Saturday, 28 November 2015

Film Review: An Unexpected Journey, Part 4

We're past the halfway mark of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey now. :-)

Last week Radagast caught up with the gang and Gandalf bullied them into heading for Rivendell. Today the Dwarves find out why you shouldn't head into the mountains without a wizard.

123. Yay! Galadriel. I'm so glad she gets to be in these films.

124. In my own personal headcanon, Galadriel and Gandalf had a bit of a fling when she was just a young rebellious Elf.

125. Ah, Saruman. I'm so glad he was able to reconcile with Peter Jackson and be in these films. I'm not sure how they would've done it without him. And they were able to go to London to film him since he was too old to travel. It ties everything together so well. Since you can see how Saruman lays the seeds for what he will become.

126. Hehe, Saruman doesn't like Radagast because he's a bit of a stoner. Then he just keeps on ranting while Gandalf and Galadriel carry on having their own private mind conversation.

127. I like to think that leaving the blade there at Rivendell allows Elrond to research it and so perfect the cure that helps to save Frodo's life after he is stabbed.

128. Gandalf's face there is like 'you caught me'.

129. Galadriel, your visions of the future would be a lot more helpful if they weren't so vague.

130. Gandalf basically picked Bilbo because he's scared and feels less scared when he thinks about Bilbo. Bilbo is Gandalf's comfort blanket.

131. Magical disappearing Galadriel!

132. This is the equivalent of that moment in The Fellowship of the Ring 'The Ring Goes South' with the shot of the Fellowship walking after they left Rivendell. I wonder if you played the two films together how well they would both line up.

133. I was really curious about how they were going to handle the stone giants bit and would have been perfectly happy if they'd Tom Bombadilled them. It's not really too bad though. I just tend to think of this bit as one of Bilbo's embellishments in his story.

134. There's not a whole lot to say about this. It's basically two mountains having a boxing match.

135. That must be like the moon runes and the stone giants only do their thing every hundred years or so, otherwise everyone would know about them.

136. I like how the next hour changes Thorin's mind about Bilbo (until the last film at least).

137. Bofur doesn't look too happy about having to be on the first watch.

138. Poor Bofur when Bilbo says they don't belong anywhere. Completely wrong thing to say there, Bilbo.

139. Looks like you're not going anywhere, mate.

140. It's fascinating how they filmed this bit. It was quite dangerous apparently, making the stunt guys drop through an opening floor. It's been a while since I watched the special features and this viewing is making me realise I need to go back and see them again!

141. Bilbo just looks utterly terrified fighting the goblin. It's so perfectly Bilbo. This trilogy does a great job of showing how he grows as a character.

142. Mr Click loves this song. We have been known to spontaneously break out into it when we've been getting the dog off the furniture and have had to say 'down, down, down' to her.

143. I love the goblin band. Not a place I'd like to visit personally though.

144. Also like the goblin hitting the camera. Neat.

145. "You're going to have to speak up. Your boys flattened my trumpet." Hehe.

146. Thorin's not like Aragorn really. Aragorn would've been at the front from the start. Thorin lets everyone else stand in front of him and then comes forward then the threats start. He's not the greatest of leaders really.

147. Yay! Gollum!

148. I was so worried about this bit. It's my favourite chapter of the book and I couldn't help but think it wasn't going to be the way I pictured it in my head. If anything it's better.

149. I've never really thought about just how many songs there are in this film until this moment. Now Gollum's at it.

150. I like how Sting sort of flickers and then goes out. It's like the goblin tries to hang on for a moment and then dies.

151. He's behind you!

152. Bilbo really doesn't have a clue what he's doing with that sword.

153. "Shut up!" "I didn't say anything." "Wasn't talking to you." Hehe.

154. This riddle game could have been awful but they do it so well. It's almost like a stage performance.

155. It's also funny how Smeagol talks to Gollum and Bilbo, sometimes mixing up which one he's supposed to talk to. I love the way he switches, it's like the scenes in Two Towers and Return of the King but you actually see it happening.

156. Gollum also looks more real than he did in the earlier films. And I thought he looked pretty real the first time I saw him all those years ago. He seems so much more detailed and solid in his environment. Amazing how the technology has improved.

157. The echoing Gollum voice around the cave is really creepy.

158. I do enjoy a good Gollum temper tantrum.

159. Having said that, I feel a little bad for him when he starts crying.

160. When I lose stuff I get a bit like Gollum. I couldn't find something in my bag the other day and I sort of had a Gollum moment, just with less water splashing.

161. Run, Bilbo! Run!

And we'll just leave him running this week. Next week we'll see the final showdown.

Monday, 23 November 2015

NaNo Guest Blogger Jean Davis: Polishing for Publication

Jean Davis lives in West Michigan and this is her tenth year participating in NaNoWriMo. She has reached 50K eight of those years and settled for 25K last year due to building her new house. Don't try to build a house and write a novel at the same time.

When not writing speculative fiction, she can be found playing in her garden, enjoying a glass of wine, or lost a good book. Her novel A Broken Race is now available, and her short fiction has appeared inTheian Journal, Bards and Sages Quarterly, Acidic Fiction, Tales of The Talisman, The First Line, Allegory, Isotropic Fiction, Liquid Imagination, and more. Upcoming short fiction publications include Caffeinated Press' Brewed Awakenings II, The 3288 Review.

Follow her writing adventures at

2009 marked my fourth year participating in NaNoWriMo. After that first year of proving to myself that I could indeed write 50,000 words in thirty days, I set out each year to experiment with my writing, pushing myself to try new things, writing multiple point of views, writing fantasy or humor. The one thing I hadn't yet accomplished was writing a full rough draft. I'd written the beginning and the end and left out the middle, or the beginning and the middle but no end. I wanted a complete draft and planned to flesh it out to 70-90K later.

A Broken Race was born with that intent. But what to write about? I'd been reading about creating well-rounded antagonists and wondered what it would be like to write about four men, all of whom could be the antagonist or the protagonist depending on how I spun them. They all did their fair share of evil deeds for all the right reasons according to what they believed. By the time I wrote The End, they were all still in the grey.

Though I'd written those magical two words and reached 50K, A Broken Race sat untouched on my hard drive for the next three years. I finished editing another, much longer, novel outside of NaNo, learned more about writing and publishing and worked with my critique group on other projects. I published four short stories and completed three more Novembers of 50,000 words, including what was intended to be a prequel to A Broken Race in 2012.

Having read my original effort in preparation for that NaNo Novel, I developed a serious itch to work on it again. As it turns out, the prequel effort was one of the worst things I've ever written and though I reached 50K, it was so full of suck that it will never see the light of day. However, it did help me develop the world and setting much more, and that is reflected in the finished novel. So all in all, it wasn't a complete loss. 

It wasn't until the second draft that Joshua became the protagonist. He'd grown on me during editing and rewriting and pounding my head on the desk. Critiques from fellow writers helped me tone down his evil side to become a character readers could sympathize with. He grew on them too, and by the time the third draft was finished, they wanted to hold his story in their hands. And so did I.

