Results of 2018 Reading Challenge and Why I’m Not Doing One in 2019

I completed a reading challenge in 2017 and enjoyed it so much I decided to do another one in 2018. I spotted the perfect one when it was posted in a Facebook group I belong to. The challenge was 40 books for 40 years and was set up by a group of book-loving friends who were all turning 40 in 2018. As I was also turning 40 in 2018 I thought this would be a great challenge to join in. Here are the books I chose. As you can see, there is one missing! I will explain why I am not doing a challenge this year at the end of the post.

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1)A book about ww1Barefoot on The Cobbles by Janet Few (a bit of a cheat as the book was not specifically about WW1 but it did cover that time period and I really wanted to help out a fellow indie author and read her book!)

2)A non-fiction book about sport – knew I would struggle with this one, and despite a few helpful suggestions from people towards the end, I ran out of time, plus couldn’t be bothered!

3)A Crime novelSix Stories by Matt Wesolowski – absolutely brilliant, highly recommended, unique format, incredibly creepy and Hydra by the same author is wonderful too. His next book Changeling is on my to-read list!

4)A book for adults written by a predominantly children’s authorThe Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I’ve never read Harry Potter but was curious to read this and I was pleasantly surprised. It kept my attention and kept me entertained when staying overnight in the hospital with my son!

5)A sequel to a book you’ve already read – Force of Nature by Jane Harper – a slight cheat again, as it’s not really a sequel, but it is her second book and contains the same main character!

6) A book that’s been on your TBR pile for more than 12 months – Release – Patrick Ness – one of my favourite authors, so this was an easy one and did not disappoint

7) An autobiography – Johnny Cash – I’m a fan, plus it was an excuse to read a book I’d bought my mum for Christmas! Really enjoyed this

8) A Carnegie medal winner – One by Sarah Crossan – a quick google of Carnegie medal winners and I liked the sound of this. It was a very quick read, written in verse. Pretty good.

9) A historical novel – The Finest Hat In The Whole World – Colleen Parkinson – an easy choice, as the author is a friend of mine, and this book is incredible! I don’t normally read historical fiction but this was an epic family saga and I couldn’t put it down.

10) A book that is about Summer – Jackdaw Summer by David Almond – my son and I love David Almond and are working out way through his books, so this was an easy and very enjoyable choice. Also a quick read!

11) A book with a prominent character who is LGBTQIA – Symptoms of Being Human – Jeff Garvin – This was a book on my to-read list anyway, so it was another easy choice and I really loved this book. YA at its best.

12) A book with a number in the title – 11.22.63 by Stephen King – I love Stephen King so when I saw this title I knew it was the one to read to tick off number 12. Great book!

13) The final book in a series – Bonds of Blood and Spirit – Legacies – When I was a reviewer for the sadly defunct site Underground Book Reviews, I picked this series to read as it sounded so different to anything I normally go for. Vampires, werewolves and shapeshifters. This was the last in the series and the last book I ever read and reviewed for UBR! Fantastic series.

14) A book from a genre you normally avoid – Jackson by Tracy Podger – This is a romance book, I guess, but a very hard-hitting gritty one. I’d seen it come up in some groups I’m in on Facebook and although I never read romance or erotica, I decided to pick it for this challenge as it sounded pretty interesting. It was a really good book and it was really good to try a genre I normally avoid!

15) A children’s book you didn’t read as a child – Danny Champion of the World by Roald Dahl – I somehow missed this as a child but thoroughly enjoyed it for the first time as an adult!

16) A book originally published under a nom de plume – The Secret Path (Spooksville Book 1) by Christopher Pike – a google search brought Christopher Pike up as someone who writes under a pen name. I’d forgotten about his books, but I actually devoured tons of these as a young teen! I didn’t really enjoy this one though, or his writing style, now I’m an adult. I kind of skim read this.

17) A book recommended to you by a friend – The Minotaur Hunt by Miriam Hastings – My favourite indie author Kate Rigby recommended this indie book to me and I’m so glad I read it, as it’s a fantastic example of how amazing self-pubbed books can be! A disturbing examination of mental illness, I couldn’t put this down.

18) A book with a title featuring the weather – Black Storm by Mark Gillespie – Mark is an author I’ve been following for some time. I try to read as many of his books as I can, but he writes so many, it’s a job to keep up! If you like dark post-apocalyptic, dystopian and alternative history, in short, sharp bursts of action, this is the author for you.

19) A book whose title begins with the first letter of your name – Clay by David Almond – Another David Almond book, so I was happy. Just love his work!

