What Did I Read in September 2018?

 

 

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The Jewels of Paradise by Donna Leon

Jewels of Paradise

This is the first book by Donna Leon that I have read. I chose it because it was a standalone and not part of her successful Commissario Brunetti series. The prose is quite cool and scholarly as musicologist Caterina Pellegrini is hired to research an almost forgotten Baroque composer Steffani’s supposed ‘treasure’. It would probably resonate more strongly with those who are more musically inclined than I am.

The Secrets She Keeps by Michael Robotham

 

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An absolute tour de force- in spite of the reader having a good idea what is about to happen, Robotham, manages to keep up the tension and suspense. While at times loathing Agatha it was hard not to feel sympathy for her too. There wasn’t one false note from a male author writing two female characters. Compelling.

High Tide by Veronica Henry

High Tide Veronica Henry

 

An appealing mix of characters from this well-known author. Kate back from New York, for her mother Joys’ funeral. Beautiful Vanessa from the big house is burying her husband Spenser and wondering why she isn’t grieving. Sam has moved to Pennfleet to escape loneliness and stress, but has he done right by his teenage children? Local Nathan keeps his wits about him to earn his living beyond the summer season.

Charming characters and an idyllic location with just enough spice to keep it interesting makes this a perfect beach or holiday read.

 

A Room at the Manor by Julie Shackman

A Room at the Manor

Lara returns to Scotland from Malta, her life in tatters. Her fickle boyfriend found someone else, her PR career is also gone. She needs to start again. What she has always wanted to do is bake, but perhaps with more charm and warmth than Kitty Walker her current boss allows at True Brew Tearooms.

A friendship with the former laird Hugo Carmichael provides an unlikely means of escape as Lara takes to the new challenge with enthusiasm, not everyone is happy though.

The delicacies that Lara creates will have you drooling, (don’t read if you are on a diet!) While handsome bad boy Vaughan, makes Lara dream of more than baking.

Write Smart, Write Happy by Cheryl St John.

Write Smart

Helpful advice from an experienced writer who has over fifty books published. St John encourages whilst at the same time demolishing all those pathetic excuses we make about not having enough time, self- doubt etc.

 

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman

Rules of Magic

If you ever thought that being magical would make your life easier and happier this book will slowly but persistently demolish that notion. Sister Franny and Jet could not be less alike, but each finds in her own way that magic cannot solve all problems. While their charismatic brother Vincent who seems born for trouble enjoys his powers until he too learns that magic has its price. This prequel to Practical Magic works well as a stand-alone story.

New York Nights by C.J Duggan.  The second book in this series.

New York Nights

Aussie Sarah Williams dreams of New York and when an opportunity to work as an au pair there beckons she accepts. She is almost awed by the Worthington family who scrutinizes her prior to her meeting with Ben Worthington whose daughter Grace she is to care for. Unfortunately, for me, the book didn’t have the same pizzazz as Paris Lights. Perhaps Sarah was alone too much or stuck in the apartment as she spent long periods alone. I didn’t really get a sense of Ben either. I will be interested in what other readers think.

 

Grab Those Coloured Pencils and Improve Your Writing

  Do You Show or Tell in Your Writing?

 

It is often difficult to assess your own work, but there is a way to see what you are doing.

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Pencils to highlight your writing.Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Colouring! Yes really, grab yourself some coloured marker pens or coloured pencils and prepare to be enlightened.

I heard of this concept during a presentation that Natasha Lester author of The Paris Seamstress made during the Rockingham Writer’s convention. This is how she explained her system. By the way, this applies to all popular commercial fiction but not so much to literary fiction.

Action – Coloured PINK

Dialogue- Coloured-BLUE

Thought– Coloured YELLOW

Description-Coloured GREEN

Transitions—BLANK -NOT COLOURED

Back story-Coloured ORANGE.

She suggested colouring action and dialogue first  to show you the balance of those,

Ideally, they should be most of the page, at least 60% but not in huge blocks of colour. Interweave with other aspects of the story.

Doing this enables you to SEE what you need to change, to add or subtract.

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Photocopy a couple of pages of a favourite book. Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

 

If you feel this may be too confronting you can always photocopy two or three pages from a book and try it with them.

Your goal is not to emulate them, your goal is to see whether they get it right or wrong and to improve your own writing. The only person you need to compare yourself with is the self of yesterday are you learning, growing, progressing?

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Remind yourself how far you have Ncome.Photo by Bich Tran on Pexels.com

Are These the Hardest Goodbyes?

