My Goodreads Challenge

Today, I finished my self-imposed Goodreads Challenge. At the beginning of 2017, I decided that I would read 50 books this year.

I mostly joined the challenge to get out of the reading slump that had plagued me throughout 2016. It was a crap year news-wise, and didn’t really leave me in the right frame of mind for reading – which is unusual for me, because I’ve always been a bookworm. I’m glad I decided to give myself that goal, because 2017 has continued in the crap-news vein, and I needed the kick up the bum that the challenge gave me to make sure that I read something other than the horror unfolding in the real world.

Looking back over the books I read in 2017, I’ve realised that I’ve read a lot more non-fiction that I would normally do – including the brilliant The Radium Girls, and Ann Rule’s terrifying account of her friendship with Ted Bundy, The Stranger Beside Me.

I’ve read some fantastic YA this year. The Hate U Give deserves special mention, because it’s not only a great story, it’s probably the most important book that’s been published for several years. Not Your Sidekick was another brilliant read, and I can’t wait for the upcoming sequels.

I’ve also dived even further into my love of clever, different zombie stories this year. Towards the start of 2017, I read The Girl With All The Gifts; I rounded out the year with the first three books in Mira Grant’s Newsflesh series, which I absolutely loved and would recommend to anyone who likes smart, well-thought-out dystopia.

I’m going to up the ante for 2018, and try for 60 books. What would your recommendations be?

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NaNoWriMo 2017

This month, I’ve been doing NaNoWriMo. It’s my first non-cheaty attempt. Last year, I started with 20,000 words of Sigyn right out of the gate and used it as motivation to write a final final draft (ah, optimism). This year, I started with nothing except an idea about a girl solving crimes with her punnily-named uncle.

I wasn’t sure I could do it. But now, nearly a month later, I’ve got the bare bones of a MG novel that I know I’ll be able to flesh out and turn into something I really love. I’ve also (because, being middle-grade, my detective story doesn’t run to the full 50,000 words) got some short story first drafts, a load of dreadful monologues by Sigyn characters that are helping me round out the backstories of my villains – and a couple of blogs, including this one.

Doing NaNoWriMo has brought me back to writing the way I used to. For most of this year, I’ve been finding it difficult to sit down and write even a couple of hundred words. Now, I’ve got into a habit where I can easily clear a thousand in a day. The more I write, the more ideas come, and the less I focus on making sure that the words are perfect straight away, the easier it is to set them down.

It hasn’t always been easy. I’m flagging a little by this point in the month, particularly as the actual first draft of the novel is done, and Sigyn edits are calling. I’m checking my word count a lot more regularly than I was at the beginning. But I have the first drafts of several stories I didn’t know were in me, and that makes me happier than I can describe.

Doing NaNo hasn’t just helped me get the words down – it’s also helped me notice a lot about my writing. I’ve always had certain images that keep turning up in whatever I write. In the past, it’s been climbing, or running, but this month, it appears to be zombies in the snow. Don’t know what that says about me, but feel free to psychoanalyse if you like.

I’ve also noticed things I need to work on. My MG novel was supposed to be funny – writing the first draft has made me realise that actually, I’m kind of scared to put jokes in my stories. I expect this has everything to do with the worry “What if people don’t laugh?” So, I know what I’ll be focusing on in my rewrite – shutting up the inner critic and finding the funny in a story that I know has potential.

Another aspect of the rewrite will be some intensive research. My heroine has a prosthetic leg, which is something I know barely anything about – so I’ll be reading, researching and listening, to make sure that I do the best job I can when writing her, and make sure that I keep mistakes to a minimum.

Finally, I’ll have to work really hard on structuring the mystery itself. Story structure is something I’ve always struggled with – the reason it’s taken me so long to write Sigyn is that I get excited about all the stuff at the beginning and the end, and completely lose my way in the middle. You can’t do that with any story and end up with something that people will want to read, but it’s particularly important to get the structure right with a mystery – otherwise, you don’t have a mystery, just a confusing mess.

I didn’t think I’d be able to do NaNo without the head-start I had last year, but I’m so glad to have proved myself wrong. December’s looming, bringing edits with it, but I’m looking forward to the challenge.

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Visual Brain, Audio Brain

I don’t think I read like a writer. This makes things tricky sometimes, as ‘read like a writer’ seems to be one of the foundation pieces of writing advice. ‘Read like a writer, write like a reader’ – isn’t that how it goes?

I feel like I should concentrate on the words and structure when I’m reading – pick apart the way the writer chose to describe this or gloss over that, what techniques they use to form the sentences that become the story. But, unless I concentrate, that isn’t how I read.