The problem was, the story still ended around 50K. Though I'd tried expanding the story to a more traditional length, it never felt right. That length meant I had to seek out small presses or self publish, but I didn't feel I had enough time or knowledge to effectively dive into self publishing. So A Broken Race went out into the world and limped back from the query battlefield many times. Not being in the hard and fast middle ground of a typical genre story it didn't have a lot of publisher options. And then an acceptance finally graced my inbox.

Roughly nine months later, I'm holding my book in my hands. It's a wonderful feeling that I hope many of you will get to enjoy someday.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Weekly Rundown: A Hiatus

You may have noticed that my blogging output kind of dwindled to nothing last week only to pick back up again on Saturday with my scheduled movie review post.

Without going into too much detail right now, medical stuff is happening and I'm focusing on that rather than on blogging, NaNo and online stuff.

My scheduled posts (including tomorrow's guest blogging post) will go ahead as planned, but expect things to be rather sporadic for the next week or so. I'll try and be back in December.

See you all there.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Film Review: An Unexpected Journey, Part 3

It's Saturday, so time for another bit of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Last week Bilbo decided that he did want to go on an adventure and then promptly discovered that maybe he didn't want to all that much after all. And just when it didn't look like it could get any worse, they met some trolls.

85. The troll cave isn't quite as dirty and disgusting as I was expecting it from reading the book.

86. "Long term deposit." Hehe. I'm guessing we'll see Bilbo going back for it in the extended edition of the last film.

87. It's very good of Gandalf to polish the sword up for Bilbo before he gives it to him.

88. I have a little Sting letter opener in a special case. it's so shiny and pretty. Kind of sharp too. I've never used it to vanquish spiders though.

89. Ugh. More spiders. At least I've got a few weeks before I need to watch the second film.

90. Ooh, it's creepy how the statue moves. That's why I hate those people in Glasgow who dress up and pretend to be statues then move. I blame Doctor Who.

91. Oh Hai Witch King!

92. I remember being confused about the whole Necromancer thing when I first read The Lord of the Rings. I get that it was Sauron by another name now, but I like how this film makes it nice and clear.

93. Wargs!

94. They went to all that trouble to get the ponies back from the trolls and then lose them when they really need them. Not good guys.

95. "These are Gundabad Wargs, they will outrun you." "These are Rhosgobel Rabbits; I'd like to see them try!"

96. Thorin's pretty much figured out that Gandalf's heading for Rivendell, and Gandalf knows that he knows.

97. Nice shock, but would've been better if you could've killed them a bit quiter. You might as well have waved a big flag saying 'we're over here guys!'

98. Love how the music swells and gets all drummy here. I'm sure there are more technical terms for this, but you know what I mean.

99. The way Gandalf is counting everyone reminds me of a harassed teacher on a school trip with a bunch of unruly kids.

100. I wouldn't like to be walking along up on the top of that rock formation and fall down the hole. That would hurt.

101. Rivendell is so pretty. I just want to be there. And I love that we see so much more of it in this film.

102. I also love that we get to hear the Rivendell theme again. It's so neat that they brought back music from the three original films. It's such a nice way to keep everything tied together.

103. Uh oh, Thorin's figured out Gandalf's plan.

104. Figwit's back. And he's called Lindir. I like that he was so popular with the fans he got upgraded in this film.

105. I'm not sure if Bofur is being sweet and protective towards Bilbo when he pulls him back there, or if he's just trying to avoid another troll-like incident and is keeping the hobbit out of more trouble.

106. Hehe, the Dwarves are like 'he's insulting us... oh, food you say? That's okay then.'

107. The Dwarves are basically sitting at the children's table.

108. Poor Kili struggling with telling male and female Elves apart. I imagine Elves might have the same trouble with Dwarf women.

109. My Sting actually is a letter opener!

110. According to the special features, Martin Freeman wasn't available when they were filming these bits which is why we don't see him. They added him in afterwards with close ups and the long shots were his double.

111. Yay! Another song. Now when I read the book, I have to read it to this tune.

112. Balin doesn't really try to stop Thorin from handing over the map. Even when he says 'Thorin, no' it's kind of half-hearted.

113. Elrond is so awesome with all his languages and stuff. My hero. Oh, I've just realised. He's the Elvish version of Tolkien!

114. Quite a coincidence that the crew showed up on the exact day they needed to get there to read the map. Does make you wonder if Gandalf doesn't know more than he's letting on, doesn't it?

115. I need one of those altar things. It looks very pretty.

116. Uh, guys. Gandalf was covering up your quest and you've just given the whole game away. Couldn't have waited until after he'd left.

117. And now for another trip down memory lane. Is it a trip down memory lane if you're watching the prequel. Whatever. Let's visit Wethertop.

118. It would've been really cool if Bilbo could've stumbled across a young Aragorn and Arwen flirting with each other or something. Bilbo is a blatant Aragorn/Arwen shipper in the book.

119. Oh look, it's a ring. That's interesting. I wonder if we'll see something similar again.

120. Elrond just gets Hobbits. You can see why Bilbo ends up retiring there.

121. Hehe. I do love the Dwarves bathing in the fountain. We watched the theatrical release a little while ago and I think I missed that extra scene most of all.

122. Does Thorin go mad because his grandfather went mad? Or does Thorin goes mad because everyone keeps pointing out how he'll probably go mad?

We'll leave it there with that particularly deep thought today.

Next week, the gang decided the time has come to leave Rivendell. In doing so they stumble right into the Goblin caves bringing us to the moment where Bilbo acquires a little treasure which is going to change EVERYTHING.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Book12 of 2015: Roverandom by J.R.R. Tolkien

I'm currently about a week behind in my Reading Challenge but at the moment I'm still on track to finish this year. I just may not read quite as many Christmas books as I normally do. I'm more than making up for it with all the Christmas films I'm watching in the run up to Christmas.

But way back at the beginning of the year, I was still on top of things, so for Week 7 (a book with a non-human character), I picked J.R.R. Tolkien's Roverandom. It's a book I read for the first time a couple of years ago and so decided fitted the bill perfectly for that week, plus I was due a reread as well.

It's a story inspired by one of Tolkien's sons losing a much loved toy dog during a trip to the beach. To help console the little boy, Tolkien told him all about the fantastic adventures that the toy dog, Roverandom, got up to after he left. And those stories are collected together into Roverandom, following his journeys into space and the depths of the sea.

My edition is lovely and pocket-sized, perfect for popping in a bag for reading on the go. That said, it's not a long read. I could almost have read it in sitting, if I didn't have any distractions. As it was, I started it one night and finished it the next morning.

This copy has an introduction at the beginning plus a whole host of notes at the end. I can't help but wonder if the story might have changed and been expanded, had Tolkien not set it aside to write another story about Hobbits. I can see links between this and some of the stories in the early books in The Histories of Middle-earth and you can see how he was playing with elements of things he intended to bring up later in other stories.

It's also interesting to try to spot all the little in-jokes and little nods to other stories (both by Tolkien and by other authors) as well as to historical events and figures. I knew to look out for them from my last read of it. The notes at the back are helpful to pick up on the ones that you've missed. The nice thing is, you don't need to know what they're referring to in order to enjoy the story, but when you do get them, they're a nice little bonus.

The pictures are all Tolkien's own, in a similar style to the ones in Letters from Father Christmas. They are simple but lovely. There are actually several that I would love to get enlarged and framed, they're that nice.

