Tuesday 29 October 2013

NaNoWriMo - OmIrwOnAn

Two days left to register for this year's NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month.

It's become a global institution for writers: 50,000 words in 30 days.

By registering on the main site you get to send your word count for verification. 167,371 people have already signed up to the challenge so far, and I suspect a few more might before registration closes.

Earlier this year I accidentally inherited a Facebook writing forum which is now, astonishingly, pushing 22,000 members, an increase of about 10,000 likes since I took over. To help co-ordinate it, I started a volunteer drive, one of whom has set up an associated NaNoWriMo interest group. We've got about 120 very active members in there and it's been a real pleasure talking about writing.

I may attempt WriMo next year, but this year I'm going to see whether I can surf the crest of enthusiasm and finish Blood Rose. It's already over 70k, but I reckon there's probably about another 30k in it, which would make it my longest single work of fiction ever, topping Lucid at 92k unedited/85.5k edited.

On the topic of word counts, to achieve WriMo you need to write at an average of 1667 words per day, but Wendy Callahan came up with a brilliant idea in the forum. She asked whether anyone had tried 'Reverse NaNo'. 'What's that?' we asked.

It's this:

Start off strong, then there's less pressure for the rest of the month.

Here are the word count goals for anyone interested in Reverse NaNo:

Day 1: 3346 (It’s day one! Just do it! And you can and will!)
Day 2: 3216
Day 3: 3101
Day 4: 2986
Day 5: 2872
Day 6: 2757
Day 7: 2642

Week Two

Day 8: 2527
Day 9: 2412
Day 10: 2298
Day 11: 2183
Day 12: 2068
Day 13: 1953
Day 14: 1838

Week Three

Day 15: 1724 (Halfway point! After this, you’ll be writing less every day than everyone else! This is the time where you need this!)
Day 16: 1609
Day 17: 1494
Day 18: 1379
Day 19: 1264
Day 20: 1150
Day 21: 1035

Week Four

Day 22: 920
Day 23: 805
Day 24: 690
Day 25: 576
Day 26: 461
Day 27: 346
Day 28: 231

Week Five

Day 29: 116
Day 30: 1

Although, I think Day 30 really ought to be two words: THE END

Love, Light & Laos

The Last Farewell

Oooh, bit of a lump in my throat. 

In the early hours of tomorrow morning, my two beautiful friends, Martine & RuairĂ­, are flying off to start their new life in Laos.

We all met in Rwanda about six years ago. I dedicated my debut novel, Angorichina, to Martine. As the dedication reads: without her, much of what I write would never get written. She is my Beta Reader, a trusted position for any author, spurring me on to finish each novel and providing supportive yet honest insight.

It just so happened that she married the lovely Mr. Ă“ HEithir earlier this year (I know, I was there), a former deputy head and a rigorously qualified proofreader. What writer doesn't need one of those?

These are two people I have shared some of the most intense, insane and hilarious experiences of my life with. It's really strange to think I won't be able to hop in my car and head up to Edinburgh, or pop across to Dublin to see them anymore.

On the other hand, I'm very much looking forward to Laos!

Wishing them a safe journey, and all the luck and love they can carry for their new life. For once I am a little lost for words, but with friendships like this distance doesn't matter.

Turikumwe x

Monday 28 October 2013

Diary of a Dr. Who Addict

Pulled an all-night reading session last night. First time I've done that since The Lovely Bones.

A while ago I did drinks in London with the lovely Will Davis (he of The Trapeze Artist, who is actually a real trapeze artist). As he lives near the Holloway Road, I swapped him a copy of On The Holloway Road by Andrew Blackmann for a copy of Diary of a Dr. Who Addict by Paul Magrs (AKA The Fiction Doctor), that I happened to spy on his table.

We'd all met briefly last year at booQfest, but I hadn't yet read any of Paul's work, so I was rather keen to borrow it.

Flash forward a month or so and I finally made it to that point in my pile. I really have been a pathetically slow reader of late. I tend to get through about a chapter a night. I like books with fewer than thirty chapters because that means I get to finish at least one book a month.

