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”.

#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?

#Gothtober – Gothic Fiction 101

Gothtober

Before Pride and Prejudice could create an idyllic wonderland of Georgian Society, before Charles Dickens could address the poverty and hypocrisy of London life, before Matthew Lewis could creep us all out with The Monk (honestly, I’m not sure I’d recommend you read it) Walpole created The Gothic, a literature movement which would go on to shape countless genres, books and authors, with elements and tropes undisputable and almost undefinable.

I mean, I love Gothic Fiction, but have you ever tried to look up a definition?

Gothic fiction, which is largely known by the subgenre of Gothic horror, is a genre or mode of literature and film that combines fiction and horror, death, and at times romance. Its origin is attributed to English author Horace Walpole, with his 1764 novel The Castle of Otranto, subtitled “A Gothic Story” – Wikipedia.

Seems a bit of an oxymoron – how can Gothic Fiction be a subgenre if the origin is attributed to a book over two hundred and fifty years old? I love Gothic Fiction. It’s spooky and moody, and full of creepy monsters. And it’s not super obvious because it was created during a time of great change.

That said, all the great Literature movements were.

In April 1721, Sir Robert Walpole became the first prime minister – sort of. He was made chancellor of the exchequer, and given 10 Downing street, and his responsibilities were not dissimilar to the responsibilities our current prime minister has (when he remembers… *cough cough*). This continues, no matter his failures, wars with the Spanish, and other messes, right up until 1742 when Walpole resigns as prime minister. He would die three years later.

His son, Horace, aforementioned creator of The Gothic, was Eton and Cambridge educated – though he never completed his degree. He started hanging out (and this is the part where it should be super clear this isn’t a real essay) with Conyers Middleton – a clergyman against superstition and bigotry. Noteworthy due to its rarity. H Walpole also became a politician, but wasn’t as committed to it as his father, choosing instead to focus on his writing, and his beloved palace – Strawberry Hill, Twickenham.

Image result for strawberry hill

If you haven’t been – I’d definitely recommend it.

You see that bit of building which isn’t painted bright white? That’s where I studied Gothic Fiction. In the home turf of the creator. In a cute little lecture room with wallpaper which had about six different greens in it, and spooky paneling and a genuine real hidden door which popped open when I leaned on it. It was just a cupboard full of paper towels, but it was still cool. It created a new trend for architecture and became the template for spooky Ghost castles.

Anyway, back to Gothic Fiction. Travel had become a cosmopolitan luxury. People were traveling further, experiencing more than ever and writing all about it. And everything that was ‘other’ and ‘alien’ was terrifying. And literature, being the easiest and most accessible sponge, allowed the world to see without ever leaving their homes. Walpole had been all over France and Italy. It took him years to visit places it can take us two hours to fly to. (Sixteen if you’re flying Sleazy jet). 

Horace Walpole wrote The Castle of Otranto in 1764. The second in a long list of books he’d write developing his Gothic tropes. And thus an era was born.

Welcome to #Gothtober

Gothtober

Okay, so… your first question might be – what is Gothtober? Or it might be, why? Both are reasonable. And I can explain.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a princess. *Cue the sicky noises. But, after my mum introduced me to some real princesses (the pageant kind) who wanted to borrow her very expensive dresses, parade about in them and smile – a lot – I decided being a princess probably wasn’t for me.

Skip twenty(ish) years – I’m definitely NOT a princess. Thank (insert preferred deity here). But that doesn’t mean my interest and love of the fantastical has died. In fact – quite the opposite. I get to visit castles, wear ball gowns, tame dragons (though the last bit isn’t in the literal sense) all the time. And I realised some months ago – I’m really lucky, and I had the opportunity to let people in on the party.

