February has been another great month for me with regards to my reading. I set out at the beginning of January to read one book per week. Sometimes I think that will never happen, and other times it seems like a massive underestimation in what I can do. Achieving that usually revolves around my daughter’s sleeping patterns so my reading this month has been up and down. I wake up at six a.m. seven days a week with a plan to read for an hour before the house wakes up. When this happens I knock out a book in a few days. When it doesn’t it might take me two weeks to finish. And for the last two weeks it’s as if my daughter was just waiting to hear the alarm, and has been merrily waking up at the same time.
Not one to be put off, I have decided to read anyway while she is with me. Sometimes it works; I get to keep my book and she gets one of hers. Other times she plays with my Kindle, which is apparently a lot of fun to turn on and off and change the font size. I figure even if I don’t get my reading done, she gets exposed to books as a normal thing in everyday life, so either way is a winner for me.
So without further ado, here’s the rundown of what I’ve been reading this month.
STILL ME by Jojo Moyes.
I have absolutely loved each book in this series. Me Before You remains my favourite but this comes in a very close second. I loved the twists and turns in Lou’s life, and everything about her life in New York seemed so perfect for her journey. I’m really hoping there is another story in this series yet to come because I am not ready to say goodbye to Lou Clark just yet.
LOST FOR WORDS by Stephanie Butland
Stephanie Butland was a new author for me, but she has quite a back catalogue which I will certainly be dipping into in the future. I really enjoyed this book, loved the quirky characters, and their lives which revolved around books. I could really imagine the book shop, and I didn’t see the conclusion coming so there were still some surprises for me at the end.
4321 by Paul Auster
I set off at a great pace with this one but eventually it got the better of me. I got a few hundred pages in, and while it is extremely well written and I think would appeal to many readers, this one wasn’t for me at the present time. I hate it when that happens, I feel like I’m letting not only myself down, but also the writer too. I haven’t given up on this yet because I do think it’s a great story, and such a great premise, but I have for now taken a break. So far, unfinished.
SLEEP by C.L.Taylor
I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of this book and I am so pleased I did. Absolutely loved it. It is claustrophobic, tightly wound, and I did not see the conclusion coming until near the end so the payoff was huge. If you like reading thrillers like The Ice Twins by S. K. Tremayne, I think you will love this. If you haven't read that, that also comes highly recommended. It’s out on April 4th.
SUMMER AT THE KINDNESS CAFÉ by Victoria Walters
This was my last complete book for February and it did not disappoint. I’m trying to vary genre as I read at the moment to keep the variety going, and this was a lovely uplifting story to follow the dark weavings of the previous book I read. If you love feeling good while you read, then this is the book for you. The characters are loveable, the premise was something we could all learn from, and it just left me with a great big smile on my face. What’s not to like about that?
The stages of writing a novel are many and varied, and some of them are easier than others. Take the final copy edit as an example. It doesn’t take much effort on my part to read my own book and look for typos, as long as I can find the will to tolerate reading my own material for the hundredth time and accept that I won’t find any mistakes, even though they are there. But I consider the easiest stage of writing a novel to be the very first. I have just reached the end of writing the first draft, and at no point during the revision process will it ever be this easy again.
Now that’s not to say that coming up with a worthy idea or manoeuvring my characters around for the duration of 90,000 is a doddle. On top of that, coming up with a decent hook is no mean feat. How many books have I written only to realise after writing the first draft that the hook needs work before it goes to a publisher or agent? Hint; every book I’ve ever written. But there is a certain freedom to be found in the mentality of writing a first draft, for me at least, which I think most writers who do this on a full time basis appreciate. That freedom comes from the knowledge that the first draft is allowed to be really, really shit.
Many writers have talked about writing a first draft, and one of my favourite quotes about this process comes from John Dufresne; The purpose of a first draft is not to get it right, but get it written. There should be no hesitations or concerns about language or poetic phrasing. Just get the damn thing written. You can edit it pretty later. And so if upon a first reading I find that the first draft is any good, even a little bit good, then I think that is a huge stroke of luck in my favour.
I often think of writing a book as a bit like crossing a torrential, raging river. Writing a first draft is the same as throwing in great big boulders to create stepping stones so that you can just about get from one side to the next without falling in the water and getting swept downstream. There’s nothing glamourous or elegant about it, and the point is simply to get from one side to the other by any means possible while your agent and publisher wait on the bank for a safe crossing to be created. Of course, they are carrying their own tools to help you, much more sophisticated tools that can be used later in the process, but they are still waiting on the other bank while you make that first exploratory journey. They don’t want to get on that crossing or get involved in its engineering until it already looks like a stable path.
