April Writing Challenge: My Top 5 Authors (plus my top 5 books ever…and more…)

At the start of every month I ask my Facebook followers to suggest some writing prompts and challenges and then I post the one I chose at the end of the month. For the second time I was most tempted by a non-fiction challenge from Becky Bekstar Paroz: What are your top 5 favourite authors ever? This question led me to creating more than one list and turned out to be the most expensive blog post I have ever written. Read on to find out why!

Top 5 Authors:

  1. Stephen King – for his character driven stories, writing style, sheer volume and reliability and unforgettable horror! He really is the master and I got hooked on his writing aged 12.
  2. Charles Bukowski – for his raw, honest, beautiful words about everything. The only author’s words I have tattooed on me. I picked Ham On Rye up in a book shop one day having never heard of Bukowski. That soon changed as I worked my way through his novels, short stories and poems.
  3. Chris Whittaker – for the best, flawed, beautiful, heartbreaking and memorable characters you will ever come across. Plus his writing style and incredible plots.
  4. SE Hinton – for inspiring me to keep writing as a teenager, for characters I fell in love with, for teaching me the skills of creating believable characters you root for.
  5. Kate Rigby – for being my favourite indie author with a huge and varied catalogue of gritty, character-driven books.

Top 5 books:

  1. The Catcher In The Rye – JD Salinger – one of the only books I can read time and time again and still get something new from
  2. Watership Down – Richard Adams – for inspiring me to write as a child
  3. The Outsiders – SE Hinton – for luring me away from animal stories and making me want to write about harder hitting topics
  4. Ham On Rye – Charles Bukowski – for being the book that introduced me to one of my favourite writers and poets.
  5. IT – Stephen King – for just being utterly epic and a book I could read again and again forever.

Top 5 Need to Read More From authors

  1. Amy Reed – Nowhere Girls and The Boy and Girl Who Broke The World are two of my favourite books so I need to read more of her. After I wrote this post I ordered Invincible.
  2. Alice Feeney – recently read and loved Daisy Darker, so have just bought Sometimes I lie.
  3. Andrew Michael Hurley – I had The Loney for years begore I got round to reading it and after that quickly devoured the intensely creepy Starve Acre. I’ve just ordered Devil’s Day and I can’t wait. His writing and settings are so atmospheric.
  4. Amy Engel – I was blown away by the disturbing The Roanoke Girls, then mesmerised by The Book Of Ivy and heartbroken by The Familiar Dark. I need more!
  5. Sarah Pinborough – I absolutely loved 13 Minutes a few years ago then recently fell in love with The Death House. These are both YA books. I then tried one of her adult books, Insomnia, so have just bought A Matter of Blood to try!

(Thanks to this list I ended up ordering four books from four of these authors, hence this turning into an expensive blog post!)

Top 5 Everyone Should Read These Books

  1. The Hate U Give – to have a better understanding of racism
  2. Nowhere Girls – to have a better understanding of misogyny
  3. The Outsiders – to have a better understanding of class inequalities
  4. Tender Is The Flesh – to think about how we treat animals
  5. The Forcing – to face the frightening future of climate change.

Top 5 Books that are as good or better than the TV show/movie

  1. Lockwood and Co series – Season One was amazing and had me so hooked I bought the first book in the series. The writing is superb, and I’ve read the first three!
  2. I’m Thinking Of Ending Things – the book was strange but brilliant. For me, the movie was just strange.
  3. The Walking Dead comics – in some ways as good as the TV show, in many ways better
  4. All The Bright Places – I just much preferred the book! The movie was just missing something.
  5. Any Stephen King adaptation – many of them are brilliant but none of them will ever match the books!!

March Writing Challenge: Changes in my writing

At the start of every month I ask my Facebook followers to suggest some writing prompts and challenges and then I post the one I chose at the end of the month. January and February flew by without me remembering to ask for prompts but at the start of March I put out a plea and had some great suggestions. I was tempted by a few that inspired fictional responses, but in the end I was most tempted by this non-fiction challenge by Becky Bekstar Paroz: changes you’ve seen in your writing, the industry and industry trends. I’ve decided to just focus on changes in my own writing for this post.

I published my first book The Mess of Me in 2013 so it’s been a ten year journey now for me. It’s had its ups and downs, which, I have to say, are far more interesting than the flat periods, where not much happens. I’ve learnt a lot and I like to think I have come a long way. When I first self-published through a now defunct ebook platform called Autharium in 2013 I had no clue what I was doing. My first attempts at front covers were terrible, my blurbs needed work, I wrote books that were overly long, and I had no idea how to market them.

