Recountings

books that were not my cup of tea

As every bookworm knows … there comes a time when one must consciously uncouple from a book and promptly yeet it out of the window. Metaphorically speaking.

A CURSE SO DARK AND LONELY

YA books and I don’t have the best relationship. It’s not them, it’s me. I experienced a lot of dissonance with the characters, the plots, and the writing. (The binding, the front cover designs, the blurbs and the fonts are usually on point though.)

I DNF-d A Curse So Dark And Lonely because frankly I was bored. (I usually am loathe to admit boredom. ‘Only boring people get bored’ I used to tell myself smugly. Oh how the turntables have …) I didn’t care about the characters. The plot felt like porridge with no honey. Bread with no butter! English breakfast tea with no milk! I didn’t connect with the novel, and so therefore, reading it was a struggle.

It seems to have been a well-received book, but unfortunately, I couldn’t quite get it. And that’s okay! Different readers have different tastes, and perhaps if I tried again, I might like it.

MERCY & EAGLEFLIGHT

Christian fiction … ah, yes. Christian fiction. When done well, it is wonderful and brilliant (hello there! C.S Lewis!) when it is done badly … I refuse to accept that Christian fiction should be given a pass just because someone has slapped a label on it and marked it as ‘Christian’.

(If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and swims like a duck IT WILL NOT SUDDENLY TURN INTO A CAMEL OF BRILLIANCE IF YOU JUST PLONK A ‘CHRISTIAN’ LABEL ON IT.)

(That was a metaphor. The duck was bad fiction. The camel of brilliance was a good fiction. Just so you know. Like the book, I am subtle.)

  1. So much telling – we were told everything. There was no subtlety. No nuance. No trusting of the readers to actually grasp the emotional journey that the characters were going through. We must be led through it, holding the author’s hand.
  2. I approach fiction wanting a story not a sermon so perhaps … the fault lies with me, not managing my expectations. BUT STILL !!! I protest. I PROTEST STRONGLY.
  3. The main characters felt very clean and cookie-cutter. Too clean and cookie-cutter. Too 2D..
  4. There were entire chapters of dialogue. This isn’t always a bad thing. But … but I would propose that perhaps the message of the book could have been gotten across with perhaps, say, an article in a magazine, not in a work of fiction.
  5. There is an absolutely foul section where we are given horribly racist character just to show us how bad he is and then we never see him again. It was degrading and it had no place in the book. It felt like a cheap way of making us hate a character. It was an ugly line of dialogue that did not need to be included for us to get the idea that this guy? = bad. There are no excuses.
  6. There’s a point where a female character is sharing the gospel with another male character … and she sends him to go speak to another man because ‘men think differently.’
  7. I’m sorry. I didn’t know that there was a female and male way of talking about faith? Clearly, I must have missed a Bible verse or two.
  8. Ah yes, the inevitable assault on the female character by a villain. A villain who only exists to Be Evil, by the way. Some people are destined to have nuance and character, some others … are not.

… I should stop here, shouldn’t I? I got through it. Sometimes, whilst I read this, my arms flailed, and my entire body cringed and shrivelled up like a raisin.

Is this the book, I cried, that repelled a thousand ships?!

This book was published in 1996 – perhaps Christian fiction has improved since then? I certainly hope so.

JUST ONE DAMNED THING AFTER ANOTHER

The best thing about this book was that it had dinosaurs (!!!!) and the Library of Alexandra. Also: time-travel.

Unfortunately, the story was … MC joins time-traveling organization. Shenanigans and hi-jinks ensue. One thing happens after another, and the plot feels very squint-and-you’ll-miss-it. A character – who has hitherto displayed no rage – lashes out in anger. I felt startled because I’d imagined that he was calm and sedate and then BLAM! INSTANT GREMLIN!

Also – I thought that this was a YA book. And then there was a particular scene that made me place the book down on the bed and stare into the abyss of air. It was not a YA book. A surprising twist.

This is a first book in a series, and of course, sometimes a series takes a book to hit its stride. This may well be the case. Perhaps I’m being too harsh? However, though I felt the concept was TRULY interesting (DID YOU HEAR THE BIT ABOUT HOW THIS HAS DINOSAURS?!!!!) the characters weren’t on the dinosaurs’ level.

But then, I must ask … what is?