When we take an animal into our homes, we don’t think of the hard reality that their lifespans are much shorter than ours

There is the joy of a new companion whether a puppy or kitten or of an older rescued animal who needs a home. We grow together, learn their personalities, their food preferences and their interactions with other family members and animals.

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We develop bonds of trust with them, we are their carers and protectors, the leaders of their pack. In simple terms, we grow to love them.

Although I used to have a dog, these days our animal companions are cats. Until last week I had three cats two girls and a boy. As previous cats have lived to a ripe old age of twenty-one I confidently expected many more happy years together.

Then, I noticed that Freya wasn’t eating, and this went on for a couple of days. Unlike the other two who we had, since they were kittens, we think that Freya had a tough early life.

 

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We called her Freya Aurora

When we first saw her, she was living in a neighbour’s shed and had just had kittens. He had no plans to feed her or offer her water. We asked for his permission to feed her and gradually earned her trust. Despite looking like a kitten, herself she’d had seven kittens. An animal rescue organisation took the kittens as we managed to catch them, one by one. We knew no one would want this skinny Mamma cat, so we kept her.

She was skittish and distrustful for a long while spitting and striking out at our other cats. At times I was sorry that we had kept her as it was so stressful. Gradually she mellowed, and we won her trust.

I worried about her as she grew inexplicably and enormously fat, the vet had no explanation for this. We cut her food down, but the weight remained. She looked like a fat wombat. Then as unexpectedly as it had started she lost the weight, returning to the petite size we remembered.

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The sudden weight gain.

She was still wary of men but grew to trust me and would curl up beside me in an armchair. Gradually trust was created and over time an armed neutrality was established between our male cat and her. She seemed to be a settled and contented cat.

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A content and secure Freya in the garden

It had all taken time and I realised that she had been with us for nearly eight years. When they had their check-ups in June the vet had mentioned she needed some dental work done and I was convinced that this was causing her problems now.

We went in at 9am on Wednesday morning and the vet examined her and said she needed hydrating and she would put her on a drip and conduct blood tests prior to doing surgery.

When the phone rang at eleven I knew it wasn’t going to be good news. I listened to words like fluid on the lungs, possible heart failure, cancer or other problems. The vet mentioned it might be kindest to let her go. I heard the words but could hardly comprehend them

We agreed to go back at I pm to say goodbye. We went in and. the vet explained more and assured us we were acting in her best interests Freya was brought in still with her drip attached and tried to get up. We stroked her and talked to her, and gently, gently the vet gave her the injection that would send her to sleep forever. I held her paw and talked to her, looking into her eyes and watched as her eyes slowly closed.

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Only then did my tears fall as we stayed with her for a while. I grieved for all the life she might have had, all the time we could have spent together. I hated myself for having to make the decision although I knew it was for the best and in my heart, I asked her to forgive me.

When we take on a pet we take it all on, the good and the bad, the happy days and the hard days. Allowing an animal to end its suffering after a long and happy life is hard but saying goodbye to one who should have had so many more happy years ahead is heart-breaking.

 

 

 

This is Why You Should Attend Author Talks.

We all have limited time at our disposal so should you take time out to attend an author talk?

My answer is – it depends on what you want from the talkWoman reading jojo Silass unspalsh

Firstly, have you read any of the author’s books or do you intend to?

It’s true that you can probably learn something from every author, but if you don’t write fantasy you may not need to learn how that writer built their fantasy world

It makes more sense to attend a talk by an author of books in a genre that you enjoy. You will get more out of it and understand the nuances that he/she is talking about.

Do you want to know more about their books or their writing process?

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Have you heard from others that their talks are entertaining and meaningful?

One fairly well-known crime writer gave a talk that was so self-congratulatory and self-absorbed that he barely had time to listen to questions, much less answer them.

In contrast, I recently attended a talk by author Rachael Johns international best-selling author and writer of both contemporary fiction and rural romances.

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As a former English teacher Rachael is as you would expect is a big fan of both reading and writing.

Her first point was that ‘you have to be a reader to be a writer’

She quoted statistics from the University of Sussex, which showed that regular reading slowed the onset of dementia and also reduced stress by 66%. We readers know what we are doing!

Additionally, storytelling is important to society, offering escapism, relaxation, thrills, enjoyment and encouraging a capacity for empathy.

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It is fascinating to learn how a story came about, what hunches or subconscious suggestions added to the tale.

In her talk she debunked many myths about their being ‘only one way to write’ and ‘you must plan your story in detail’

As someone who never fills out a character profile sheet (which is often recommended ), it was thrilling to hear Rachael say that she never uses them. Her stories grow organically, as she learns details about her characters.

