Friday, January 31, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 31-1-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

I sent my entry off to the contest I've been working toward.  I'm not 100% sure the fixes I made worked as well as I thought they did while I was doing them, but I guess we'll find out in due course.  I'm already doing better than I thought I would, with two of those unfinished manuscripts now out the door with publishers of one sort or another.  

Let's see if we can get a third out before the middle of the year.

Let's see if any of them actually get published.

I have a quiet weekend planned, so hopefully I'll get some writing done as well as getting through all the laundry and general household chores.  There's a public holiday on Thursday next week so I've taken the Friday off work as well to give myself a four-day weekend.  The kids will be at school on Friday, so I've already allocated that day as being a writing day for me and will spend it at the library tearing into one of those manuscripts I have notes from beta readers to work through.

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Books I've Loved: The Boy Who Steals Houses

A friend of mine recommended this book to me and all I can say is that she must know me better than I thought because it was like this book was written for me.

It's about a homeless boy and the autistic older brother he feels responsible for.  After being abandoned by every relative they have, Sam's on the street.  His dream is to have a home of his own, a place he can keep Avery safe from those who laugh at him, from those who exploit him.  He spends most of each day trying to find empty houses in which to sleep for a night or two, keeping keys he steals like trophies.

Then one day he picks the wrong house and the family who live there come home while he is still inside.  A large family who just assume he's one of the many friends and acquaintances belonging to the many siblings and drag him into their midst.

After looking for a place to belong for as long as he can remember, Sam suddenly finds himself accepted and drawn into the noisy chaos of this family.  And quite possibly falling for Moxie, the oldest girl.

But there's still Avery and Sam discovers it's harder to escape from his past than it is to escape the police.

This is a beautifully written book and the characters are painfully real.  Sam isn't just some innocent little boy who has been wronged; he has flaws and does some awful things.  Sure, they're often for the right reasons, and it's easy to see why he might see them as his only choice, given the way he's been forced to live, but they're still wrong.

The main story is interspersed with sections outlining moments from Sam and Avery's past, leading up to the events that led to them fleeing their aunt's house to the street.

I loved this book.  It touches on almost all the things I tend to write about too: relationships between siblings, finding home and family where you can and creating a new self from the broken pieces of a traumatic childhood.

So it goes without saying that I would recommend this one...

But here's the blurb anyway:

Can two broken boys find their perfect home?

Sam is only fifteen but he and his autistic older brother, Avery, have been abandoned by every relative he's ever known. Now Sam's trying to build a new life for them. He survives by breaking into empty houses when their owners are away, until one day he's caught out when a family returns home. To his amazement this large, chaotic family takes him under their wing - each teenager assuming Sam is a friend of another sibling. Sam finds himself inextricably caught up in their life, and falling for the beautiful Moxie.

But Sam has a secret, and his past is about to catch up with him.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Weekly Goals 27-1-20

I think I finished working on the book for the competition yesterday, so this week is all about getting the whole package together and into the mail.

Once that is done, I need to figure out which of the many almost-finished projects to tackle next.  I'm thinking I'll go back to that book I love that I couldn't find an ending for.  Maybe after six months away, I'll be able to figure out how to finish it.

I hope so!

What are your goals this week?

Friday, January 24, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 24-1-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

I think I fixed the problem with the book I've been working on.  It's only taken a couple of years to do...  And it took me all of five minutes to write in the thing that fixed it.  Now I just need to work out how the ending needs to change as a result, but again, I think once I start writing, it won't take a lot.

It's amazing how that happens sometimes.  You leave a project because you feel like the amount of work needed to fix it is overwhelming, then when you actually sit down and get to it, you find it's actually not hard at all.


I'm hoping I'll find the same thing happens when I go back to the book I couldn't find an ending for most of last year.  But that's a problem for another week.  This weekend is all about finishing the book I'm going to enter into the contest.  It's one of those ones where you have to submit a hard-copy manuscript so I'll have to get it into the post next week if I'm going to get it in by the deadline.

I also finally bit the bullet and started an author page on Facebook.  So if you feel like following me there, I'll be sharing writerly stuff and things that might be interesting to people who read my books.

What are you celebrating this week?

