Bookish & Writerly Recaps: February 2017

Would you look at this?! It’s the last day of February, and I’m actually posting an ON-TIME monthly recap!

Here’s a quick look at the last month in my world of words…

What I’ve written

So in last month’s recap, I mentioned that I’d finally been diving back into my novel. Throughout February, I did more diving; spent a few days frolicking underwater as a graceful mermaid; came back up for air; lost my beautiful mermaid tail; and am now stranded on a desert island, surrounded by shark-infested waters and unable to swim.

If I lost you with that confusing analogy, I apologise. I’m feeling rather lost and confused myself.

I wrote just over 7000 words in Feb, which brings me to about the 12,000 word mark in this redo of my first draft. Things were pretty up and down with writing throughout the month, and I didn’t write as much as I wanted. But I did get into a few good grooves here and there (usually when word-sprinting with Kyra), and for the most part, was enjoying the process.

But then I hit a rough patch. A really rough patch. One that brought home every doubt I’d ever felt about my story, magnified it tenfold, and made it feel impossible to continue.

As February draws to a close, I’m still in that difficult spot. I’ve only written 1400 words in the last two and a half weeks, and I don’t know when I’ll get back into the swing of things again. To be honest, at the moment, I’m actually wondering if I’ll get back into the swing of things at all.

This is a bit of a tricky one to explain, and I don’t want to ramble on and get too negative here. I may write a more detailed post about this stuff later on, but for now, I’m just going to move on and hope I have a more positive update to share with you at the end of next month. Fins and fingers crossed.

So! Steering out of turbulent fictional waters and back towards the real world, I also wrote a few articles for Writer’s Edit in Feb, about Scrivener, plot twists, and what to do when you’ve finished the draft of your novel. Hopefully writerly types may find them useful and/or interesting:

Feb-recap-1Image via Unsplash

What I’ve read

I settled back into a more regular reading groove this month, which was nice. (Goodreads is finally telling me ‘You’re on track!’ – yay!) Once I’d finished the non-fiction book that was my first Feb read, I flew through my next four… And yep, they were all fiction.

I know I vowed to try to read more non-fiction this year, and I will. But I’ve realised that when it comes down to it, fiction is what has my heart. I haven’t read many non-fiction books that had me dying to get back to the story every time I put it down, but I can’t count the times I’ve felt that way about a novel.

So while I will be making more of an effort with my NF reads, I also won’t be denying myself the pure joy of fresh fiction, especially whenever I find myself in a bit of a reading slump and need something to get me back in the game.

Anyway, here’s what I read in February…

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

This one took me a while to get through, but I did enjoy it. I love birds and I’d heard many good things about H is for Hawk, so I made an effort to finally get around to reading it. It details the relationship between the author and the goshawk she purchased and trained shortly after her father died. Goshawks are notoriously difficult to train, and the entire painstaking process is outlined here, woven through with multi-layered meaning and emotional insight.

The book refers extensively to T. H. White and his own hawk-training memoir The Goshawk throughout, but if I’m honest, I thought there was a little too much focus on White. The sections about him were often the ones I found myself struggling to push through, but I do understand why they were included. Overall, it was a good book and I’m glad I read it.

h-is-for-hawk

The Good People by Hannah Kent

I really enjoyed Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites when I read it last year, so I was keen to pick up her newest book The Good People, especially after hearing her talk about the process of writing it on an episode of the So You Want to Be a Writer podcast. Set in 19th century Ireland, The Good People is steeped in rich folklore and based on real historical events, exploring pagan traditions and the superstitions and beliefs of a small Irish county community.

Hannah is a beautiful writer – the prose was often stunning and always graceful. I really liked this story, too; I felt super immersed in the setting, got really invested in what was going to happen to the characters, and loved the Irish folklore that formed the book’s foundation.

the-good-people

Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

I loved Illuminae by this pair, and Gemina was no different – a rollicking sci-fi rollercoaster ride that’s a lot of fun to read. I’ve always been a sucker for interesting typesetting, and this YA series, set out in epistolary format, really has some fun with this. The story is told through IMs and emails, transcripts of conversations and security footage, memos and illustrations, and countless other bits and pieces. While some people might find this a bit gimmicky after a while, I’m not gonna lie – I ate it right up in both volumes.

The story itself is fast-paced, funny and action-packed, with likeable characters, a space-station hostage situation, murderous, parasitic worm things, and even some quantum physics phun. For me, Gemina certainly lived up to its predecessor in terms of enjoyment, and I’m really looking forward to the next instalment.

gemina

Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard

I’d heard a lot about this series but had never actually picked it up – for rather a silly reason. I regularly use Goodreads to find new books, but for a while there, I found myself putting a lot of stock into Goodreads reviews. As in, if a book that I thought looked interesting had a few one-star reviews that had been voted up to the top, I wouldn’t bother adding it to my TBR. But then I read Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight, which I’d previously not bothered with because of a few bad Goodreads reviews – and I loved it. That’s when I realised I was relying way too much on what other people thought, putting far too much stock into what are essentially 100% subjective opinions and not simply reading what wanted to read.

ANYWAY, long story short, I’d held off reading Red Queen for the same reason, but when I picked it up this month, I really did enjoy it. It’s nothing super groundbreaking, and I didn’t find myself liking the main character Mare as much as I wanted to, but it was an enjoyable read, and I’ll probably continue with the series.

red-queen

A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (reread)

Oh, how I love Victoria Schwab and the Shades of Magic series. As soon as I picked this book up for the first time last year, I knew it was destined to become one of my all-time favourite series. This is exactly the kind of fantasy I love. It’s set in an amazing world – actually, four worlds, with four parallel Londons; the characters are well-drawn and wonderful; the magic is… well… magical; and Victoria’s writing is seriously excellent. There are some truly cinematic scenes in here, which I can’t wait to see brought to life on the big screen!