Life, On Writing

the rise and fall of my freelance career

IN A WORLD WHERE CIVILIZATION HAS CRUMBLED AND CRUMPETS ARE KING, ONE WOMAN MUST STRUGGLE AGAINST THE TERRORS OF THE TOASTERS AND FREE HER PEOPLE.

a blurb no one will ever pay me to write

For six months – from January 2019 all the way through June 2019 – I operated a fiverr account. I wouldn’t say it was a particularly successful account; but I received enough orders to put money towards my groceries while I was volunteering as an English Teacher in Moldova – and that was a badly needed blessing.

Here’s the two gigs I offered:

  • I would write the back blurb of a book
  • I would provide plot outlines/story ideas if you were in the middle of a block

THE RISE

I’ll never forget the first order I received. I was home for the holidays, I was excited and … I had no idea what I was doing, only that I was going to be totally professional and very, very awesome. So awesome. The awesomest.

Reader, I read the whole book in order to write a blurb. The. whole. book.

Don’t be like me. Never assume that you need to read the entire book in order to write a blurb. It will leave you despairing of an impulsive decision to be a FREELANCE WRITER! (woot woot!)

You can be sure that I learned my lesson. Trial met error and eventually I worked out what, er, worked.

He was alone, and he was scared … would he ever pay his mortgage in time?

Genre? Horror. Book? Unwritten.

THE GOLDEN ERA

I stumbled upon how to do it correctly – worked out how long a gig would take me to do, tweak the descriptions, made my own bio just quirky enough to grab prospective customer’s interest.

I wrote blurbs, some very interesting, some highly unusual. I wrote blurbs for a comic series, for an album (well, my roommate helped me with that one. I don’t have the first clue about music really, other than: huh, this sounds nice), for books that were factual and works of fiction.

I wrote outlines for stories (ACT ONE, ACT TWO, ACT THREE, a list of characters – helpfully labeled ‘A, B, C etc’) – I sat on my bed or on the windowsill in-between planning lessons or writing my own book, and forced myself to get on with it. To write blurbs that made me giggle, blurbs that were for books that seemed so personal to the author, blurbs that were to replace other blurbs and so on, and so forth.

For a dedicated procrastinator, I’m proud that I managed to get everything done on time. (It’s been long enough now for my memory to conveniently blank out any failings.)

It gave me satisfaction, it was entertaining, but most of all – and less romantically speaking – it put some money in my pocket.

the windowsill of occasional writing

THE INGLORIOUS END

I came home from Moldova and kept going … but then gigs were taking longer to fulfill, the hole that fiverr was filling wasn’t as gaping or anxiety inducing anymore. I put the price up to deter customers (when someone purchases a gig on fiverr? You can’t refuse it.) The freelance work dribbled, it drabbled, it gave a cough and a splutter and then I called it quits; I had a full-time job. It was time.

In total, I had done 70 orders, studied blurbs (THE SCIENCE OF IT! IT IS A LEGIT SCIENCE) plotted books I’ll never write, worked out that I was terrible at setting prices, and mainly had a very interesting time of it.

I know – I should break this post in two – it’s getting long … but HA, I’m not – let’s talk some do’s and don’ts:

DON’T READ THE ENTIRE BOOK TO WRITE THE BLURB. DANG IT. JUST DON’T.

If you want to write blurbs, don’t read the entire book. Ain’t no one got time for that. You can, if you want – but let’s face it, some of these books aren’t going to be your cup of tea. This is business. (Oh yes. I took myself seriously.) I asked for the following criteria:

  • details about the book – its genre, length, setting etc
  • the book summary
  • key info about the characters
  • things that the author was excited about in the book

Using this info, I was generally able to write a blurb that satisfied the customer. It was like a puzzle, attempting to understand the heart of the thing, and then how to put in a way that would leap out and grab any prospective readers.

Lost, far away from home, and cast into the dark depths of despondency by the loss of her One True Love, Hunter ManlyMan, Leena must wrestle with a terrible choice – tea … or coffee?

No one paid me to write this one either. A true shame.

DO BE REALISTIC

Be realistic about how long something is going to take you – and communicate with your customer. Always. Be realistic about the price – if you are getting a load of orders at a certain price, perhaps – when you’ve received enough reviews – you can put the price up.