20) A book you chose solely by the cover – Ink by Alice Broadway- beautiful cover and intriguing blurb, but this left me underwhelmed. I just couldn’t care about the characters of the story, so won’t be reading any more in the series.

21) A book where the illustrator is credited on the front cover – The Song From Somewhere Else by A.F Harrold – a kids books in the vein of David Almond, but not as good, I picked this up for one of my kids and as it is full of beautiful illustrations, the artist was credited on the front cover

22) A book published in the year you were born – Still I Rise by Maya Angelou – I don’t normally read poetry, but this was a real treat and worth doing the whole challenge for.

23) A book set in a country you’ve never visited before – Girlhood by Cat Clarke –set in Scotland. I’ve always wanted to go but haven’t made it yet. My daughter bought herself four books by this author and I read some all. Some were better than others, but my daughter got more from them than I did.

24) A book based on or inspired by a true story – Smash all the Windows by Jane Davis – a different tragedy unfolds here, but this was inspired by the Hillsborough tragedy, and Jane Davis is a fantastic indie writer I follow. I’ve read quite a few of hers now and they never disappoint.

25) a book translated from another language – Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin – Wow, this was different. Creepy, eerie, dark, confusing.

26) A Book of short stories – Paisley Shirt by Gail Aldwin – I rarely read short story collections, but I should make more effort, This was a real treat written by an author I know.

27) A book about a culture you don’t know much about – The Fragile Thread of Hope by Pankaj Giri – I’m sorry to say I didn’t finish this one. I just couldn’t get into it and sadly none of the characters interested me.

28) A collaboration novel (2 or more authors) – Sleeping Beauties by Stephen and Owen King – another slightly disappointing one. It was good, but not great, and it was the characters that let me down. I just struggled to care about them!

29) A book by an author you’ve never read before – Mexican Whiteboy by Matt De La Penna – I think this was on my to-read list for some reason, but I’d never heard of the author and it was a pleasure to discover he has more than one book out as I really, really enjoyed this. The characterisation was spot on. I will definitely read the rest of his when I can!

30) A book with an alliterative title – Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay – bought this for my daughter as she had been enjoying the TV show, but sadly I didn’t really enjoy it, or the TV show.

31) A book you spotted on bookstagram – The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Saenz- having read and loved Aristotle and Dante Discover The Secrets Of The Universe, I spotted this on Instagram and knew I had to read it. It was brilliant and I love this author!

32) A fantasy novel – The Oscillator – JK Neve – a brilliant, short, YA fantasy novel written by a guy who comes to my writing group, this was an easy choice!

33) A book set in space – Space Police by David Blake – spotted in a Facebook group, knew it would help tick this one off, but it wasn’t my kind of book

34) re-read a book you read as a child – My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards – I loved these books as a child so it was great to read this one again!

35) A book of poetry or a book written in verse – With Double blade – Jean Gill – again, don’t often read poetry, so it was good to be dragged out of my comfort zone and I really liked this

36) A book considered a classic in your favourite genre – The Pigman by Paul Zindel – My favourite genre is YA, and this was a pleasure to read.

37) A green book – Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood – This came up when I googled ‘green’ books, and as I loved The Handmaid’s Tale, it was an easy pick, but I didn’t really like it, sadly. It just didn’t do much for me.

38) A 2018 debut novel – The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo – Brilliant YA book written in poetic verse, I devoured this and loved every page.

39) Read a holiday-themed book around the time of that holiday – Pet Sematary by Stephen King – another slight cheat. I chose Halloween and this is a spooky book, but not one specifically about Halloween. Was great reading it again though, and it prompted me to watch the old version of the film again.

40) Start a book on your birthday, a book that simply takes your fancy! – The Outsider by Stephen King – I got this as a birthday present so it was the perfect choice and I really really enjoyed this one.

So, there they are. The good and the not so good, as well as the slight cheats and the one I didn’t read! I’m proud to point out that there are 12 indie books in this list! It was great to be able to tick books off from the challenge and help out my fellow indies at the same time. This was a great challenge and I mostly enjoyed it, however, I’m not doing one this year. Last year, most of my reading time was taken up by trying to complete this challenge and by editing my own books on my kindle. Therefore, my to-read list of books I actually want to check out is ridiculous! I need to tackle that this year and I don’t want to read any books that are not my kind of thing. It is good to get out of your comfort zone, and I admit that the poetry, short stories, romance and historical fiction books I read for this challenge were all a pleasant surprise, but at the same time, you know what you like, don’t you? I know what I like, and what I am always searching for is compelling, well-written and character driven books, in almost any genre. Hard to find at times!