I reread this first volume to prepare for the final book in the trilogy, which was released towards the end of Feb. I haven’t reread anything in a long, long time (apart from my two HP rereads last year), because I get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new books there are to read, and feel like there isn’t enough time for rereading. But with a series that’s as good as this one, I want to see it off right – and that means making some time to rediscover the magic before it all comes to an end. <3

a-darker-shade-of-magic

***

What have you read and written this month? I’d love to hear!

Bookish & Writerly Recaps: January 2017

So I’m a little late to the party (what else is new?), but here I am with a bookish and writerly recap of January! This year, I plan to write a little something at the end of each month about everything I’ve been reading and writing.

What I’ve written

You guys… As of the 23rd of January, I have been WRITING. ACTUAL WORDS. FOR MY BOOK.

That’s right. I finally bit the bullet, decided it was time to stop plotting and planning and world-building and worrying, and started writing again.

I haven’t been hitting it too hard – mostly just trying my hardest to write something every day, even if it’s only a few hundred words. So far I’ve done about 5,250 words, which isn’t a great deal, but it’s been nice to start easing myself back into the story.

What really helped me get back into things was revising my plot outline. Last February, in preparation for getting back into writing (this never actually happened, but that’s another story), I plotted out an outline to guide me through the rest of the book. But after mulling over the story in the back of my mind for nearly a year after that, I realised some changes needed to be made.

So I sat down with pen and paper and completely redid my outline. And I mean completely – as in, from the very beginning of the book. The majority of plot points remained the same, but I changed some things around and added stuff here and there, so overall, it’s a fairly different outline to the one I had last year.

bookish-writerly-jan-17-2Image via Unsplash

I’m much happier with the outline as it looks now, but redoing the whole thing meant one very important thing: I’d essentially be starting from the beginning again when I did get back into writing.

But you know what? I’ve actually enjoyed doing that. Using Scrivener’s handy split-screen mode, I’ve begun writing a brand-new draft from scratch, copying in bits and pieces from the corresponding chapters in my old draft that I like and want to keep. (Those bits and pieces are fairly few and far between.)

I’ve only written a chapter and a half so far, but I’m really enjoying it. I still find myself plagued with doubts and fears, but at those times, I try to remind myself of two things:

  • Every writer feels like this at one stage or another.
  • This is a first draft and it’s allowed to be completely, totally and utterly crap. The most important thing is that it actually gets written.

Anyway, apart from my book, I’ve also written an article for Writer’s Edit about how to work with beta readers, so if that’s something you’re interested in learning more about, check it out.

bookish-writerly-jan-17-3Image via PicJumbo

What I’ve read

At the moment, my Goodreads challenge is telling me I’m one book behind schedule… SHUT UP, GOODREADS, I KNOW, ALRIGHT?

I was a bit up and down with reading through January – I powered through most of the books listed below, but had a few big gaps of not reading anything at all in between.

I think there’s a way to remedy that, though. This year I want to swap my bad habit of mindless social media scrolling for a new habit: picking up a book at ANY spare moment I have. I’ve done pretty badly at that so far, but hopefully throughout February I’ll be a little more mindful of how I spend my time (and get lots more reading done in the process).

Anyway, here’s a quick round-up of everything I read in January…

  • Nevernight by Jay Kristoff
    I really, really enjoyed this. Nate bought it for me for Christmas and wrapped it up Blind Date with a Book-style (cute, I know). Foolishly, I’d actually held off reading it because I’d seen a few Goodreads reviews that slammed the style of writing, and while I do admit the prose goes a little overboard at times, I still loved the book. The world and the characters were great and the story really sucked me in. Looking forward to the sequel Godsgrave later this year!
  • Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner
    God, Helen Garner is wonderful, isn’t she? I first read her last year in my attempt to read more non-fiction, and I just fell in love with the way she writes. This collection of writings spans the majority of her lengthy career, and it was super inspiring. I often found myself smiling or marvelling aloud at some especially sharp observation or magical turn of phrase.
  • Bad Behaviour by Rebecca Starford
    This was a really interesting memoir about life at a boarding school in the Australian bush. It dealt with some really tricky issues, like bullying and the complicated nature of young female friendship; parts of it hit uncomfortably close to home. I found the way it was written to be really immersive – alternating between the narrator in the present, and a novel-like retelling of her experiences in the past.
  • A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir
    Oh, be still, my beating heart. I can’t tell you how much I love this series. I absolutely devoured An Ember in the Ashes late last year, and this sequel was no different – I smashed through it in a few luxurious sittings. Elias, Laia and Helene are some of my favourite characters from recent reads, and I adore the world and the story Sabaa Tahir has created here. Super pleased to learn that there are two more books to come!
  • Heart of Mist by Helen Scheuerer
    This month I was lucky enough to be a beta reader once more for the wonderful Helen and her wonderful debut fantasy book. I read an early incarnation of Heart of Mist last year, and since then Helen’s worked SO hard to undertake a big structural edit and incorporate feedback. I won’t say too much here, but I LOVED this book even more in this second read, and I can’t wait to continue the journey throughout the whole Oremere Chronicles series! Fantasy fans, definitely stay tuned for the release of Heart of Mist later this year.
bookish-writerly-jan-17Actual image of me trying to deal with my TBR list right now. Just kidding, image via Unsplash.

***

That’s all my reading and writing news for now. Hopefully my next recap will be on time, and will feature many more words written and books read!

2016 In Review: Part Two (Life, Health and Happiness)

Welcome to Part Two of my 2016 wrap-up! Part One was all about writing and reading, but this one’s more of a collection of candid ramblings about – you guessed it – life, health and happiness.

Life

To be honest, there weren’t too many big life developments throughout 2016. As I mentioned before I dropped off the blogosphere, I was taking some internships while working at a bookshop, working for Writer’s Edit, and trying to get my freelance career up and running.

Apart from the internships, which I finished halfway through the year, things look pretty much the same now as they did throughout 2016. I had hoped to be well and truly finished at the bookshop by now, able to rely on freelance income without the necessity of a ‘side job’ to keep me afloat financially. Alas, I’m not quite there yet.

