April wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and Some Painful Honesty

In which Camp NaNoWriMo rolls round again

And this time, I actually used it for revision! The flexibility to use Camp for other types of writing project is one of its main differences to the main NaNoWriMo in November, but I hadn’t taken advantage of that so far due to my abominably slow writing speeds.

The reading thing

Five and a half books this month. You’ll have to wait until next wrap-up for the half, even though I put it in the picture in a fit of misplaced optimism.

The highlights

Alterations!  Finally, a contemporary I wasn’t ambivalent to disappointed about. It’s not particularly complicated or deep (apparently it’s inspired by the movie Sabrina) but Amelia’s growth in confidence, finding her way and figuring out her dreams was just as important as the romance aspect. The cast was diverse and vivid, Amelia was easy to root for, and yes, the romance was adorable. It even managed to have a love triangle (or possibly square) without being obnoxious.

 

Prince’s Gambit and Kings Rising were the second and third instalments of the Captive Prince trilogy. In March I said it was difficult to rate or discuss the first book on its own. The overview of the trilogy isn’t a lot easier, but I did enjoy it very much. The character development in these books is spot on, I was rooting for the romance the whole way through, I broke my heart over some of the side characters. All the elements of a great read. They were as graphic as the first but without the discomfort levels. It wasn’t exactly a shock to see the other side of Laurent – I knew it had to be there – but it was fascinating to watch it unfold. The plotting and intrigue maybe got a little far-fetched but it carried the story, which is really all about the romance. And the smut. Yeah, these are not YA.

And the rest

The Song of Achilles is a retelling of the Iliad, from the perspective of Patroclus. If you know anything about Greek legends, you know how it ends. You’d think it would be less traumatic when you know it’s coming, but no. My poor heart was shredded to pieces. The writing captured the tone of an ancient myth brought to life, it really was beautiful, but it took me a while to warm up to the characters and the slow build to what we really wanted to see – the war at Troy – was maybe a little too slow.

fangirl book held against a cloudy skyFangirl. I really, really wanted to love this book. I had so much in common with Cath. I’ve seen people criticise her anxiety issues and anti-socialness as exaggerated, playing off cliches and stereotypes about geek girls, but I’ve been that person who would rather live off cereal bars than have to find the canteen and sit in it alone. But the romance lacked chemistry. I was more interested in seeing Cath negotiate college and her relationships with her friends and family. Overall, a like rather than a love, and I’m disappointed it didn’t live up to the hype. However, I do now have a very strong urge to read the Baz & Simon spin-off, Carry On.

So how was Camp NaNo for you?

I temporarily abandoned The Hunt, letting it stew while I figure out some issues, and instead used Camp NaNo to revise for my adult fantasy, Abriny. I did attempt revisions before but wasn’t getting very far. I’ve since had a couple of insights and the story’s going to change drastically in some areas, including the introduction of two new viewpoints in place of one existing. They’ll mean I can give the other side of the conflict, from the besieging army, so I’m pretty excited to have them in there.

This all adds up to more than tweaks and revisions, really. Instead, draft 2 has become an almost total rewrite. Even if I have a scene that’s staying broadly the same, I type it out from scratch. It’s been working pretty well. Still taking longer than I’d like, but I feel more like the revision is actually getting me somewhere and the story is starting to look more like a book.

You want actual numbers? At the end of April I’d written 58,364 words of draft 2. That’s not got me much past a quarter of the way in, so clearly I’m still going to have a lot of editing to do to get the word count to something reasonable, but it’s progress and I’m happier with the way things are going. I’ve discovered I have a tendency to write characters too nice, and in this second draft I’m making them more prickly and uncooperative. In other words: fun!

You mentioned painful honesty

Ah yes. And I wasn’t joking about the painful bit, so bear with me.

I have mental health problems. Specifically depression and anxiety. It’s not something I hide, at least not on my other social media, but I haven’t really talked about it here. It’s one of the reasons behind my often extended silences – I’m sure everyone worries about their writing (blogs, books or otherwise) not being good enough, or no one caring, but thanks to anxiety it twists into such a crippling mess I end up preferring to say nothing than risk it. The longer it goes on, the harder the cycle is to break.

