Wednesday, 26 September 2012

HarperCollins reviews my book, Inevitable

I finally, finally have my review from HarperCollins/Authonomy. You can read it here... Thanks to all of you who made this possible by clicking on links, writing comments, and all that kind of thing! I'm reasonably pleased with it - by now I know that it needs a lot more work - and hopefully with the help of my fantastic professor and classmates on my MFA in Creative Writing I can rework it to publishable standards. As to whether it's worth the effort and time invested in getting this review, well... That's another point for another day.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Author Q&A: Katie O'Rourke

Katie O'Rourke's novel Monsoon Season, is out this week, published by Canvas Books, who first spotted her on author showcase site Authonomy. Monsoon Season was one of the first books I "backed" when I joined the site, so it's exciting for me to see it come full circle. 

The book tells the story of Riley Thomas, whose first foray into adulthood hasn't worked out quite as she planned. A year after her college graduation, she's back at home with her parents in Massachusetts, escaping a dysfunctional relationship and other secret mistakes from her year in Arizona. 

We see what Riley has learned about love from the people closest to her, how she has grown into the person she is, and how she attempts to chagne. When she's forced to accept help, Riley realises that being independent doesn't have to mean being alone. Monsoon Season explores how well we know the people we claim to love and how much every personwe choose to let into our lives shape who we become. 

I caught up with Katie - sadly not over coffee, since distance prevented that - and asked her a little about life as one of that rare and venerated breed, a Published Writer.

In three words, can you describe...

Yourself? introspective, quirky, optimistic
Your book? connection, growth, strength
Writing, as an experience? personal, satisfying, vulnerable

You say you've been writing "seriously" for about a decade. What does "seriously" look like to you? 

 For me, ‘seriously’ means with an eye toward publication, a concept of an audience. I’ve always written, but when I was younger, I kept my writing private. Writing ‘seriously’ means getting comfortable being read, throwing yourself into the critique process and developing a thick skin.

How does it feel to finally be published? 

It doesn’t feel real yet. I don’t know when it will. I had a little book party to celebrate with friends and I did a reading. I’m loving that people are finally reading it and I’m getting feedback. I check my amazon reviews daily. And also, my extended family is reading it and I’m getting responses trickling in. That’s really rewarding.

Are you able to give us any sneak peaks into the other two novels that are to be published? 
The next one is about cousins who reunite as adults after a long separation during childhood. They were close as children but have lived very different lives after the divorce of one set of parents and the ramifications of that. It’s another book that alternates narration and it includes the perspective of their grandmother. It deals with the repetition of family history and issues of identity. Like, how much of who we are is already determined when we’re ten years old? What can a decade of separation do to change who we are?
The third book has a single narrator. Jenna is a people-pleaser dealing with the death of a parent when she unearths a family secret.

Are there recurring themes in your fiction - dysfunctional relationships, families, longing for home, something else?

Absolutely. For me, family dynamics are fascinating. Patterns that get repeated through generations, often unconsciously. I also like strong female characters who are more interested in finding their path in life than finding Mr. Right.

What advice would you have for people who are just beginning to write?

Get comfortable being read. It can take years to figure out which feedback to take on and when to go with your gut. It’s a tricky balance. To a certain extent we write for ourselves, but there comes a point when you have to concern yourself with your reader. 

And how about for writers who are discouraged because they can't find a publisher? 
I think it’s really hard. I think there is no shortage of writing talent, which makes the competition fierce. Plenty of crap gets published, promoted and purchased. And good writing that doesn’t get into the right hands will never see the light of day. It’s discouraging. I think you have to be really persistent.
The other thing is that you should really examine your motivations. Do you want the credibility of getting published? Fame and fortune? Readers? These are actually different things and there are different routes to get there.

Do you have a writing "routine", a favourite time and place?
I tend to write in the evening with music playing.

What are you working on now? 

I have a trio of characters percolating in my head. They’re unlikely friends- like two of them only know each other because of the third person. I think we all have people like that in our life- people we might not be friends with if it weren’t for the fact that they’re family or they married in or they helped us through a really tough time in life and we’re loyal to that. It broadens our world view. I haven’t figured out what their story is yet. I’m still getting to know them.

Katie blogs here and you can buy her book here in the UK and here in the US.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

University 2.0: Air Miles 2.0

When I started my first degree back in the mists of time, Sainsbury's had just launched their first reward card. I became a little obsessed with it.

I realise I may be alone in thinking this, but that first card was  better than its successor, the Nectar Card, and here's how: you could use it for air miles. And air miles were straight forward, tax-free, and generously allocated.

After a term's worth of (basically) cheddar, bread, tea bags and milk, I was able to treat myself to a flight back to Guernsey to see much-loved, much-missed friends from my gap year. I'd eaten at least one meal in college per day during that time, but I'd been savvy and always chosen the make of bread or cheddar or tea bags that carried extra reward points (and there were many of those back then), and so basically one term's worth of lunchtime cheese toasties had been sufficient to carry me home. I know Guernsey isn't far, but still, that's some achievement. And my brilliance at collecting reward points was, now that I think about it, something of a legend among my group of friends. (Maybe not a legend; I exaggerate for the sake of poetry. But it was nonetheless mentioned from time to time.)

Now that I'm about to start the whole university thing again (though it will be called "school") I have picked up this obsession where it left off. America loves reward points. It loves them! And most beloved of all, as far as I can tell, are the frequent flyer miles. Unlike the Air Miles of old (wistful sigh), each airline has its own scheme, which makes it more complex, and a lot harder work to figure out.  I'm flying to DC with British Airways, who are an American Airlines partner, so I've opened an account with them, though I've opened several others too. I plan at some point to spend a substantial amount of time looking through the web site of each scheme and collating information on exactly which restaurant, which credit card, which hotel, earns me how many points with which airline. Maybe even doing a nifty thing involving a giant map and colour coding. Because it's not just flights - you can earn them on everything. I mean, everything. You can spend them on everything too, but I won't be doing that - mine are for seeing the world. Well, Colorado and California, anyway.

My air miles collecting will be legendary once more.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Aaron Sorkin does not have a woman problem.

There. I said it. Now let the onslaught of disgusted comments begin.

I’ve watched, as you ought to know by now if you’ve been reading this blog with any regularity, every episode of the West Wing multiple times. I’ve watched Studio 60 at least twice; I’ve watched and rewatched the Social Network. I’ve watched the first two episodes of the Newsroom.

