Tag Archives: debut novel

Feedback, glorious feedback

 

Photo from Girl with computer emerging technologies social media by Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Girl with computer emerging technologies social media by Walton LaVonda, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

Today is a big day for me. Today, for the first time, I read the first feedback I have received for my completed novel draft.

Okay, I admit it, I received said feedback weeks ago. However, what with the Christmas rush, holidays, kids running around my feet and a very real fear of what the document said, I put off reading it. It was from someone whose point of view matters to me and who is in the novel’s target audience. I was terrified they would say they hated it.

Today, though, I forced myself. Found the email. Opened the document. (Okay, I’d opened it before now, and given it a quick glance. But that was it.) And read the whole thing through, word by word. And do you know what? They didn’t hate it.

Sure, they picked out a few things that need working on. Some, I already knew about (or suspected). Some I hadn’t realised were weak spots. But they also pointed out a few things they really did like, and which they thought worked well. That, my friends, was amazing to read. Yes I’ve had reviews before, but this is the first novel I’ve ever thought of trying to get published, so it felt more important.

Naturally, all this pressure was self-inflicted. We are all our own worst critics and we are convinced that every error we see will be magnified tenfold by others. The truth, though, is that this person who is in my target audience liked my story. Said they would read it again. Said the characters were real and vivid and engaging. And that the story flowed and – generally – worked. And that, my friends, is a huge load off my shoulders.

I still have some other betas who have not yet got back to me, and I’m okay with that. The Christmas period is one of the busiest for pretty much everyone and it can be hard to find time to spare to critique someone’s novel. This first one, though, is like manna from heaven. It means the novel isn’t crap, and I haven’t been wasting my time for the past couple of years. Sure, there are a few tweaks that need to be made, but overall it shows promise and potential. And that, I think, is the best Christmas present I could have received.

 

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O Blogger, Where Art Thou?

Yes, I know. It’s been several months since I posted, and then it was a book review. You’ve heard nothing from me in simply ages. Why? Well, I don’t really know. There are a number of reasons that come to mind, so I’m going to share them with you. Put your hand up if you can relate to any of them.

  1. Lack of material/time. I was finding that blogging twice a week was draining my mind of ideas and cutting into my writing time. I work almost full time and the pressure of coming up with material for two days each week, as well as trying to keep up with other blogs, comments on my blog, and the rest of it was leaving me with next to nothing for my creative writing.
  2. Competing priorities. Update my blog or spend time with my kids? They won’t remember having to muck around the house waiting for me to do my computer stuff, but they will remember me taking them to the zoo. Or the pool. Whatever.
  3. An overall sense of cutting out what was less important. This is an extension of #2. I blogged earlier in the year about cleaning out my cupboards at the same time as I was cleaning up my manuscript, and that attitude still stands. Things that were less important were jettisoned in favour of those items higher up the list. And maintaining my profile as a budding author, while important, felt less so than putting my life in order, spending time with kids (as above), and just generally getting myself in a position that I was happy with. You only get one shot at life so why waste it doing things you don’t want to do?

I know I could have just cut down on the blog frequency, but like a lot of people I suffer from procrastination, and there was also a very real fear that if I started it up again then I might drop back into old habits, which was what was draining me in the first place. And I was drained. I didn’t write a thing for two months, and nor did I do any editing. Nothing at all. My brain just needed a break from all that, and I obliged.

So, what’s changed now? Well, my novel is now at the point where I am happy to send it out to my beta readers for their feedback. I could tinker and fiddle till the cows come home but I don’t think that by myself I’m going to get it much better than it is now. It’s time for new eyes and new perspectives on it. So I’m sending it out for comment, and putting it down till Christmas at the earliest. Then in the new year I can take everyone’s ideas on board to improve it even further.

As such, I’m ready to get back into the world of writers. I won’t be blogging as frequently - once a week will do me, on Mondays like now, with the occasional interview or book review thrown in instead of commentary. It’s a scenario designed to keep me involved, yet help take the pressure off, and to give me more time to devote to novel #2, or the kids, or anything else that seems important at the time. One less post per week will help with my whole-of-life de-clutter that I’ve been undertaking for most of this year.

So yeah, that’s me. Sorry for the long blackout, but fear not, all is good. Oh, and if anyone reading this would like to have a look at my novel in a beta capacity, leave a comment or send me an email at Emily[dot]wheeler02[at]yahoo[dot]com. I’d love to hear from you.

