horror · REVIEW TIME · Reviews

Review: Ghoster by Jason Arnopp

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Twitter connections are GREAT, aren’t they?

Having seen Behind Her Eyes author, Sarah Pinborough tweet her recommendation for Jason Arnopp’s Ghoster led me to discover his work when I treated myself to a copy of his chilling thriller The Last Day of Jack Sparks (review to come).

Fast forward a few weeks and Monday at work was brightened by the arrival of an ARC of Ghoster, courtesy of Orbit Books. I mean, Mondays are shit (unless you’re one of those beetroot juice-drinking hipsters who sees the start of a new week as a blessing, yeah okay Sandra, good for you, I’m about to spend my Monday getting my arse kicked by retail buyers young enough to be my daughter, but yeah, you drink your juice and be SUPER positive about the worst day of the week) but, it’s a well-known fact that ANY day gets better when books are involved. Receive a book gift and you can totally live your best life… yes, EVEN ON A MONDAY.

Sarah Pinborough said on Ghoster: ‘The best cross-genre thriller I’ve read in a long, long time. Twisty, creepy and absolutely absorbing.’ Mention twisty and creepy and I’m definitely in. And if that wasn’t enough to hook me, here’s the blurb:

Kate Collins has been ghosted.

She was supposed to be moving in with her new boyfriend Scott, but all she finds after relocating to Brighton is an empty flat. Scott has vanished. His possessions have all disappeared.

Except for his mobile phone.

Kate knows she shouldn’t hack into Scott’s phone. She shouldn’t look at his Tinder, his calls, his social media. But she can’t quite help herself.

That’s when the trouble starts. Strange, whispering phone calls from numbers she doesn’t recognise. Scratch marks on the walls that she can’t explain.

And the growing feeling that she’s being watched . . .

I was already familiar with Jason Arnopp’s love for connecting our obsession with social media and the paranormal, after reading Jack Sparks and was intrigued by his use of this theme again in Ghoster. If any of you out there have recently watched the Netflix documentary The Great Hack, as I have, then books like Ghoster will be right up your street. Strangely, the premise of the book seems an almost credible one. We’re already discovering the real-life dangers of our mad obsession with all things online, from the risks of stalking and online bullying, to the illegal practices of political parties and global giants like Facebook to abuse user data to rig elections that effect us on an international scale. So, what happens when you connect a paranormal element to our use of social media? The possibilities are endless. And scary, really properly scary.

It might seem a bit mad, but I’ve got to be honest, it REALLY didn’t take me long to start side-eyeing my phone suspiciously. That night, after reaching two-thirds of the way through the book, I found myself sweeping my iPhone torchlight into the shadowy corners of the bedroom. I was convinced something was there. Were the shadows darker than usual? Were they moving? And what the FUCK was that noise? Yep. It was totally THAT kind of book paranoia. It’s been a long time since I was utterly freaked out by a book to this extent.

Everything about what happens to the protagonist, Kate Collins seems eerily possible and I believe it’s because we can all identify to some extent with her own obsession with social media. We can’t go out for a meal these days without checking our phones throughout. We can’t eat anything without zapping an Insta-pic of it first. We can’t go to a gig without recording our favourite song and posting it to FB. We can’t seem to get through a day without trying to find something funny to tweet about. It’s everywhere and I’ll admit to being slightly jealous of those out there who are able to log out and switch off their phones. After reading Ghoster, I’ll challenge you not to at least think of taking a break or weaning yourself off your online obsessions. I know I did.

The story-telling of Ghoster is compelling in a creepily, convincing way. Drawing you in through a series of present-time action, flashbacks and text dialogue, the author subtly and deftly pulls you into a very twisted web of suspicion, disbelief and doubt until you feel as if you are living Kate’s nightmare with her.

Kate herself, *might not* be instantly likeable to all (although I was a bit in love with her and rooting for her throughout, while simultaneously shouting at her through the pages and telling her to run for the hills). She has a honesty about her I adored, but that some readers might find a little abrasive (she’s a self-confessed social media addict, she talks candidly about what she wants from her Tinder dates, she’s reckless and doesn’t exactly make the best decisions) but scratch below the surface of some solid self psycho analysis and I think many readers might admit they find Kate’s narration a little uncomfortable because she epitomises that side of ourselves we don’t always like very much. Simply put, these days, in our social-media-obsessed world, I think there’s a little bit of Kate in all of us. For me, this a huge reason why I think the story works so well and why it has you thinking of weighing down your phone in a bag of bricks gangster-style and dumping it into the nearest canal.