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately, and in particular, how I don’t make very much of it. I’m aware, of course, that the industry I’ve chosen is not the most lucrative. Nobody pursues a creative career for the money. But that doesn’t change the fact that you need it.

I’ve found that while ever I’m worrying about trying to bring in more work and more money, though, I can’t focus on doing anything creative. I feel like I have to be spending all my spare time focusing on work, and can’t really justify spending time on my own writing, for example. It’s been really hard to keep things in balance, to maintain my creative identity and my dreams.

I have this grand vision of how I want my life to look: managing my own days, being my own boss, balancing my work and my creative pursuits, taking charge of my future. Some days, that vision seems very far away. But at the moment, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about this year. I’m feeling like it could hopefully, finally, be the one where I make it happen.

If and when it does, I’ll be sure to let you know.

lifeImage via Kaboompics

While things haven’t changed or progressed as much as I’d like between last year and this one, there’s one thing I’m glad has remained constant, and that’s Writer’s Edit. Since starting out as an Editorial Assistant right after I lost my job almost two years ago, Writer’s Edit has become such a huge part of my life. I’ve learned more, worked on more rewarding projects, and had more fun than I ever dreamed when I first applied for that temporary intern-style role.

I’ve now moved from Editorial Assistant to Editor, and am so excited to be continuing with Writer’s Edit into the future. In 2016, we achieved all sorts of wonderful stuff: launching an ebook about publishing and the final volume of the Kindling anthologies; publishing plenty of great articles and reaching plenty of great milestones; and making some truly exciting plans and developments for the future (stay tuned for more on those).

But the most life-changing thing that’s come from my involvement with Writer’s Edit isn’t the professional development and opportunity it’s afforded me. It’s the two incredible, lifelong friends I’ve made in Helen and Kyra. More on these incredible women in the ‘Happiness’ section below.

kindling-anthologiesImage via Kyra Thomsen

Health

Back in October, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. To be honest, I actually considered the diagnosis a good thing. It was a relief to finally be able to put a name to what had been making me feel pretty terrible for a pretty long time; it felt great to be finally doing something about it by seeking treatment.

After diagnosis and a treatment plan, I was responding to my new medications really well and feeling better than ever. Nate and I went on a holiday in November (more on that below); I came home feeling happy, healthy and refreshed, ready to see out the rest of 2016.

And then… My body turned on me completely.

At the very end of November I came down with what I thought was a simple cold/flu. But it dragged on, and got worse, and dragged on, and got worse. Whatever infection I’d picked up also set off my other condition into a flare-up, which meant a truly horrible double whammy of symptoms. I’ll spare you the details – suffice it to say that for three straight weeks, I was sicker than I’ve ever been in my life.

There were endless visits to the doctor, sleepless nights, countless needles, tests and tests and more tests, different types of drugs… I simply couldn’t function as a human being, and I wasn’t getting any better. It was not a fun time.

Anyway, as Christmas crept closer, I was finally put on some medication that made me feel better for the first time in weeks. But that came with an interesting set of side effects in itself, and my recovery was slow. In fact, it’s only been this last week or so that I can say I’ve felt like I’m back to my normal self (or as close as I remember ‘normal’ being, anyway).

health_2Image via Unsplash

Now that I’m well again, though, I’ve been thinking a lot about just how important my health is.

We all take our health for granted from time to time, and sometimes it takes a period of illness like this to serve as a wake-up call. I generally take pretty good care of myself; but now, having experienced such a period of absolute debilitation, I’m going to redouble my efforts.

Having spent almost a month not being able to do anything, learning how it felt to effectively lose that whole period of my life, I want to aim never to take my health for granted again. I want to take full advantage of being lucky enough to enjoy a properly working body (well, almost properly working!) full of life and energy.

I’m going to manage my condition as best I can, and set myself up for the best possible health with more good food, more exercise, more time spent outdoors, more living.

Bring it on, 2017.

health_1

Happiness

Despite the less-than-ideal December I had, the rest of 2016 was pretty great. There were a lot of things that made me happy – my incredible partner, amazing family and wonderful friends being the main ones.

Here are two of my top happiness highlights from 2016…

A holiday with Nate

After not having been on a proper holiday for almost two years, Nate and I took two whole weeks off together in November, and it was the absolute highlight of my year. First we camped in beautiful North Haven, then road-tripped up to Byron Bay, somewhere neither of us had been before.

We spent time at the beach and by the pool, went on hikes and drives, read books, visited breweries, lighthouses and waterfalls, ate lots of good food, and just generally spent some super lovely quality time together. Then we had a few days just to spend at home before we both returned to work, which was lovely, PLUS we finished it all off with an awesome night at the launch of Kindling III.

Best. Two weeks. Ever. I love this boy with every bit of my heart, and I can’t wait for our next adventure.

happiness_1

happiness_4

happiness_3

happiness_5

happiness_2

Adventures with Helen and Kyra

These two girls, seriously. I don’t know what I would have done in 2016 without them. I can’t quite express how much I appreciate having them by my side as we all try to make it in this crazy world of writing and publishing.

But even more than that, I appreciate their friendship. They’re two of the wisest, funniest, most wonderful and supportive friends I’ve got, and for that I consider myself so, so lucky to have become so much closer to them over the last year.

From a road-trip to a publishing festival in Canberra, to Kyra and Justin’s beautiful wedding in Robertson, to an actual Harry Potter party at a club in Sydney, we had a LOT of fun together in 2016. And there are plenty more adventures on the way!

This year, all three of us will be focusing on bringing our first fantasy novels into the world, and I couldn’t think of two people I’d rather take that journey with. I know there’ll be plenty of love, laughs and most likely wine involved along the way. <3

happiness_6

happiness_8

happiness_7

***

So what’s coming up in 2017?