So right now the stage I am at is that I’m back on the bank with the whole crew behind me, waiting to test the route I have laid. I’m standing there, looking at what I’ve done, and wondering whether the path is going to hold. This first edit is the hardest, but also the most rewarding period in writing a book. It’s the point when all the major players arrive at their stations, when you move your characters not only from A to B, but give them a purpose and motive behind it. There’s thought, not just from the writer, but from the characters. In real life we all have friends whose behaviour we can predict, whose responses we can anticipate, and creating a book full of characters with the purpose of telling a story is like getting to know new friends. If characters don’t start to think for themselves, ergo, directing the way of the narrative, the chances are they are not yet developed sufficiently to do so; you just don’t know them well enough yet.
I edited my first chapter yesterday and it was a bit of a pleasant surprise. My first draft comes in at just under 90,000, and it wasn’t until I hit 75,000 words that I really had the first lightbulb moment, that thought when I suddenly realised how to link the beginning to the end, and the relevance of all the major events mid-way through. And what is great to realise now is that those early stepping stones I tentatively laid just over a month ago right at the start of my journey serve a very nice purpose. Sometimes it’s necessary for a complete do-over, but this time it would seem that my early chapters, although they need work, serve as a great foundation for what I really want to say.
Although I might have reached the end of what I consider the easiest stage of writing a novel, I am about to commence the hardest. I’ve got my feet back in the water, and I’m praying that the stones I have set in place hold up as I expect them to. So far they look as if they just might.
This year I decided to set myself a challenge when it came to reading books. The truth is, while I like to think I read a lot, there are some weeks that I barely make it through a few chapters. I get easily distracted by life and a month down the line I realise that I haven’t finished a single title. It’s not because I don’t like reading, I love it. Just the general distractions of life like cleaning, family, friends, and yes, TV, end up taking priority. So this year I decided to make reading one of my priorities. I wake early, make myself a coffee, and read for between half an hour to an hour each morning, and am reading each night too. I have set myself the challenge of reading fifty-two books by the end of the year.
For some readers that’s not much. Hell, I just saw a post on Instagram where the person had read twenty-two books in January. With al the will in the world I will never be able to read that much. But when I am focussed on reading I know it keeps me focussed on other areas in my life too. Writing for one. The more I read the greater my word count. That’s a great big tick in reading’s favour. My year really seems to have started out with absolute discipline, hitting my reading target, meditating almost every night, and plus I have just started learning the piano. Whether that will last’s I cannot say, but so far I love it. It’s a great way to take a break from writing instead of eating whatever is in the kitchen just a few steps away. All I need to do is swivel my chair and I can practice my chords.
Now, let’s be clear; I’m no book reviewer. I’ll leave that to the people who know how to do it. I’m just sharing what I read. And it’s been a great month. I’ve really enjoyed these books. And while for the last ten years I have claimed that Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is my favourite book, this month has changed that. There’s a new champion. Read on to find out what took the top spot.
First up was THE WISDOM OF SALLY RED SHOES. I read this book with much excitement after loving Ruth Hogan’s The Keeper of Lost Things. This book didn’t disappoint me, and I think readers who enjoyed her first book will also enjoy this story filled with rich, eccentric characters.
Next up was A LITTLE LIFE. I bought this book almost three years ago, after it made the Man Booker shortlist in 2015. I had just met my agent, and a trip to the bookshop was on the cards. That day I flew back to Cyprus with six hardbacks in my bag. I have no idea what the others were, or why this has remained on my shelf for so long, but this book will stay in my heart forever. Never have I cried so many times, never have I thought so much about a book in the hours when I’m not reading it, and never has a book stayed with me in such a way as this one has. My husband even asked me when I was going to be finished with it because I was starting to become withdrawn. I went on a journey, and had a definite book hangover. A beautiful and heart-breaking story I will never forget. My new favourite. I can’t see it ever being replaced. Jude and Willem forever.
Luckily I selected another great book to follow on from that. The next book on my TBR was DARK PINES. This is another that has been on my shelf for a while after being sent the ARC, but it got displaced in the proceedings by the arrival of my beautiful daughter. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to discover the wonderful world Will Dean created. The follow up is RED SNOW, and has just been released. Can’t wait to get my hands on that one, but with postage to Cyprus I think I might have to wait a couple of weeks to slip back into the Nordic world of Tuva Moodyson.
The last book of January was I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS. This is, embarrassingly, my first book by Maya Angelou. It is heartfelt, informative, and an education in resilience in the face of discrimination and hardship. A wonderful read.
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