Thursday, 27 November 2014

Book Review: The Glass Magician

THE GLASS MAGICIAN by Charlie N. Holmberg
5 stars
Verdict: Like book one? You’ll love book 2!
#1 - The Paper Magician
#3 - The Master Magician

Here's the blurb:

Three months after returning Magician Emery Thane’s heart to his body, Ceony Twill is well on her way to becoming a Folder. Unfortunately, not all of Ceony’s thoughts have been focused on paper magic. Though she was promised romance by a fortuity box, Ceony still hasn’t broken the teacher-student barrier with Emery, despite their growing closeness.

When a magician with a penchant for revenge believes that Ceony possesses a secret, he vows to discover it…even if it tears apart the very fabric of their magical world. After a series of attacks target Ceony and catch those she holds most dear in the crossfire, Ceony knows she must find the true limits of her powers…and keep her knowledge from falling into wayward hands.

I loved the first book and found it a charming read, but it did have various flaws that meant I had to knock it down a star. This time I began THE GLASS MAGICIAN with a clean slate, ready to accept the rushed romance of book 1. I was pleasantly surprised that the main character, Ceony, brought up this issue in her own thoughts. I felt a bit like Holmberg understood the potential flaw and knew she couldn’t change it without wrecking the story – I’m not going to hold a grudge. I really do think this is a great read.

Ceony continues to learn her command over paper. The world building in book one was a little limited, but for book two we venture outwards into a paper mill at first, although here we meet those who can control glass, fire, and other elements, and finally get to experience what the other magicians and apprentices can do. The structure of magic and the law became a lot clearer too. The world Ceony lives in becomes a lot easier to understand.

At the start, I felt the story took a rather predictable turn, and we a handful of new characters who don’t play a huge role in this novel and weren’t shown in a particularly interesting light. But once over that ridge, the pace picks up and the originality factor starts to seep through once more.

There’s no superficial action this time round either – Ceony truly faces a hard battle against a new character, an alleged Excisioner named Grath, and she finally meets her match. Her head strong ways that led her to victory in the prequel come back to bite her and cause her more trouble than she can handle.

But don't think that Ceony steals all the fun. This time round I enjoyed seeing Emery Thane in action. No longer sidelined, Emery shows how powerful and smart he can be, as well as respected and still quirky. I’m starting to understand the strengths of paper a little more, too, and more pieces of the Lira puzzle are slipping into place.

Now there is something I'm sweeping under the rug. I still don’t agree with the romance element. I don’t feel the chemistry. I get the feeling that Ceony has a crush and Emery is fond of his apprentice. But romantic love? It just doesn’t feel right, and the age gap doesn't help. The only good thing about the disconnected romance is that it’s not a big deal. Thankfully, Ceony isn't one to pine. I actually like that it causes conflict between Ceony and Magician Aviosky, bringing out the supervisors character and adding another layer to the story.

And the good bits outweigh the bad - I found it hard for my niggles to bring me down when reading this.

What makes this book special is the originality, the charm, the characters, and the quirkiness. Its got a hold over me that I can’t quite pinpoint. I love the style of the covers and the style of the writing, and Ceony brings the adventure to life. Based on recommendation alone, I would give it five stars. It feels like it will become a classic, and never again will I read a series quite like this one.

The ending is what really won it for me. I won’t say much, except I was impressed. Action packed, clever, and fits so well – Holmberg has nailed it with this one.

All my doubts about the series from book 1 have disintegrated (minus the romance – I’m looking the other way on that one). This is a brilliant sequel, and I can’t wait for the next instalment.


Friday, 21 November 2014

NaNoWriMo Win!

Done! Finito! Fini!

At midday I managed to complete the NaNoWri over a week early. Last week I realised I was well on schedule to complete it in time, and so I decided to push real hard to make sure I was definitely going to win. Here are the top three things that helped me the most:

  • Planning. I had the idea for this three years ago, and it's been on my mind ever since. I knew the character, I knew the plot, I knew the subplots, and I knew where my problems were going to be. I had all that ironed out before November even started so that I could just keep writing.
  • I didn't focus on the word count, I focused on getting the story as complete as possible and managed to get well ahead of my word count. It's hard to play catch up later and I knew I wanted to win this year, so I downsized my procrastination and made sure I wrote nearly every day.
  • Knowing that my blog was inspiring others to have a go at the NaNoWriMo also spurred me along even further. I have a competitive streak and I hope you do too - I've won, now you lot need to get cracking!

