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?

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?

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?

The Hardest Part Of Novel Writing?

A lot of us probably have New Years’ resolutions, or at least, hurried lists of things that we’d like to do in 2021. Do more exercise. Learn a new skill. Write a novel…

I’m not one to create organised goals for the year – we all know, probably from experience that a lot of these so called ‘resolutions’ dwindle and die as time passes because… well, because what seems to be a brilliant idea on January 1st does not always seem so ideal when we’ve battled through normal life for a while, without idealistic glasses on. 

Nonetheless, I do have one goal this year and that’s one that hopefully shouldn’t be too taxing but rather something that I enjoy.

I’m hoping that I can write the first draft of my new book.

I’m still sifting through ideas, trying to figure out that tricky backstory, wondering why on earth a novel is so difficult to piece together – if you’ve ever written a book, this probably resonates with you.

The internet, I’ve seen, is packed with articles from all sorts of people about every step of the novel writing process. Want to know how to find an agent? Sorted. Want to figure out a six-step guide on how to create a complex, nuanced character? I can point you to a couple of websites. What’s difficult, ironically, is what sets off the whole process.

Ideas.

Trying to figure out what to write about is a process that, of course, is not easy to put into a formula. Writers tend to have preconceived notions of what they are writing a novel on and they’re usually good at thinking and piecing together inspirations that they’ve had.

Yet, often, after the first sparks of an idea come to you, seeming brilliant, it can be hard to build up the rest of your world. Yes, you know you’re writing a superhero action novel and you know that your main character is called Jane Witney and is afraid of dogs, but who is the villain going to be? What should her family be like? Does she have any friends?

Today, I’ll be giving a few steps to help you when you run out of ideas, when you know that there is a story that you really want to share with the world but which is still impossible to get onto the page.

I hope they’re helpful.

Here we go…

  1. Paper may just be your best friend.

This of course, could be entirely subjective to me, but I can testify from my own experience that ideas flow so much better for me on paper than typed up on a laptop. There’s something freeing about having the power just to scribble. It doesn’t feel formal. You’re not signing your life away to a book. You’re just having some fun.

  1. Picture collages aren’t a waste of time.

Something that I’ve really come to believe is that having visual aids to plan your novel is really helpful. I’ve had my brother walk in on me ‘writing’ recently, asking why I was just googling obscure things like ‘blue earrings’ or ‘snow in Afghanistan.’ But these pictures, these snapshots are essential for my novel. When ideas aren’t flowing, I’ve found myself coming back to the pictures, trying to imagine what could happen with these ingredients.

  1. Don’t throw things away.

You’re going to write some stupid things when you’re planning a novel. You’ll look back at them once a whole draft is finished and wonder why on earth you ever thought that particular character would ever say that particular thing. In spite of this, those not so great ideas are still ideas. They may prompt you to figure something else out.

Don’t throw them away.

  1. You’re not an actor, you’re a writer, but trying behaving like both…

I recently watched The Man Who Invented Christmas, which follows Dickens trying to piece together A Christmas Carol. I was struck by how he would walk around his office and stare into his mirror trying out lines as if he were an actor.

I’m not a particularly theatrical person, but just imagining conversations is a helpful tool. Try to visualise particular conversations, put yourself in them. It can even be quite entertaining…

  1. A notebook (or a phone) by your bedside could be handy…

The other day, I decided to put a notebook by the side of my bed so that I could write down any ideas that came to me during the night. After a few moments of trying to sleep, I was bombarded with a few and writing them down meant that they didn’t fly by unpinned down. The next morning, I had a new idea about how the novel was going to be put together.

Now, using a notebook is a good idea (and a well understood one) but, if you don’t fancy turning on the lights and blinding yourself, a notes app on your phone works equally well.

And finally, inspiration is everywhere. Just keep your eyes open and the ideas should flow. It might be a film that you really love or an amusing conversation with your family, but soon your novel will begin to take off.

So, if like me you want to spend 2021 writing a new book, I hope these tips will serve you well. Embrace being an eccentric writer who listens to conversations to write them down or who stops in the middle of a hike to document a strange conversation between a servant and a wealthy magistrate. It’s worth it.

Happy 2021 and, I hope, happy writing.

Do you like New Years’ Resolutions? Are you going to write a book this year? Have you tried any of these tips?

