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Manuscript Critique Services

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.

Books I’d Save From the Apocalypse

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End of the world checklist:

  • Tinned food
  • Water
  • Medical supplies
  • Cornflakes
  • Peanut butter (crunchy)
  • LOST complete series boxset (and DVD player)
  • BOOKS

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… 

Why Do We Read?

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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.

To escape.

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…

Why You Should Read Crooked Kingdom…

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5*/5*

Some books have solid plots but the characters are weak, other books nail world-building but the pace is slow…

But in Crooked Kingdom, Leigh Bardugo doesn’t compromise character for plot or plot for character; the world building is detailed and rich and it doesn’t slow down the pace or bog down the story.

Crooked Kingdom is as close to a perfect fantasy novel as it gets…

Picking up shortly after Six of Crows ended, the story finds all the characters from Six Of Crows, led by Kaz (who strangely gets the least POV chapters here) who is hell bent on getting revenge on Pekka Rollins as well as halting the plans of Jan Van Eck. But this is only a single plot thread in the half a dozen (and more) that pull Crooked Kingdom together. Each character has their own agenda, their own story and history. Somehow, Bardugo manages to make Crooked Kingdom both plot and character driven. At times the back stories can slow the pace when they crop up in the middle of an action sequence, but that can be forgiven because the characters benefit from it.

For a book that is over 500 pages long…

Crooked Kingdom never stalls or lingers too long in one place. The characters and plot are constantly moving forward. Tensions are constantly high, all the way to the stirring climax. Along the way there are twists and sucker-punches (the biggest sucker punch of all coming in the final few chapters) and Bardugo doesn’t hold back on action and high-stakes set pieces.
Bardugo’s writing is as compelling as in Six of Crows and the original Grisha trilogy, drawing out the places of this world in rich, believable detail.

You can smell the smoke and food, feel the wind and grit. It’s easy to be there with the characters, stalking the streets, climbing the rooftops…

Crooked Kingdom pulls you in from the first chapter, holds you for the next 500 pages and doesn’t let you go even when the cliffhanger (sort of) ending arrives. There is resolution here. All the characters arcs come mostly full circle, but Bardugo leaves plenty of threads dangling for a possible return…

Count me in.

Highly, highly recommended. But read Six of Crows first.


Have you finished reading Crooked Kingdom yet? What did you think? Did it live up to Six of Crows or miss the mark?

Books With Twists

Unpredictable books are the best kind of books. Being able to see where the plot is going, what’s going to happen, when its going to happen, takes a lot of enjoyment out of reading.

I’ve always liked movies with twists, and books are no different. Some authors can turn everything you thought and expected on its head. It’s a skill I’ve always wanted and try to work into my own writing.

Below are a few books with some awesome twists that I (mostly) didn’t see coming.

Warning SPOILERS follow. If you haven’t read some of these books, skip or look away… And apologies in advance if I ruin anything for anyone.


The Harry Potter Series 

The Twist:

Harry Potter is a Horcrux.

After six books, the reason why Harry and Voldemort are enemies is revealed. Rowling pulls of some of the best foreshadowing and intricate plotting I’ve come across, planting clues right from the start in Philosopher’s Stone.

Gone Girl 

The Twist:

Amy’s diaries are a lie.

The biggest twist in Gone Girl is how twisted the characters is, and how twisted Gillian Flynn’s imagination is. But the reveal that Amy diaries are a lie is a punch in the gut.

Messenger of Fear by Michael Grant

The Twist:

Mara and Samantha are the same character.

Michael Grant’s plots are always unpredictable, but Messenger of Fear is a lean, gripping read with an awesome final twist. If you haven’t read this one yet, check it out.

We Were Liars

The Twist:

The main character’s friends are dead.

Ever since the Sixth Sense, this twist hasn’t been original, but it works well in this book. I’m not a big fan of this book, but it was well-written and plotted.

Before I Go to Sleep

The Twist:

The main character’s husband isn’t her husband.

I guessed this one less than halfway through, but the novel itself is still a twisted, unpredictable read. Using a main character who can’t make new memories is an awesome idea.

Ender’s Game

The Twist:

It wasn’t a game.

I haven’t read the book yet, but I’ve seen the movie, and I didn’t see the ending coming. I may check out this series soon.

Shutter Island

The Twist:

The main character is not a cop, but an inmate from the asylum.

Maybe a lot of people saw this ending coming, maybe I should’ve seen it coming, but I didn’t.

