Bookish & Writerly Recaps: March 2017

Look! Another monthly recap written and published in a timely fashion*!

*It is, fittingly, April Fool’s Day as this goes live, so if you believe the above, that’s totally on you.

Here’s what’s been happening throughout March…

What I’ve written

Look, I’m going to be perfectly honest again (as if I can help being anything but? #oversharer). This past month was another not-so-great one for me, writing-wise. And I don’t just mean writing in the novel-writing sense; I mean it in the sense of, ‘Why did I think I could be a writer in the first place – freelance OR fiction? Neither one is working, and I don’t think they ever will’.

Yeah, fun stuff. Good job, brain, for spending all of March dwelling on those super helpful thoughts.

Basically, most of my month was lost to a fog of self-doubt and inner conflict. I was questioning everything: what I really want out of life, what ‘the dream’ is and how it compares to actual reality, whether I should throw everything in the bin and run away to England, etc. etc.

These doubts were split evenly between the freelancing dream and the author dream. Not only was I struggling with my career situation, I was also still in a really bad place regarding my fiction writing (see last month’s recap for more on that).

Truthfully? I’m still in that place when it comes to my book. I’ve tried a little writing here and there, but I just don’t feel good about it again yet. I’m still constantly thinking about it, and I have moments where I’m like ‘Yes! This story could still work, and I do still want to write it!’. But those moments are a little too scarce right now, and I think I’ve still got a lot to work through.

March recap-1Image via Unsplash

BUT! I did get a bit of nice news on the last day of March: after a couple of weeks of job applications, interviews and trials, I was offered a new part-time role as a marketing assistant! Yay. :) I’ll primarily be creating content, which is what I love to do most, and I can finish up at my casual bookselling job (which is lovely, don’t get me wrong, but it’s time to move on).

With three fixed days a week at this new job and the other two days to focus on my freelance stuff, I can finally develop a proper routine and stick to it. And I’m hoping this will also help with my writing. I really do want to give it another go, so with a little less career-related stress and a more consistent work situation, fingers crossed I can get things moving again.

Something that I think is really going to help me do that is looking to others for inspiration and motivation. It’s no secret that two of my biggest inspirations are two of my best girlfriends, Helen and Kyra – and truly, when I think about what those ladies are achieving, it’s a bigger motivator than anything to keep me going.

Kyra posted recently about getting out of her own writing slump, and Helen’s amazing first novel is coming out later this year, and basically, I just admire the absolute heck out of them both. I want to stay on this writer’s journey with them, so I’m going to try my hardest to do just that.

Anyway – one last thing to finish off this perpetually rambling section! While the word-well in March was running pretty dry, I did write some articles for Writer’s Edit on impostor syndrome and establishing a writing routine, so check those out if you’re struggling with the writer’s life (join the club, we have a monthly newsletter).

March recap-2Image via Unsplash

What I’ve read

This month has been ALL FANTASY, ALL THE TIME – and let’s be real, I’m not even sorry about it.

A Gathering of Shadows (reread) and A Conjuring of Light by V. E. Schwab

I blabbed on a little last month about how much I love this series, but I’m going to do it again here. I LOVE THIS SERIES. I love everything about it. And I really admire Victoria Schwab as a writer.

In March I reread A Gathering of Shadows in preparation for the release of the final instalment, A Conjuring of Light, which I completely devoured as soon as it landed in my mailbox. How do I even explain these books? The characters are beautiful and flawed and funny and heartbreaking and real; the writing is finely tuned and wonderful; and the story is absolutely lustrous with magic – there’s no other way to describe it.

ACOL was a perfect, bittersweet ending to the series, and to anyone who’s read it, you’ll know what I mean when I say: Anoshe.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

First of all, let’s not be superficial here, but what a beautiful cover. Give me black and sparkly gold and a magical hammer and I’m sold. (Neil Gaiman’s name and the word ‘Mythology’ in big letters doesn’t hurt, either.)

