So How’s That Novel Coming Along?

I recently finished the seventh (seventh!) draft of my steampunk book.

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Yeah, a kitten lying down and falling off the pavement pretty much sums up my feelings on that.  I loved writing that book and I’m loathe to let go of my precious characters … but when your entire day’s editing consists of adding a semi-colon, then removing it, then adding it back, then cutting it out again, you know it’s time to stop.

So now it’s time for the scary part: hoping Actual Professionals like my writing.  After months of furious editing, it’s pretty weird to just sit back and twiddle my thumbs, waiting for a response.  And by weird I mean agonising.

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So instead of twiddling my thumbs, I’ve started planning my next book.  And man I forgot how tough planning is.  At this stage, I suddenly understand all those people who write by the seat of their pants – the urge to just go and fix all the problems later is about as tempting as an open box of Thorntons left unattended in an empty kitchen.  You shouldn’t.  You know you’ll regret it later.  But oh god I’ll just have one, no one will miss it.

The point of this post, essentially, is me asking for strength.  Or rather, patience.  The patience to wait nicely while wonderful, clever professionals decide what to do with my novel.  The patience to actually plan out my next novel properly, so I don’t have to do seven drafts again.  Wish me luck!

Where to start with Discworld

Let me tell you something: I freaking love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books.  I love the wacky universe that somehow manages to make sense (a disc balanced on four elephants riding a turtle through space – really?), I love the characters that start out like clichés but grow into so much more, I love Pratchett’s philosophy about human kindness and belief and the wonders of imagination, and I love the fact that all of this is packed into dozens of books that make me giggle from one cover to the other.

But when I recommend Discworld to people, they tend to view them the same way people view comics.  By which I mean, they look at the sheer number of them and panic.  How the hell am I meant to read all those?  Where do I even START?

The nice thing about the Discworld books is that, technically, you can start them anywhere.  The books run chronologically, and certain groups of characters pop up repeatedly (there are the Guards Books and the Death Books and the Witches Books …), but it doesn’t matter which book you actually start on, because they all explain themselves fully.  I started on Hogfather, the 22nd book in the Discworld series and the fourth in the Death Books series.

This, however, tends to terrify people even more, because now they really, really don’t know where to start.  So here’s my informal, quick guide on some of the best books to start with, and why.

1) If you like reading chronologically, or you like wizards, magic and Conan the Barbarian: The Colour of Magic

The Colour of Magic

The first book in the Discworld series overall, this story is about Rincewind the cowardly wizard exploring the entire world of the disc.  This is also the beginning of the Rincewind books, so if you’re particularly fond if him, you can skim on through his stories:

2) If you like murder mysteries, cop shows and urban drama: Guards!  Guards!

Guards! Guards!

These books follow the police force in the Discworld city of Ankh-Morpork (a dirtier, smellier and more magical Victorian London).  I’m always amazed at how magical crimes featuring dragons and golems can be solved using real common sense and detective work.  A lot of my favourite characters come from this series, from werewolves to dwarves to human men who are just damn fed up with all this magical nonsense.

More books in this series include:

3) If you like Shakespeare, fairy tales and witchcraft: Wyrd Sisters

Wyrd Sisters

This series is about a coven of witches in the Lancre countryside, solving everything from their neighbour’s backache to an army of supernatural monsters on midsummer’s day.  Granny Weatherwax and Nanny Ogg’s stories revolve around parodies of various magical stories, from Midsummer Night’s Dream to Dracula to Phantom of the Opera, but usually end up using practicality and common sense over hand-waving everything away with magic.

Technically, Granny Weatherwax first appears in Equal Rites, but I’d actually advise starting with her next book (when Nanny Ogg also appears) and then going back:

 

4) If you like sympathetic monsters, philosophy and spookiness: Mort

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Mort is the first in the series of books about Death – Terry Pratchett’s Grim Reaper is actually a pretty friendly fellow, and thus has several books about him and his family.  These usually involve either Death going on holiday, and someone else having to take up his (not particularly pleasant) job, or Death’s family having to battle the Auditors – nasty creatures that want to wipe out humanity for the crime of being just too darn complicated.