I was pleased to have Paul's book, but I was also a little reluctant to begin, wondering whether I should have chosen one of his adult novels instead. I invariably roll my eyes at YA, and I invariably end up loving it. I think it's because I spent so much of my oh-so-independent childhood proving that I could read Pratchett and Stephen King by Year Six, that I sort of bypassed a lot of the middle ground. There were a few exceptions, such as Point Horror, Fighting Fantasy, My Teacher is an Alien, and a really creepy one where some kids get stuck in a fairground and the elderly caretaker is out to get them... but generally something pretty gruesome had to happen to hold my attention, and those sort of books tend to be adult reading.

In fact, I've probably read more YA over the past couple of years than I ever did as a young adult.

Anyway, I digress. The Diary of a Dr. Who Addict:

It's the 1980s and David has just started secondary school. He's becoming a teenager, but still hanging onto the rituals of childhood, particularly his addiction to Doctor Who: sharing the books with his best friend and neighbour, Robert, and watching the TV show. 

But adolescence is as strange and alien to David as anything the good Doctor encountered, so he's mystified when Robert begins to reject his hero in favour of girls, free weights and new music. Is it time for David to make a choice and move on too?

An evocative and moving portrayal of a boy finding his place in the world, set against a backdrop of Bowie, Blackpool and Breville toasters.

Ah, where to begin?

When you read very late at night, it's sort of like holding a conversation when you're drunk. You feel things more deeply, you fall into stories more easily.

It was a hideously uncomfortable read. There was just too much I recognised within it from my own school years, which I recall as being something akin to cruel and unusual punishment. Everything from the house party to the way teachers can turn, feelings of exclusion to having the desire to curl up and die when 'those' conversations were taking place.

I was totally transported back in time, as The Generation Game had managed with the simple mention of 'psychadelic orange squash', an image that could only ever evoke the 1980s as the chemicals involved are undoubtedly now banned. It was like blowing off the dust on a box of memories. Things I hadn't thought about in years. A bittersweet reminder of the bountiful creativity kids have before the pituitary gland kicks in and murders imagination.

I suspect I was as bug-nuts crazy about The X-Files as David was about Doctor Who, and there was definitely a Robert in my life, and I definitely remember the ouch factor of discovering that shared childhood pleasures were no longer cool.

I was a bit worried that I wouldn't understand this book, because I've never watched Doctor Who, but Will said that wouldn't be a problem, and he was right. Though I'm not a complete ignoramus, and I do know what a TARDIS is, and I loved the bit:

I'm looking for things I recognise in everything I read. I want to feel at home in these books I pick up. I want them to be more familiar than home and ordinary life. I think that's because I can pick them up and carry them with me. I always have the safe dimension of the book to escape into. Books are bigger on the inside than on the out, just like a police box.

I thought that was a wonderful observation.

Even did a bit of real time travelling as I finished at 3:20am, but the clocks went back, so it was only 2:20 and I got that extra hour lie in.

Brilliant book. Also the first LGBT YA I think I've read. Where were these when I was growing up? Don't recall seeing them on the shelves at the CoE school book fete... 

On a parting note, I discovered by accident Harmony Ink Press on Twitter (@HarmonyInkPress) the other day: 'Harmony Ink Press publishes positive LGBT YA fiction.' Good stuff.

Sunday 27 October 2013

Writers on the Storm

After the Storm by Gary Smith

Well, here in the UK we're buckling down for the worst predicted storm in five years. Apparently it's on its way, and we're right in its path here at the top of the River Severn. Strong winds and heavy rain, which is always fun in Gloucester, where some genius twist of urban planning placed our main electricity station right in the middle of a floodplain. Back in 2007 we also lost our water supply, and Tewkesbury became an island.

Michael Fish has been roped into telling everyone it might not be too bad, which probably means it's a hurricane.

I shall put the kettle on.

Nothing a nice cup of tea can't fix.

I was up 'til three in the morning reading a book, which I'll tell you about in a moment.

Saturday 26 October 2013

Get Threatened

After my post yesterday about Write or Die, I thought I'd share one of my favourite articles on the topic of motivation. It's by Charlie Brooker: Forget those creative writing workshops. If you want to write, get threatened.

To everyone who has ever emailed to ask me for advice on writing, my answer is: get a deadline. That's all you really need. Forget about luck. Don't fret about talent. Just pay someone larger than you to kick your knees until they fold the wrong way if you don't hand in 800 words by five o'clock. You'll be amazed at what comes out.

