1984…need I say more?

Good afternoon good chaps and chappets,

Today I have come to tell you that I have read, for the first time in my reading life, something that most people would call a classic. Jane Austen it may not be but few if any could argue that George Orwell’s 1984 isn’t a classic.

The general notion of the book and its over arching ideas have been known to me, as I suppose they have to most people not living under rocks, for a very long time. It has been something that I always thought I should want to read…but never went out and actually read, that is, until now.

It took me just over a week to work my way through and by gosh did I enjoy it. It may seem an odd thing to provide a book review to 1984 now. So many years after it has been released and read by millions, but very few books make you want to stand on a rooftop and shout about how good they were, so when I found out that this was one such book, this is the nearest I own to a rooftop to shout from.

1984 (for those of you who do live under rocks) tells the story of Winston, a man deeply disatisfied with his existence. He lives in a dystopian version of the world where Big Brother makes most dictatorships in the real world look like a walk in the park with candy floss.

‘Thoughtcrime’ is the only crime, daring to think that Big Brother isn’t great or isn’t all powerful or really just having any thought which isn’t what Big Brother would want you to think. If you are found guilty of this then you will be taken and ‘vaporised’ which essentially means written out of history, considered never to have existed at all.

I won’t delve deeper into the story here in the event that anyone who hasn’t read it will go and do just that after reading this.

So, why did I like this book so much? First and foremost it must be said that the calibre of writing in this book is nothing short of exceptional. There are many schools of thought about the way novellists used to all be from well-to-do families and have Oxford or Cambridge degrees. I certainly don’t want to go on record and say I think we should go back to this way of picking writers (not least because I am an uneducated man from a working class background) but there is something to be said of it in regards to this book. The writing along with whatever editing was done is nothing short of phenomenal, in my opinion, which makes for a fantastically fluid read.

The story telling is also exemplary. The world is clearly very well thought out and comes across with perfect uniformity in all descriptions given. There is never a lapse in character or an event or description which seems jarring. Once you start reading you are IN Big Brother’s Oceania and you do not leave it until the book is done.

In todays day and age with politics stumbling over itself as awfully as it is the book may well enjoy a resurgence of popularity as against a changing political backdrop it really is just the ticket.

My only complaint, and this is also a warning, and a note of encouragement. Is that towards the end of Part 2 of the book there is a long chapter. When I say long I mean LONG, far longer than any other chapter in the book and it follows Winston reading a book. Thus, you are reading a very long chapter about another person reading a very long chapter. For me that was the only part of the book I struggled with, I didn’t enjoy reading it, I didn’t really feel it was necesary to have been included and for me, without it, I would have probably supported the book even more. Please do read on however as the ending is really some of the most tense writing I have ever read. You would regret not finishing this book.

Still, it remains to be said that 1984 has quite possibly become my new ‘greatest book ever read’ toppling the previous one that sat there.

What else can I say? Go and read this book, well that and, I suppose I should finish with: I loved Big Brother.

Some of my favourite reads

Hello avid reader.

Today I thought I would offer you something a little different. Today I wanted to speak to you about one of my favourite series of books that I have ever read.

As you probably know, most of what I write is for the younger audience. Middle grade as they call it in the trade or about 9-12 to you and me.

You may not know however, that this is also the majority of what I read. Don’t get me wrong, I can read big words, I can handle serious topics, but I LIKE young persons literature. The pacing is generally better, there is less filler and best of all they tend towards short chapters. Maybe it is just me but short chapters make me feel more accomplished as a reader.

So it may not surprise you that one of my best loved books series is The Edge Chronicles. If you haven’t read them go out now and buy Beyond the Deepwoods, that is the first of the bunch and a thoroughly enjoyable read. Written by Paul Stewart and illustrated by Chris Riddel these books are truly phenomenal and in my opinion wildly underrated.

Why somebody in Hollywood hasn’t snapped these up to make a movie yet is beyond me, who doesn’t want to see airships and magical woods and devious villains on the big screen?

This isn’t really a review as such, it has been such a long time since I read these books that I couldn’t do one fairly, this is more a love letter to the books.

The illustrations are fantastic and vividly bring the stories to life. The characters are deep and inspiring, there is love and danger and intrigue. Not to mention while being very clearly high fantasy they have not stolen from Tolkein like most. Here they have populated a thrilling new world with an endless array of creatures and races of people none of which feel cliched or tired.

In the days when I was not as much of a reader as I should have been I fell in love with these books and read them quicker than anything else I had touched at that age.