Arnopp successfully leads us through Kate’s nightmare, ramping up the tension and creep-factor with each page. The story is a fabulously addictive mix of contemporary prose and just the right amount of old-school horror that makes me wonder if this is the type of book that the likes of James Herbert and Richard Laymon would have written if they were still with us today.

Ghoster, for me, is a perfect example of contemporary horror writing, hitting hard and playing up to our fears, both real and subconscious. This is the type of book that doesn’t just get under your skin, it creeps under it and once there, it will stay with you for days after.

Five out of five for this exceptionally creepy thriller, Ghoster.

**Thanks goes to Nazia from Orbit Books and Jason Arnopp for the ARC**

 

 

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paranormal romance · PNR · REVIEW TIME · Reviews

Review: Blood Broken by Lindsay J Pryor

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Leila McKay is both blessed and cursed. Her potent serryn powers are growing stronger, but they come with a heavy price. And to prove her love for vampire leader Caleb, she needs to bring his murdered brother Jake back to life. The only way is to cast a spell no one has dared to attempt before, that could tear apart the fabric of time itself…

But Caleb fears that treachery runs deep in Leila’s veins. Although the heat between them grows hotter by the second, Caleb’s past has left him with a hard heart and a mistrustful nature, and it was at her sister’s hands that Jake was killed… but with his brother’s life in the balance, giving in to his primal instincts is more tempting than ever.

Time is running out for Caleb. In a matter of hours, Jake will be past the point of saving: and around them, all-out war rages in Blackthorn. With genetically modified lycans and vicious convicts roaming the streets, Sirius Throme at the Global Council has secret plans that threaten to devastate the whole district… and Leila is the only one powerful enough to save them all. But can Caleb really trust her?

With countless lives at stake, will Leila and Caleb’s fierce attraction be strong enough to see them through the ultimate test? Or in unleashing the darkness within, will they destroy everything they hold dear? 

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It’s fair to say that I’ve been waiting for the last in the Blackthorn series with a bundle of mixed emotions. Any long-term readers of my blog will know that I’ve been a huge fan of this series from the start and have always looked forward to each and every book with nothing but a hefty dose of excitement and anticipation.

When I first discovered Lindsay’s debut novel, Blood Shadows, back in 2012, it felt right up my street. Fresh off a wave of American writers such as Anne Rice, J.R Ward, Charlaine Harris and Stephenie Meyer, it was refreshing to find a British writer of urban fantasy whose talent could rival that of my favourite authors, but who also brought different qualities to the table that could only come from a British voice. Blood Shadows was voraciously consumed and that was it: I was hooked.

I adored the world-building, and couldn’t get enough of the gritty, dangerous back alleys of Blackthorn and of the darkness that seemed to lurk around every corner. I adored the complexities of each third species and how they connected (although many of the connections were not revealed instantly, more drip-fed throughout). Lindsay has always worked on a tried and tested formula similar to that of many of her peers, focusing each book on a new character coupling – and sparking that ever inevitable discussion of which team you’re on and who’s your favourite (don’t even get me started on how many times I changed my mind!) – and as we have progressed through the series, I’ve adored (and been in awe of) how the individual character stories have come together, weaving into a far more complex web of plot than could have ever been predicted at the beginning of my Blackthorn journey.

Almost seven years down the line and each book has brought a sense of anticipation that no other book series has. Truth be told, I don’t get anywhere close as excited to hear of a book release as I do when I know another Blackthorn novel is on its way, so of course, now that book 8, Blood Broken is finally here, while I was just as excited as all the times before (if not, more so), I also dreaded it a little, because, quite frankly, I hadn’t realised just how much I didn’t want this series to end. 

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One of the most beautiful things about a series like Blackthorn is just how invested we as readers become in every character, every plot thread, every small detail. Books like these become a big part of our lives, whether just for the few hours it takes for us to read them (and re-read them), or whether we take those stories with us afterwards, allowing the characters to stay with us as we deliberate what might become of them in the next part of the story.