My covers have definitely improved! I am really happy with most of them now. There are a few older ones I’d still like to revamp at some point, but it all takes time and money. I think my writing has improved too; partly due to constant practice, time, maturity and experience. It would be pretty awful to be worse at writing after ten years of publishing! But I can also credit other people with helping me get better. My wonderful editor and proofreader, my invaluable and honest beta readers and other authors who have, over the years, offered to read manuscripts in order to give advice and tips. I’ve learnt through my own hard work but also through the guidance, kindness and honesty of others.

My writing has changed in a few ways. I think I’m better at saying things with less words now. I’m generally writing shorter books than I used to, with a few exceptions. I also have a large amount of trust in my own writing, if that makes sense. I don’t overthink it. When it comes to a first draft, for example, I just get on with it once my planning is in place. I just write it. I definitely have more self-belief.

The other way my writing has changed is the fact I’m writing in far more genres these days. In terms of marketing, that can be a headache, but hey, the main reason I write is for the pure and magical joy of it. At the start of my journey I was writing hard-hitting, gritty, realistic dramas. The plot for The Mess Of Me, for example, involves drug-running, eating disorders and self-harm. The Boy With The Thorn In His Side series delves into the murky world of career criminals, domestic and child abuse, murder, drugs and self-harm. It’s a dark ride! This Is Nowhere examines missing people and fragile mental health. Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature involves a boy trying to prove to his agoraphobic mother that the world is not full of bad people.

Things changed when Sim Sansford asked me to consider writing a series with him. He had already published books in the paranormal/supernatural genre and I was intrigued. We ended up writing a YA trilogy together about two kids with amazing superpowers! If you’d told me ten years ago that I’d move from writing about teenage body image issues, to teenagers with dark forces inside them, I wouldn’t have believed you!

My interests have also inspired some change in the genres I try. Like a lot of people I’m worried about climate change and the decimation of nature and wildlife, and my upcoming series, The Day The Earth Turned comes from this fear. I hope to release book one in June. In the series, which I’d describe as horror, a group of children have to navigate a post-apocalyptic world where all the adults have been culled by nature itself. Many died in multiple pandemics, and the rest died in various awful ways as Mother Nature sought to shake herself clean of humanity. The children are given a second chance, but can they stop fighting each other longer enough to figure out how to live in this new world where humans are no longer in charge?

I’ve been a huge fan of The Walking Dead and anything zombie related for a while now, so about two years ago I started writing a diary-style story about a 15 year-old boy left to fend for himself in a zombie apocalypse. I didn’t finish it but at the moment I’m typing it up to Word and having a lot of fun as in the last two years I have planned out everything that happens!

After re-reading Stephen King’s ‘It’ a few years back, I got the idea for a creepy, strange town where a group of misfit kids have to fight evil and I created Black Hare Valley. Nothing else happened for a few years as I’m always working on other things, but I did design a map of the fictional town, created most of the characters and penned a potential opening scene. A year ago, a prolonged power cut meant I couldn’t use the laptop so I started writing Black Hare Valley into a notebook, got entirely addicted and filled up 5 books before I finished it! I haven’t touched it since then because I’m trying to get other projects ready and published before I return to I’ve full attention to this potential horror series. It’s about dark evil, magic and shape shifters! Again, I never would have imagined me writing that kind of thing!

Marketing issues remain the same. I don’t have a lot of money, if any, to throw at advertising my books so my sales and reviews remain dispiritingly low. I am hoping to change this and have some ideas planned, including trying Facebook ads for the first time and so on, but it is still the hard bit. You put so much into creating these worlds and characters, usually two years of editing back and forth before you publish, and then it proves as hard as getting blood from a stone when it comes to selling and getting reviews.

I know I’m not alone though, and I’d say, if anything, it’s got harder in this industry to be seen. I have realised throughout my own journey that the indie authors doing well have been able to pay for regular ads and marketing in order to push those sales and get those reviews. They can keep it going then, as the more reviews you have, the more you get noticed.

The indie collective Sim and I are building is something to feel hopeful about though. Chasing Driftwood Books is in its early stages but we have big plans! More on that another day!