So back to your first question: What is Gothtober? Well, it’s 31 days of blog posts, pictures, games, videos, giveaways, and Q&As about Gothic Fiction, Ghost Stories and the dark underbelly of the fantasy worlds living in our heads. It’s a calendar count down to my event – Creative Writing Workshop – Gothic Fiction – and a sneak peek to the event itself. You see, Gothic Fiction is the Great Grandfather of all your favourite genres – Murder Mysteries, Horror, Thriller, Fantasy, Historical Fiction and Science Fiction. They all stem from the Gothic. And if you want to develop your writing – it might be a fun little exercise to try writing some Gothic Fiction of your own.

And – why Gothtober? That’s easy.

Image result for morticia addams gif

You see, once I got over the whole ‘wanting to be a princess’ I decided I wanted to be Morticia Addams. She has way more fun.

So enjoy this excuse to lacquer your nails in black, pull out your darkest lipstick, and listen to some dark and moody tunes, and don’t forget to comment below with your favourite Goth. 

On 3… Review of The Rabbit Girls

IMG_20190909_083536_264Usually, I preface these reviews with the intro about how I only read three chapters being interrupted by my mum… yada yada. But today’s review is part of a #BlogTour for Anna Ellory and I’ve decided to take a slight detour – so, if you’re ready for the emotional rollercoaster, sitting comfortably etc, I’ll begin.

Storytime: (If you’re not interested and want to just read my review, feel free to return at the **)

Five or six years ago, I was an ad-hoc daytime companion for a lady named Erna. She had dementia, was bedridden, amongst a long list of other ailments. She couldn’t watch television for more than five minutes without changing the channel a hundred times, unable to concentrate on anything, distracted or irritated. She hated having a pillow under her knee, but the nurse insisted. She’d try and trick you into moving the pillow, but you had to stand firm against her wily fragility. And she would scream or cry if left alone for more than two minutes, even if she’d asked you to make her a tea or fetch the paper.

But I sat with her, for hours, days, because I loved her husband, John Kidson, like an adopted granddad. And if he needed me to sit with Erna whilst he went to the rugby, Tescos or any other reason – I would be there for them.

At around one o’clock, the nurses would come. They’d always politely suggest I go have something to eat or leave the room so Erna could be bathed, changed and everything else. In my young and selfish mind, I was really glad I wasn’t the one who actually had to care for Erna. That I could walk away.

Stories about anyone in this position always make me uncomfortable, because books are an escape for me. A separate world from my own which is – hopefully – slightly less tragic than the Brexit hellscape we’re currently living in.

But with Rabbit Girls… I didn’t feel I could put it down. Not just but because I’d agreed to do this blog (I was actually two-thirds of the way through it when I was asked) but because the writing begged to be read. The story deserved to be told. And I’d agreed, whether consciously or not, to keep my promise and find out how it ended.

** The Review.

 Speaking of hellscapes… In half the story, the Berlin wall has fallen and in the other half, the Holocaust plagues our charming and compassionate characters as they’re tortured, experimented on and systematically destroyed. Both stories are intertwined by family, hope in the darkest of times and rebellion. Miriam Winter is caring for her dying father, Henryk, when she discovers an Auschwitz tattoo under his watch strap. Miriam, needing to understand more about her father’s past, discovers an inmate’s uniform which has letters smuggled within it.

What you should expect before going into this is:

  1. You’re going to cry. A lot. Have tissues etc prepared.
  2. You’re going to question yourself, whether you’re a good person. Whether, like me, you’re selfishly hiding from cruel realities others have suffered.
  3. You’re going to be in awe of the writing. It’s incredible, there’s no denying that.

Anna Ellory is a master (with a Masters) craftswoman of literary fiction, historical realities, and intriguing characters and narratives. It feels authentic, and it hurts. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

And I’m really excited to say this, to Anna’s face (potentially in an aggressive-loving-kinda-way) next week when I see her.

100/10 would recommend. Thank you for letting me be part of your Blog Tour!

