November wrap-up: What I Read, What I Wrote and Some Other Stuff

NaNoWriMo 2016 winner's badgeIn which I win NaNoWriMo

It’s not about the winning, of course. NaNoWriMo is about challenging yourself to do the seemingly impossible – write a novel in a month. Even if I hadn’t hit the target, I’d have a lot more words than I did at the start of November, and stuck to the discipline of writing every day, even if it’s only a little, to keep the word count climbing inexorably upwards.

But I’ve gotta admit, it’s nice to see the big winner banner come up on the screen!

This year was my second NaNoWriMo and though I didn’t beat last year’s total I did manage a respectable 57,954 words. Utterly failed to meet my personal goal, which was to get close to 100,000 words and the first draft complete. But then I always knew that one was going to be a challenge. So I’m still going on the draft, and now aiming to finish by the end of December.

It didn’t help that I was mid-revisions for Abriny when NaNo started. I couldn’t get it out of my head to start the new project fresh. I ended up writing about 6,000 words on Abriny when I should have been NaNo-ing. Some backstory, scenes for a new (not so much new as resurrected) POV character, notes on how the ending might go if I chop the last 50,000 words and move them to book 2. If I didn’t get it all out of my head and on to paper, they’d just clog up the space I should be using to think my way into The Hunt.

img_20161130_141936Three of the best books I’ve read this year

What, I had time to read during NaNoWriMo? I clearly wasn’t fully committed.

Reading has always been a huge part of my inspiration, so instead of getting stressed and fuzzy brained from staring at a stuck plot point for days on end, I figured it was a better use of my time. I think the occasional disengaging helped, on balance. Self-care, people. Writing is good, but not at the expense of your mental health.

Plus, you know, I read quick. But back to the books themselves.

Glass Sword is the sequel to Red Queen, by Victoria Aveyard. It was a long time since I’d read book one, so while I remembered the plot, I wasn’t entirely ready for how the book would punch me in the feels. Repeatedly. It’s not a nice read. If you’re looking for something cosy and escapist and on balance happy, this is not it. But damn it’s good. No punches pulled. It’s hard to like Mare sometimes, but her reaction to everything that happened in Red Queen, and the direction she takes, were so well-written and believable. Oh, and it has an evil cliffhanger to end all evil cliffhangers. I’m dithering between 4 and 5 stars and I haven’t actually been able to formulate my thoughts into a proper review. I guess I might just have to re-read it.

A Darker Shade of Magic was my first V E Schwab book. Within a few chapters I was asking myself a) why and b) what took me so long? The storytelling is amazing, the plot never lets up, the worldbuilding is glorious. I’m completely in awe of how she manages such vivid characterisation (including the setting, which was a character in its own right) with every single word, sentence and paragraph. The characters are brilliantly flawed, believable and relateable, especially Kell, who’s too precious for words. In fact, if you remember me raving about Throne of Glass, ADSOM has not only gone straight onto my all-time favourites list but Kell and Rhy have replaced Chaol and Dorian as my favourite fictional friends/brothers. It was another one where I couldn’t get my thoughts in order for a review – 4-5 stars.

In any other month, ADSOM would have been my favourite read. But this month, I read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows. Yeah. 5 stars. 5 million stars.

I actually couldn’t think of a single thing wrong with it. That has NEVER happened. If you don’t know (and why not?), it’s a fantasy heist story with six main characters who all have secrets and various reasons to mistrust each other. They’re morally dubious, complex, sometimes downright nasty, and despite all of it I still found myself rooting for every single one of them. Their individual voices are wonderfully distinct, even the ships are to die for. (I’m a fangirl at heart. So bite me.) It’s a deliciously dark, twisty, intricate plot, with multiple antagonists and there’s barely time to draw breath as plans within plans are revealed, disaster after disaster strikes the crew, and the the tension ratchets up. And despite all that, it’s still laugh out loud funny in places.

ADSOM and Six of Crows are also excellent for diverse rep – both have PoC & LGBTQIA+ rep in the main characters, and in Six of Crows one of the main characters is disabled.

So in summary, if ADSOM and Six of Crows aren’t already on your TBR, they need to be added right away. At the top.

Bookstagram is insanely addictive

Did you know I have an Instagram account? I do sometimes post about my writing life on there, but I’ve got sucked into bookstagram. The whole bookstagram community is lovely and welcoming, and let’s face it, who doesn’t like to look at pictures of pretty books being pretty? So in November I decided to do a couple of monthly challenges, which means posting at least once daily, and I am officially addicted. My family think I’ve lost it. The kids like to get in the pictures, but on the plus side they also help tidy up, cos let me tell you, doing a photo shoot to set myself up for several days of posting means books and props strewn EVERYWHERE.

And for some reason in December I’ve decided to do not one or two monthly challenges but FIVE of them. Eeep. ADSOM and Six of Crows crop up a lot, funnily enough.

And finally some musical inspiration.

So my NaNo novel this year was a YA fantasy called The Hunt. About three days in, I discovered it did not want to be written to the general epic writing soundtrack I’ve always used. Because, you know, even an unwritten first draft defies me.

So I had to pull together a book-specific playlist at short notice. It’s still not got many songs on it, but here are a couple that sum up the tone I’m aiming for very nicely.

Bones by MS MR

Ender’s War (from Ender’s Game) by Steve Jablonsky

Happy reading, writing and holidaying, people. Thanks for stopping by & though it’s not time for New Year’s Resolutions yet, I promise to try harder to keep this blog updated.

Anyone else still working on finishing their NaNoWriMo novel? Let’s chat in the comments.

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