The Clearing

WITHER meets THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH: who will survive Ruby's reckless decision? If you like the sound of that, maybe you would like to be a Beta-Reader for my latest manuscript, The Clearing.

I truly want the most honest opinion you can muster. The book is fairly short (between 50,000 to 60,00 words) and is a young/new adult, dystopian horror. Here's the working synopsis:

Ruby struggles with her village's stubborn ways, but even more so with why those Sentenced run willingly into the forest full of the Soulless. She knows there's more to life than this one village, and refuses to sit back and raise children, especially whilst her friend is being abused by her father and strangers are being rejected entry from the village.

When Ruby is Sentenced for endangering the whole village, she refuses to run. She wants them to watch the Soulless infect her as payback for her harsh banishment! Only the town psychic pulls her back from her fate at the last minute, crossing hairs with the Mayor and causing a chain of events that have disastrous consequences for the whole entire village.

Maybe Ruby should have run...

Please use the contact form if you're interested. I can't wait to hear what you think, whether it's good, bad, or somewhere in the middle.

I'll be posting up an exert soon!

My Final Tips

You don't have to win to succeed. If you've got a big chunk of writing done which you know you would have never made yourself do without this event, then you've already succeeded.

But winning is nice.

Don't get too comfortable. If you feel like your on schedule, then remember how unpredictable life can be and really push yourself further. Try to keep yourself a day or so in front. That means you're less likely to be scrabbling around on the last day, praying for the last ounce of inspiration to carry you through.

Go back and flesh out some of your earlier scenes. Save the real editing for later, but maybe some of those scenes you wrote last week could do with an extra few hundred words to really build the tension, set the scene, and reiterate past events to remind readers of bits they may have forgotten about.

Start thinking about the sequels. Sometimes I start writing scenes for later books whilst I'm still working on the first. It's not cheating (or at least I don't think it is) to explore what may happen after the book 1 plan, and who knows, maybe you were really writing bits from book 1 all along!

Watch This Blog For Freebies! 

Next month I'm planning on offering free (short) section edits to those participating in the NaNoWriMo, to help you kick start the editing process.

Also, I have a fantastic author offering two copies of her new novel! Entries will open in December.

There will also be lots of advice on self-publishing next month, so check back soon for lots of great freebies and tips.

Let me know when you succeed!

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Book Review: The Paper Magician

THE PAPER MAGICIAN by Charlie N. Holmberg
4 stars
Verdict: For anyone who enjoys fantasy. Very versatile!
#2 - The Glass Magician
#3 - The Master Magician

Ceony Twill arrives at the cottage of Magician Emery Thane with a broken heart. Having graduated at the top of her class from the Tagis Praff School for the Magically Inclined, Ceony is assigned an apprenticeship in paper magic despite her dreams of bespelling metal. And once she’s bonded to paper, that will be her only magic…forever.

Yet the spells Ceony learns under the strange yet kind Thane turn out to be more marvelous than she could have ever imagined—animating paper creatures, bringing stories to life via ghostly images, even reading fortunes. But as she discovers these wonders, Ceony also learns of the extraordinary dangers of forbidden magic.

An Excisioner—a practitioner of dark, flesh magic—invades the cottage and rips Thane’s heart from his chest. To save her teacher’s life, Ceony must face the evil magician and embark on an unbelievable adventure that will take her into the chambers of Thane’s still-beating heart—and reveal the very soul of the man.

Straight off the mark, we have a unique first novel by Charlie N. Holmberg. She sets out a world which I can’t wait to get more of, and it's written with an engaging prose that hooked me in from the start. I'd give it five stars for imagination, creativity in the prose, a believable and feisty protagonist, and addictiveness. I had to mark down for a speedy romance and the general need for fleshing out, but it was an almost five stars (4 1/2 wherever a rating system allows).

The language Homberg uses is very well thought out and gives a strong atmosphere to the novel. Even the names of the characters have poetic originality to them, and I felt like this place could really exist. However, the novel really only focuses on a slither of the world. Ceony wants to bind to metal, and would even embrace binding to glass, rubber, or plastic, but alas, there are only 12 Folders left in the world and so she is assigned paper. I found myself wanting to know more about these other avenues of magic too, but for book one, we too are assigned to paper.