I couldn’t say that it was the reason I wanted to be an author as I stumbled upon that idea much younger but they were certainly the first books that made me say things like “When I grow up I want to write books like these!”

In short, there is little of real substance for me to write here other than the following.

Thank you to Paul and Chris (Yes…I imagine myself on first name terms with these fine gentlemen) and if you haven’t read these books, go and do so, you will not regret the time invested.

Ja Ne
P.s. I am aiming to get a more coherent category section going on this blog as I write more posts. Starting with writing advice, Reading and Lifestyle. Any suggestions or ideas please do comment.

The curse of WANTING to be a good writer

Good afternoon fellow writers, would be writers and just plain old readers.

Today I wanted to talk to you all about something that I feel plagues me, and that isn’t blank page syndrome…oh no. Though, coincidentally, I am supposed to be writing a short story right now and the thought was so scary I decided to do this instead. The matter at hand today is what I would call the desire to be good, always.

There are many exercises that people will suggest to help writers and one of the most popular is a variation of ‘stream of conscious’ writing. For the uninitiated this essentially means to write whatever comes into your mind without stopping to think.

In my time I have been asked to do many such exercises, some where you are given a word to write about, some an idea and others with no prompt at all. This is great for getting your creative juices flowing but I feel that I always stumble at the first hurdle, and I wonder if any of you share this problem.

The problem is, the aforementioned, desire to always be good. Stream of consciousness by its very nature should NOT be good writing. It should not be filled with pretty metaphors and fancy word play. It is an exercise in getting down the ideas from your head as quickly as possible and hoping that a train of thought emerges which takes you in a new direction.

So how does this problem manifest you may be asking? It manifests in TRYING to be a clever writer all the time. Never wanting to put something on the paper that isn’t smart, that won’t make people think, or isn’t going to raise a smirk. Stream of conscious should by its very nature be messy, but I cannot make it so.

Even when writing this blog, which is not prose at all, I strive to write in an engaging way.

I think to sum it up, the curse of wanting to be a good writer, is wanting to be a good writer, always.

What do you think? Is it a curse, or just a sign that you were born to be a wordsmith?

Answers on a postcard.

Ja Ne.

Is self publishing the future? Science says yes

Dear readers, today I want to a broach a subject with you which I know will provoke many reactions.

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this blog I would like to pre qualify it by saying the following. I wish to become a published novelist, by that I mean that I will be sending copies of manuscripts to agents with the hope of securing one. I hope that agent will then procure a publisher to print the book and that it will end up in all of the big bookstores around the country and perhaps even the world. With that you should hopefully realise that I do not, as many unpublished writers I’m afraid to say do, hate the publishing industry.

I do think it has its flaws, just like any other business, but I in no way despise or hate it or the people trying to make money from it.

With that said I shall continue by posing a question.

Q) Is self publishing the future for novels?

A) I think that it is, and over the next few paragraphs I shall try to explain to you exactly why I feel that.

The first thing I shall say on this subject is that publishing requires, to a certain degree, a level of foresight not dissimilar to that of an oracle (name that actual prediction guy.)

This is because when a manuscript is bought from an author to be published it is the start of a long process. There will be multiple edits, there will be cover designs coming and going. There will be marketing happening where they try to drum up interest both inside and outside of the industry (i.e. to booksellers and also to readers.) All in all there is generally a delay of roughly one year before a published book will be available in stores for purchase.

Because of this delay the agents and publishers need to think about not just what is selling now in the world of books, but what they think will be selling in a year or twos time. They need to forecast trends that are not yet here and hopefully hit them by the time the books come out.

So why, you might ask, does this become a suggestion that self publishing would do a better job. It has always happened this way so why change it now?

Well, I think we need to recognise a few things here. First, is the fact that sometimes books don’t sell simply because they aren’t available. Maybe there would have been a trend for Gnome murder mysteries last year if some had been published, but the powers that be did not think it would so they didn’t publish them. The reader can only read what IS published, not necessarily what they would WANT to read if they could read anything.

Secondly, knowing that to be published and make a living from writing you have to hit these trends (this is a generalisation and in no way a hard and fast rule) then it also limits writers on what they will choose to write. If writers knew they could publish whatever they wrote because there were no ‘gate keepers’ then the breadth of published works may be far greater.

The third and final point I am going to make in this post, is, I think, the most interesting and potentially the one that gets spoken about least. So far, everything I have said is largely opinion based and may or may not lead to more people choosing to self publish in the future. This right here, is pretty much a dead certainty, so let’s get to it.