Having read this book reminded me that I need to read more of the children's books by Tolkien. Since reading Roverandom I've acquired a copy of Farmer Giles of Ham which is somewhere near the top of my To-Read list. Look out for the review of that one in the future.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Guest Blogger Rebecca Freeman: NaNoing With Kids

Rebecca Freeman is a NaNoWriMo veteran! She joined the madness 10 years ago and hasn't managed to shake it yet. She's a parent of four children, aged between 8 and 3, and works from home as an editor and freelance writer. In her spare time, she enjoys gardening, baking and running, and drinks a lot of tea. No, really. A LOT. Her NaNo profile is here or you can follow her on Twitter @path_ethic or on her blog

My first NaNoWriMo was in 2005, and as a new teacher juggling end-of-year testing and the regular challenges of too much to do and not enough hours in the day, it was a real struggle to get many words done at all. For the first two years, I didn't finish NaNo. I was there until the end, and I loved the social side of things, but the 50K eluded me. It didn't help that in 2007 I gave birth to our first child, and he was teething in November…

However, by the next November, I'd had another baby, and amazingly, it was the first year that I won. It helped to have a supportive group of Wrimos with whom I could meet up, and who didn't mind me coming along with a baby strapped to me. And it helped that my two children were close together in age, and napped at the same or similar times. I also had a day every week when they went to daycare, which gave me a few hours 'free' to get some words down.

Since then, I've had two more children, and so my time is even more stretched, but I've discovered it's all about the approach. So if you're a parent who's also trying to fit NaNoWriMo in around your mini-mes, read on…

1. Embrace the power of distraction. Sitting down to write when you have a babe in arms is one thing. I found that I could type quite well one-handed, although I generally preferred to write by hand while cuddling a baby on my lap, or wearing him/her in the sling. But when they get older, they're far more interested in adding in extra letters and numbers while you type—good for your word count, perhaps, but not so good for cohesiveness! For crawlers, set up a small place for them to play with lots of books to look at and small (quiet) toys, while you write nearby. For older ones, limited screen time can be good. A children's TV show is usually between 10-20 minutes, and if you sprint during that time, you can get a big chunk of words done. I found I could write upwards of 500 words in a good sprint.

2. Naps. Naps are AWESOME. I mean, yes, it's awesome if you can nap too! But for the month of November, try to use their naps as time for your writing. I know, you're probably used to doing housework or other tasks during their day-sleeps. But just for this month, keep all that stuff to a minimum and focus on your words. You can work at night, of course, but if you're anything like me, you're nodding off yourself, by the time the young 'uns are in bed, so catching up during the day can be a worthwhile option.

3. Call in the babysitting favours. If you have family or friends who have offered to look after the children, now is the time to take them up on it. Say you'll return the favour in December, so they can get their Christmas shopping done. Sure, that means you won't be able to get YOUR Christmas shopping done, but what's more important: writing or shopping? Yes, I thought so.

4. Start while they're young. If you start doing NaNoWriMo when your child is a baby, then they'll become used to the annual neglect-fest which is November. By the time they're school aged, they'll just roll their eyes at your manic mutterings about word counts, and go and make themselves a snack. Once they can write, you'll be able to get them involved too!

5. Value your sanity. At the end of the day, this whole endeavour should be fun. If you're finding that you're not getting enough sleep (hahaha! I mean, of course, that you're getting less than usual) and it's stressing you out, then take it easy. It's not worth making yourself unhappy or unwell, to try and juggle small children and a daily word count. Enjoy the ride for what it is, and whatever your total is at the end of the month, just be happy that you jumped on board!

Although I still find it hard to fit in writing around my children, it was NaNoWriMo that gave me the motivation to rediscover my creativity. It also allowed me to give myself permission to write, which has led to being able to earn a living from it, while still being around for my family. Win-win, right? And hopefully another NaNo win this year, too!

Good luck and happy wording!

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Weekly Rundown: The Halfway Mark

It'll be no surprise to learn that the number one thing I have been working on this week is my NaNo story. I actually spent so much time working on it this weekend that I didn't get anywhere near as much blog stuff done as I would normally do. Thank goodness for my guest blogger, Rebecca Freeman tomorrow, who'll be telling us all about NaNoing with kids.

If my blog posts this week seem a little bit cobbled together, that's kind of because they are. Normally I'll write my weekly rundown post on a Saturday and then finish it off the following day. I'm writing this in the minutes before it gets posted because I spent just over an hour yesterday pounding my way through roughly 6,000 words of my story. By the time I was done with that I was kind of done with typing on my computer.

But I did make it to 45,000:

My stats as of this morning.
45,169 to be exact.

Today I'm hoping to crank out another 5,000 words to take me up to 50k.

I'm not sure if this story will actually take me to 75,000 words like I originally intended. It's taken me a long time to get to this middle point in the story but the next lot of events will go by quite quickly. Whereas I've been writing nearly 10,000 word chapters, I'm going to have some shorter ones coming up which will move me through the story quicker.

I think the resolution will take a little longer but I'm anticipating it wrapping up around 65,000. Ironically, this is what I was expecting before I started dreaming of the heady heights of the Over Achiever's Club.

I'm pleased with how it's shaping up at the moment anyway. Just hoping I'll be able to squeeze out another 5,000 words today.

In other news, I've started watching Christmas films. I know it's early but we have nearly forty of the things to get through and it's not really that long until Christmas. I'll try and contain my Christmas enthusiasm for at least another two weeks, but I can't make any guarantees.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

Film Review: The Unexpected Journey, Part 2

It looks as though we're going to get through this film a little quicker than we made it through the Lord of the Rings ones. I'm sure this is because these are relatively newer and so I haven't had a decade of watching them regularly noticing all the little things I like to nit pick about.

Last week we were introduced not only to Bilbo (old and new), we also got the run down on the gang of Dwarves who Gandalf invited round for tea. They all had a bit of a singsong, but now it's time to learn just why they're there and get this journey underway.

42. Thorin has a bit of an Aragorn thing going on here. Except he's not so easy to like.

43. I like that Gandalf lights his pipe with his fingers. It's little things that make these movies for me.

44. Poor Gandalf, having to explain that he's never actually killed a dragon.

45. Significant moment of handing over the key. I like that the next film explains how Gandalf came to know all this. In fact, I like how these films help explain just why Gandalf decided to back a Dwarven crew with a random Hobbit, against a dragon.

46. Another little nod back to The Fellowship of the Ring with Gandalf getting all tall and shadowy.

47. The Dwarves really do have everything covered don't they. Funeral arrangements! Laceration! Evisceration! Incineration!

48. I do really like Bofur. He's so unhelpful.

49. By the sounds of things, Bilbo was a bit of tearaway in his youth, wasn't he?

50. I think golf played with goblin heads would be a lot more interesting than the regular game of golf.

51. A tale or two? More like six films worth!

52. If I was Bilbo, I'm not sure I'd leave the crew of Dwarves in my house and go to bed. Look at the mess they made of the pantry. The place could be stripped before you got up!

53. Time for another song. I've come to love all the songs in the books so I'm glad they slotted them into the film. Standing around singing of an evening seems like a very Dwarvish thing to do.

