Lessons from authors that can help you develop your unique writing style

There’s something magical about reading. A writer puts words on a page, we read them and we see an image of a real event unfolding before us like a film in which we get to choose our own cast.

‘Reading a sentence and understanding it were the same thing… you saw the word castle and it was there, seen from some distance with woods in high summer.’

Atonement by Ian McEwan

Good writers help us to get lost in this story.

Excellent writers don’t just take us on a journey, they also make us marvel at their skill and surprise us with their ingenuity.

It’s the difference between eating a perfectly good shop bought cake– it does the job and it’s even quite nice and something homemade that is full of pockets of flavour and sets off a riot in your mouth.

Different authors have different ways of making us see. Some write elegantly in long sentences, others with tumbling phrases. Some authors want to be experimental, they want to challenge us. Some have clear goals: it’s about social commentary, it’s about depth and importance.

And if you’re a writer, you’re left with this tricky question: what type of writer do I want to be? Do I want to be good at characterisation? Would I prefer to focus on the story? Do I want to be able to perfect sigh-inducingly good prose?

Recently, with the question of ‘who do I want to write like?’ in my head, I tried to set out a list of the qualities I want to have in my writing based on some authors that have really inspired me.

So, here’s five lessons I would like to learn from five writers. Learning them is going to be difficult, if not impossible, but this is the type of writer I’d like to be.

Lesson #1: Playing with punctuation can be rewarding. Your sentences don’t even always have to make sense: what’s important is the image that they create in your head. (Virginia Woolf) 

I don’t think there is anyone who can write in the same way as Virginia Woolf. Her sentence formation is so good. Let’s look at one of her sentences.

It was the time between the lights when colours undergo their intensification and purples and golds burn in window panes like the beat of an excitable heart; when for some reason the beauty of the world revealed and yet soon to perish (here I pushed into the garden, for, unwisely, the door was left open and no beadles seemed about), the beauty of the world which is so soon to perish, has two edges, one of laughter, one of anguish, cutting the heart asunder. (A Room Of One’s Own.) 

For starters, her sentences are long. Incredibly long, actually. Virginia Woolf is also very liberal with her semicolons, so much so that she has her own style. At first, when we write, punctuation is a means to an end. As we go on, however, we can moderate the reading experience by how we punctuate, by the length of our sentences. Some writers use lots of dashes– there’s lots of afterthoughts in the narration. Some barely use any punctuation. This is still stylistic. We get to choose: what is distinctive of us as writers?

Woolf also uses images. Think about this sentence. We can imagine a heart beating, a heart being cut into. But Woolf isn’t talking about hearts, not at all. She’s talking about the atmosphere, sunlight. From how she writes about it, we can both connect with her thoughts (this feeling of contemplating beauty and pain) and what’s actually happening. 

Oh, to be able to write like Virginia Woolf!

Lesson #2: the structure of a novel, or even a series, is a chance to experiment. You don’t have to follow traditional ideas. (Toni Morrison)

I recently read The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison and afterwards, I don’t think I wanted to read anything for at least a week. I don’t cry in books as a general rule, but wow, was this terribly sad. I was left with the most overbearing feeling of despair (why do such bad things happen?) but also marvelled at Morrison’s skill.

Something clever that she does in this book is that the chapter titles stem from a short story at the beginning of the book which presents the life of a happy, well-off family. Each chapter starkly contrasts with this false reality, accentuating the sadness of what happens to the poor main character, Pecola. Honestly, I wanted to give her a big hug for most of the book.

I’ve learnt from this that as writers, we have a completely blank canvas. We don’t need traditional chapter titles– we can have books inside books or multiple framing devices. Experimentation is exciting. I’m currently reading The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz who puts himself as a character in the book– again, this is completely genius and original.

Sometimes, a story isn’t ‘let’s get from A to B as quickly as possible.’ It can also be, let’s get from A to B but let’s take momentary diversions and skip all over the alphabet.

If you know what I mean.

Lesson #3: your setting is more than just the place your characters inhabit, sometimes it’s what makes the book really sing. (Thomas Hardy.)

I absolutely love Far From The Madding Crowd. It’s just… wonderful. And every time I think of it, my mind is filled up with green fields and cliffs and the beauty of Weatherbury in the story. Thomas Hardy doesn’t just tell us a story based around agriculture, he makes it so everything about the book is hinged on the setting. Good characters have good relationships with nature. Storms bring people together. Two fires bring the love interest and the protagonist together, each helping the other. Whilst two characters place flowers at someone’s grave, those from the one that truly cared for survive, the others are dissolved by mud.

The setting isn’t an added extra to this story: it’s pivotal.

Lesson #4: so called ‘gappiness’ is good (William Shakespeare.)

Okay, so ‘gappiness’ isn’t necessarily a proper word but it’s a concept that I’ve been reading about in Emma Smith’s This Is Shakespeare. Here, she argues that Shakespeare is so good because we can interpret his writing however we want to. Is the ‘shrew’ in The Taming of The Shrew actually a shrew? It’s anyone’s guess. Does she fall in love with her husband? It probably depends on the lens that you’re reading through. Is Shakespeare a feminist? Is he racist? Is he anti-Semitic?