These are the books I started on, and Death will forever be one of my favourite characters.

 


 

So that’s it!  To me, those are the best places you could start with Terry Pratchett, if you’re not sure where to go.  (If anybody’s crying ‘but Tiffany Aching!’ I’m so sorry, I haven’t read them yet!  I know, I know, shame on me.)

Is anyone else a Terry Pratchett fan?  Where did you start, and where do you recommend people begin?

Should you take a writing class?

It’s practically a cliché at this point.  A hopeful youngster meets their favourite author, wide-eyed and excited, and asks them, ‘I want to be a writer too, can you give me advice?’

And the writer, dead-eyed and serious, replies, ‘Don’t take a writing class.’

I’ve seen this scene play out in TV series and films.  I’ve actually had it happen in real life right in front of me, and I couldn’t help laughing – I was halfway through my MA Writing for Children at the time.

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All eyerolls aside, there’s a reason why people throw this advice around like the gospel truth: a writing class cannot buy you talent.  If you go into a writing class expecting to pay X amount and wind up with a book deal, millions of fans and rolling in royalties … you’re going to be disappointed.  A writing class cannot buy you talent, because money cannot buy you talent.

What buys you talent?  A lot of hard work, that’s what.

So what can a writing course do for you?  Are they worth the cost?  (Because wow, my BA Creative Writing and MA Writing for Children combined cost about £16,000 – and if you need me, I’ll be crying about my student debt in the corner.)

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If it weren’t for my BA and MA, I wouldn’t be as good at writing as I am.  My course forced me to improve.  I had to write each day, had to be brave enough to show my writing to other people, thick-skinned enough to accept their criticism, and driven enough to make improvements based on their suggestions.  All of these are things you’ll have to do if you want to be a professional writer.  All good things to practise before you attempt that leap.

On top of that, my writing course surrounded me with fellow writers.  I got to hear their opinions (sometimes in the form of furious debates), and as much as we criticised one another, we also gave glowing reviews.  Nothing improved my confidence like knowing other writers liked my work, and nothing improved my work like knowing exactly what parts they liked, and what I needed to change.

I loved my BA so much I opted to take an MA even though it meant another year away from home, and a whole lot of money.  I wouldn’t go back on my choice to take a writing class for the world.

If I were to amend the cliché, I’d say this: don’t take a writing course unless you’re prepared to put work into it.  Don’t take a writing course expecting to have your book deal handed to you on a silver platter.  Don’t take a writing course because you think piling money into it will automatically grant you talent.

But if you’re willing to work hard, show some humility and listen to your teachers and peers – and if you have the money to spare – by all means, enjoy your writing course.

The Prettiest Book Covers

I was working in the library the other day, and I noticed how damn pretty some of our books are, even the ones I haven’t read, and will never read.  So today I’m going to gush over our prettiest book covers, some of my favourite pretty books, and just prettiness in general.

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase

This design is just my absolute favourite.  The clock, the paper-cut out figures, the blue clouds … ahhh it’s just so classy and beautiful.  What you can’t see on-screen is that all that gold is shiny on the real cover.  So pretty!


 

The Goddess and the Thief by Essie Fox

Again, the screen doesn’t quite do this justice.  That green and pink really pop in real life, bright and vibrant and gorgeous.  I love those decorative hands, just fancy enough to draw your eye, but not so busy they hurt your eyes.  Love it, love it, love it.


 

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Hogfather by Terry Pratchett

I have the old Josh Kirby edition of Hogfather at home, and when I first saw this cover it took all my self restraint not to rush out and buy it.  It’s so clever – you see the skull first, and then the Christmas ornaments, and it just ties into the story so well.  Favourite!


 

Sedition by Katherine Grant

This one relies pretty much entirely on the typography, and holy wow it succeeds.  All those swirls and twirls around the S are beautiful and classy, and that’s made all the better by the piano keys at the bottom.  Seriously simple, seriously pretty.


 

Seed by Lisa Heathfield

Again, what you can’t see on the screen is that the entire cover of this book is shiny and reflective.  It’s a real eye-catcher on a display table, the colours seeming to swim as you turn it.  The typography is almost ghostly on the real cover – super cool.


