Z is for World War Z


‘World War Z

I bought The Zombie Survival Guide a long time before I even knew that ‘World War Z’ was a thing. I just like zombies, and the book looked fun. At least, I’m pretty sure I bought it. Apologies if it was a gift. I’m second guessing and doubting myself now!

Anyway, I had that, and read it, and loved it. And then I worked out that World War Z was a book and thought it would be a good idea to read it. I had a free Audible credit, so I downloaded it and listened to it in the car while I was driving to work.

The audiobook version was fantastic. The different voices for the different stories really added to the appeal. It started in me a love affair with audiobooks that I continue with to this day.

But what I really loved about World War Z was the practical approach to the zombie apocalypse. My particular favourite sequence is the botched attempt by the military to take back New York (I think it’s New York, it’s been a while) where they use the most high tech weaponry to take on the Zombie horde, only to have it fail utterly because Zombies don’t die the same way that humans do. Everything they throw at them is ineffective, or worse, makes the Zombies more deadly by setting them on fire or something. The solution they eventually come up with (I won’t spoil) is so genius you’ll be hoping that our military leaders have read World War Z when the Zombie Apocalypse comes, because then we’ll be okay.

The new world envisioned by Brooks is believable and uplifting and chilling and many other things in equal measure. The idea that hordes of zombies would continue to exist at the bottom of the ocean, wandering aimlessly, is a particularly horrible one that makes me think twice about dipping my toes in open water.

I still want to own a physical copy of this, as it’s one I’d like to dip back into now and again. The ‘oral history’ telling means there’s lots of re-read value, and I’d love to actually read, rather than just listen to it.

Maybe if I get a bit of Christmas money I’ll treat myself!

Y is for YA



The genre ‘YA’ didn’t exist when I was a kid. You went pretty much straight from ‘kids books’ to ‘adult books’ and being a pretty precocious reader, I was starting to make this transition pretty early on.

There were ‘YA’ books available, I’m sure, but they weren’t marketed as such. I’m not really sure what changed that. Certainly the ongoing Harry Potter series contributed – as the Harry Potter Generation grew up, so did the market for books that they would want to read. Twilight played a big part in bringing more attention to the genre. There were likely others, but as is often the way when you look back on something – it can be difficult to tell exactly what started it. To me it was like I hit eighteen and suddenly YA was a thing. A thing I liked very much and wished had been around when I was about eleven.

I guess it’s partly why I still read a lot of YA now. One, they are often really good fun, generally faster reads than adult books, and less… this is going to sound awful, but less hard work. I’m reading Gone Girl at the moment, and I’m really enjoying it, but it takes concentration. YA books can deal with difficult themes and complex issues, but I’ve always found them easier going. Something about the tone and style, and the fact that the characters haven’t had a chance to become old and embittered, maybe.

The first writing I did was YA. The first authors I loved wrote YA. The first characters I fell in love with were from YA novels. It’s been a massive influence on my writing and reading.

I can’t imagine ever growing out of it. All those adults who sniff at adults reading YA… they just don’t know what they’re missing.

X is for Sexy Scenes


‘SeXy Scenes’

X is a really hard letter to think of anything for, and, being me, the first thing that came to mind was ‘X-rated’. I’ve talked before about my fondness for a bit of soft porn reading. They’re easy going, escapist, and who doesn’t like to swoon over a dreamy, chiselled millionaire every once in a while?

The thing is, though, sex is is notoriously hard to write, and I must admit, I do get a bit more of a giggle on than find sexy scenes a turn on most of the time. Words for genitalia are just not raunchy at all. The worst I’ve read for a while was the phrase ‘quivering doo-dah‘ to describe a vagina, but the usual suspects are just as bad: shaft? his length? Just call it a knob and be done with it.

When it’s done right, reading sexy scenes can be good fun. For me, it has to be in the context of a good love story – I don’t like books that are basically all sex. I have to be engaged with the characters and their troubles first. It doesn’t even have to be original – I’m a sucker for all the tropes: marriage of convenience, fake girlfriends, rivals turned lovers, all that stuff. Only the barest whiff of originality is required to make a romance novel enjoyable.

And it’s nearly December, which means it’s time for mine and Charlie’s annual tradition of downloading a free Christmas romance. The first year we did this it was sexy firefighters, last year it was sexy Christmas averse billionaire – I’ll be looking for something festive (and free!) for Christmas this year – suggestions absolutely welcome!