There’s a thousand questions. Now, when it comes to readers interpreting your work you definitely do not want them to think that you are racist, for example. That’s not what I’m suggesting here. What I am saying though, is that little ambiguities are good. Don’t tell your reader if they should like a character– Shakespeare certainly doesn’t sometimes. Are two characters actually in love or is their relationship deeply flawed? Let the reader work it out. For example, in my current WIP, it’s in your hands about some characters– are they morally gray, really damaged, are they villains? Sometimes this ambiguity is actually good. But only in the right places.

Lesson #5: writing about simple issues doesn’t mean your writing is less worthwhile. By writing about what you know, you can make your work even more immersive. (Louisa May Alcott.)

Little Women. It’s brilliant (I just watched the 2019 film again and I’m still in love with it.) And it’s a classic. It doesn’t have thousands of characters, it’s not terribly complicated. It talks about simple issues and that’s absolutely okay. Even better, though, it does it so convincingly.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about children’s books (a post will probably come out of this.) I’ve been remembering reading and thinking that, wow, I literally felt like I was alive within these stories when I first read them. I could imagine what the food tasted like, I saw the characters, the stories didn’t leave me. I’m beginning to think that, perhaps, that’s down to being a child at the time but also because these books are so descriptive of small things– food, drink, setting. Little Women is a classic example of this, as with many similar books, like Anne of Green Gables or A Little Princess.

Bonus: everything can come good in the end and a redemptive arc can be so satisfying. (Victor Hugo, William Thackeray & Francine Rivers.)

Don’t you just love books with redemptive arcs? I do, at least. These are the books where redemption seems impossible and then through some masterful stroke, we have a happy enough ending where everything is made beautiful in its time. I recently noticed this by reading some Francine Rivers books (if you’ve ever read any, you’d understand me.) I’ve definitely learnt that these are the types of books I love: they’re uplifting but understanding of the human condition. They can still talk of human fallenness (Hugo and Thackeray are great at this) but there’s often a way out.

Jean Valjean was a criminal, but by the end he’s a role model. Becky Sharp is absolutely horrible, but by the end, she’s done some good. Characters should be allowed to change.

So, if I were to sum everything up, this is the type of writer I’d like to be able to be: someone who can write with dense descriptiveness, uniqueness and lyricism in ways that are experimental, redemptive and poignant.

Of course, that’s not an easy task but I’d like to try it.

Here’s to great writers who teach us great lessons!

What kind of writer would you like to be? Was this helpful? Have you read books or plays by these authors before?

Reviewing Mad Bad And Dangerous To Know by Samira Ahmed

Mad, Bad & Dangerous to Know by Samira Ahmed

I feel like this book was written just for me.

That’s a bold statement, I know but here’s why:

  • It stars a biracial protagonist whose life is spread out over three countries and shows how that impacts her life. She is Indian and French but she lives in the US, which feels familiar to me: I’m Indian and American but I live in the UK. Honestly, Samira Ahmed explores this concept so well, putting into concept some ideas that are really hard to think about.

‘I live in between spaces. The borders between nations, the invisible hyphens between words, the wide chasm between “one of us” and me alone. French American. Indian American. Muslim American. Biracial. Interfaith. Child of immigrants.’ 

For its representation alone, I’d give this book all the stars.

‘The people who can’t guess what I am think I’m “exotic.” Some people say I’m lucky to be an ethnomorph– a person whose brown skin, brown hair and brown eyes make it seem like I could be from half the countries in the world.’

  • It’s about a poem by a Romantic poet and, as suggested by the title, that poet is Lord Byron. You’ve heard me ramble on about these poets before, so the fact that Ahmed has written a book inspired by one is… brilliant.

Related Post: What A 19th Century Poet Taught Me About Novel Writing

  • It’s a teen book (I love YA) and it’s complicated! We learn about art history and literature and it goes beyond traditional YA contemporaries.

Related Post: Why I keep coming back to YA

  • Finally, it takes place with dual timelines. We see both a character in present day Paris and a young woman alive within the poem. I’ve recently started enjoying books with multiple time periods after reading The Last Garden In England by Julia Kelly.

The Blurb

Smash the patriarchy. Eat all the pastries.

It’s August in Paris and 17-year-old Khayyam Maquet—American, French, Indian, Muslim—is at a crossroads. This holiday with her parents should be a dream trip for the budding art historian. But her maybe-ex-boyfriend is ghosting her, she might have just blown her chance at getting into her dream college, and now all she really wants is to be back home in Chicago figuring out her messy life instead of brooding in the City of Light.

Two hundred years before Khayyam’s summer of discontent, Leila is struggling to survive and keep her true love hidden from the Pasha who has “gifted” her with favored status in his harem. In the present day—and with the company of Alex, a très charmant teen descendant of Alexandre Dumas—Khayyam searches for a rumored lost painting, uncovering a connection between Leila and Alexandre Dumas, Eugène Delacroix, and Lord Byron that may have been erased from history.

Echoing across centuries, Leila and Khayyam’s lives intertwine, and as one woman’s long-forgotten life is uncovered, another’s is transformed.

The Descriptions

We see a lot of Paris in the book and a lot of the food and pastries there. I really enjoyed how Khayyam was exploring the city for much of the story and I felt completely immersed in the setting. 

Meaningful Themes

I already discussed the great representation in this book but it extended further than just Khayyam as a character. There were also really good conversations between characters about how Byron represented the characters in his poem and the cultural appropriation here. Khayyam is also very vocal about women’s stories that have been subdued over time and the whole book comes with the slogan of ‘tell her story.’