 

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Book review: Little Known Facts, by Christine Sneed

Little Known Facts

Little Known Facts is the debut novel of author Christine Sneed, who has previously published a number of short stories. It follows the world of Renn Ivins, a fictional movie star of the ilk (and generation) of Harrison Ford or Pierce Brosnan – highly successful, multi award winning, and highly sought after by both studios and women.

I was not surprised to learn that the author was known for her short stories prior to this novel, because in reality that is what it is: a collection of short stories with Renn Ivins as the central theme. There are chapters from the points of view of each of his adult children, both his ex-wives, his current lover, a props attendant and wannabe biographer, and Ivins himself, all told in different ways and different styles. Yes, there is a kind of a narrative that follows throughout the chapters, but in many ways it feels much more like a series of essays about a central character than a novel as such.

I will also add here that I was a little surprised that the focus of the novel was, in fact, Renn Ivins, mainly because the blurb on the inside front cover implies that it’s more about his children. Yes, they each get two chapters (more than anyone else does), but it feels like it is Ivins’ story which is really being told, through them, rather than their own.

That being said, it is certainly an interesting read. There is a part of all of us which is curious about the lifestyles of the rich and famous: even if you don’t read the supermarket tabloids or gossip magazines, there is still that bit that wonders what it would be like to have that kind of life. Some covet it, others would hate it, but most of us have at least considered it. This book is one way to satisfy that curiosity: it’s a peek into the life of a very successful Hollywood star, and how that stardom affects those around him and those that mean the most to him. It feels slightly voyeuristic, but it does the job.

I was also impressed with the ease with which Sneed jumped from POV to POV. All of the chapters are styled in a different way – some in first person, some in third, one (from an ex-wife) told in excerpts from her tell-all autobiography, one (Ivins) as notes from his journals. They all felt distinct from each other which is no mean feat: many established authors struggle to change the feel and narrative style of their different POV chapters, yet in this it feels effortless. It may be, as I have noted, due to her background in short stories, but it was certainly noteworthy in a novel of this length.

All in all I thought this was an excellent debut novel. Well-written, engaging and just that little bit voyeuristic, it captured my imagination and made me stay up way past my bedtime so I could finish it. If you have any curiosity about how fame can affect one’s nearest and dearest, then this is definitely one way to find out.

 

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Little Known Facts, by Christine Sneed
320 pages (paperback)
Published by Bloomsbury
Available on Amazon as ebook, hardcover and paperback

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Book review: The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright

This is a review of the book The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright, a novel spanning three generations and a host of characters in early-to-mid twentieth century America.

The story is about the family of Francis Grayson, a free-thinking famous and successful band leader in the 1940s whose career disappears with the advent of rock’n’roll. However, his career is almost supplementary to the story, which is really about the mysteries (and history) surrounding his mother, aunts and grandmother.

I’m the first to admit that in a lot of stories, it’s the tale of a previous generation that intrigues me more than the tale being told. Perhaps it’s because it’s something that is only hinted at, without being spelt out, but I have noticed it about myself. The Harry Potter books, for example, or the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, I find myself thinking more about what came before the events of the novels, than the novels themselves. (Okay, those are fantasy books, and this is historical fiction/mystery, but the point stands.) And, reading this book, I thought the same thing was going to happen again.

The novel starts in first person from the point of view of five year old Elyse, who is soon to become Francis’ step-daughter (and, later, adopted daughter), and her interpretation of what is going on around her. The next chapter, also in first person, tells Francis’ perspective on a number of the same events – much of which is at odds with the way Elyse told it. Even after reading the book twice, I’m still not sure whose is the accurate portrayal, or whether it was in fact a combination of the two. We later see the POV of Aiden Madsen, who had been Francis’ school master and mentor, as the story weaves between the early 1900s to the post-war era, telling bits and pieces of the Grayson family history as it goes.

However, my concern about not seeing the story that intrigued me the most was misplaced, as the story of Francis’ mother, and all the baggage that came with that story, was revealed as the novel progressed. In fact, the title of the book refers to Francis’ mother (albeit in a roundabout way), so I needn’t have worried. I suspect it was the fact that the book opened with Elyse that threw me, thinking that much of the story would be set in the 1950s rather than delving back into the past like it did.