I’ve never once felt insulted as a woman.

I’ve also never once felt insulted as a Christian. Yes, he writes about some pretty strange, crazy and dislikeable people who call themselves Christian. In one case, he writes about one who is neither strange nor dislikeable but who behaves in ways that I would see as being at odds with her faith. (Yes, we all do at times, but that’s the subject of another blogpost.)

Do those people exist in the real world? Absolutely.

Do the women Aaron Sorkin writes about exist in the real world? I think so too.

So, you’re all shocked that McKenzie can be competent as a journalist in a war zone yet fails to use email properly and over-reacts to a mistake she makes that she knows will make Will crazy, jeopardise their already difficult working relationship, and embarrass both of them in front of their staff. Of course I know women who would calmly breathe, tell themselves “I’m a professional”, and walk away. I think I also know women who would react like her. I know women (and men) who are hopeless with technology despite being intelligent people, too. It’s plausible. It’s more than plausible- it’s reality.

People are full of contradictions. Aren’t they?

Intelligent but lacking in emotional intelligence. Incredibly messy yet borderline obsessive compulsive about not cracking their book spines. Working in war zones yet shying away from conflict in their private lives.

Do you really not know any women who are super confident in one area yet a little ditzy or flaky or crazy in another? I do. On a good day, I might even put myself in that category. Maybe the reason I get protective of Mckenzie and Maggie is that I can relate to them. Bright and ambitious but far from perfect. 

Maybe this is also why I wrote a novel that people criticise because its main character is an accomplished politician yet still wistfully daydreams about a guy she never quite got together with a long time ago. Maybe Aaron Sorkin has influenced me even more than I realise.

I don’t think he is laying out a blueprint for all women everywhere: he writes about a certain kind of person. Do you get men bemoaning that most of the guys he writes, for example, are hopeless at relationships? They understand it’s fiction. They understand that he is not saying all guys everywhere are hopeless at relationships.

Come to think of it, most of his characters are super-intelligent and articulate. Is everyone in real life super-intelligent and articulate? No. Hardly anyone is. But some people are. And those are the people he chooses to write about.

Here’s the thing: if you are a woman, he is not writing about you personally. Nor is he writing about all women everywhere – about how they do behave or how they should behave. He is writing about these particular people, and he invented them, so he knows how they react and what makes them tick. So let him write about complex, contradictory characters, even if they are women. They’re his characters. He should know.

Monday, 25 June 2012

The Newsroom: ten initial thoughts

1. Bradley Whitford would have made a great Will McAvoy. The initial scene seemed to have been written for him. Sigh.

2. Aaron Sorkin has the courage to tell the truth about America. And about the fact that it's not the only country with freedom, thereby elliciting whoops from those of us who nod furiously when played the clip where Obama says he believes in American exceptionalism the way, for example, Brits believe in British exceptionalism. It's the kind of thing that may have riled some Americans, but won hearts in other countries. Because it's true! and refreshing to hear!

3. Aaron Sorkin has a thing about Belgium. I've always suspected this, but to get a mention within five minutes of the pilot episode is quite something. Well done him.

4. Also, he called the UK the UK, and not England. This is unusual for an American, and to be applauded.

5. MacKenzie did not need to be British. But if she was going to be British, she should have been called Fleur, or Sophie, or Fiona. British parents do not name their little girls Mackenzie, especially posh diplomat types. This unnecessary plot complication and unnecessary accent and ridiculously chosen name is likely to irritate me throughout.

5. Until the last scene, I worried that Mackenzie/Will had as much chemistry as Josh/Mandy. Which isn't a problem, except we are clearly meant to be shipping them. Oh well - maybe another meant-to-be-minor character will steal one of their hearts. The best ships are organic anyway. But then, oddly, I found myself welling up at the end. So who knows?

6. But Aaron Sorkin is clearly a romantic. More than that, he believes romantic love to be the motivation behind excellence, the thing that causes us to rise higher than we thought possible. Viz Studio 60 and the Social Network, though not the West Wing in quite the same way.

7. He's chosen to set this show not in a parallel universe, but in our real world - maybe the real world of a couple of years ago, complete with Barack Obama and BP oil spills. Interesting concept. And one which I think I Iike - it should make for some interesting social commentary, and means his creative energy will be devoted to characters and internal plot, rather than coming up with external plot.

8. That episode was really long. Are they all going to be this long?

9. Recognisable Sorkin characters all over the place - most notably Maggie (whose name Mackenzie pronounces with an American accent for no discernible reason). She reminded me of Matt's assistant in Studio 60. In fact, she's basically the same character. Or am I wrong?

10. Aesthetically speaking (and in many other ways), it's no West Wing. And it is certainly no Studio 60. (I doubt the Bradley Whitford/Matt Perry combination can be equalled or surpassed by anything other than Bradley Whitford/Rob Lowe). But John Gallagher, Jr, has grown into a hottie since he was last seen dropping Josh, Donna and Toby off at a station so they could get a train going the wrong way. Maybe it's time I crushed on someone more age-appropriate. Think I can charm him with my British accent (and my genuine British name)?

Sunday, 24 June 2012

All because of Aaron Sorkin: how the West Wing changed me

The internet is aflutter with excitement about Aaron Sorkin’s new television show, The Newsroom. All kinds of questions are being asked: how will Sorkin write a Republican protagonist? Where’s Bradley Whitford? Will The Newsroom air anywhere besides the US?

Here’s what I’m asking: will it change lives?

Because The West Wing changed mine.

For a long time, my friends in London had been telling me I should watch it. “It’s all about politics,” they’d say. “You like politics.” They were right. Once I gave in, the show took over my life. And something surprising happened in me as I watched: I fell in love with the English language.

As a child and teenager, I wrote prolifically -- in French, which is my mother tongue. When we moved back to the UK, and English became my dominant language, I did not feel so inspired. French, I was convinced, was superior. It was beautiful. English was not.

But that was before Aaron Sorkin convinced me otherwise. His mastery of the language awoke something in me that had been dormant for years. “Oratory should raise your heart rate,” says one of his characters, and that is exactly what his words did for me.  I began to devour novels. I began to itch to write again.