Paper Birds- Part Two

Hi everyone! I’m back this Tuesday with the second part of my short story, Paper Birds. If you didn’t see the first part, you can catch up here. So, without further ado, to the story…

Philip

Philip is a boy that is mocked for being too gentle. He doesn’t kick, or flail or fight when someone says something that hurts him. He just squares his shoulders and walks away.

Today he doesn’t think that he can stand the teasing jokes, the sssstutter ssssounds .

He doesn’t want to go to school.

He’s skipped it before.

But something compels him to go back.

He still has two paper birds to deliver.

He lets himself take the long route to school, cutting through estates so that he doesn’t have to face registration. But by lunchtime, he’s done his job.

The birds have flown out of his reach.

Suraya

Suraya is a girl that likes to spin words into colourful creations when inspiration strikes. The second bird finds its way into her hands in an English lesson.

Reason two, it says, You change our perspectives because you’ve seen things nobody else has. She keeps the note after that, emotional. And when the lesson is over, she signs up for the competition.

The author of the notes is right.

She has seen things that nobody else has.

Philip

Philip is a boy that deserves more from life, a fistful of stars, a room brimming with treasure. But he has learnt to take pleasure in the mundane, for there is little bounty left in his world.

He makes it his duty to learn about his classmates, if they like video-games, or movies or poetry. And then, he tries to help them, like he is helping Suraya now. It’s his therapy, his escape, his joy, his pride. It’s his expression, the words he couldn’t say, the words he stumbles over.

Today, he piles into assembly with his tutor group, feeling curiously nervous. He ignores the initial greetings; his eyes are on the first contestant for the contest.

And as she begins to speak, she looks down. He knows what she sees, the bird on the lectern. He smiles.

Suraya

Suraya is a girl that sometimes gets scared of crowds. She wants to run away. What if they laugh at her? But then, she sees the note. You’ll be great, it simply says. Unable to stop grinning, she begins…

And soon:

Words are her weapons, she shall not tire

She is a spitfire of passion and hope
A golden ember in a mud filled mire.

She is spitting fire now, words come to life She is a master of rhythm and rhyme
A conquerer of pain with no more strife.

When she finishes, she heaves out a breath.

Looking straight ahead, she sees a boy clapping.

A boy holding a paper bird.

Suraya and Philip

Walking out of assembly, Philip holds the birds. Suraya holds the trophy. Two small hands: one paper white, one inky with words, high-five.

The ink bleeds over the paper; friendship is soaking through. Suraya and Philip are weak alone.
Together they forge a bond.

Together they are strong.

Well, thanks for reading, I hope you enjoyed this. If you did, as usual, I’d love it if you followed my blog so you can see more regular content. 🙂 Also, if you guys have any ideas of what I should post about next, feel free to comment!

What did you think about the story? What should I post next? Do you like writing too?

Paper Birds, Part One – A Short Story

Hi everyone! This week I’m trying something different from my usual posts and am sharing with you all a short story that I wrote a while ago. This is the first part, which centers around two characters, Philip and Suraya.

I hope you enjoy.

Suraya

Suraya is a girl with a crumbling past made of ashen shadows. Its grasping tendrils suck the joy from her days and leach the rest from her nights.

She hates the night.

When she awakes today, there is a heaviness in her sinking spirit. The nightmares never subside – they only intensify. She saw flames last night: fire and rubble, death and blood. She saw a wasteland through her tears.

She saw her home.

When she slips out for school, hiding in her inconspicuous uniform, still two sizes too big for her, she misses her brother, the joking presence beside her. She shoves the thought away. There is much to think about.

St George’s School is a simple building, large and sprawling. Soon she is swimming in a sea of laughing teenagers, pushing her bag further over her shoulders to avoid being knocked into. She is walking against the current of an unrelenting tide. Suddenly she feels claustrophobia rising up in her throat – she tastes fear, feels her blood swirling fast.

“Suraya?”

Plastering on a false smile, she turns to where an owl-like teacher is watching her, beady-eyed.

“Are you okay?”

She says yes. She always says yes. No matter what they say, it isn’t okay not to be okay. Not for Suraya at least.

There is too much that is not okay.

Philip

Philip is a boy made of paper. His skin is paper white and it folds in origami creases around his eyes. His hair is paper thin and wispy, fading from blonde to white.