 

On 3… The Night Manager

51p5pzv02HL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgHow do you create tension in the opening chapters of a book, without giving the game away? Without over-egging the pudding and making the tension unsustainable? Without boring your audience into early retirement.

Well,

You start by using present tense. If everything is happening in the moment, how could you not be caught up along for the ride? But then you juxtapose it with past tense, develop the story, the narrative and the characters. Their motives and motivations are in their pasts, their personalities and choices will be defined by those pasts and you’ll have to read more to see if they surprise you. They probably will.

The dialogue within your tense narrative should be strong. Almost script like. A complete contrast to the heavy setting description. It should flow like a real conversation, jar in the right places. Pause for reflection. Counter. And one person should always know more than the other.

For this, you need to have a compelling protagonist. Someone who is both relatable and ready for the action ahead of them. Possibly you might have an ex-military man turned night manager. Perhaps, there’s more to this mild mannered, well dressed individual than meets the eye.

‘Tentative, with a smile of apologetic self-protection.’

Of course, if you’re going to describe your characters this way, with a ‘mildness of manner and a fighter’s frame,’ you should also – and I cannot stress this enough – hire Tom Hiddleston to play him in the television series adaptation.

Mum: “The fatal thing about watching a film or tv series before you read the book is that you know what the character looks like. In the book, Le Carre is beautifully descriptive of Jonathan Pine but his description bears little resemblance to the gorgeous hunk who played him.”

Okay, you can stop dribbling now.

Mum: “The conversation between Pine and Madame Sophie was lovely, flirtatious. I could imagine myself with Tom Hiddleston… but that’s irrelevant really.”

I’m going to be sick.

I watched the series of The Night Manager before I read the book, which was definitely the wrong way around. When you know how this book ends, every sentence is edged with a tenacity for the final battle – which you obviously don’t get in the first three chapters. You do get a lot in the first three chapters, but your never satisfied. Always hungry for more.

John Le Carre has created a modern story in a classic style. His Fleming-esque characters are picture perfect for their seduction, mystery and cruelty. And of course, missiles and other nasty things are put on the table in chapter one.

Mum: “Excellent writing. It really captured my imagination. For some reason, I forgot that Hugh Laurie played the baddie (Roper) and had a completely different, horrible, obnoxious actors face in my head.”

Hitchcock once said of film, ‘if you have a gun on the wall in the first act, then it must go off in the second.’ Tension is then increased because we already know the stakes. This man, the one Pine (our protagonist) fears, is working with weapons that could kill thousands. Any additional stakes throughout the story will drive the plot but eventually these ‘Chekov’s gun’s must go off. And our Jonathan Pine is the only person we know in the way to stop him.

If you’re looking to develop your writing skills, read The Night Manager.

If you want to enjoy a spy-thriller with teeth, read The Night Manager.

If you want to imagine a world outside your mundane, read The Night Manger.

Basically what I’m saying is –

Well I don’t think I need to repeat myself. Do you?

The Book Junkie Trial’s Readathon – The Reading List.

I’m taking part in a readathon.

Did I know readathon’s existed before last year? No. Was that because I didn’t watch enough Booktubers? Probably.

I’m 27 years old – and I’m not going to lie, I had to think about it for a second. Time was people would read a book, and then find a select group of friends you could talk about that book with. These people would be the bread and butter of your recommendations and book chat. Without them, your creativity might starve. Or you’d spend a lot of time at the library skimming through things you may or may not actually enjoy reading.

Then came the internet, and an inter-galaxy of opportunities to give your opinion and share reading experiences. And, unfortunately, until now I’ve not had the time to enjoy this outside of ‘reading for half an hour before going to bed.’ But since I’ve become self-employed and I’ve developed a Book Review Blog with my mum, I’ve made the time to read more. Which is why I’m taking part in a readathon.

