Monday, 23 December 2013

Writer's insecurity; so it's not just me. (Phew!)



I just finished reading The Plagiarist, the science fiction novella by Hugh Howey and it got me thinking....

If you are a writer (or like me dabble), I strongly recommend you read this book, because what it is really about is writing - or at least it is for me. The protagonist, Adam Griffey, demonstrates all the characteristics of a writer and he talks about the stuff writers sometimes experience and feel.

(1) The self doubt - that feeling of not being good enough, especially compared to the greats - a feeling so strong that you don't feel worthy (to the extent that you think maybe you should just give up and leave it to those who do it really well). These are insecurities that must be overcome.

(2) The tendency to procrastinate because writing is so hard (yes I do appreciate this).

(3) The importance of reading (in moderation). Adam has a tendency to spend too much time reading and hardly any time writing because it is SO HARD. Instead he spends his time searching for the next Shakespeare in a virtual world. (Hmm, now who does that remind me of?)

So what I've been thinking is this: My New Year's resolution is to read fewer books, write fewer reviews and finish my novel that has been a work-in-progress for way too long.

My review of The Plagiarist is available here

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Grow up?


I have just finished Doll Bones by Holly Black and it inspired me to write this blog.

For me Doll Bones is about that pivotal point in a child’s life when they have to let go of their childhood and embrace young adulthood.  I think in 2013, most pre-teens are only too happy to do so.  I wonder if there are some who aren’t ready to do so, even though it is expected of them?  My guess is yes.  This is the case for the characters in the book - Zach, Poppy and Alice.  

It resonated with me because I was just like them at 12.  I loved to play (with dolls of the Barbie kind) and was under pressure from my dad to give them up.  I wasn’t ready and I continued to do so - when Dad wasn't around to see it - until I was ready to stop.  I realise now that I was afraid to grow up.  I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to my childhood.  When the time felt right (and I was fast approaching 13 when it did), I gave my dolls away to someone I hoped would enjoy them as much as I did. 

My parents and I moved to a new place and I made friends with a boy who shared my new love of rollerblading (bought for me by my dad).  The boy became my best friend and rollerblading became my passion.  My dad was relieved and all was right with the world.

Children should be allowed to be children for as long as they need to.  They should not be forced to grow up and be made to feel embarrassed because they want to play.  Play fuels the imagination.

Here is the link to my review of Doll Bones.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Downtime

My Blog will be on downtime in August and September.  

I'll be back in October with more updates and ramblings.

Enjoy the rest of your summer!  


Hopefully somewhere warm ;)

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Two Versions - R4R (Lessons Learned)

Two versions of the same song (Aintree Book 2) has just come to the end of a 'read for review' (R4R) on Goodreads.  For those of you who aren't familiar with it R4R is when an author offers copies of their book to readers in exchange for an honest review to be posted on Goodreads and hopefully e-book selling sites such as Amazon.

I must admit the book did take a bit of a battering but that's okay - it actually did better than I thought. It is deliberately provocative and it is certainly not a sweet romance.  I studied all the reviews to identify commonalities.  In this way I could learn from my mistakes - which is a significant part of the process for me.

Common criticisms

  1. I knew there were structural problems with the novel and if I were to do it again I would structure it differently.  This did come through in the reviews.  The readers made a valid point in this regard.  Lesson learned.
  2. I took note of the criticisms about background information overload.  Both protagonists do give a bio of themselves and tell the reader about the people closest to them when they are introduced.  Perhaps I could spread the detail more evenly throughout next time, rather than have it all at the beginning - something to think about ...
  3. Repetition - I was concerned about this as I know that it can be tedious reading the same info more than once in a novel.  It is deliberate; basically, as part of the narrative, both protagonists give their version of the same event - what differs is their interpretation.  It is only done if and when it is significant to the main plot.