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Books I've Loved: Fountains of Silence

Continuing the historical fiction theme, this books set during the Franco dictatorship in Spain at a time when Franco realized that he needed to open the doors of his country to the world if it was going to thrive.  A fancy hotel is built to contain the foreigners and much of this book is set in and around this hub for the expatriate community.

The main characters are Ana, a housemaid at the hotel who is desperate to keep the job so she can help support her family which has been torn apart by the regime, and Daniel, the son of a Texas oil tycoon.  Daniel's mother is Spanish and she has insisted that he spend his summer before college getting in touch with his roots.  His father is busy doing a business deal in Spain, so Daniel is left largely alone to explore Madrid with his beloved camera.

But some of the things Daniel sees and captures through his lens make him uncomfortable.  He doesn't understand them.  Nor does he understand Ana's unwillingness to talk to him about her country and what makes it tick as it struggles to shake off the shadows of the Spanish Civil War.

While I picked this book up in the YA section of the library, I wouldn't call it strictly a YA book.  The two main protagonists are young, but during the course of the book they grow up into their thirties or forties, and there are many other central characters who are adults.  Not that I minded that at all.

While much of the book follows the growing romance between Ana and Daniel, there is a deeply woven subplot about an orphanage and the sale of babies to wealthy parents-to-be.  There is also another subplot around bull fighting and the system for joining the exalted ranks of these 'heroes'.  And all of this plays out under the oppressive cloud of Franco's dictatorship and the fear it has generated amongst the Spanish people.

Well researched, fast-paced and engrossing, I read this in a single day, unable to put it down once I started it.  In between chapters are excerpts from government documents, media of the time and conversations with people were there at the time to support the events that have just taken place.

This is not a period of history I know a lot about, so this insight into the way people were forced to live during this time, and the ways they survived and thrived were fascinating.  I'd definitely recommend this one to anyone who would like a way into this period and the role it played in creating the Spain of today.

But don't just listen to me.  Here's the blurb:

A portrait of love, silence, and secrets under a Spanish dictatorship.

Madrid, 1957. Under the fascist dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, Spain is hiding a dark secret. Meanwhile, tourists and foreign businessmen flood into Spain under the welcoming promise of sunshine and wine. Among them is eighteen-year-old Daniel Matheson, the son of an oil tycoon, who arrives in Madrid with his parents hoping to connect with the country of his mother's birth through the lens of his camera. Photography--and fate--introduce him to Ana, whose family's interweaving obstacles reveal the lingering grasp of the Spanish Civil War--as well as chilling definitions of fortune and fear. Daniel's photographs leave him with uncomfortable questions amidst shadows of danger. He is backed into a corner of difficult decisions to protect those he loves. Lives and hearts collide, revealing an incredibly dark side to the sunny Spanish city.

Includes vintage media reports, oral history commentary, photos, and more.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Dear Me, 2020

Dear Me,

It’s now mid-January, so I’m a little late writing this annual letter to myself.  But I have a good excuse because before the New Year hit I was writing a novella to deadline and I went away on holiday right afterward and didn’t take my computer with me.  So here we are...

For those of you who haven’t followed me through this annual ritual, each year I write a letter to myself outlining my goals for the year ahead.  Around mid June I check in on it to see how I’m tracking, and then again at the end of the year.

Before we look at the year ahead, let’s just take a moment to reflect on the year just gone.  For the last couple of years I have struggled a little as a writer.  After 23 years working as a cinema manager, I moved into a new role which has evolved to a point where much of my day is spent writing, editing and otherwise wrangling words.  While I have learned an enourmous amount doing this, and really enjoy the work, I often find myself completely depleted by the end of the day and unable to find the energy or inspiration for my own writing.

Learning to accept that I’m not able to be as prolific as I used to be has been a challenge, but I think I am now at peace with it.  It means that any opportunity I have to write is all the more precious.  And toward the end of 2019 I think I fell back in love with writing after being somewhat disenchanted with it for a time.

So my main goal in 2020 is to keep being in love with writing and to keep doing it whenever the opportunity arises.  I think perhaps I have given too much weight to publishing novels over the last few years, and while I still want to write and publish my books, I also want to explore other opportunities.

I have always written short stories, and have a pile of good ones just sitting there, waiting to be published.  So this year I plan to do some writing and submitting of short stories as well as continuing to write and submit novels.