‘It’s not lost on me that my dad– an immigrant, too, but a white European guy– gets a completely different reception than desis with accents when passing through airport security.’

Literary References

The book was littered with references to literature from Dumas to Hugo which was really interesting. There’s also a lot of art history, something which I know little about but it opened my eyes up to some of the complexities involved in it.

The Romance

Okay, I did like the romance in this book. At times though, it was a little bit too much of a drag on the overall plot– I was definitely more interested in what happened in the story itself than which boy Khayyam chose. Of course, a love triangle is a very typical plot device in YA literature so it was okay… but still, did we need a love triangle? Probably not. 

The Poem

The book is mixed between the story in the poem and the story in reality. This was a great decision on the author’s part, but I did feel that we heard so little about the poem, I would have liked it if these sections could have been extended.

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys YA literature and loves to read. It’s complicated, endearing and overall, quite charming. 

Thank you to Edelweiss+ for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Have you read Mad Bad And Dangerous To Know? Would you like to? What books with great representation have you read before?

“Don’t Lose Your Fire”: Reviewing IGNITE by Jenna Terese

In this dystopian superhero debut, Scarlett must decide on where her identity comes from and gain a strength she never knew she possessed. It’s an exciting story, which is multilayered and full of plot twists– just like the narrator is unsure about where she stands in this new world that she enters into, we aren’t either. Who should we be supporting? What’s going to happen next?

Ignite is packed full of many exciting ingredients including:

  • Superheroes 🦸
  • Strong family relationships 👪
  • Plot twists 🎢
  • Ukuleles 🎶
  • Basketball games 🏀
  • Ice cream 🍨
  • Super powers 🔥

And more, of course. With components like that, how could it possibly go wrong?

The Blurb:

What if superhumans weren’t considered heroes?

When Scarlett Marley is attacked by an illegal super with fire powers, she doesn’t get burned, but now she has a fire-like glow flickering in her eyes. With superpowers criminalized, she has no choice but to turn herself over to the Superhuman Containment Facility, or risk hurting everyone she loves. Her normal life seems lost forever, until she is selected to be one of the first to receive the experimental cure to destroy her powers. 

In exchange, she must first complete one mission: Infiltrate and capture one of the largest gangs of supers in the remains of once-great Rapid City. With the cure and all her future at stake, Scarlett is prepared to do whatever it takes to bring these criminals to justice so she can return to her family. But this gang and their leader, Rez, aren’t what everyone says, and Scarlett begins to question everything she was ever told about the SCF and the fire flowing in her veins.

The cure is her only hope for returning her life to what it was before, but is that life worth returning to after all?

When I heard that Jenna was releasing her debut novel, I was extremely excited. I’ve been following her blog over the last years and it’s always great to learn about the writing process behind a writer’s work: you can’t help but root for them to succeed. 

Ignite lived up to my expectations in many ways and I enjoyed seeing what would happen to Scarlett and her friends.

Here’s what I particularly liked:

  1. The book is intense, but it’s relatable too.

In the way that many Marvel movies are filled with dramatic, large-scale scenes for just long enough before panning to something relatable to keep your attention– a conversation between characters, a quip or sarcastic exchange– Ignite is riddled with calm moments as well as intense scenes. There’s lovely, simple scenes in the midst of the main action about playing basketball and hanging out with family, or playing the ukulele. There’s ice cream and friendship and ordinary teenage things which grounds the book in reality.

As a result of this, the characters are relatable and well developed. Yes, most teenagers (or maybe all) don’t have to worry about becoming embroiled in conflicts between the government and superheroes but worries about identity and belonging like Scarlett face still exist. Scarlett is very normal and very human. She is uncertain, sometimes makes bad decisions, sometimes makes good ones. This helps us to want her to succeed and ultimately, it means we care about what happens to her more.

  1. Ignite has a strong faith message.

Ignite is a superhero story with a moral. It looks into accepting God’s purpose for our lives and the importance of the Bible. This is strongly present and yet it’s also not overwhelming: a non-Christian audience likely would not have qualms reading and enjoying Ignite.

Superheroes and their faith is an interesting concept and I like how it was explored here.

As a side-note, I actually recently read an article about a little known Marvel character that faced the same issues as Scarlett and who has a Christian faith on the Relevant Magazine’s website. If you’re interested, you can check that out here.

  1. Supers? Super Heroes?

Something I also really enjoyed was how the characters here had to reclaim the identity of superheroes (something which may have reminded me slightly of The Incredibles.) As there is a stigma around people with powers, here a select few have to choose to rise above the idea that they are not welcome in society and ultimately learn not to be ashamed of themselves– though the world only sees them as ‘supers’, which has become derogatory, they are learning how to become ‘superheroes.’

Don’t lose your fire.

IGNITE by Jenna Terese

Overall, I enjoyed this book for its messages, themes and writing style. I look forward to what comes next in the duology– there’s definitely some promising loose ends here!

You can buy IGNITE here and visit Jenna’s website here.

Do you plan on reading Ignite? Do you like Marvel films? What super power would you choose if you could have any?

Reviewing My A-Level Texts 2 Years Later

Yesterday, I came home from one of my last days of school with extremely sore fingers, likely owing to writing four essays in three hours (an English exam followed by one in History.) Whilst this was perhaps an anticlimactic and, admittedly, slightly painful end to spending two years studying some brilliantly thought-provoking texts for English, I realise that I’ve enjoyed my time analysing them. And so, today, to keep up with my streak of book reviews, I’m going to be giving a mini-review of all the texts I’ve studied for my A-Level exams and, hopefully, will encourage you to read them.

