New Year’s Resolutions: UPDATE

Happy Valentine’s day…. blah blah blah…

It has been more or less a month since I posted my new year’s resolutions and I think it’s time for an update! I’m thinking of doing monthly updates on the blog as a way to keep track of what I’ve been doing (or not been doing). There’s no point in making resolutions if you don’t intend to stick to them, right? Rather worryingly, when I had the idea for this update post, I couldn’t even remember what all of mine were! That’s a good sign…

1 month on…

1. Get a decent job/make enough money to live doing something not shit

I have a job!! Not exactly the, ahem, dream job, but it pays well and should keep me going while I keep chasing the elusive dream. Plus I get to wear a cool white coat all day long! Go me.

2. Keep up with the blog and post AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK

Failed pretty badly at this one didn’t I? I Left a four week blog gap after January 14th. Booooo. Where did the time go? I’m trying to make up for it now though. Trouble is, I am such an indecisive person I can never make up my mind what to blog about. I have a load of post ideas hanging around but they often get left unfinished because I get stuck and they don’t seem to flow as nicely as others. I don’t like blogging unless it “feels” like a really good post. I realise this makes me sound like a weirdo. This is why lists are good! There is much less of the flow nonsense to worry about. More list posts from now on (even if they are a lazy way of blogging and can be considered cheating).

3. READ AT LEAST A BOOK A WEEK and keep track!

YES! I HAVE DONE NOTHING BUT READ! I have read 13 books so far this year and am close to finishing the fourteenth! At this rate I’ll be able to hit my yearly target in early June! Having said that, a couple of the books were re-reads… does that count? I say it does!

4. Write some good stuff, hopefully a prize-winning novel

Ah…erm… Remember when I said that if I spent half as much time writing as I do reading I’d have bashed out a million novels by now? Well, as mentioned above, I have mostly been reading too much. I’ve had quite a few ideas for novels but none of these have made it past the initial brainstorming point. Sometimes I get ideas for specific characters or moments and jot them down but they rarely lead to anything exciting. My documents folder on my laptop is now full of half-started stories and jumbled ideas and is beginning to resemble something from Jasper Fforde’s Well of Lost Plots. I think I need to work a bit harder on this resolution.

5. Be more ambitious/positive/enthusiastic/confident

Ah jokes, as if this was going to happen over night! I’m still my usual grumpy self, but at least now I have a proper job and am therefore spending less time moping around in my pyjamas. I kind of miss it…

6. Get fit, eat only healthy food etc

Also failing a little on this point, but am trying out the Harcombe Diet which has come highly recommended by family and friends. We’ll see how that goes! I have also started ballet again although, alas, have only had a chance to make it to two classes so far this year, both of which have been depressingly difficult.

So generally things have been going ok… I think there’s room for improvement though! Basically all I’ve achieved so far this year is to get a job and to read too many books. Next goals: work harder on the blog, write lots more and do more exercise! I’ll be back with another update in March…

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I Welcome You, 2013!

Now it’s THREE POSTS IN A WEEK GUYS! *proud face* *hopes to keep it up*

I originally wanted to call this post GET IN MY FACE 2013 but didn’t want to risk sounding like a total lunatic. Anyway, I couldn’t be more happy about it being a new year! 2012 was a year of great highs (New York, Amsterdam, Devon, leaving my shitty job) and great lows (unemployment, money woes, disastrous lack of action) and I’m sort of glad to see the back of it. Even if January is the most depressing month of the year.

So time for all the promises I inevitably won’t keep. What am I hoping to achieve this year? Well I’m trying to keep the list short and straight forward:

1. Get a decent job/make enough money to live doing something not shit

Because I need a job! Preferably a good one that I like doing. I’m working on a photography project which will hopefully pay off eventually but I really need to find some work that is vaguely related to writing and my passion for books. Waterstones here I come (haha, not! Been there, done that, didn’t get even one free book let alone a t-shirt).

2. Keep up with the blog and post AT LEAST ONCE A WEEK

Because it’s NOT THAT HARD, yet I let months slide by because I am lazy. And I’m NOT going to just blog about teen sci fi or my holidays. WCBH is meant to be about so much more! AND I’m going to make an effort to get some people actually reading it and maybe re-jig the layout a bit. CAPITAL LETTERS INDICATE MY DETERMINATION.

3. READ AT LEAST A BOOK A WEEK and keep track!

Because I like to tell myself that I read about a book a week but found I could only remember reading 35 books bookslast year (and SEVEN of those were books by Cassandra Clare I read in November/December). I’m sure I read more but did I really forget over 15? Unlikely. And shocking. I need to start keeping track and reading more! I’ve already finished 4 books so far this year so I’m off to a good start!