Sorkin assumes an intelligent viewer, and yet still teaches them a multitude of things. He doesn’t shy away from difficult or controversial issues. And in the language itself there is poetry, too, and rhythm:

“Nice job on the speech,” says one character to another, Sam Seaborn, in the third season.
“How did you know I wrote it?” he asks her.
She quotes some of its phrases. “We did not seek, nor did we provoke… We did not expect, nor did we invite…”
“A little thing called cadence,” Sam replies, and you get the sense that Aaron Sorkin is winking at his viewers through those lines.

Sorkin is also skilled at developing complex and memorable characters, avoiding, for example, the liberal temptation to paint all Republicans as evil.  Life is not black and white, and nor should fiction be if it is to be believable.

Josh Lyman – deftly played by Bradley Whitford - is one such character: arrogant, brilliant, and deeply wounded. He is also at the center of a will-they-won’t-they storyline which kept many viewers hooked; I wanted my writing to do that, too. The restraint which Aaron Sorkin showed in not getting Josh and his assistant Donna together too soon – and the resulting tension - is one of the defining features of the show. I wanted to create characters as compelling as Josh and Donna; I wanted my stories, like Sorkin’s, to reflect the complexities of life in general and romance in particular.

So it was that walking home one summer Saturday after a morning of French teaching, an unexpected thought occurred to me: wouldn’t it be fun to tutor Bradley Whitford?  And that was the start of my first novel, in which someone very much like me teaches French to someone a little like him, who inspires her to move to Washington DC and (many years later) become a Senator.

Given the source of my inspiration, it was perhaps inevitable that politics would provide the backdrop to the story. My friends in London had been right: this wasn’t a new interest. I chose Sociology in my last two years of high school and almost studied Social and Political Science at University. I was once passionate about that stuff. And The West Wing prodded at that, too. Prodded and poked and awoke the beast.

And of course, I had to visit Washington, and the city stole my heart. Maybe it was the majesty of the monuments or the colors of autumn: we don’t have the deep, deep red of the maple tree in Europe. Maybe it was the surreal sense of stepping into a fictional world that had seemed only to exist on screens and in my imagination. Maybe it was eavesdropping on high-level conversations in classy restaurants. Maybe it was the abundance of literary events and of bookshops with names like Politics and Prose. Maybe – most likely of all – it was the fact that my writing feels intricately bound up with DC and the corridors of political power. Hard to tell. But I knew I wanted to live there.

Writing, by then, had become a serious passion; I began to dream about studying it full-time. And when I dream, I reach for Google. I typed in “MFA” and “DC”, omitting “two birds”, “one stone”. And it came up with American University, a place which not only offered exactly what I needed in terms of the course but which also –  oh, happy day! -- was rated number one nationally for its political involvement.

I applied but wasn’t accepted. Would Donna Moss have let that deter her? No, she would not. I worked on my admissions essay and sent in a better writing sample the following year, and this time it was a yes.
I’ll be moving to DC in August. Perhaps to embark on a whole new chapter of my life complete with best-selling novels, a part-time voluntary job at the Democratic Party, and my very own Josh Lyman. Or perhaps just for a two-year adventure. But either way, it’s because of Aaron Sorkin. It’s because of The West Wing.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Nice places to eat: Keops Palačinkarnica, Belgrade

I've been saying for months now that I'm going to start blogging about places I've enjoyed eating.

I've also had a conversation today about the things we say we should be doing but feel bad for not doing and instead wallowing on the sofa, thinking "I can't be bothered".

So, here we go.

One of the best places to be in the early-evening yet still stifling heat of Belgrade is by the river. And the river is helpfully lined with cafés. We chose one towards the end of the row, because we had a pushchair with us and this particular one offered reasonable access, and also because my friend had been there before and knew they did good crepes.

There was  a table free right by the water's edge: a good sign from the start. I feel terrible assuming that people away from home naturally speak my language, but was chuffed when it turned out that they had a menu in English. I went for a Rafaello - the white chocolate, almond and something. The reason I don't remember the something is that I asked for it to be replaced with Nutella - although it's not called Nutella here. My friend pulled a face and said "that'll be really sweet" - and it was, but it was also delicious, and plenty big enough too. I rounded off my mini-meal with my second fresh pink grapefruit juice and enjoyed the view and the relative cool of the evening air. Recommended.

Service: 9/10 - polite, efficient, multi-lingual but not over-eager
Food and drink: 8.5/10 - the bonus .5 point is for their being obliging in modifying my order! (Always important for me, since I tend to "know what I want" - as parents say of stubborn toddlers.)
Surroundings: 9/10 - looking out onto the river
Overall experience: 9/10 - not too touristy, not too busy, good atmosphere, non-intrusive music, and a welcome evening breeze. Great place to savour a dessert.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Past perfect, future not so tense...

I'm in the advanced stages of a profound bout of nostalgia this morning.

I was trying to remember the name of a Spanish grammar book we used at university, and in desperation emailed the languages faculty at Cambridge - not expecting for one minute to hear back from the secretary who was there when we started in 1997. I remember her really fondly, so I  exchanged a few emails with her, as well as another lecturer. I had a quick look on the homepage - most of whose contents would not have been online "back then". I found, among other things, my own exam papers from 1999 and several well-known names among the staff.

All of this reminded me that I loved university - I often think about the social side, and the picturesque surroundings, but I had forgotten how much I enjoyed learning. I'm giving my notice to my landlady today, which is more or less going to break my heart, so that was just what I needed as I set off for another two years of study. Now I'm excited...

(Apologies to Barry Cooper for the mildly plagiaristic title of this post...)

Monday, 11 June 2012

The Newsroom: a confession

I have a confession to make. 

I am a little bit afraid about The Newsroom

Let's face it, Studio 60 was no West Wing. Not even close. It was enjoyable, I will grant you that; I would happily have watched another couple of seasons of it. After all, not only was it written by Aaron Sorkin, not only was there much Bradley Whitford goodness, there was the very handsome Matthew Perry too, and the two of them had great chemistry. And the Christian-girl-falls-for-Jewish-guy plotline will always have a place in my heart, for reasons which should be obvious to anyone who knows me. 

But The Newsroom will have none of those things. 

Granted, I liked The Social Network, which had none of those things either. But would I have wanted to sit through episode after episode of it? No. 

I really wish I could believe that Aaron Sorkin's bright future is not, in the oft-repeated words of Bradley Whitford, behind him. But, alas - and it isn't often you get to use the word alas in a blogpost - I fear that nothing will ever compare to The West Wing

I long for more Sorkin brilliance in my life. I am afraid that The Newsroom will merely deliver Aaron Sorkin greatness. 