He hates the first day of school. Afterwards, his mum will quiz him on what he learnt (nothing much), what he ate for lunch (you packed it!) and if he made any friends (no.)

It’s a tic of speech, the last question. She shouldn’t bother asking him anymore. He never makes any friends.

He walks into his classroom, as usual noting everything. Sitting in a corner as far away from anybody as he can, he takes out a piece of paper and begins to fold creases into it. Slowly, it takes the shape of a bird.

He wishes that he was a bird.

Birds can fly away. He can’t.

The teacher tells him to put the paper away. She reads the notices for the day out after that; he’s not listening. He’s watching the other corner of the room, the only other student as silent as him.

One of the announcements stands out, though. There’s a slam poetry competition next week, original submissions only.

He’s not one to talk in front of crowds. His words stick like glue and his hands shake like when the washing machine is on, sending odd socks flying.

He can’t help but look at the girl on the other side of the room. She’s good at poetry.

Suraya

Suraya is a girl that never used to be afraid of challenges. That afternoon the school counsellor brings up the poetry competition, unravelling a spool of words about why she should enter. He’s read Suraya’s poetry from before, the weak poems she wrote in English when she had not tasted the bitter chalice of pain or winced at the slicing lacerations of grief.

She won’t do the competition. But she won’t say why.

She frowns and says, harshly now, “I’m not doing it!” before storming out of the room.

Her accent is stronger when she shouts. She can already see the others laughing at her, mimicking her like they did the first and only time that she innocently read one of her poems out in class. That is why she can’t do the competition.

Face burning, she sits in the corridor, foetal-like, poems stuck in her heart, poems clogged up in her throat, poems wanting to escape.

She loves words, how they can be moulded like clay. Back home, her pen was her key to the world.

But that was before she had to flee, before her brother died, before she was plunged into darkness.

Now the dribbling ink doesn’t flow. It is as slow as it is dark, the colour of death.

Philip

Philip is a boy that loves lists. Why?

  1. They compartmentalise his life.
  2. He can tick them off easily.
  3. They negate emotion.

He keeps lists of all of the good things that happen to him everyday. It’s meant to help with the grief: his counsellor said so. Today he managed to finish The Hobbit for the third time and had cornflakes for breakfast. Cornflakes were his dad’s favourite.

But he doesn’t just use his lists to help himself. Philip has a minor project ongoing that involves the origami paper birds that his dad used to make.

Today that project has begun.

And it feels good to help others. Freeing almost. He runs all the way home from school. He does that sometimes. It’s good to feel the wind in his hair, to see the traffic blur by.

He almost feels like a bird.

Suraya

Suraya is a girl that is not taken by surprise normally. When she gets home from school, she flies upstairs to where she can at last throw off her itchy uniform.

Her parents aren’t home from work yet and she blares her music out loud. It’s nice not to have to think in English for a change.

Half an hour later, she is writing a long essay. She’s good at essays. As she pulls out her History book, a piece of paper flutters out. She picks it up.

It is a delicately shaped paper bird. Gold writing on the side says: ‘Why you should do the poetry slam: you write poems that make me feel like I matter.’

Could it be from a teacher? Someone who wants to see her humiliated?

She closes her eyes, sighs. But then, she can’t help it, she feels the teasing twist of inspiration in the pit of her stomach.

She hasn’t felt like this since the capsule of her perfect world was smashed, leaking despair everywhere.

A smile on her face, she begins to scribble.

Well, that’s the first half of the story. I hope you liked it, and if you did, check again next Tuesday when I’ll post the next instalment. To see my posts regularly, you can follow me here or on Twitter and Instagram and ‘like’ this post.

Do you enjoy reading short stories? What do you think happens next? Will you stick around for the next instalment?

4 Lessons I’ve Learnt From Editing My Book

So, you’ve written the first draft of your book. What next?

That innocent, two-word long question is actually incredibly intimidating. Recently, as you may know, I finished writing the first draft of my Contemporary YA novel, The Romantic Poets Club. The process was long and at points arduous, but overall, quite enjoyable. When I’d finished writing, however, and was faced with the ‘what next’ question, I found myself racking my brain for ideas of what to do with the imperfect, limp, skeleton-like manuscript in front of me.