Prose

  1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood 

You’ve likely heard of The Handmaid’s Tale. It either must conjure up images of women in blood-coloured, red robes wearing some interesting white hats, or remind you of its author, the acclaimed Canadian writer, Margaret Atwood. It’s an interesting book, set up around the premise that after a fertility crisis and a political change, some women in society have to act as ‘handmaids’ for rich Commanders to bear their children. Of course, with such a basis, it’s disturbing.

Perhaps, this is why at first I disliked The Handmaid’s Tale. It’s not exactly uplifting and the narrator at times sent my classmates into angry rages (she often comes across as selfish and weak.) Still, two years later, having analysed it and highlighted it with a range of colours, I realise that I greatly respect the book and that it’s incredibly clever. Of course our narrator isn’t a typical hero: in her situation, who would be? And yes, it’s disturbing but it’s nothing that isn’t feasible. Atwood is a brilliant writer: she uses word-play incredibly cleverly and the whole book is nuanced enough that you can read it from many different lenses. I recently listened to her talking about it and it’s startling how grounded in reality it is and how she both subverts stereotypes of the dystopian genre and uses them to her advantage.

  1. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini 

The Kite Runner is another one of those famous books that stays with you long after you’ve read it. This time, we are whisked off to Afghanistan where we see political change and the childhood of two boys, Amir and Hassan. In a world of pomegranate trees, kite running and poetry, they grow up, only to be separated after a devastating event. As Amir grows up, he tries to redeem himself from his sins, which sends him back to Afghanistan after years in the US.

It’s simultaneously a difficult book to read and an overly easy one. The subject matter is dark and yet it is written carefully and meticulously, perhaps unsurprising, considering Hosseini is a qualified doctor and likely quite systematic. All the plot twists are summed up neatly, there are parallelisms that are so obvious that they prove the intervention of a careful writer, which has made some dislike the book. Maybe, we could say, it has been ‘overwritten.’ I still enjoyed it though: in some ways, this heavy-handed narration actually accentuated some of the themes and when the book draws to a close, it still leaves you feeling like you have been on an emotional rollercoaster.

‘The generation of Afghan children whose ears would know nothing but the sounds of bombs and gunfire was not yet born.’

The Kite Runner
  1. Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy 

I studied this book personally for my coursework and was able to write a ‘deleted scene’ from the book. I love Far From The Madding Crowd: it’s lighter-hearted than some of Hardy’s later books and follows Bathsheba Everdeen and her three suitors. Though my brother disliked the film and insists it’s just another romance, I would argue against that. I was analysing it from an ecofeminist point of view and it’s actually really well written, with clearly important themes and I think I will be reading it again. Plus, the film and its soundtrack are great.

Plays

  1. Othello by William Shakespeare

Jealousy the ‘green eyed monster’, a strawberry-covered handkerchief and a scheming Machiavellian villain all lead to disaster in this typically Shakespearian tragedy. It’s intriguing and the more criticism I read of it, the more I like it. I also was able to watch a recording of the Iqbal Khan production at the RSC and I love how they interpreted it (from including a rap-battle between Iago and Cassio to having a slightly more aggressive Desdemona.) 

‘Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate,/ Nor set down aught in malice: then must you speak/ Of one that loved not wisely but too well.’ 

Othello Act 5, Scene 2
  1. Death of A Salesman by Arthur Miller 

I suppose it wouldn’t be an understatement to say that I haven’t studied anything exactly ‘happy’ in the past two years. This play by Arthur Miller follows an elderly salesman, Willy Loman through the last moments of his life. We see the tensions in a family that has been broken apart by the conflict between him and his son, Biff. It is masterfully crafted: the dialogue is powerful and so are the stage directions, from Biff carrying his mother off the stage during his father’s funeral to his fight with his father. It’s a play that took me quite a while to like but now, it is a favourite and has helped me to understand how the genre of tragedy has changed over time.

Poetry

  1. Songs of Innocence and Experience by William Blake

This is a collection of poetry looking at the state of the human soul and religion across England during this period of industrialisation. There’s some famous poems included, like London (which I only learnt today includes an acrostic poem in one of it’s stanzas) and The Tiger, which you are likely to have read. It’s an interesting set of poems and they’re each unique, in Blake’s simple, nursery rhyme-like style. They lend themselves to scrutiny and questions and are still relevant today.

  1. The Eve of St Agnes and Isabella by John Keats

How to describe these poems? I’ve talked about Keats here before. I love the way he uses imagery. I love the way that he creates settings that don’t really exist. I love the way that he uses language. So, I really enjoyed The Eve of St Agnes because of its ambiguity– is Porphyro a villain or not– but Isabella… that was a different story. It’s equally well sculpted and actually inspired some of my current book but the actual plot… it’s a bit too macabre for me. If you want to know why, you’ll have to read it for yourself!

  1. The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus

Again, this was a pick I made myself for my coursework. Raymond Antrobus is a modern spoken word poet who looks at the experience of d/Deaf and mixed race individuals. I really enjoyed his poem Echo and To Sweeten Bitter. I did skip some of his poems on account of their content but can recommend all of the others. They’re poignant and highly topical and I would love to see him gain more recognition, especially as it is these poems that have inspired me to listen to some more spoken word.