Friday, 8 June 2012

Brave is starting again

I guest posted on a friend's blog a while back about the scary yet exciting adventure that awaits me in America. You can read my post here.

Friday, 25 May 2012

Applying for a US student visa at the Brussels Embassy: things they don't tell you

1. You should try to get there as early as possible: the earlier you get there, the less you'll have to wait. 

My appointment was at 8.30, and I was there around 8.10. (A minor miracle in itself.) But there were already nine people ahead of me in the queue. You stand outside, and after ticking your name off on the list they let you in one by one to have your passport checked and your bags scanned.

2. If you ask, you can take a wallet in with you, or a book, or a magazine, and there is somewhere you can leave the rest of your things safely.

The call-centre guy had refused to tell me anything about whether there would be anywhere I could leave my bag, and the website had insisted that I could only take the relevant documents in with me - absolutely nothing else. Hence much panic about what I would do with my stuff and how I would pass the hours that I had been warned I would spend in there. 

3. If you don't take in your book or magazine, never fear: CNN is on. 

However, in the mornings, it's all the international stuff, which is terribly disappointing if you're me and you just want to hear about Mitt Romney's latest gaffe on the campaign trail. (But of course it's in the middle of the night in America, so even he is relatively safe from gaffing.)

You can also admire the photos of Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and President Obama hanging on the wall. I liked them - their smiles seemed to say "welcome to America". That's what I liked to think, anyway.

4. Like everywhere else in Belgium, you take a number as you walk in, then wait for it to come up on the screen. 

At this point, they'll ask you to hand over most of your documentation, then take your fingerprints. Then you sit back down and wait for your number to flash up again, at which point you go round the corner to a different booth. I was expecting interview rooms, for some reason. But no - just a booth. 

5. They probably won't ask you anything you've prepared yourself to answer. 

For example, I had a whole list of reasons why I have enough ties to Belgium to come back when my course is over, and a whole speech prepared about why the MFA at American University is perfect for me. I wasn't asked any of that. But when I said I taught French, the guy switched into French - just to check, I think - and he also asked me what my father's job is. (He's contributing financially, so it's not as random as it seems.) The first question was "what's your background"? A little vague, perhaps. The second was "what makes you want to write"? and I blanked and totally forgot to mention Aaron Sorkin, thus squandering a nice little anecdote about how it's thanks to him that I got my visa. Instead, I'll have to tell the story of feeling a little treacherous, as I walked away, for not having given credit where credit is, in fact, due. 

6. They tell you there and then whether you've been approved.

I was expecting a nail-biting wait. I was very glad not to have one!

7. You walk out realising you still have various pieces of documentation that you took great pains to find or print, and checked multiple times. 

I'm not sure what that's about. I mean, if they wanted a photo of me, why didn't they ask me for it? But whatever. I'm approved. I don't care anymore! It's over.

8. It's nowhere near as scary as all the stuff you've read might suggest. 

When I said "oh, I wasn't expecting that question", I didn't get a black mark against me or my head bitten off, but rather a friendly joke. The people are nice and not at all intimidating. Don't be scared!

3BT: well, seven, really...

On the way into town for my (ridiculously early) visa interview today, I was thinking about three beautiful things, and how Clare of the original 3BT blog manages to do it every day. It must take a lot of creativity and determination and discipline. But then today was one of those days when beautiful thing after beautiful thing kept happening...

1. The poppies on the disused train platform seem to come alive in the early morning sunshine.

2. The people at the American Embassy were not as scary as I had been led to believe by the website.

3. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden all smiled at me from the wall of the waiting room, seemingly genuine welcome-to-America smiles.

4. My visa got approved after not that many scary questions!

5. Fresh orange juice, almond croissant, and a coffee to celebrate.

6. Politico's Senior Editor is in town for a lecture on the American election. I overcome my fear and speak to him about internships, and start to dream.

7. The Brussels metro is, randomly, playing a song by one of my favourite Spanish bands.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

"Going up" to AU

The first time I went to University, I learned a foreign language: Spanish. I also learned a quaint version of English in which, at the start of "Michaelmas term", you "went up" to college, where you "read" a subject with a strange-sounding name like MML, SPS, compsci or natsci. The weeks started on Thursdays and sometime in November everyone took to their beds (or, more likely, the bar) with Fifth Week Blues. (Term started in October and lasted hardly any time at all, but the academic year did go on until June.)

The second time, I'll be learning it all, all over again.

For a start, I'll have to get used to calling it "school", after spending three years telling my language students that, in English, you leave school at 18 and after that it's called university. 

I won't be choosing papers for my course or writing essays for them; instead I'll be choosing "courses" for my "program", for which I will write "papers", some (but not all) of which may be "essays", since I will be, after all, studying creative writing.

The whole thing starts not with Freshers' Week but with "Welcome Week", which includes an "Involvement Fair", which is what I used to call a Freshers' Fair. The main event of the week is not matriculation but "Opening Convocation", during which undergrads (who may or may not be called undergrads) wear matching tshirts rather than gowns. 

And that's just the beginning! Confused? I will be. 

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

4BT (because sometimes three just isn't enough)

1. The pigeon on the roof opposite my window looks like he (she?) is doing handstands.

2. All the way home I hope that the new edition of The Writer magazine is waiting for me in my postbox, and it is.

3. Seeing "The Iron Lady" a while back sent shivers through me but also made me realise that the 80s were a fascinating decade, whose magnitude I was too young to understand but would now like to. It turns out that next term I get to study 80s literature as one of my options.

3. A brand new photo of my brand new goddaughter smiles up at me from my iPad.

Sunday, 29 April 2012

The stationery-loving writer: planning my novel with Post Its

I've been pondering how best to plot my second novel for a while now. Not as in what the story should be but as in how, physically, to write down what should happen. Some authors use index cards. Some use computer programs like Scrivener. 

Some, of course, don't write anything like that down at all: those authors are known in the trade as "pantsers", as in "fly by the seat of". That was how I wrote my first draft, which consisted mainly of one plot line: Louisa, who's an evangelical Christian, falls for Aaron, who isn't, and whom she consequently is not advised to date. There were occasional references to the primary campaign they were working on - mainly to move them from place to place and give them temptations like beds in hotel rooms - but that was it. 