I don’t have the whole process of editing sussed out- after all, I’m sure there are published authors out there who are still getting their heads around it. What I have found out though, is four lessons which I think could be helpful for you.

  1. It won’t be as bad as you think

Well… this one is quite self explanatory 🙂 I’ve heard a lot that you should leave several weeks between completing the first draft of your book and then editing it. I’d definitely second this advice handed down by many authors, especially because having fresh eyes on something is incredibly helpful.

After four weeks of leaving my manuscript untouched, I was nervous. I’d internalised all of the problems with my book when I’d written the last line. Why was that scene so cringy? Why is she using her phone when supposedly she was banned from using it a page ago, etc. To be honest, I really wasn’t looking forward to sorting out all these problems.

In my nervousness, I created a list for myself of things to remember if I read over my book and really hated it. I didn’t want this book to be another to end up in the metaphorical dump. To counter this, I created a list of inspirational things to remember for when it got difficult.

Some of the points on my ten point to success list were good. Don’t rush, pace yourself. Others were desperate. You’re still young, if it’s really rubbish then you’ll laugh about it in time. I did take the time to find some good advice though, which I’d recommend and I especially liked an article that I read on Charis Rae’s blog about finding joy in draft one of your book.

Soon however, as I began to edit, motivated by a plethora of tables and systems (more below), I found that it wasn’t actually that bad.

I wrote the last scene of my book that evening, wondering what it would feel like to be finally finished with it. Okay, it wasn’t exactly as exhilarating as I thought it would be. After having seen the skeleton that was the first draft, I knew that there was so much that I had to do. I needed to continue editing it, send it out to beta readers and then prep it for possible publishing.

So, not that much to do, after all.

The Romantic Poets Club, Elizabeth Sond

Lesson One: even if you think you’re going to hate your writing when you look back on it, honestly, it probably won’t be as bad as you think.

2. Ideas come first

You probably already know this, but there’s no point in editing spelling, punctuation or word choice if your plot is riddled with holes. When you decide what you want to edit first, I recommend categorising things into what is high maintenance work and what is low maintenance.

For me, editing character motivations, changes of time frame and occasional inconsistencies were high maintenance work which I had to do first. Deleting overused words, correcting bad punctuation and even dealing with poorly worded phrases were low maintenance.

By categorising the tasks that I had to do, I didn’t feel overly overwhelmed or like I needed to do everything all at once.

Lesson Two: break up the workload into bite size chunks so that you don’t have to everything all at once.

3. Tables are actually your biggest friends, even if you hate them

Genuinely, I cannot overemphasise how useful I have found making tables throughout this project. I’m not usually someone who likes to plan everything meticulously (although I confess, I’m becoming more so daily) and I certainly don’t enjoy using tables/ graphs etc. But, in editing I found them incredibly useful.

Firstly, I filled out a table with the chapter number and narrative voice (I have 6), a summary of what happens, a note of any problems I noticed and an extra column with what changes I was going to make that would impact on the rest of the book.

Whenever I fixed a problem, I highlighted this, meaning that I could keep a track. Any outstanding issues, I put in a separate table with a column for ‘problems’ and another for ‘solutions.’

This really kept me on track. If you would find it useful, you can steal my template shown in the picture here and have a go :).

A basic example of my table.

So, lesson three. You can never overstate being organised. Like anything, this takes time and concentration!

4. Beta reading is difficult, but you’ll survive…

Guys, beta reading is a gruelling process. When I finished writing my book, I couldn’t wait for people to read it – that’s what it’s all about, right? Soon, however, I was plagued with doubts. What if I was showing embarrassing ignorance about that topic I only researched for a few moments? What if my characters were misinterpreted?

With four of my beta readers in my own house, every question can sometimes make you doubt yourself. All in all, I’ve got some good feedback (it made me cry, I love your poem!) but also some…. that is hard to swallow. Now, I’m not complaining about my beta readers (some of who are probably reading.) Even the last comment really helped me. To be honest, more than anything, I need honesty to improve my book.

Lesson Four: Don’t be afraid of harsh criticism. It’s the only way you’ll improve! But, brace yourself. When you ask people to be honest, they’ll be honest. And if they’re not, you probably need new beta readers 🙂

All in all, editing is a rollercoaster of a process. If you stay positive, organised, prepared and pre-planned, however, I’d say it’s definitely a rewarding one. It’s a process I’m still on, but I hope that my advice has helped you.