When stories are this powerful, it’s just so damn hard to say goodbye. 

Of course, there are some that will say that you never truly say goodbye to a book series when you love it that much, because there’s always the opportunity to go back and read again from the beginning and I will certainly be doing just that, because it’s been a couple of weeks since I finished Blood Broken, and I already miss my Blackthorn babies. Sadly, there won’t be the WTF moments from the first time round, but it will be wonderful to go back and feel the familiarity of characters I have come to adore as some of my all-time faves.

Now, this is where it gets difficult reviewing a final instalment of an 8-book series that you love. How can you possibly sum up everything you want to say and feel like you’ve done it justice? In all honesty, I’m not sure that I will be able to.

I’ve touched a little on the complexity of the individual character threads above, but for me, the way all the books were woven together was one of the truly outstanding achievements of the finale. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be, when you’ve focused mainly on one couple for each book, to then bring all of the characters together and not make some of them fade into the background, but somehow, Lindsay manages to make each one shine. Undoubtedly, Blood Broken is ultimately Caleb and Leila’s story, but every single character we have come to love (or hate) plays such a huge part, that none were ever diminished in any way whatsoever. This left me in total awe and added hugely to the pace of the novel, to the point where it felt like one incredible rollercoaster ride that was unrelenting and exciting and nail-biting to the very end. It’s rare to find a book that doesn’t have some ‘slower, perhaps less engaging’ scenes – that always seems sort of inevitable to me – but Blood Broken never tired for a second and it definitely had many of those WTF moments I spoke of earlier, and definitely contained the biggest WTF moment of the entire series (no spoilers!) that left my jaw on the floor and my heart spilling out of my mouth.

I’ve talked in previous reviews about Lindsay’s ability to keep the story unpredictable, because, let’s face it, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you already know what’s going to happen. It’s hard to get excited about a story where only one outcome is inevitable. As readers, we need unpredictability. We need to be kept on the edge of our seats. We need to torture ourselves with a hundred different possibilities, because we’re all just weird little masochists at heart. Sometimes, we might get an inkling of what’s to come, but not once – and I genuinely mean that – not once did I ever see what Lindsay had in store for our Blackthorn babies. I think I stared at the page for a very long time, wondering WTF I had just read and wondering how the Hell I had never seen it coming. This is the kind of story-telling that makes my little reader heart a-flutter (and my little writer heart filled with jealous awe). I get such a kick out of being surprised by a story and Blood Broken definitely ticked ALL the boxes and then some.

It had everything we had come to expect from Blackthorn – adventure, action, romance, uber-hotness, dark twists and turns that kept me scrolling page after page.

By the end of this book, I was awe-struck, jubilantly punching the air, and sobbing (it’s the END, for goodness sake!!!) In fact, I sobbed that it was over for a good fifteen minutes, only then to realise there were epilogues (yes, people, EPILOGUES. PLURAL) and then I had to somehow gather myself together to read them, before sobbing again with joy and sadness and every other emotion you’re meant to feel when a series you adore has finally come to a close after seven years. For me, it really could not have been more perfect and I couldn’t have wished for a better ending.

With breath-taking, high-octane action, unpredictable story-telling and the plot twist to end ALL plot twists, Blood Broken is undoubtedly the crown jewel in Lindsay J Pryor’s urban fantasy masterpiece. This is a five out of five stellar fantasy book that deserves to be talked about for many years to come, and while I’m heart-broken to see it come to an end, I am so very glad that its been a part of my life for the past seven years.

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THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Super-Hero Pantser or Super-Hero Plotter?

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I often see posts and comments on social media about what kind of writer we all are.

Pantsing or plotting? Planning right down to the finest detail or winging it while sipping vodka, crying into your notebook and generally wondering what the Hell you are doing?

I mean, sure, I’m probably the latter most of the time (apart from the vodka bit, as I never drink when I’m writing, although it might explain a lot if I did), but I couldn’t help but be in awe when I saw author, Rachel Scarlet, post a video of an amazing story bible that she creates for all her WIP’s. Each page carefully stored in plastic dividers, from research notes, to character profiles (including how they dress and style of voice) to chapter plans, this was probably the most detailed story planning I had ever seen.