Related Post: Lessons From Keats

My Takeaways

The last two years have been busy. I’ve loved studying new texts and look forward to reading and learning even more in the future. My overall takeaways? Even if you don’t like an ‘acclaimed text’ at first, you can grow to. That’s not to say that you have to like all classics: you don’t. But, as you begin to see beyond the surface of a book, to look into its language, the way its themes are put together, you may begin to see the skills of a talented writer.

I’ve learnt a lot about my writing from these books. In fact, my latest draft benefits from each of them in different ways. I’ve learnt about how to create interesting settings, how to use language creatively. I’ve learnt from Keats about how I can include an intrusive narrator in my book, from Hosseini how to include symbolism. 

So, I will finish this by recommending these texts and encouraging you to keep on reading, with the hope that it can benefit you greatly.

Reviewing ‘Where There’s A Whisk’ by Sarah J Schmitt

In a reality TV show slash cooking programme mashup, a group of witty teens must go head to head to win a scholarship to a leading culinary school in this YA Contemporary. Each teen has their own angle and story which they have to play on to win hearts, whether that be their socioeconomic background or their family connections. To win, not only do they have to cook up a variety of baked goods and full meals in some pretty wild challenges but also boost the network’s ratings. 

Related Post: The Best Food References In Novels

It’s a great concept for anybody who likes watching food programmes. As somebody who regularly watches Masterchef (the UK version) and spends too much time flicking onto the Food Network, this was right up my street and made me realise that cooking shows in the UK are definitely less cutthroat than they are in the US…

But what did I think about it?

If we were to judge this book like one of Peyton’s dishes, I’d say that the concept is brilliant. The individual components are even quite good. The overall execution may need some tweaks but it’s still enjoyable enough to read the whole book. Schmitt would be staying for the next round.

Where There's a Whisk

The Blurb

Peyton Sinclaire wants nothing more than to escape her life as a diner waitress in her small, North Florida town and attend culinary school. Top Teen Chef, Food TV’s new show that pairs reality TV drama with a fast-paced culinary competition, is her ticket out of her boring future. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make her dreams come true and Peyton is determined to prove to herself, and the world, that where you’re born does not determine where you can go. However, once on the show, Peyton quickly discovers that there is more to the competition than just a well-seasoned dish. 

As things start to heat up on and off the set, Peyton will have to prove to the judges that she deserves to win while trying to untangle what is real and what is scripted drama, and decide what she is willing to risk to win before her dreams end up on the chopping block. 

Creative Ideas

This book is enjoyable to read and also quite creative, which suggests that the author should start directing food TV shows. From Landmark Challenges in New York City where you have to spend hours running around a zoo and then create a dish inspired by it, to advantages where you can turn somebody else’s kitchen into a miniature version of one, it’s fun to read about. Peyton reacts well to the challenges and I liked how Schmitt knew her characters enough to see how they would react to these obstacles. 

The Characters 

There were some three dimensional characters here, though given how brief the book is, they weren’t always developed enough. But I did enjoy learning about the cast from Paulie who has to play the angle of being a good, young Italian chef to Hakulani who uses his Hawaiian influences to run his successful food truck with Peyton. Every cast member had their own motivations which made the book special. 

References To Musicals

I’m a big fan of musicals and I liked how Schmitt used the plot from Waitress to inform Peyton’s story and how this influenced her character arc. I must have listened to a dozen versions of She Used To Be Mine and I thought that including the moment when Peyton sees it at the theater was a clever way of diving into her emotions. 

My current favourite version of She Used To Be Mine

Pacing 

Where I felt this book lost some of its genius was how quick it was. It felt like we raced through stages of the competition and the relationships that form so that by the end, it’s like you’ve read a (very nice and totally enjoyable) summary of the plot. It would have been nice to have more description: what does the kitchen look like? Let’s see Peyton’s life beforehand so we know what she’s running from. If Dani is going to be mean, then let’s capitalise on this. I think that this book, if slowed down, really could be infinitely better. 

Suspension Of Disbelief?

There was a lot of this book which was centered around the romantic relationships between the characters on the show. Whilst perhaps this is reasonable enough given their ages, I felt as if for them to be believable, they needed some more work. For me, this would largely be cleared up if Where There’s A Whisk was longer, so in some way, these qualms go hand in hand.

In summary, this was a sweet, light-hearted read that capitalises on a brilliant concept, though may slightly lack in the execution. I recommend it for anybody who loves reading about food or just clean teen fiction.

I received this book free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Do you like watching cooking competitions? Will you read Where There’s A Whisk? Do you like reading about food?

Reviewing ‘Instant Karma’ by Marissa Meyer

Instant Karma

You’re singing karaoke in a restaurant which specialises in selling Shirley Temples and tostones when you slip and hit your head. When you open your eyes, you find that you have the ability to cast judgement on others with just the tightening of your fist: you can give out instant karma. 

It’s an interesting idea and it’s one that Marissa Meyer exploits in her Contemporary YA debut, aptly named Instant Karma. I’ve read many of Meyer’s books, enjoying Heartless and The Lunar Chronicles and I was excited to see how she would mix up the usual formula of a rom-com.

Related Post – My Favourite Fairy Tale Retellings

My conclusion? I thought it was great.

The Blurb

Chronic overachiever Prudence Barnett is always quick to cast judgment on the lazy, rude, and arrogant residents of her coastal town. Her dreams of karmic justice are fulfilled when, after a night out with her friends, she wakes up with the sudden ability to cast instant karma on those around her. 