But I called it Primary Season for a reason. (Apologies for the terrible and unintentional rhyme there.) I didn't want to write just another doomed love story, fun as those are. I wanted to explore what it might be like to work on a primary campaign in the - gasp! - Democratic Party as an evangelical Christian, and I wanted to do that from several angles. I also wanted to write a book that the kind of women who miss The West Wing might enjoy. 

This means that I need more than one plot line. (Every novel does, in any case.) I need to weave in various scandals and debates and ad campaigns and press leaks. And I am not (yet?) skilled enough to be able to hold all those things in my head and mesh them together without the use of coloured Post-It notes. 

Not only are there the plot lines to bear in mind, there's also the timeline. Aaron and Louisa's non-relationship needs to move along at a realistic pace, and needs to somehow fit into the schedule of primaries and caucuses and town hall meetings. It all becomes a delicate balancing act. 

I also want some kind of system that shows me clearly which scenes I have already written, and which scenes I still need to write. 

I could not come up with a system that did all of those things at the same time, in a clear, visual way, preferably not involving a computer. The nearest I'd come was this graph-like structure: 

That works quite well as a general outline, and I may still use it, to show the main plot points and the fluctuations in the Candidate's numbers as well as in Aaron and Louisa's non-relationship (which would be in a different colour, just above the yellow Post-Its.). But it doesn't help me with the kind of detailed outline that I need - scene by scene - and it also doesn't provide a way for me to easily see which scenes still need to be written. 

Cue a Google search of "planning my novel with Post-Its". I discovered Julie Cohen's blog, and her solution seemed to work well for me. Best of all, she was doing it with Post-Its and paper. But she didn't have a timeline that I could see - and she didn't have the issue of needing to separate finished and unfinished scenes.

Then - possibly in a midnight epiphany - I remembered this pin I'd liked on Pinterest. (The idea, and the picture, comes from If I adapted the model a little, I could use a left hand page for scenes written, and the facing right hand page for scenes yet to be done. Once I've written a scene, I move the corresponding Post-It from the right hand side to the left hand side. 

And as for the timeline, each set of 2 facing pages of my Atoma notebook can be used per month of the campaign. Why an Atoma notebook, I hear you ask? Because you can move the pages around. So if it turns out that I have more scenes in August than will fit on the two pages, then hey presto, I just add a page to August (without having to calculate how many pages I think I might need and then panic when the system threatens to break down). Plotting needs to be flexible - which is why I like Post-Its; they're so easy to move. 

Obsessive compulsive much? 

I had fun tonight. Step 1 is to take each plot strand and break it down into scenes (and believe it or not, this whole process helps me think up new scenes, too, since it helps me to see a logical sequence of events). So, below, we have one of the storylines that I will be threading through the novel. Mostly, it's a campaign-based storyline - hence the blue (for Democrat!), but there's also a bit of Aaron-and-Louisa (in purple), and Louisa-on-the-campaign (in light green). And where there are two Post-Its (thank you, Julie Cohen), it's to show that two of the plot strands are being developed at once in a scene. 

When I've done this for all the various strands (assuming Viking Direct Belgium get their act together and finally deliver the next lot of Post-It notes, since I need more colours), the fun (and the headaches) will really begin: threading them together and pacing the various stories so they fill the months required.  

If you're really lucky, I'll write another post, complete with a photo or six to show off my efforts. 

Oh, and then, all I need to do is write the thing. 

Friday, 20 April 2012

"What's happening with your book?"

It makes me happy when people ask me what's happening with my book. It also bemuses me a little, since I often assume that by now my entire entourage know that if I had any kind of news, I would be plastering it all over the internet.

But in any case, if you missed the excitement in my tweets and Facebook profile a few weeks back, here are the three main things happening at the moment.

- Inevitable is now at number 4 on Authonomy.

This, theoretically at least, means that it will make the top five on 1st May, after a year on the site and many more hours faffing around on it than I care to count. Every month, the five at the top of the list get whisked away to the desk of a HarperCollins editor (at least, we all hope it's an editor and not a junior editorial assistant in her first week of work experience), and several weeks or sometimes months later an extensive comment is received. We all hope it'll be accompanied by the instant offer of a publishing contract, but it hardly ever is.

Still, though, reviews can be very useful if you are seeking to make changes prior to self-publication, or if you want to write to agents with soundbites like "HarperCollins said this book had an interesting premise." And I just want to get there now. (Which, by the way, you can help me with, if you go here, take thirty seconds or so to register, and then click "back the book". Thank you!)

- Meanwhile, I've also paid to have a couple of professional reviews done. The first from the London Writers' Club, which is run by two literary agents who offer to report back on your first 50 pages, plus - crucially - the query letter and synopsis that have, in my case, failed to enthuse anyone in the publishing world so far. That one was kind of devastating - mainly because I felt as if they hadn't "got" my book, but had tried to pigeonhole it into something it isn't, and doesn't want to be - but it did contain nuggets of helpfulness. The second was much more useful - it's a wonderful scheme for new writers run by the Romantic Novelists' Association, in which you get an in-depth critique of the whole novel from an experienced writer. I got a detailed six-page report which was encouraging but not pandering and gave me many useful pointers.

- The most exciting thing to happen so far has been that through a connection with an author whose work I love, I got to send Inevitable to an editor at a major New York publishing house. (You don't usually get to do that except through an agent, and I haven't managed to snag one of those yet.) I haven't heard anything back, and in a way I'm not surprised - but the set of circumstances which led to this were fairytale-like and inspired the plot for my third novel, so that's good enough for me. Well, almost.

So now I have a choice. Either way, I am going to work on it some more, but then what? Self-publishing? I was dead against this a year ago, but am coming round to the idea. Most importantly, it gets your work out there rather than keeping it sitting in a draw. It's so cheap, so easy, and people I know are making decent money at it. But should that be the main consideration? No, it shouldn't. In a way, I wish I'd never looked into the world of publishing. I deliberately avoided all of that in my first 18 months of serious writing because I wanted to write for the pleasure of writing. And that childlike innocence is not something I'll ever be able to recover.

Since I'm hopefully about to spend two years working on my writing - and, crucially, getting coaching - I am thinking I should probably hold off in any case. If, by the time I have my MFA from American University (sorry, I just have to keep saying that!) and have reworked Inevitable and met several agents, there is still no interest, then I probably will take the plunge. Or, by then, I'll be wise enough to know not to bother. Either way, though, Inevitable will always have a place in my heart and I think I'll always be proud of it.