Common praise

  1. Several readers remarked that they liked the diversity of characters (I take this to mean in relation to ethnicity and social class).  I found that interesting.  Admittedly 10 copies were offered for R4R and, to date, 7 have reviewed it, but the general impression that publishers give is that readers are put off by diversity, so I did not expect to find this to be a common plus-point.  It's refreshing to discover this.
  2. Realistic is a word that came up quite a lot.  This is true for reviews of my first novel, also.  So it would seem that readers believe I portray teenagers realistically and I write realistic romance.  I'm happy with that. 
  3. Both sides of the story.  Almost all of the reviewers commented on liking this aspect of the novel.
Taking part in R4R is risky because you never know what sort of feedback you are going to get and you could end up with a less favourable rating on Amazon as a result.  As I have discovered, some readers make helpful constructive criticisms that can be invaluable, while others just won't get the book.  (Let's face it, it is down to personal taste.)

I'm glad I took part and I am satisfied with all the reviews - good and not-so-good.  There were no trolls - all the readers were honest but kind in their delivery - which is much appreciated.


 

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Wee Willie Wilkie - Aintree Tale #3

Wee Willie Wilkie darts across the lawn,
trying to meet his curfew and be spared his mother's scorn.

If he doesn't make it, will he be alright?
Last time he was cautioned, and it's way past twilight!

Tales from Aintree Court Book 3

Monday, 1 July 2013

Authors behaving badly

Authors,

Look familiar?
Have you ever had an author send you an ARC for read-and-review, only to discover that much in it has been pilfered from your own published work? That you have helped said author previously to promote their first novel and they haven't even acknowledged that they have read your work, much less rated it.  Then they have the audacity to send you a sequel presumably so you write a positive review that will help them promote it.  As you read said sequel it's really familiar and you find yourself saying, 'I know why it's familiar, I wrote about that in my book... and that...and that...that too!'

I am not talking coincidental commonalities here, I'm talking bold-faced pilfering of characterisation and plot. You have? Well, me too.

Should you be flattered?
If the book is done well then maybe you can take your hat off to the author. You might think, that was sneaky, but at least it's good. (I would in any case.)  But what if it's the sequel from hell? What if you wrote a 5 star review for the first one and the sequel reads not so much like a sequel to the first one but poorly executed fan fiction of your work. (How is such regression even possible?)

It would appear that while I saw this author as a peer, said author saw me as a competitor. Perhaps I am naive (clearly I am, but for me writing is not a business but a labour of love). I have had wonderful feedback about my books but I don't apply ratings to my own work and self-promotion is a chore. I believe I have potential as a writer but I strive for perfection. It's a surprise to discover someone would want to pilfer my work. Warped as it may be, it is a massive compliment.

Karma?
If I am right and it is the sequel from hell (in this case, more likely to alienate it's target readers than not), and assuming said author ignored my feedback and left the reader-alienating gaffes in (yes, foolishly I did try to help fix it), this is bound to be reflected in the reviews. Time will tell.

C'est la vie!
I won't be put off by this experience. I will continue to support my peers (although not that particular one).

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

What's new? (On writing) 2


I'm back!  My creative juices are flowing again.  I'm making progress with Aintree Tale #3 and a plot is emerging.  Phew!

Saturday, 22 June 2013

Coincidental Commonalities

Have you ever come across two novels whose stories are original in their own right and yet they bear a resemblance to one another?  Books that contain what I call 'coincidental commonalities'. Here are some of the novels that I have drawn parallels with.  I wonder if I am alone in my assessment?


Two books with similar protagonists:

Gabriel's Inferno by Sylvain Reynard and Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James (both published within months of each other in 2011)

Both female protagonists, Julia Mitchell (in GI) and Anastasia Steele (in FSoG), are sweet and innocent - with a heavy emphasis on innocent - college students with just enough money to get by.  They both fall in love with a slightly older and therefore more experienced (sexually aware) man.  In the former novel's, case it is distinguished and wealthy university professor, Gabriel Emerson, and in the latter it is the rich and highly successful entrepreneur, Christian Grey.  Both men are flawed characters haunted by a dark past.  They are both manipulative and the relationships are both dominant vs submissive. They are both adult romance but Fifty Shades contains a lot of steamy sex scenes while GI does not.