It’s taken me a long time to get to this point (we’re talking years, no exaggeration) but it’s been getting worse recently and enough is enough. I’ve been to the doctor, I’m on medication and I’m on the waiting list for counselling. And I wanted to share this with you, because what really pushed me to seek help was the people who are willing to speak up about their own experiences, to say, yes, I have these problems, and I refuse to be afraid of admitting to them because of the stigma society attaches. People ranging from my favourite authors to casual instagram acquaintances, who aren’t afraid to say it’s been a bad day, or their anxiety is making them think this bad thing.

From now on, I’ll be more vocal about my own experiences, to pass the good along the line. I’ll add my voice to the others already out there in the hopes those who are still struggling might find it and feel less alone, maybe feel brave enough to seek help when they need it. Here’s a few thoughts to be getting on with:

  • It’s not your fault.
  • If you were diabetic, you wouldn’t feel bad about getting insulin from the doctor when your body doesn’t produce enough of it. Why should the hormones that balance your thoughts and brain be any different?
  • You are not weak for admitting you need help. Given the stigma attached to mental health problems, it might actually be the bravest thing you’ve ever done
  • It’s alright to have bad days, to sometimes feel like you’re sliding backwards. It doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
  • It’s alright to have days where you can’t cope with the rest of life. You’re fighting battles in your head every day, sometimes just to be able to get out of bed. Of course you’re exhausted. Grant yourself the me-time, the space and the grace to put those burdens down when you can.

My comments are open! Chat about books, writing, mental health or anything.

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March wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and A Few Random Thoughts

In which I participated in my first readathon

And, in my usual organised fashion, I forgot until the first of the three days was almost gone. But it seriously helped boost my reading, not least because I used it to blast through a few shorter books. It’s all about the numbers, dahling.

The readathon was part of NovelKnight’s Beat The Backlist challenge. Like most bookworms, I’ve a healthy supply of books I’ve bought or been given but never quite got around to, and with the help of this challenge I’m hoping 2017 will be the year I make a serious dent in them. Or at least get through some of the most persistent lingerers.

I also discovered audiobooks

Actually, that’s a blatant lie. I tried my first audiobook back in January. But I made more use of them this month. I don’t get a lot of time to listen, but a few walks back from dropping the kids from school, a couple of photo-editing sessions for bookstagram, some evening chores … I can get in an extra book, maybe one and a half, per month. The challenge is finding good ones. A lot of fantasy & YA audiobooks have US narrators, but being a cast-iron Brit, I’m a little picky about the accents I can listen to without distracting from the story.

You weren’t joking about the random thoughts, were you?

Alright, alright. I like to chat, even if the words are simply disappearing into the void of the internet. But here’s the reviews you actually came for:

The highlights

I finished A Conjuring of Light! Hooray! After putting myself in a slump in February, I ignored it for most of the this month in favour of quicker, different books. When I did finish it off, I loved it. It was one disaster after another, the sass levels were astronomical, the character development was awe-inspiring (special mention for Rhy. Wow!) The last two hundred pages were a crazy ride of heart-stopping, heart-breaking action, sprinkled with deaths and terror. There’s enough open ends for more stories in this world, which I’m praying VE Schwab will one day write. It was a beautiful end to a marvellous trilogy. I’m very sad to say goodbye. or rather, anoshe.

Something completely different: We Were Liars by E H Lockhart. The cover caught my eye, I vaguely remembered having heard of it, the synopsis was intriguing, and for £1 in a charity shop, how can you go wrong? Oh. My. God. I spent most of the book thinking it was a decent thriller/mystery type thing and then the ending just killed me. I can’t say much, because you have to go into it knowing as little as possible, or you lose the impact. The writing style, I admit, isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thought it did a beautiful job of conveying the MC’s brokenness and struggles. In summary, just read it. Read it! Now, dammit!

A Monster Calls was a complete whim, spurred by lots of bookstagram love. Also completely different to my usual reads, probably a MG (8-12) or younger YA book. It blurs the lines of reality and magic to look at grief, family and loss. The main character was so relatable, and the emotions throughout were raw and vivid. I’d not read any Patrick Ness before this, but I’m definitely going to try some more.

