Monday, 8 January 2018

See You Later Alligator...

2017… you were another difficult year… politically, socially, for the people around me, at work. Honestly, 2018 you need to be better because we’re all counting on you.

So writing a best of blog post for 2017 has been proven to be more difficult than I first thought. Having gone through the list of books read, and I’m struggling to pick my favourite books because I read some fantastic books… not because I read some dreadful books, oh no, the opposite – so many great books…

 Describing a book as life changing always seems over the top but Little Black Book by Otegha Uwagba is one of those books. With tips on how to overcome creative blocks, career advice, and mostly importantly finance advice. Reading this book made me finally take notice of what happens to my money every money – I’ve changed my bank account, consolidated a couple of debts (which were small and annoying) into one smart payment, negotiated a better deal for my broadband, insurances and mortgage and also tackle the money thing draining my bank account – my car. I was able to get a brilliant deal on a newer car. This book is pocket sized, and not very long and I really think it should be handed to everybody as the advice in this book is amazing.


Shrill by Lindy West is another one of those books which should be handed out at school. I really wish there was a book like this when I was younger. Lindy tackles feminism, body image, body shaming and dealing with real trolls. This book is full of humour and charm. Go and buy it right now.

Normally long books are a no-go zone for me. I don’t like to admit this but I know that other people feel the same (I hope) but I find it hard to maintain interest in a very long story and concentrate on all of the character progresses – I normally end up flip back to remember what happened. BUT, I think I’ve been cured of this aversion. The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker (translated by Sam Taylor) follows Marcus as he tries to prove his old professor is innocent of murder as well struggle with writer's block and the demands of fame. There are so many twists and turns in this story, and the writing is sharp and addictive. I really liked the way writing is compared to boxing and it wasn't something I considered before (I thought boxing was punch, punch, punch and then the opponent falls over - don't roll your eyes - I know differently now - we all have wrong impressions about professions - how many of us think writers just write, write, write and then get published).

Winner of the 2017 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction, The Power by Naomi Alderman has captured the way feminism is fighting back. Women across the global realise they have an electric power within that comes alive when attacked or angry. They can inflict pain or even death. The power struggle between men and women starts to tip the other way, and men are finding they no longer have control. This is a fantastic novel - go and buy this one and read it!

A book about loneliness, living on a remote island and writing sounds like a dream situation to me, and so I feel like Bleaker House was written for me to warn me of ever becoming a recluse. Nell Stevens has been given a writing grant to spend three months to write a novel in a location of her choice. She picks Bleaker Island, Falklands. But this book is not that novel. Instead this is a book about a woman realizing a novel doesn’t lie in total solitude and a clear plan. Nell wants to teach herself the art of loneliness and then she’ll know if she is a proper author. This is a great book, full of great details and funny insights.


One of my favourite quotes from The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair was "Writing a book is like loving someone. It can be very painful,” and I found it very true of my writing in 2017. One of my stories, LostConnection, was published over at Dear Damsels but other than that I finally managed to finish redrafting and editing my novel, and now begins the wait from hearing back from agents.



You can read all of my monthly catch ups from 2017 here.

Monday, 1 January 2018

December Reading

Best month yet - six books read - thank you holidays!

So lets do a whistle-stop tour of the books I read in December...

BUT STOP PRESS before that, here's a little writing update...

My story, Lost Connection, about losing connection to the internet, is now live at Dear Damsels and you can read it via this link > Lost Connection

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion
A few people have recommended this book over the past year, and I saw it whilst browsing in a bookshop so I decided to give it a chance. Don, a scientist, has never been on a second date, and that's a big problem because he wants a wife. He comes up with a long and complicated questionnaire to try and find the perfect woman but along comes Rosie who doesn't match any of Don's criteria. She causes chaos in his ordered world and Don doesn't know what to do. This was a quirky, quick read, and if you're looking for a twist on a romantic comedy then this would be the ideal book.

Nevada Days - Bernardo Atxaga (translated from Spanish by Margaret Jill Costa)
A writer and his family move to Nevada to research the Basque culture. This is a fictionalised account of Atxaga's writer in residence where there were strange encounters, mixed with dreams of the past. This book explores the way the way our experiences can shape our present and future. This book didn't pull me into the story but I did like the themes behind this book.