Right now, the western world and indeed the financial world in any country is very centralised. It all revolves around banks, the people who hold onto all the money in one central place. We have already seen a huge trend towards non-physical currency and this will only continue and get greater as time goes on.

Please note, when I say non-physical I am not talking about bit-coin or any other similar currency, I mean, everyone spends money on their credit or debit card. Very few people carry physical cash and the establishments which only accept cash are becoming fewer and further between.

This to me suggests only one possible future for finance, something like you often see in science fiction, credits. A form of currency that is not based on any physical commodity. If that happens…you don’t need banks, there is nothing to put in a vault so why build vaults and hire people to run them? Everyone could have their money encrypted on some form of memory stick, or card or even just in some form of cloud storage. Basically, it will mean bye bye banks and bye bye the old world of money.

Why in the world would this mean more people self publish you might ask? Well it isn’t a direct link BUT be aware that money is just one of the things that is becoming less centralised. Most modern technology coming out is leaning towards less centralisation, it is just the way the world is going. Now ask yourself, what is a publishing house if not a centralised authority in charge of editing, printing and selling books? You’re right, it’s nothing, because that is essentially the dictionary definition of a publishing house. If everything else is becoming less centralised then why would publishing be any different? There has already been a massive increase in self publishing with things like Kindle and Kobo and that is likely to increase.

As it stands there is still a stigma to self published works and there will be for some time, but it is decreasing and I cannot see it ever doing anything other than decreasing. Until one day, there will be no stigma. Authors won’t fear being called ‘not real writers’ if they choose to self publish because it will be a very real and very lucrative option for them to take.

Finally I would end on a point I heard about at a publishing seminar. 90% of books that are written and sent to publishers (possibly more than 90%) are never published. Those books will never make a single penny in revenue and will never be read by anyone. 100% of self published books are published, meaning that the vast majority of those will sell at least one copy which is infinitely more than they would have sold had they gone to a slush pile to die.

Ja Ne.

On being a professional writer

Good morning all, welcome, welcome. Please take a seat and get comfortable before we get on with todays blog.

I have fairly recently been given the opportunity to write a story in collaboration with an illustrators work to be included in an anthology of short stories and accompanying artwork. This is with a local University and their MA Illustration students so it is not a paid gig as it were. Though the book will be published it is hardly going to be on sale in big name bookshops across the country.

All of the above being said I still take it as a great opportunity to put my work out there, have it read, collaborate with other creatives and just see what happens. Some people may not, some people given opportunities like this squander them. They say things like ‘well if I am not getting paid…what’s the point of worrying’.

To those people I would ask, do you call yourself a writer? Do you even want to be a writer? If you answer yes to these questions you should refer back to my earliest posts in which I told everyone the cold hard truth. Writers write. It really is that simple and if you ever want to be taken seriously as a writer then you need to start taking your craft seriously.

If somebody recognises your writing as being good enough that they want it included in a publication, whether that be a book like the one I am involved with, a magazine or even a website. Take that opportunity seriously.

If you are given a deadline make sure you meet it. Edit your work time and time again before you send it. Do not present something that you know isn’t your best by thinking things like ‘it’s good enough’.

Quite simply you have to act like a professional first and BECOME a professional second.

Ja Ne.

P.s. I will be giving more details of this book once they are available so any of you who wish it can give it a look.

Spring has sprung

Hello all, I hope this Blog finds you well today. I myself have had a most invigorating day, it has inspired this very post.

When I wiped the cobwebs from my mind and realised today was in fact a Thursday and that I failed to post a blog yesterday and knew I had to write it today, I had no idea what to write about.

I went to work and then came home, wrote 900 words of my current work in progress and then popped out for a coffee. Today it was a glorious sunny day and I felt myself feeling that spring has truly sprung.

Though the temperature probably didn’t peak too far above ten degrees and it is certainly not quite warm enough yet for sitting in the park and drinking pims, summer is on it’s way. After the long and cold winter spring has a way of rejuvenating. Just like nature, with new plants springing to life and baby chicks and ducklings joining us in the world, writers too can let spring give them a kick up the bottom.

I have been a hard worker this year so far and I can happily say that I have not really let my writing slip too much in the winter I am sure I am an exception to the rule. When the nights are long and the days short it can seem like writing is the least of your worries. You need to get to the shop before it gets too cold, you need to cook dinner, pick the children up from some after school club. Perhaps you just want to snuggle up at home with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate? Whatever it is that takes your fancy I fully understand it can be hard in winter to dedicate enough time to your writing.