Ceony is a strong female lead with feistiness and flaws. She’s perfect for this novel. No one other than Ceony Twill would embark on such an adventure, and Magican Thane’s heart is an interesting setting. He’s a man of mystery at first, one who seems amused, quiet, and odd, and once inside the heart we learn a bit more about why that is. His heart is (almost) pure, but that’s not to say he hasn’t been through a lot.

I should probably mention I’m a bit haemaphobic. By that, I mean I once almost passed out in an A level biology class because my teacher used plastic counters to explain blood groups - and they weren’t even red. I found this a little difficult to read at times. It’s not told in a gritty, realistic, or gory way, but there is a fair bit of blood and veins, and the heart filling with blood... I'll stop for my sake. Although it may seem whimsical and similar to a fairy tale at times, the book does take a dark turn nearer the middle.

Some of the action inside the heart takes a more superficial stance. Ceony forgets that she can’t be hurt in some of the visions but, as the reader knows she’s safe, it doesn’t have the same action factor as real action. There’s plenty of real action throughout the book to make up for this, though.

I’ve read a few comments that criticises the portrayal of anatomical elements of the heart. To that, I think we need to say that this is a book of magic and adventure, not a textbook. Blood may pass into the lung etc but the journey is metaphorical, not intended to be realism. The first chamber of your heart doesn’t contain all your hopes either, but isn’t it an imaginative concept?

On the other hand, of all the man-made materials a person can bind to, paper still feels like a pointless and weak option which I was waiting to be convinced otherwise of. The concept of the vitality chain is a bit weak in general, too. I can’t picture a paper chain wrapping around Ceony and acting as a shield, and I still don’t understand how it works. When threatened, the chain stiffens and this seems to protect. How? I have no idea. I still need a bit of convincing on how valuable paper can be and I think some clarity is needed in how the paper chains work.

The other reason I couldn't give it 5 stars as much as I wanted to was because of the romance. I was a little surprised by the love element, and this is something that seems to go for the young adult genre as a whole lately. Just because you have a male and female character, doesn’t mean they need to fall irrevocably in love - and in such a short space of time. Friendship is a little underrated and would have worked much better for this story.

In general, I felt like the book could do with a little more fleshing out. I’m still very curious about what exactly magicians do which makes them needed in the world. It’s all very nice to fold paper and make a bird live, but how does that earn someone a living? What is their place in society? And only seeing glimpses of Thane’s life made it hard to piece together exactly what he’s been up to – I feel some pieces are still missing. There’s room for the other books to build on world and a film to develop ideas further. This book has provoked my imagination and curiosity, and although the series doesn’t hold all the answers yet, I believe Holmberg will cover these thoughts in time.

I would recommend The Paper Magician within a heartbeat. This novel has more charm than most, and I can’t wait to embark on the rest of the series. I predict the story, world, and characters will reach their depth in the sequels – and next week I’ll be reviewing The Glass Magician because I’m already a huge fan of the series.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Self-Published? Get involved!

I’m holding a self-publishing month on my blog December 2014 and want as many writers as possible to get involved. I will be hosting a self-published book giveaway, author interviews, guest posts, and a few book reviews.

I know how hard it can be to start promoting a novel and want to provide some exposure for those who believe in their writing. I will be advertising this event on social media and encourage others to do the same!

What can I do?

I’m looking for interviewees as well as anyone who would like to do a guest blog post on anything related to writing. Articles should be between 500 to 1500 words long and may take a few rounds of editing first so please send them to me ASAP -7th December at the absolute latest.

Great! How can I get involved?

Please follow my blog first so that I know you're truly interested and want to support others in the event too. Next use the contact form on the right-hand side starting with the phrase ‘December Self-publishing Fest’. I’ll send you the list of interview questions and let me know if you want to donate a copy of your book for a giveaway or write a guest post.

Why December?

Many individuals will be moments away from a completed NaNoWriMo novel and looking for information on what to do next. As well as providing exposure for you and your novel, it’s a chance to help others decide if this is the route for them.

What if I want to be controversial?

I’m not promoting self-publishing over the traditional route, especially as I know it can be expensive to do it right and some individuals may not be ready to promote their work. If you've had a negative experience with self-publishing, then I would very much like to hear from you as well.

I can’t wait to hear back from you guys!

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Keep Going, NaNoWriMos!