How to Build a Girl - Caitlin Moran
I've had this on my bookshelf for a while. So I'm definitely kicking myself for not reading this sooner as it is hilarious. This is a coming of age tale from a council estate in Wolverhampton all the way to working as a music journalist in London. Fuelled by 90s music, shouty parents and trying to live off dole money.

How to Stop Time - Matt Haig
So I originally purchased this as Christmas present for someone else but started reading it while wrapping up Christmas presents and erm, well, the person got a different present. Tom has been alive for centuries, having to change identity every 8 years so people don't notice that he isn't aging. He just wants to have a normal life but he can't seem to let go of the past. This is a bittersweet story about trying to find your purpose and letting yourself love, again.

A Field Guide to the North American Family - Garth Risk Hallberg
Told through photographs and interconnecting flash fictions, two families are put under the spotlight as they struggle to find the American dream. Affairs, deaths, wayward children - these families want to be seen as being the perfect family but events behind closed doors are starting to seep out into their public persona. I love the way the stories connected, and the way the reader could choose to read the stories in the order laid out by the author or by reading them via theme.

Scrappy Little Nobody - Anna Kendrick
I don't read ebooks as much as I used too but it was cold, I didn't fancy going to a book shop or waiting for a book to be delivered and I had nothing to read (a bit like when you look into your wardrobe and decide you have nothing to wear even though it's jammed pack with clothes) and this was plucked my interest. Nothing like ending the year with a book to make you snort out loud. Anna's mishaps in her life are really funny. You've been warned about the snorting!

Right, I'm off to pick out my top reads for 2017.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Happy New Year

Happy New Year!

Saw this quote on Twitter from Neil Gaiman and knew it would appeal to lots of people...


May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.


Originally from this blog post from Neil Gaiman. Click through for more lovely advice to see you into the next year.

Friday, 29 December 2017

New Published Story: Lost Connection



I think it's safe to say that most of us use the internet on a daily basis and when we don't have a connection because we have either left our phone at home or the modem doesn't want to play ball then we feel a panic rising inside - what you don't - oh, well I 'hear' from friends that what's like to feel!

Lost Connection, my short piece of writing has been published over at Dear Damsels. This story looks into that desperate need to have a connection to the digital world.

You can read my story here > Lost Connection 

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Random Acts of Kindness - Chapter 1

To celebrate the launch of Victoria Walters's new serial novel, Random Acts of Kindness, we have the chapter one available to read today!

Random Acts of Kindness will be available in four ebook parts with the first one available now and the other three parts are available as pre-orders. Victoria's book will also be coming out in paperback.

Buy the first part here.

You can find out more information about all four parts on the Simon & Schuster website.

Victoria lives here on Twitter and also over on Instagram.

*

Chapter One 

The endless green countryside stretched out as far as Abbie Morgan could see from the train window. The urban blanket of London had transformed into the rolling Surrey Hills as she made her way to the small town of Littlewood. It had been a nightmare of a week and her head was still pounding. Her suitcases were wedged in beside her, another painful reminder that this wasn’t a quick visit to see her younger sister, Louise, she was actually moving in with her. Hopefully not for long, but still . . .

Abbie sighed and leaned her head against the cool window so that her shoulder-length dark curls fell across her cheek, screening her from her fellow passengers. She was relieved that her train carriage was relatively empty, save for a mother and daughter a few seats away, so she could dwell on recent events in glum peace. She had lived in London for five years since leaving university and couldn’t believe she was being forced to part ways with it. But when she had been made redundant from her job at City PR, where she had worked for the last two years, she knew there was no way she could stay in the city she loved. The worst part was that her ex-boyfriend, Jack, a partner at the company, had been the one to deliver the news.

Abbie’s phone on her lap buzzed with a call. ‘Hi, Lou,’ she greeted her sister, forcing a smile into her voice, if not fully onto her face. She was grateful to her little sister for putting her up but wished she didn’t live in such a tiny town. At least the train would be quite quick for getting back to the city if she had interviews to go to.

‘I’m so sorry I won’t be there to meet you from the train,’ Louise said. ‘I won’t be much longer though. Do you want to meet me at the café near the station and we can go home together?’ Louise was a nurse at a hospital in the next, larger town, and her shift would be over soon. Abbie agreed to the plan and got directions to Brew. Louise said she was excited to finally show her town to Abbie, who hadn’t had any time since getting the assistant job at City PR to make the trip out of London. Louise had always come to stay with her when she had time off instead. To Abbie, London was the place that everyone should want to be, so she had been surprised that Louise had settled somewhere so quiet.