4. Write some good stuff, hopefully a prize-winning novel

Because I want to write for a living, but seem to spend most of my time reading instead. Or not, as the above has shown. Apparently I just spend my time doing nothing at all, staring into space, etc. I need to do more! Discipline is key here, something that 2012 was sorely lacking. I’ve heard it helps if you can get out of bed before 10.30 at least one day a week.

5. Be more ambitious/positive/enthusiastic/confident

Because 2012 was year of the moping, and I’m not doing that again! Time to get it together and stop putting a downer on everything! Sulking around worrying about not being good enough isn’t getting me anywhere. Although I hate that I’m starting to sound like a book from the Mind, Body and Spirit section of Waterstones. Back when I worked there I knew a guy who called it the Mindless Bollocks and Shit section. True story.

6. Get fit, eat only healthy food etc

Because it isn’t a new year’s resolutions list without this on it.

So there you have it. Keeping it short and sweet this year, and hopefully not too ambitious. Ok, maybe I won’t win any awards for my debut novel (LOL) but at least I’ll have a proper blog and toned legs! Seriously though, 2013 is going to be good, I can feel it! Although my resolutions may sound a bit boring and rubbish, I’m excited about getting stuff done this year and not moping around. Yaaayyy 2013!

So just in case I do get any more people magically reading my blog I’d like to start asking things! Do YOU have any new year’s resolutions? Do you think you’ll stick to them? I’d like to hear about them, even if you think they’re boring!


Happy New Year!! End of 2012 round-up

Before I move on to this wonderful new year, I thought you might like to know what I’ve been up to since my last post (the one about NaNoWriMo not the one about being hacked!). Well here’s part one of what I’ve been doing:

NOVEMBER: Failed NaNoWriMo, Read the Mortal Instruments by Cassandra Clare Instead

At the end of October, my wise sister told me that if I spent half the time I spend reading writing instead, I’d be able to bash out 10 novels before the end of the year (or words to that effect). She was right. I do spend a ridiculous amount of time reading and not doing anything else. Not just books either, I trawl the internet every day for hours reading articles and blogs. It’s getting out of hand. I am the master of procrastination, and reading allows me to tell myself I’m achieving something as I can pretend to myself that I’m doing some form of “research”. 2012 was the year I pushed the definition of research to its very limits.

Anyway, when Anna said this I did feel a little guilty and decided to attempt NaNoWriMo 2012. What better to get me to start writing? I even blogged about it to make sure I actually stuck to it (LOL). It was all going so well, in two days I’d written 2000 words and had a pretty fun love-at-the-end-of-the-world type plot planned.

After the first two days things began to unravel. I went to three different bonfire parties in four days which meant, naturally that I’d left my novel temporarily and promised to catch up in the week. I wrote a little more on my phone after a drunken night out (totally illegible drivel) but after that I had lost the drive to forge on. I told myself I was too busy, I’d catch up next week when I had more time.

The following week, I discovered the Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare. I’d seen them before but The Mortal Instrumentsthought they looked a little too childish, even for me. However when I saw them recommended on another blog by a grown up man, I thought I’d give them a go. Plus they’ve made the first book into a film and I wanted to check out the books before the films release later this year. NaNoWriMo was a lost cause after that.

I’m not sure why I was worried about the Mortal Instruments series being too young, as they’re similar in feel to Daughter of Smoke and Bone, Divergent, The Hunger Games trilogy, and many other YA books I have read and enjoyed. I suppose I don’t want to be that person who only reads YA, so I try not to limit myself to it all the time. I enjoy reading all sorts and don’t want to be defined by one genre. Having said that, YA fantasy and Sci Fi is always what I feel like writing about when I sit down to blog. It is an exciting genre that’s getting better and better and I don’t feel as wary of writing critically about it as I do with classics and literary fiction.

Anyway, I read the first three books in the Mortal Instruments series in about a week and a half. The books are City of Bones, City of Ashes and City of Glass, and all follow Clary, a girl who has her world turned upside down after finding out she is a shadowhunter, a demon killer. Clary meets other shadowhunters her own age: Isabelle, Alec and the rather lovely Jace. When her mother goes missing in mysterious circumstances, Clary needs the shadowhunters’ help. Her search for her mother and missing childhood memories takes her all over New York, with her geeky and sarcastic but loveable friend Simon dragged along for the ride. As the books progress, Clary learns more about her past, her parents and the world of shadowhunters, downworlders and demons.