But, like, my dude … maybe don’t take my advice on this one? I was generally:

  • insecure BECAUSE WAS MY WORK … WORTHY? OF THIS PRICE? (give yourself a stern talking to if you’re worried about this one.)
  • impulsive … research into the ‘market’ was really daunting so I winged it. Yeah. Maybe. Don’t do that? Or do?

DO MAKE BOUNDARIES

Writing blurbs for erotica wasn’t quite my thing. So. I learned to write on the gig’s description exactly what I was willing to write blurbs for. Or rather, what I wasn’t. There were some narrow brushes, but after one unfortunate … er, blip (or blurb) … I learned my lesson, set my boundary and cheerfully got back to plotting a book series out and writing a blurb about trees talking to us (genre? Factual.)

DON’T LET IMPOSTER SYNDROME SEIZE YOU

Imposter syndrome, feeling a fraud, ‘not good enough’ – I think this afflicts a lot of us. It afflicted me. How do you get past it? My friend – you fake it. Don’t feel confident? To heck with that! Write your bio, your descriptions, your interactions as if you are Maria belting out:

I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN SUNSHINE, I HAVE CONFIDENCE IN RAIN, I HAVE CONFIDENCE I CAN DO THIS STUFF AGAIN AND AGAIN.

legit lyrics from the sound of music

And then? You back that up. You say you’re dope? You can write tip-top blurbs or outlines? You do your best. Your very best. And then you send it to your customer and keep going.

(That’s the secret – keep going. No matter what doubts beset you.)

DO TRY TO HAVE FUN

Be professional but don’t strangle your quirkiness . Experiment with what works and what doesn’t. If you dislike something – it’s going to shine through. I always tried to be enthusiastic about what I was writing – attempted to be a maybe-reader and try to grab my own attention. Yeah. It was meta.

I have a full-time job now, but for those six months, I desperately needed something extra to keep going; and my brief brush with freelance writing definitely helped. I don’t know if it was a brilliant run – it certainly wasn’t enough to live on – but it helped. It really did.

And as a bookworm? It was hella interesting.

happy reading/writing etc etc

Life

reading books, writing books, and buying fish, and so on and so forth

I haven’t completely dropped offline, but my blog has been sadly neglected. Here’s some of the devious things I’ve been up to …

REREAD THE AMELIA PEABODY SERIES

It took six months – but it was six months of reading pleasure. More on this later, but let me tell you it was wonderful. (Also, read it in publishing order not chronological because by George … no, I shall save that little rant for later.)

In short, there isn’t a series I’ve read that surpasses this one.

BOUGHT BOOKS, READ BOOKS, STARED AT BOOKS

The book ban feels like quite a while ago, but I must say that my bookshelves are looking terribly interesting; there are some books that I’ll be soon reading about Georgian Britain and the Victorian era that just look so brilliant, I can’t wait!

(Also I’m currently reading ‘How To Be A Victorian’ by Ruth Goodman and DID YOU KNOW THAT THE VICTORIANS GAVE THEIR BABIES OPIUM???!!! HOLY CHEESE CRACKERS, MY DUDES!)

Also a book about Alexander Dumas?! I’m eying up the Count Of Monte Cristo too.

Still haven’t finished a Dickens. I’ll get there. Eventually. Probably. Yup. ‘fo sure.

FINISHED WRITING A BOOK

Originally given the dignified working title of ‘Unicorn Poop’, these days it is called A Suffragist Abroad and will be coming your way next year. As long as I can get past this editing stage, that is.

Lord willin’, a friend and I will be having a writer’s retreat in a little cottage on the coast in November where A Suffragist Abroad’s edits will be completed. While, I’m there, do I expect to:

  1. solve a crime
  2. walk through mist-laden countryside in a nightgown and cloak
  3. stumble upon an ancient mystery that’s been hidden for centuries

… yes. Yes, I do.

BOUGHT A FISH TANK. ALSO: FISH

This is still quite recent. The tank is called ‘Abbey Road‘ and John, Paul, and George have been recently introduced to it. I’m sure it will go swimmingly. (No. No apologies will be made for this pun. NONE.) But I’m also terrified that I’ll wake up and find them all dead and floating on the top and oh my word what have I done- AGONY!!! BEYOND POWER OF SPEECH!

ETC.