The train soon drew into the small station of Littlewood. Colourful hanging baskets adorned the platform. It made a stark change from the graffiti Abbie was used to seeing on her old commute. She heaved her two wheelie cases off the train and rattled along the platform with them. She had sent the rest of her things to her parents’ house in Cornwall.

After struggling through the barriers with her bags, she began to walk to the café – which turned out to be in the grounds of a grand stone house perched on top of a hill looking over the small town.

The uphill walk was not at all easy in her favourite four-inch-heeled boots, but when you were as tiny as she was, you needed the extra height at all times, so she dragged herself and her bags towards the stately home. Louise said the café stood at the beginning of the estate and was the best place in Littlewood for coffee. And, God, Abbie needed a large cup.

She heard a faint noise in the wind behind her, but she kept up her brisk London pace, thinking it was probably someone after money or something. That was usually why people tried to get your attention nowadays.

Finally, she made it to the top of the hill. The café was just through the imposing iron gates of the stately home. There was a green and gold sign proclaiming the house to be Huntley Manor – a luxury hotel, apparently. Abbie glanced at the tall, light-brown stone building as she made her way to the cute-looking café on the edge of the green. The hotel looked as if it could have been lifted out of a Jane Austen novel and Abbie resolved to explore it soon.

Abbie gratefully pushed open the door to Brew to escape the light drizzle of rain starting to fall on top of her shoulders, and she went up to the counter to order. The café was cute and colourful with small, round wooden tables with a vase of sunflowers on each and slate chairs in different shades of blue, a black and white tiled floor and a large counter at the back with a vast array of delicious-looking cakes. Abbie breathed in the fresh coffee smell that lingered on the air. She loved cafés and this one felt like home as soon as she walked through the door.

‘Good morning!’ said a lady with a messy grey-haired bun and big smile, leaning on the counter to greet her. Her apron was blue and white with ‘Have a Brew!’ written on it in big letters. ‘What can I get you?’

‘A large latte, please.’

The woman started making it immediately and glanced back at Abbie as she did so. ‘I haven’t seen you in here before, have I?’

Abbie shook her head. ‘No, I’m here to stay with my sister.’

‘Well, I’m Joy and I own Brew with my husband, Harry. He’s in the back making sandwiches. Welcome to Littlewood,’ she said cheerfully, sliding Abbie’s drink across to her. She moved to the till.

Abbie reached for her bag, but her hands grabbed air instead. ‘Oh no!’ she cried, looking down at her cases in horror.

‘What’s wrong?’ Joy asked, leaning over the counter to see.

‘But I picked it up off the train, I’m sure I did,’ she said out loud, shaking her head. She had kept her handbag balanced on top of one of the wheelie cases so she didn’t have to carry it on her shoulder. ‘I can’t find my bag,’ she admitted to Joy.

‘Oh, dear, I’m sorry,’ Joy said, sympathetically.

Abbie checked around her again, a sinking feeling in her chest. ‘What am I going to do without it?’ she said. If living in London had taught her anything, it was to keep a tight hold of your belongings at all times. She’d have to cancel her cards immediately. Oh, God. Her phone was in there. She started to feel panicky at the thought of not having it with her. How would anyone get in contact with her?

‘Look, try not to worry. You’re in Littlewood now and everyone looks out for one another here. I’m sure someone will find your bag and deliver it back to you. Go and sit down and drink your latte; you’ve had a shock and you need your coffee.’

‘But I can’t pay for it,’ Abbie admitted, her cheeks turning pink. She had never lost her bag before. This week was just going from bad to worse.

‘Don’t be silly, it’s on us.’ Joy grabbed a brownie and put it on a plate. ‘This too.’

‘Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly accept . . .’

Joy waved off Abbie’s protests. ‘Sit down, I insist. You can pay next time, after you find your bag.’

Abbie wished she shared Joy’s faith that her bag would be found. She carried the brownie and latte over to her table, hoping Louise would hurry up and get there so she could use her phone to ring the bank.