Two books with a common theme:

Wool by Hugh Howie (First pub: 2011) and The Moon Dwellers by David Estes (First pub: 2012)

Both set in futurist post-apocalyptic societies with inhabitants living below the earth's service under an unequal class system and ruled by dictatorship.  I would say the former is aimed at adult readers and the latter at young-adult readers.  I have reviewed them both on Sooz Books Reviews in the past.  If you want to check out my reviews go to A-Z archive.


Two books with a similar set-up:

Slammed by Colleen Hoover  and In the Middle of Nowhere by Julie Ann Knudsen (both published within months of each other in 2012).

The set up is that Leykan Cohan (of Slammed) and Willow Flynn (of ITMoN) have both tragically lost their fathers.  They both have younger brothers of around the same age.  They are both required to move from the family home to somewhere else.  They both meet boys who are poets and use poetry to woo them.  They are both angst-ridden teenagers (but who can blame them as they genuinely have a lot of sh*t to deal with).  I have reviewed them both in the past on my review blog (as mentioned above).


Two books with a similar romance

Butterfly porcupine (by what's her name again?) published 2011 and The Journals of Kara and Jason by Charlie Wood published 2013.

Both novels are about first love with all the joy and pain that go with it.  In both novels there is a friends vs lovers tug-of-war going on in the relationships.  The female protagonists (Tasha in BP and Kara in TJK&J) are in denial about their ever growing affection for the male protagonists and focus on the friendship, while both male protagonists (Kai in BP and Jason in TJK&J) aren't as confused about their feelings and would like to take the relationship to the next level.  Both stories are told from the POV of each character with alternating chapters.  BP is a contemporary romance while TJK&J is a contemporary romance with a sci-fi element.  My review of The Journals of Kara and Jason is coming soon on my review blog.  You can find lots about Butterfly porcupine right here on this blog.


If anyone else has comments about the above I would be interested to read them.  Also, if there are other books with coincidental commonalities that you are aware of I'd be interested to know about those too.

Sunday, 26 May 2013

What's new? (On reading)


These days I seem to spend more of my (free) time reading and peer-reviewing than writing. (Yes I do have the audacity.)  I'm not procrastinating - okay, maybe I am a little. [see What's new? (On Writing).]

My blog Sooz Book Reviews is growing in popularity and I am thrilled about that.  I treat the books I review like onions; peeling away not only at the surface but every layer, determined to get to the core (or at least my understanding of it). I can't say how successful I am but I have had wonderful feedback from so many of the indie authors whose books I have reviewed.  Their books have been a joy to read.  Below are the top 5 most viewed (indie books).

  1. Nandana's Mark
  2. Undreamed
  3. The Moon Dwellers
  4. Fire Country
  5. Halfskin

I shall continue to showcase great self-published books intermittently on my (unsolicited*) review blog. 


 * See my review policy.

Small print: Authors who want to reciprocate (and get their own back) are welcome to contact me to peer-review one of my books.  Just e-mail me at aintreetales@gmail.com. That said, as hard as it is to believe, i do appreciate that young-adult contemporary romance is not everyone's cup of tea, so this is not something I would want to inflict impose on anyone.

What's new? (On writing)


I am (supposed to be) writing the 3rd instalment of my Aintree Tales series, but I am struggling with this one. The central plot evades me. Very annoying.

At the same time, I am playing around (in my head) with another novel and the central plot for that one is as clear as day. This one would be an adult novel, i.e., the protagonists are over 21 (as opposed to "Fifty Shades" adult).

I am tempted to shelve Aintree Book 3 but I don't want to. There's some good stuff there already. I just need to get my creative juices flowing.