Last year I set myself the goal of reading (and actually finishing) 12 books. One a month. Shouldn’t have been too difficult except it was. Whilst I was teaching, I couldn’t scrape five minutes for a smoothie let alone the hours it would take for me to enjoy 12 books. I’m by no means a ‘speed-reader’ and it blows my mind that there are wonderful people out there who ‘read the whole of the Harry Potter series in a weekend.’

Just know I’ve seen you. I respect you. I also kinda loathe you.

So I didn’t reach my target. Not even close. But it’s a new year, and I’ve got a new job that works to my own schedule. So I’m taking part in a readathon.

Scribes Map

Naomi (@TeatimewithNaomi) suggested The Book Junkie Trials, which was going to be a fantasy style readathon run by her majesty, Rachael Marie. It was the perfect choice. Her majesty organised a quiz to put you into a team, and I became a scribe. She created a map for each team and little additional ‘trials’ like sharing photos of your TBR and tweeting about your Daemon. Before the readathon had even started, I’d found a thousand new people to follow (only slight hyperbole) and all these like-minded, wonderful people wanted to talk to me about books! Dream accomplished. 

So I thought I’d post this before the readathon starts, because I’m going to be posting more blogs as I work through my reading list. Below is what I’ve chosen and why:

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The Prompts

1. Dwarf Mount: You spot a fair tavern wench, however, the Dwarf Mines, grimey and dusty, didn’t evoke a very romantic feeling. Read a book with a hint of romance to get you in the mood.

I chose Blackhearts by Nicole Castroman. It has been on my general TBR list for a while, and promises passion and pirates! Seemed like the perfect place to start.

2. Apothecary Towers: Where the wizards dwell. Tricksters. They have blind-folded you and randomised all your books, choose a book at random from your bookshelf.

Technically, I didn’t choose this, but Scarlet by Marissa Meyer was recommended to me by a friend after I threatened to give up on the series after thinking the first book, ‘Cinder’ was meh. Nothing wrong with Cinder, it just didn’t hold my interest as much as I wanted it to. And my two favourite characters died so it left me with very little root for. I’ve been promised book two in the series is worth going back for.

3. The Great Library: Ahh the great archives, find and read a book that has been on your TBR forever.

I bought Cruel Prince during the great hype of 2018. Which might not seem like forever ago, but we’re five months away from 2020. Just give yourself a minute to let that sink in. I avoided reading it because those who read and finished it before I could get my hands on a copy did not review it highly. So I kept putting it off and reading other things. So I guess it kinda counts.

4. The Drowning Deep: The Whirlpool… is so…. mesmerising. Read a book with rich world-building that will suck you into its own world, instead.

Because I’m a Scribe, the weakness attributed to me was ‘I spend too much time documenting my findings, so my challenges take longer. I must read a book over 500 pages.’ Turns out I’ve read quite a few books over 500 pages, but not within a month. I needed something with incredible world building and staying power. So I chose The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson. Whilst I was on my MA course, I joined a creative writing group which focused on Fantasy called Moonrakers. So I got to spend a lot of time talking about fantasy with other fantasy nerds and just generally living my best life. Brandon Sanderson was quoted on a regular basis and even though I’ve read hundreds of fantasy books, I was promised by all that this was the author I needed to sink my teeth into. The hype is real, so I hope it delivers.

5. The Bookie Grail: Here you find a lost manuscript, delivered on this forgotten island by a fallen star. Read the group book: Stardust.

So, that’s my reading list. I’ve got 31 days to complete it. Wish me luck!

On 3… A Review of We Were Liars.

The concept: 

If you read the previous ‘On 3…’ you can skip this bit.

You know that feeling when you’re half way through a book, and you’re already sick of it but you have to finish it? No? Oh… yeah… erm… me either… I guess. Well, I’m trying to break that habit – which I don’t have – with popular fiction books I’ve not read. Yet.

So I’m trying something different. When submitting to agents, you have to hook them with three chapters. So, I’m going to review the following novel on three chapters – and no more. These reviews are a teaser of what’s yet to come within the narrative, the questions the novel sets before the reader, and whether I would continue to read or not.