The door to the café banged open, making Abbie turn with a start. ‘There you are,’ a woman cried, waving something at her. ‘I’ve been chasing you from the station.’ A little girl followed her inside the café; both of them were pulling suitcases. ‘Your bag fell off when you went through the barrier,’ she said, a distinct accent to her brisk tone, holding up what Abbie could now see was her lost handbag.

Abbie recognised her from the train carriage and breathed a huge sigh of relief. ‘Oh, wow, thank you so much,’ she said, amazed that the woman had followed her all the way to Brew to get it back to her. She took it from her. ‘I’m so grateful.’

The woman, who looked a similar age to Abbie’s twenty-eight years and had a sharp, blonde bob, smiled. ‘Of course. I would be so upset if I lost mine.’

‘See? I told you it would turn up,’ Joy called from the counter. ‘All’s well that ends well.’

‘It certainly wouldn’t have got back to me so quickly in London,’ Abbie said. She pulled out her purse. ‘And now I can pay you.’

‘No, this one is still on us,’ Joy said, firmly. ‘What would you like?’ she asked Abbie’s saviour just as a tall, round-bellied man came out of the kitchen with two plates of egg and cress sandwiches for an elderly couple sitting by the door. ‘This is my husband, Harry,’ Joy told them. ‘And I can see you’re new to Littlewood too,’ she added to the blonde woman who had seated her daughter with their bags at the next table to Abbie.

‘I’m Eszter. This is Zoe. We’ve just arrived in England from Hungary.’

‘Well, we hardly ever get any newcomers and now we have three! Coffee?’

Joy took Eszter’s order and brought her drinks to the table. She glanced at Abbie who was marvelling at how delicious her brownie was. ‘You look so familiar; have we met before?’

Abbie shook her head. ‘No, but my sister Louise lives here.’

‘Is that Louise Morgan?’ Joy asked, her eyes lighting up.

‘That’s right, yes.’

Harry came over and put his arm around his wife. ‘We know Louise well, lovely girl, she helped looked after me in hospital and started coming in here then. Drinks too much coffee for a nurse, though.’

Abbie smiled. ‘It runs in the family.’

‘So, you’re here to stay with Louise, and what about you?’ Joy asked Eszter.

‘We’re here to see family too. Well, sort of family, anyway.’ She sipped her coffee with a nervous look on her face. She glanced at her daughter, who had long, fair hair and the same sharp eyes as her mother. ‘It was a bit of a rush decision to come here. We don’t even know where we’re going to stay.’ She bit her lip, then smiled quickly when Zoe looked at her. Abbie suspected she was putting a brave face on things and was intrigued by their story.

‘I’m sure we can help with that,’ Joy said. Then she clapped her hands together. ‘And, Abbie, I just remembered, you must put Eszter’s kindness to you up on the board,’ she said, gesturing to the large chalkboard that hung across one wall. It was filled with chalk scribbles in various styles of handwriting and colours.

‘What’s that?’

‘This is our Kindness Board. If anyone has an act of kindness done to them, they write it up on the board. We started it this summer and it's already filling up. Eszter finding your bag is definitely worthy of being up there,’ Joy said, going back around the counter to make Louise’s regular coffee for her arrival. She held out a piece of chalk to Abbie.

‘A Kindness Board?’ Abbie glanced at her, wondering if it was a joke, but Joy told her to go on up. Sensing everyone’s eyes on her, Abbie went to the board and looked at some of the entries already up there. Feeling like she was back in school, she added Eszter’s random act of kindness to the board.

My lost handbag was returned to me by Eszter. Thank you for your act of kindness!

She added a smiley face to it.

‘And now you’ll have to pay her act of kindness forward,’ Joy said from behind her.

‘Huh?’

‘In Littlewood, if someone is kind to you, you repay their act by being kind to someone yourself.’

Abbie stared at Joy, wondering if she had walked into some kind of cult. ‘That’s a thing?’

Joy laughed. ‘We are trying to make it “a thing”, yes. Ever since Harry was in hospital, and the whole town rallied around us and helped us keep Brew going, we have tried to be kind to the community when we can. Harry thought having a board in here would encourage others to do the same.’

‘Is it working?’ Abbie was sceptical. She was certain no one had ever been what she would call ‘kind’ to a stranger back in London.

‘You’ll have to come back and tell me if it works for you.’ Joy went to serve another customer and Abbie watched her go, wondering if she was really expected to pay Eszter’s kindness forward.

Was kindness something that could be sprinkled around as if it was confetti?