If, however, you find that the hard-line approach doesn't work for you, perhaps check out Amber Morant's comment from yesterday's post: Written! Kitten? which shows you a ridiculously cute picture of a kitten every time you hit your writing goal.

Friday 25 October 2013

Write or Die

This is fabulous. Thanks to Marie Dees in the NaNoWriMo group I've joined for this one.

It's called Write or Die and it's designed to terrify you out of writer's block:

Write or Die is a new kind of writing productivity application that forces you to write by providing consequences for distraction and procrastination.

As long as you keep typing, you're fine, but if you become distracted, punishment will ensue. Everything is configurable, name your word goal, time goal and preferred punishment, then start writing!

The consequences are as follows:

  • Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.
  • Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
  • Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself

That last one is the kind of thing writers have nightmares about. It would certainly keep me typing like a lunatic!

Thursday 24 October 2013

Novel Idea: 70k

Today is a really, really good day.

I have reached the final golden number on Blood Rose: 70,000 words. It is now officially a novel and I am chuffed to bits to be writing this post. 

It has taken me five months to get from 20,000 to 70,000. For a few weeks I managed to implement quite a successful 1k a day routine, but for the past month I've written hardly anything at all. Then, in the past three days, I wrote 3, 654 to arrive twenty minutes ago at 70,036.

What changed? Well, I got a deadline. I accidentally inherited a writing forum, and one of the new volunteers I've taken on has set up an interest group for NaNoWriMo. It stands for National Novel Writing Month, which runs every November. The idea being to write a novel of 50k minimum in thirty days. 

I know I'm cheating, but I made an oath to finish a novel this year. A year is too long a deadline to really mean much, but a month is just perfect. The group is full of interesting people all doing the same thing, and it's really injected me with a sense of enthusiasm. I'm also a bit of a maniac when it comes to deadlines. I like to get things in early, to beat the deadline. I don't subscribe to the Douglas Adams school of timekeeping ("I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by."), I like to stay on top of things. Hence, one week before NaNiWriMo even starts, I've crossed the final threshold.

Anything from hereon in is an added bonus. I can't see the end yet, but I know it's gonna be good. I have loved every minute of this one, which is probably why I've been dragging my feet over finishing it. Writing a good book is as hard as reading one when it comes to the final few chapters.

Still, I'm aiming to get there by the end of the month. 

Definitely by the end of the year.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Travel & Writing Talk

Just looked at the calender and realised it's one month today until my appearance at Five Youth Centre (formerly Cafe IT) as part of Folkestone Book Festival.

I'm giving a talk about how travel influences writing. If you're aged between 13-18, get yourself down there for 4:30pm.

For more information, contact Jenny: jenny.luddingon@kent.gov.uk 

Looking forward to it!

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Thirty Writing Tips

You never have to change anything you got up in the
middle of the night to write. - Saul Bellow

Nice collection of 30 Indispensable Writing Tips From Famous Authors, including Neil Gaiman, Maya Angelou and Edgar Allan Poe.

Monday 21 October 2013

Medieval Land

Thank you to Catherine for this. There is now tea all over my screen.

Sunday 20 October 2013

Murder & Obsession

I mentioned a while back Anne Perry, a murder mystery writer who caught my attention.

Well, Murder & Obsession arrived, and I read her short story Heroes last night. Introduction by editor Otto Penzler:

When this story found its way to my desk, the author acknowledged that she thought it was the best short story she had ever written. She is right. This wonderfully evocative tale of the trenches in World War I and the terrible crime it reports will haunt your memory for a long time to come.

It doesn't seem, at first blush, to be a crime story at all, but as you continue along you will learn that it is.

This is a different era for Anne Perry, who has achieved great success with her Victorian era mystery novels, but it must have been important to her as she has produced such  a vivid account of the place and time.

Perhaps the reason for the power of this unusual tale is that it was inspired by a real-life person. The kindly but strong chaplain who understands the obsession of the officer who wants to be a hero was based very closely on the author's grandfather.

Heroes won the Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America as the best short story in 2000.

When I say short story, it is incredibly short and, for most of it, it doesn't feel like a crime but a descriptive of life in the trenches, sort of Birdsongesque. 