When I read, I often lose track of the words completely. I’m aware of them on a subconscious level, but in my head, I’m seeing the story happen. I feel pretty weird about this – it seems like a way of reading that would make more sense for an artist or film-maker than it does for a writer and former literature student.
What makes it weirder is, when I discussed this with my boyfriend – who is interested in film-making, and does 3D animation in his spare time – I found out that his experience of reading is the total opposite. He doesn’t see the story in his head at all. Instead, he hears it, as if it were an audiobook.

Is it random? Or does the way we read contrast with the way we create? A sample size of two isn’t even close to enough to draw a conclusion, but as far as my own personal experience goes, it doesn’t feel complementary – I’m never sure if I’m writing well, because I can never remember how my writing (as in, the actual nuts-and-bolts, words-and-sentences of my writing) matches up to what’s already out there in the world. But maybe I’m absorbing it subconsciously, and my brain treats my writing like the reverse of my reading, taking images from my and somehow turning them into words.

How do you read? And does have any connection to how you write?

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Six Stories Amazon Could Adapt Instead of Lord of the Rings

This week, the news has been full of the announcement that Amazon is adapting The Lord of the Rings for TV – and the reactions haven’t been pretty. Many people have asked why they’d even bother, pointing out that the films really weren’t made that long ago, and that in the meantime, there are literally thousands of other stories out there that would make brilliant TV adaptations.

I’m firmly in that camp. I loved the LOTR films (the less said about the adaptation of The Hobbit the better), and wish that, instead of rehashing something that’s already been done well, Amazon, Netflix, or any of the other contenders would give a chance to some amazing stories that are somehow still yet to be adapted. Here are my picks:

 

The Song of the Lioness series, by Tamora Pierce

Alanna’s adventures as a trainee knight and then a legendary adventurer changed my life when I read them – and now, CGI is good enough to do the magic-heavy, monster-filled world of Tortall justice. Pierce has given any TV company an enormous sandbox to play around with, thanks to her extensions of Alanna’s world in follow-up series like Wild Magic and Protector of the Small. If you wanted to make a family-friendly Game of Thrones, you couldn’t do better than diving into Alanna’s world.

 

Cruel Summer, by Juno Dawson

A tense and shocking thriller never goes down badly, and I think audiences would love Juno Dawson’s Cruel Summer, where a group of friends meet after their first year out of school to catch up, soak up the sun, and perhaps find out which one of them killed the last member of their group one year ago. It wouldn’t even be expensive to film; one location, a tiny cast, and no fancy special effects – just creeping terror.

 

Ms Marvel, by G Willow Wilson

I will never shut up about how Netflix needs to bring in some light, fun Marvel stories to counterbalance the grimdark they’ve had going on for a few years. Ms Marvel would make a fantastic addition to Netflix’s Marvel canon, and bring in a child and younger teen audience. Kamala is one of my favourite heroines ever, and would work so wonderfully on screen.

 

The Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher

All right, I know The Dresden Files has technically already been adapted – but the less said about that, the better. A modern streaming platform could turn PI wizard Harry Dresden’s world into something as complex, chilling, and spectacular as the book series.

 

The Keys to the Kingdom series, by Garth Nix

This is another series where the potential of CGI needed to catch up to the content of the stories – but I believe it has, and Nix’s fantastic, confusing, constantly-shifting world would be such an exciting place for a TV series to explore. There are brilliant villains and compelling heroes and heroines in these books, and a gorgeous world for designers and animators to play around in.

 

Undead, by Kirsty McKay

You can’t go wrong with a zombie story, and McKay’s has a twist on the others I’ve read or seen during my ongoing zombie obsession – the outbreak occurs on a school trip, and the only people left alive to try and survive it are a handful of the children. It’s a survival horror story that ticks all the right boxes, and would translate fantastically from page to screen.

 

What neglected story would you choose to be adapted? Tell us in the comments!

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Inktober

This month, I decided to do Inktober. I used to draw all the time, but several years ago I got out of the habit, so I decided an online challenge would be the best way to get back into it.

Doing Inktober reminded me how much I love the physical act of drawing. I love the feeling of pen on paper, creating something tangible. Even though I do a lot of my writing longhand, it’s not the same – I’m drafting stuff to type up, not creating something for the sake of itself.

On several of the days, I was grabbing minutes to draw instead of taking my time over it. While I’d started out with the intention of doing wonderful, unexpected, esoteric takes on the prompts, I usually just ended up taking everything very literally.

Still, I’m pretty happy with how I did. I made sure to push myself, trying poses and full-body pictures that I normally wouldn’t have attended. (And hands. God, I hate hands).