Moving beyond appearances, I loved the book itself as well. It was a refreshing little jaunt into the world of the Norse gods, and I really enjoyed the traditional, almost spoken-word style of the storytelling – just like sitting around a campfire at night while a bloody genius named Neil tells you tales of monsters and gods. (Truly, writing any kind of god is this guy’s absolute jam. This was a lovely contrast to American Gods – which, by the way, looks like it’s going to make a freaking excellent TV show.)

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

This is the first Robin Hobb book I’ve read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It has a real ‘classic fantasy’ feel to it, and the writing style is markedly different to all the fantasy I’ve been reading lately, which is refreshing. There are no dramatic chapter cliffhangers, and very little fanfare when it comes to big reveals; there’s just simple writing telling a damn good story, and that’s something I hadn’t read for quite a while. (Don’t get me wrong – I love a good cliffhanger and some fanfare, of course, but it was nice to dive into something a little different.)

Fitz’s story also reminded me a little of one of my favourite epic fantasy tales – that of Kvothe from Patrick Rothfuss’ Kingkiller Chronicle. Both Fitz and Kvothe have a terribly shit time while they’re young (as well as, presumably, a terribly shit time when they’re older too, poor loves). They’re both misunderstood and gifted and fierce and terribly lonely – and despite all that, they’re both thoroughly likeable characters, with exciting and extraordinary stories to tell. I can’t wait to continue with the Farseer Trilogy.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

I wasn’t so sure about this one. It’s been getting huge hype online for months and months now, which I think may have had something to do with my less-than-enthusiastic reaction to it; I think it was actually over-hyped, which hasn’t really done it any favours.

That’s not to say I didn’t like it; I enjoyed it enough to stick with it, and actually smashed through it fairly quickly. But I didn’t love it. I don’t particularly like giving detailed negative reviews, so I won’t go into too much here, but suffice it to say that I felt the story fell a little flat, and there was some big ol’ insta-love that I really wasn’t a fan of. The writing was quite nice, though, and an indulgent, dazzling, night-time carnival atmosphere is always fun.

Caraval

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Well, that’s enough book rambling and life pondering from me (for now). I’m off to pack for a few wonderful days in Melbourne, where Nate and I are heading tomorrow to (belatedly) celebrate our five-year anniversary! *prepares self for three and a half straight days of eating, drinking and lounging in a hotel spa bath*

Happy April – I hope your month ahead is full of lovely things.

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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

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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.

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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!

The Ultimate Guide To World-Building: Featured Article on Writer’s Edit

A couple of months ago, I started working with the lovely team at Writer’s Edit, a wonderful online literary magazine and small press. If you’re a writer, a reader or an all-round lit-lover, you’ll want to check out this site – it’s an expansive literary hub, containing everything from advice for writers to book reviews to publishing industry news and insights.

Writer’s Edit has also published Kindling, a diverse anthology of short fiction, poetry and non-fiction that’s well worth getting your hands on. Plus, they’re running an awesome competition at the moment, which could have you winning all sorts of prizes like novel-writing software and writerly book packs – and you get a free ebook just for entering. What’s not to love?! (Be quick with that one, though – entries close on Wednesday the 15th.)

Image via Instagram: @writersedit.

Anyway, I’m excited to say that this week sees my first feature article published on Writer’s Edit! ‘The Ultimate Guide to World-Building: How To Write Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Real Life Worlds’ pretty much does what it says on the label. It’s an in-depth look at the creation processes behind great fictional worlds, drawing advice and examples from master world-builders like Tolkien, GRRM and (my hero) J. K.

If you’re a writer looking to invent a new world (or simply create a sense of place using our existing one), it may be worth having a read. Even non-writers who love reading fantasy or sci-fi might enjoy learning what goes on behind the scenes of their favourite made-up universe! So whether you’re a fan of dragons, dystopias or real-world destinations, make a cup of tea and head over to Writer’s Edit for an afternoon read.

LOTRDid someone say ‘afternoon tea’? Painting by the talented Christopher Clark.
Harry PotterMy ultimate fantasy destination: Hogwarts. Image via Pottermore.