54. I love that image of the embers rising out of the chimney while the Dwarves sing about dragons and fire.

55. Bilbo's all 'yay, they've gone... oh... they've gone... hang on a minute...'

56. Time for another quick trip through Hobbiton. If I tried jumping a fence like that I'd probably faceplant on the other side.

57. Everyone except Thorin is pleased Bilbo's shown up. Nothing really seems to impress Thorin.

58. The betting on whether Bilbo would show up is a nice touch.

59. Home is now behind you; the world is ahead. Love.

60. Bombur snoring in moths is really gross.

61. Bilbo is sweet with his pony considering how awkward he was a few minutes ago.

62. Flashback!

63. This place should look familiar if you've watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy recently. That battle's taking place where everyone stopped to cry in Fellowship of the Ring after Gandalf fell in Moria.

64. This is all straight out of the Lord of the Rings appendices. It makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I read them now because I like how they worked so much of the story into these films.

65. I do kind of wish they'd made some mention of the whole 'burned Dwarf' thing (there were too many bodies to bury, so they were burned instead and there's great honour among Dwarves at having a relation who was a burned Dwarf).

66. I like that they learned their lesson about 'from whence it came' in the Council of Elrond scene and Thorin just says 'whence he came' here.

67. Watch out guys! Someone's out to get you.

68. I kind of love how they dodge the rights issue with regards to the names of the two blue wizards. Also, how old does Gandalf have to be to forget his colleagues names? Then again, he's got loads of names of his own, it must get confusing.

69. "Is he a great wizard? Or is he more like you?" Heh.

70. It kind of irritates me that the hedgehog is called Sebastian. What kind of Middle-earth name is that?

71. Then I get over it because the hedgehog is really cute and I don't want it to die.

72. And then it says thank you when he cures it which is beyond cute.

73. I know lots of people don't like Radagast's sleigh, but I kind of do. It makes sense for him to travel with animals and why not rabbits?

74. Thorin and Gandalf both want to be in charge. I think that's why they spark off each other like that.

75. Fili and Kili are like those kids at school who push the gullible kids into doing something for them, so they're not the ones getting into trouble. 'Oops, we lost the horses, Bilbo, you go find them.'

76. I think this whole bit is one of Mr Click's favourite bits in the while film as well.

77. It's so gross, but I do kind of like the bit where Bilbo is used as a hanky.

78. The trolls are one of my favourite bits in the book. I like how it's been done in the film except for the fact that they say 'burglar-hobbit' instead of 'burra-hobbit'. It's such a minor thing but I miss it.

79. The trolls are actually voiced by three of the guys playing Dwarves, so at this point some of them are fighting themselves. You'd think they'd play nicer together.

80. To be fair to the Dwarves, when it looks like the trolls are going to dismember Bilbo, they do surrender, even though it means they're going to end up as dinner.

81. I always wondered how they did the spit thing and imagined it was some sort of animatronics and computer trickery, but they actually did fasten the guys to a big spit and turn them round and round. The behind the scenes stuff is fascinating.

82. Thank goodness Thorin figures out what Bilbo is doing and shuts up the others. Not that it works for very long.

83. "Who's that?" "No idea." "Can we eat him too?" Hehe.

84. It's funny how they had to have the trolls end up in a certain position because of the stone figures in Fellowship. I wonder if Peter Jackson would have done things differently if he'd known he was going to do this movie too.

Next week we'll make tracks to Rivendell.

Friday, 13 November 2015

Chapter-by-Chapter: New Moon, Non-Chapter

It's NaNo and I had a busy week last week, so forgive me for cheating somewhat with this week's chapter review post. Also, Happy Friday the 13th, what better day to pick up a vampire book.

The last chapter was a really long one so I split it in two, basically it boiled down to the fact that Edward wanted to leave Bella. So he did, and surgically removed himself from her life. Bella was somewhat distressed by this and so wandered into the forest. In turn this required her to be rescued by her dad and his friends. It was a gripping read.

You can imagine my delight when I looked across at the next page after the end of the neverending third chapter to see:


Ooh, we're jumping ahead, I thought. I turned the page, expecting to see the next chapter. Instead what I saw was:


Interesting, I thought. I'll be reading the book in real time, and turned the page for Chapter 4, only to find it said:


Which was closely followed over the page by:


The page after that has a number 4 on it and a chapter title, so it looks like the story picks up after that. But all this page turning and excitement about whether or not we're rejoining the story has tired me out and the next chapter looks like another long one, so we'll get into that next week.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Enchanted Forest: Shield

I'm calling this page the shield, but I'm not really sure that's what it is. It's got two shields in it, so I suppose it's close enough.

I'm trying to break the habit of making my colouring in symmetrical. It's a tough habit to break, I kind of like it when both halves are the same, but I think it worked quite well in this one. Maybe the next symmetrical picture will be coloured asymmetrically.

It's funny how when I look at these pages now I can start to imagine the colours I'm going to use for colouring it in. As soon as I looked at this page I knew that the birds at the top were going to be fiery colours, likewise, I knew the dragons would be purple. I actually wanted them to be a slightly darker purple but I'm pleased with how they turned out anyway.

When I was in Glasgow the other week I found myself looking at Enchanted Forest in Ryman's stationery shop and it was so weird seeing the pages all blank and empty without any colours in them. There are so many pages still to fill in and I can't wait to have them all done so I can flip through and see them all bright instead of plain.

I've already got plans for some of the future pages!

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Book 11 of 2015: Nightfall by Stephen Leather

Back in February last year, one of my colleagues at work discovered I would read virtually anything you put in front of me and recommended that I try the Jack Nightingale series of books. I agreed to give them a whirl.

The first in the series is Nightfall which introduces us to the character of Jack Nightingale. A former policeman turned private investigator who discovers that the father he didn't know he had has died and left him an enormous mansion. Oh, and he sold his unborn son's soul before he was born, so unless he can win it back, Jack doesn't have long to live.

I found this a fairly quick and easy read. It's the sort of book you might pick up to read on a train or plane journey. Distraction from what's going on around you. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from it but once I started it I got into it very quickly. It's one of those 'just-one-more-chapter' kind of books. The sort of one that you find yourself reading late into the night because one chapter before lights out soon becomes three or four, or six.

It deals with the supernatural. It doesn't take very long before lots of people who Jack knows or speaks to keep turning up dead. This makes for a very creepy read, especially if you're reading it late at the night due to the aforementioned 'one-more-chapter' thing. Luckily it's nicely balanced with some funny bits as well.

I couldn't help but think that Leather was really annoyed by the smoking ban. It seemed to get a mention at least every sixty pages or so. I imagine that he's a smoker who is now peeved that he can't smoke indoors.

Throughout the book Jack ends up getting messages from people who keep on telling him that he is going to hell; most of these people then ended up killing themselves in weird and wonderful ways. I didn't quite get why that was happening in this book. All this became clearer to me as I read the later books in the series.

Jack isn't always a particularly likeable character, but he is a very intriguing character. I never knew quite how he was going to react to any situation. That probably helped add to the 'one-more-chapter' aspect of the book. This book does also set things up well for the next book, which I went on to read within a couple of days. Look out for that review in two weeks' time.

Monday, 9 November 2015

NaNo: Word Wars & Sprints & Crawls! Oh My!

The second week of NaNo is upon us and many people will be finding themselves falling into what is commonly known as The Second Week Slump. It sucks.