I don't know if it's just how my mind works, constantly looking for a plot, or whether it's because Penzler throws in a spoiler during his introduction, but I knew who it was the moment the character was introduced. Though I didn't know how he'd done it until the trousers. I just assumed it was a long-standing squabble and he'd shot him.

I wonder whether that says something about our culture as a whole?

The plot hinges on someone being beyond reproach, or beyond suspicion, due to the desperate need to believe in a hero. In that respect, the trenches of the First World War make an ideal setting.

The story itself, in not reading like a murder mystery, relies on our desire to believe in heroes too. We should be as shocked as the chaplain to discover the truth.

In actuality, we're living in an age of Wikileaks and Homeland. Especially Homeland. We all know it's the squeaky clean one that's dirty. You can't put that cat back in the bag. We suspect everyone and everything simply for being in the story; a nation adept at guessing unguessable endings. 

I always used to try and miss the first few minutes of Columbo as a kid. I never understood the point of a crime show that told you who it was from the very beginning. Perhaps the point is (and the reason people keep watching Homeland) not who dunnit, but how they dunnit, and why?

I know I harp on about it, but I still think McEwan's Butterflies is possibly the best short story ever in that respect - because you know who dunnit, but you refuse to believe it, even though he ain't no hero.

Anyway, an interesting literary sojourn. Reminded me of earlier days, post Point Horror, when I'd devour Sidney Sheldon  (because he wrote I Dream of Jeannie, and who doesn't think Larry Hagman looked cute in an officer's uniform?) and found myself Haunted. It would be a crime not to feel nostalgic.

Saturday 19 October 2013

The Psychopath Test

Finished reading The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson last night. Thoroughly enjoyable in a slightly disturbing sort of way.

What if society wasn’t fundamentally rational, but was motivated by insanity? This thought sets Jon Ronson on an utterly compelling adventure into the world of madness. Along the way, Jon meets psychopaths, those whose lives have been touched by madness and those whose job it is to diagnose it, including the influential psychologist who developed the Psychopath Test, from whom Jon learns the art of psychopath-spotting. A skill which seemingly reveals that madness could indeed be at the heart of everything . . . Combining Jon’s trademark humour, charm and investigative incision, The Psychopath Test is both entertaining and honest, unearthing dangerous truths and asking serious questions about how we define normality in a world where we are increasingly judged by our maddest edges.

Convincing stuff. I remember having a discussion on this topic with a friend once. She is from Sierra Leone, and we were both living in Rwanda at the time. She was telling me about the suspected links between psychopathy and African leadership: how Africa had come to gain a reputation as a violent and unstable continent, plagued by war and run by warlords.

It was largely down to the concept that when so many people have nothing, the only thing you can take away or threaten them with are their families, so in order to protect the people you love, you're going to get behind the strongest leader - the one most likely to keep you safe. In a war zone, that's the person most likely to shoot first and ask questions later. The psychopaths.

Fascinating thought.

I met a couple of trauma therapists in Rwanda, round about genocide memorial week, and there was a general suspicion that around 80% of the population were living with Post Traumatic Stress. This tended to be evident during memorial week, which I've written about before, but then everyone gets up and goes back to work, leaving you wondering where that goes for the other 51 weeks in the year?

Just in general terms, as someone who struggled with mental health in younger years and came through the other side, I rather empathise with madness over sanity given the situation we're all in. There's something called the Terror Management Theory, which:

...proposes a basic psychological conflict that results from having a desire to live but realizing that death is inevitable. 

It goes on to propose that culture is our solution to managing terror at our own mortality. I'd go a step further and suggest that everything is. Our personalities are formed around our coping mechanisms for our own demise. We're obsessed in our cultures with the preservation of life: health shows, diet fads, religion. Well, religion is a mixture, I would hazard, of both our terror at mortality and our terror at one another: our need to control and devise hierarchies of control to prolong our lives until the promised afterlife.

If you put anything in a confined space with a constant threat of death, you would expect it to go somewhat mad. The jangly-key distraction techniques of religion, economics and culture aren't going to be enough for everyone.

Anyway, a truly interesting read. I heard Ronson talk at last year's Cheltenham Literature Festival, but this was the first of his books I'd read. He's got a wonderful style - both funny and thought-provoking. He made his name with The Men Who Stare at Goats, which I'd definitely like to read.