Pru giddily makes use of the power, punishing everyone from public vandals to mean gossips, but there is one person on whom her powers consistently backfire: Quint Erickson, her slacker of a lab partner. Quint is annoyingly cute and impressively noble, especially when it comes to his work with the rescue center for local sea animals.

When Pru resigns herself to working at the rescue center for extra credit, she begins to uncover truths about baby otters, environmental upheaval, and romantic crossed signals—not necessarily in that order. Her newfound karmic insights reveal how thin the line is between virtue and vanity, generosity and greed, love and hate . . . and fate.

Character Development

Upon looking at the reviews for this book, something I noted was the passion with which readers really disliked the main character, Prudence. I kind of get it. After all, she is entitled and she believes that her opinions about everything are correct instead of thinking about the reasons why people do what they do. She has no concept of empathy. It never occurs to her that her lab partner Quint Erickson could have noble reasons behind his constant tardiness or that somebody doing graffiti on a billboard could be protesting against the treatment of animals. 

But that’s the point. 

The amazing thing that Meyer is doing here is highlighting character development and growth. We get to see the reasoning behind Prudence’s desire to always get ahead, from her fears about her body image and the way that she doesn’t feel pretty enough or smart enough to succeed without incredibly hard work.

She’s relatable and she’s real and she’s not very likeable, but I think that’s on purpose.

Across the board, the other characters are wonderfully crafted and linked into the story really well. From Quint who works at the animal rescue center to Ari, her friend or Jude, her twin brother, they have depth and character and they’re not your typical YA sidekicks. 

Marissa Meyer is definitely great at shaping characters.

Settings

Similarly, she has a knack for making the settings she includes just unrealistic enough to create a sweet storyline– after all, I don’t know many people who live around the beach, great Mexican restaurants and animal rescue centers– and realistic enough too. People face economic hardship, not everything can be seen through rose-tinted lenses.

I feel now like I want to go to an old record store, visit the beach and try some of these apparently delicious tostones. It’s a shame that in the UK, not many of those things are currently on offer. But being transported by this type of book is definitely a good enough substitute. 

Descriptions

Meyer devotes a lot of time, too, to describing the setting so we can imagine it vividly, from the rundown rescue center to the beach during a leavers’ beach party. Everything is described in lots of detail (probably why the audiobook I listened to was over ten hours long) and this really makes us root for the characters and to want them to succeed in their endeavours (and of course, to fall in love.) 

The Audiobook

Like I said, I listened to this book. I listened to it when I was running which apparently is possible (who knew?), walking to work and cleaning my room. I listened to Rebecca Soler read Cinder and Scarlet and she’s great at narrating in an engaging way with quite a lot of skill with accents. I had the book at 1.25 speed (or 1.75 when I wanted to finish it) but it was still enjoyable and I think that it really added to the reading experience. If you’re interested in checking out Instant Karma, I highly recommend the audiobook. 

Some Loose Ends

I don’t really want to talk about what could be wrong with this book. Sure, perhaps there were a few convenient moments in the plot where things just came together or maybe the idea of the instant karma was never fully resolved enough. The only thing I would really question though is the way that it is all tied together. There’s still questions lingering in our minds, especially regarding the side characters, though I do have to confess that I hope this is so Meyer can write a sequel! 

To sum everything up, I have to say that I really enjoyed this book. If you like a lighthearted story with good characterisation and picturesque, niche settings, this may be for you. 

Have you read Instant Karma? Did you enjoy it? Do you agree with my review of it? Do you like YA Contemporaries?

What a 19th century poet taught me about novel writing

I’ve been studying a collection of poems by Keats recently. I was initially uncertain about whether I would enjoy them, though my enthusiasm has grown to the point where he and his Romantic friends inspired me to write a Contemporary YA book related to their lives.

Related Post: I wrote a book over lockdown: here’s my takeaways

The Romantic poets have become a real source of interest for me. Their friendships were strong, their lifestyles often strange if not completely wacky– anybody who assumes canonical authors had dull lives may need to do some further reasearch– and they often stood up for what they believed in, whether that was vegetarianism or abolition. 

For me, however, I also found myself drawn to Keats for other reasons. As a poet, he’s taught me a lot about my own writing both due to how he lived his life and how his work was received by others. 

I believe that these lessons could help you as a writer too. 

So, without further ado, here are four things that John Keats has taught me about writing.

  1. Writing is for everyone: there shouldn’t be a glass ceiling

Keats shouldn’t have been a poet. He wasn’t a member of the aristocracy like his contemporaries, or even rich. In reality, he was trained in medicine and was, to all extensive purposes, meant to follow in this career path. Due to his low station, he was known as one of the ‘cockney school’ of poetry, removed from the Lake poets, such as Wordsworth who were revered by critics. Solely due to his class, he wasn’t taken seriously. But still, Keats, like many other poets from poorer backgrounds was determined: he didn’t let this stand in his way.

Writing is for everyone: there shouldn’t be a glass ceiling.

‘Of all the manias of this mad age, the most incurable, as well as the most common, seems to be no other than the metromanie. The just celebrity of Robert Burns and Miss Baillie has had the melancholy effect of turning the heads of we know not how many farm-servants and unmarried ladies; our very footmen compose tragedies, and there is scarcely a superannuated governess in the island who does not leave a roll of lyrics behind her in her bandbox.’