This is the time where all the enthusiasm you had for your story in the beginning deserts you; all that carefully constructed planning turns out to only take you to five thousand words, not fifty; your writing schedule goes out the window due to family, friends, work, and your neighbours not understanding the sanctity of NaNo; and you've run out of Halloween goodies and all that's available in the shops now is overpriced Christmas chocolate.

It is not pretty.

You'll not be surprised to learn that many people give up on their NaNo at this point in the month, which is a shame because if you're on target you'll have 15,000 words written by the end of the day. How many people can say they've written that much in just over a week?

All the same, it can be hard to force yourself past this point in the month, especially if the first week has not been kind to you and you've started slipping behind. But I'm here to help. These are some useful ways to bulk up your word count and get you back into your story, because sometimes the only way to get past a block is to keep hammering away at it until it shifts.

Word Wars

These used to be my very favourite way to gain more words, from way back in the days of MSN Messenger. One of the great things about NaNo is the social aspect, and I'm a pretty competitive sort of person; word wars pit you again other NaNoers. These are usually conducted in a chat room, the forums, via Skype or on the social media platform of your choice.

Participants agree on a start time and duration, for example :15 for 10 minutes. As people may be in various different time zones the start time is given as minutes past the house. When I used to host them we would usually chat for five or ten minutes and then war for five or ten, depending on what everyone felt was best. At the agreed number of minutes past, the room would fall silent and we would hammer our keyboards like crazy until we were told to stop. The winner (of the bragging rights) was the one who had achieved the highest word count in that time.

These are good if you have access to the internet and a crazy group of friends or online acquaintances to join in on them with. If your internet access is patchy or non-existent then you might want to try one of these other options.

Word Sprints

These are basically solo word wars with a duration but no start time so you can do them whenever suits you. You'll see a post on the NaNo forums that tells you to sprint for 'x' amount of minutes and then you set a time, get writing until the buzzer sounds and then post your total.

You'll see these cropping up on social media (there's a dedicated NaNoSprints account on Twitter where they run challenges regularly through the month as well as posting prompts). I've seen pictures on Pinterest as well, which you can pin and then do at your leisure whenever you need a bit of a push.

If it's the competitive element that keeps you going then you can challenge yourself to better the other people who have posted their sprint totals. Or you could sprint against yourself. This is particularly useful if you only have short bursts to write during through the day; set your timer, write like crazy, note down your total, lather, rinse, repeat. This is particularly useful if you have time to write on your commute, in your breaks, or if you like competition but don't always have an internet connection.

Word Crawls

These are a recent addition to my NaNo repertoire, I only discovered them at the end of last year and I've been amassing a collection of them ever since to use this year. A word crawl is like a story which gives you instructions to follow in terms of how long to spend writing, or the number of words you are to write before you can move on to the next bit. Some take the format of a straightforward list, whereas others are a little more like a Choose Your Own Adventure story.

There are a whole host of these on the forums which you can work through depending on what you fancy. Many of these are done with a particular theme (such as escaping from Zombies) or linked to a TV series, film or book (as in the popular Hunger Games Crawl and the numerous Harry Potter ones) so you can find something to suit your tastes.

Participants usually post their progress through the challenge in the comments on the original forum post. With many of the longer ones it is difficult to complete the full crawl in one sitting, so you might work through one over the space of a day or two. A single crawl can give you anywhere from 600 to 3,000 words, that can be quite the boost when your word count is flagging.

Have you got any useful techniques for pushing yourself to get more words?

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Weekly Rundown: NaNo Progress

I'll keep this brief because I'm trying to get up to thirty thousand words this weekend and I've got a little way still to go now.

Normally I would have spent Saturday bumping up my word count, but instead I spent a good half of the day working on my shepherds for my nativity. I went into the weekend at 21,000 words so I felt like I could afford to take it easy for a while. Luckily I don't show any signs of reaching the Second Week Slump yet. I'm happy with the way my story is going, even if I am still only at the early stages (despite heading into my fourth chapter).

I've managed to make it up to 25,000 words now. I wrote 4,002 yesterday; slightly less than the 5,000 I had hoped to aim for. I probably could've managed another thousand later in the evening after tea, since most of what I did was procrastinating on forums and blogs, but I'm still well ahead. I should get another 5,000 down today which'll take me up to a nice round 30,000. Not a bad start for the second week.

When I get around to rewriting it, I think I'm going to have to bring in mention of the story's villain a little earlier than I am at the moment. The dental conference he will be attending didn't get a mention until over 15,000 words and he still hasn't shown up yet. I tend to do this NaNo though, I start things slow and get my word count up early and then rush through things later on when I've got my word count in the bag. I am hoping to work on this book later on down the line though, so that's something at least, I am writing it with revisions in mind.

As I mentioned, I've been back to knitting my nativity again. My shepherds now have arms. I just need to finish off their headgear and beards, then pinch a couple of straws from my mum-in-law to make them staffs. Then it's on with the sheep.

It's funny how I've been procrastinating on my knitting for so long and now I'm using knitting to procrastinate on NaNo.

Aside from writing and knitting, we've officially started watching out Not-Quite-Christmas films. So far we've watched:
  • Paddington (because Christmas at the end)
  • Ballet Shoes (because Christmas in the film)
  • Alvin and the Chipmunks (because Christmas song)
  • The Holiday (because set at Christmas)
  • Love Actually (ditto above)
  • The Wizard of Oz (because Mr Click insists it used to be on TV at Christmas when he was little)

Alvin and the Chipmunks was a bit of a sore point because Mr Click had put his bet on it being The Wizard of Oz that he was drawing out of the pot, whilst I insisted it was going to be Alvin and the Chipmunks. I guessed completely right (with odds of 1/8). He was a little miffed.

He did get The Wizard of Oz yesterday evening. Unfortunately he fell asleep around twenty minutes into it, so I got to watch it (while sewing up shepherds' arms and hands) and he snored until the dog woke him up.

I should really get back to my NaNo now. See you on the other side of 30k!

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Film Review: An Unexpected Journey, Part 1

Now that we've finished with the Lord of the Rings films, I think it's time to move back in time for Peter Jackson's second venture into Middle-earth. We're watching the Extended Edition of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. I've broken it up into five parts and then we'll move onto The Desolation of Smaug (hopefully Santa will bring me the final film in the trilogy so I can go onto that afterwards).

In this section Bilbo will take us back in time sixty years to a time where his peaceful existence in the Shire was shattered by the arrival of a familiar old wizard and a gang of Dwarves.

1. Are you sitting comfortably? Time to begin. I remember the thrill of seeing this in the cinema. In 3D. Like I was looking through a window into Middle-earth.

2. I love that it's Ian Holm who opens the film. So perfect. It links it in nicely for the people who fell in love with the Lord of the Rings films.

3. It also sounds as though this is Bilbo coming clean with Frodo, rather than the 'original' story about the Ring being a birthday present.

4. Dale looks like a cool place to live. Kind of like a nicer version of Bree what with the multicultural thing they have going on there.

5. Don't really fancy Erebor, personally. I'm not good with heights and they don't have nearly enough handrails for my liking.

6. I like that the Dwarves mining helmets are basically helmets with a candle stuck on the side. Not the safest thing to wear in a mine.

