On Three… Love is for Losers

I always thought there were two types of book which allowed for social commentary on absentee parents, broken friendships, and the prospect of new romance. Those that allowed characters to breathe, reflect and learn. And those that rush through the narrative at breakneck speed.

Somehow, Love is for Losers does both.

‘Mum’s a docter first and a mum second. I’ve always known that. And I stopped doing goodbyes a long time ago.’

The day by day structure allows the reader the plough through the narrative, whilst creating an image of isolation and abandonment. Phoebe is not a happy teenager. Her mum has prioritised her calling as a ‘doctor without borders’, her best friend has replaced her with Tristan (the new boyfriend who can’t ride a bicycle (I don’t really get why this is such a big thing for Phoebe)), and she has to get the bus to school.

The style of writing feels like it has been stripped directly from my teenage journals, and it all feels very ‘Adrian Mole’ and ‘Bridget Jones’. Everything is perfectly curated to remind you how rubbish it is being a hormonal teenager. 

I suppose I could have watched Polly and Tristan make out while eating my sandwich, but then there’s the gag reflex.

One criticism I had was the slander against the Lush staff. I will not have the peppy people at Lush besmirched. They’re smothered in a scented fog for hours at a time, washing people’s hands and getting covered in glitter. If you think they’re intense, it’s because they’ve not smelled unperfumed air for days, and they’re busy trying to provide products that don’t hurt the planet. Cut them some slack.

Overall this is a contemporary, docile teen drama that doesn’t isolate New Adult or more mature readers. The voices are authentic, if a little pessimistic. It has a convincing narrative and a protagonist with agency. And you can’t overlook the importance of representation included and the friendly and stylised design of the page. I’ve enjoyed it. 

 

Flash Fiction – Real-Time Record/Write

After the amazing Basically Britt uploaded a video where she recorded herself reading in real-time, I felt inspired to do a Write With Me: Real-time video! If you’d like to see that click the link here!

As for what I wrote: Here it is. Prompt taken from ‘642 Things to Write About’ –

A conversation about you that you weren’t supposed to overhear: 

“No, I don’t want her to find out.”

“She has a right to know.”

“It’s not your decision to make.”

“It’s not yours either.”

I had come down for a glass of water. The glass I kept in my room, the one with the painted flowers, daisies and daffodils, cold in my hand. The second to last step always creaked. A guttural, squeal of pain-like sound, and my left foot hovered over it. Retreated to the previous step. My whole body was waiting on pause. Did they mean me?

“The sooner she knows, the sooner we can work to move forwards.” My dad’s voice, usually calm and reasonable, is almost hysterical. He can’t seem to shake the irritation from his voice. The betrayal.

“There are no forwards.” My mum’s voice. Usually shrill, cold and calculating today. I don’t like it. The world feels backwards. And I don’t understand what they’re saying. What they mean. “Not for me anyway.”

I perch on the step behind me. I’ve come in too deep in the conversation. I’ve missed the beginning. The catalyst. I’ve missed the whole point. I can hear my heartbeat in my ears, blood rushing through, straining to pick up more information. I wonder where they’re positioned. Are they perched on the sofa? Stood by the door?

More immediately I think, how can I move closer? I put the glass down gently, making sure it rests against the coarse carpet, and I wipe my sweat palms against my pyjama bottoms. I lean heavily on the bannister, skipping the squealing step, and trying with all my might to be delicate when my foot lands on the step below.

“If you keep talking like that, I’ll…”

“You’ll what?”

I’ve never heard mum so defensive. So animalistic. She seems beyond anger, and I’m desperate to see it on her face. Desperate to see if I recognise her at all. My second foot follows the first, easily with the first rooted to the quieter step. I tuck my lips into my mouth in the hopes that it’ll silence any loud breathes. I know I’m breathing harder and faster. I’m so scared of what they’re saying. So, lost without the cause.

“What do you think will happen if you tell her?” Dad asks. “Why are you so scared she’ll know?”

Mum takes a minute to respond, and when she does the animal in her has tamed a little. “I don’t want her to look at my differently. I don’t want her to hate me.”

This doesn’t make sense. Mum and I row all the time. I tell her I hate her, and she tells me I’m spiteful. And then we both act like nothing’s changed. Nothing’s wrong. She knows I don’t hate her, can’t hate her. Not really. Not for long.

Still, this last sentence comforts me. At least it’s not cancer, at least she’s not dying. That means we’ve got time. Something we can fix. I’m more like Dad in that way. I want to help; I want to fix things. I want to make everything alright.