And – as so much of my life is – this review will be interrupted and ‘corrected’ by my mum.

We Were Liars

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Can I just say, I love a map. And a family tree. During my time studying Historical Fiction at Bath Spa University for my MA, I was told that including a family tree or a timeline was a ‘bit of a cop out’ as the story should world-build around the time you’re including for your story. But that the opening page is a map of Beechwood Island, with the building names and families in residence, and then the second page is the Sinclair family tree suggests a uniformity and quintessential nature to the world I’m about to travel through.

Which, of course, is perfectly in sync with the jarring opening sentences.

‘Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.’

Why does that strike me as insincere?

Cadence Sinclair Eastman sounds like every over-dramatic, hormone ridden student having a bad day. She’s full of existential crises and an overwhelming desire to both stand out and stay hidden. She’s condescending about her aunt’s ‘stay at home’ position, whilst calling her own mum ‘mummy’, seems overtly disgusted by money whilst spending it from a comfortable position of ‘not bothering to understand’ where the money comes from. I don’t like her. She’s too much a poet, and as a narrator – less than reliable.

Mum: ‘I’m so glad the first three chapters are no more than 3.5 pages. The short, staccato sentences were clearly meant to give impact and drama. I was just irritated by them. What utter drivel.’

I feel like it’s a stylistic choice to develop the character as opposed to just ‘for the drama,’ but I’ll echo my point from earlier that she seems over-dramatic and hormone ridden. As condescending as that might sound. A lot of literary writers at the moment are dropping the drawn-out complex sentences for short, brusque responses to the situation of the story and the character’s immediate thought. And We Were Liars is – in my opinion – literary fiction. The conflict so far has been internalised. Her father has left. Her family is a mess but won’t admit it. But, the ‘bullet’ – which I didn’t realise was a metaphor at first – is in her chest. Not out in open play.

And if you think I’m kidding about the metaphor – I genuinely read the sentence

‘And then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest’.

Twice with the response – Wait. What? Before realising she’d just had a break down at her dad driving away.

Mum: Oh. I read it three times and thought she’d actually been shot.

What? And then got up and gone shopping for furniture? With a chest wound?

Mum: That’s what she said. I was captured by the cover. I thought it was written for grown ups, a murder mystery and not a poetry-literary-teen-y bleurgh. It’s too deep.

And you say I’ve got a short attention span.

Mum: I just feel I was sold a pup. I thought it would be a grown up book for grown ups. But it was a sheep in wolf clothing.

Mum: The pretence to show the families as wealthy and clearly something to be proud of, or jealous depending on how you view Americans, was pathetic. It was like name dropping celebrities to gain kudos. Martha’s Vineyard, Ivy League colleges and famous cities were through out to prove a point, but instead made a pathetic attempt at a lazy list of places where the rich supposedly hang out.

They are obvious sign posts – but – signposting works. If I were to write a story about someone from Portsmouth University meeting someone from St Andrews – you’d immediately have expectations about both people just from the signposted uni alone. (To be clear, I don’t have a preference on either, but there’s a reason Kate Middleton met her prince charming at St Andrews and not Portsmouth.) And if this novel was marketed for teenagers (which makes sense because the character is 17, so her target audience would be 15-ish) then the signposts don’t need to be clever or intricate. They need to be clear. These people are clearly filthy rich.

Mum: I won’t be reading any further. Waste of space on the bookshelf.

I never thought I’d find myself defending We Were Liars. I guess a part of me remembers that it was one of my favourite students (I know it’s bad form to admit I had favourites but hey, what are you going to do?) that recommended the book to me in the first place. And whilst the language is both flowery and brief, over-emotional and stark, I do think there’s a place for it and I can see why so many young people enjoy it.