I also still have several finished, almost-finished and partly finished novels sitting on my hard drive.  Some of these are really good and I need to get them to the point I can send them out to publishers etc.  In 2019 my goal was to finish all these books too, but I only actually got one finished and sent out during the year, despite my best intentions.  I’m still waiting to hear back about that one too, so we’ll see...

There’s a contest I’m hoping to enter too, and it closes in early February, so I’m working to get another one of those unfinished/almost-finished books ready to send out.  I’ve changed my mind a few times about which one to work on, but I think I’ve landed on the right one for this particular contest.

Once that one is done and out the door, I have notes from critique partners to address on two other books.  Plus two other books that need endings.  One of these I really like, but I struggled for months last year over how to end it.  I’m still not 100% certain I know what to do with it, but I’m determined to figure it out because I really love the book and its characters.

The other things I’d really like to try and tackle this year are writing a novel based on my “beach house” series of short stories, and attempting my first novel for adults.  I have a loose kind of outline for the adult novel written and I had planned to write it during NaNo in November, but chickened out.  So I wrote something else during NaNo while I started reading more adult books to try and figure out how the tone of voice is different.  Hopefully I’ll feel ready to write this story this year.  It’s one that’s been hanging out in my head since about 2010...

On the non-writing side of things, I plan to keep exercising regularly.  While the weather is good and daylight saving keeps the evenings light enough, I will keep riding my bike to and from work as much as possible.  Once the weather turns, I will get back into going to the gym at lunchtimes as often as I can.  And I will keep going to my Saturday morning spin classes every week because I enjoy them, even after 10 or so years.

My younger son starts high school this year and I think he’s going to find it quite challenging.  I want to be available to him if he struggles and find ways to help him settle in, make new friends and hopefully find something that interests him (other than video games).

And I think that’s about it.  I know I should probably make some kind of goal around being kinder to myself or taking time out for me, but writing time is “me time” and as long as I can have a bath each night and read a book while I’m soaking, I’m happy.

What are your goals for the year?

Love, Me.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Celebrate the Small Things 17-1-20

This post is part of Lexa Cain's blog hop, Celebrate the small things. Head on over there to sign up!

What am I celebrating this week?

It's a long weekend!

I know.  I just got back to work this week after having three weeks off, but I need this long weekend.  That first week back felt like the longest week in history!  So it's nice that we get a couple of long weekends in the next couple of weeks to help ease our way into the working year.

I plan to write this long weekend.  There is a contest I would like to enter a book into, and I don't have anything 100% ready to go yet.  So I am going to work my butt off to fix the problem at the end of one of my books so I can have it ready to send off by the end of January.  Fingers crossed I can do it.

I also want to go and see Little Women at the movies, so I have that on the agenda for Sunday.

Other than that, I have the usual household chores to get through, but I'm hoping to get them all done today so I have the rest of the weekend to write.

What are you celebrating this week?

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Books I've loved: The Revolution of Marina M. and Chimes of a Lost Cathedral

I did a lot of reading while on holiday last week, and for some reason, historical fiction seemed to be the uniting theme of much of what I read.  And these two books were two of the highlights for me in that trend.

I read White Oleander years ago and became a fierce fan of Janet Fitch because she wrote so beautifully, but still managed to tell an engaging and emotionally gripping story.  I fell a little out of love with her when I read her second book, Paint it Black, because I really didn't enjoy it.  But when I saw these two books on the shelf at the library, I picked them up and decided I'd give Janet another chance.

And boy am I glad I did!

These two books take place over a period of only about 5 years - from 1916 to 1921.  Set in St. Petersburg (then known as Petrograd) the two books follow the title character, Marina, through some of the most tumultuous years of Russian history.  

Marina is 16 when we fist encounter her, privileged, wealthy and just beginning to push against the boundaries that are holding her in childhood instead of allowing her to grow up.  A burgeoning young poet, Marina is certain the world has more to offer her than the genteel life she's lived up until now.  A radical new school friend introduces her to the world of striking workers and a rascally friend of her older brother introduces her to the joys of sex.

As her country faces radical change, and with it, tremendous upheaval, Marina finds herself in opposition with her family, her friends and even her lovers as she struggles to discover who she is and what she wants in a world that is changing each and every day.