On retweeting her post, with a note of my own to say how story bibles are a beautiful magic I’d like to learn (because the aspiring Marie Condo in me just LOVES how organised it was), I found it so interesting to see how many writers expressed how intimidated this made them feel. There was a general consensus that this kind of super-hero story-planning made other writers think that maybe they were not planning their stories in the correct way and that whatever they were doing was inferior to Rachel’s method.

And then, there was this gem of a comment from K.B Mallion:

‘We are all so wonderfully different.’ 

And that, I think, is the key and one definitely worth remembering.

It’s very easy to feel intimidated by other writers, particularly when we are inundated on social media every day with successes and wins, news of signing with agents and publishing deals, book releases and writers hitting best seller lists. It can even be intimidating for newbie Wattpadders who are just trying to work out how to get a few reads on their stories, when others are like veritable powerhouses with millions of reads and hundreds of thousands of followers. But, while it’s important to remember that the writers achieving those amazing milestones all had to start from the beginning at some point in their career, it’s also vital to remember that one size does not fit all and however one writer works, does not mean that’s the Ten Commandments of Writing we all have to live by.

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The same goes for story planning. Whether you compile story bibles, use apps like OneNote or Scrivener, scribble down random ideas in notebooks or write notes on the back of a till receipt, it’s ALL TOTALLY FINE. Whether you makes notes on each chapter just before you write it, or make no notes at all and just wing it through the whole story, it’s ALL TOTALLY FINE. Whether you plot everything like a military operation, or are a pantser-extraordinaire, it’s ALL TOTALLY FINE.

I completely agree with K.B Mallion’s take on this. I LOVE that we are all different. I love that we all have different tales to tell on how we write. I love seeing the processes that everyone goes through – from what inspires us, to the programs or apps we use (and yes, even the fonts, I’m looking at you COMIC SANS army!), from whether we are Prologue lovers or just like to dive straight in with Chapter One, to how we celebrate writing ‘The End on our completed works.

It’s completely natural to feel a level of intimidation, but as writers, we mustn’t let these fears and feelings weigh us down because ultimately, it’s unhealthy to compare ourselves to others. We can, of course, experiment with ways of working that we think might aid us and use the experience of others to add to our own experiences and progress, but we each must find out what works best for ourselves. Pantser or plotter; it just does NOT matter as long as it works for you.

What kind of super-hero writer are you? Pantser or plotter? Have you learned anything from what another writer does that has helped you with your writing or with how you approach a story? Do you swear by writing guides or avoid them like the plague? Add a comment and share your super-hero writing powers!

 

 

sci-fi · THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Genre-Hopping & Close Encounters

I wrote a blog post back in February about how I was experiencing a bad case of writer’s block which seemed something more akin to a weird apathy towards writing that I didn’t really understand. That apathy has haunted me so much this year, to the point where despite doing a good job of making it look like I’m working on new projects, all I’ve really been doing is creating aesthetics for each new idea in the hope that it might inspire me to write. Because every story must have an aesthetic before you start, right?

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The reality is that I haven’t really been working on new stories at all. Every time I’ve opened a new WIP or notebook, I haven’t been able to think straight to even start writing, let along manage a single paragraph. The longer this has gone on, the more I think I’ve allowed myself to make excuses about why I can’t write eg. okay, maybe I’m done with it, maybe it’s done with me, maybe I’m not really a writer, blah blah blah – you know, all the woe-is-me shite that gets to us all at some point.

At the weekend, however, I had one of those rare epiphanies (I don’t get them that often, trust me): I realised that I’d convinced myself so much that I couldn’t write that I had started to believe it and that, in essence, I was failing myself. What if instead of not being able to write, I had just made myself think I couldn’t do it, thereby allowing myself to give up before I’d even tried?

So, I went back over all my new story ideas and decided I would just pick one and start writing something. Anything. It really didn’t matter what to be honest.

The result? The one I ended up choosing was by no means the story that I ever thought I would write.

Why? Because it’s a genre I’ve never written before.

Now, I know many writers who hop genres. I know writers who hop genres to jump onto an emerging trend or because it’s a more lucrative and popular option. I know writers who hop genres because they’re just bloody good at writing anything they choose to write. I know writers who hop genres because they want to experiment with something different and end up finding they’re in love with writing that new genre. I’ve always looked at those writers with something close to awe, because I’ve tended to stick to the same genre – urban fantasy with a touch of horror or just horror.