I read Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo years ago, and remember being pretty ambivalent about it (so long ago, incidentally, it went under the title of The Gathering Dark). But having adored the Six of Crows duology, I thought I’d give it another go. The audiobook narrator was brilliant, easily the best I’ve come across so far. And the story was a lot better than I remembered. The romance (love-triangle territory) I still wasn’t feeling, but there was Alina – how could I have forgotten how feisty and determined she was? The world and side characters were wonderfully complex. 4 stars, and I’m definitely going to continue to the rest of the trilogy this time.

The rest

Queen of Hearts – I was thrilled to find a British audiobook narrator. Less so when everyone but the royal family and one wheezing tutor were voiced as village yokels. As an origin story for the Red Queen, it fell flat. Motivations were incomprehensible or unbelievable, Dinah frequently reached too-stupid-to-live, and the pacing was… non-existent. An example? Disaster strikes, character flees for her life… and we stop to admire the view and describe shades of blue flowers. For what felt like Six. Whole. Pages. A gruesome, dark interlude in the middle belonged in a completely different book.

Poison and Protect – A novella linked to the Finishing School steampunk paranormal books by Gail Carriger. I was disappointed by the almost total lack of actual paranormalness. The plot was an anti-climax, but it was really all about the romance, which was sweet enough, if predictable. And on the romance – this is definitely not YA!

Captive Prince – It’s impossible to summarise briefly what I think of this book. It’s flagged up as often for being problematic as it is heralded as a brilliant story. The characters are astoundingly compelling, even when they seem without any redeeming qualities. DO NOT read it without knowing what you’re getting into – it’s very graphic, in not entirely pleasant ways, and includes a lot of possible triggers (rape, sexual abuse, child abuse, violence – though not all on page). I frequently wondered what on earth I was reading, and why the hell I was enjoying it. However, I finished it NEEDING to know what happens to Damen and Laurent. Read it as the first part of a larger story (I read the other two books in April) and it’s more bearable, in a way setting the scene for what the other two books are fighting against.

Lots of reading. Did you have any time left for writing?

Well, a bit. You make time, don’t you? That’s how any writer gets anywhere. Since the kids put an almost total kibosh on my social life, I have a lot of evening to fill, and I write instead of watching telly. I managed 54,742 words.

I did not, however, manage to finish the first draft of The Hunt, which was my goal. The ending is nearly there, and I’m happy with how it’s worked out. Unfortunately, I’m nowhere close to happy with how I got there. As a reader, there’s nothing more frustrating than questions and sub-plots that don’t get resolved, I’m sure you have experienced it. The Hunt has entirely the opposite problem. I’m resolving sub-plots, character arcs, themes – you name it – that I didn’t actually start. The first half of the draft is telling an almost completely different story to the second. It’s going to take some revision!

One last bit of randomness

I wrote this at the beginning of April. I did, I swear! And then there were a few bits and pieces missing – I hadn’t taken the photos, or worked out how to talk about Captive Prince in any way approaching coherent. So it got left. And now it’s August. I really am a terrible blogger. But I didn’t want to waste the effort I put into drafting it, so I hope you enjoyed my ramblings even if they were not as up-to-date as they could have been!

Time for a chat? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the books I’ve been reading (but please, keep it spoiler free for everyone else).

February wrap-up: Reading, writing… it was a short month, alright?


Feburary 17 wrap upWell, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it

So you can probably infer I didn’t actually get a whole lot done.

But let’s talk about it anyway. (I’ll talk. You listen. I have three small and exceedingly strong-willed children – you have no idea how rare this is. I plan to take full advantage.)

In which I can apparently no longer binge read

Let me take you back in time. Although if I actually did have a time machine, I would re-run February and now have Productive Things to talk to you about.

Back when I was a teenager, I was – well, let’s just say not exactly a social animal. After school evenings and at weekends, I read. I could get through two or three decent sized books in a day. I’d come home from the library with a stack of twelve new books and be back two weeks later for the next.

Then adulting happened. Job, house, bills, responsibility, etc. etc. But still, I could in get a good three books a week. My reading mode of choice was to devour until interrupted by necessities, pick back up and repeat.