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Fantasy fiction: Faeries vs Fairies




Many of us had Fairy Tales read to us as children and this was my introduction to ‘fairies’.  It was only as an adult that I was introduced to ‘faeries’.  These creatures weren’t well-behaved miniature-sized creatures with wings, but (mostly) badly behaved human-sized creatures without wings.  This left me a little confused. 
I am no expert; most of what I have learned about faeries has been through commonalities in novels based on Faerie folklore (and some very basic internet research).  It would seem (in theory) there is no difference between Faeries and Fairies.  However, in the world of fantasy fiction a distinction has been made between Faerie Tales and Fairy Tales.
This is my take on it.
Fairy tales tend to have two distinct types of characters; the goodies and the baddies.  The protagonist, usually female, is inherently good and comes up against an evil threat, often a relative - by blood or marriage (e.g. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella).  Traditionally there is a chivalrous male protagonist who comes in and saves her.  The lines between good and evil are clearly drawn and the characters behave as you would expect (Wicked step-mother – bad, Fairy Godmother – good etc.). 
Faery tales on the other hand are quite different.  Faeries come from a mystical realm somewhere other than the human world.  They have the ability to move between the two and when they are in the human world are able to disguise themselves through ‘glamour’; tricking humans into thinking they (the faeries) look human.  Rather than family members at war there tends to be two opposing courts (sometimes more) led by a regent.  On the surface one side appears good (examples include the Seelie, Bright and Summer Courts) while the other appears bad (examples include the Unseelie, Dark and Winter Courts).  However, unlike in Fairy Tales, things are rarely that black-and-white.  A key characteristic of a faery is that it cannot tell a lie.  As such, it has to be creative in finding ways to hide information and to get things it needs done.  This could be a reason why they are neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but comfortably flit from one side of the line to the other, and back again. This makes for interesting reading in my view.
  My introduction to Faery Tales was Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series, which remains my favourite (although I preferred some in the series to others).
For a series of reviews of both Faerie and Fairy Tales, check out ‘All about the Fey’ in the review theme section of my blog Sooz Book Reviews.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Win a signed copy of my first book

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ BUTTERFLY PORCUPINE ~ * ~ * ~ * ~



For a teenage boy, chasing a girl can be like chasing a butterfly. But what if your butterfly turns out to be a porcupine? This is Kai Hansen's predicament when he pursues Tasha Wood, the girl who moves into the house opposite his.
Kai decides to proceed with caution, but not be put off, after all, bristles aside, the porcupine is a harmless creature. 


Click on the link below for a chance to win a free signed paperback copy of my first novel.

Competition open to CA, UK and US only.

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~



Goodreads Book Giveaway

Butterfly Porcupine by Susan  Francis

Butterfly Porcupine

by Susan Francis

Giveaway ends April 26, 2013.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Sunday, 31 March 2013

Two versions of the same song, Excerpt #2

Paul 


I’m going to the theatre and I’m running late, thanks to my mother. I was ready and about to leave when she said, “Where are you going dressed like that?”
“I told you, I’m going to the theatre.”
“Dressed like that?”
“Yes” I said, defensively. I’m wearing a new T-shirt under my brown leather jacket, my best Diesel jeans and brand new suede Converse trainers. “This is my smart casual look” I informed her.
“Paul, what you’re wearing is not appropriate.”
“It’s fine. No one dresses up for the theatre these days” I said, as if I knew what I was talking about.
“Can’t you wear a proper shirt?”
I shook my head defiantly. It’s not enough that I agreed to get my hair cut at her salon on her recommendation and now have a James Dean-type quiff that I’m still unsure about.
“At least change into your brown leather shoes.”
I headed back to my room. It was less time-consuming to comply than to argue, and I was willing to compromise and wear the shoes if it meant getting past the fashion police.


Going to the theatre to watch modern dance is not exactly my idea of a fun night out, so I was reluctant to go when Kai phoned to invite me, but I’d agreed to go for one reason and one reason only - a girl.
 “Come on. It’ll be a good night out. You’ll enjoy it.”
“It’s not really my thing.”
“It’s not exactly mine either, but it’s for Kris’ 18th. Tasha’s coming.”
“Great - all the more reason for me to tag along.” It’s not that I dislike Tasha - she’s nice enough - if a little moody and self-absorbed.
“Will’s coming too.”
“You’re still not selling it.”
“... and Serena” he said.
“Really?” I asked, feigning mild curiosity.
“Yeah, we all have dates apart from her so if you come, it would even up the numbers.” I noticed he was careful not to suggest I be her date - which suggested she didn’t know about it.
“She probably wouldn’t want that” I said, fishing for clues.
“Sure she would.”
“Does she even know I’m invited?”
“No - better keep it that way for now.”
“I haven’t said yes yet.”
“Great. See you later” he said and then hung up. I realised the ‘yet’ was probably an indication that I’d already made up my mind. He knew exactly what carrot to dangle - and it had worked.