 

What Belongs to You by Garth Greenwell

This one isn’t so much pretty as just cool.  At firstt, I thought the cover was a weird, computer-generated pattern.  It was only looking closer that I realised it’s a photo of a block of flats.  Clever photography, clever cover.  I love it.


 

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Every Mountain Made Low by Alex White

This cover is the definition of simplicity.  The yellow stands out beautifully, the chalk-like city soft and a little spooky, the lone figure in the centre wonderfully eye-catching.  And a fantastic title to boot!  What a lovely cover.


 

These are by far not the only beautiful books in our library, and I could gush about this all day!  What are your favourite pretty book covers?  Send them to me so I can smile and sigh over how gosh darn lovely books are.

Howl’s Moving Castle

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Read if you like: fairy tale retellings, fantasy, humour, Discworld

Today, I’m ticking off ‘A book that became a film’ in my reading challenge.

Howl’s Moving Castle is probably better known (at least among nerd circles) by the anime film adaptation made by Studio Ghibli in 2004.  I’ve watched it a couple of times (it’s ever so pretty), and I dithered about reading the book because I wasn’t sure if I’d like it.

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(The film by Studio Ghibli)

I really, seriously wish I hadn’t waited so long, because the book was even better than the film.  Plot points that make no sense in the movie are explained perfectly in the context of the novel.  (SPOILERS: the whole scarecrow twist at the end is actually foreshadowed in the book, rather than popping up out of nowhere.)

For the unfamiliar, the plot goeth thusly: when young Sophie Hatter is transformed into an old woman by the wicked Witch of the Waste, she leaves home to seek her fortune.  Instead, she winds up working as a cleaning lady for the wizard Howl, a spoilt, attention-seeking brat of a man who somehow slithers out of everything.  And oh my god, I loved every page of it.

This book is perfect for fairy tale fans, chock-full of witches, wizards, and cursed demons.  On top of that, it’s genuinely hilarious – when Howl caught a cold, I was bent over the book cackling.  The characters come within inches of breaking the fourth wall, constantly referring to fairy tale tropes (and promptly smashing them to pieces).

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(The moving castle from the film)

Howl’s Moving Castle the book is very different to the film.  Howl is less heroic (I actually preferred him as a total coward, because he was so darn funny), Calcifer is scarier, and the story is more focused on fighting the Witch of the Waste.  Because of this, I’d actually recommend it more to fans of the film.  It doesn’t feel like rehashing the same story, but like revisiting the world from a different angle.  After hitting several weeks of reading slump, Howl’s Moving Castle was a gift – I could hardly bear to stop reading, and I’ll definitely look out for the sequels.

Write a Diverse Fairy Tale and Get it Published!

Hello my fellow writerly types!  This post is for you: a writing project that may catch your fancy, especially if you’re interested in fairy tales. 🙂

Mag Mell Publishing is currently looking for authors to contribute to our Diverse Fairy Tale Project! What is the Diverse Fairy Tale Project? From 2017, Mag Mell Publishing will be putting together our own anthology of our favourite Fairy Tales. The twist—the project is all about diversity. We’re looking for new, fresh versions of these […]

via — Madeleine. E. Vaughan

2017 and Beyond

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A little late on the 3rd of January, but all the same.  Christmas holidays are over and it’s back to work time, which also means back to blogging!  No more laziness from me!  (Well, hopefully.)

I’m looking forward to lots of things in 2017.  The next Court of Thorns and Roses book is out this year, and it’s killing me waiting to know what happens!  Plus another Winchester Writer’s Festival – I had so much fun in 2016, I absolutely want to go again.  Whether I’ll be a guest or working at P&G Well’s lovely bookstall remains to be seen (honestly, either option is brilliant and well worth the trip).  And of course, lots and lots of writing!

I found this little doohickey today, and it seems a fantastic way to start 2017 reading:

I’m definitely going to have a go at this challenge (although I very much doubt I’ll manage to do it in order!)

What bookish things are you looking forward to this year?  Are you doing any reading challenges at all?

Hope everyone has an absolutely fabulous and bookish 2017!