As well as working hard to make my dreams come true and all that jazz, here are a few things I’m particularly looking forward to this year…

  • Nate’s and my five-year anniversary, which we’re planning to celebrate in Melbourne.
  • A ten-day trip to California with my beloved sister Liv.
  • A writers’ retreat/girly weekend with Kyra and Helen.

Yep – it’s already shaping up to be a pretty lovely year, I think.

I can’t wait to see what else it has in store. :)

2016 In Review: Part One (Writing and Reading)

Well… I’ve done it again.

I’ve let my poor, long-suffering blog sit gathering dust and cobwebs – this time, for almost an entire year.

I’m pretty disappointed in myself for taking such a long hiatus. But hey – it’s the first week of 2017 now, and I’m ready to forgive myself and start fresh!

To kick things back off, I’m doing a round-up of 2016 in two parts: Writing and Reading, and Life, Health and Happiness. I’m starting with the straight-up stuff here, all about the things I wrote and read in 2016, and in a few days, I’ll follow up with a bit more of a personal post about what’s been going on with me.

Then, I’ll be aiming to post at least monthly, recapping what’s been going on in my bookish and writerly life throughout the year. This was my intention last year as well, but come March, my life had gotten so hectic that I just couldn’t commit to one more thing… So off the blogging bandwagon I fell once again. But anyway, more about that in Part Two.

For now, let’s get stuck into the fun stuff… Writing and reading!

Image via freestocks.orgImage via freestocks.org

Writing

2016 was a bit of a mixed year for me when it came to writing, mainly because I don’t really feel like I did very much of it. I mean, sure, I wrote thousands upon thousands of words for work, but creatively? Not so much. But it wasn’t all bad, and besides, looking back on things now makes me even more determined to write loads more in 2017.

Here’s a round-up of writing bits and pieces from 2016:

My novel

Ahh, yes… The fantasy novel. That thing I started back in November 2015 and still haven’t finished. About that…

Well, after vowing to get back to writing my draft in early 2016, I embarked upon a self-imposed ‘NaNoWriMarch’ with the lovely Helen. But while Helen blazed ahead like the writing Wonderwoman she is, I only managed a mere 7,000 words before my NaNoWriMarch reverted back into plain old Regular March.

This wasn’t for lack of trying, though. Truth was, I’d simply taken on too much at this point in time (notice how March was also when my blog dropped off the face of the earth again?). I was working three part-time jobs, completing two internships, and trying to keep up with life and writing on top of all that.

Needless to say, something had to give before I burned out completely. And that something, sadly, was my little novel.

But all isn’t lost! I haven’t given up. The dream is still there, and later last year, I started making concerted efforts to rekindle it again.

I asked Nate to get me Scrivener for my birthday. I started reading research books about perfumery. I did yet more plotting and planning. I even actually wrote a few snippets in some of our Writer’s Edit Twitter word sprints (which will be starting back up sometime this year – keep an eye out and join us!).

To be honest, I’m still feeling a little overwhelmed by the whole thing. I feel like there’s still SO much I need to work out about the characters and the story and the concepts before I can dive properly back into writing.

But this year, I’m determined to finally finish my draft. I want to be able to give it to my favourite writerly ladies, the amazing Helen and Kyra, so they can help me fix what will undoubtedly be a bit of a hot mess. I want to create intriguing characters and make magic and tell a good story and build a world all of my own.

In short, I want 2017 to be the year I really live up to the title of ‘writer’.

I’ll keep you updated on how that goes.

paperback-bird-2Image via Unsplash

Newcastle Short Story Award

In my last (very long-ago) post, I mentioned that I’d submitted an eleventh-hour entry to the Newcastle Short Story Award. Well, it turned out that I was lucky enough to be shortlisted, and my story, ‘The Land of Always Living’, was published in the 2016 anthology!

This was super exciting for me – I’d never been shortlisted for an award like this before. So needless to say, I was stoked to be able to attend the awards ceremony, drink a celebratory glass of bubbles with my lovely friend Mat, and see my little story in print.

I’m in wonderful company in this anthology. I was so inspired reading all the amazing stories from the winners and other shortlisted entrants. I’ll definitely be flicking through it again for inspiration and motivation as I prepare my entry for the 2017 competition!

newcastle-short-story-award

Writer’s Edit

I wrote a bunch of articles for Writer’s Edit last year, and loved every minute of it. I learn so much myself every time I sit down to research these writing advice pieces. It’s my absolute favourite sort of article to write, and I love the feeling that I’m contributing in some small way to the amazing collection of resources for writers we have over at Writer’s Edit.

Here’s a round-up of everything I’ve put together for W.E. since my last blog post here in February:

There’ll be plenty more where those came from in 2017!

paperback-bird-3Image via Pixabay

Reading

2016 was a good reading year for me. I read 62 books in total, 22 more than my original goal of 40 and almost double my 2015 total of 35. This was largely due to the five hours I spent on the train every Wednesday while I was an intern at the NSW Writers’ Centre, which helped me knock over more than a book a week!

In my reading wrap-up for 2015, I mentioned that I wanted to read more non-fiction. Well, after spending 2016 thinking I’d been reading loads more non-fiction books than usual, it turned out that I had read… less than ten. Awkward. But in my defence, there’s just SO MUCH amazing fiction out there, and there’s nothing like finding an incredible new series to lose yourself in (which I did many a time last year!).

Anyway, I want to try again this year and really give non-fiction a proper go. So I’ve decided to aim for, at the very least, 15 non-fiction titles, making up a quarter of my total reading goal of 60 books. (To this end, I’ve gone on an over-enthusiastic reserving spree at the library and put a stack of non-fiction books on hold all at once. Wish me luck when they’re all due at the same time and I have like three weeks to read every single one.)

I also said I’d make an effort to read more Australian authors in 2016, which I did: 17 Aussie-authored books compared with a mere four in 2015. I’d like to up this again in 2017, if possible.

Finally, while we’re talking stats, just out of interest, check out the girl power in my 2016 author breakdown below. Ladies be writing some AMAZING stuff, especially in my beloved fantasy genre.

