Author Archives: Sam Whitehouse
Sometimes it can be hard to see the wood for the trees where writing is concerned.
I know how useful a second set of eyes can be for a story. We get so deep into a manuscript we lose sight of where things are going wrong.
So I decided to set up a business where I can be that second set of eyes, where I can help you see the trees.
If you have a manuscript but you don’t think it’s quite ready to send out to publishers, agents or for self-publishing, I offer a manuscript critique service. This service is fully tailored to individual needs. No two writer or story are the same and my service takes that into consideration. I can also offer creative writing tutorials.
If you are interested, or know anyone who may be interested, please check out my Manuscript Critique Services page for more details.
End of the world checklist:
- Tinned food
- Medical supplies
- Peanut butter (crunchy)
- LOST complete series boxset (and DVD player)
Cheery subject, I know. If you want something more optimistic for a Saturday Easter morning, think of this post as Books That Should be in Print Forever instead.
There are a lot of books I’ve read more than once. But if I only had a box or suitcase that I could fill with books to take into some underground bunker or up into space in a ship to escape the destruction of Earth (or, if you’re still wanting something more optimistic, a box or suitcase I could fill with books to make sure there was always a copy that survived) then the following books would go in there.
This list could be full of profound books with hidden meanings or moral messages that would teach the survivors of the apocalypse lessons for the future. A couple of the books might carry messages and morals. But most of them are on this list because they mean something to me, because they’ve had an impact on my life, because they remind me of some important time or a family member. And some of them I’d take because waiting out the apocalypse in an underground bunker would probably be boring and I’d want something action-packed and entertaining to read.
In no particular order…
1 – The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
It might be a cliche now to include these books on the list, but they’d go in the box anyway. Not just because they’re great books, or because they inspired millions of people to read, but because I grew up with them and would not be a writer without them. I grew up with Potter. They were fuel for my imagination, keeping it stoked while I was writing my own stories. They were an escape too. Rowling built a world that felt real. There’s some pretty good messages running through the seven books too. Good triumphs over evil, hope can be found even in the darkest of times, family is important, friends are important… Potter is a full-package, and they deserve to survive the apocalypse.
2 – Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
It’s different from Potter, but this goes into the apocalypse suitcase for many of the same reasons. I grew up with this book, and the movie. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen the original film (it’s somewhere north of sixty). I watched it every weekend for years with my grandad when I was younger. I still watch it once or twice every year. It reminds me of my grandad, my best mate, and another source of inspiration for my writing. After we’d finish watching the movie, we’d make up our own sequels, taking it in turns to fill in parts of the story. As for the book itself, it’s a hugely entertaining, cautionary tale. Don’t f**k with nature.
3 – 11/22/63 and Under the Dome by Stephen King
I came to King pretty late, in my late teens. I almost passed over his books, dismissing them as just horror stories (even though I’m a big fan of horror movies). But then I read 11/22/63 and King proved he was more than just a horror writer. He writes characters like no one else, characters that step out of the pages and clap you on the shoulder, who you know after a few chapters. His skill is crazy. I’d take these two of King’s books in particular because they taught me a lot about writing, and they’re hugely entertaining, and they carry some pretty important messages too.
4 – Watership Down by Richard Adams
Another book I grew up with. This is more than just a story about rabbits. It reminds me of primary school and a time when everything seemed huge and possible, before shit gets real and there is more to deal with than swapping jam sandwiches for ham ones at lunch time with your friends, playing Harry Potter in the school yard with sticks for wands. Watership Down is also well written, full of morals and life lessons and rightly deemed a classic of children’s literature.
5 – His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman
Controversial religious aspects aside, his Dark Materials is a complex, gripping trilogy that was like Potter in that it inspired a whole generation of readers (and still inspires). It’s funny, touching, real (for a fantasy novel with talking polar bears) and has many other messages other than the obvious religious ones. Let’s hope The Book of Dust will live up to the dizzying heights of the original series.
6- The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The obvious moral messages this series carries would offer some valuable lessons for a post-apocalyptic Earth, but The Hunger Games is just another series that inspired a generation. It helps that it’s massively entertaining too.
7- A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Come on, man, it’s Game of Thrones. Blood, battles, betrayal and dragons. Enough said. It goes in the apocalypse suitcase.
8 – The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix
Sabriel, Lirael, Abhrosen, Clariel, Goldenhand. This series isn’t perfect, but it’s inspiring, gripping and well written. It also offers some solid life lessons and a continuing message of finding your true self and accepting it.