I read far more genres than I write, and the older I get, the more genres I discover I like. There are definitely genres I’ve always wished I could write in based on my reading choices. Fantasy is one, thrillers and domestic noir are also genres I love. However, I never thought I would be drawn to writing sci-fi and yet, that’s the one I picked. It was definitely a late-runner in the new story idea stakes and came about mostly from my love for sci-fi films. I’ll be honest here, I don’t read a ton of sci-fi, but I love sci-fi movies, particularly anything alien-related. The Alien movies are some of my all-time faves. I was obsessed with the TV series, Taken. I grew up on a diet of Spielberg and stories of little grey men. I loved anything remotely linked to alien abductions and yes, I loved that cute little alien and his best mate Elliott. DO NOT JUDGE ME!

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Of course, I’m not writing about cute little aliens, but I am strangely excited about this new project despite it not being the one I ever thought I would opt for. I started writing at the weekend, making brief starter notes, then managing to get one very short chapter down that I surprisingly felt really good about. I have no idea whether this one will work out and whether it’s the next big project, but, right now, it feels right and it’s given me the kick start I needed to not only write something, but to also feel inspired about writing again.

Are you a writer that swaps genres? Are you a writer that wishes they could write in a different genre? If so, what genre would you like to write in? Are you a reader who’s recently discovered a new genre that you really love?

Drop me a comment and let me know!

 

THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Guinevere Beck Problem

*Note: Contains spoilers about the Netflix series You, Wattpad books Playing Dead, Dark Sanctuary, A Dark Fall, Into the Dark*

My lovely work assistant and I recently binge watched You on Netflix (not while we were at work, I might add, just in case my boss or associated people ever read this) and were having daily convo updates on what we thought of the latest episodes we had both watched the night before.

Now, I’m not going to regale you with a step by step of our convos, but, her reaction to Beck really caught my attention.

‘Oh my goodness, that Beck girl!’ she said, ‘How annoying is she? That girl deserves for Joe to kill her.’

I found myself nodding my head.

WAIT. WHAT? I nodded my head in agreement? Why did I do that??

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I mean, sure, I’ll admit I did find her annoying at times, but what was Beck doing that was so wrong that the girl deserved to be killed? And why did I find myself agreeing with my assistant?

Of course, anyone who has seen the show will know that it’s mostly skewed in Joe’s favour. We get most of the story from his POV. We get his thoughts, his feelings, we laugh along at the funny things he says and we root for him when it’s looking like he might get caught. And to top it off, let’s face it ladies, Joe is very easy on the eye. We’re given a guy who is clearly creepy to the max, but good-looking, and Hell, all logical thought goes out the window. Suddenly we’re praying for the next girl to be his victim… because, well, quite frankly, that woman is just NOT good enough for our much-loved obsessive stalker-killer! 

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I’m poking fun at all this, of course, but REALLY, ladies? Is this what we have been reduced to? Do characters, and specifically female characters, deserve to get killed just because they’re cheats or flaky or because you just don’t like them?

What the writers and producers of You did was very clever. We need to be intrigued by Joe and need to somehow become attached to him to keep things going (and get to that all important second series before Netflix hit the cancel button), and while I don’t assume to know what kind of discourse they were looking for, it has reminded me a little bit of the furore involving the Ted Bundy Tapes and the subsequent Zac Efron biopic of America’s favourite hot serial killer. We had the same thing with Jamie Dornan’s character in The Fall. More examples of this fascination with good-looking killers who, and I will shout this loudly, WILL KILL YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE A WOMAN.

Okay, I’ve gone a little off tangent in a way, because this post isn’t about Joe or Ted or even Jamie Dornan (more’s the pity, eh), but it is about female characters and how we react to them. You might be wondering why I’m even discussing You here, because I primarily post about books and writing and the Wattpad experience and you would be right. As it happens, watching You came at the same time as I received a tirade of comments on two of my Wattpad books where readers were berating my female characters for their actions and decisions, so it seemed like perfect timing to bring up what I’m now calling The Guinevere Beck Problem, or The Art of Hating on a Female Character for Not Being Perfect.