Meanwhile, I'm working on my second novel. Primary Season tells the story of an evangelical Christian named Louisa Perry who works in Democratic politics. It's not always easy, let me tell you, and it's not made any easier by her crush on the maddeningly attractive Aaron Rosenberg. A lighter read? Welllll, maybe. Hopefully not a predictable one, though.

Saturday, 10 March 2012

3BT: sleep, writing, chats

1. I slept for almost nine hours. I have not felt this physically well in a long time.

2. Beautiful new notebooks and The Three a.m. Epiphany make for new enthusiasm about working on my writing.

3. A long overdue cuppa with a friend, and some nice Facebook chats with others. This is what I feel the Internet ought to have been invented for: real contact with actual people.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

3BT: at last, a parcel, a pub

1. The sunshine wakes me up. The sunshine!

2. Is there anything more satisfying than the swift and efficient arrival of a large Amazon parcel?

3. I embrace the expat lifestyle and head out to a quiz in an Irish pub, where the service is friendly, and they even give me a pint of iced tap water without my having to grovel, as well as a free round of drinks for being too slow. Now that's service.

A review of my ebook, Conquering Babel

Sometimes you send your book out for review, full of hope and expectation for glowing praise and vastly increased sales.
Almost always you are disappointed.
Not this time.
Up on the Becoming Madame blog is a thorough, thoughtful review of language learning and how my little eBook can fit into the process.
This is my favourite line.
Sprinkled with humor, charm and anecdotal reinforcement, we feel like our big sister is imparting on us some of her seasoned and tested advice.

Monday, 5 March 2012

How you can help my book to sell, in 30 seconds

I started dreaming about writing this post for that happy day when Inevitable might get published, but then I thought, you know what, I do actually have another book for sale already, so here's a dry run.

Some of these things may seem tiny, insignificant, irrelevant, or pointless, but it all adds up. All of them will take under a minute. I would so appreciate it if you could take a minute or so out for this.

1. Go to this link for, or this one for and click "like" next to the title.

2. While you're there, scroll down to "tags customers associate with this product" and click on "agree with these tags".

3. If you're on Twitter, copy and paste this and tweet it:

Want to learn a language? This eBook tells you how: (Twitter will automatically shorten the link.)

That's for the UK - for the US use this one instead:

Want to learn a language? This eBook tells you how:

4. If you're on GoodReads, click on this link and add to your "to-read" shelf.

5. While you're there, scroll down to  "recommend to my friends" and click those people you think might like it.

6, If you're on Pinterest, repin this onto a board that works for you, like "books worth reading" or "friends" or "books my friends have written" or "learning a language".

Isn't social networking fun?!

If you've done all those things and you're still, say, waiting for the kettle to boil, or the bus to arrive, or the bank to answer your phone call, you can also try these:

7. Add a comment to Amazon (and an honest star-rating). (If you haven't read it, you can find extracts on Authonomy )

8. Add a comment to GoodReads (and an honest star-rating).

9. Add the link to your Facebook profile.

10. Email friends you know who might enjoy it.

Thank you so, so much! 

Saturday, 3 March 2012

Thoughts on Season Five of the West Wing

My heart always starts sinking midway through season four, because I am approaching the end of the Aaron Sorkin era.

But for the first four episodes of season four, I think it holds up okay. There are still some great lines; Josh and Amy still have amazing chemistry (fear not, dear reader, I am Josh and Donna shipper through and through, but these things deserve to be acknowledged) and are completely in character, and Donna continues to look wistfully at Josh and make us wish he would hurry up and kiss her.

But then it starts annoying me. It's episode 5 when I notice it, "Disaster Relief". Firstly, Donna acts as if she doesn't know what Schadenfreude meant. Come on, of course she does. She's way smarter than that.

Then, I don't know. Everyone seems to be speaking slower than they used to.

Then there's Leo. Suddenly he's being mean to everyone: mean to CJ and mean to Josh. The Josh-and-the-slippery-Senator storyline I don't object to in itself, though I hate to see Josh sad. But Leo just seems out of character. And CJ - I dunno. There is something out of character there too - I can't quite place it.

So, time to skip ahead to the Supremes and then Gaza? Maybe. I don't much like the beginning of Season Six either, and Season Seven is fine - no, brilliant from Duck and Cover on - except I desperately miss Donna for those first six episodes. Hmm. I don't think I will ever understand the network's decision to stab Aaron Sorkin in the back. You are dismissed, Mr President was one of the last lines he wrote. Too bad there wasn't a letter reinstating him.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

3BT: lattés, the West Wing, and chocolate hearts

1. I finally make it to a café I've been meaning to try, and it turns out that they know how to make a latté. And they have wifi. This may be my new favourite place.

2. The student I am teaching there says something to the effect of, "well, if you're going to have a French tutor, it should probably be someone who likes The West Wing. Then we spend a good few minutes on the pavement debating Aaron Sorkin's dialogue style.

3. When I get off the train, I am handed two chocolate hearts in a small plastic wrapper and a happy Valentine's message from my town.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

3BT: a smile, a laugh, and election fun

1.     1. As I walk to the station, I follow a granddad carrying a toddler all wrapped up in winter clothes. She holds my gaze and smiles at me.

2.      2. I must be in a good mood, or the Bugle podcast must be funnier than usual, because I giggle to myself as I walk along with iPod on. A woman laughs with me, not at me – enjoying my enjoyment, though she can’t possibly know what I am listening to. 

2.  3. It's a long story, but my weekly timetable is changing as of today – no longer do I have to make a weekly trek to the middle of nowhere on a train and a tram and a bus, come rain or shine or snow and ice. Better yet, this means a lie-in on Wednesdays, which means I get to enjoy Tuesday night American election fun. 

Friday, 27 January 2012

3BT: friendship, stir fry, Scramble

1. I finally get some time with a friend whose schedule rarely coincides with mine. We eat gooey chocolate cookies in Pain Quotidien.

2. I've been craving stir fry from the pre-prepared veggie packs since the beginning of the year and consequently thinking wistful thoughts about Sainsbury's Market in Pimlico... Sigh. But today I walk into my little local Delhaize and discover they've decided to honour Chinese New Year by stocking the "Wok" range, including those veggies.

3. I discover Scramble with Friends, and it's a lot of fun. I particularly like the encouraging automatic voice which ups its enthusiasm according to word length: good! Excellent! Amazing!

Monday, 23 January 2012

3BT, though today it's six

(Since I haven't 3BTed in ages, I hope you'll forgive me for having six today.)