John Gibson Lockhart writing as ‘Z’ in Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine (August 1818)

Surely, if anything, this can teach us that writing shouldn’t rule out anybody. If you are interested in writing, shaping stories, putting together stanzas, etc. then there shouldn’t be an obstacle too insurmountable to stop you.

  1. You will receive criticism, but that’s okay

When Keats died at the young age of 25, there were many (mostly Percy Bysshe Shelley) who believed that his death wasn’t as a result of his tuberculosis but because he had been so mortally wounded by the onslaught of criticism he received about his work. It is true that he was treated badly. Coupled with his lack of the right social background to be a poet, some felt his writing was supposedly too ‘effeminate’, or lacking the necessary skill. Byron, in particular, was disdainful of his work: it was ‘trash’ and he should have been ‘flay[ed] alive’ for it, according to his uncharitable letters to John Murray. 

Keats easily could have given up with such criticism and yet, nowadays people revere his work and he has surpassed many of the poets that then were lauded. As a result, his work is studied today and unlike what he thought in his grave’s inscription, his name was not ‘writ in water.’ 

Criticism is important for us to hone our work but it shouldn’t stop us from doing what we love. Keats’ life is very much a testament for this. 

  1. You will doubt yourself but that doesn’t discredit you 

Many authors very much doubt their abilities. Is their writing good enough? Are their characters well-rounded enough? Keats must have felt the same. With such criticism as he received from the newspapers and the impact of this, some of his poetry does bear the marks of a man who wasn’t sure about his writing. In his Isabella; or the Pot of Basil, Keats apologises to the author of the original story that it was based on, Boccaccio, for the way he has turned it into verse. Whilst this may have been out of poetic respect for an ancient writer not genuine insecurity, Keats also complained about his poems to friends, showing markers of uncertainty. So, it is normal, Keats proves, to doubt yourself when you’re writing.

That’s why it’s important to have a fresh lens to see you work from. Don’t see it through your own clouded perception that may be affected by insecurity: simple joy can still be found in your writing.  

That’s why it’s important to have a fresh lens to see you work from. Don’t see it through your own clouded perception that may be affected by insecurity: simple joy can still be found in your writing.  

  1. Often, we can benefit from letting our readers work things out for themselves

A lot of Keats’ poems, like much verse, really, are ambiguous. What happens at the end of The Eve of St Agnes? Who is the lady in La Belle Dame sans Merci? We never learn. Keats relies very much on us thinking about what he is writing and he suspends our disbelief at the strange plot twists that he brings us through his use of medieval, fairy like settings. In some of his poems, there is no definite location to them. We are given vague indications of where the narrations are set but no formality. And so, as readers, we are forced to think.

Perhaps, this is something that we can build into our writing: do we need to spell everything out? Maybe, just maybe, it is okay to let our readers think for themselves. 

In summary then, the writing process is difficult. We may be challenged by our own backgrounds, our relative obscurity and how people receive our work but that does not mean that there is no merit to it. Like Keats, perhaps to move forward and to progress in our writing, we need to keep on trying, to not give up. 

Like Keats, we need to just get pen to paper.

Have you read any Keats? What are the biggest obstacles you face in your writing? Do you think that we should spell things out for readers or that we should explore them in detail?

The Best Food References In Novels

One of the joys about a book is the way that it can transport you to new places. The settings that you travel to can be entirely removed from reality, steeped in danger and utterly different to your day to day life and yet, usually there are similarities to the real world. One of these, I find, is descriptions of food. In our everyday lives, food is important to people: it joins people together, provides a shared sense of community and when lockdown is over, I can’t wait to share food with family members again. As someone who enjoys baking and, of course, eating, I’m always on the lookout for books that describe food.

There’s something magic about a book that can really describe meals and recipes. It adds an extra level of authenticity and charm to a book and ultimately makes it more memorable. I’d say that this is something that children’s books excel at, hence why we remember them so many years later. 

Today, in honour of my favourite books that mention food (but aren’t necessarily food themed) I’ll be shortlisting my favourite references to food in books. This is by no means exhaustive but a quick crash course. 

I apologise in advance if you’re feeling hungry…

  1. The Hunger Games Trilogy

If you want a step-by-step guide of how to describe food, look no further than The Hunger Games. Of course, the trilogy is about far more than what the characters are eating and in that way, food is still important: it highlights the divides between the rich and the poor and it brings the seemingly distant world of Panem a little bit closer to home. And of course, who wouldn’t want to eat beef stew or goat’s cheese after reading them?

‘The stew’s made with tender chunks of lamb and dried plums today. Perfect on the bed of wild rice.’

The Hunger Games
  1. Anything by Enid Blyton

I loved Enid Blyton’s books as a child. They were perfect for me for a number of reasons: the characters were relatable, the settings were interesting and I reread them time and time again. Every book inevitably features some type of midnight feast and the interesting arrangement of items that the girls bring– tinned peaches, sardines, chocolates, sweets and biscuits. Of course, a healthy amount of ginger beer can also not be forgotten. Blyton’s books are classics for a reason.

‘It was a lovely picnic. There were sandwiches of all kinds, buns biscuits and slices of fruit cake.’

Upper Fourth At Malory Towers
  1. The Alex Rider Series

For an action based series, Anthony Horowitz talks a lot about food in his Alex Rider series. From fancy restaurants where lots of ravioli is consumed to hastily put together meals, I always find that these descriptions add an extra dimension of interest to the series, again grounding it in reality. 