W is for Wizarding World


Wizarding World’

Realised I only had four of these left when I stopped blogging, so for the sake of completeness, I’m going to rattle through the last four!

Like most people who were ten or so in the mid to late 90s, I grew up reading Harry Potter. I remember distinctly the first time I read it. I’d been bought the first three books – the third a special hard cover edition with an engraved signature that must have been a special edition for when the book was first released. I’d never even heard of Harry Potter. I lived in a small village, where the school had less than 50 pupils, my year was me and three others. There were few big readers in the school. I think I was one of three or four who regularly took books out of the school library, and one of the others would have been my sister.

Being a big reader, I got bought a lot of books, particularly by my Godfather, who is much more hip and in the know about current trends than I’ll ever be, but particularly more so than I was at ten. I’m pretty sure that’s how old I was when he bought them for me, because I distinctly remember it being in our old house, and we moved when I was eleven. I also distinctly remember being unimpressed by the cover art, thinking it made the books look boring.

Then I probably ran out of other things to read, having made my way through all of the classics that were accessible to me at the time. I’d been bought a set of twenty or so for another birthday or Christmas. Probably also by my Godfather, but the details have blurred over time.

I read Harry Potter, and like most kids of that age, I was hooked. I adored the world, the magic, the plot twist (admitted the ‘haha! it wasn’t who you thought it was all along’ trope would get a little old in later books) and the idea that a Hogwarts letter might just show up for me when I turned eleven. It didn’t. I still loved Harry Potter.

When I was in secondary school – maybe year eight or nine – the films started coming out. They’re never as good as the books, but the adaption was pretty close to perfect. I loved the realisation of Hogwarts. I just couldn’t get enough of it.

So I wrote Harry Potter fan fiction. And that opened up a whole other range of interests for me – social, reading, writing.

By the time the seventh book came out, I’d fallen a little out of love with it. The later instalments were a little more unwieldy than the pithy first three books that had secured my  adoration all those years before. The behemoth of a franchise that it was by then meant I had a little bit of Harry Potter burn out. I’d discovered new things, grown into new interests.

But a little bit of me is still a big Harry Potter nerd. I have a near encyclopaedic knowledge of books one through five and still crave a trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in London. Like most children of the Harry Potter Generation, a little bit of my heart will always belong to JK Rowling.

What I’ve Learned From NaNoWriMo 2015


After any huge undertaking, I always think it’s a good idea to sit back and reflect on the ups and downs, make a mental note of what worked and what didn’t, and assimilate that into your approach for the next project. I always used to sniff at ‘evaluations’ when I had to do them as part of my academic career, but now I really see the value in it. And with NaNoWriMo 2015 complete, here are my thoughts on the process this year.

morning-time-alarm-bell-large1. On Finishing Early

I’ve never finished more than two or three days early before. This year, I was early by 10 days. Over a week. It wasn’t because my project was planned, or because I had more time. I ‘planned’ the day before and I’ve been doing loads of overtime at work, so it’s not been a case of hours on end to write.

So why? My best guess is that it’s because I was writing at least 1000 words a day, often more, for six weeks before NaNoWriMo. Granted, on a different project and with much more flexibility in terms of deadline, but it was still a habit. Sitting down at my desk and writing for an hour or two every day was a habit and I’d got good at powering through the ‘writer’s block’ and the desire to be watching Youtube videos. My brain was primed and ready to write.

When I started, I was worried that the intensive writing of the previous weeks would leave me burned out, struggling to even get going. Writing 7003 words on my first NaNo day did go some way to quell that fear. Keeping a good pace – consistently hitting above par – for the next week, banished the fear completely.

‘Write every day’ is one of those bits of advice that is bandied around – lauded by some people and shot down by others. I’m not going to tell anyone about how they should 100% do their writing process, but for me writing regularly is definitely the way to go.

There were days during NaNo when writing felt like pulling teeth. There always are days like that, whatever project you are doing. But this NaNo has been the easiest I’ve done so far, and I’m inclined to believe the pre-NaNo brain training played a large part in that.