I grab my car keys and hurry out of my room for the second time, now wearing my brown leather shoes. My plan is to hurry before she catches me again, but it doesn’t work. She is hovering by the front door, blocking my exit, determined to scrutinise me one last time before she lets me leave. She gives me the once-over and, while brushing non-existent dust off the shoulders of my jacket says, “That’s much better.” I know she hates the T-shirt and the jeans - she doesn’t get the distressed look - but she is trying to meet me half way.
“Have a wonderful time” she says, kissing me on the cheek - lately, she has become increasingly emotionally demonstrative - then, finally, stepping aside, she lets me pass.
“Thanks, see you later” I say, feeling embarrassed by her display of affection, and leave.
I get into my car and head west to Ealing.
I turn off the main road at my destination. The large double iron gates slow me down as I enter the code to open them. I look at the clock on the dial as they slowly open. I’m 15 minutes late.

An excerpt  from Two versions of the same song, Tales from Aintree Court, Book 2

Want to read more?  Look inside at Amazon.com

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Two versions of the same song, Excerpt #1



Serena 


“Serena, let’s go!” my brother Will calls out to me from downstairs. I am in my room, taking a final glance at myself in the mirror.
We are going to the theatre with friends to celebrate Kris and Tasha’s birthdays. They both turned 18 last month. Kristina Hansen is Will’s girlfriend. She and her brother Kai were still in Australia visiting their mom, Monica, on her birthday.
A year ago, Monica was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was worried that telling them would jeopardise Kris’ and Kai’s studies, so she kept it from them for almost a year. They had flown out to Sydney to be with her in July, after they had been told. It was obviously a tough time for them. By then Monica had already had surgery, had completed her chemo and was at the early stages of recovery. She was now in remission.
Daniel, Kai and Kris’ dad, arranged this theatre trip for Kris and her friends. He is taking his new girlfriend. We know this trip has also been orchestrated so she can meet Kai and Kris.
I was reluctant to accept when they invited me, knowing once again that I would be the one who made the party an odd number - the one without a date.
 I decided to go for the smart-casual look. I am wearing black skinny jeans and a black satin camisole. Over it I am wearing a charcoal grey transparent chiffon blouse my mom made for me.
I stand in front of the mirror and examine myself in my outfit. I glance at my flat chest and scrutinise my lack of height; I am just five feet one. I focus on the positives. I have often been told I am pretty, and the number of guys I’ve caught checking me out hasn’t gone unnoticed, but looking at myself I don’t see it. I see neither beauty nor ugliness; I just see me. I have a small waist, well-proportioned hips and my legs are okay.
Then I chide myself for my vanity. I know it shouldn’t matter. It is the beauty within that matters; this is what I keep telling myself. But it has been like that recently, a constant seeking of reassurance that I look okay and that there is nothing wrong with me.
I slip into black high stiletto suede ankle boots and pull on a grey long-sleeved shrug over my blouse. It contains mohair, so it feels warm and I decide I will not need a jacket. I grab my purse.
Will calls out to me again.
“Come on Serena, let’s go!”
“Okay! I’m coming” I say, switching off the light and hurrying out of my room.

Excerpt #1 from Two versions of the same song, Tales from Aintree Court, Book 2

Want to read more?  Look inside the eBook version at Amazon.com


Friday, 8 March 2013

INTERNATIONAL eBOOK GIVEAWAY

This giveaway has now ended.

Hi there,

Spring is approaching and with it a chance to have a break and hopefully some YOU-time.  How about relaxing with your feet up and a free book?

I am pleased to offer 5 eBook copies of my second novel Two Versions of the Same Song. Although this is the second Aintree Tale it is a stand alone story. 
 