I’m by the door now, my eye peering through the crack between hinges. Mum is sitting on the sofa as dad stands over her. She looks close to tears. Dad is red in the face, his arms crossed. They both look tired. But dad looks more resolute than mum does. He knows he’s right. She does too.

“She won’t hate you. Not if you’re honest with her. But if you don’t tell her yourself, if she finds out on her own…”

“I just need more time.”

“You don’t have it.” Dad moves to pull her towards him, but though she stands she steps away from him.

“Don’t do that. Don’t coddle me like a child. This isn’t your problem. It’s mine.”

I can see, on dad’s face, in the way his jaw loosens, in the way his shoulders slack, and the way his hands don’t know what to do with themselves, he’s heart broken by that statement. She’s breaking his heart.

I push the door open slowly, unsure what impact this will have on the conversation, but I can’t bear to be on the outside of this anymore. Can’t bear to be cut out. To watch from the outside as they hurt each other. Over me.

“What’s the problem?” I ask. I don’t know how many times I’ve asked this question, whilst being flippant with mum, or cursing at dad. But it has so much weight here, in this room, in this moment. It makes me hot. And hotter still when they both just stare at me. Even dad’s disappointed. This isn’t how he wanted me to find out – whatever it is. Mum starts crying. Big wet sobs into her hands, and she turns away from me.

“It’s not the time,” Dad says, holding his hands out in supplication. Hoping I’ll back down or back off. I’ve never seen them like this. I don’t know what to do. But I don’t want to leave either.

“You were just telling her it is the time. The time for what? What are you guys talking about?”

Mum sniffs, and I can see her shoulders are still shaking. Dad is still trying to usher me out of the living room, he’s moved closer, trying to push me out without touching me.

“What is it? Is mum dying?” I know she isn’t. They would have said. They would have told me. Relief softens my dad’s face for a second.

“No, baby,” he says, “she’s not dying. Can we talk about this in the morning?”

“I can’t sleep not knowing,” I say, forcing my voice to stay flat. Stay calm. “Mum? Say something?”

Mum flinches. She goes quiet. She turns and her whole face is red from crying. Her eyes are bloodshot and desperate. I feel bad for pushing. I hate that I came downstairs. My skin runs cold and I expect her to tell me she hates me. Tell me I’ve ruined her life. I’m making it worse just by being here.

“I don’t know how to tell you…” she mumbles. “I’m so sorry baby, I’m so sorry…”

“Just…” I try to find the words, in equal measure annoyed she can’t and frantic. “Just say it. Whatever it is. I deserve to know.”

“I don’t… I’m not…” She goes quiet. A shadow falls across her face. “I’m not your mother. I’m your mum, I’ll always be your mum, but I’m not your mother. I’m so sorry baby. I’m so sorry.”

It hits my chest and presses like bricks. One beat after the other pounds and hurts and I can’t breathe.

“What are you talking about? Of course, you’re my mum. People always say I look like you.”

“No, baby. I’m your auntie. My sister gave birth to you in prison.” I sink to the floor. The world sinks around me, and continues to sink, and sink, and sink. “She got out today,” mum continues. “She wants to meet you.”

On Three… Chilling Effect

Imagine, if you will, Firefly – the Whedon TV series which shamefully only got one season – but with Psychic kittens. I’m so in love with it already. This book could end there and I’d be happy. But it doesn’t! There’s more! You should be really excited about that.

“There’s just one.” Leroy paused for dramatic effect. “The leader.”

“Cats don’t have a leader, honey,” Pink said.

“Tell that to…the leader”. 

There are so many reasons you should read Chilling Effect. My three favourite reasons are:

  • POC Cast and Own Voices
  • Outerspace Sci Fi
  • Excellent Pace and Character development.

This wonderful book manages to find a balance between Epic Drama, and Casual Humour. Each character feels whole and unique, whilst also tiptoeing around tropes people love to see like; the best friend who served alongside them, the rogueish yet cerebral love interest and, the animal sidekick who always seems to know better than the protagonist.

I didn’t know I’d been looking for a book like this. I feel like…

You know that scene at the end of 100 Days of Summer, where it looks like LoverBoy has learned his lesson from chasing Summer, and then he meets Autumn? And you realise he hasn’t learned his lesson and he’s about to have his heartbroken again.

I am LoverBoy.

Summer is Firefly.

Chilling Effect is Autumn. And I’m so ready to have my heart broken again, you don’t even know! I don’t want to give away the actual story, I just want to find someone as excited as I am about this book.

If you’ve read it, or you read it and love it – please feel free to contact me.

On Three… Wilder Girls

The students at Raxter School for Girls have been stuck on their island for two years. Those of them that are left anyway. In the opening three chapters, we follow Hetty – a quiet, thoughtful 17-year-old who has been living with the Tox and it’s effects alongside her two best friends Byatt and Reese.