1. I feel so inspired after my dailyish writing exercise that I decide to skive work and type up chapter one of my current WIP (work in progress), Primary Season. I'm not behind on my work, so I don't even need to feel guilty.

2. My favourite thing about Twitter is being able to communicate with authors whose book I enjoy. In the last couple of days, I've tweeted with three who are important to me, because I love their books and in some ways want to write like them, and in odd ways perhaps have things in common with them too, things that make me feel a kind of kinship with them. This makes me happier than I can begin to explain.

3. I am on time to orchestra for once, and I walk in to see two teenage girls messing around on the piano, playing and singing "In the jungle, the mighty jungle", or rather "dans la jungle, la terrible jungle"... There is something of an unadulterated simple pleasure in this, of their joy in each other and in music and in being young.

4. It's long and complicated to explain, but I have hope again that Inevitable may yet be published, when yesterday I felt nothing but despair and an irresistible urge to go the Kindle route.

5. When I buy my train ticket, the lady behind the counter spots the Guernsey sticker that has been on my flute case since 1996 (!) and we agree it's a lovely place. Such great memories, too...

6. Picking out my book for tomorrow, since I've almost finished the one I'm currently reading, I spot a notebook on the shelf. And yes - it's my blue writing prompts notebook, the one with half written fan fic and scenes for the new novel and generally lots of useful, useable stuff. I thought I'd lost it. I am relieved and ecstatic that I haven't.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Book Review: Come to the Edge, by Christina Haag

Every once in a while, a book casts a spell on me. In 2010, it was The Song Is You, and you know that, because I still talk about it, I still recommend it, I still insist that it deserves to be better known. In 2012  - is it too soon to say? - it will be Come To The Edge

The elegance of the writing, the beauty of the story: "haunting" is how I have seen it described, and that was the word I would have used too. I don't remember the last time a book kept me awake and away from even Twitter for two hours at a stretch.

Christina reminds me - perhaps inevitably - of Kate, the heroine in my first novel. "I did not know," she says, "how long it took to get over such a love, and that even when you did, when you loved again, you would always carry a sliver of it in your stitched-together heart". 

I want this quote at the front of my book. I want to show it to people who read a chapter of Inevitable and say, "yeah, see, I just don't buy that after all these years she would still be thinking of him". I knew it! I knew that it happened like that sometimes. Because I am a hopeless romantic too. Maybe that’s why I was tempted (but only tempted) to rush past the background, the childhood, the descriptions, to get to the wooing, to get to the romance. And maybe that's why I felt something like a twinge of pain in my belly on so many pages: yes, my heart broke for Bradley Whitford when they split up. But it broke for Christina then too, and then time and time again afterwards. (And I want to call her by her first name. Although I know it’s an illusion, I feel, after she has shared her soul with me, that we are friends.)

Come To The Edge is a book full of emotion, not in a trite, schmaltzy way, but the way it's supposed to be, the way that people tell you to do it at writing workshops: show, don't tell. Christina takes us by the hand and she shows us what it means to be her, what it means to be John, what it means to be with John, what it means to no longer be with him. She makes me want to travel to places in America that I've never heard of. Her writing is quite simply superb, her vocabulary varied - it sounds like a small thing, but it's one of the small things that makes a book worth staying up until two a.m. to finish: when was the last time you came across the word "epiphyte"? On almost every page there was a turn of phrase I wish I could have written.

So, her writing: study it, aspiring authors. Particularly aspiring memoirists. Study it for colour and depth and how to bring the past back to life and how to convey the magic of childhood and of love. Study it to learn description and how to draw out character. Study it for the poetry of the language.

If you follow this blog, chances are you’ll know what led me to this book: it wasn’t the main story. It was a subplot about a man Christina dated for three years. You know the one. But I’m glad my endless fascination with him led me there. I’m glad that, after telling myself that it was a ridiculous reason to buy an overpriced hardback book and that it was probably really badly written anyway, I travelled to America when Amazon had it on special offer and I read some reviews that praised the prose. I thought, you know what, beautifully written tragic love stories set against a political backdrop are my thing. They’re what I write. I should read it for research.

But the stories I write are made up. This one, this heartbreaking one, is real. It can't have been easy to reach into the past for these memories, to draw them out and have the emotions rush back. But if I ever get to meet Christina Haag, I will thank her, because this is a story that needed to be told, and that it’s told so deftly means that it will reach the kind of people who don’t read celebrity biography. Literary snobs, if you will. People like me.

And then I will ask her to please keep writing. I’ll tell her that I go to a Monday Night Writers’ Group too. I don’t know why I’ll tell her that. Probably because I babble when I meet people I admire.

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Friday, 13 January 2012

Book Review: Dirty Sexy Politics, by Meghan McCain

I've seen some scathing reviews of this on Amazon, but they were really not warranted. If what you're after is in-depth analysis of policy, politics or campaign strategy, there are plenty of other books - notably The Audacity to Win, which is excellent - that will do that for you. This book does what it says on the tin: tells the story of a Presidential campaign from the point of view of an insider who also happens to be a young woman - and how many other books do you know who do that? None. Precisely none. Well, unless you're counting Sammy's House, by Kristin Gore, but that's fiction. Although, the author being who she is, there is probably a little truth in it too.

It did nothing to convince me of the appeal of the Republican Party, though I was reassured that at least one person was calling them out for their increasing radicalisation and homogenisation. But really, I'm not sure it was meant to. It was easy to read, engaging and honest - what you see is what you get with Meghan, and that is one of only a very few traits we share - and you know what? To my shame I almost welled up when John McCain lost.

And it also gave me a lot of useful background information for my second novel, Primary Season, the first draft of which I wrote for NaNoWriMo. For all its brilliance, The Audacity to Win wasn't very helpful on how tough it is to be a woman in politics, or on those authentic details - bag calls, weight gain, ephemeral  relationships, the impossibility of having clean clothes - which I need to make Aaron and Louisa and their world seem real.

So thanks, Meghan. Your book was just what I needed.

Things I understand about the West Wing now: Airports, Dirksen and Valedictorians

I've been meaning for ages to write a blogpost for each West Wing episode, especially for people who have as much knowledge of America and its politics as I had before I became obsessed with both. Problem is, like my other projects - the Donna Moss diary, the list of exterior locations to check out when I am next in DC - it tends to fall by the wayside as I get into the storyline, the writing, and the close-ups of Josh Lyman.