By now, you should have around 15,000 words if everything has gone according to schedule. If you’re writing in chronological order, then you should already have some key scenes and the majority of the blurb underway. If your writing the important scenes first, you might have the structure of the entire novel waiting for the blanks to be filled in and the scenes to be linked up.

Whatever your writing, here are a few more tips and tricks, good things to know, and great other articles to read.

If it’s your first book

For those of you still dreaming of publishing, you should be aware that it is easier to sell a short book than a long one. If it looks like your novel will be over 100,000 words, then it will be more difficult for you to grab an agent or publisher. That in mind, if you reach your 50,000 word limit, you’ll end up with well over half your novel complete. That will make it so much easier to finish.

If you’re writing middle grade or young adult fiction

50,000 words is a good size for this genre, so effectively you’re writing a whole entire novel - get you! Especially you middle grade writers. Maybe your book won’t even make the 50,000 mark, but who says every scene you write needs to be included?

Fantasy Writers

Book where complex world building is essential are usually given a little more leeway when it comes to word counts. The final product can be a little longer which means there’s a trick you can use to boost your word count. Write a few scenes which focus on developing the world rather than the plot or characters. The more you know about your world, the more it shows.

Horror fiction

Recently J.P. Jackson wrote an article on finding inspiration in very likely places, and what resources you can use to get a creativity boost. Although tailored to the horror genre, most of the tips still apply to any genre. Definitely one to check out.

How to Boost Creativity

Here’s an older article I wrote when I was still studying Psychology. The first set of tips consists of general things you can do to help squeeze out few more words. The second set of tips is grounded in psychological research and includes easy things you can do if you want to boost your word count but find staring at the screen a hopeless waste of time.

For the ramblers...

You might be starting to feel like your ability to write has crumbled away with every extra word you force out of yourself. Info dumping, too much scene or character building over plot, or perhaps just so much repetition in structure of vocabulary that some of your scenes feel like déjà vu. That’s okay. You can edit this later – redrafting is much easier than creating. Once this is all over, you can take a break and read a good book to refresh your writing juices. Right now focus on pushing forward.

And the gamblers...

Maybe you’re writing scene that just have no place whatsoever in the final cut. Or perhaps you’re trying out a few different twists and feel like you’re gambling too much time away on sections that will probably be deleted. This is also not a completely wasted experience. The more you write, the more you’ll learn about your characters and their environment. And who knows when you might end up using the idea later to some extent?

If your mind is too critical when you’re writing, you’ll struggle to get into flow. Don't be harsh on yourself - right now, you're the only one who's reading it and you can fix up the issues later.

If you were a little late to the game

Reaching 50,000 words in a month is a heck of an achievement. Reaching 40,000 words is a heck of an achievement. Even 10,000 is more than you would have had if you didn’t do the NaNoWriMo, right? Whatever you final word count is, it’s a huge leap forwards towards a completed novel and will get your mind thinking, plotting, twisting. No amount of words is a failure. It’s more than you would have had if you continued your life without the NaNoWriMo, so even if you're late to the game, aim for 50,000 and see what happens.

Keep going, guys. Post your word counts below!

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Book Review: Peace and Conflict

PEACE AND CONFLICT by Irene Sabatini
4 stars
Verdict: For adults and older teens with a taste of a Zimbabwean culture.

The story of a young boy's adventures as he takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of an 'evil' old neighbour in Geneva, and a missing auntie in Zimbabwe. Charming, funny and resonant, this is a novel about how one boy comes to understand what conflict can do to a person, a family, a whole country - and what it means to fight for peace.

It’s a fresh breath of Zimbabwean air, breathed through a ten year old boy growing up in Geneva, Switzerland... that’s a slightly confusing metaphor. What I mean is that it struck me as unique in more ways than one.

We see the world through Robert, a ten year old boy with an inquisitive mind. I’ve forced myself through books before which use the narrative to reflect a child's stream of consciousness and found the situation akin to a hyperactive child yapping in your ear non-stop for hours on end. Sabatini thankfully avoids this. She writes in an engaging and thought-provoking prose that captivated me into Robert's world rather than held me captive.

The dynamics between Robert and his neighbour Monsieur Renoir is very curious indeed. Initially Robert is shouted at by the old man, but soon finds himself asking for help concerning his Aunt who is imprisoned by Mugabe, and the reaction he gets is confusing: a medal placed on his doorstep. What could it mean? After that introduction, we don't see much of the crazy neighbour. There's more chatter about the neighbour than actually with him, and I think a bit more interaction between the two was what I couldn't help but want. Still, this book has a lot going for it.