7. That Dwarf is all 'you can't have the shinies, neh neh neh neh neh'.

8. Moral of this story: Don't be greedy or a dragon will get you.

9. When I first saw this in the cinema I saw that dragon kite and my immediate thought was 'oh no, the dragon doesn't look very good'.

10. It wasn't until I watched the commentary that I realised you never really see the dragon at this bit. You see little glimpses but never the whole thing. It's quite clever.

11. And there's the Peter Jackson cameo. A tricky one because he's barely recognisable in his Dwarf-gear.

12. "And he never forgave. And he never forgot." Love it.

13. And there's Katie Jackson. How she's changed since the last Hobbit party she attended.

14. I love baby Bilbo. It's such a simple scene but it explains Gandalf's comment about Bilbo being an adventurer in his youth.

15. "In a hole in the ground there lived a Hobbit..." So glad they got that line in.

16. And there's Frodo. Looking a little bit older since the last time we saw him.

17. In fact, a lot older since the last time I saw him, since last week I watch Back To The Future II and he was just an ickle thing in that.

18. I'd love to watch all of these films with the scenes edited into order, because there's some nice Fellowship of the Ring foreshadowing here.

19. I still say that sign looks like it says 'No admittance except on farty business'.

20. And Frodo's off to the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. We'll stick with Bilbo for an Unexpected Journey.

21. Clever transition into the past, no?

22. Martin Freeman is an awesome Bilbo.

23. And yay for Gandalf quoting lines exactly as they are in the book. Ever since the first Lord of the Rings film, I've imagined Ian McKellen when I've read Gandalf's bits in the book.

24. Which reminds me, I really must squeeze in a Hobbit reread before the end of the year.

25. Was selling buttons door-to-door ever really a thing? Did they have much cause for that in the Shire?

26. I like that Gandalf seems to have picked Bilbo because he used to want adventure, then decides to use him anyway to spite him. Gandalf's so sneaky.

27. Creepy wizard eye! That made me jump in the cinema. I don't know what I was expecting. A black rider perhaps?

28. I love this added scene as well. Anything to see a little more of the Shire. I want to go there so much.

29. I like to think that the Hobbit guy who looks a little like Sam, bouncing the small child on his knee is Hamfast Gamgee, and the small Hobbit-child will grow up to be Sam or one of his brothers.

30. There's the Sackville-Bagginses!

31. Oh I love Dwalin. In fact, I love all of this. It's not the way I imagine it in the book, but I think it's very well done. I mean, they have a lot of characters to introduce in a very short space of time!

32. Balin is one of my favourite characters in this trilogy which makes the Moria scene in The Fellowship of the Ring so much sadder now.

33. "It's riddled with mould." Hehe.

34. "I am sorry." "Apology accepted." I just love all of this bit.

35. I feel I should apologise now. I do have rather a crush on Kili. Also Thorin (when he's not ebil and gold-obsessed). I'll try not to drool too much.

36. Isn't Bilbo's dressing gown gorgeous? I only ever wear a dressing gown for hospital stuff but I feel a strange need for patchwork dressing gown.

37. It's very clever how they made all the Dwarves unique in their own well, with their hair styles, beards and accessories (or should that be axe-cessories in the case of Bifur?) It was something that I worried about considering in the book most of the Dwarves are fairly interchangeable.

38. If you think about it, the Dwarves are really doing Bilbo a favour. He's about to go away for a year on an adventure and they didn't want all his food to go off.

39. Anyone notice how Ori manages to jump from one end of the table to the other between scenes? He's sitting next to Kili one second and then when he burps he's somewhere else.

40. I love that they included this song! I know all the words!

41. I do feel tempted to have a go at doing this whenever I help wash up. Don't think it would end well.

Looks like someone else is about to join the party. Next week we'll get our introduction to Thorin, set out on this unexpected journey and come up against our first stumbling block.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Chapter-by-Chapter: New Moon, Chapter 3 (Part 2)

I started this chapter last week but it was going on forever so I decided to chop it in half. Small mercies, at least it was shorter than the actual chapter in New Moon.

In the first part of this chapter very little happened, other than Bella and Edward having an obvious distance growing between them. Oh, and at one point Bella did play with the camera her dad got her and started to think about filling in the scrapbook she got from her mum.

So let's get on with Chapter Three: The End.

What Happens?

Edward announces that he and Bella must talk. It's one of those talks. After he leaves Bella just wanders around in the forest until she is found. Oh and Edward has sort of deleted himself from her life.

Thoughts as I read:

Are you enjoying this chapter? I'm still waiting for it to start. I can't get over how dull it is. In short, Edward is distant and Bella is depressed about it. This kind of reminds me of how I write during NaNo when I know there's a scene I want to get to but don't know just how to get there so I keep writing and writing stuff to keep the words coming until I figure out a way to tie it all together.

At last we reach a point, after twelve pages no less, when Edward and Bella agree to talk. Bella quickly figures out that this is a talk with a capital T. After all those pages without anything happening, what comes next happens very quickly. Edward announces he's leaving. I can't help but cheer a little when I read this.

Edward is basically breaking up with Bella. He and his family are going and she can't go with him. I'm guessing they're all going to Denali then. She's really desperate for him not to go, but I can't help but read this as Edward trying to gently dump the girl, whilst grasping the opportunity to escape with both hands.

"Bella, I don't want you to come with me." He spoke the words slowly and precisely, his cold eyes on my face, watching as I absorbed what he was really saying.

He even tells her that he doesn't want her. She takes it surprisingly well. Meanwhile Edward's still telling her that he wants to just be who he is, rather than trying to be something he's not. This is a very good thing to do. Stop pretending to be someone else. Be yourself. Tell Bella what you really think of her and then get out of town.

Edward's still being very nice to her through all this. If you really wanted to break up with her properly, you should tell her exactly what you think of her. She definitely wouldn't follow you then, nor would she do whatever 'reckless' thing you're thinking she might try. All the same, he does promise never to see her again. Well, I know that's one promise he's not going to keep. Oh Edward, you just keep on letting me down!

I am slightly sad about the fact that Edward promises Bella won't see Alice again either, since they're all going away. Although I know they're going to come back again, I still think Alice is the most interesting character in these books and we don't see nearly enough of her. Even if she does have some weird thing going on with Charlie.

He gives her a kiss goodbye and then he's gone. Yay!

Bella does not share my enthusiasm. If only we could get rid of her as well, this book would be perfect.

I walked and walked. Time made no sense as I pushed slowly through the thick undergrowth. It was hours passing, but also only seconds. Maybe it felt like time had frozen because the forest looked the same no matter how far I went. I started to worry that I was traveling in a circle, a very small circle at that, but I kept going. I stumbled often, and, as it grew darker and darker, I fell often, too.

She'd better hope that the hospital gets a new doctor soon because it sounds like Bella's going to need one.

We get the book title here as well. It's dark because it's a 'new moon'. It's some sort of subtle message that, isn't it. This is the dawning of a new phase in Bella's life, right?

She carries on lying out in the rain in the forest for hours, despite someone calling for her. Eventually some guy called Sam Uley finds her. There's been some search party out for her and we've still got another ten pages before this chapter ends! It's never ending!