If it has, I’d love if you could tell me how in the comments and if you don’t already, subscribe to my blog for regular content! Have a great week 🙂

Do you think you’ll take any of my advice? Have you ever done an editing project? And do you have any advice for me?

Exams, Charles Dickens, The Story Of Esther And Chai Cookies… Wrapping Up September

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably wondering why I dropped off the face of the earth again… Apologies. I’ll blame exams this time, considering that I’ve spent the last few weeks revising, taking tests and anticipating getting grades. It’s a crazy time at school, given that there’s lots to catch up on after lockdown but all in all, it’s been a good last couple of weeks.

I’ve taken a break from writing, tried to read more, enjoyed some good music and generally have been glad that Autumn ( or Fall if you’re American ;)) has arrived. After all, it’s my favourite season, without a doubt.

Reading

In terms of my reading progress this last month, it’s definitely been far more productive than my blogging. I’ve just finished David Copperfield (yay!) and am reading Mere Christianity. I’ve also been enjoying some poetry, reading from John Agard’s Travel Light, Travel Dark (highly recommended) and listening to some spoken word.

Water music of a different kind. No sweet F-major suite releasing golden crystals to a river’s ear. But a dumbing middle passage bell tolling a tale of shackled feet. Footsteps without fanfare.

Water Music Of A Different Kind (After Handel) by John Agard

Writing

My writing progress has been slower over the last few weeks. I’m still waiting on people who are reading my book and have received some feedback (some negative, some positive) which is quite an interesting experience. I’ve never really had people read a whole book I’ve written before and it amazes me what a variety of responses I can get. On another note, I’ve been investigating screenwriting (literally just reading scripts from movies I’ve watched) and thinking of a new project which definitely won’t be seeing the light of day for a while.

Autumn is my favourite season: the hues of brilliant oranges, browns and yellows when a sepia filter colours the landscape; the cold that starts to creep over the world and leaves us with a special place in our hearts for warming drinks and scratchy sweatshirts; splashes of firework colour in the dark glossy sky.

The Romantic Poets Club by Elizabeth Sond

Life

In terms of everyday life, I’ve been enjoying a variety of different things. I’ve loved watching the Channel 5 series of All Creatures Great And Small based on James Herriot’s classic memories, as well as doing some baking.

My cookies

I’ve made pumpkin pie and chai spiced cookies this month (a really great recipe can be found for the cookies here, check it out) which have both been fairly successful if I do say so myself ;).

Also, I’ve loved listening to Sight And Sound’s new musical soundtrack, Queen Esther based on the Biblical story. Whilst I can’t say that my brothers love me blaring it out, it’s definitely worth a listen if you enjoy musicals. Some of the songs have really profound themes and the song Bend Or Break has been making me think more deeply about the line ‘compromise is just like sinning.’

All in all, this month has been one of ups and downs. As Autumn (or Fall 😉 sets further in, I look forward to seeing what happens. Hopefully I’ll be more present on my blog!

If you enjoyed this post, I’d love if you could comment below and subscribe to see regular updates.

Have you ever tried chai cookies? Do you like musicals? And do you call this season Autumn or Fall?

A Truly Unique Summer (I Return + Tags + Thoughts )

Hello again! It’s been a while since I’ve posted here (actually since the 17th July and it’s now September.) I could bore you with excuses (school work, revision for exams etc.) or even tell you that my plan to have two weeks off kind of resulted in several weeks off but that’s a bit repetitive. Instead, I thought I’d return by catching up on a few tags that I haven’t done and sharing my thoughts on a few things that have happened in the world recently.

Writing

This summer has been really great for my writing. I’ve just finished editing my book, THE ROMANTIC POETS CLUB, which has been a really enjoyable process. After having made myself a hurried list of all of the reasons why I shouldn’t worry about editing the book (I was quite unsure about the whole process) I dove into my messy manuscript hoping for the best. I’m happy to say that it went incredibly well and now I’m getting people to beta read for me. It’s daunting thinking of people actually picking up my book but also extremely exciting!

Blogging

Tag time! First is a really exciting tag by ElizabethAnne called The Two Truths and A Lie tag. Basically, it’s based off of the game of the same name but in blog tag form. So, here we go.