“We had to burn the books for warmth, and wondering wasn’t fun anymore.”

The obvious comparison would be the 1954 novel by William Golding, ‘Lord of the Flies’. An attempt to maintain order, ‘at first’, before human nature, fear and the uncontrollable slide into chaos. But this works in concept only. A slightly more contemporary comparison could be made for The Maze Runner, and ‘The Flare’ plague which kills millions and the young men and women experimented in on aid of a cure.

But Wilder Girls is a horror. It’s a monster all its own.

The opening chapter may fool you into thinking the fast-paced drama is where the tension will build, but it’s the quiet moments of discomfort that are really powerful. Hetty, for me anyway, has the quietest way of describing horrific scenes of blood, and pain, and ‘Tox’ as mere facts. It’s hard to read, because imagining it is unavoidable. There isn’t a single character I don’t empathize with, even though they’re wildly different, and dying/grieving in their own way. 

Maybe it’s the Maine setting, the creepy Navy who seem to micromanage every part of the situation – except the one that matters, getting the girls a cure- or maybe it’s just I just don’t read a lot of stand-alone horror, but Wilder Girls has some Stephen King tang to it. It’s supernatural, and creepy. Dark, mysterious and dangerous.

A cure is coming, as long as we stay alive..png

I really enjoyed the way ‘time passing’ is shown in little motifs. Little ‘talismans’. The idea that the Tox isn’t one wave of pain and suffering, but a cyclical plague which follows the ‘seasons’. That girls fall ‘headlong into puberty’ before the Tox comes for them. That their symptoms are similar, but cruelly different. That the only two adults, Welch and Headmistress, suffer too, with the implicit further suffering of having to keep order amongst the girls who can become ‘feral’ or try to kill themselves.

Wilder Girls is compelling and thought-provoking. Cold, cruel and powerful. A Must-Read for 2020.

On Three… Empress of All Seasons.

For those of you who have not read an ‘On Three’ review before: I review books after the 3rd chapter and determine whether I’m going to continue reading or not. Most agents only give a book three chapters (or the first 50 pages) and I find it’s gauge enough to know whether I’m going to enjoy a book or not. Sometimes I’m wrong but hey – what’s life without a little surprise?

Empress of All Seasons:  

empress2

Fantasy writers, specifically Epic Fantasy writers, love opening a book with a fight scene. It does several things; establishes the main character’s strengths and weaknesses (their agility, their physical and emotional strength, potential superpowers etc.), it throws the audience into the main action – thus encouraging them to read on – and it allows the reader (sometimes) to understand the stakes of the world the character lives in.

But when you’ve read one ‘Opening fight scene’ you’ve – maybe – read them all?

Emiko Jean makes an interesting attempt at this trope as we’re introduced to a Mari, a self-described executioner, who has pitted herself against a Samurai – who mocks her for being a small child. Whilst this creates the aforementioned ‘interest’ with dramatic irony, it has been done before. It’s the opening chapter – we know she’s going to win. The Samurai – for all his great skill – is going to die. So if the opening chapter isn’t going to do anything original with the opening plot, does it do anything for the world-building?

Yes and no.

We’re introduced to Yokai, which are monsters, spirits and supernatural beings from Japanese folklore, first in the prologue of their creation. And then in Mari’s transformation into one. In the second chapter, we’re shown what happens to Yokai in this kingdom. Whilst they’re not executed outright, as the Samurai was, they’re are put to death via one of the seasonal rooms.

Here the stakes are raised, a secondary perspective explains that this is how an Empress will be chosen.

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But my main concern is how much is explained to us in this narrative. There’s not a lot of space in these opening chapters for the audience to work things out for themselves. Are hands are held the entire time, which I don’t really enjoy or appreciate. (As someone who reads A LOT of fantasy, I can be a bit particular…) Due to this, the world building feels stunted and inorganic. However, if you enjoyed any of the following:

  • Cinder, or the series thereafter.
  • Children of Blood and Bone
  • Socery of Thorns

Then yeah – give this book a go. At this point in the narrative, I’m HIGHLY sceptical. And possibly a massive bitch. I was just kinda hoping for “more”.

On Three… Aftermath by Chuck Wendig

For those of you who have not read an ‘On Three’ review before: I review books after the 3rd chapter and determine whether I’m going to continue reading or not. Most agents only give a book three chapters (or the first 50 pages) and I find it’s gauge enough to know whether I’m going to enjoy a book or not. Sometimes I’m wrong but hey – what’s life without a little surprise?

