. Whether you've consciously thought about it or not, chances are that you have one in some form or another. I have one too and it's more or less the same as what I've had for the past few years: wake up, reach for my phone and switch WiFi on, make a cup of tea, take it back to bed to check email and social media, eating into my breakfast time, where I'll eventually have to sacrifice my own breakfast in order to make one for the bearded dragons before dashing out to work.
It's not very well thought out. In fact, it's almost purely made up of old habits. But imagine how much more effective a well thought out wake up ritual could be if created with the purpose of maximising your morning potential? My best mornings almost always start with a cup of tea, a short yoga session, a good cup of coffee and no social media!
Examine your own average morning and look for the repeated actions. Which of these work for you? Which things don't and are holding you back? Think about what makes you happy. Adding something purely for you at the start of the day can make all the difference to your morning.
5. Let some light in -- Your body has an internal clock that responds to light and dark. The sun comes up and your brain knows that it is day time. The sun goes down, the sky gets dark and your brain begins to shut down.
Okay, you might say. I do that now. I switch on the lights in the morning and switch them off again at night! What gives? Of course, I'm not talking about any old 40 watt light bulb. What we need is natural light.
When you dress in the dark, you may think that you're saving your eyes from a blinding, but in actual fact, all you're doing is depriving yourself of the natural sunlight your brain needs to adjust in the morning.
For those that don't see sunlight on a daily basis, or even just want to be proactive and give this method a good go, you can buy something called a 'natural light alarm clock' to make your life easier. This product mimics the natural rising of the sun, starting by switching on at a low light and gradually working up to a full morning glare. The idea of these ingenious little devices is that by the time you are awake, you are far more awake than if you had been screamed at by your alarm clock. Waking up this way is also said to help you get a better night's sleep, so it's win-win.
I don't think I'll ever be a morning person. I can make them that little bit more bearable, though, with a well thought out routine and a positive attitude.
What do you think? Have you tried any of these methods? Have something better that you'd care to share? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Dialogue: a conversation between two or more people as a feature of a book, play or film.
You'd think that writing dialogue for your fiction book would be easy. After all, you've been talking for such a long time now. It's something that you do on a daily basis and most of the time, you don't even have to think about it. But in actual fact, when it come to fiction, there is a fine line between doing it right and being too realistic.
In everyday life, people talk over each other. They fumble over their words, umming and ahhing, switching from miserable weather, to what they ate for tea last night, to the latest hot topic., to... well, you get my drift. Real conversation is messy, all over the place and often completely trivial.
Fictional dialogue doesn't have time to be trivial. Everything you put into your book must matter, must push the story forward. A simple conversation between two characters can enlighten the reader, giving away a key piece of plot information. A difference of opinion can increase tension and add to the conflict already in play, not to mention reveal elements of your characters motivations that weren't previously clear.
Another effective use of fictional dialogue is to focus on how your characters speak to each other. The way one character interacts with another can tell the reader a lot about both characters. For example, if your outgoing protagonist becomes tongue-tied around one particular character, it would indicate that their feelings for this individual run a little deeper than they're willing to let on.
As characters naturally develop throughout a story, the way they speak to one another should change along with them. When used correctly, dialogue is one of the many powerful tools writers have at their disposal when writing fiction.
Got any tips on writing dialogue scenes? How do you approach them? Share below in the comments.
Missed last week's post? Check out C is for... Characters here. Look out for the next post in the series, E is for... Emotion.
Character: 1. A person in a novel, play, or film. 2. The mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual.
Without your characters, you don't have a story. It is as simple as that.
Let's think about that for a second. A story is the ups and downs of an individual, or a group of connected individuals' lives. Without those characters, your story will simply be a string of events happening one after another. There will be no reactions and no emotional stakes.
Let's face it -- it's the characters in a story that have us coming back for more, time and time again. They have a big job to do, and that's to make you care. In this aspect, it goes without saying that protagonists have the biggest job to do of all. But, open any fiction book and more than likely, you'll discover that it holds a colourful cast of varied characters that all play different roles in the story.
Some examples of character roles are:
The Protagonist -- the point of view character and person responsible for fixing the main problem of the novel.
The Antagonist -- the bad guy. This character blocks the protagonists path at every turn, making it difficult for them to succeed.
The Sidekick -- the protagonist's unflinchingly loyal friend. They support the main character and their actions are often a key part of the hero's success.
The Mentor -- this character's role is to provide the lesson that, upon learning it, will unlock new potential in the protagonist.
Can you think of any other fictional character roles? Let me know in the comments below.
Missed last week's post? Check out B is for... Beginnings here. Look out for the next post in the series, D is for... Dialogue.
Novel Beginnings: The beginning of a novel should set the tone for the rest of the book and capture the reader's attention, while not rushing into the story or giving too much away too fast.
The beginning of a novel can make or break a book. The opening pages must grab the reader by the throat and never let them go, or risk losing them completely.
The first chapter of any book will typically contain a hook. The hook can be something that resides within the first few pages, the first few paragraphs or even the opening line. Its single function is to 'hook' the attention of the reader in a way that encourages them to keep on reading.
The beginning is also where the writer needs to set up the rest of the story. Where are we? Why are we here? Who should we care about? Why should we care? What's at stake? These are all questions to provide answers to within the book's opening pages, even in their most basic form. Sometimes, though, these answers are often more effectively teased at, as opposed to handing the answers over to your readers on a plate.
Giving too much information away too early on can make your story predictable, and therefore, bland. Finding the balance between an overwhelming information dump and pure guesswork is the key to writing a solid novel beginning.