2. Writing Out of Order pen-writing-notes-studying-medium

On my last day of NaNoWriMo 2015, I wrote over 7000 words on a section of the novel that I really should have written on day 1. It’s backstory, the sort that will probably be hacked to pieces and threaded throughout the novel. Or maybe cut completely. But I needed to write it to understand where the main character was coming from. Writing it introduce a new character, who I will have to reference throughout, and it changed my perspective on how the novel should end.

I have found this is the way with my writing before, but nothing crystallised it quite like writing that scene. I often start projects with an idea of who the characters are and what the story is – in the broadest of strokes, nothing detailed. Then I start muddling my way through, and the more I write, the clearer it becomes in my mind.

Which means, of course, that I then have to go back to the beginning and change it all, because who I realise the characters really are halfway through the project is often quite different to who they are in the opening pages.

It’s making me think that maybe I ought to do more ‘pre-writing’ activities, writing that back story first, completing character profiles, that sort of thing. But I think I’ll always make ‘discoveries’ as I write, changing the shape of the story as I go.

pexels-photo-large3. I’m a Visual Writer

This ought to have been obvious to me years ago. I’ve always seen stories more as movies in my mind than as words. I focus on set piece scenes, think a lot about how things look. I like to match actors to my characters and mock up book covers.

Recently at work, I’ve had to create a ‘sequence of events’ presentation. The lady training me how to do it passed on the tip she’d found most useful when she was learning – use lots of pictures. People don’t pay attention to text, it’s off putting. I sort of already knew this. My step-father, a marketing manager, has always said that powerpoint slides shouldn’t have more than five or six words on.

Another old teacher (a creative writing teacher from when I was at Uni) used to say that his eureka moments were the confluence of two disparate bits of knowledge. What my step-father said about powerpoint was in relation to delivering presentations for academia. The work presentation tells a story. Hearing the same piece of advice in those slightly different contexts made it stick in my mind, and when I got stuck in NaNo, I started putting together a ‘sequence of events’ for the story. I spent a few hours finding pictures of celebrities to act as my characters, then started using those pictures in conjunction with description of events to string together the plot.

The resulting powerpoint presentation is nowhere near finished. I kept going until I got unstuck, then started writing again. But I think it’s a technique I’ll be using in the future. Apart from anything, you can see in a glance where certain characters feature in the story. If I was writing from multiple points of view, it would be a great way to see the balance of character participation in the plot.


I know NaNoWriMo gets a lot of stick from some professional writers, who say that it produces lots of rubbish. They’re probably right about the rubbish part – my own manuscript is a mess, and I don’t think anyone writing a NaNo novel would be telling the truth if they said it was a masterpiece on November 30th. But what NaNo does do is gives you incentive and motivation to write when you might not otherwise have it. The final thing I’ve learned from NaNoWriMo 2015 is that I don’t think I need it anymore.

Which is not to say that I won’t be participating in future, and don’t think it’s valuable. NaNo got me through the years when I was teaching – barely having the time or energy to function, let alone write a novel’s worth of words. It inspired me to keep going when nothing else would have, and for that I will always love and value it. But I think (I hope!) I’ve reached a stage in my writing where I can motivate myself, form habits and write for the love of it.

(Images taken from Pexels, an excellent resource for CC0 images)

NaNoWriMo 2015 – Done!


At the start of the month I talked about my concerns regarding NaNoWriMo this year. Following weeks of writing intensively on another project, and having done nearly no planning at all on my NaNo one, I felt in a precarious position to undertake the challenge. I really didn’t want to fail. I really didn’t want to come off the back of a great success in completing my last project and follow it into an abysmal failure.

But, I didn’t want to not even try. So with a few pages of notes and good will, I sat down on the 1st of November and wrote the opening lines of the new project.

21 days later – earlier than I’ve ever managed before – I was done. At 50,114 words, I had completed the challenge.

The story is nowhere near finished. Completely out of order, not cohesive or even coherent, it needs another 30,000 words I should think, and some serious taking apart and putting back together again. But it was never the point to finish the thing. I wanted to make some really good progress in a short space of time, and spend some time with different characters in order to cleanse my brain of the last bunch I’d been writing about. And on both those fronts, I feel I’ve been successful.