Anyway, here’s a round-up of everything I read in 2016:

Fiction

  • Half a King – Joe Abercrombie
  • Six of Crows – Leigh Bardugo
  • Crooked Kingdom – Leigh Bardugo
  • Three Dark Crowns – Kendare Blake
  • Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury
  • The Illustrated Man – Ray Bradbury
  • People of the Book – Geraldine Brooks
  • Truthwitch – Susan Dennard
  • The Eyre Affair – Jasper Fforde
  • American Gods – Neil Gaiman
  • The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman

crows-kingdom

  • Rebel of the Sands – Alwyn Hamilton
  • The Girl on the Train – Paula Hawkins
  • In the Quiet – Eliza Henry-Jones
  • The Fate of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
  • Illuminae – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff
  • Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
  • The Eye of the Sheep – Sofie Laguna
  • A Man Made Entirely of Bats – Patrick Lenton
  • Crown of Midnight – Sarah J. Maas
  • Heir of Fire – Sarah J. Maas
  • Queen of Shadows – Sarah J. Maas
  • Empire of Storms – Sarah J. Maas
  • The Assassin’s Blade – Sarah J. Maas
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses – Sarah J. Maas
  • A Court of Mist and Fury – Sarah J. Maas

acotar-acomaf

  • Finnikin of the Rock – Melina Marchetta
  • Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil – Melina Marchetta
  • Nutshell – Ian McEwan
  • Newcastle Short Story Award Anthology 2016
  • I’m Thinking of Ending Things – Iain Reid
  • The Wise Man’s Fear – Patrick Rothfuss
  • The Slow Regard of Silent Things – Patrick Rothfuss
  • Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone – J. K. Rowling (reread, Jim Kay illustrated edition)
  • Harry Potter & The Chamber of Secrets – J. K. Rowling (reread, Jim Kay illustrated edition)
  • The Winner’s Curse – Marie Rutkoski
  • The Winner’s Crime – Marie Rutkoski
  • The Winner’s Kiss – Marie Rutkoski

winners-trilogy

  • A Darker Shade of Magic – V. E. Schwab
  • A Gathering of Shadows – V. E. Schwab
  • This Savage Song – V. E. Schwab
  • Vicious – V. E. Schwab
  • Try Not to Breathe – Holly Seddon
  • The Paper House – Anna Spargo-Ryan
  • An Ember in the Ashes – Sabaa Tahir
  • The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
  • The Secret History – Donna Tartt

darker-shades-series

  • Daughter of Smoke and Bone – Laini Taylor
  • Days of Blood and Starlight – Laini Taylor
  • Dreams of Gods and Monsters – Laini Taylor
  • Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – John Tiffany & Jack Thorne
  • Welcome to Orphancorp – Marlee Jane Ward
  • And I Darken – Kiersten White
  • The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood
  • All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

daughter-of-smoke-and-bone-series

Non-fiction

  • The Diary of a Nose – Jean-Claude Ellena
  • Fight Like a Girl – Clementine Ford
  • Joe Cinque’s Consolation – Helen Garner
  • This House of Grief – Helen Garner
  • Givaudan: An Odyssey of Flavours and Fragrances – Annick Le Guérer
  • A Murder Without Motive: The Killing of Rebecca Ryle – Martin McKenzie-Murray
  • Alex & Me – Irene M. Pepperberg

helen-garner

Author breakdown

  • Books by female authors: 47
  • Books by male authors: 15
  • Books by Australian authors: 17

Genre breakdown

  • Fantasy/speculative fiction: 39
  • Literary/general fiction: 14
  • Short story collections: 2
  • Non-fiction: 7

***

Well, that concludes Part One of my 2016 round-up. Part Two: Life, Health and Happiness is forthcoming, so put the kettle on… I’ll be back soon (and I mean it this time!).

:)

paperback-birdImage via Unsplash

Internships, Podcasts and a Shiny New Website

I’m just going to throw it right out there and say that I can’t think of an interesting intro to this month’s update. So, continuing the trend from my last monthly update, here’s a Harry Potter-related picture of the most recent global holiday/occasion.

Valentine's DayHappy Valentine’s <3 Gilderoy. Image via Pottermore.

So festive. Anyway, here’s what’s been happening for me throughout January and the first half of February.

What I’m doing

Freelancing

In all the excitement of putting together a 2015 reading recap in my last post, I forgot to announce that I finally have my very own professional website! Yay! You can find it at www.clairebradshaw.com.au.

It’s full of info about the freelance writing and editing services I offer, as well as the work I’m currently doing and have done in the past. There’s also a link to a little portfolio of my writing, and a handy contact form you can use if you want to work with me. :)

Website

(Side note: I also got some very cute business cards in January. I feel like such a fancy business lady.)

Internships

Ahh, that word: ‘internship’. It comes with all sorts of confusing connotations, especially when you’ve got a head full of worries about making/saving money and being a Real Adult With A Proper Career.

It’s been almost a year since I was flung into the wide open world on my own, and in that time I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that I want to – and can, and should – call myself a writer. I’ve learned that working with words is truly what I want to do for the rest of my life. I’ve learned that I have the most wonderful, supportive partner in the world, who’ll encourage me when I’m floundering, and who’ll stick by me even when I’m earning next to nothing.

And I’ve learned that if an opportunity through which you’ll gain valuable experience presents itself, you should be brave and consider it – even if it means going out of your way, or making no money from it.

Late last year, two such opportunities did present themselves, in the form of two different internships. I dove right in without a second thought. It couldn’t hurt to apply, I thought; if I never heard back it was no big deal, and if I did – well, I’d work that out when I came to it.

As it turned out, it did come to it, because I was offered both internship positions. After some consideration, I accepted both of them… And so far, I’m really glad I did.

NSW Writers’ Centre

Until the end of June, I’m a one-day-a-week intern at the wonderful New South Wales Writers’ Centre, which offers an amazing range of courses, resources and services to NSW writers.