9 – The Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
Like Potter, I grew up with this series. My parents bought me the first book for my birthday one year and I read them until my copies fell apart. Like Potter, they funny and entertaining, but they’re also strong on messages about family and friendship and they got me through some low times.
Joining this lot would be a load of other Stephen King books, the Gone series by Michael Grant, a few other Michael Crichton books and, if there was room in the suitcase/box, I’d begrudgingly throw in a couple of Dickens.
Would you pack any of these books for the apocalypse, or do you have your own list? Drop your own suggestions in a comment below, it’ll be interesting to see if any books are suggested more than once or if anyone has something completely different…
For as long as I can remember…
…stories have been a big part of my life. They’ve shaped how I’ve grown up, who am I, what I do… Even before I started reading, my grandad told my stories that he’d made up. I loved them, loved the way they conjured worlds and characters and images in my head.
But why do we love stories? Why do we read?
To be entertained.
It’s probably the purest, simplest reason. We read to be entertained. Like we’d watch a movie or an episode (or ten) of our favourite TV show, we read because for an couple of hours we want to have a good time. The right writer, writing the right book, given to the right reader can be like a movie or an episode of a TV show. If a writer does their job correctly, they can pack an action movie or a thriller movie or a comedy in between the two covers of a book.
To learn something.
And this doesn’t mean it had to be a non-fiction book. Fiction, stories, can also educate. Whether that be through making a child (or an adult) understand the difference between right and wrong, teaching someone about other cultures, religions, foods etc or finding a book that helps us understand ourselves better. Books offer insight into humanity and our world, even if the characters aren’t real, even if the world we’re reading about is in the back of a wardrobe or is populated by elves, orcs and monsters. For as long as stories have existed, they have existed to teach us something. Fables, myths, all of them have some message. The tortoise and the hare, Daedalus and Icarus…
If you’re a writer, books offer a whole other level of learning. For me, reading keeps my imagination burning, keeps my head full of ideas for my own stories. But more than that, reading how other writers put their sentences together, how they write dialogue or develop character or pace a chapter all helps me better my own writing. For writers, books are like lessons, teachers, exams, lectures all rolled up into one.
Now more than ever, escaping into a different world seems like an appealing idea. When life gets a little too fast or crazy or stressful, getting away from it is what we need. Exploring a new world for a while, getting to know new people, having adventures we can’t always have in reality–there are dozens of ways a book can help us escape the world and lives we know. On the other hand, some world (cough–Westeros–) might not always be less stressful than the real one, the characters (cough–Cersei, Joffrey–cough) not always more appealing than real people, but it’s something different, something new.
To be inspired.
Maybe this applies more to writers, but books can offer motivation when someone might need it. For me, each book I read (good or bad) is like a few lumps of coal or pieces of wood on the fire of my imagination, each one stoking it a little more. If it’s a good book, it makes me want to write a good book. If it’s a bad book it makes me want to write a better book. Reading is inspiration, whether you’re a reader looking for confidence and courage like Frodo in the Lord of the Rings or a writer looking for something to emulate.
There are a dozen other reasons why we read, but I think the main four it boils down to are those above. I know I read to be entertained, to learn something, to escape and to find inspiration. And I know I’ll never stop because it works.
Is there another reason you read? How long have you been reading? Do you agree with my reasons? Feel free to drop a comment below, it’ll be interesting to know what motivates you to pick up a book…
Save JJ Abrams and Star Wars: The Force Awakens I don’t think any director or film has had such a weight on their shoulders or such ardent fans to please. To say Fantastic Beasts had a lot to live up to would be an understatement. The Potter books and films have changed the world. Returning Potter Director David Yates had a task and a half on his hands, so too did JK Rowling who takes script writing reins here (and for the subsequent four installments).
And did they pull it off?
The familiar Potter soundtrack plays as the Warner Bros logo hovers forward through dark clouds… The opening sequence is slightly ambiguous, giving way to the familiar montage of Daily Prophet headlines about a dark wizard. But not the dark wizard we’re all familiar with. Grindelwald takes over bad-guy duties from Voldemort for this franchise and even though he doesn’t yet take centre stage, his menacing presence conjures some solid atmosphere.
Atmosphere is what David Yates does best, and the foreboding he brought to the final four Potter films is evident from the first few seconds of Fantastic Beasts. But Yates also brought style and awe to his Potter films and he doesn’t hold back on either with Fantastic Beasts. Every scene is rich in detail, most of which isn’t spotted until second or third viewings. The 1920’s New York setting is a big change from the epic landscapes and castle corridors of Hogwarts that we’re used to, but it’s just as compelling and makes Rowling’s world seem that much more real and sprawling.