Here’s how it works:

  • Answer the three questions you’ve been asked. Make one of your answers a lie. Your readers will guess which one is the lie in the comments section.
  • Ask your nominees three questions of your own.
  • Link to your nominees’ blogs at the bottom of your post and message them to let them know they’ve been tagged.

The Questions (Look out for the lie!!!!!)

  1. What is your favorite summer drink?

I am definitely a smoothie person 🙂 This summer my brother made us all a banana smoothie (or milkshake- he added ice cream?) which was really nice, so I’d definitely say that!

2. What is the first thing on your bucket list?

I think it would be really cool to go see The Eiffel Tower, especially because I think Paris would be a really nice city to go visit. I’d love to take some photos of the city.

3. What is one thing you can’t leave the house without (besides the obvious)?

Well, at the moment a mask? 😉 No, not really! I’m not really someone who carries a lot of stuff with them, but I’d probably say a water bottle like ElizabethAnne did!

Which was the lie? Tell me what you think in the comments and I’ll tell you what’s right in my next post!

I’m not going to tag anybody, owing to my lateness (sorry!) but now we’ll go ahead to another tag, this time The Original Outstanding Blogging Award. Thanks Ribbon Ash!

The Rules:

  1. Provide the link the creator’s original award post. (very important: see why in step 5.) – The Original Post is here.
  2. Answer the questions provided.
  3. Create 7 unique questions.
  4. Nominate 10 bloggers. Ensure that they are aware of their nomination. Neither the award’s creator nor the blogger that nominated you can be nominated.
  5. At the end of 2020, every blog that pings-back the creator’s original post will be entered to win the 2020 Outstanding Blogger Award!

1. What sort of protagonist would you be? The fighter, the outcast, the anti-hero, the arrogant then turned humble, the one who makes a lot of bad decisions, the compassionate one?

Good question! I’d probably want to be the compassionate one? I like the idea of helping others though I don’t see myself as the fighter type of person.

 2. What is one creative strength of yours?

Umm… I love writing but I’d also say that I like making posters and things as well?

3. Sunshine or rain for a superpower?

Well, my brother’s favourite weather ever is rain, though that would upset a few other people in my family. We get a lot of rain as it is these days, though, so I’d probably say sunshine!

4. Favourite number and why?

Definitely 8. I think I decided it was my favourite number at the age of eight (understandable) and it kind of stuck!

5. What is your favourite type of fictional character?

Probably any character that shows their flaws but also has some redeemable qualities like Anne from Anne of Green Gables.

6. What is your least favourite genre of a book/movie?

There’s lots of genres I don’t read/ watch (eg. horror/ thrillers) but out of what I do, I’d probably say sci-fi. I am a Star Wars fan and the occasional sci-fi is okay for me, but I’m not too keen on aliens etc.

7. What is your opinion of fairies?

Interesting question! As of yet, I don’t think I’ve given much thought to fairies full stop.

I’m Tagging:

My Questions

  1. How many times is it okay to reread a book?
  2. If you could have written one already published book, what would it be?
  3. What is your favourite thing about blogging?
  4. Are you more of a summer or winter person?
  5. What is your favourite song at the moment?
  6. What is one of your favourite blogs out of those that you follow?
  7. When is it okay to start listening to Christmas music? 😉

Thoughts + Random Musings

  • Things in the world have been crazy since I stopped blogging. In fact, more and more the news has left me feeling sad. From police brutality and elections in America to the death of celebrities, we’re seeing a new wave of events that have been hard for many to process. In the midst of all of this, here are some things that I’ve really found helpful:
  • A poem by Benjamin Zephaniah which is a modern reimagining of MLK’s ‘I Have A Dream’ speech.
  • Articles on The Gospel Coalition, like this.
  • Some ‘Protest and Praise’ songs here.
  • On a happier note, this week sees me returning to school, trying to figure out what to name three new chickens (any suggestions??) and returning to blogging! Coming soon: how I edit my books + a conversation about the poet Rabindranath Tagore.

Thanks so much for reading this post! I hope that you enjoyed it, and if you did, I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Have a great week ahead, whatever it brings!

Which of my questions do you think was a lie? What is your favourite summer drink? Is there anything you’d like to see me talking about over the next weeks here?