I’ve been there for almost a month now, and I’ve completely fallen in love with the place. It’s such an amazing atmosphere to work in. I’m surrounded by lovely people who are as passionate about writing and publishing as I am, all within a vibrant hub brimming with opportunities for emerging professionals and creatives. Working there makes me feel like a real part of the Australian writing community, and it’s a very nice feeling indeed.

There is a slight downside to this internship, though, in that the Writers’ Centre is in Lilyfield, Sydney… and I’m in Newcastle, about 170 kilometres away. This means I’m up at 4:30 every Wednesday morning, jumping on a train at 5:30 and arriving in Sydney by 8:00, then catching a bus that just makes it to the Centre before 9:00… And doing it all again come the end of the day.

I stagger in the door around 8:30–9:00 every Wednesday night, my appreciation for Nate reaching an all-time high every time as he welcomes me with a home-cooked dinner and a glass of wine. (Told you he was amazing.) But despite the vague feeling of dread that accompanies setting my alarm on Tuesday nights, despite the long, long days and the travel-weary state I’m in at the end of them, I’ve enjoyed every day I’ve worked at the Centre so far.

It also helps that it’s situated in a lovely historic building in the beautiful, jacaranda-shaded grounds of Callan Park. Nothing like blooms and a breeze to foster creativity…

NSWWCImage via NSWWC.

white magazine

My second internship takes place every Friday at the lovely white magazine. Apart from the fact that it’s an amazingly beautiful publication, perhaps the best thing about white for me is that it’s local – the office is smack in the middle of Newcastle! It’s an absolute dream to have a (now worldwide) publication based so close to home, let alone to be able to work with them myself.

To call white a wedding magazine would be to do it a disservice, because it’s much more than that. Unlike many other bridal magazines, white focuses not only on the big day, but all the days that come after it. The mag and its online component are full of all the usual beautiful real wedding galleries and styled shoots, but white also makes a point of delving into the love story behind each couple they feature. It makes for really beautiful, meaningful, moving reading alongside all the gorgeous imagery.

As the mag’s mission statement itself says:

We are a catalyst for positive change in the culture of marriage and relationships… We bring together stories of love and life – personal narratives of laughter, romance, oftentimes tragedy, but always hope. We hold marriage up to the light, and use our pages to venture into honest, clever and meaningful conversations about all the unglamorous parts of marital (mis)adventure.”

I’m loving the people and the work at white so far, and I’m looking forward to getting as involved as I can with the upcoming production of their next issue.

White MagazineImage via white mag.

What I’m writing

Writer’s Edit

My latest article for Writer’s Edit, 9 Simple Ways to Sharpen Your Manuscript, pretty much does what it says on the label.  If you’ve finished your manuscript, firstly, I bow down to you, because since NaNoWriMo I’ve added a total of 700 words to mine (BLAH); and secondly… I hate to tell you, but the work’s not over yet.

There’s more to be done before you think about sending out your book, even if you’ve perfected the plot and tidied the writing (and bewitched the mind and ensnared the senses…). I’ve done a stack of research and put together a checklist of nine little things you can do to make your manuscript at least 900 times better.

(While you’re over at Writer’s Edit, have a think about submitting to our third and final Kindling anthology, Kindling Volume III! We’re looking for short fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction and writing advice, and submissions are open ’til March 1st, so get on it.)

Writer's EditImage via Writer’s Edit.

Fiction

I recently spent a lovely Sunday writing all day to finish an entry for the Newcastle Short Story Award. One of my writing goals for this year is to try to get more work out there, whether by submitting to publications or entering competitions (or both). Run by my local Hunter Writers’ Centre, the Newcastle Short Story Award seemed the perfect choice for my first submission of the year.

I’m not sure if my piece will do well (that’s what you get for leaving things to the last minute), but I’m really pleased to have entered, and to be honest, writing the story was a joy.

On the topic of fiction… Remember how I mentioned above that I’ve done basically nothing on my fantasy WIP since NaNoWriMo concluded? Well, I thought it was high time I kicked myself back into gear and really got back into this project.

To that end, the lovely Helen Scheuerer and I have agreed to do a self-imposed NaNoWriMo next month! We’ve dubbed it NaNoWriMarch, and we’re both spending the rest of February plotting and planning and preparing. I’m hoping to go into this one feeling a LOT more ready than I did before November’s NaNoWriMo – stay tuned to see how that goes…

To doThe poor To Do list is getting a workout as March approaches… Image via Kaboompics.

What I’m reading/listening to

Books

I recently signed up to Goodreads, where I’ll be tracking all the books I read this year.

So far this year, I’ve read six books:

  • The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss
  • Crown of Midnight, Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows by Sarah J. Maas
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Patrick Rothfuss’ and Sarah J. Maas’ books have had me fangirling pretty hard. I love fantasy fiction SO much. Burial Rites was great too, my first Australian read of the year; and I read The Girl on the Train in a single day, over two train trips, so that was pretty cool. (Another good thing about my NSWWC internship: five hours of uninterrupted reading time on the train every week.)

At the moment I have multiple books on the go, which is something I rarely do, but THERE’S JUST SO MUCH TO READ AND I WANT IT ALL. I’ve set myself a modest 40 books in the Goodreads 2016 Reading Challenge, but my ‘Want to Read’ list long surpasses that…

Goodreads

Podcasts

How did it take me so long to get into podcasts?!

Nate’s been a fan of them for a long time, but since he mainly listens to sports podcasts, I automatically dismissed them as boring and irrelevant to me. It wasn’t until he showed me the non-sports program he listens to that I became interested, then completely hooked.

The most wondrous thing about podcasts is that they make boring activities WAY less boring! Doing the dishes, cleaning the house, driving 40 minutes to my parents’ house – these are all humdrum activities that I now actually look forward to, because I can listen to podcasts while I do them. (‘Looking forward’ to cleaning the house might be an overstatement, but you get what I mean.)