‘Mrs Rothman ate some of her ravioli. She used only a fork, cutting each pasta envelope in half then spearing it with the prongs. She ate very delicately, and Alex could see the pleasure in her eyes. It wasn’t just food for her. It was a work of art.’

Scorpia
  1. The Chronicles of Narnia

C.S. Lewis’ books are inviting to read, fun but with deep themes and he writes in a friendly style which feels all the more comforting because of the references to food. After all, who wouldn’t want to try Turkish Delight after reading about Edmund’s temptation? 

‘And when they had finished the fish, Mrs Beaver brought unexpectedly out of the oven a great and gloriously sticky marmalade roll.’

The Lion, The Witch And The The Wardrobe
  1. Honourable Mentions

Of course, there are many more books which are punctuated by descriptions of food. I personally love how the Ruby Redfort series always has Ruby drinking some sort of flavoured milk or eating something and in one of my favourite contemporaries, Goodbye Stranger, I don’t think cinnamon toast has ever been described more invitingly. And then there’s John Grisham’s Theodore Boone series where the Boone’s eat out at restaurants almost every day of the week… And the list goes on.

‘Gertrude’s was an old diner on Main Street… It claimed to serve pecan waffles that were famous around the world, but Theo had often doubted this. Did people in Japan and Greece really know about Gertrude and her waffles? 

The Abduction

So, now I’m off to add some more descriptions of food to my WIP…

Do you like reading about food in the books that you enjoy? Can you recommend any food-themed books for me? What is your favourite food?

Why Reading Reviews Can Make You A Better Author

As a person, I’d say that many of my hobbies would be classed as writing-related: blogging, reading voraciously (I’m 30/60 books through my Goodreads challenge already) and reading book reviews. The last may sound something of an irregularity, or at least a more boring pursuit but I always find it particularly enjoyable to understand the market that I’m writing for. Why?


Because I firmly believe that understanding your target audience can make you a better writer.

What does this look like?

I usually tend to keep up with what books are coming out at the moment and what people think about them. What were the common parts that they disliked? What did they find particularly refreshing? Original? 

How do I do this?

By following publishing houses and editors on relevant social media pages.

As a Twitter and (recent) Instagram user, I’ve found myself gravitating towards following writers, publishers, agents and book bloggers, something which has grown my knowledge of the market. It’s brilliant as you can find out about new books which are being released and you can also glean a lot of information about how the writing process works for authors you admire. An as of yet unpublished writer, I’ve been able to learn a lot about how querying agents and getting published works, something which has shown that it does help to know what else is selling in your field. If you’ve ever seen books marketed creatively as something like a twist between The Hunger Games and Nancy Drew, then this is evidence of a writer understanding how to reach their readership. I’ve also been checking out people’s pitches for ‘Pit Mad’ on Twitter to see how they market their book and how my current WIP would fit into this.

By reading reviews for books you have (and haven’t) read.

Using Goodreads or particular blogs, I like to read reviews for books of different genres, often those that I’m writing in. Let’s take the example of YA Contemporary novels. The last book that I worked on before my current WIP was The Romantic Poets’ Club, which broadly fits into this genre. Up until recently, I hadn’t read widely in the area (though more and more I find myself resorting to it) so I had to read a good selection of reviews for similar novels, looking at the one star and five star reviews. It’s always interesting to see the variation in opinions and more often than not, I find myself fiercely disagreeing with some reviews and finding others particularly accurate: it becomes abundantly clear that you can’t please everyone as a writer.

Related Post: Should We Write For The Many Or The Few?

I believe that this is really important to understand– if as an author you understand your readership, that’s good. If they become the focus of who you’re pleasing on every minute detail, less so. On this topic, I recently listened to an episode of ‘The Happy Writer Podcast’ which is hosted by Marissa Meyer and featured Sandhya Menon, author of When Dimple Met Rishi. In the episode, Menon said that she often writes just for herself on the first draft of a novel and then for her readership on the second– to focus solely on their interests would be a burden but to ignore them altogether would stop her novels selling.

Nonetheless, negative and positive reviews can teach us a lot. Sticking with the example of YA Contemporary, I’ve learnt a lot recently about what hooks readers and what makes them dismiss a book altogether. For example, diversity is essential in books (something I agree with strongly) but it has to be executed right. It’s easy to see reviews for the same book and to realise that whilst it was amazing for some people because it gave a voice to second generation immigrants, at the same time it marginalised a particular group because of its lack of correct representation. For me, this serves as a reminder to have high standards in writing about often underrepresented groups but also to ask readers of all backgrounds to help you during the process.

Related Post:  Diversifying Your Bookshelf: A Challenge For The Summer

Of course, if unlike me you find reading book reviews incredibly dull or a waste of time given that they don’t affect your writing at all, then it’s probably not worth skimming through them just for the sake of it. Still, I’d recommend finding other ways to understand the market that you’re writing for. Maybe talk to other avid readers or get beta readers that are hooked to the genre you’re writing for.

Writing should be about getting your thoughts on the page, enjoying yourself and honing your craft as well as meeting a reader’s needs. This is a hard balance to reach– after all, they are the ones that you’re essentially going to be relying on for your income– but I think that once you find it, your writing can improve exponentially.

Do you enjoy reading book reviews? Has your writing improved by knowing your target audience?