I liked these books because they were plot-driven, super exciting stories with a cracking forbidden love story

Image from imdb.com

Image from imdb.com

(although I did start shouting in frustration by the middle of the third book). What’s more, Simon, who should just be the annoying friend, turns out to be an excellent character. In fact, I’d say that Clare found the perfect balance between keeping the plot moving and exploring and developing the characters. All in all, I bloody loved these books! Even if I am indulging my inner teenager.

The Mortal Instruments series will eventually be made up of 6 books but only 5 have so far been released. Because the third book ended in such a wonderful place I told myself I would leave it there and resist the temptation to pick up the other two until the series had been completed (in 2014!!). Clare has also written another trilogy of books set within the same world but set in Victorian times, these are called The Infernal Devices. Only two of the three have so far been released, so I told myself I would wait until the third book came out before picking up the third. We’ll see how far I got with all this temptation-resisting when I recap on December!

So, that was my disastrous November. Failed NaNoWriMo, went to a lot of parties and read a few books. Any time I wasn’t reading/partying I spent helping my sister photograph a school and generally panicking over my lack of a serious job. But hey! It’s a new year now, so moping is strictly forbidden. Bring on 2013!


An Irrational Rant about Cloud Atlas and the Use of Accents and Dialects in Books

I recently read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, and whilst I thought it was an excellently written book, and I generally enjoyed it, I found the middle section a bit of a drag. After some consideration I’ve realised why. I simply don’t like it when authors write in an accent or dialect.

In fact, the more I thought about it, the more this realisation rang true, and I began to remember other examples. I have never really loved Wuthering Heights (gasp!). This is primarily because it was sold to me as a tragic, timeless romance and I discovered it to be a book full of pathetic, bitter and petty characters that don’t have a single redeeming quality between them. However, my dislike of the book was deepened by Joseph, the disagreeable servant who speaks in an unintelligible Yorkshire dialect throughout the whole novel. Also he’s miserable and irritating, and generally (in my opinion) superfluous to the plot, although I’m sure I once said how his character is an example of the hardened labouring classes of nineteenth-century rural Yorkshire or some such claptrap when I studied the book at school. My point is, any book that contains the below speech is just asking to be thrown at a wall in exasperation.

            We’s hae a Crahnr’s ‘quest enah, at ahr folks. One on ’em’s a’most getten his finger cut off wi’ hauding t’other froo’ sticking hisseln loike a cawlk. That’s maisterm yah knaw, ut’s soa up uh going tuh t’grand ‘sizes.

Back to Cloud Atlas. It isn’t half as bad as Wuthering Heights, but it still got to me a bit. The middle section is set an indeterminable amount of years in the future after the collapse of civilisation. The story is narrated by a man living on an island inhabited by several tribes who live without electricity, technology or any of the “Smart” of the “Old’uns”. It starts:

Old Georgie’s path an’ mine crossed more times’n I’m comfy mem’ryin, an’ after I’m died, no sayin’ what that fangy devil won’t try an’ do to me

Upon reading this first sentence my heart sank. Yes, I know it’s not that different to “normal” writing, and it’s definitely easier to understand than Joseph but I couldn’t bear the thought of a whole chunk of this novel being written like this. In my experience writing in an accent makes it awkward for the reader, constantly trying to sound out the words in their head, and it usually ends up ruining the flow of the prose.

It’s not that I don’t see where David Mitchell is coming from; it makes perfect sense to write the middle section like this as it is an oral account, not a written one, and therefore it wouldn’t make sense to be overly formal. I totally understand why he felt the need for a dialect. I also think it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine that countless years in the future after the collapse of civilisation language won’t be the same as it is now. Hell, I know that language is evolving every day and if my Victorian/Edwardian/until 10 years ago ancestors read this they would be horrified and perplexed by my informal, scatterbrained writing. I think it’s actually extremely clever of Mitchell to have written the book like this, with each section written believably in the language of its setting. The middle section is meant to be a narrated story, not a written journal or tale like the other sections, and as such it fits in with the rest of the book nicely. And the rest of the sections are also cleverly written. The proper and precise language of Adam Ewing’s Journal  in the nineteenth century seems entirely credible, as are the funny, flowery and verbose letters from the 1930s.