The coveted title of Claire’s Favourite Podcast has to be split between two shows: Stuff You Should Know, from HowStuffWorks.com, and So You Want To Be A Writer, from the Australian Writers’ Centre.

SYSK is amazing. The hosts, Chuck and Josh, are so easy to listen to – they’re funny and genuine and a little bit daggy, which I love. They cover this ridiculously wide range of topics, from the broad to the obscure, and the way they deliver the show makes for interesting listening, even on the most dull-sounding subjects.

One of the best things about SYSK is their regular scheduling: you know you’ll get a new episode every Wednesday and Friday (Australian time). I’m particularly grateful for the Wednesday eps – they really brighten up the last leg of my long morning commute! Plus, Nate and I listen to episodes together when we can, whenever we have a long drive or want to drift off to sleep listening to something. It’s great.

So You Want To Be A Writer is equally wonderful. Valerie Khoo and Allison Tait are two go-getting Australian writing ladies who I really admire, and the amount of advice, insight and industry info their podcast offers is incredible. Every week they cover news, trending topics and writing tips, as well as conducting an interview with a successful writer.

Just listening to this podcast makes me feel more like a ‘real writer’, and I feel myself learning and absorbing and growing more passionate with every episode. I especially love hearing about established writers’ routines and experiences, both via the interviews and from Allison and Valerie themselves. And, of course, the plethora of writing tips and advice is truly invaluable!

An honourable mention must go to another podcast I subscribe to: Serial, from This American Life. The first season, which covers the infamous Adnan Syed/Hae Min Lee murder case, was such addictive listening that I smashed out the second half all in one day.

The current season isn’t quite as mysterious and gripping – it tells the story of Bowe Bergdahl, a US Army soldier who walked off his base and was held captive for five years by the Taliban – but I still find myself fascinated by it. Military stories definitely aren’t one of my foremost points of interest, but the way this story is delivered has me really invested, always curious about what the next episode will bring.

Podcasts

***

Well, this was a way longer post than I originally anticipated! It’s made me realise that I do have a lot going on at the moment, but also that that’s exactly the way I like it.

Hopefully next month’s update will be centred around the amazing leaps and bounds of progress I’ve made with my book… ‘Hopefully’ is definitely the operative word there. But at the moment I’m feeling motivated and optimistic, and that alone makes me really happy.

What I Read Last Year & What I’ll Read This Year

I would begin this post with ‘Happy New Year’, but:

  1. It’s been 2016 for almost two weeks, and
  2. David Bowie died today, so ‘happy’ isn’t the right word at the moment. :( Rest in peace, Starman.

David Bowie

Ziggy himself would know best that the show must go on, though, so let’s continue with today’s scheduled programming.

As with most of my posts here, this is slightly late, but I wanted to take a look back at all the books I read in 2015. My total count was 33 – a little less than I’d hoped, but hey, that’s what 2016 reading resolutions are for, right?!

So here’s my list (organised alphabetically by author, of course).

Books read in 2015

  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • Stone Mattress – Margaret Atwood
  • Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood
  • The Year of the Flood – Margaret Atwood
  • MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam

  • Sunset Park – Paul Auster
  • A Fall of Moondust – Arthur C. Clarke
  • Room – Emma Donoghue
  • Pieces of Sky – Trinity Doyle
  • Career of Evil – Robert Galbraith

Pieces of Sky

  • Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Far from the Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy
  • The Old Man and the Sea – Ernest Hemingway
  • The Queen of the Tearling – Erika Johansen
  • The Invasion of the Tearling – Erika Johansen

Queen of the Tearling

  • On Writing – Stephen King
  • Into the Wild – Jon Krakaeur
  • Into Thin Air – Jon Krakaeur
  • Throne of Glass – Sarah J. Maas
  • The Children Act – Ian McEwan

On Writing

  • The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
  • Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman – Haruki Murakami
  • South of the Border, West of the Sun – Haruki Murakami
  • Colourless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage – Haruki Murakami
  • Underground – Haruki Murakami

Blind Willow Sleeping Woman

  • Rowan of Rin – Emily Rodda
  • Rowan and the Travellers – Emily Rodda
  • Rowan and the Keeper of the Crystal – Emily Rodda
  • The Name of the Wind – Patrick Rothfuss
  • Slaughterhouse Five – Kurt Vonnegut

Name of the Wind

Kindling

***

Here’s some stats about my list…

Female authors: 15 (Robert Galbraith, of course, counts as a woman!)
Male authors: 16

Fiction (total): 27
Non-fiction: 4
Mixed anthology: 2

Speculative fiction: 13
‘Regular’ fiction: 12
Short story collections: 2
Crime: 1

As you can see, things were fairly even in terms of author gender and types of fiction, but rather shameful in the ratio of fiction to non-fiction! I am a fiction reader first and foremost, but this year I really want to increase the amount of non-fiction on my list.

I’m also going to make a concerted effort to read more from Australian authors. I was a little sad to realise only two authors on my list were Australian (although both Kindling anthologies are primarily made up of works by Australian writers). It’s so important to support the local industry, and as I become more involved in and passionate about writing and publishing, the more I want to make an effort to do just that.

So more non-fiction, more Australian authors… And what else? Well, I’m finding it a little hard to narrow down the rest of my reading goals for 2016, because there’s SO much more I want to read. More fantasy, more women writers, more YA, more big hitters of literary fiction, more books about writing itself…

In light of all that, you know what? I think I might make the simplest reader’s resolution of all for 2016…

MORE BOOKS.

LibraryArtist’s representation of what my house will look like by the end of 2016. Alllll of the books!

Flash Fiction And A Full-Length Novel (Almost)

Happy December, everybody! If you’re not feeling festive enough yet, here, have a picture of Professor Flitwick decorating a Christmas tree.

Christmas at HogwartsImage credit: http://soulstratum.tumblr.com/post/133631891343

I’m a little late with this post. I’d planned to have it up at the end of November, as I’ve noticed there’s a nice little pattern going of around one blog update per month (emphasis is strongly on ‘little’ there). But alas, it wasn’t to be – you’ll probably see why when you reach the end of the post (*cough* NaNoWriMo *cough*).