This is, in truth, an awe-inspiring debut novel. It ticks all the boxes: engaging narrative, excellent characterisation, fascinating story, with even a couple of celebrity murders thrown in for good measure. Everything is linked by Francis’ seemingly unshakeable need to “fix” them all – the house, the women who raised him, and his relationship with Elyse, her mother and her sister – yet it is only when he accepts his own limitations that he finds peace. My only significant critique is that the voices all sound similar: the first person narratives of Elyse, Francis and Aiden, three very different people of different generations, didn’t sound particularly different to me as I was reading them. Several times I even had to go back a few pages in order to remember whose story I was being told. I completely understand how difficult it can be to change voices enough to differentiate them on the page to the reader, so I’m not suggesting any lack of skill on Fullbright’s part, but perhaps it might have been better to use third person in a case like this. (She may have tried this, of course, and it didn’t work for her, but that’s just my thought on the matter.)

Overall, though, it is hard to find anything bad to say about this book. If you like mystery, intrigue and a bit of romance, then The Angry Woman Suite is well worth picking up.

 

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The Angry Woman Suite, by Lee Fullbright
Published by Telemachus Press
382 pages (paperback)
Available in paperback and ebook from Amazon

 

 

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Being fair

Too much communications ?!?!

Too much communications ?!?! (Photo credit: occhiovivo)

 

Today I’m posing a question that I’d like people’s thoughts on: Can you work on two projects at once and be fair to both of them?

I’ve always been a one-story-at-a-time kind of girl. I have never been able to devote enough attention to two different projects at once and do them both justice. One will be going fine, but the other will be neglected (and in all likelihood complain about it loudly). I’m also the sort who insists on finishing one story before starting on the next one, because otherwise I’d have a whole stable of unfinished tales out there. Now, JRR Tolkein I am not, so having a collection like that doesn’t really inspire me.

What I’ve been doing this year is working on novel #2, which has a working title of Caffeinated. (This will probably change a number of times during the writing process, but I quite like having working titles even if they do swap around every other week. It beats the situation I found myself in a few years back when I was ready to post a novel online and discovered I didn’t have a title, so I just called it the first thing that came into my head. I didn’t like what I came up with then and I like it even less now, but it seems to have caught on so I am loathe to change it.) I gave myself permission to start work on Caffeinated because novel #1 had a completed first draft. That, and I only came up with the premise just before Christmas and it was all new and exciting in my mind.

Trouble is, I’m falling into old habits. I had set aside this year to edit my first novel, the one whose first draft I completed in November. But I’ve been working on novel #2, and as such novel #1 has fallen by the wayside. I haven’t even opened it this year, let alone started editing. And while I told myself it was becuase I was waiting for a book I’d ordered about structure to arrive from the UK, it arrived last week and I still haven’t done anything about it. Yep, I’m finding myself unable to work on two different projects at once again.

I’m a little torn as to what to do about this. Should I quash my instincts and make a concerted effort to work on both at once? Or should I make a deal with myself, alternating with one story one week (or month) and the other story the next? Or should I work really hard to get a draft for novel #2 done by, say, August, and then edit novel #1 after a good nine months’ break?

What works for you?

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Book review: Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan

Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan

This is a review of the book Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan. You may remember Peter from his three part series on my blog a few months back (part 1, part 2 and part 3), where he talked us through the self-publishing process. Well, I’ve agreed to review his debut novel, and let me say it’s a fine read.

The story centres around Jason Saunders, a fourteen year old boy from small-town Australia. Still smarting from losing the school debate on whether global warming is indeed an issue that needs to be dealt with, Jason goes to his local beach for some me-time, sees a man floundering in the water and swims out to rescue him. The man turns out to be the Australian Prime Minister, who in front of a bunch of media tells Jason he can have anything he wants. The answer? Emission control targets, which is topical not only because of the school debate, but also due to an upcoming global meeting on climate change.

It’s a well-written and engaging story, told not just through Jason’s eyes but also through the prism of Cabinet meetings and, well, let’s call it “secret leaders’ business”. The Government – which by the way could be either of Australia’s major political parties, as it’s not specified which one they are – isn’t necessarily sold on the idea of emission control targets, and wonder if it’s possible to make Jason change his request. After all, with the promise of whatever he wanted caught by the television cameras, they’re in a bit of a hard place politically.

The ups and downs of politics, the personal charm of the leader and the stubbornness – or otherwise – of a fourteen year old boy caught in the middle makes for an engrossing story. Engagingly written, I found myself unwilling to put it down, even when I had to.