Got any tips? Share your wisdom in the comments below.
Missed last week's post? Check out A is for... Antihero here. Look out for the next post in the series, C is for... Characters.
Antihero: a main character in a story who lacks conventional heroic qualities such as idealism, courage, and morality. Although antiheroes may sometimes do the "right thing", it is often for the "wrong reasons" and because it serves their self-interest rather than being driven by moral convictions.
The charming antihero is possibly one of my all time favourite story characters. Done well, they will disgust and delight you, before stealing your heart and selling it back to you in pieces.
They will often work alongside the hero or heroine in fiction. Their reason for doing so will be very different. In fact, it can be all too easy to mistake the antihero for the villain, especially when their worst moments paint them in a dark light. What separates them from the antagonist, though, is their ability to 'walk the line' between good and evil.
Yes, the antihero is fickle character. Whichever side best serves their current interest usually wins their loyalty. Despite this, though, the antihero tends to make the right decision when it counts most. Because of this, the reader can feel compelled to cheer them on throughout the story, despite the occasional villainous deed. They are redeemable.
Antiheroes get away with murder. Sometimes literally. Befriend one at your own risk.
Some examples of fictional antiheroes are:
The antihero of my current book is Drayvex from Crimson Touch. If he managed to get his hands on your heart, he'd probably eat it whole.
Can you think of any awesome antiheroes that deserve a special mention? Sound off in the comments below.
Next is B is for... Beginnings.
The sun's shining in from my left and the kettle is directly ahead. My decrepit laptop whirrs beneath my fingers as I rest them on the smooth, black keys. It's Saturday and therefore, I have an entire day to myself.
The conditions couldn't be any better. Today, it's the 1st of April -- and it's finally time to write.
Here are the items I consider to be essentials for the month of Camp NaNoWriMo:
2) Scrivener -- Scrivener is my programme of choice for writing. Like everyone ever, I started out using a simple word processor. But once you try the wonder that is Scrivener, it's difficult to look back. Created for writers, by writers, this programme comes with a cork board for scene cards, a binder that allows you to see your entire project at the same time and a split screen feature, giving you the power to have two separate documents open side by side, or one above the other. Last year, I spoke to Anne of Scrivener Virgin, where I went into more detail about my favourite features of Scrivener and how I use it to help me write.
3) Coffee -- the wonder drink. A writer's best friend and the holy grail of imagination. Not only do I enjoy the taste of coffee immensely, but it gives me just the right amount of kick to get my fingers tapping away at the keys. Aside from the occasional cup of tea, coffee is my beverage of choice when it comes to writing. But it has another great benefit, aside from the obvious things I've mentioned above. Making coffee is part of my pre-writing ritual. When that kettle is boiling, my muse sits up and listens. Whether I'm spooning granules straight into a cup or stirring my cafetiere, something clicks in my brain. And my muse (or my internal editor) knows it's time to get down to business.
4) Pinterest -- Pinterest is a great place to go when you're looking for inspiration. It's where I go when my imagination begins to wither, or I've got an idea forming that still has lots of blank areas to fill. All you have to do is search for a word or a phrase, say... trolls, and Pinterest will produce pages and pages of troll related pictures. You can also save the pictures that you like best in dedicated folders. I like to have a Pinterest folder for all my main fiction projects, if only to give people an idea of what to expect. It's pretty spiffy, but be warned -- once you open that Pandora's box, you'll have a hard time putting it away!
5) Spotify --some people write better with a little music in the background. If you're one of those people, then Spotify is definitely something that you need to check out. This programme gives you free access to virtually any song you can think of. The app allows you to play music on the go and the only limits are the occasional adverts, which you can remove by becoming a premium member. Personally, I like to mix it up a bit. As the mood calls I switch from silent, concentrated writing, to a little relaxed typing with background music when my muse is feeling bored or tired. I have personal playlists ready to go.
6) My Favourite Snacks -- when I'm writing, I like to pick. Comfort food is the key to keeping my muse happy and if my muse is happy, then I'm going to write for longer. At least, that's what I tell myself as I'm tucking into a 'sharing' bag of beefy puffs. Sometimes, I use tasty snacks on a reward basis for completing paragraphs. Other times, (who am I kidding? Most of the time...) I simply enjoy their flavour.
7) iPad -- this is a bit of a strange essential to have on top of a laptop. But actually, it helps me a great deal. Having recently bought Scrivener for iOS, I can now switch between my laptop and my iPad at will. My project is synced to my Dropbox from one machine to the other, so no matter what I choose to use for writing with I can continue with a fully updated project.
But why would I want to do this, you might ask? Well, when I'm sat at my laptop for long periods of time, I often get restless. Once I enter this frame of mind it's much harder to be productive, and very often, this is when I start to scroll through Twitter, and check my emails, and read an article or two, or three, and... well, you get the gist. Now when this happens, I pick up my iPad, move to a new location and continue my project from there. With a different view of your words, not only does this convince your brain that you're almost starting afresh again, but it's easier move around with or get comfy.
8) Comfy Socks -- this one is purely for comfort. I can't stand having cold feet, so I like to wear nice thick socks whatever the weather. Side note: in Wales, we don't really get summer, but 'summer'). For writing, having toasty feet is especially important to me. With this in mind, number eight on my list of essentials for Camp NaNoWriMo has to be a pair of the thickest, fluffiest socks imaginable. Try it yourself. You'll thank me for it!
Well, those are mine. But what about you? Have I missed anything important? Sound off in the comments below!
Author of bite-sized stories, with debut novel Crimson Touch out 2019.