And then… Kids. Eat. Time. I’m sure they have some good points too, but seven years after the first, I’m still shocked by how little of my time is my own any more. And since I also decided to make a serious attempt at a writing career, it has to be my priority in the free time I do have (not that I don’t love that, too). Between the two, I’m lucky to finish a book a week. And I’ve got out of the habit of having extended, uninterrupted reading sessions.

How is this relevant, Jamie?

Shades of Magic trilogyDo you see that?

The completed Shades of Magic trilogy. I raved about A Darker Shade of Magic in November. The book, characters and author catapulted straight to the top of my favourites. I got A Gathering of Shadows for Christmas, but thanks to the aforementioned time squeeze, couldn’t dive straight in. (I may also have been warned of a killer cliffhanger. Spoiler – they weren’t wrong.) A Conjuring of Light released this month. My plan was to read the whole series, beginning with a reread of ADSOM.

Cue pitiful weeping.

ADSOM took me a long time. If anything, I loved it more than first time, but I had to fit it into the slivers of the day left after the other demands on my time.

AGOS. This book was heartbreaking. To the tune of 5 stars. It was a slow build, focused on characters and relationships, with the plot not particularly high stakes, at least at the outset. We got more romance in this one, but I’m not naming names. There’s enough going on to hold interest and a third plotline (major freaking spoiler) bubbled menacingly under the surface. In a nutshell, this book was about consequences – no one gets off lightly from the events of ADSOM – and freedom. What it costs, what people will do to have it/keep it, and what might be worth sacrificing it. I basically wanted to cry every time Kell (or Rhy) was on page for the first half of the book. The unnamed plotline also ripped my heart out with abandon. (HIGHLIGHT TO READ MASSIVE SPOILER THAT KILLED ME Holland’s chest ached. Another binding. Would he never be free?). Lila, however, was off having the time of her life with Captain Alucard Emery, a new character whom I adore – sassy, flamboyant and hard-edged, with plenty of secrets of his own. The emotional turmoil drives the action half of the plot – the characters’ choices were often terrible, but utterly believable because of the corners they’ve ended up in. It’s what I loved about ADSOM ramped up to a whole new level.

I had to let the AGOS cliffhanger sit for a couple of days to fully absorb it before I started ACOL. Once I did – woah! Talk about an explosive start, danger and despair, expectations being pulled out from under you again and again. And if I liked Alucard in the first book – oh, I can’t get enough of him now (we get his point of view in this book as well). I could only watch helplessly as more and more things went wrong.

And I read myself into an enormous reading slump. A sort of pre-book-hangover. I was so invested in the series – yet trying not to go too fast because I don’t want it to be over – I got completely overwhelmed and couldn’t force myself to read the last 200 pages. What even is that? I read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows THREE TIMES on the weekend it was released. I reread the whole Throne of Glass series in a week to be ready for Empire of Storms (which I then didn’t read, but that’s a whole other story). This should not be happening to me!

Ahem. But it did. So. I will finish ACOL in March. Eventually.

Oh, I also read A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard. I picked it up to skim the beginning after ADSOM, and ended up reading it in a single sitting. And I don’t even really like YA contemporary, so that tells you something about how good it was. It’s all light, fluffy, sweet romance on the surface (but set in the UK!) but actually there’s a lot underneath – mental health issues and disability (deafness, specifically) are treated sensitively and realistically, the romance might the be main focus of the plot but the characters’ other relationships aren’t ignored, there’s no boy-fixes-mental-illness trope, or insta-love. I’d seriously recommend it, whether you’re a huge fan of the genre or not (4 stars).

Can we ask about the writing this month?

It was a very slow month, with only 17,400 words added to The Hunt, but I’m happier with where it’s going and I’ve hopefully left it in a good place to power through the finale in March.

I also had a major brainwave regarding Abriny (you may recall the bloated monstrosity of a first draft came in at 350,000 words) – apart from moving the whole last quarter of the book into the start of book 2, I figured out that I could link the storylines together, have a more convincing antagonist and improve the pace of the slower sections by adding a fifth viewpoint character. In theory, that shouldn’t be good for wordcount, but in practice I think it will help me skip over or cut completely a lot of the parts that weren’t working, by focusing the plot better. I’m trying very hard to concentrate on one project at a time, so I made notes on how I was going to work it but then set them aside.