So, folks what did you read in 2018? What was the best book you read? The most disappointing? Did you discover any new authors? Are you going to take part in a reading challenge this year? Please feel free to comment and share!

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My 2019 Writing Goals

Here we go again. After comparing my 2018 goals to the reality last week, now I will be setting out my goals for 2019. You can find out how I fared with my goals in 2018 here.

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  1. Submit some writing-related articles –  I’ve written some well-received articles for Author’s Publish in the past and have quite a few drafts of potential articles. I’ve just not had the time to polish them up and submit them! I need to get back into doing this. It’s fun, it’s great for exposure, it improves writing skills and it pays! I should have more time in 2019 with my youngest finally in full-time school.
  2. Continue To Work On The Six-Part Series, The Boy With The Thorn In His Side and release parts 3 and 4 early in the year – This was a surprising thing that happened in 2018 and pushed some other plans out of the queue. I reworked and revised the original novel into two parts and re-released in 2018. I then wrote a brand new part 3 and reworked what was the sequel This Is The Day, into what will serve as part 4. I then penned a very rough part 5 in a notebook and planned part 6. I know how it will all end and I’m so excited to get it done! In 2019 I aim to release parts 3 and 4 very soon as they are almost ready, and get part 5 to second or third draft status.
  3. Publish A Song For Bill Robinson – this book is ready and has been waiting very patiently for over a year! I spent all of last year polishing up Elliot Pie and getting side-tracked by The Boy series. This YA novel should see a release in 2019. I may try a few small press publishers first and if no joy, I will publish it with Pict and release probably late spring, early summer.
  4. Continue to work on YA post-apocalyptic series and get first draft of the first book completed– This is another thing that keeps getting pushed back, but I have got to Chapter Twelve now in the first draft of book one. If I can get that first draft done in 2019 I will be very happy.
  5. Continue to work on the various writing projects under my Community Interest Company, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group – There are two on the go. One in planning stages. Lots and lots more I want to do, but in 2018 time and fear really got in my way…I’ve decided I really need to get braver and more pro-active with all of this. I started the business in 2015 and became a CIC at the end of 2017. 2018 was my first year as a CIC and I’ve felt out of my depth the entire time. I’ve been on the verge of quitting more than once. I really, really want to do it. Not just the community writing project, but the school project and another project I have in mind. I think about them all the time and feel so passionate about it…yet it all seems too hard sometimes. I’ve decided the main problem is I am all alone. I do have a treasurer and a secretary and they are wonderfully helpful and supportive, but other than that, I’m juggling it all alone. I need to buck my ideas up this year and get things done. I need to work harder and faster and with more determination. And I really really need to work with others!!
  6. Work on short story/poetry/blog collection – I would love to say I’ll publish this in 2019, but I think that’s too ambitious, and I know it will get overshadowed by The Boy series and Bill Robinson…Still, I do hope to work on it a bit more. I had so many short stories lying around (some new, some from a previously released collection) that I decided it was time to get them all together and release another collection similar to Bird People. I’ve polished up a few and have loads more I need to work on. I’ve also got some old blog posts I want to include and even some poetry. Eeek! Yes, that’s a bit scary. I’ve always been intimated by poetry, reading it and writing it. But the thing is, my head is so constantly full of words it gets hard sometimes, and I just want to expel some. We will see what happens,  but to release another collection would be really, really fun.

Well, that’s it. One less than last year! I think the list gets shorter every year! But there is certainly enough here to keep me busy, and no doubt something unexpected will spring up and push in, as always.

What about you folks? Any particular goals, hopes, dreams or aims for 2019??

Please feel free to comment and share!

Happy New Year!!

My 2018 Goals Vs The Reality

So, this has become a bit of a tradition for me. Every New Year I set myself some writing-related goals and then at the end of the year I compare the goals with what actually happened. I find it helps to keep track of things and it can also be encouraging to realise how many I did achieve. So, here we go. The goals I set myself at the start of 2018 and what actually happened…