I am intrigued to find out what the ‘accident’ is because you don’t find out in the first three chapters. And I fully expect the family to unravel and reveal themselves to be less than worthy of the time the narrator spends thinking and talking about them. Maybe We Were Liars is worth the rest of my afternoon.

Only one way to find out.

Storytime – James Bond.

James Bond 

The tack room smelt of saddle wax and damp. A bizarre mixture of plastic and leather, oats and hay. A scent a thousand teenage girls carried with them, until they don’t. Riding lessons had been cancelled, so the other girls and I huddled inside, happy we at least had a counter to climb on and a mini fridge to raid. A small heater clicked in its corner as it attempted to heat the cold concrete, and we waited for our parents.

I was the youngest. Too short to climb up onto the counter, too chubby to try. Relegated to the floor. The cold seeped through my jodhpurs, and I still had my helmet on. It was heavy and warm on my head. Plus, the strap was fiddly.

I felt buried in my own silence. Redundant. The older girls were talking about boys. Who they fancied, when they would see them next, whilst I looked up at these girls wondering if I’d be invited to join in. One of the nicer girls noticed I was watching, and out of some misguided kindness extended the question to me.

‘Is there a boy you fancy?’

I’d had time to think about it, so my response was immediate.

‘James Bond.’ I said. ‘I love James Bond.’

There was silence. Tight lips tucked in on themselves.

‘Which one?’ a blonde girl broke.

Too young to understand, I persisted, ‘James Bond. All of them.’

Hyena like, pack-cackling rippled through the tack room, and I realised too late I’d made a mistake.

‘Do you mean Pierce Brosnan?’ a third girl pressed. She didn’t have kind eyes or a nice temper. She was baiting me. I was smart enough to know that much. If one of the nicer girls had asked, I’d have been more honest. I’d have explained the difference between traditional Bond over the newer, flashier Bond with his out of control gadgets and unnecessary explosions.

But I buckled under the eyes of this older girl. I nodded. Feeling like a coward. Not brave enough to admit Sean Connery was better.

*

A few years later, the scent of saddle wax had been replaced by salt watered air and evening cold. The faux shipwreck, climbing wall and wooden towers of Folkestone’s coastal park were haloed by the orange fluorescents of metal streetlights. Strange shades were cast by the palm trees, as our playground attempted its best impression of being anything other than a fishing town.

I’d been abandoned by my friends who were smoking weed in the top tower of the wooden castle. A boy with curly hair had offered me a toke and I’d politely refused.

He and I sat in the little children’s boats that rocked, his feet touched the floor whilst mine did not. He thought he was a bad boy because he’d done a bit of shop lifting, skipped school and smoked weed. He’d had sex too, which he was clearly proud of. He also walked his niece to school, played rugby religiously and offered me his hoodie when I shivered. I refused that too. I was determined to be warm in my rugby training jacket with South East Girls printed in barbie pink across my back. I didn’t want to look needy.

Our friends heckled us from the tower. Making smoochie noises and laughing. He gave them the middle finger back, like a bad boy. And I laughed.

When the shouting died down, and fresh smoke billowed out of the tower. The tall boy relaxed his body into a slouch. I relaxed too. I liked this boy; he was funny and nice and that was all it took for me to like someone. He’d told me that he fancied someone in our group, and a small part of me hoped that now we were alone he’d tell me who it was. Not so I could mock, or shriek or sympathise. Just my common curiosity.

‘Is there someone you fancy?’ he asked, watching me in the haze of orange and black.

Less than a second passed before I answered. His game was clear to me, because it was the same as mine. I decided to reward his curiosity with the truth. Not the whole truth, I knew James Bond was not going to be the right answer. But I would tell this tall, curly haired rugby player exactly how I felt.

I shrugged. Looked him dead in the eye so he knew I was being honest and said,

‘Nah. Boys are stupid.’

On 3…Review of The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

The concept: 

You know that feeling when you’re half way through a book, and you’re already sick of it but you have to finish it? No? Oh… yeah… erm… me either… I guess. Well, I’m trying to break that habit – which I don’t have – with popular fiction books I’ve not read. Yet.