If I can get The Hunt finished in March, I’ll be able to turn to the revision of Abriny for Camp NaNoWriMo in April.

Anything else?

I did say it was a short month!

If you enjoy listening to me rave or rant about books, you can see my longer, more detailed reviews on Goodreads, or follow me on Instagram where I try to keep things a little more succinct and post pretty pictures of pretty books.

In the meantime, here’s another sample of The Hunt’s playlist, which has started growing again:

 

Have you read Shades of Magic? Are you as ridiculously in love with it as I am? Have any tips on fitting reading and writing around the demands of Real Life™? Let’s chat in the comments!

 

Friday 5@5

friday-55This weekly meme is hosted by NovelKnight, so many thanks to them for the idea and be sure to check them out. In their own words:

Friday 5@5 is a weekly feature to wrap up the week with a fun (and short) list because we know y’all want to get on with your weekends!

This week’s prompt:

Characters that would be in your squad

Can’t I just have all of them? Pretty pretty please?

Alright, I’ll try and narrow it down, but I’m going to have to have some combined entries on here or my five slots would be taken in the space of two books!

The Dregs Six of Crows & Crooked Kingdom

Seriously, the combined skills of these six has to make them an essential part of any squad! There’s no way to single out one or two of them… they come as a package deal.

Everyone from Shades of Magic

Shades of Magic seriesAnother squad who come together or not at all. How could anyone possibly choose between Kell and Lila? Or Alucard? Or even Holland? And it wouldn’t be fair to leave Rhy behind, even if his… um… talents aren’t quite in the same league as the others (sorry!). Aside from the obvious magic, this lot make the cut for sheer determination, ferocity and refusal to give up.

Hermione Granger

You can forget about Harry – Hermione’s where it’s at in this series. This girl’s got brains, spellwork and courage in abundance. Leaving aside the fact she would probably disapprove of every single other member of the squad and their methods (looking at you, Kaz Brekker. Oh, and you too, Lila Bard).

Glass SwordCal Calore

I just want him along, alright? Alright? Good.

FlashfallOrion

She might not be the cleverest, or the most powerful, but she’s loyal to the core, fierce as hell, strong and resolute, and if anyone can keep such a disparate bunch of egos together, Orion can.

 

Do you agree with my choices? Have I missed someone? Let’s chat in the comments.

Friday 5@5

friday-55This weekly meme is hosted by NovelKnight, so many thanks to them for the idea and be sure to check them out. In their own words:

Friday 5@5 is a weekly feature to wrap up the week with a fun (and short) list because we know y’all want to get on with your weekends!

This week’s prompt:

Books you read based solely on the cover

Would you look at that, I actually managed to post it on a Friday this week. Cover buys are so definitely a thing. Shallow? Me? I’ve been lucky with them, in the most case – the recent ones, anyway, have been good reads as well as eye candy for my shelf. Also, I blame bookstagram. Entirely.

Queen of the Tearlingqueen-of-the-tearling

Simple, dramatic, dripping with ominous symbolism. What’s not to love?

Firebird trilogy

Look at them. Do I have to say any more? And this was definitely bookstagram’s fault; they’re so photogenic they were all over everyone’s feed and I couldn’t resist.

 The Mortal Instruments

tmi-spinesThis is possibly the most shallow of all. I read these because everyone was talking about them, and because I’d watched the City of Bones movie and quite liked it (don’t judge), and everyone said the books were better. But I read them as ebooks from the library, and had no intention of buying them – I enjoyed them, but didn’t love them. And then they were re-released with some really stunning cover art. And the spines. The spines did it. When I saw the box set for cheap while I was out buying Christmas presents, it just kind of… jumped into my trolley.

red-queenRed Queen

Is anyone sensing a theme here? If Queen of the Tearling was dripping with symbolism, this time we have a crown that’s literally dripping. With blood. Yup. Of course I wanted to read it. I’m a lovely person in real life, honest.

the-diabolicThe Diabolic

Okay, cheating slightly. I haven’t read this one yet. But it’s sitting on my shelf, because I bought it after loving the cover too much not to.