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  1. Release Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature – This was a goal for 2016 and 2017 but finally, I achieved it in 2018! After attempting to find a publisher and getting pretty close a few times, Elliot pie found a home with the all-women indie collective Pict Publishing. Elliot Pie was released at the start of October 2018. Phew!!
  2. Continue To Work on My YA Trilogy – This time a year ago my YA novel A Song For Bill Robinson was at 4th draft stage and I had penned a sequel and started the third book. All did not go to plan, however. I ran out of steam on the third book and decided to change the ending of the second and blend the two, making it two books, not three. I have not had a chance to attempt this yet, but Bill Robinson, the first book, is basically ready. I need a bit more feedback from beta readers, and at least a few more edits and proofreads, and then I will try the publisher route again, whilst also looking at possible front covers. I hope to release a Song For Bill Robinson in 2019 and finish the sequel too.
  3. Kickstart My New Company Into Action – A year ago, I was feeling very nervous indeed. My writing business, Chasing Driftwood Writing Group had just become a Community Interest Company. I was full of fear about this! I have to admit, I still am. But 2018 did see some progress. I secured three separate grants for the company, and I kickstarted my community writing project, with so far, three free kids workshops, and two school visits. It doesn’t feel like enough. I have felt constantly torn between excitement and passion, and total regret for ever doing this. I have achieved the goal though. I’ve started the community project and applied for funding for the school project. I’ve not been successful yet but I keep trying. I also have a new idea in the planning stages for a long-term project. As scary as it is, I will keep going in 2019.
  4. Apply For Funding For a School Project – see above! I have done this several times and I’m waiting for the result of my most recent bid. I do have two lots of funding for the community project and a small amount in place for the school, so we have made progress and I have learned a lot !
  5. Apply For More Funding For Community Writing Project – Yes, I’ve achieved this, and fingers crossed, there will be a partnership happening in 2019 which will enable me to access more money, advertising and reputation. If this comes off, it will really make the project a success which I feel will have major positive outcomes for my CIC in the long-run.
  6. Get Wheels In Motion For Two More Projects – One, yes, which involves writing, children and nature. I have started planning this and looking at possible funding available. The other project, no. It’s something I’d like to do but will be kept on the back burner for now.
  7. Push Forward With Pop-Up Book Shop Idea – I’ve had this idea for ages, but alas, this did not gain any traction in 2018 and I’m not sure I will have time for it in 2019. I might look into it again and it’s certainly something I want to pursue.

All in all, then, I didn’t do too badly! Mind you, I only set myself 7 and most were related to my CIC! One thing that wasn’t on there was revising and re-releasing The Boy With The Thorn in His Side as a six book series, but somehow I managed to fit that into 2018 despite it not being on the goals list! It just sort of happened and has taken over quite a large chunk of 2018! More about that on next week’s blog, My Writing Goals For 2019!!

How about you? Did you set yourself any goals for 2018, and if so, how did you do? Please feel free to comment and share!

The Spirit Of Christmas For Non-Believers

Quite a few years back when my eldest daughter was around 8 or 9 years old, she came home from school upset and cross because her teacher had told her that people who don’t believe in God or Jesus should not celebrate Christmas. I was pretty pissed at the time, not least because it’s a rather cruel thing to tell a young child, who had no say at that age over her families choice of religion or lack of.

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I’ve never been religious. I was not raised with a religion, and neither was my mother or her mother before her. Like everyone else, I learned about the different religions at school and I understood that the predominant religion in England was Christianity. This meant that we had to sing hymns in school assemblies and say prayers.

I often wondered if God was real at that age, and I used to say the odd awkwardly hopeful prayer when I wanted something, but that was about it. Of course, as I grew older I thought about religion in more depth and like the rest of the family, I concluded happily that there probably was not a God. I won’t go into the ins and outs of this thought process, as this isn’t a post about atheism or religion. I’m perfectly happy with the idea of no God or Heaven, and though I am also prepared to keep an open mind about anything and everything, I can’t say any religion or indeed any religious person has ever been able to convince me otherwise.

This is a post about Christmas. For Christians, Christmas is about the birth of Jesus Christ, as we see played out in every school nativity across the country at this time of year. (Even though I don’t buy the story, I do get tearful every time I watch small children in a nativity!) But if you’re not Christian, or indeed religious at all, then why celebrate Christmas? What’s the point? What’s it all about?

My husband finds it hard to justify. He also grew up in a non-religious household and he finds it hard to understand the yearly fuss and stress that comes with Christmas. He sees it as consumerism and materialism gone mad, and he’s probably right. Our poor planet could do without the extra plastic and packaging that goes on at this time of year. So, if we want to reject all that, and we’re not religious either, then why celebrate Christmas?

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Well, my reasons are personal and I’m going to list them below. Not because I feel I have to justify anything to anyone, but because I think it’s an interesting subject and because it’s what sprang to mind when I thought about writing a Christmas related blog post!