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The talk covered more topic such as what makes a book memorable? Why do we care about characters?  We want them to grow and change to face up to challenges. She said that ‘people are products of their pasts’. Past hurts, emotional or physical leave their marks. In real life we want happiness but in fiction, we seek drama and conflict As Rachael said, ‘we need to torture our characters.’

It is inspiring how normal those rarefied creatures called authors are, how pleased they are to hear that you liked their book and want them to sign it for you. And of course, you can thank an author by leaving a review of their book on Good reads or AmazonSANYO DIGITAL CAMERA

As a reader it feels good to meet your favourite authors, to thank them and say how much you enjoyed their book, but as a writer, it is encouraging to hear how scenes were deleted, how characters refused to behave, how the author struggled to completion.

An author talk can be a simple social event, with a chat and a cup of tea or a glass of wine afterwards, or it can be a lesson in what successful authors do that you could do too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Books That I Read in August

August has been a busy and challenging month, with writing contests to enter, and technology challenges to overcome, computer glitches and getting connected to the National Broadband Network but I still made time to read. My selections were perhaps a tad more lighthearted than usual.

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The Fast and The Furriest by Sofie Ryan: A Second Chance Cat Mystery

The cover of this book with its handsome black cat and its title attracted me. Two cat -loves- of- my- life were black cats, Midnight and Mystic. Previously I’ve enjoyed a couple of cat mystery series Midnight Louie by Carol Nelson Douglas and The Cat Who series Lilian Jackson Braun.This might easily be another series to add to my favourites list.

The Fast & the Furriest

The fast and the Furriest is the fifth book in the series, but it was easy to get involved. Sarah Grayson owner of Second Chance refurbishes objects and furniture for her store, with the help of Mac, who can turn his hand to most things. There is also a handsome black rescue cat called Elvis. Life is good in North Harbor, Maine until a woman from Mac’s past visits and ends up dead. Suspicions abound, but Sarah can’t believe Mac did it and Elvis agrees. They just have to prove it.

Antiques Flee Market by Barbara Allan. A Trash & Treasure Mystery

Antiques Flee MArket

Spell check wants to change the title but it is Flee market, not Flea market, a play on words! Almost a reprise of The Fast and The Furriest although this time the featured animal is Sushi a Shih Tzu dog. The story is mainly told by Brandy Borne with occasional interjections by her mother Vivian. It’s a madcap mix of fun and danger. Chapters include Flea market tips. Again, part of a series, but I was still able to follow a lot, if not know all the backstory

Paris Lights by C J Duggan

I was fortunate enough to win a  copy of this book but was under no obligation to review it. Its been on my bookshelves for a month or two.PAris LIghts Book

Claire Shorten should be enjoying a romantic time in Paris, strolling by the Seine, exploring the districts and eating fabulous French food, with her boyfriend who she is sure is about to propose. Her dreams crash when he dumps her, leaving her alone in Paris, the city of romance.

Claire manages to get a job at a small hotel and that’s when things get interesting as she meets the inscrutable yet sexy Louis Delarue. He’s a celebrity chef with attitude to spare. A fun read with a sexy, stylish vibe and a certain ‘Je ne sais pas’ that extra ingredients which lifts it from a standard romance. This is the first books I have read by CJ Duggan and I really enjoyed it as I sped through it.

The Other Wife by Michael Robotham

The Other Wife

An intriguing premise what if everything you thought you knew about someone was wrong? This is the problem facing clinical psychologist Joe O’Loughlin and it’s not an academic problem, it concerns his injured father. It kept me guessing as layer after layer of subterfuge and deceit was revealed. Like Joe we want to know ‘the truth’ but whose truth is the real story? My sympathises fluctuated between characters and I found it a believable and satisfying read, an absolute page-turner.

London Bound By C.J Duggan.

London Bound

London!  Australian Kate Brown has dreamed about it and now she’s there London is tantalisingly close. If only she can escape the ‘it’s for your own good’ clutches of her grandmother who seems to want to occupy every minute of Kate’s day. Fortunately, handsome neighbour Jack Baker finds Kate intriguing and wants to know her better in spite of the unfortunateness of almost running her down.

While I found this an enjoyable read, for me it didn’t have quite the pizzazz of Paris Lights. It ended so abruptly that I turned the page expecting more and was nonplussed to discover it had ended,

Brain Rules for Aging Well by John Medina

Brain Rules

A molecular biologist explains the habits of those people called ‘super agers’ people who stay fit and healthy into old age. The book explores the current scientific thinking and how that can be translated into ordinary lives. Explodes some myths along the way, such as nostalgia is bad for you. It’s good to reminisce. Fascinatingly scientist has managed to double the lifespan of mice but so far there are no human applications. An absorbing read although I did read it slowly. Lots of simple and effective advice.

Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee

Lenny's Book of Everything

I was fortunate enough to be sent an advance reading copy of this book. It’s a book which is hard to categorize and a story that stays with you after you have closed the pages. In a sense, it reminded me of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men. Narrator Lenny worries about Davey, her younger but much bigger brother and their single mother Cynthia Spink. They are dealing with hardships and illness, and with longings for a better life, a better outcome. Lenny wonders about her absent father and knows that her mother is ’thin with worrying.’ When their mother wins a set of Burrell’s Build it at Home Encyclopaedia, arriving in weekly instalments it opens knowledge and imagination for both.  Her determination that her children will have the best that she can provide is expressed in her letters to Burrell. Lenny and Davey became real to me I smiled at Davey’s imaginary eagle improbably named Timothy. I ached for Lenny with her longing to find her missing father. It might be a stretch for most ten-year-olds but any literate imaginative ten+ should love this book.

 

 

 

Lonely

Blogging can be a lonely business, casting your words out into who knows where?

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Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

So, I was delighted when I was able to participate in a blog share with the fabulous Jo Castro at Lifestyle Fifty. For those of you who don’t know her, Jo ‘s blog is all about women achieving their best lifer after fifty and beyond. Its sassy, it’s fun and shows how over fifties can look good and take care of themselves, as well as travel, or run a business or write a book.

 

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Jo graciously opened her blog to other women over fifty who blog, so why not pop over and have a look? So many inspiring women.

My post is in Fabulous Women over Fifty who Blog -Part Six Lifestyle Fifty.

I’d love to hear from you

This is Why your Story Didn’t Win: Part Two

I took notes during Laurie Steed’s talk, but these are summaries of the advice that he offered and my interpretations.

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But I Know the Judge!

Some contests will announce who their judges are, many are judged blind their identity only announced once judging is complete. It is highly unethical to contact the judge, and even more unethical to offer inducements. You could be disqualified for that alone. Laurie said one woman asked him which of three topics she should enter-he declined to answer.

Titles: The Good, The Bad and What The??

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The title is the first impression the judge gets of the story. What are you writing about? Do you want to let it be known right away or keep a bit of intrigue?

Titles that are simple and direct, such as Rudolph the Reindeer might work for a children’s book but not necessarily for an adult reader.

Bland titles are not the best reflection of your creativity. So, Susan’s Day, The Picnic. My Dog Sam, or The Wedding and unlikely to fill the judge with much enthusiasm. Of course, if you are a brilliant writer you might just pull it off, but why risk it?

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A better choice may intrigue the reader and invite them to read the story. You might find inspiration within the story itself or an idea may suggest itself when your story is written. You might even use a quotation such as Ray Bradbury did with Something Wicked This Way Comes. (Shakespeare) An example Laurie Steed gave of a good title was The Fantastic Breasts by Julie Koh.

Talking about Topics, what you should know.

Some topics are just more popular with writers than others. Does that mean you should avoid them? Not necessarily but be aware that many others will be writing on the same subject. You might have to be more creative in your approach so that your story stands out.

Popular Topics  and the Less Popular Ones    

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Popular Topics   

 

Likely to get lots of entries)            (Less competition)

Divorce.                                                    Immortality

Adolescence.                                           Happy Stories (Hard to do well)

Romance.                                                 LGBT Romance

Pregnancy/Abortion                               Anxiety

Cancer                                                       Urban Animal stories

Office Life.                                                Speculative Fiction

War.                                                           Fantasy( Hard to do well)

Depression.

Race.

Abuse

Violence

His advice was to be original, subvert expectations, use your creativity and allow yourself to think beyond the obvious. Engage the reader, include sensory details and don’t be knowingly clever!

Two Additional Tips from Me.

Check and recheck the terms and conditions.

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I did that this week prior to sending a contest entry off and it’s lucky that I did.

Most contests specify a size 12 font, but this one specified size 11 font. Who could have guessed, and will some entries be disqualified because they didn’t comply?

 

Retain Your Copyright- It’s Precious!

Check those terms and conditions again to make sure that you are NOT signing over your copyright. Who knows what your future holds? You might be the next big thing.

What if J.K Rowling had signed away her copyright? She would have lost book rights, foreign rights, film rights, digital rights, adaption rights, merchandising rights and possibly others that I am unaware of.

Contests challenge us to produce our best work, to think laterally and to enjoy our writing. Even if your story didn’t win it’s probably a perfectly good story, it just didn’t suit either that judge or that contest.

You may submit it elsewhere, or you may decide it needs more work. Your story, your choice.