However, it’s not the language I have a problem with, it’s phonetic writing. Even though writing in an accent like this is the best way for Mitchell to convey that a) it’s an oral account and b) language has changed in this future setting, I still don’t like it. Phonetic writing slows the reader down because you have to translate the words in your head (internally you go, “oh I see, by “an'” he means “and”). I don’t really want to have to translate what I’m reading. In fact, if I wanted to do that, I’d have bought a book in Italian and spent a month trying to decipher it. What I really wanted was a novel written in my own language that I could lose myself in. It’s made even worse by the fact that English is the least phonetic language in the world (it feels like it anyway). We’re just not used to reading like this! We carefully learn how to spell and say every word properly when we’re really young and then we stick to it. Stubbornly.

I’m only picking on Cloud Atlas because it is fresh in my mind. Please understand that I thought that it was a great book, and the language thing was really only a minor irritation. I’m just using it as an example of a bigger issue I have had for years. I also had similar troubles with Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and even though it was a good book, I struggled through it because of the phonetically written speech. I think that generally, I have a pretty good idea of what most accents sound like in English, and if an author was to write that a character spoke in a Scottish/Irish/German/Whatever accent I would be able to hear it in my mind all on my own, without any help from the author. Sometimes it feels like writers just like showing off.

So there you have it. I reeeeaally don’t like accents and dialects in writing. In my opinion they’re unnecessary and awkward to read. Rant over.

N.B. I allow only one exception: I don’t really mind Hagrid’s slight accent in the Harry Potter books as it’s very easy to understand, doesn’t interrupt the flow of the writing and accounts for such a small part of the series. But as a Potter geek I’m probably a bit biased.


Typos Are Taking Over The World!

Yesterday, “Bandersnatch Cummerbund” was trending on Twitter. A Journalist writing for The Washington Post had obviously fallen foul of spellcheck, misspelling Benedict Cumberbatch much to everyone’s amusement. In fact, this had me in stitches! However, this is typical of a more worrying trend seen in the media. It seems to me that more mistakes are being made more often. Everything I read (especially in online newspapers, blogs and magazines) is littered with typos, grammatical errors, spelling mistakes; bad writing habits and shoddy proofreading are evident EVERYWHERE. I find this faintly hilarious given the amount of sub-editor jobs around and the amount of “experience” you have to have in order to get such a prestigious job (surely a test would suffice?!). Not that I’m bitter or anything!

Now before I go on I want to make a few things clear. I totally understand that people make mistakes. Everyone does. I know I do. Even the most meticulous proofreader will occasionally miss the odd comma. I recognise that it’s the mistakes that people notice; it’s rare these days for people to compliment rather than complain, which is a bit sad. I also understand that people read more online now than they ever have done before. The number of blogs and online magazines and newspapers has increased dramatically over the last few years, with sites publishing new articles and posts every couple of hours. Therefore you could argue that life these days is more demanding as a writer/sub-editor as there is a lot more content to write and check, and it has to be done so quickly. I will also admit that this increase in free online articles probably means that I read a lot more non-fiction on a daily basis now, so I might just notice mistakes which are common in the press.

However, here’s the thing: I hardly ever, ever, go one day without seeing a blindingly obvious mistake in an online article. Clearly people have not been following my obvious tips for writing! How do these mistakes keep slipping through the net? Are sub-editors failing or is it the editors themselves? It just makes me wonder sometimes: is writing correctly less important to writers/editors than it used to be? Have people stopped taking pride in their writing? Am I making a fuss over nothing? Am I officially turning into an angry old person? I obviously don’t have answers to these questions, but I would love to hear from anyone who does.

Here are a couple of examples I have found online in the past week. I didn’t even have to look hard. The very first article I read after thinking about this contained a giant error in it. Believe me, there are lots more out there!

1.The Huffington Post.

Nick Watts, writing about anorexia says, “Put all the facts together and it is almost like we are glamourising a serious medical condition, in fact were not almost doing it, we are doing it”. The apostrophe missed out of “were” renders this sentence useless. Although I’m not a big fan of this sentence generally, as it reads awkwardly. However, the article itself was actually quite interesting (I almost feel mean slagging it off), here’s the link to it.

2.The Daily Telegraph

See below where missing speech marks make it confusing about what is tattooed on a man’s head!

This is made more comically confusing by the fact that the tattoo is awful and you can barely read it! Ok it’s not that hard to work out what it says but you get my point. Missing punctuation!

3. Sky TV

This was on my TV so technically not found online but it’s still wrong! I read this through a few times before I came to the conclusion that no, it doesn’t make any sense.

4. The guardian

When I first read this I worried that “an nose” was a racing term I’d never heard of, sort of like how some people say “an historian”.

5. The Sun

 This little caption clearly wasn’t checked by anyone before it went up on the Sun website last week, such a lazy, basic error (and a ridiculous comment anyway).