Preamble: 

Image result for aftermath chuck wendig

Sometime between Christmas 2019 and New Year’s Eve of 2020, I went to see The Rise of Skywalker. And let me just tell you, weeks later, I have absolutely no idea how I feel about it.

  • It’s beautiful – sure.
  • Great Characters – obviously.
  • Pacing and structure? New Phone Who Dis?

I watched the first three films when I was six years old. My Grandparents only had three videotapes for kids. Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back, Free Willy, and The NeverEnding Story. So whenever we visited, this was all I could watch.

And if that doesn’t deeply explain my psychosis nothing will…

Anyway – because of this, I’ve always held a warm, safe place for Star Wars in my heart. Or so I thought. I wasn’t amazed by the prequels, but I’ve come to appreciate them for developing the world. Wasn’t a fan of Rogue One (don’t @ me) and let’s just pretend The Solo Story didn’t happen… and I’ll die on the hill that The Last Jedi is wonderful because it actually attempts a slightly different narrative than a simple rehash of old storylines.

Was I secretly a Star Wars snob? Was I unable to enjoy anything except the original trilogy?

My best friend is the complete opposite – the Star Wars franchise can do no wrong (except for Last Jedi, he hates that film). And it amazed me we could both love a Franchise, for completely different reasons. At completely different ends of the spectrum. I asked him if he’d read any of the Star Wars books. He said no.

Time to test my snob hypothesis then – I bought Star Wars Aftermath. And my journey began…

aftermath

Aftermath opens straight after The Return of the Jedi, and the second Death Star is destroyed. But there’s no time to celebrate. The Empire still has factions of power, and as the statue of Palpatine is pulled from its plinth, Imperial Police (Stormtroopers in black) arrive and a battle breaks out in the middle of the square.

Nothing like throwing us in amongst the action. The characters, even though barely introduced in this opening scene, are empathic and real. Families protecting themselves. An angry mob fighting back against a cruel establishment.

The next three chapters cover a range of characters, and interestingly for me, hover over the perspective of an Imperial Admiral – Rae Sloane. Ambitious, tempestuous, strong and flawed – I love her already. And whilst I know I shouldn’t want her to win, her motives are clear and reasonable. Which makes her a fantastic antagonist. The world-building and settings are tangible and I’m really enjoying the pace of this narrative.

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I don’t tend to read a lot of Scifi – for reason’s I’ve explained in this tweet:-

But! Aftermath’s pivoting between perspectives, the soft references rather than heavy-handed ‘remember this guy from the first film? We brought him back! Even though he’d definitely be dead! HAHA!’ – It all works.

So if you’re worried that you might be a Star Wars snob – which might be true for me – give this book a read. I’m really glad I chose this to be my first read of 2020. I just hope it ends in hope because – with the world as it is outside, I need my Star Wars escapism safety blanket.

 

What to do when your life plan falls apart…

A 2020 goal for me to start being ‘proactive’ rather than ‘reactive’ with regards to my time, work, and having some kind of social life balance. And a measured step in completing that goal was buying the Clever Fox Pro Planner. It had been recommended to me by Youtubers, Bloggers, Writers and Editors – all for varying reasons and during various conversations – and with so much glowing praise around it, I snapped one up for less than £20 on Amazon. Yay me.

It’s beautiful, turquoise faux leather, A4 sized, with an inner pocket to keep important things in. I feel so grown up just for having it, and it fits perfectly in my handbag so that helps.

But the opening question already has me stumped.

What is the vision of the life you want?

I honestly have no idea.

When I was a kid, I had this grand idea of the person I was going to be. I was going to be a Vet, who lived in London, who had two horses and a dog. (Yeah, no one had the heart to remind tiny-me that I’d never be able to afford ANY of the above.) I really believed that I could do and be whatever I wanted, so long as I worked really hard.

So I did. Sort of. I worked really hard up until A-Levels. Then I didn’t, and then I did but for different subjects, and by this time I’d changed my mind about being a Vet anyway. I was going to be a writer.

I wrote every day, like you’re supposed to. I wrote for magazines, I wrote for bloggers, I wrote for myself. I gained a massive following, I made money – I could officially call myself a writer. Except – I wasn’t making enough money, and no one would give me a full-time job because I was ‘too young’. A genuine quote from an interviewer who dismissed me half an hour BEFORE my interview was supposed to start.

I wrote a book, and when I couldn’t find it an agent (after submitting to six agents) I self-published it. I sold 250 copies. I grew to hate it, and I took it down. I studied to become a teacher. I taught English for nearly four years. And with each day and each choice I was making, I was more financially stable – but further away from being a writer. And I was miserable.