Charlie takes over from Sam and gets Bella home. For some reason Charlie has trouble supporting Bella. I don't know why this bothers me, but it does. I guess it's because I'm so used to the Cullen Clan picking her up and carrying her around without any trouble. Sam seems to know something about the Cullens that no one else does because when he found her he asked 'Have you been hurt?' something that Bella doesn't catch on to until the doctor asks 'Are you hurt?' It's a subtle difference that suggests Sam knows about his vampire neighbours. Is Sam a werewolf as well? It would explain the snuffling sound Bella heard when she woke up.

It appears Sam probably is since Bella mentions the men who were helping to look for her were from the Quileute Indian reservation. Are all the people from there werewolves or just some of them? There are other people who were involved in the search as well, including the fathers of some of Bella's friends. Great way to make sure that everyone knows about your break up. Bella fobs them all off by telling them she got lost in the forest.

The news about the Cullens leaving has already spread. Apparently Carlisle got some fantastic offer and they took off immediately. I get the impression that Charlie has figured out just how Bella come to be wandering the woods at night. She snoozes while Charlie fields phone calls that are obviously from people who want to check up on how she's doing, until one of them isn't.

There's a fire some place. I was expecting it to be the Cullens burning their house down or something but instead it's nowhere near as dramatic. The kids at the reservation are lighting bonfires to celebrate the departure of the vampires. The conversation then turns to how Charlie knew where to look. Apparently Bella left a note for him. Interesting considering she never actually wrote one so Edward obviously suspected that she was going to do something stupid.

I actually kind of like this last bit, Bella runs upstairs to her room, having realised that in order for Edward to have forged a note from her he must have been in the house. In her bedroom the CD he made for her is missing, as is the photo of him from the scrapbook. Just like he promised, it's like he was never there.

How profound.

And yet, I'm just wondering whether he took the stereo out of her truck.

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Enchanted Forest: Compass

I've not got much in the way of knitting stuff to share at the moment, so I think I'll show off my crazy colouring in skills instead.

This was easily one of  my favourite pages so far to colour in. I'd looked at what other people had done with this on Johanna Basford's gallery and I very quickly started picturing what I wanted this to look like in my book. It's not turned out exactly the way I was imagining it, but it's pretty close.

I decided that I wanted the plants around the compass to represent the changing seasons. So on the right side is autumn then winter, and then the left side is spring and summer. Spring also sees a cameo from the Very Hungry Caterpillar.

I wasn't sure about colouring in the inside of the compass, but in the end I just went with it. I coloured in a lot of the blue while I was on the phone to my Mum one evening. Looking at it now, I sort of wish I'd done all of the centre in the same colour, though I think it gives a sense of the different colours of the night sky which was the effect I was going for.

I'm slowly moving away from the green, red, orange and brown leaves as well. I've managed to use some blues in my winter section of the compass. I'm aiming to get some really fantastical coloured leaves before the end of this book!

Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Book 10 of Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecroft Shelley

Week six of the Reading Challenge I've been taking part in this year was a book written by an author under the age of thirty. I did consider picking a book off one of my bookshelves for this one, but I couldn't be bothered with the hassle of having to go through each book and calculating the age of the author when they wrote it. I did also briefly consider finding a book by an author who is still under thirty but quickly dismissed that as taking too long to figure out.

In the end I settled on Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, which I picked from a list of books written by authors under the age of thirty. It was one of the first ones that I found as a free download and it's also available on Project Gutenberg (therefore ticking the 'don't spend a fortune on books' box).

It's a pretty well known story, but for those of you who haven't read it, it tells the story of the titular scientist's monster which he creates. The story is complicated, following the narratives of three different characters; starting with Captain Walton writing to his sister about a man named Victor Frankenstein who his crew picked up on the journey; Frankenstein then takes over the story explain about his childhood and scientific pursuits prior to creating his monster, he goes on to explain how he created and rejected the monster; the monster also gets in on the narrating action, describing his time in the wild observing a poor family. All the monster really wants is to be wanted (and to get a girlfriend), unfortunately he's a little too murderous to get a happily ever after.

I am glad that I read this book, but I don't think it's ever going to be one of my favourites. I just couldn't get into it even though I kept on telling myself it was a classic and must have been classed as one for some reason. That said, it was a fairly quick ready (less than 130 pages). You could almost read it in one sitting; perfect for a Halloween reading session.

I was surprised at the fact that the monster didn't come into the story until about halfway through. In the past I've made the mistake of thinking the monster was named Frankenstein and assumed that it was going to be all about the creature. Instead a lot of the book is about Frankenstein before he even made the creature.

I also found it surprising at how articulate the monster became simply from spying on a family. He was able to tell all of his story perfectly for someone who had such limited human interaction. I know it's a really silly think to nitpick but it still really bugged me.

The different voices telling the story didn't really sound different to my ear, so I struggled to remember who it was that was speaking at any given time. I found them quite confusing and I think that was something else that pulled me out of the story and affected my enjoyment of it. I would've liked the voices to feel more individual. Perhaps if I was reading a print copy the different narration threads would have been formatted differently to make it appear more clear.

I also was expecting it to be a scary story and it wasn't really. It was more of a depressing story. I'm pleased I've read it, but I'm not going to go out of my way to revisit it again.

Monday, 2 November 2015

Book Review: Raining Embers by Jessica Dall (A 2012 NaNo Novel)

How's everyone faring during the second day of NaNo? Hopefully you're still buzzing with the thrill of your fast growing story (and maybe a fair amount of caffeine as well). If you're starting to flag, don't worry, focus on the end result. In twenty nine days you'll have a story. Don't believe me? Well, let's take a look at a book that's out tomorrow and was written during NaNoWriMo.

Raining Embers is the first book in the Order and Chaos series by Jessica Dall. It introduces us to Palmer Tash, a young acolyte who has a strange ability to hear things, and Brier, the daughter of a librarian who is often forced to take to her room with a mysterious illness. When they are both kidnapped one night they learn that they are not quite what they think they are; they are in fact reincarnations of Order and Chaos, and there are people who intend to use them for their own nefarious plot.

When Jessica asked me if I would be interested in reviewing Raining Embers I was thrilled. I love reading a good book and it's especially interesting to read one which was written during NaNo. I'm one of those NaNo participants who writes away diligently for a month, then puts the file away and rarely looks at it again (unless it's to provide some entertainment in the current NaNoisms thread on the forums). I'm in awe of those people who plug away at their work, tidy it up and turn it into something presentable.

There's something quite inspirational about it because you can't help but remember that your word vomit was probably quite similar at one point to all those published books out there. And it serves as a reminder that if you work at it, you can get your story published.

As you can see, this topic makes me rather philosophical.

I have to admit, I did kind of judge this book by its cover. I took a look at it and thought, 'that looks like something I'd pick up'. The premise intrigued me as well. I've read fantasy stories before where people suddenly find they have new powers but I don't remember reading one where the powers are due to characters being reincarnated deities.

I wasn't disappointed. I enjoyed the story and found it easy to read, despite the setting being different from what I was expecting. I'm used to fantasy stories which take place in a pseudo-medieval society, so the setting for this one being routed in Italy was a pleasant change, though it took me a while to get used to.