So I’m trying something different. When submitting to agents, you have to hook them with three chapters. So, I’m going to review the following novel on three chapters – and no more. These reviews are a teaser of what’s yet to come within the narrative, the questions the novel sets before the reader, and whether I would continue to read or not. 

And – as so much of my life is – this review will be interrupted and ‘corrected’ by my mum.

The Flatshare, Beth O’Leary.

The Flatshare
My promise to review this months ago…

 

The Flatshare has a really fresh premise for a love story. Two people, in the same space but never meeting. Communicating by little notes around their shared space. The blurb promised imprisoned brothers, obsessive ex-boyfriends and demanding clients. All tropes for a perfect storm of conflict, and because romance isn’t my go-to genre of favourite reading, this seemed like a new leaf for me and my reading habits.

Mum: “I like it. It’s definitely the sort of book I would take on holiday and will finish within the first few days sat by the pool. I didn’t read the blurb deliberately so that I wasn’t in a position to star second guessing how the story would go.”

But my cynical brain couldn’t turn off when I finally met the main characters.

Tiffany is an assistant editor who puts plants in the way of people she doesn’t want to talk to. She’s got polarised best friends who seem to have all met at university but never lived together; which I’ve got a lot of questions about, but I’ll get to that. She’s also got an ex-boyfriend, who has a sofa she’s been living on for the last few months. Which I’ve also got a lot of questions about, but I’ll get to that.

The other main character is Leon, a monosyllabic night nurse who speaks only to the reader through truncated sentences and with ‘need to know’ information. He has a girlfriend with suitable ‘antagonist’ appeal – but that’s all the information about Leon we get.

Mum: “I struggled with the change of style of writing to reflect Tiff and Leon. I can understand his sentence structure will not be as flowing and romantically created as Tiffs and is maybe trying to reflect the difference between a creative person and one in a medical/scientific environment but his early story was too staccato for me and I was glad to move back to Tiff.”

You’re wrong, mum, but okay. This was my first disappointment. Tiffany feels like a collection of so many romantic heroines that it was nice to have Leon’s thoughts to create some discord from the usual. But of the totalled eleven pages the first three chapters get, Leon only gets two. We get a physical description of Leon from Tiffany, who has the audacity to explain he’s not her type. Come on. We’re reading a Leon is a romance. You can’t pull the wool over my eyes that easily. But, if anything was going to make me read on, it’s Leon’s perspective.

But as we get more of Tiffany – I need to return to her story.

I mentioned questions I had about her living situation:

  1. Why did she and her boyfriend break up? She mentions that he ‘always comes back’ suggesting maybe he plays away or finds her lacking in some way.
    • Why do romances have to perpetuate the idea we have to stick around for someone who doesn’t appreciate us to ‘make it work’. You might love that person but love yourself enough to know this isn’t healthy. Please.

Mum: “She’s hanging on to her romantic past with a guy who has clearly moved on to his next conquest. She’s being used as a ‘fuck buddy.’”

Please. For the love of all we hold dear, never say Fuck Buddy again in my presence.

Mum: “But she is! He keeps coming back for more!”

I feel sick.

  1. Why does she think it’s okay to live on his sofa for months? Why is she surprised that after months he wants rent money? Why is she surprised that the new girlfriend isn’t happy with the arrangement?
    • If I was dating someone, and their ex was still living on their sofa – I’d be out of there. Ex’s can be friends but having someone that you were emotionally and physically intimate still in your space is baggage you’ve not dealt with yet. And I’m bringing my own pile of damage- I mean baggage for us to deal with. I don’t need hers. She’s got to go.

Mum: “I’m guessing the split was much more one sided. I’m not surprised her replacement wants her out of the flat.”