Eddie Redmayne had a tough responsibility too, taking over protagonist duties from Harry, Ron and Hermione and having to carry what is essentially an origin story for the Fantasic Beasts series. Redmayne himself can’t be faulted. Newt Scamander is awkward, bumbling, avoiding eye contact and generally rubbing people up the wrong way, more Sherlock Holmes than Harry Potter. But at times Scamander doesn’t feel like the protagonist, mostly going along with what is happening rather than forwarding the plot. The other actors and their characters suffer the same, taking a step back so the world-building, plot and set-up can all be handled. The characters will be fleshed out in the next installment, but for now they’re not as compelling as Harry, Ron and Hermione. Where Rowling’s script does excel is in how contemporary it’s morals are. There are more than a few allusions to the divisions of today’s society, the prejudices and political turmoil and despite it’s period setting, Fantastic Beasts is never old-fashioned.
For all its awesome special effects and spectacle, slick directing and great acting, Fantastic Beasts is not perfect. Rowling’s script is sharp when it comes to dialogue, but a bit thin in story. The first film was always going to be more about set-up than story, and it is the case here. A slow first half and a slump in the middle throw the pacing off, and there is never a clear main plot to invest in. Gathering up the escaped Fantastic Beasts offers plenty of chances for great set pieces (Scamander’s imitation of a mating ritual, a chase sequence in a department store among a memorable dozen) but it isn’t strong enough to be the bones of a film. The various other sub-plots are interesting but, can at times feel all over the place and until the final, massively impressive, climax Fantastic Beasts is as scatterbrained as it’s main character.
But in that impressive climax, with a twist that I didn’t see coming and which I defy anyone to guess beforehand, and Yates’ pitch-perfect directing, the stunning CGI and photography, Fantastic Beasts does deliver a prequel worthy of the Potter films. Fans will be grinning at foreshadowings and at the mere joy of being back in the Wizarding World and newcomers may be a little confused but will find plenty of enjoyment.
Fantastic Beasts is not perfect, but neither were any of the Potter films. It had a tough task of setting up a world, story and characters, and overall… it pulled it off and promises great things for future installments.
Have you seen Fantastic Beasts yet? What did you think?
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
Ever since I can remember I’ve read fantasy or been told fantasy stories. When I was little, my Grandad kept my imagination stoked with tales about talking hedgehogs, wizards and old castles… Fantasy was branded into me and it’s something that’s stayed ever since.
I’ve read other genres, still do. But I always end up going back to fantasy and enjoying it more than anything else, whether that be sci-fi, action, thriller or mystery.
The fantasy genre is The Boss. Here is your proof if you don’t believe me…
1 – The normal world can be dull and boring and depressing. Fantasy worlds are not…
Unless you’re reading a George RR Martin novel, fantasy worlds are generally great places to escape to. Even Westeros has it’s good side… somewhere. When you want to get away from the real world, Hogwarts, Narnia, (post White Witch eternal winter, unless you like winter) The Shire, Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory (unless you’re a bad kid) are the perfect place to escape to.
2 – There is no impossible…
Most books in other genres are grounded in reality and the realms of possibility. In fantasy, the sky is pretty much the limit in what is possible. Quidditch, everlasting gobstoppers, flying giant peaches, camps for demigods… fantasy has everything you can think of and a billion things you can’t think of.
3 – You can be anything…
It might sound cheesy–nope, it does sound cheesy–but you can be anything you want in a fantasy novel. Reading through the eyes of a son of Poseidon, a kid who wins a golden ticket, a boy who discovers he’s a wizard. You can even be an animal. Fantasy lets us be someone else for a little while as well as letting us go somewhere else for a little while.
4 – Good fuel for writer brains (and non-writer brains–all brains)… (brains looks weird typed so many times)
If you’re a writer, you’re constantly looking for things to inspire your own writing. It can be a word, a character, a world, anything, but the best fuel is to be found in fantasy writing. Most of the time when I’ve finished a fantasy novel (and most of the time when I’m only a chapter into a fantasy novel) inspiration hits and my fingers can’t keep up typing with the stuff burning in my head. But just as fantasy books are good for writer’s imaginations, they’re good for non-writer brains too, keeping our minds sparking and pumping. (Brains definitely looks strange when you’ve typed it this many times)
5 – It offers hope…
Apologies, again with the cheese, but fantasy offers hope. Like the great Albus Dumbledore said “Happiness can be found in the darkest of time, if one just remembers to turn on the light…” The Light in this case is fantasy, where anything is possible, where you can be anyone and where you can escape. I was going through some pretty dark times a couple years back and places like Hogwarts made things seem not quite so dark.