That said, of course, I’m not saying that the book is without faults. Early in the book a girl in Jason’s class called Emma makes a few appearances, and it’s implied that Jason has a bit of a thing for her. This would generally make one think that she would have a role later in the story, but past the first few chapters she doesn’t show up again. To me that feels like a loose end – why include her if she’s not going to have a role?

The other thing that bothered me was Jason’s desire for a large, petrol-guzzling SUV. Sure, I can see a fourteen year old eyeing off something like that, and encouraging his father to buy one, but for a boy who staunchly claims over and over that “if it’s bad for the environment I don’t want it”, it does seem an odd preference. Maybe if he planned to convert it to run on used vegetable oil from the local fish and chip shop that would make more sense, but if he did it’s not mentioned in the narrative.

Overall, though, it’s an entertaining story for a young adult audience. Those from outside Australia might find some of the politics confusing, but then again it’s explained pretty well in the text (the PM does have to make sure Jason knows how the system works) so that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Sure, if you’re one of the climate change skeptics you might take issue with Jason and his convictions, but then again I wouldn’t expect a climate change skeptic to pick up a book called Who Will Save the Planet? anyway. Assuming, though, that you’re not turned off by a few paragraphs of political explanation and a theme around fighting global warming, I would say it’s well worth a read.

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Who Will Save the Planet? by Peter McLennan
200 pages (paperback)
Published by Peter McLennan
Available on Amazon.com as e-book and paperback.

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Book review: The Harbour, by Francesca Brill

The Harbour, by Francesca Brill

This is a review of the novel The Harbour, by Francesca Brill. Set in Hong Kong during the Second World War, it follows the story of Stevie Steiber, an American journalist, and her illicit affair with British Major Harry Field.

The tale is an intriguing one. With a backdrop of impending war in a colonial outpost foolishly clinging to the belief it is untouchable, we see the frustration of a woman wanting to write something substantial and worthwhile, but forced by circumstance to deliberate on the frivolous antics of the British ruling class. You know, what sort of frocks are being worn to the races, that sort of thing. She is trying to convince some of the area’s most powerful Chinese women to allow her to tell their story, but always there is something in the background that seems to be going against her.

Add to this her quite frankly odd relationship with her editor (they got married to give her Chinese papers, yet he is already married and his wife is quite fine with the affair) and her fateful encounter with Harry Field and you have a fascinating and potentially explosive mix. That said, however, I didn’t really feel it lived up to its potential. Perhaps it was the head-hopping – I have difficulty with more than one or two POVs being shown per scene, and sometimes in this there were five. I understand that Francesca Brill has a background in writing screenplays, which is where this tendency probably comes from, but that doesn’t make it any less dizzying for the reader.I felt that perhaps more effort should have been put into external narration in these cases, as it is perfectly possible to demonstrate what a character is feeling or thinking by describing their actions, and it leads to less of a mosaic of points of view.

The other thing that may have stopped this story from fulfilling its potential is the scant attention paid to the feelings of the main protagonists. This is supposed to be a love affair that transcended everything, breaking up marriages, leading to social ostracism a la Anna Karenina, yet I didn’t really feel it. There was a lot of attention paid to what these people did, but comparatively little on how they felt and how that impacted on their decisions. In other words, the longing that they were supposed to be experiencing just didn’t jump off the page for me. For a book whose cover boasts the quote, “We need more love stories like this,” it was distinctly underwhelming.

Despite these shortcomings, it was a well written book and the story it told was indeed fascinating. As a debut novel it shows a lot of promise, and the characterisation of Stevie in particular was outstanding. I particularly liked her responses to questions about her personal life once the war had finished and how people tried to cope with her decisions  I also liked the depiction of Harry in the POW camp and how he came to do some of the things he did. The truth is that people’s actions, particularly in wartime, are very rarely black and white, and the shades of grey shown in this novel demonstrate that brilliantly.

All in all, I enjoyed  The Harbour. While some aspects of it did disappoint me, it does give an outstanding depiction of life in Hong Kong in the 1940s and the challenges and troubles faced by its inhabitants, and as I said the characterisation was indeed excellent. For a good historical novel about the war in Hong Kong, it’s well worth picking up.

 

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The Harbour, by Francesca Brill
Published by Bloomsbury Publishing
342 pages (paperback)
Available from Amazon.com as  paperback and e-book

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