There are a lot more books with awesome twists, and this post could go on for a long time. But a few other authors who always deliver unpredictable plots include Harlan Coben (Tell No One, Six Years, The Stranger), Linwood Barclay (Trust Your Eyes, A Tap on The Window) and Gregg Hurwitz (The Crime Writer–check this out if you’re a writer, Trust No One, You’re Next).


Does anyone else like plot twists? Which is your favourite? Can you recommend any books with plot twists?

Writing Bites #2

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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.

Example

The car swerved, throwing his head against the window, stitching pain across his skull and turning his vision white. 

Could become

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.


Does this method work for anyone else? Or do you have another way to generate pace in your writing? It will be cool to hear, so let me know in a comment below…

Writing Bites #1

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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 #1

Stop writing at a point you know you can start writing from again.

By this, I mean perhaps in the middle of an action sequence or a conversation. Even mid-sentence. That way, when you come to start writing again, after a couple of hours, or the next day or a week later, you know you can get straight back into it.

Finishing at the end of a chapter, if I haven’t plotted what’s going to happen next, I sometimes get stuck. But by leaving off at a point where I know what’s going to happen next, I don’t get stuck.


Has anyone else used this tip before? Or do you have another way to ensure you can pick up easily where you left off? Let me know in a comment. And it will be interesting to hear if anyone tries this Bite out and finds it works for them…

#WritersLife Tag

#WritersLife Tag

Cait Grace, creator or the cool blog Paper Fury tagged all writers for this book tag. I’ve never done a tag before, but this one sounded cool so I thought I’d give it a shot.


Write Fuel : What do you eat/drink while writing?

I don’t eat anything while writing. I eat in between writing. Get up at around 5AM, eat first breakfast. Write with a cup of tea or coffee, the first strong, the second strong and black. Second breakfast/Hobbit breakfast, and then write some more.

Write Sounds: What do you listen to while writing?

Nothing. I can write if someone else is watching TV. And because I write in the living room, the TV is sometimes on. But because I get up at 5AM or sometimes earlier, I can write for a couple solid hours before everyone else gets up. I don’t listen to soundtracks or songs while writing.

Write Vice: What’s your most debilitating distraction?

If I’m reading a good book. George R.R. Martin is to blame recently. I spend a lot of time on IMDB and Goodreads, too.

Write Horror: What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you while writing?

Writing for two hours in a Word Document that had opened as Read-Only, so when I came to save it I couldn’t and lost everything I’d written.

Write Joy: What’s the best thing that’s happened to you while writing or how do you celebrate small victories?

Writing a sentence or scene or a chapter that I’m really proud of. It doesn’t always happen, but there are some moments where you write something and you say, “That’s not half bad.”

Or

Finishing a book. A novel is a tough thing to face, but battling through it to come out the other side with a full novel is a wicked feeling.

Write Crew: Who do you communicate with or not communicate with while writing?

Nobody but the characters I’m writing about. I get deep into a world, sometimes too deep.

Write Secret: What’s your writing secret to success or hidden flaw?

Routine. I used to write only when I felt like it. I could go as long as a week without writing anything at all. So I started writing every day with a set word count. It took some getting used to but now I write at least 2000 words a day and don’t let myself do less.

Know where you’re going, at least some of the way. Some people are plotters, some pansters. I’m somewhere in between. I don’t outline a novel from beginning to end, but I do think at least one or two chapters ahead from where I’m writing in the moment. That way I don’t get writers block.

Leave it on a spot you can come back to easily. This could be in the middle of an action sequence or a conversation, it just makes it easier to pick up again the next time you write.

One of many flaws is that I am no good at writing romance. I’ve learned a little and know it’s necessary for some plots, but I’m just not very good at it.

Another flaw is description. Again, I’ve learned to write sharper description, but I still probably write too much.

Write-Spiration: What always makes you productive?

Reading other books. I want to write as well as some of my favourite authors, and the only way to do that is to keep writing.

Write Peeve: What’s one thing writers do (or you do) that’s annoying?

Write what they think will get published and not what they want to write. If everyone writes the same thing, with the same plot, ideas, characters etc nothing new will ever get written.

Write Words: Share one sentence from a project past or present

I’m editing with my agent at the moment, but recently I finished my first attempt at writing for adults. A supernatural horror. It was a great experience and I could write horror pretty much without any limits. Below is one of the more PG lines.