Friday 5@5

My first 5@5 post! This weekly meme is hosted by NovelKnight, so many thanks to them for the idea and be sure to check them out. In their own words:

Friday 5@5 is a weekly feature to wrap up the week with a fun (and short) list because we know y’all want to get on with your weekends!

This week’s prompt: Books with animals on the cover

Wow, this was harder than I expected without breaking into my old kidlit books. But here we are with my top 5 (Shh – I know there’s 7. I’ve lumped series books in together)

Six of Crows/Crooked Kingdom

Is this cheating? I kinda feel like it is, but that’s definitely a crow on both covers, so I’m going with it. These were probably my favourite reads of last year (as you might have gathered if you read the last couple of wrap-up posts!)

Ink and Bone

A butterfly’s an animal, alright?!

Green Rider/First Rider’s Call

Oh, wow, I loved these books. The series went seriously downhill after, but I can’t leave these off the list.

Temeraire

Another one where I kind of lost interest in the series, but when I read the first book I was blown away by how different it was.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

My favourite HP book with a Hippogriff for the win!

 

 

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What others would you put on the list?

January wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and Why I’m Still Rubbish at this Blogging Thing

Books read in January header imageIn which I forgot December

Hang on a minute, you say. Isn’t this supposed to be a monthly update? Wasn’t the last one back in November?

Well, I can see how you might expect monthly wrap-up posts to happen once a month, and you have quite correctly spotted that it is in fact two months since I posted one. Ahem.

May I please direct you to the final bit of the post title: Why I’m Still Rubbish At This Blogging Thing

There’s only so many times I can apologise for failing to keep this updated, surely. But here, have another one. Sorry, December, I forgot you. Sorry, readers, I get so anxious about not having decent topics to post that I end up posting nothing. I promise I’m trying.

So, what was I doing instead of blogging?

Well, I read some stuff. Anyone surprised? My reading fell by the wayside for a huge part of 2016 and I really regretted it by the end of the year. So I’m making a conscious choice to give myself more reading time.

More books, more mixed

It was always going to be hard to live up to November’s brilliance. There’s good reads, disappointing reads, tears and tantrums, and maybe a tiny bit of fangirling. I’ve also been trying to broaden the range of what I read – though YA fantasy is always going to be my staple diet and spiritual book home.

The highlights:

A Million Worlds With You on frosty grassA Million Worlds With You was the final book in the Firebird Trilogy… Hang on. I never told you about the Firebird Trilogy! It’s glorious, sweeping, dimension-hopping, sci-fi romance! I’d shove it at you to read right now if I wasn’t surgically attached to them. And the covers are the most astoundingly drop-dead gorgeous things in the world. AMWWY had upped stakes, personal conflicts and world-destroying ones, and some seriously heart-stopping moments. Overall, the trilogy is beautifully written, and I love the fact the friendship and family relationships are as important as the romance. All three books waver between 4 and 5 stars in my, as usual, indecisive rating system.

Ah, Crooked Kingdom. YoCrooked Kingdom with fairy lights and character bookmarksu may recall me going a little overboard in praise of Six of Crows in November? This is the final part of the duology (and I’m so not ready to say goodbye). The scheming, the violence, danger and surprise, the diverse, brilliant, complex characters (and their ships), and the humour are all back with a vengeance. Aaaaaand… Wylan’s POV! The only one missing from SoC, who just happens to be my favourite. Sadly, I got spoiled on some of the plot twists, so while I was still gripped as events go severely wrong for the Dregs (or where apparent disaster is all a part of the plan) I can only imagine how crazily tense and terrifying they would have been otherwise. Also, Chapter Fourteen, I hate you. Alright, that’s a lie. You broke me, but I love you for it. 5 stars, and Crooked Kingdom joins Six of Crows as a favourite of all time.