The above will definitely be the last of the cheese (mostly definitely)
6 – Most of the time it’s fast, epic, full of adventure and other cool stuff… Fantasy is where it is happening.
A lot of genres are fast-paced, action-packed and exciting, but fantasy tends to be the most fast-paced, the most action-packed, the most exciting and full of adventure. In what other genre do characters battle evil overlords who take the form of a giant eye, or play chess where the pieces attack each other, or go on quests for golden fleeces? Only in fantasy. Fantasy is where it’s happening.
7 – There are no rules…
Everyday we are hit in the face with rules. Drive on this side of the road, don’t eat that chocolate bar, buy this useless piece of crap for half price… In fantasy there are no rules… for us the reader at least. Sure characters might have to avoid Mordor or risk death or behave or end up a blueberry, but us readers get to read it all without consequence.
8 – It’s educational…
It may not be as educational as a text book, but fantasy can offer some valuable life lessons. Don’t piss off evil wizards, don’t go into haunted houses, don’t eat strange food… But more seriously, fantasy usually has a moral message running through it that we can learn from. Good triumphing over evil by remaining good and not going to the dark side, friendship and family are important, fight for what you believe in. Fantasy has valuable lessons to offer.
9 – It’s inspirational…
This isn’t a rehash of #4. Fantasy offers inspiration to readers in real life. When a reader sees a hero beating the villain, when we read about a boy finding his parents, a character winning a competition or making friends… it inspires us, the readers, to mirror them in our own lives. Our villain might not be a dark lord bent on our annihilation or an megalomaniac out for our suffering or a bloodthirsty three-headed dog but if someone is being bullied and they read about a character standing up to their bullies they may find inspiration. If they have trouble making friends and see a character they admire making friends, they may build up enough courage to give it a shot themselves. Fantasy offers us inspiration, no doubt.
10 – Erm… ah… let me think… Because it’s fantasy, man. That’s all you need to know.
What other genre has dragons, schools for witchcraft and wizardry, gardens made from candy, worlds at the back of wardrobes, talking animals? Come on, man, what other genre has Quidditch? None I tell you. Which is why fantasy is The Boss.
Do you agree that fantasy is the top genre? Or do you prefer another genre? Feel free to drop a comment below.
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
1 – Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
The plot of the Beasts movies doesn’t sound interesting yet, but more Potter (at least sort of) movies (3 of them) is cool with me. Seeing more of the Wizarding World will be interesting and the already impressive cast is growing.
2 – The 5th Wave
Reading the book is almost like watching a movie at times–Yancey knows how to write action. This series took an unexpected turn in the second book, so it will be cool to see how it translates to screen. The first trailer wasn’t mind-blowing, but I’m still looking forward to it.
3 – Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Tim Burton is probably the only director for this book to movie adaption, and hopefully he can make the movie as creepy and fast-paced as the book should have been. It will be interesting to see if the movie is better than the book. I enjoyed Miss Peregrine’s, but it had more potential.
4 – Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2
The reviews are already coming in for Mockingjay Part 2, and they’re mostly positive. Part 1 was a bit slow and not much happened. But everything ends in this second part so it should be action-packed from beginning to end.
5 – Lockwood & Co. – The Screaming Staircase
Warner Bros. have optioned the rights to Jonathan Stroud’s book, but the rights to the Bartimeaus trilogy were also optioned and nothing happened. Hopefully, things will be different with Lockwood and the movie will happen. It would make an awesome, action-packed film series.
6 – Red Rising
Universal have optioned this one, and Marc Forster (World War Z) is signed on to direct. With plenty of action and an epic setting, this could be a huge movie. But it seems every movie set on Mars (save The Martian) has been a flop at the box office: John Carter being the biggest, despite how wicked it is.
7 – The Martian
The Martian is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and one of my favourite books of all time. The movie had been out a while, but I haven’t seen it yet. From the trailers Ridley Scott nails the scope and action and Matt Damon has Watney’s humor down pat.
8 – The Maze Runner: Death Cure
I’m not a big fan of the book, but if the success of the first two movies are anything to go by, The Death Cure should be pretty good. Scorch Trials needed more plot, but everything has to be wrapped up in the last movie so it should be WICKED (is good).
9 – Jack Reacher: Never Go Back
Some weren’t happy with Cruise as Reacher, but he nailed the character in the first movie. Never Go Back is the one Reacher book I haven’t read yet, and I’m holding off so the plot of the movie is unexpected.