December Writing Challenge: Year in Review

At the start of every month I ask my Facebook followers to suggest some writing prompts and challenges and then I post the one I chose at the end of the month. This time I pickedĀ ‘Best of the Year – the year in highlights’ from Beaton Mabaso. I also picked a prompt from author Paula Harmon which was about a diary – I started this as it inspired a short story but the story kept getting longer and I haven’t quite finished it yet! So I am going with this one, thank you Beaton!

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Like every year before it, 2022 has flown by. There is always that uncomfortable and resentful stumbling into January – the least favourite and most dreaded month. It feels like everything is grim and cold and miserable and it feels impossible that spring and summer will ever return to cheer us. Yet they always do. January gives way to February, and as we fall into March, we start looking ahead again. We look for the first signs of spring – bluebells and daffodils and birdsong. We start to smile again, we start to feel warmed and excited. And then summer comes and it feels like forever but it never lasts as long as we want it to. Autumn creeps in stealthily, the air in the mornings has a crispness to it, the leaves start to tumble. Before we know it we are back where we began – at the end of a year, looking a new one in the eye. Another year of life, another year closer to death.

To be honest, the year has gone so fast for me, I’m struggling to look back on it at all. It was a blur! It barely happened. I was spun around and I’m back here again. But then I remember little bits and pieces, small wins and victories, events and memories, and it all starts to seep back.

In the news of course, 2022 has little to smile about. Lockdowns are a thing of the past, yet covid continues to ravage us. As a family we have definitely had our least healthy year in a while, with my youngest son’s school being pummelled by viruses and illnesses. Currently, there is a lot of fear around the rise of scarlet fever and invasive strep A. Every time a child gets a sore throat, we panic. But, touch wood, we have so far avoided both. My son has had a lot of sick days in 2022 though, more than I am comfortable with and I hope that 2023 sees a healthier year for everyone.

The war in Ukraine is a continuing tragedy. Like any war, it all just seems so pointless. Time and time again, the men in suits send ordinary people out to fight and die, while they argue and see very little of the killing and dying themselves. The war had an impact on fuel prices and inflation has spiralled out of control. The cost of living crisis is the current crisis. Yes, it feels like every year gets its own crisis, its own heartbreaking and frustratingly avoidable emergency.

In the spring petrol stations in the UK ran dry as people panic bought fuel. I joined many a long and winding queue in the hope to fill up the car so I could get to work or get my son to school. We stopped using it as much as a result and my husband started cycling to work and back. The prices and supplies stabilised but it made me think hard about our dependence on fossil fuels and cars. It made me think hard about everything.

In the summer my second daughter sat her A-Levels and I could not be prouder of what she has achieved. She was deeply affected by the lockdowns and her mental health took a real battering. She battled through and in September we drove her to Devon to start her new life at University, studying marine biology and oceanography. She could not be happier. She is loving every second of it. Our first daughter started her second year of creative writing and film studies in Wales and we managed to catch up with her when we had a caravan holiday nearby at the end of August. That little simple holiday was a key happy memory for me. The weather was perfect, New Quay in Wales was just stunning and my husband, myself and our two boys whiled away laidback hours on the beach, building stone cairns with the smooth rocks, collecting smooth pieces of driftwood, having picnics, playing arcade games and eating out. Our caravan was really nice and it was a perfect little break away together.

As for the rest of summer, it was record breaking for all the wrong reasons. The UK saw temperatures soaring above 40 degrees for the first time and we sweltered in heat we are just not built for or used to. The other issue was lack of rain, with many counties declaring hosepipe bans as drought lingered. Again, I thought about what we are doing to our world and what it means for the future. It was tragic to watch the wildlife suffering. The trees started losing their leaves early and you couldn’t find greenery anywhere.

We all breathed a sigh of relief when cooler weather sailed in and for the most part, autumn was kind to us. It could have been equally brutal, sending endless rain and floods our way, but it wasn’t and it stayed mild well into November. During autumn, people were getting increasingly nervous and upset about the huge increases to their heating bills. There has been government support for those struggling the most but no long-term solution has been offered. I’d like to see massive investment in renewables to end our dependence on fossil fuels for good but I can’t see this current lot doing anything radical. Instead we have sticking plasters offered and millions of people afraid to switch their heating on.

And as if it somehow knew, the weather turned bitterly cold and winter arrived with a vengeance. With prices sky high and temperatures lower than they’ve been since 2012, people are stuck with impossible choices, often choosing between heating and eating, and again, I am reminded of our ridiculous dependence on the fossil fuels that are killing our planet.