Anyway, here’s a bit of an update about what’s been happening in my little writing world. :)

Seizure Online

Last month, I was lucky enough to have a piece of flash fiction published with Seizure, an online writing hub that I absolutely love. Their excellent Flashers project features a new piece of bite-sized fiction every week, each of which is accompanied by a custom illustration. Having been a fan of Flashers ever since I discovered it a couple of years ago, you can imagine how excited I was to hear that my submission had been chosen for publication and illustration! You should have seen the cheesy grin on my face as I opened the email and saw the phrase ‘would like to publish’.

Anyway, my piece is called Up High. Click through to give it a read – it’ll only take a minute or two. And be sure to feast your eyes on the absolutely gorgeous illustration by talented artist Sam Paine. The sea, the sky, the blanket – everything about it perfectly encapsulates the feel of the piece. Huge thanks must go to both Seizure and Sam!

Illustration courtesy of the talented Illustration courtesy of Sam Paine via Seizure Online.

Writer’s Edit

November was a super exciting month for Writer’s Edit: on the 18th we launched our newest anthologyKindling Volume II! I was lucky enough to be involved in the process of producing Kindling II, and I have to say that even just as its humble proofreader, I’m so proud of the final result. It’s such a beautiful book – the pieces within are truly compelling and inspiring, the cover is gorgeous, and Helen, Kyra and the rest of the editorial team did a seriously amazing job putting it together.

KindlingIsn’t she lovely?! That’s Kindling II on the left, accompanied by her equally beautiful sister.
Photo courtesy of Yasmin Scheuerer via Writer’s Edit.

If you want to see what all the fuss is about (trust me, you want to), head over to the Writer’s Edit store, where there’s currently a sale on both volumes of Kindling.

While you’re over at Writer’s Edit, you might catch a glimpse of my latest article: last month, I delved into what it takes to write compelling character backstories in a Complete Guide to Creating Backstory in Speculative Fiction. I was inspired by a world-building workshop I attended at the National Young Writers Festival back in October, where there was some interesting chat about backstory: what it is, why it’s so important in sci-fi and fantasy, how much you should include and which parts you should leave out. I learned a lot myself while writing the article, so hopefully you will too.

Back in October, I also wrote something we like to call the Essential NaNoWriMo Survival Guide: a comprehensive, detailed guide to getting through the madness that is National Novel Writing Month. For those who don’t know, NaNoWriMo is an annual challenge in which writers from all around the world attempt to write 50,000 words in the month of November. (It sounds crazy; that’s because it is.) I really enjoyed writing this article, and the more I looked into NaNoWriMo, the more intrigued I became… And so, a mere few days before November arrived, I decided to undertake the NaNoWriMo challenge myself alongside the wonderful women I work with at Writer’s Edit!

Writer's EditThree of my favourite ladies! L-R: Me, Bernadette, Kyra and Helen at the Kindling II launch.
Photo courtesy of Yasmin Scheuerer via Writer’s Edit.

NaNoWriMo

So yeah, November was pretty crazy…

For the last couple of months, I’d had the vague beginnings of a story idea floating around in my head, but the most I’d done to act on it was to decide it was likely going to be Young Adult fantasy, and to write ~1200 words of random description. So when the idea of doing National Novel Writing Month came along, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to actually make a start. The fact that Helen was also working on YA fantasy definitely encouraged me as well – and so, along with Kyra and Bernadette, we officially became WriMos!

I’ve never written anything longer than a short story before, so to commit to writing an entire novel was a huge deal for me. To commit to writing it in a single month was an even bigger undertaking! But I had the support and comradeship of the Writer’s Edit girls to bolster me, so on the 1st of November I got to work, sketching out as many plans as I could and jumping into the writing process in earnest.

I got off to a good start, and for the first half of November I kicked along on par with the minimum 1667 words per day. Despite the minor setback of spilling an entire mug of tea over my laptop one day, and waiting with bated breath to see whether it would still work after drying out, I was going really well.

NaNoWriMoThe allure of the blank page is made so much stronger by NaNoWriMo! Image credit: Kaboompics.

And then the halfway point hit…

Around the 14th, I most inconveniently developed a ridiculously large and painful blister, smack-bang in the middle of my right palm. Reduced to Jaime Lannister-ing my way around for several days, my momentum slowed considerably. And even when the blister started to heal and I could type two-handed again, I still found myself stuck.

I realised I really hadn’t done enough planning for the sort of story I was trying to write. I needed to take my own advice about doing some serious world-building, for a start; I also needed to develop my characters more, and make some concrete decisions about where the plot was going. All these realisations brought me to a virtual standstill, and I got reallfar behind.

But in my own NaNoWriMo Survival Guide, I’d written about allowing yourself to be flexible, and keeping your own personal goals and circumstances in mind. Taking into account my lack of time to plan, my relatively busy month and my overall desire to simply make a start and commit to a project, I decided to reevaluate my original 50,000-word target. By the time I started playing catch-ups, I’d settled on a much more modest goal of reaching 30,000 words by the end of the month. And I’m pleased to say that by 11pm on the 30th of November, I’d hit 30,056 words!

While this is nowhere near the official NaNoWriMo goal or the length of a completed novel, I’m still excited by my progress. If someone had told me at the start of the year that I’d have written at least 30,000 words of a novel by the end of it, I’d have laughed in their face. But now I know I can do it: I am capable of working on a big, sustained project, and what’s more, I’m now especially motivated to do so. With the awesome start NaNoWriMo has given me, I’m determined to keep plugging away until I have a complete first draft of the novel, hopefully by early next year.

As for the book itself… All I can really tell you is that it’s about a perfumer’s daughter, and that it’s somehow morphed its way into a trilogy in my head. Three books to plan and write? That’s not too ambitious at all, right?

I suppose only time will tell.