 My hands sank into inches of gore, black and made soupy as it blended with the melted snow.


Thanks to Cait Grace of Paper Fury for offering this tag to all writers. I do the same now. So if you’re a writer, you’re tagged…

And check out Paper Fury. It’s a great blog for readers and writers.

Write and Read What You Know or What You Don’t?

Since I can remember I’ve read fantasy, mostly middle-grade and young-adult. Since I can remember, I’ve written fantasy too, again middle-grade and young-adult. 

I wrote fantasy because it’s what I read, what I knew. It was probably instinct.

Many writers only write in one genre, some about only one character. Lee Child writes thrillers, all of them with Jack Reacher as the main character.

Some writers write in many different genres. Stephen King writes horror, thrillers, detective fiction, drama, fantasy, and once YA (Eye of the Dragon).

But does writing in one genre, just what you know, limit you? Or does it mean that what you write will be better than if you wrote something you didn’t know about or understand?

I used to write only fantasy, and for children-teenagers, but since I started reading more than just fantasy, for more than just middle graders and young adults, I’ve had an itch to write more than just fantasy too. For the past few years I’ve written books that are sci-fi, thrillers, crime fiction, high-fantasy and horror. Up until a month or so back, I’d still only written for middle graders and young adult.

Then I decided to give writing for adults a shot.

A month and two weeks later and I’ve finished the first draft of my first book for adults this morning. I’d had the idea for a while, was intending to use it for a YA series, but decided it could work better as a stand-alone adult supernatural horror.

Turned out to be some of the most fun I’ve had writing for a while. It was tough in places, but came smooth in others.

I’d never written for adults before, was worried it wouldn’t work or I would slip back into a YA tone at some point. But, as far as I can tell, it did work (but this could be bias–so I’ll have to wait until my agent reads it to find out the truth). I finished, and I’m as happy as anybody can be with a first draft.

So my answer to should we write or read only what we know or what we don’t is the former. If we only write or read what we know, we’ll never know what else we can write or read.


What do you think, or do? Do you read or write (or both) only what you know, or what you don’t (or both)? Do you think sticking to one genre limits you, or not?

Review: A Game of Thrones by George R.R Martin

Some books you don’t just read.

The Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie is a high-fantasy series that pulls you in so you’re fighting alongside the characters, in the mud and the blood…

A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R.R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire sequence is another series that pulls you in. You’re there, in Westeros, snow or rain in your face, sword in your hand…

But it pulls you into more than just battles. The world building is some of the most detailed I’ve ever read. Martin has created cultures and languages, countries and regions, all with their own histories and customs.

Just as detailed as the world building are the characters. A Game of Thrones is divided up between several characters. Jon Snow, Ned/Eddard Stark (Whose story this first book is) Catleyn Stark, Arya Stark, Sansa Stark, Bran Stark, Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister. Martin divides the page space up pretty equally between the characters so they’re all developed well. Some of them you might like and some of them you won’t. But there are dozens more characters—the largest cast I’ve known in a book. But in this first book there’s never too many that you can’t remember who is who or what their agenda is.

And there are plenty of agendas. Everyone is vying for the right to the Iron Throne and to rule Westeros.

For a book that is over 800 pages long, there was never a moment where I wanted it to end. I tried reading slow, to make it last, but Martin’s writing style is addictive and it’s hard not to race through the book.

A Game of Thrones isn’t as action packed as Joe Abercrombie’s Shattered Sea trilogy (worth checking out if you’re a Throne’s fan) but Martin still includes plenty of battles and set pieces to keep the pace moving pretty fast all the way to the end.

As well as epic world building, Martin builds good atmosphere. Whether it’s the suspicion and corruption in King’s Landing where Ned Stark tries to survive and uncover the truth, or far in the North where Jon Snow becomes a part of the Night’s Watch and learns of a plot unfolding beyond the Wall. Martin writes so that you can feel the heat of King’s Landing, smell the fires burning in Winterfell and feel the cold at Castle Black in the north.

Even though I’ve watched the TV show, know what’s going to happen, the books still seemed to be unpredictable, and Martin includes enough extra material that didn’t make it into the shows so that reading the books is still worth it.

If you haven’t started this series yet, check it out. If you think it won’t be as good because you’ve already seen the show, give A Game of Thrones a shot. I waited too long, and I regretted it.

Epic doesn’t cover it.

Highly, highly recommended.


Anyone else read A Song of Ice and Fire, or just started reading it? 

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