Thursday 17 October 2013

Corporate Consideration

And therefore I'm guaranteed to make a few in this post...

I received a money-off coupon for using a chain's 'click and collect' service at my local store. I needed some new undies, so I thought, heck, why not?

Completed the checkout process, payment accepted, when I find myself delivered to a 'thank you for shopping' page explaining that:

You're order is accepted. We will let you know when it is on it's way.

Honestly, I'm not usually a complete pedant about these things. I don't scour friends' e-mails picking through their punctuation, or lose my mind over the occasionally misplaced apostrophe. Life is short, there are far bigger things to worry about. However, on this occasion, I felt it my civic duty to drop them a quick line. 

Now, I won't name and shame Matalan publicly online, but research does suggest that: Spelling mistakes 'cost millions' in lost online sales.

Admittedly, significantly less sales lost if you insert the mistakes after the person has paid. Cunning.

Wednesday 16 October 2013

Taking a Stand

We all know that writing is a hazardous occupation. Now it's been confirmed. A recent study mentioned by the BBC today shows that desk jockeys are more likely to pile on the pounds and cut their life expectancy by up to two years. That's less than a double decker bus, but probably a bit of a party pooper if you're still on your feet and dancing by the time you get to whatever age it is that happens to be two years before the age you had originally intended to live to. 

Essentially, the study says that standing up whilst working is good for you.

It just so happens that I have a chest of draws about the ideal height to work comfortably standing up, so I've shifted my office essentials over, and I'm going to attempt to work and write here for a week. Well, at least for the three recommended hours a day.

So far, so good. A little bit strange at first, but oddly I don't really notice it once I get into what I'm doing. Need the occasional sit down break after about an hour or so. Trying to work on my posture. Going to see whether endurance in my back and feet builds up over time. 

Adds a whole new meaning to 'upstanding member of the literary profession.'

Monday 14 October 2013

CheltLitFest 2013: Roundup

And so ends another year, with a few more signed copies to add to the bookshelf. Top left, clockwise: Linwood Barclay, Jennifer Saunders, Jack (right) and Michael (bottom left) Whitehall and Ian Rankin. Plus we also saw Sir Derek Jacobi speak, and attended a political debate on social mobility.

Another good year at Cheltenham, though somewhat subdued. It felt a little quiet this year. Many of the big names were returning from the previous two years, and there was a distinct lack of free whisky, cheese and biscuits. They seem to have scaled back a bit after expanding to the racecourse in 2012. Perhaps it was the grizzly weather that's set in after the last of the summer sunshine, but it didn't feel its usual bustling self.

The online booking system has also gone a bit squiffy this year and people were complaining that they couldn't find what was on as easily. Hopefully they'll sort it out for next year and, now that they've introduced allocated seating, it would also be good if you could book your exact seat online so that people who don't deal well with stairs don't have to, and people with longer legs can stretch them in the aisles.

It's still a good event though, and there aren't many places you would get to meet so many of your favourite authors and actors in one place. Plus, Cheltenham has some very scrummy restaurants and patisseries to keep your strength up between shows.

Wonder who's on next year...

Sunday 13 October 2013

CheltLitFest 2013: Jacobi & Saunders

Telegraph Interview

Last night of Cheltenham LitFest. Decided to go and see the legendary Sir Derek Jacobi. He was an absolute pleasure to listen to, and we had seats right up front, third row centre. A bit like Jenny Agutter last year, he seems to have led a completely blessed career and loved every moment of it.

Stories of Laurence Olivier, the early days of the National Theatre, sugar lumps and, more recently, Doctor Who.

Very much looking forward to Last Tango in Halifax returning.

We arrived a little early, so took a wander round Waterstones, where I was asked if I would like to join the tail end of a queue.

"Who is it?" I asked.

You're not going to say no to that, are you?

So, I went to see Derek Jacobi talk, and came away with a signed copy of Bonkers. There's a reason the British like queueing.

Saturday 12 October 2013

CheltLitFest 2013: Jack & Michael Whitehall

After the brain bender of party politics, it was time to return to celeb spotting.