  1. All my favourite parts of Christmas stem from the Winter Solstice …  The way various cultures have celebrated the Winter Solstice led to so many of our Christmas traditions. Pagans, for example, would mark the shortest day of the year by slaughtering cattle so that they would not not have to feed them over the hard winter months, and at this time the wine and beer were fully fermented, hence the traditional feasting we know so well. The Feast of Juul was a pre-Christian tradition from Scandinavia, and is where we get the word yule from. Fires were lit and a log was dropped into the hearth as a tribute to the Norse God Thor. Saturnalia was the ancient Romans way of celebrating the Winter solstice, and involved banquets, gift-giving and a party atmosphere. So many of the traditions we associate with Christmas are pagan in origin or have evolved from ancient cultures marking the shortest day. The Christmas Tree, wreath, holly and ivy, fires, candles, feasting, and giving to charity to name but a few. I wish I’d known this when I was younger, but I was able to explain this to my daughter when she was upset. I suppose technically if you’re going to celebrate the Winter Solstice in this way then you ought to do the whole thing on the shortest day of the year and not on the 25th. My son wanted to do this last year, but instead, we decided to mark the shortest day with pagan inspired ideas and save our gift-giving for the 25th. So this Winter Solstice we will be making bird feeders and hanging out for the birds, bringing in holly, ivy and fir cones to decorate the house, making a chocolate yule log, lighting a fire and putting together our Winter Solstice altar.
  2. Christmas is a time for nostaligia and I love a bit of that… It’s the end of the year. We all slow down a bit. The kids are off school, there are days off work, and more time than usual to sit and reflect. There is something so nostalgic about this time of year and I think it affects us all. We can’t help but look back on Christmases of the past, the good and the bad. I always think back to my childhood Christmases, and of course, over the years I have copied some of the family traditions we had then with my own kids. I talk to my kids about Christmases that stick in my mind and I smile sadly and think about the food we ate back then, the relatives no longer with us, the things we watched on Tv. It;’s no wonder I get a bit emotional this time of year!
  3. Christmas is a time for giving… My eldest daughter has just turned 16 and for the first time this year she went out shopping without us and bought us all a present using her own money. we have no idea what she got us, and I and my husband were so surprised an touched by her thoughtfulness. This is the first time one of the kids has used their own money to buy something for the family and I think it’s lovely. What’s even more lovely is how excited she was about it! I think she’s now at the age where she realises that choosing thoughtful gifts for your loved ones is actually way more exciting than receiving them. This is something that comes with age and maturity. When you’re a little kid you just want the presents! As you get older, you begin to find true joy in choosing gifts for the people you love, things that will mean something to them and let them know how you feel about them.
  4. Christmas is a time for hope… It is an optimistic time of year. People tend to be more forgiving, thoughtful and reflective. As the year draws to an end, we look forward to the next one and think about how we want it to be. Perhaps we want to make changes, try new things, make amends, and even do our bit to make the world a better place.
  5. Christmas is a crazy, often tacky, quite bizarre, exciting, nostalgic, reflective chaos and if you’ve got kids it’s even more so… Christmas changes. It doesn’t stay the same. When you’re a little kid it’s all excitement and jumping up and down and hanging out your stocking and writing to Father Christmas…Then when you grow up a bit and enter your teens and early adulthood it becomes less about family and more about friends. I remember some great Christmases around that age, hitting the pubs and clubs, all dressed up and sparkly, and swapping silly joke presents with my friends! It becomes about drinking and hangovers. Then you have kids of your own and it changes again. You bring back traditions you loved as a kid, and you create your own. You spend all year picking up things you know they will love. You thrive on their excitement as the big day gets closer. You happily feed the frenzy of Santa’s sleigh bells and reindeer and leaving out milk and cookies, and watching Elf and Home Alone. You get to do it all again! And then I imagine, as they get older and grow up and leave home, it changes again. I quite look forward that sometimes, as much as I adore the current crazy we have at this time of year. I sometimes imagine me and my husband as old people, slowing down, enjoying time together, drinking some home-made cider and wine and falling asleep in front of the TV.

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So, there we have it. Reasons I love Christmas and have always loved it despite not being remotely religious. I think this is a special, sparkly time of the year for anyone who enjoys it. I think the trick is to think about what it means to you and go with that. It can be a weird and stressful time of year, but it really doesn’t need to be. At the end of the day, all you really need are your friends, family, some good food and a drink or two! I absolutely love this time of year, although I’ve had my fair share of horrible Christmases and many moments of wondering what the point is. I don’t stress about it at all now. I do it exactly the way I want to do it and love every moment. Merry Christmas folks!! Have a good one!!