These books are clearly well researched.  Real historical figures march through its pages with authority, as well drawn as the fictional characters being followed.  Marina is a headstrong, often thoughtless young guide through this new world.  Having grown up getting everything she wants, watching her learn how to live in a new reality where no one has anything is fascinating.

This is a period of history I already knew quite a bit about (I studied Russian history and literature at university alongside film), but seeing it unfold through the eyes of one character brought the hardship, the idealism and the reasons why the revolution had to happen starkly to life.  It also shows the role art played in forcing change.  Marina's role as a poet sustains her through the trials she suffers.  As long as she can keep articulating her experiences in poetry, she will survive.

I'd definitely recommend these books.  At over 1,000 pages between them, they're not a quick and easy read, but they are both fascinating and engaging.  And you might even learn something about a period in history you may not ever have explored before.

But don't just listen to me. Here are the blurbs:

From the mega-bestselling author of White Oleander and Paint It Black, a sweeping historical saga of the Russian Revolution, as seen through the eyes of one young woman.

St. Petersburg, New Year's Eve, 1916. Marina Makarova is a young woman of privilege who aches to break free of the constraints of her genteel life, a life about to be violently upended by the vast forces of history. Swept up on these tides, Marina will join the marches for workers' rights, fall in love with a radical young poet, and betray everything she holds dear, before being betrayed in turn.

As her country goes through almost unimaginable upheaval, Marina's own coming-of-age unfolds, marked by deep passion and devastating loss, and the private heroism of an ordinary woman living through extraordinary times. This is the epic, mesmerizing story of one indomitable woman's journey through some of the most dramatic events of the last century.

The story of THE REVOLUTION OF MARINA M. continues in bestselling author Janet Fitch's sweeping epic about a young woman's coming into her own against the backdrop of the Russian Revolution. 

After the events of The Revolution of Marina M., the young Marina Makarova finds herself on her own amid the devastation of the Russian Civil War -- pregnant and adrift in the Russian countryside, forced onto her own resourcefulness to find a place to wait out the birth of her child. She finds new strength and self-reliance to fortify her in her sojourn, and to prepare her for the hardships and dilemmas still to come.

When she finally returns to Petrograd, the city almost unrecognizable after two years of revolution, the haunted, half-emptied, starving Capital of Once Had Been, she finds the streets teeming with homeless children, victims of war. Now fully a woman, she takes on the challenge of caring for these Civil War orphans, until they become the tool of tragedy from an unexpected direction.

But despite the ordeal of war and revolution, betrayal and privation and unimaginable loss, Marina at last emerges as the poet she was always meant to be.

Chimes of a Lost Cathedral finishes the epic story of Marina's journey through some of the most dramatic events of the last century -- as a woman and an artist, entering her full power, passion and creativity just as her revolution reveals its true direction for the future.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Weekly Goals 13-1-19

And I'm back!

A little scary actually, to have to face real life again for the first time in 2020.  In two hours or so, I'll be back at my desk at work and the year will begin.  Appropriately, it's pissing down with rain to welcome back the working year.  At least I won't feel like I'm missing out on enjoying the sun!

I am incredibly slack and haven't got to writing my yearly letter to myself outlining my goals yet, but I will get to that.  I promise!  Next Monday's post, I swear...

But until then, I'll keep things small and just look at this week's goals.

I had my first acceptance of the year on 2 January which was a way to kick the New Year off right.  My little novella, We'll Always Have This is going to be published in an anthology of contemporary LGBTQIA+ romance.  This is the novella I was trying to finish before I went away on vacation (and did finish), so I'm pleased to have had it accepted.

This week I'm going to try and do some revisions on a book I'd like to enter into the Text Prize, so that's my focus this week.  That and trying to get back into the swing of work, exercise, diet etc...

What are your goals for the week?

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

A Year in Books

I didn't get around to writing a book review this week because I was writing a novella to deadline instead.  So wasn't Goodreads nice to have done this handy little review of my year in books?  I even managed to squeak in and reach my 160 book goal for the year!  Just...  and I admit, I did re-read a few short books in the last couple of days to get there.

But...  Here you go.  My year in books.  There have been a some good ones, some okay ones and just a few really, really bad ones.

What books are you looking forward to most in 2020?  My most fervent wish is that they council here will get its act together and re-open our main library!  I'm missing it badly.