I really, really want to keep writing it too. Not just stop dead now I’ve got to 50k. But I’m forcing myself to. I need a break, need to give my brain a rest before I launch into editing my previous project – the one that I finished just before NaNo started. I’ve got some distance from it now, and feel I would be able to approach it without the same emotional connection. This is a big scary step for me. I’ve never been much of a one for editing. I’ve got good at finishing things now – I’m confident I can follow a first draft through to the end – but taking that first draft and turning it into a polished manuscript is new territory. I’ve got some resources and the desire to do it, so hopefully in a couple of months I’ll have something worth reading.

So for the next week or so – until the start of December – I’m going to be concentrating on reading (so behind on my Goodreads reading challenge!) and getting the blog up and going again. Things here will continue to be spotty for a while as I catch up with review commitments and go back through my emails and actually read them, but it is my aim to have a proper relaunch in the new year with a new – less demanding – schedule and hopefully some better content because of that.

In the meantime, good luck NaNo-ers who are still going. I’m waving my pom poms for you.

IWSG #3 – NaNoWriMo Edition


I’m writing this at 22:05 on October 31st. I’m waiting for midnight to make a token start on my NaNo project. Not much. Maybe 500 words. I’ve never done the ‘stay up til midnight’ thing before – usually because Hallowe’en is spent having a party round my mothers. By my mother has moved away to West Sussex, and the Fiance is on a night shift, so I’m here on my own and without a reason to get up early tomorrow morning.

I have attempted NaNo four times, won three, though I only have two recorded. I write under a pseudonym, and have two profiles for NaNo. I forgot I’d already made one under one name, and made one under the other the following year. Because I’m smart that way.

The first year I tried was way back when I was in university. I failed spectacularly. I didn’t try again until three years ago, when I used it as motivation to finish a number of different writing projects. It wasn’t really a ‘proper’ NaNo in the sense of having a blank page and seeing it through to ‘the end’ but I got the 50,000 words done, so that’s a win in my book. The next year, I was in a real writing slump. I didn’t think I stood a chance of winning, but I had this plot idea that I really liked, and I really really wanted to give myself a kick up the backside to get back in to writing. I did a proper NaNo and started with the first line, ending with ‘the end’ 30 days later. The novel’s a mess, but I might be able to salvage something from it one day. More importantly, it turned on that part of my brain again.

Last year, I used NaNo to help me complete a project. I’d been picking away at it for a few weeks before, with a view to getting to 30,000 words so that I could top it up to 80,000 words with NaNo. Then it would be a whole novel. It never really worked like that. I wrote 50,000 words in the month (again, this is all I personally require to count it as a win) but the words were all over the place. There were gaps in the narrative, huge chunks I wrote out that I knew would be cut, relegated to ‘back story I need to know, but doesn’t need to be spelled out’. The novel was a project I loved, but writing it told me there were holes in the plot, things I hadn’t thought through.

This year, I’ve been busy for the past 10 weeks or so writing 90,000 words to finish of a series of novellas I’ve been tinkering away with for years. I finished that two days ago (the 29th) and spent yesterday doing nothing but playing mahjong and letting my brain recuperate. Today, on the eve of NaNo, I sat down and wrote ten pages of notes. Handwritten, A4 pages of notes. This is all the preparation I’ve done.

Which is making me a little nervous. The year I had nothing but a plot idea was liberating in a way – I was so sure I couldn’t do it, every word I wrote was one more than I would have otherwise, and the more I wrote, the more motivated I became. There was no 30k lag that year, because every milestone I passed was a miracle.

It won’t be like that this year, because I’m fresh of the back of writing that 90k. I’m sure I can do the 50k, but whether I will or not is the question. I so don’t want to fail. I know that any words done is a success, but I don’t want to have to record on my profile that I didn’t make it.

Because I know I can. I’ve done it before under worse circumstances.

I’ve got my TweetDeck set up with a #NaNoWriMo2015 column. I have at least one cheerleader on Twitter, and will doubtless pick up more along the way. I have a bottle of fruity cider and my pages of notes beside me.

I’m feeling very uncertain and worried that it won’t be like the previous years. That the words won’t flow and I’ll get behind. That I’ll write the first few lines and my ideas will just dry up.

But I’ve told you lot now. I’m accountable. So I’ll just have to give it my best shot :)

P.S. If any of you are doing NaNo and want to buddy up, tweet me your profile! @libertyfallsdwn