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.

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