10 – His Dark Materials (BBC TV show)
I (and not many others) enjoyed the movie adaption of the Northern Lights. It wasn’t a great adaption, but it was an epic movie in it’s own right. The BBC have recently bought the rights for the whole series. TV seems a better way to adapt the books, so this could be good.
Extras: Steven Spielberg’s adaption of The BFG by Roald Dahl, Narnia: The Silver Chair, Vicious by V.E. Schwab.
Anyone else looking forward to one or more of these, or a different one? Feel free to add a link in a comment to your TTT so I can check them out…
Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
Top ten sophomore novels I haven’t read yet, but look forward to reading.
1 – J. K. Rowling’s new children’s book
Only recently Rowling announced on Radio 2: “I have an idea for a children’s book, actually I have written part of a children’s book that I really love, so I’m definitely going to finish that. There will be another children’s book.”
She’s written the Galbraith books, but this is her sophomore children’s series. It’s not much to go on, but it’s something. Wicked.
2 – Winter’s Teeth (Sherwood’s Doom series) by Tim Hall
The first book in this series blends the legend of Robin Hood with werewolves and X-Men and Game of Thrones. It’s also action packed and some of the best written fantasy I’ve read, so I’m looking forward to the sequel. Check this series out if you haven’t already.
3 – Miss Peregrine’s: Hollow City by Ransom Riggs
The first book was hyped a lot, and I was disappointed after finishing it. It was entertaining, but it should have been creepier and faster-paced. I’m still looking forward to the sequel which will hopefully be better.
4 – Fire (Graceling) by Kristin Cashore
Graceling was as close to a YA Game of Thrones as I’ve read, with plenty of action, adventure and some epic writing. I hear the sequel has different characters, but I’m still looking forward to reading it.
5 – The Map of Bones (Fire Sermon) by Francesca Haig
Even thought this series is dystopia, Haig managed to make it pretty unique. Plenty of action, some gripping set pieces and a solid plot made the first book epic. Hopefully the second will live up to it.
6 – Rebel Heart (Dustlands) by Moira Young
Blood Red Road (the first book) is action-packed from beginning to end. The other books have received positive reviews, so they should be as good as the first.
7 – Zhek by Andy Weir
The Martian is one of my favourite books. Weir has said his next book (tentatively titled Zhek) will be “a more traditional sci-fi novel”.
8 – Veronica Roth’s sci-fi series (Untitled Duology)
Technically this isn’t a sophomore novel, but it’s a sophomore series. I’m not a big fan of Divergent, but her sci-fi duology sounds cool: “In the vein of ‘Star Wars'” it will tell of a boy’s “unlikely alliance” with an enemy.
“Both desperate to escape their oppressive lives, they help each other attain what they most desire: for one, redemption, and the other, revenge.”
9 – Mr. Fahrenheit by Martin T. Michael
The End Games, Michael’s first book, was pretty good. A bit slow-paced, but his second novel sounds wicked, pitched as Stephen King meets Super 8, it will be about a group of teens who witness a flying saucer approaching Earth.
10 – Golden Son by Pierce Brown
Even though I was a bit disappointed with Red Rising after the hype it was still an action-packed, well written book, and I’ve heard Golden Son is better.
Has anyone already read any of these sophomore novels? If so, what did you think? Which sophomore novels or series are you looking forward to?
Writing tips can be invaluable. From something as big as how to structure a writing routine, to something as small as when and when not to use an exclamation point.
I use tips I’ve picked up along the years every day, and am always interested to find new ones.
I decided to start posting a tip (Bite) for writing two or three times a week. If you’re interested in reading more, or if they’re helpful, please let me know in a comment and I’ll keep posting them. All of these tips might work for you or only one or two of them might. But I’ve tried hundreds of different things over the years, and many of them have helped me improve as a writer.
Maybe a few of them can help someone else. If you’ve got a tip of your own, drop it in a comment and I’ll feature it in a future Writing Bites post.
Writing Bite #2
Vary sentence structure to create pace.
If you have a paragraph filled with long sentences, and those long sentences are filled with commas, then it can sometimes slow the pace of a sequence. If you’re writing an action sequence, you don’t want this to happen.
Short, sharp sentences work well in action sequences–as well as in any sequence–to generate pace and a sense of movement.
Breaking longer sentences up into smaller sentences also works well. Even if those long sentences are description, breaking them up can help make it easier and faster to read.
The car swerved, throwing his head against the window, stitching pain across his skull and turning his vision white.
The car swerved. His head hit the window. Pain stitched across his skull and turned his vision white.
The shorter sentences have more impact, which in the case of this action scene works well.