I eventually went back to university and did my MA in Creative Writing. After another eight months of teaching, I quit and became a self-employed Creative Writer. I’m still working on getting an agent and traditionally publishing my book – whilst also in the process of self-publishing a book I’ve been told I’m NOT allowed to take down this time. But I’ve had to adapt and change and release so much to hold on to what I have. To make sure that the ‘life’ I have is the one I want. To the point where I can’t ‘close my eyes and imagine…’ what my life could be in a year or five years because I have NO IDEA. My plan isn’t really a plan at all. 

I’m going to keep submitting to agents, I’m going to keep writing, I’m going to keep building my business. But what else? Where do I want to live in five years? What will I be doing? Where will I be going? Who will I be going with?

And I’m way too much of a ‘Type A’ personality to be okay with not knowing this. So if you haven’t heard from me for a while – it’s because I’m doing my absolute best to keep up with the demand I’ve put on myself, with no real taped line of success. And if you don’t hear from me for a while, reach out. I’m probably pondering what the hell my future is supposed to look like.

 

#Gothtober – A Tour of The Gothic

GothtoberOne of the reasons Gothic Fiction was so prolific in its time, was the escapism and wonder of writing about a place your audience has only ‘vaguely heard of’. The mystery and terror of the unknown is the genre’s bread and butter.

However –

Nowadays you can actually VISIT the places these stories are set. And if you decided to do a tour of the Gothic, these are the places I’d recommend.

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The Castle of Otranto, in Otranto Italy.

The Mysteries of Udolpho, in the Spanish/French Pyrenees.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Sleepy Hollow, New York.

Frankenstein’s Germany, maybe don’t make the Arctic trip. Spoiler Alert… they don’t make it.

Dracula’s Romania, Bran’s Castle Transylvania. (This one I’ve actually been to. Blog coming soon).

As for the English Gothic Fiction Novels, you’ll notice they invoke mystery in a different way. In the form of ACTUAL mysteries. Murder or otherwise.

So if you can’t make it across Europe for your tour of the Gothic, maybe visit my Gothic Fiction Event in Lympne, Kent. Get a taste of the Gothic first hand.

And if you haven’t entered our #GothGiveAway – Comment below with your spookiest story!

 

#Gothtober Giveaway!

Gothtober

I haven’t done a give-away in years, but I’m really excited about this one. And entering is really easy!

Priorities: What’s in it? 

Well…20191007_130413.jpg

  • Hotel Chocolat, Crystopher the Vampire Caramel Halloween Box.
  • Moleskin Notebook set. 
  • Pumpkin and Spice Handpoured Candle
  • Rae Dunn’s Wicked Mug
  • Five Go Bump in the Night, Enid Blyton’s stories. 
  • Frankenstein Tshirt 

How do I enter? 

Comment below with #GothGiveAway and an answer to this question:

What is the spookiest thing to ever happen to you? 

You can enter AS MANY TIMES AS YOU LIKE! Each time you do, your name and story get put into a hat and on 18th October the giveaway will close and a winner revealed!

I also bought the most disgusting Spider Lollipops – so two Losers will also be picked and a thank you card and spider lollipop will go to those (un)lucky victors.

So go forth and spread the spook!

And if you haven’t yet bought your ticket for my Gothic Fiction workshop in the spooky 12th Century Castle, what are you waiting for?

 

T&Cs –

*Must be over 13.

*Must be UK or Ireland Resident, for postage.

*Chocolates and Lollipops are not Vegan or Gluten-Free, and contain nuts.

#Gothtober – Gothic Listening

Gothtober

Back in July I wrote a blog post about music being influential on writing, explaining that writers craving silence and solitude was a stereotype and ABSOLUTELY NOT how I like to write. Click here if you want a little slice of recap.

But a TLDR is: Some writers finds the blank page daunting, and music can help break numerous barriers.

And whilst music and literature might not seem synonymous, they both have tangible effects on us as human beings. When you’re a child you learn to sing along to music, keep to a beat and co-ordinate through music, whether that’s through music lessons or simply conditioning within the home. For example, my dad loves The Squeeze, so I know all the words to Up the Junction. (Test me). Equally, your parents might have read to you as a child, instigating your journey to reading and writing. Both are creative outlets developed and intrinsic to the person developing them. They’re large parts of everyone’s lives, whether they realise it or not, and the wider you explore both subjects the more you’ll get out of life and the wider cultural world around you.

The music I play when I’m writing is always curated to suit the mood of my writing.

So, with that in mind. I’ve created a playlist for you to listen to. Check it out on Spotify (not a spon – I don’t have NEARLY enough followers for that yet) and let me know what you think. What music do you listen to when you’re writing?