Incidentally, I had a tweet favourited by comedian Paul Foot, which I think was probably the least he could do after the distress caused:

Your face, Cheltenham Town Hall ladies loos, back of door, eye-height, looking displeased. #slightlydisturbing #holdingitin

Anyway, moving on to hashtag YOLO (yes, I admit it, I'm a Bad Education fan), spent an awesome afternoon watching Jack Whitehall and his dad Michael delivering an extremely funny double act to promote their book Him & Me.

There's an interview with them in The Telegraph.

They were kept in line by Nick Hewer (of The Apprentice and Countdown), and we were luckily on an aisle seat, so managed to make it to the front of the signing queue afterwards, avoiding the stampede.

Fun way to end the day.

CheltLitFest 2013: Political Party

Davis, Johnson, Neil
Started today's trip to the festival with a political discussion involving Tory politician David Davis, Labour trade unionist Alan Johnson, and journalist Polly Toynbee being mediated by presenter Andrew Neil.

The topic was:

How can we create a fairer, more open society? Can government policies make a real difference, and if so, how?

It was an interesting, and surprisingly packed, debate. I'm usually pretty quick at picking up political arguments, but my brain had to run to catch up with the concept of 'social mobility,' a term which was used a lot. Once they started referring to it within the context of 'equality of oportunity' I understood perfectly, but it did make me realise how very inaccessible political language is to people who don't work in that sector or study it. 

Social mobility, in layman's terms, simply means 'a person's ability to change their circumstances' by, for instance, getting a better job (or a job, in the current climate) and accessing education. Sure 'social mobility' is a much quicker way of saying that, but I tried to imagine whether I'd have kept up with the debate had I not already had the education and sector experience that I have.

No wonder people are put off engaging with politics.

It was interesting to note that social and financial inequality continues to widen; an ever increasing gap which previous Labour measured have helped to stem rather than stop. It's at odds with my own perception of a fairer society where information technology gives everyone greater access to knowledge, and the welfare state helps to prevent the very poorest (or most unlucky) from hitting rock bottom.

Yet, as Polly Toynbee pointed out when referring to the recent numeracy and literacy statistics, as a nation, we're very good with the top 30%, possibly even 50%, but we're very bad with the bottom 20%, which is what affects our overall figures. Again, a sign of great social immobility and inequality.

Sadly, we were sitting in front of a row of Cheltenham Tory councillors and every time Toynbee opened her mouth to speak, they started spewing rage. At one point I had to turn and look at them to shut them up. I felt like saying 'excuse me, we paid to listen to their debate, not yours.' Inconsiderate bunch.

Most of the panelists talked about education, nobody really addressed employment. Toynbee felt it all needed to begin with society agreeing that it wanted to be fairer and more equal, rather than immediately trying to define the exact parameters of what fairer constituted. Davis felt that it was impossible for government to play any role in creating a more equal society, that equality couldn't be controlled and therefore we shouldn't bother trying. Johnson was extremely well researched and put Davis to shame on that front. He seemed to think we should cut the inequality between top earners and bottom earners and get back to the lower income disparity of the (I think it was) 60s and 70s.

Andrew Neil eventually asked Polly Toynbee why she, out of all of the panelists, claimed not to be socially upwardly mobile (her family had remained the same economic and social status for generations, whereas the other two had worked their way up through the ranks), to which she became self-deprecating and said something to the effect: "probably because I didn't have the brains or the ambition."

As Dad quickly pointed out, perhaps her reply would better have been: "I'm a highly successful journalist and the only female member on this panel. What more do you want?"

They didn't even bother including her picture in the online programme (above). Says a lot, really.

Anyway, an interesting debate. Though I sort of came away feeling that you could probably have swapped any member of the panel with almost any member of the audience and had pretty much the same, or possibly even a slightly better, debate. Which leaves the question: if politicians are there to debate, and we can do that well enough for ourselves, what else are they there to do?

So, for now, at least under the ConDems, I think much of the good work done to slow social inequality is likely to be undone. Only one thing for it: tea and cake at Dimkin's.

CheltLitFest 2013: Barclay & Rankin

Linwood Barclay
How fast it comes around!

Cheltenham Literature Festival time again, although not such an inspiring line-up this year as most of the big names like Lionel Shriver, Victoria Hislop and Sabastian Faulks we've already seen in previous years.