 The list goes on and on and on. Please people in the media, can you just try to either be better at proofreading or hire me to help you? I’m tired of all the mistakes, they’re wearing me out.


5 Ultimate Fool-Proof Ways to Improve Your Writing*

*in my humble opinion.

Hello! I’m going to kick WCBH Version 2.0 off with a list! I just love lists, me. This post isn’t really aimed at those established novelists or academics out there, but more at people who might want to improve their everyday writing. If I do happen to help any professional writers though, that would be awesome! These are really simple things which have helped me enormously, and still do every time I think about writing (which is more than you might have thought given how few and far between my blog posts have been). I’m sorry if I lapse into bossiness below, I can’t help it. It’s for your own good anyway.

1. Read more, read everything!

I accept this to be an extremely obvious point but it has to be said. Reading is one of the best ways to help
your writing; it will help spelling, vocabulary, style, tone, grammar, the list goes on. However, my advice to everyone is don’t limit yourself to one genre; just reading OK! magazine or the Twilight Saga (sorry Meyer) isn’t going to help you that much. Similarly, sticking to the classics probably won’t help if you’re the kind of person who likes laid-back informal writing. Mix it up! Read a bit of everything: modern fiction, classics, sci fi, fantasy, romance, crime, magazines, newspapers, online articles, blogs, etc. Yes, you’re going to have favourites, but branching out and finding new stuff is exciting and enlightening. You’ll develop a good feel for style and flow in your writing and you’ll probably expand your general knowledge in the process as well.

2. Learn a foreign language

Now I know this one is hard; I tried suggesting this to a friend once and the idea was instantly poo-pooed. I understand that  it’s not easy to just decide to learn a foreign language overnight, you’d have to think about finding classes or forking out for Rosetta Stone software, but TRUST ME ON THIS ONE, it’ll be worth it.

Native English speakers don’t have to think about speaking English, you just do it. You’ve learnt it by talking it first and it comes naturally to form sentences. However, when writing it, people get mixed up with homophones and make other basic grammatical errors that don’t exist or matter in speech. The best way to correct this is to see English from a different perspective, and learning another language will do this. You have to get to grips with different verb conjugations, pronouns, sentence structure, etc. and your mind will relate it all back to English. For example someone who speaks English as their second language wouldn’t mix up your and you’re, because they will be translating two different things; they’ll know they mean either the possessive pronoun or “you are”.

OK, I know I can’t convince everyone with this one and I’m not even explaining myself very well, but I really think just learning the basics of another language will be an eye-opener; you’ll learn things about English you never expected. You could just learn a few key verbs (to be, to go, to eat etc.) and some really basic vocabulary. Plus, pick the language you’re going to find most useful on future holidays and you can stop shouting slowly at waiters and embarrassing yourself. Just think about it.

3. Read your writing aloud, then get someone else to check it for you

A fairly straight forward tip. Reading your work aloud will help you identify problems in flow and sentence structure. It will also help you pick up on punctuation placement and repetition of certain words. If you’re like me and you would rather not start talking to your computer you can do it all in your head by imagining you are giving a speech. Well, in either case you’ll end up feeling crazy but it will help your writing.

Having someone else read your writing is invaluable as they will always pick up on things you don’t see. Your  eyes will skate over obvious mistakes and typos. I find it hard to keep rereading my own writing anyway, it makes me cringe, so I hastily get someone else to check it for me when I’m finished.

4. Write more!

The more you write, the better you’ll get at it. Fact. It doesn’t really matter what you write, just do a bit more of it. This is something I am aiming to do at the moment. At the top of my list is to blog more often. Number 2 on the list is to write an international best-seller aimed at the teen market which will rival the success of Suzanne Collins, Stephanie Meyer and JK Rowling. It’s all about setting yourself small, realistically achievable goals.

5. CARE MORE!

Today I feel a bit like Captain Obvious but never mind! There is absolutely no way you will be better at writing if you don’t really care about it. It’s simple: if you’re not that bothered, you won’t see any improvements.

This is the hardest thing for me to try to convince people, and I’m just not sure how to get through to people. Think you can do it all perfectly already? That’s fine. Think it’s not important to write correctly? That’s also fine. But don’t complain when people think you’re stupid because your writing is littered with grammatical errors and spelling mistakes. In my opinion you should always want to do better, and to strive to be the best you can be. As it happens, that is my life motto as well.

So there’s another list for you! I’m sure there are lots of other really important writing tips out there, if you could let me know some of them that would be great! 🙂