Wednesday, 25 April 2012

WriYe: Who inspires you?

Like most writers I think, I love to read books. Some books I love, but fail to inspire me, like the Harry Potter series. Other books I don't really enjoy but I find something interesting in the writing style or in one of the characters.

One author who really does inspire me though is Naomi Novik and her Temeraire series. I love the characters and the way she wove history into her fantasy story, or possibly wove a fantasy element into her historical novel? And the stories inspired my story D'Artagnan's Dragon (which is still not finished two years after I started it. I should get on with that...)

So this week's question is: Who inspires you? Or to be more in depth, which author inspires you, and what do you like in particular about that author's stories?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Book review: The Company of the Dead by David J Kowalski

Mixing history with a touch of sci-fi and adding a good dollop of conspiracy theories, The Company of the Dead was a fascinating read.

The premise plays on the butterfly effect – one small action can have a big effect further down the line. In this case, a time traveller gives the lookout on the Titanic a pair of night vision binoculars, but as history tries to reassert itself the plot flits between 1912 and 2012 – but a very different 2012 to the one we live in.

Roswell, an America occupied by Germany and Japan, and JFK all make an appearance in this fascinating story which is a must for any history buffs who enjoy a good yarn.

**** out of 5
  • The Company of the Dead by David J Kowolski
  • Published by Titan Books
  • RRP £8.99
  • ISBN-10: 0857686666

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Why I didn't enjoy the Hunger Games books

*Some spoilers below*

At the risk of annoying fans of the Hunger Games series, I have to say I was really disappointed by the resolution to the trilogy.

I'd heard great things about the series, so I got the books and started to read them. I thought the first book was really interesting, with an unusual premise, likeable characters and a good plot. My only complaint was that it was a touch too gory for my liking at times, like with Cato's death at the end.

The second book was also good, although it did feel rather unfinished, as second books are wont to do. I liked the character development and I liked getting to know some new characters like Finnick and Johanna. I also liked the way Katniss was having typical teenage issues with boys.

But I didn't enjoy Mockingjay anywhere like as much. My two major grips with the third book were:
  • I really didn't like Katniss any more
  • Prim died
All the way through the story Katniss had been fighting primarily to keep Prim safe. When she died, I felt cheated. If she wasn't safe then what was the point of Katniss fighting? Added to that the fact, I thought she was the most likeable and lovely character in the stories, so I was really annoyed with the author for killing her off.

I thought Katniss's character did get even more unlikeable after Prim's death, but even before that I was bored with her. The start of the book wasn't bad, and I was quite excited about the prospect of finally seeing the Capitol overthrown and Snow getting his comeuppance, but I started to get annoyed when Katniss went into battle. She suddenly started to become whiney, analysing her character, deciding she didn't like herself, but not doing anything to change what she didn't like. I'd been trying to give her the benefit of the doubt, but when she shot the civilian during the attack on the Capitol I decided I really didn't like her any more.

That feeling got more intense when she agreed to a final Hunger Games after judging the Capitol so harshly and after her own experiences in the arenas. I didn't think Prim's death justified her decision, because I didn't think Prim herself would have approved, and that should have held more sway with Katniss. She was also so disgusted with the idea of killing the children in the barracade that I thought she was just completely out of character - or out of the character that I liked to start with - that I considered stopping reading there.

I had a few other gripes, in that I wanted Katniss to choose Gale rather than the wet rag Peeta, and I wanted to know what happened to Annie and to Haymitch afterwards, but they were just little things, and by that point I really wasn't too keen on Gale either. I was also annoyed at how little a part Katniss played in the final part of the story, given that she was the main character. She seemed to be a spectator, and because she wasn't seeing everything, neither was I.

And the final part, with the children, also irked me. I wanted to know the childrens' names. Had she named them after anyone special? Was the girl called Prim, or Rue? Had Katniss's mother come back to 12 to see them? There were too many unanswered questions, and it just felt very unsatisfactory.

I still found the books very compelling, but I wouldn't say I actually enjoyed them.

Feel free to disagree?!

Thursday, 12 April 2012


Today's WriYe question comes from KraziKrys, who asks: When do you title? Before you start? Somewhere in the middle? At the end? Never? Until your story gets a title, what do you call it? Where do you get your titles? Do they just come to you or do you have some magic words you say and your title appears?

I'll split the answers up.

When do you title? Before you start? Somewhere in the middle? At the end? Never?

Sometimes I'll start a story with a title and nothing else. A phrase or word might jump out at me and spark my imagination so that I know what I want to call the story before I have a fully formed story. My April Fools novel from last year, Down With The Ship, was like that. I got the title from a song and then decided to write a story roughly (very roughly!) based around the song. The title brought up lots of images so I didn't have to look too far for inspiration.

Sometimes something will leap out at me when I'm half way through a story, and usually I've got something as a title by half way through. It's only very rare that I don't have a title by the time I'm finished.

The only story I can think of that I didn't have a title for, and am still not happy with the title, is Alive. The title seems to be boring for a sci-fi story, but I still can't think of anything more interesting.

Until your story gets a title, what do you call it?

Looking through my WiPs, I have titles ranging from a freewrite called Oversee to something called He was still there, which is just the first line of the story. I have others named after the main character and some named after a challenge or prompt that sparked the idea.

Where do you get your titles?
Do they just come to you or do you have some magic words you say and your title appears?

I get my titles all over the place! Writing prompts, phrases that jump out at me, some titles, themes, characters and sometimes something will just stick in my head and will refuse to budge.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Who do we write for anyway?

This week's question, courtesy of CrescentLizzy, is: Who do we write for? Do we write for ourselves or do we write to impress others? Do we write to carry on stories that we think need to be carried on?

So three questions in one, but I'm going to answer the first two together. Primarily I write for me. If I'm not interested in an idea then I'm not going to want to spend time and effort in getting it down on paper, or on the computer screen. Sometimes I'll have an idea going round in my head that I need to write down before it drives me mad, or other times it's something that just develops out of nowhere when I'm writing something else, but all of my stories always start off being for me.

I'm doing a creative writing course with the OU at the moment, so some of my stories are also written for other people to read and mark. But they still start off as something I enjoy writing, or feel that I want to write about, even if the style or genre I'm being asked to write in isn't something I would have chosen myself.

Regarding the third question, sometimes once I've started I'll know I really want to finish a story but I won't know where it's going or how to do it. At that point, writing starts to become more hard work, and a few years ago this would probably have been the point at which I'd just give up and walk away from the story, but now, even if I know I'm not going to show the story to anyone, I try to finish them at least with an outline of a plot.

When I'm writing like this I'm still writing for me, but not for fun any more - now it's to develop my writing skills and push myself to work through writer's block or overcome style problems or things that don't fit. So I do write sometimes to carry on stories I think need to be finished, partly because I don't like leaving my characters dangling and partly because it's something I feel I should do to improve my writing.

But mainly I write for myself and I write for fun and as a bit of escapism :)