Life doesn’t feel as though it is wildly adventurous, but there is more than enough to keep me busy and I find it hard sometimes to carve out the time for dedicated reading sessions – but that’s okay too. There are books lounging in every corner of my room and all of them are interesting.

(I sometimes feel bewildered by the sheer amount of choice I have – which is admittedly a very privileged position to have.)

I’m trying to learn that it’s alright to not live up to my own expectations (which I never reach and are always far, far too high), it’s alright to plod, it’s alright to take things slow – just … just keep going.

I hope you are doing well – thank you for stopping by!

happy reading 🙂

Books

i compose book blurbs

In lieu of using Goodreads, I keep my own reading log. It isn’t anything special – just a spiral notebook (a spiral notebook WITH UNICORNS ON THE FRONT. ah-hem), but it has my thoughts scrawled in drunken chicken scratchings. It’s very useful and stops read books getting lost, drained through the colander of my memory.

I was stuck by inspiration – what if, I thought, what if I pretended that I was either a) a famous book critic (THINK: THAT BLOKE FROM RATATOUILLE) or b) an author writing a blurb for someone, who was also HELLA hangry and in need of the loo. In DESPERATE need of the loo.

So I searched my reading log and found the below …

‘I love it but at the same time I don’t.’

Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier

‘BatCat (More. Screen. Time. Please)’

BATMAN: HUSH (which I read as a comic but apparently I think comics have screen time so … oh-kay then.)

‘Moved like a sluggish river in summer’s drought’

The Rain From God, by Mark Ammerman

‘Initially thought that it was mediocre and uninspiring, however, I was wrong

BOOSTER GOLD: BLUE AND GOLD

‘Contained the soul of Robin Hood’

The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley, blurbed by: a dramatic goldfish

‘A Christian acid trip’

Perelandra, by C S Lewis

I’m afraid that I amuse myself greatly. Have you read any of these? How would YOU blurb them?

happy reading!

Books, Life

the book buying ban is lifted

me, a bookworm – flippin’ glad to be holding the 45th and final book in my hands.

On the 30th of May, I finished That Hideous Strength by C.S. Lewis – the forty-fifth book in my book buying ban.

I was finished. I was done.

181 days had passed without a single book purchase. I’d read 45 books that I’d owned and never read before.

I’d love to tell you that I bought one book, or perhaps two. Or three.

Reader, I did not.

I splurged. I feasted. I laid waste to my bank account. I had a list, I crossed off that list. I crossed off books that weren’t even on the list. I made brutal decisions on which books to buy and which books to leave behind. It was cold and calculated and amazing.

I splurged on books on sleep, classical poetry, on hieroglyphics, on classics, on current events, on the Amelia Peabody series, on children’s books, on research books and so on and so forth.

I didn’t know why on earth I’d done such a stooped thing as to ever embark on a book buying ban in the first place. What a half-wit! What a nincompoop!

I was a fish returned to her natural habitat: the sea.

And then it abated. (These things tend to.)

(A lean month of penny pinching followed. Your actions, dear friends, have consequences.)

Also – to quote from a certain post:

“I’m all for building a personal library, but I want to do it in a mindful manner. Not in a frenzy of buying a stack of books I’ve haven’t read.”

*crickets chirp*

I have no defense. For the bad grammar (PRESENT PERFECT? Here? Pfft. What a noob.) or for ignoring the lesson. I was a bookworm drunk on power. I have learned lessons and after the ban, I chose to ignore those lessons. It was glorious.

I’ve learned that as a reader, I should enjoy the things I have – the books on my shelves. No book left unread! and all that.

And as a ban-parched bookworm? I’d like to think that I’ve learned to appreciate the prospect of new adventures and to look for books of interest. Not mindlessly reaching for just any old book ( LOOK! A BOOK IN THE WILD! GOTTA CATCH ‘EM ALL!), but to think about the ones I’d like to read.

Because of that book on sleep, I’ve learned the value of sleep, get more than five hours per night (huzzah! There can be miracles!!) and the black sacks under my eyes are less evident. (I mean – they’re still there but I feel better about them. )

Books have power – to inspire, to give you knowledge, and to whisk you away to worlds unknown.

I love it.

I truly do.

If this book buying ban has taught me anything it is this: reading is a delight to me – a real delight.

May it ever be thus.

Happy reading!