But for me personally, 2023 has been kind. I’m now running seven children’s writing clubs and throughout this year nearly every one has been full with a waiting list. As a self-employed person, I am constantly nervous about whether people will sign up again, especially now times are getting so tough for so many. To get ahead of the game, I am planning on offering two new clubs in 2023 and I will also start offering workshops via Outschool. Financially, this has been a good year for us, which is weird, but we are both earning more and have two less children at home.

My writing went into some kind of crazed overdrive in 2023!! Sim and I finished and released the first two books in our Fortune’s Well trilogy and the third is due for release early 2023. I published The Old Friend – A Collection of Tales and Poems in April and I fnished the final drafts of all four books in The Day The Earth Turned series. 2023 will be all about me planning the best launch yet, getting amazing covers and releasing them one by one.

As well as working on those two series, I also wrote the first draft of At Night We Played In The Road – which is a spin-off book from The Boy With The Thorn In His Side. That led to me getting ideas about a crossover book, using characters from The Boy series, the Holds End series, The Mess of Me and Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature… Phew! Currently titled The Dark Finds You, once I had the plot outlined, I could not resist diving in and in about six weeks I had written this book too. It wrote itself, to be honest. The story connects Danny from The Boy series, Bill Robinson from Holds End trilogy, Leon from The Mess Of Me and Elliot from Elliot Pie’s Guide To Human Nature in a plot about a missing boy. These books were already connected in small ways so it was very easy to pull the characters all together for this one plot. I loved it and cannot wait to work on the second draft. It will finish off and tie up that whole universe. Once I had written it, I then decided to go and finish the first draft of The Mess of Us, which is obviously the sequel to The Mess Of Me, as I had started it a few years back. That was a harder one to write but I got there! So, now I have the three final books in that universe written in first draft. I will be starting At Night We Played In The Road next, as in terms of the timeline, it’s the next one to finish and release. Then it will be The Mess Of Us and then The Dark Finds You. Plenty to keep me busy then!

But that wasn’t all. In February we had a ten day power cut thanks to storm Eunice and a three week WiFi cut! I couldn’t use my laptop so ended up writing something new in a notebook to keep me busy. Black Hare Valley was an idea already plotted out to some extent, complete with character bios and a detailed map, and this break from technology seemed like a good reason to play with it. I got totally addicted, filled five notebooks and during a three month period, wrote the whole thing. So, that will get worked on at some point too!

As you can see, a crazy year for output and productivity! Oh, I also started putting together a new short story/flash fiction/poetry collection because I’m always accumulating little bits and bobs.

I’m looking forward to 2023 on a personal level. I can’t wait to release more books, dive into second drafts, and maybe even start new books. It is what I love more than anything. I am looking forward to warmer weather, time outside and work on the vegetable plot. I am looking forward to another little family holiday and perhaps a festival or two. I am looking forward to running more writing clubs and seeing where it all goes.

But first, we have Christmas to enjoy! Our food is all bought, our decorations are up, presents are all wrapped, now we just need our eldest back from uni and we are all here and ready to have fun!

What was 2022 like for you? What were your highlights?

November Writing Challenge: Addiction

At the start of every month I ask my Facebook followers to suggest some writing prompts and challenges and then I post the one I chose at the end of the month. This time I picked ‘Addiction’ which was a one word prompt. What came to mind was a list poem so here it is:

Image by Rilson S. Avelar from Pixabay

Addiction

Addicted to dinosaur remains

Fossilised ideas

Dirty pleasures

Heating homes

Running cars

Getting there faster

Building roads

To better boost business

Addicted to plastic

To the convenience of forgetting

It sits in the earth forever

We breathe it in

Drink it, eat it

Feed it to babies

It flutters in trees

It drifts on the seas

Around the neck of a seal

The beak of a bird

In the stomach of a whale

Addicted to shiny new things

Neat front lawns

Weeds killed efficiently

Packages delivered on time

Addicted to right now

Addicted to cheap food

To burgers and nuggets

And penned in pigs

To horror and murder

Mined diamonds

iPhones and slavery

To turning a blind eye

To what doesn’t concern us

Addicted to capitalism

To what we need, what we want

To infinite growth on a finite planet

To investment

But not in nature

But not in the wild

Addicted to believing we are important

To slaughtered hedgerows

Felled trees

Filthy oceans

Polluted rivers

Addicted to ourselves

To speed, to need, to want, to greed

Unable to see

Addicted to the end