Still, we had a lovely evening with a meal at Cheltenham's best Italian, Gianni. It's an institution. Delicious smoked Salmon tagliatelle with caviar, and my first glass of red since Ireland.

Then it was on to the Sky Garden Theatre tent to see Ian Rankin interview Linwood Barclay. Dad's recently started reading Barclay and very much enjoying him. I was just rather stoked to get the chance to thank Ian Rankin personally for introducing the word mondegreen into my vocabulary. Apparently there's an entire book of mondegreens!

It was kind of nice too because, when I was selecting a book for him to sign, I took the first one I pulled off the shelf, which happened to be the book he was writing whilst they were filming the documentary about him writing a book in which he mentioned the word mondegreen. Kookie.

Anyway, Barclay was very entertaining. GSOH. Certainly raised a few laughs.

Their top tip for being a writer: read lots, write lots. 

Ian Rankin

Thursday 10 October 2013

Why Literacy and Numeracy Don't Add Up

A recent study placed England's 16-24 year olds third from the bottom of a league table for industrialised countries for numeracy, and second from the bottom in literacy.

How on earth could this be, I hear you gasp?

Well, have you met our Minister for Education?

(click to enlarge)
(full transcript)

I'm sure Fascinating Aida have their own view on why our education system is failing, but I think there's only one sensible response to any of this:

(Thanks Emlyn for that one.)

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Lessons for Life

I'm a huge fan of Tim Minchin, so thanks to my friend Laetitia for sharing this. Some wonderful advice for life.

Tuesday 8 October 2013

Wicked Wiki

This made me chuckle, but does rather raise questions about Wiki's moderation policies:

Wikipedia has admitted that one of its editors has been conducting a campaign to purge the encyclopaedia of all references to the occult and modern pagans.

Still, that's pretty much how history has always been written: a subjective line through the parts the person holding the pen didn't like.

Sunday 6 October 2013

Snake Ropes

Just finished Snake Ropes by Jess Richards the other night. First novel I've completed in quite a while as most of the year has been taken up with visiting people, working, and trying to write my own novel.

This book was not an easy read, which is perhaps another reason it's taken me a while. The reason it's not an easy read is that it's very beautifully written, so you can't exactly skim along the lines. Reminiscent of something by Divakaruni, it is practically poetry from beginning to end. I posted an extract recently.

Back blurb:

The day the tall men come from the mainland to trade, Mary's little brother goes missing. She needs to find him. She needs to know a secret that no-one else can tell her.

Jess Richards' stunning debut novel will show you crows who become statues and sisters who get tangled in each other's hair, keys that talk and ghosts who demand to be buried. She combines a page-turning narrative and a startlingly original voice with the creation and subversion of myths.

One reviewer also referred to it as 'wildly original,' and I'd have to agree. 'She's like...' but she isn't. 

Told through the eyes of two girls, one the lock, the other the key, it's definitely something different.

I can see why it was shortlisted for the 2012 Costa First Novel Award.

Saturday 5 October 2013

Book Crossing

After mentioning Green Metropolis yesterday, I thought I'd suggest another wonderful way of passing on previously read books.

BookCrossing allows you to release them into the wild!

The idea is that each book gets given a unique registration number. Then you abandon the book somewhere it's sure to be found, such as on a train, a park bench, or in a coffee shop.

Anyone who finds the book can look it up online and let you know where it ends up, thus allowing you to track your read around the world.

You can do it for free, or turn pro with a newbie starter kit for under $20/£13.

Thursday 3 October 2013

Fairwell Tom Clancy

Best-selling US author Tom Clancy has died at the age of 66, his publisher Penguin has confirmed.

Among his achievements:

  • The Hunt for Red October was Clancy's first published book, launching his career as a successful writer in 1984
  • Red October spawned a Hollywood film as well as a naval war game
  • In all he wrote and co-wrote 20 books, including 17 New York Times number one best-sellers
  • In 1993 he joined a group of investors to buy the Baltimore Orioles baseball team
  • Clancy wrote about commercial airliners being used as missiles several years before the attacks in the US on 11 September 2001
  • The French video game manufacturer Ubisoft purchased the use of Clancy's name for an undisclosed sum in 2008
  • Clancy's final novel, Command Authority, is due to be published in December 2013