The characters were interesting. Palmer was easily my favourite. I felt sorry for him in the beginning, an orphan being pushed into a role he didn't particularly want. He's the classic reluctant hero. On the other hand Brier annoyed me at first, though I suspect that was intentional. She's a wealthy young woman used to a privileged lifestyle; once she was taken out of her comfort zone she really grew on me. There's a point in the book where she has to work in service to survive and her hands form callouses and at that point I realised I actually really liked her and felt for her.

I would've liked to know a little more about their mysterious illnesses/disabilities before they found out about their powers. Brier had to take to her rooms when 'the rot' struck her and I'm curious about how that affected the people around her. I also wanted to know more about the world in which the story was set because it felt as though it was very rich and well-planned but we only saw a tiny piece of it. I often complain about not seeing enough of a world, either because it's not visualised well enough, or because it is visualised well and I want more. In this case it was the latter; it was such a unique world that I wanted more.

I'm looking forward to the remaining books in the series being published so that I can find out more about what Brier and Palmer are going to have to deal with.

In the meantime, I spoke to Jessica about her experiences with NaNo.

1. You wrote this book during NaNo 2012, how did you come to do NaNo for the first time?

It was Sophomore year of college, and I was planning on going to a Halloween party with some friends. When I asked another friend if she wanted to come with us, she said something along the lines of, "Sure, but I'll need to leave by 11:30 to go to a NaNoKickoff party." That lead to my saying, "What's NaNo?" and being introduced to the craziness that is NaNoWriMo. I had written a novel in High School, and started a number of others since then, but I'd been jumping so much that I hadn't finished anything in a few years. I figured NaNo sounded like a great excuse to try to throw caution to the wind and actually finish something again, so November 1st I signed up, and I've been a die-hard WriMo ever since.

2. In your Acknowledgements you mention a trip to Italy for research, how did you prepare to write this book? Are you a 'planner' or a 'pantser'?

I'm definitely a pantser, as far as first drafts go. I might scribble down a few ideas/have some idea of where a story might go when I sit down, but I've always found over-planning kills that "rush" I get when writing. Instead, my motto(s) tend to be "write until it makes sense" and "you can fix it in editing." Of course, after I churned out a first draft during NaNo '12 I had a lot of work to do to make everything work. I was lucky enough to go on a family trip to Italy while I was working on edits, which allowed me to really soak in the architecture/history (I now have a hard drive full of pictures that I use for when I need to describe new places in the rest of the series). I also ended up doing a lot of research into the Renaissance in general. I was interested in getting out of the "medieval England" setting that's been so popular in historical fantasy, and all the change happening in the Renaissance has given me plenty to work with in my world building. 

3. You've continued to participate in, and win, NaNo each year since 2008, what is it that brings you back to NaNo year after year?

The first few years, I think I really needed the motivation to get things written and to seriously focus on my writing. Since then, it's entirely been the community. There are so many wonderful, encouraging people on the forums, and it is a great place to discusswriterly things when I start to feel bad about making non-writers (read: my husband 99% of the time) hear about plot and character ideas. 

4. Do you have any memorable stories to share from November the year your wrote Raining Embers? Any near disasters? Interesting NaNoisms? Moments when the plot went completely the opposite way to what you were expecting?

I mostly remember getting about halfway through and going "Oh no, I this book is going to be much too short" since I was reaching the point where they were going to end up in [the last place they are for the book] and I wasn't sure how much more story I really had after that point. The good thing, though, is that it was NaNo, so I figured I'd finish what I had and then go back and see what could be done. I ended up having way more than I planned, and that is now the last third or so of the book. The only other problem tied to NaNo was probably that I hadn't picked names for a lot of characters before started, and that meant that I ended up with two characters with rather similar names (one of the characters is still named Cerise and another, at one point, was named Cesare). When I got to editing, I realized just how terrible an idea that was since when trying to read you really had to focus on which was which (when they shared 5 out of 6 letters of their name in rather similar orders).

5. What are your top tips for someone participating in NaNo this year?

My top tip is probably just keep typing. NaNo is about not letting yourself second guess where your story is going or if you're writing "correctly." Editing fixes any multitude of writing sins, but it can't help an empty page. Other than that, I'd say take care of yourself. It's a lot to write 50,000 words in one month. If you find you aren't going to be able to do it because of a family emergency or some other issue, cut yourself some slack. You can always set your own goal, even if you don't hit the 50,000 mark, and really, any word count you have at the end of November is more than you started with, be that 5,000 words or 500,000. 

Raining Embers by Jessica Dall is released tomorrow by Red Adept Publishing.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Weekly Rundown: And so it begins...

Wherever possible I've started NaNo at midnight, staying up ridiculously late with copious amounts of sugar and a selection of films to keep me up (The Sound of Music and Tinkerbell among some of the recent years' viewing material). I've not done that this year, so I feel as though I'm behind, even though it's only just started and I'm not technically behind yet.

I'm used to having my target for the day down before bed, whereas today I had to hammer out as much as I could as soon as I woke up. It's a slightly different approach to before but I'm sure I'll make it work for me.

So far I'm at 1,768 words and I'm planning at least another hour of writing later on, possibly with a few word wars thrown in for good measure. I probably won't reach my 10,000 word target that I usually have on the first day of NaNo, but I'm okay with that. I'm going to take it slow and steady this year and help out the people I've signed up to mentor (you only get one first NaNo after all).

I've also not done as much concrete planning as I've done in the past. Normally I write pages and pages of notes before I get started, but this year I've not written down as much. I've been carrying around a lot of ideas with me and I have a whole bunch of scenes in my head.

Normally I'm a very linear writer but I have a funny feeling I might end up jumping around a bit from one scene to another. I'm using ywriter rather than Word which should help with that.

Aside from NaNo stuff, I've been doing most of my Christmas shopping this week. Last Sunday I went onto Amazon and ordered most of Mr Click's main presents (as well as something for my step-dad, which I think he'll appreciate), then during a drip to Glasgow I found a present for my Nan too. I'm very impressed as I seem to have gone from feeling completely disorganised to almost ready. I've got maybe three big presents left to get, then it's just small things and stocking fillers.

Yesterday we started our traditional movie countdown to Christmas. Halloween (or NaNoween as I like to think of it) is always the day when we watch The Nightmare Before Christmas, since it is set in Halloween Town. We'll be following this up during the week with some of our Not Quite Christmas films. In the past we've worked out a schedule for them, but this year we're doing a lucky dip, picking names out of a hat for the film we're going to watch that day. The first one out of the pot is Paddington. The only one excused from the lucky dip is Nightmare Before Christmas because Halloween.

Oh and on the subject of Halloween, I got dressed up for work on Friday.

Not too bad for £2 plus what I managed to drag out of my wardrobe.

I was going for a creepy doll look, but the mask didn't have a mouth hole, hence the face paint so I was still in-costume when I took it off to talk. I did get a toffee apple for my trouble.

We even had trick or treaters this year too. In the last four years no one has shown up, then we got a couple of our neighbours' kids come along. I was woefully unprepared and had to rifle through the kitchen cupboard to let them have a chocolate bar each. Next year I must make sure I have a good stash of sweets in.

Did you dress up for Halloween? Share your photos.

And are you NaNoing this year? Feel free to add me as a buddy on the site (I'm Caitak on there) and share your progress in the comments.