If the above sounds like you this year then maybe you can let spring, spring in you? Use the extra hours of light in the morning to get up early, put on the kettle and write 200 words before you go to work. Use the longer evenings as an excuse to stay up and get a little writing done.

For me the spring makes me happy, the warmth and the chance to go outside without a coat, the thought of long summer evenings to come. It all fills me with joy and when I am happy I am more productive, so perhaps just take the time this spring to do what makes you happy. You just might find that it inspires you to get back to work.

Ja Ne.

Writer self care, guide and importance.

Lets talk about you…and me. Not me and you personally, not like we are getting into a strange relationship with boundaries we haven’t quite defined yet because we haven’t had ‘the talk’. I mean lets talk about writers and what people like us can do to ensure we are being the best we can be.

Now for once I must point out that I am not talking about writing better either, I mean taking care of yourself in everything outside of writing so that your writing doesn’t suffer.

A lot of you might be saying things like ‘I’m a fully grown adult Elliot, I know how to look after myself’ or ‘Don’t preach to me MOM’ but this seems to be a hot topic among writers on the internet so who am I to shun the suggestion. As a self respecting writing blogger I think it is my duty, neigh, my responsibility to touch upon the subject of ‘writer self care’.

So let me just get one thing straight before I jump into the meat of this issue. I do not personally think that writers are particularly delicate or in any other way different to any other type of person that might make us bad at looking after ourselves. With that being said I believe where a lot of the concern over a lack of self care comes from is the work involved in writing a novel. Writing a novel means sitting down at a desk, or in your car with a laptop or even in bed with your laptop for hours and hours each day. It also means spending a lot of time plotting and planning and trying to think of ways your hero can kill the impossibly tough bad guy without it being a massive cop out like ‘love’ being the secret *cringes*. Couple with that the fact that most first time novelists also have a full time job which may involve sitting down that adds up to one thing. A hell of a lot of time spent sat down not moving, maybe eating cakes and almost certainly not sleeping enough. Once all the work is done you are probably so tired you just want to sit down in front of the TV, not go to the gym or cook your five a day. So following are my top tips for staying healthy and happy when writing your novel.

1: EXERCISE, writers are just like all other people. Though we might be pale and indoorsy that is no reason not to exercise at least semi regularly. There are enough YouTube aerobic videos to keep you pumping and grooving until the day you die if you start now so the chances are you will find at least one or two you can manage to do. If you find my previous stereotype offensive and you are not at all pale or indoorsy then I suggest a good hearty run.

I know you’re stressed and you don’t think there are enough hours in the day for everything you need to get done but there are…and if there aren’t there is always tomorrow right? Realistically there are almost certainly points of your day when you are ‘working on your book’ that are actually just sitting in front of the screen not writing or even really thinking. This is the perfect time to bang in a few sets of squats or laps around the room. Sometimes getting your heart pumping will actually help you feel better and clear your head making the writing come more naturally.

2: READ. A lot of people have a tendency to stop reading when they are writing but that is really one of the worst things you can do. Reading is much more relaxing than watching TV even if it is a little more difficult. It has the added benefit that if you read physical books and write on a computer that you are actually letting your eyes get some much needed rest from looking at a screen.

You will remind yourself why you are writing, you want to write something as good as whatever you are reading and if you stick to it you really can.

I truly believe that you cannot be a writer if you have never read and the more you read the better you will get. People worry too much about ‘unconscious plagiarism’. Plagiarism is never unconscious, you will always know if you are stealing an idea and the chances are you won’t be doing it from the thing you are currently reading but some beloved childhood tale. 

3: HEALTHY SNACKS. This is a big one in my opinion, when you are sat down at a desk for hours writing you can easily fall into habits like having a cup of tea next to you, maybe that tea has some biscuits with it. Before you know it you have added several hundred or even thousand calories to your daily intake and if you can no longer fit into your desk chair you are probably guilty of this.

The only way in my opinion to combat this is to just not have junk food in your house. If you must snack buy carrot sticks or get some low GI berries, do not turn to the chocolate and the biscuits.

If they are there you will eat them when you are stressed so best to just not buy them in the first place.

Well that’s it for this week kids, if you have any subjects you want me to talk about let me know.

Looking forward to talking with you all again the same time next week.

Ja,Ne.