  1. What did Tiffany do that ‘disappointed’ Justin (the ex) so much that he wrote her a Facebook message doing a 180 on their creepy little arrangement? And why is that not what Tiffany focuses on, but the fact he says she’s ‘been taking advantage’ of him?
    • She may well have taken advantage. He may well be emotionally manipulating her, but we’re not given what the behaviour or thing was – so how can we fully back either character? It doesn’t feel like an ‘unreliable narrator’ or ‘untruthful narrator’. It just feels like she’s self-absorbed. Maybe she is.

And at the end of chapter 3, we learn Justin is engaged to this new girlfriend. Her friends think she’ll handle this so poorly that they get her drunk before telling her. Sounds like a healthy coping mechanism…

So, her friends:

  1. What degree did these people do? That you’ve got an assistant editor and a barrister and a scruff bag on the same course?
    • I’m assuming the same course because at no point have they lived together. And having been to Uni twice, I met people through three things. Course, societies and living situation. But these friends are so polarised – it doesn’t seem authentic. People don’t have to be dressed in opposites and act opposite to have differing opinions and behaviours.
    • Friends should have something in common, no? And you can’t tell me Tiffany is their link because they’ve started living together!

Mum: “I like Tiff and her friends. They are stereotypical of the friendships I like to follow. Friends I would like to have in my life although mine know better than to ply me with alcohol.”

Thank God.

Mum: “Her friends care. In a similar vein to Four Weddings and a Funeral kind of way. I feel like I know Tiff early on in the book and I like her.”

  1. How old are Gerty and Mo?
    • There’s a historical fiction concept called the ‘Tiffany Problem’ that suggests people have set ideas about history and anything that jars with that idea is questioned. So even though the name Tiffany is medieval, if you had King Henry VIII talking to a Tiffany – no one would believe it.
    • Equally – Gerty and Mo age these characters. Not only do they seem more emotionally mature than Tiffany (prepped to buy their own flat which is ‘eye wateringly expensive’, and don’t think the flat share is a good idea) their names make them sound like they should be in their forties.

Okay – I think I’ve really dug into the characters enough… Sorry O’Leary.

Dialogue though… that’s something I’m struggling with in this novel. I’ll give you an example:

‘We could have put you under the dining table if you were less than 5’9’ – Gerty about Tiffany.

Erm, what? I’ve never met anyone who drops descriptive exposition bombs like that in a conversation before. There are so many ways for someone to be shown as tall that this is just… weird.

Leon’s take on dialogue is interesting because it reads like a transcript of the events. But, as I’ve already said, there isn’t enough Leon to really create a contrast between characters. If I were to take all the dialogue from Tiffany’s chapters and get you to link them to people who say them, unless you know the book really well it would be difficult to separate them. They all get the Tiffany twang and idiosyncrasies given to them, which is understandable. I do a particular voice when I’m repeating dialogue from people I’ve spoken, but she’s rendering the dialogue as it happens so there should be some individuality that breaks through that. And yet it doesn’t.

So: how does the first three chapters leave me?

Do I care that Justin is engaged? Not especially. Good luck to him. Tiffany needs to grow up a bit.

Do I care that Leon is nervous about telling his girlfriend about the flatshare? Not really. It would be more interesting if she’d suggested it, thus creating the wedge between them whilst Leon kept working towards a strong relationship.

But it’s a romance isn’t it? The two main characters are going to get together. Was I tempted to read the last line and found out if I was right? Yeah, actually I was. Because even though I find Tiffany bizarre and unreliable, and the dialogue difficult to chew through, Leon has potential. And I’ve not got to the premise of them actually living together yet. I want to know how that pans out. How their behaviours fall into patterns and how they eventually meet in person. What does Justin do that makes him obsessive because I’ve not seen anything yet? And where’s the imprisoned brother?

Mum: “I’m looking forward to pinching this book to take on holiday so that I can finish it!”

Yeah. Well done O’Leary, we’d both read past three chapters.