I loved learning about the Zimbabwe culture. Tsoro, the Mau Mau uprising, and even some elephant facts – I finished this book feeling a little more enriched than when I picked it up. I possibly missed out a little due to lacking knowledge on the general subject, but I still learned a lot without feeling like I was in a history lesson. Instead it felt real and interesting, and I cared so much about the Robert’s brave and intelligent Aunt, his try-hard 'cool' brother, and the intriguingly crazy man next door that I gladly learned through Robert’s ten year old but inquisitive mind..

Sometimes we know better than Robert, and I personally love it when a character’s perspective differs from my own. When any writer manages to suggest something without the narrator understanding, from naivety in this case, it always connects with something inside of me. But adults don’t always know better. Older doesn’t always mean wiser. Robert asks the questions that the adults have forgotten about, and again I felt engaged. This book will definitely make you think about just how difficult a simple questions can be.

Now for the reason why I had to give it four stars instead of five. I definitely felt this book could be shorter. Some sections were ramblings of a child or character driven sections. While those bits were very, ehem, nice, they just weren’t thrilling. I keep reading without feeling particularly bored or entertained. I didn’t always understand the characters motives, or how Robert made massive inferences - which happened to be spot on - when I couldn’t see much evidence. I went with it and enjoyed the novel, but couldn’t help but question some of what happened.

My other minor qualm was over the genre. I asked for a review copy from after enjoying the blurb and seeing that it was a young adult novel. After having read it, I’m a little confused. It’s narrated by a child in a much more entertaining and coherent fashion than others who have done so before, but this definitely appealed to the grown up side of me far more than my youthful, and if I was given it five years ago, I probably would have cast it aside, failing to understand it for what it is.

I’m not saying all young adults will be unappreciative of this novel, but it is far more a literary fiction than a story for teens. Just because the narrator is young doesn't mean it has youth appeal.

What I will say is that for a young adult who wants something outside their usual genre, something unusual, something where they can learn a bit about another culture without feeling too far from their own, then give it a go. But it’s not typical YA fiction in my mind – more like a side effect of a good narrator.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Grab Your Pens, it's the NaNoWriMo!

It’s that time of year. Writers, prepare to type until your fingers drop off, preferably after you reach the 50,000 word goal limit. It might seem like a stretch right now, but think about how you’ll feel next week! Yes, it’s time once more for the National Novel Writing Month. We’re on day three already, but there’s still time to join in.

The goal is to write 50,000 words in the month of November. That’s about 1,666 words a day, and it’s got the sign of the devil in the numbers for a reason: it is super hard.

This is my fifth year at writing, and I have a few bits and pieces which may help you along your way.

  • Before you even start, don’t plan on querying agents with your NaNoWriMo novel in December. Or January. Probably not February either – just don’t so it. Trust me, it won’t be ready. Agents are on the lookout for rushed writing this time of year and they will spot you and drop you. 

  • One you get into flow, keep going. And you don’t have to write in chronological order either. Write where your inspiration takes you.

  • If you finish crafting your major scenes and start to stumble, change your tactics from main plot to subplots and character oriented scenes. Develop your side characters and get to know your main players– it doesn’t matter if the scenes won't be in the final cut. What would your character do if they saw a car crash? Write it and learn. 

  • If you want to make it to the end, worry about the plot not the prose. Always remember that writing quickly doesn’t make a good novel. It’s not the point of it. The point is to sit down and get your ideas in an adaptable form. Don’t worry too much about editing right now, but remember that you will need to do a thorough edit in the months to come. 

  • If you do manage to get to the end of the word limit, remember that you’ve really pushed yourself. There’s a good chance that 45,000 words of it needs to be completely rewritten – but redrafting is much easier than creating. 

  • If your creativity becomes exhausted before the finish line, there’s no need to worry. A good book takes time. The important part is that you’ve made a start, got your brain thinking about the plot and characters, and maybe inspiration will hit soon.

  • Once November passes, set your novel to one side and enjoy the holiday season knowing you’ve made a grand leap with your manuscript. Then pick it back up months later when your brain is refreshed and ready to bring new ideas.

Good luck everyone. Post below if you’re giving it a go!