Flashfall hardcover bookFlashfall by Jenny Moyer was the standout of January – 4 stars. It’s YA sci-fi/dystopian, and when I say dystopian, I mean everything in this world is deadly and out to get you – we’re talking some incredible, unique worldbuilding. The characters are some of the most precious little tough guys and gals you’ll ever meet. Orion (protagonist) is my new bookish girl crush. She’s strong, determined and recklessly brave without being a cliche. Dram is ruthless and stubborn – and utterly adorable. It was breathlessly fast-paced from the first to the last page, the death toll was brutal (and wow did some of them hit hard!), and the sense of menacing danger was everywhere. It’s hard to believe this is a debut book. The skill in weaving the worldbuilding and character development into the action without slowing it down was incredible. It didn’t get 5 stars because by the end of the book, we’d been shoved into so many new situations one after the other that it undermined the initial vivid clarity, and the climax had a smattering of not-entirely-explained outside help for Orion. Minor points, slight irritations that didn’t spoil the story. The wait for Flashtide has begun.

And the rest:

Frostblood by Elly Blake – 2.5 stars. A quick, pleasant enough YA fantasy read, but too many cliches for me. And there was a huge, obvious info-dump which was apparently the whole reason for a diversion that had NO CONNECTION TO THE REST OF THE PLOT at all.

The Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay (adult fantasy) and The Emperor’s Bones by Adam Williams (literary-ish historical fiction) were both DNF’d. I won’t go so far to say they were bad books – they weren’t my style. This is where trying to read outside my favourite genre(s) falls down a bit.

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare BlakeThree Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – YA fantasy, 3 stars. Great concept, good characterisation, if patchy in places, and a quick read. After a slow start, it had some intriguing developments and I always enjoy not knowing who to trust! I wish the writing style had lived up to the deliciously dark premise and I didn’t like the many, scattered POVs, but I’m attached to some characters (Arsinoe! Jules! Pietyr – don’t judge!) and invested enough to want to know what happens next.

The Young Elites by Marie Lu. YA fantasy – 2 stars (partly because I found the audiobook frustrating). It took too long for much to happen, it didn’t deliver on the promised darkness, and it didn’t help that I loathed the main character. The writing style grated (Too. Much. Description.) and there was a lot of repetition. The twist at the end was unexpected and unexpectedly heart-wrenching, but overall – meh. Sorry.

What about that writing thing, though?

I don’t want to talk about the writing.

I mean, obviously I do. It’s kind of the point of me being here. But I might mumble my update this month and hope you don’t hear it, because #shame. I was aiming to finish the first draft of The Hunt by the end of December, with around 110,000-125,000 words. I always overwrite and then cut down in revision, not the other way around.

And now January’s done as well, so even if I didn’t meet that goal I should definitely have finished by now, right? Right?

The muffled weeping you can hear is me wondering what the hell I’m doing calling myself a writer. I managed roughly 25,000 words in each of December and January. Now alright, Christmas and visiting family accounts for some of that. And I did deliberately choose to read instead sometimes. But mostly it’s because the story kept getting stuck. I think I’ve unstuck it, and I’ve reworked half the plot and it’s going to be better than the original plan, but… Yes, that heavy sigh was me as well.

I’m coming up to the last quarter of the book, but soooo slowly. Aside from being hugely disappointed in myself, I’m starting to wonder what I’m doing wrong when I outline. I meander hopelessly without it, but expending the time and effort upfront is surely supposed to result in a first draft that looks something like I expected? Not one with half a different set of characters, a love interest who refused to be anything of the sort, and a whole load of action and conflict I hadn’t foreseen at all. How much time would I save if I could grasp this version (or at least get nearer to it) at outline stage instead of halfway through a draft? Cue exasperation.

Also, I can’t stop spawning new ideas. I’ve written the rough outline and key plot points of a new trilogy that I’m desperately trying to ignore until I’ve at least got the first draft of The Hunt out of the way.

Music. Music is good.

Yes it is. It doesn’t defy me like my drafts do, and if I don’t like a song I’ve only invested 3:42 minutes of time and very little emotional energy in it. Here’s some more samples of The Hunt’s playlist. I’m going for creepy – do you think I’ve managed it?

Time for a chat? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the books I’ve been reading (but please, keep it spoiler free for everyone else) and compare writing experiences.