For a chance to win one of the copies please follow the instructions below. Please note: You must follow the instructions in order to qualify.

(1) Send an email to aintreetales@gmail.com with the subject title: Spring 13 TVoSS Giveaway

(2) Include your name, email address and your preferred ebook format (ePub, mobi for Kindle or PDF)

Only entries received from Friday 8th to Saturday 30th March 2013 will be eligible.

Five winners will be picked at random and contacted by email on Sunday 31st March with her/his copy included.


This is an international competition.

 
Good Luck : )


[Parental guidance: Please note that the F-word appears several times in this novel, as does the topic of teenage sex.]

Friday, 22 February 2013

Two Versions of the Same Song Q&A

What is the book about?


The story is a moral dilemma told from two perspectives. 


Serena Wilkins is convinced that she detests Paul Adams, who is the cousin of her friends Kris and Kai, because he humiliated her in front of everyone the day they met, and has been rude and dismissive towards her ever since.  Several weeks after her 16th birthday, Serena and Paul have their first proper conversation at a house party.  It is the first time he has as much as acknowledged her in 2 years, so she is suspicious and wary of his intentions.  But, to her frustration, she starts to feel something else for him too.

Paul and Eloise have been together for two years, since 6th form college, where they met.  Theirs is Paul’s first serious relationship.  Things become difficult after graduation when Eloise moves to Birmingham to start medical school and he remains in London and joins a band.  Cracks in their relationship appear as they struggle to deal with a long distance romance and things get complicated when Paul runs into Serena at his New Year’s Eve party and convinces her to talk to him. 

After that night, Serena and Paul do their best to avoid each other, but are brought together by Kris to perform a song at her brother Kai’s 18th birthday party.

Serena is convinced that Paul is unobtainable, while Paul is torn between his love for Eloise and the growing attraction he feels for Serena – an attraction that becomes so strong they are both tempted to cross the line.

When I came up with the premise of the novel it occurred to me that the obvious thing to happen would be for these two characters to cross the line.  Then I got to thinking what it would be like NOT to cross the line while being in constant contact with each other.  There are also consequences for doing the 'right thing' and that's the scenario I wanted to explore.



Where did you get the idea for the novel?

 

I’ve noticed that a common theme in YA romance is for teenage girl to fall in love with teenage boy (and vice-versa) and for them not only to be completely devoted to each other, but often the implication is that they are soul mates, will get married and live happily ever after.  I appreciate that it could happen – but it’s highly unlikely and yet that’s the general message being sold.  I wanted to write about the flip side to the perfect teen romance because in reality your first love is unlikely to be your last. Maybe I’m being controversial and maybe it won’t sell as many copies, but it’s the story I wanted to write.


The relationships in the novel are quite complicated, aren’t they?


Yes, I like to think of it as a 3-Dimentional love triangle.


How did you come up with the title 'Two Versions of the Same Song'?

 

In the literal sense: Paul is a musician and Serena has a good singing voice, which is how they come to be performing live at Kai’s 18th birthday party.  In the novel Paul explains how he discovers the song they pick to sing for Kai.  He hears two versions of the same song played on a radio show.  The first (original) version shows that the song is perfect for Kai because it’s the sort of music he is into and the second version shows that it is perfect for Serena as it suits her voice.

In the metaphoric sense: I had the idea to make the tale read like a love song with both characters offering a different version.  In both versions there are passages that are repeated – like a chorus, and other passages that are very similar and link – like a bridge.

One could also say the first (original) version is symbolic of Paul’s character and the second of Serena’s.



How long did it take you to write the novel and what were the challenges? 

 

It took me about six months to complete the first draft and another 18 months to re-write countless drafts until I just had to make myself stop, step away from it and hand the manuscript over to my editor. 

Okay, I will admit that the novel had a structural problem that was picked up by my editor.  I had to restructure it at the last minute and that was a challenge.  I learned a very important lesson to apply in the future – K.I.S.S. (KEEP IT SIMPLE, STUPID).

CLICK HERE to discover more about Two Versions of the Same Song