Still, though, I'm going to give it a go with tonight's episode, "Guns not Butter". I love this one, because Donna is my favourite, and she is brilliant here, when she tries - and almost succeeds - to find a Senator to whom the President urgently wants to speak.

In doing so, she walks straight into the baggage claims area of National (Washington National Airport, known by some people as Ronald Reagan Airport, though never by anyone on the West Wing, firstly because Reagan didn't exist in their world and secondly, I would guess, because Democrats only refer to it as "National"). Walk straight into baggage claim! With no passport! No flight to catch! Everywhere I've ever been you go through baggage claim before customs, and only then do you get to come out and meet your enthusiastic placard-holding greeters.

But not on American internal flights. I was very confused by this when I flew into LAX from Dulles. (Sorry, that's me showing off with my "I'm so knowledgeable about America" insider speak. LAX is Los Angeles' main airport and Dulles is one of Washington's.) Baggage claim is a bit of a free for all. Anyone can walk in. Which is one of the many things I found disorientating over there.

At one point, she also tries to call "Dirksen". This is a reference to one of the three buildings where Senators have their offices - Russell and Hart being the other one. And as for Will being an Eaton valedictorian, that means he gave the speech at high school graduation and was probably the highest ranked student in his year. And it's nothing to do with Eton College - it wouldn't have surprised me if Will had been educated there, but I'm glad Aaron Sorkin did not make the mistake of placing an American tradition in a venerable British education.

All clear now? Good.

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Saturday, 7 January 2012

Book Review: The Ninth Wife, by Amy Stolls

I don’t really read chick lit, and I don’t much like long books. But for some reason I hadn’t quite computed that this was a long book, and it wasn’t pink and glittery, and it was set in DC, and I found it in the Lantern Bookshop in Georgetown for four dollars or so, so I went with it.

I’m glad I did.

Amy Stolls, the author, did the MFA in Creative Writing at American University that I’ve been accepted onto. I remember the piles of her book in Politics and Prose and like to imagine that a book of mine could be in that position in a few years’ time. So I feel a little bit connected to her.(My second choice pen name, which I may well still use, is also very similar to her name.)

Not only that, but it’s the kind of writing that, although it’s very different to mine, aims (I think) to do something like what mine aims to do. (Once I’d realised this, I googled agents and discovered that hers also represents Arthur Phillips – author of The Song Is You, aka the book I haven’t stopped going on about for over a year now – whose writing I am in love with and would like mine to be compared to. A dream agent, in other words, who I don’t think has rejected me yet.)

The Ninth Wife is not really chick lit – at least not the way that I think of it. It’s more in line with the kind of thing I aspire to write – intelligent fiction for women, with elegant writing. And Amy Stolls can definitely can write – there were some beautiful, beautiful turns of phrase, trudging through a swamp of disbelief, letting the whispering winds speak her concern, the route flirts with Pennsylvania all the way, it’s the part of Maryland that makes the state look greedy… There was also a lot of great insight about what it’s like to be in your thirties and single and beginning to despair as you watch everyone else around you turn into couples and then families. So, in other words, it was right up my street.

I can forgive a book for not having much of a plot if it’s well written, and this was.  Although it certainly didn’t lack plot, either.  (At times, I wondered if there was maybe a bit too much of it.) Yes, at its heart, it’s about a relationship – Bess is dating a guy who has been married eight times before, and wonders if she should accept his proposal – but it explores so many different facets of life, of how we relate to each other, parent to child, grandparents to grandchildren, spouse to spouse, partner to partner, of how we grieve each other and deal with the past.

The first half of the book is very different from the second. In the first half, chapters alternate between Bess’s life now and Rory telling the story of each of his previous eight wives. You’d think, wouldn’t you, how ridiculous. No one could be married eight times. And if he was, then you’d want to run. But as you read each of these stories they are (mostly) very believable, and you get to know Rory, and you know what, it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds. He had a tendency to get married a little too quickly, so really, it’s like someone having eight relationships before you. Maybe not ideal (at least in the circles that I move in), but allowable at the age of 45.

In the second half, and I won’t say much about this as it’s where a lot of the surprises and twists and unexpected directions come, there’s a road trip, and with it all the expected soul-searching and deepening of relationships and life-changing conversations and all that kind of thing. A cheesy concept, you might think, but the author does that deft thing where the character realises it’s a bit cheesy and so it works. (Not everyone can pull this off.)

What I like about this book – apart from the quality of its writing – is the realism of it. Life is messy, love is complicated, there are no easy answers, relationships don’t look like they do in Hollywood. This book feels like an exploration of what it means to trust and commit to someone given all of that.

That said, it might have been nice if there had been just one example of a happy marriage between two straight adults who loved each other and stayed together. (Bess’ friend’s Gabrielle’s parents might have been one, I can’t remember, but she doesn’t dwell on the point if they were.) Amy Stolls shows us a rich tapestry of the many different kinds of relationships that can and do exist, but that one is completely lacking – and I do believe it does exist. And the author must believe it does, too, since that is what she’s steering her character towards. Then again, it’s no wonder Bess is so tentative about marriage if she hasn’t ever seen it work out in her social circle.

Another criticism would be that there are a few too many coincidences which require a stretch to believe in them. I have to say, too, that I roll my eyes when a woman goes into labour at an inappropriate moment, nobody knows what to do about it, and then she proceeds to give birth pretty quickly afterwards.

It was also as if the author had deliberately populated the book with as wide a variety of characters possible: the black best friend, the gay best friend, the lesbian ex-wife, the special needs relative, the Jewish grandmother, the airy-fairy floaty girl pregnant by the irritating ex-boyfriend. I imagine it was a deliberate choice, but it felt a little too deliberate. I don’t know why – all those people do exist, and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that they all exist within one person’s social circle – but it felt a little forced. That said, these characters weren’t stereotypes – they all felt very real, in particular Bess’ gay best friend, Cricket. And, as someone has said on an Amazon review, their backstories are complex, and that give them depth. This is a great book for writers to study for hints on characterisation. 

I’ve been ill this week, so lying down for stretches of time has been an ideal opportunity to get into this book. There were times when I just could not put it down: I read it in big stretches and kept thinking, “What? I can’t stop now!”. I suppose that’s the joy of a long book, but it’s also the joy of good writing, characters you get to know and love, and a story that grips you (and yes, even makes you cry a little bit). A great book with which to start my reading year.