Inktober was great fun – I loved participating, and seeing what everyone else was drawing as I went along. Next month, I’m diving back into Nanowrimo, but I’ll definitely be doing Inktober again in future years.

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Non-fiction faves

One of the best pieces of writing advice I’ve ever seen was to read as much as you can, in as many different genres as you can find. It teaches you more about style, structuring, and characterisation than you can learn any other way – what to do, what not to do, what works for your story and what doesn’t.

Reading non-fiction can help with this as well, but I’ve found that it’s most useful for other things – ideas, worldbuilding, and backstory, for example. Reading non-fiction leads me on trains of thought that end up taking my fiction in directions I hadn’t expected. Here are some of the non-fiction books I’ve enjoyed most this year:

 

Brain on Fire by Susannah Calahan

Brain on Fire is Susannah Calahan’s account of what she describes as her ‘month of madness’ – a time when she suffered from an autoimmune brain disease that was initially misdiagnosed as bipolar disorder, then schizophrenia, then psychosis. Calahan’s in-depth, personal account of her illness is a fascinating and frightening read, reminding us just how complex the brain is and how drastically it can change in the face of an illness.

 

Whoever Fights Monsters by Robert K. Ressler

Thanks to the podcast My Favorite Murder, I’ve been on a true crime binge this year, and Whoever Fights Monsters has been the most interesting book I’ve read in a long time. Written by one of the FBI agents who set up their serial-killer profiling unit, it goes into great (and often gruesome) detail about the ways killers’ minds work, and what might be going on in the heads of the people who commit the horrific crimes Ressler describes.

 

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

Another true crime read, this book is about the case of H. H. Holmes, the serial killer who built his ‘murder castle’ in Chicago in the 19th century – but it’s also an amazing account of the building and success of the Chicago World’s Fair. The positive, creative forces of the World’s Fair designers and architects are pitched perfectly against the equal but opposite ingenuity H. H. Holmes applied in his carefully-planned murders.

 

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

I think I’ve written about this book before (I have nearly 150 posts on this blog, leave me alone), but The Radium Girls is a horrific, terrifying, but ultimately hopeful account of the young dial painters who suffered from radiation poisoning after ingesting large amounts of radioactive paint that their employers had told them was good for them. The women’s legal battle to get decent compensation is heartbreaking and frustrating, but their stories deserve to be heard and remembered.

 

I’ve got a load more non-fiction books lined up on my Kindle, and I can’t wait to get through them. Which non-fiction books would you recommend?

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Thought Bubble 2017

Last weekend, Team Footloose went to one of our favourite comic cons, Thought Bubble. We’ve been there a few times before, but this year was different – for one thing, the entire con had moved. Instead of being at the Royal Armouries (which is a brilliant museum, that’s well worth a visit even when it’s not full of comic fans). This year, it was in the centre of town, over a much larger area – like comics were taking over the city itself.

 

These pictures make it look like it wasn’t busy at all. Trust me, it was.

Thought Bubble is indie comics heaven, and it’s clearly going from strength to strength. It always has the best guests, and this year, one of the people invited was someone I’ve been wanting to meet for ages – Spike Trotman of Iron Circus, who’s also one of the co-hosts of the fantastic comics podcast Dirty Old Ladies. (Note to everyone who’s as silly as me – don’t google that without adding ‘podcast’ afterwards).

Spike is one of my comics heroes – she’s an amazing storyteller, artist and publisher, and she also does brilliant Twitter threads (I’ve learned so many historical facts, and lived vicariously through some playthroughs of Real Lives and Dream Dads). I got to chat to her – while nerding out completely – and she was even more awesome in real life.

As well as meeting Spike, we got to catch up with loads of the indie-comic-scene friends we’ve made over the years, and got some comicky and arty loot to take home. I’d spent most of my money on an issue of Smut Peddler, but I also got myself some stickers for my laptop, and a fantastic political zine by a fifteen-year-old author from Team Ketchup.

I absolutely love this comic. It’s yet more evidence for my ever-growing file of “kids have got it sorted and they should probably be in charge instead of us”.

The comics weren’t the only fantastic part of the convention, thought. There was also this little guy:

Yes, one of the attendees brought her skunk along. His name was Pongo, he was five months old, and he was very interested in sniffing things. He was an extremely good skunk.

Thought Bubble was exhausting, as cons always are, but we had an amazing weekend. If you’re in Leeds next autumn, go along. I can’t promise a skunk, but I know you’ll have a great time.

I saw this on the way home, so this is how I’m signing off on everything from now on.

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