One of the very first female characters I ever wrote in my incredibly amateurish Wattpad book, Dark Sanctuary, makes ALL the bad decisions. In hindsight, I know I made huge mistakes with that character, but I still maintain that because she had experienced so much horror and loss in her life, she had developed an innate ability to not trust people, even those who were obviously trying to help her. That distrust often found her ultimately taking the wrong route in life and putting herself in more danger, much to my readers’ frustration, and often anger.

Years down the line from posting this on Wattpad, I’ve become slightly numb to the negative comments, and I definitely don’t take them personally, but a couple of recent comments did make me stop and think ‘What? Really?

It went a little something like this:

‘I hate her now.  I hope something bad happens to her.’

And…

I hate her, I hate her, I hate her.

Sarah’s crime? Daring to put her trust in, and kiss a man that she connected with through similar life-experiences (and in the readers’ eyes, betray the vampire she was meant to love, even though he had bitten her and left her unconscious and then, deserted her, without consulting with her first to discuss the reasons why he had to leave…. damn, take a f-ing breath Lindsey).

Isn’t interesting that because she kissed another guy (and, I might add, only the 3rd guy she had ever kissed in her whole entire life) a reader can hate her enough to want her to suffer? What happens to us as readers when we turn against female characters so much because we don’t like  their decisions, that we wish harm on them, whether emotional or physical?

Likewise, in Playing Dead: Book One of The Whitechapel Chronicles, the kickback my main character, Megan, receives when she cheats on her husband, is markedly different to the reaction her husband receives when readers realise he has done just the same (and actually, far far worse than just committing adultery).

Why do we admonish female characters so much, when we are far less vocal about a male character’s misdemeanours and crimes? In Dark Sanctuary, the male MC was a vampire who had garnered a small personal fortune by charming and then killing rich women. In Playing Dead, Megan’s husband is an adulterer and killer, and even signs away the life of his wife to pay for his own crimes. Neither of these characters earn anywhere near the kind of reaction that my female characters do. How is it we overlook a male character’s faults and errors, and yet we hold our female characters to such high standards?

Of course, now I completely understand that this is fiction and fictional characters we are talking about, so I’m no way suggesting I have a bunch of sociopathic readers on my hands who wish harm on others (at least I hope not haha). Also, I am always aware that as readers we do get passionate about stories and this passion can play out in many ways – adoration, frustration, love, happiness, grief, anger – and what are books without passion?! But, this compulsion we have as readers to go that extra mile with our disapproval and sometimes, hatred of female characters is something that constantly intrigues me.

Fellow Wattpad writer, Scarlett Drake, author of The Persistence of Memory, A Dark Fall and Into the Dark (amongst others), has talked recently of also receiving negative commentary against her female MC’s, Alex and Eloise. Interestingly here, It’s Alex, the middle-class Doctor who gets most negativity out of the two (even though Eloise does have an affair). She’s wrong for being indecisive, she’s wrong for over-thinking things, she’s wrong for not staying with the male MC after discovering he’s a drug dealer (and of course, directly implicit in whatever happens to those people who take the drugs, the very people that Alex could end up treating as a Doctor), she’s wrong for taking a sip of wine when she didn’t know she was pregnant, and wrong for keeping her lover in the dark about that pregnancy (even though he has a ton of shady secrets himself). I’ve even read some of the comments myself and it’s pretty shocking that, from mostly female readers, so many are willing to condemn Alex for her actions, when it’s quite clear that Jake has done far worse. Why do we expect perfection from female characters, but not from the male characters?

In the case of You, Beck wasn’t perfect, but so what? Delve a little deeper and by the end of the series we saw many of the reasons why she surrounded herself with fake friends, why she struggled to hold down relationships with men, why she cheated. But what did she do that was so bad that we might want her to get killed? By the time the series had finished, I found myself feeling very guilty that I had so easily let myself be manipulated into disliking her and not having empathy for her. Even without getting a better understanding of who Beck was until the end, why did I so quickly assume the role of judge, jury and executioner?

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As authors, are we guilty of raising up our male characters onto a golden pedestal, to the detriment of our female MC’s? What role are we playing in creating the ensuing negativity? Of course, as I’ve said above, authors (and in the case of TV, screenwriter, directors, producers etc) do at times intentionally manipulate readers to love a character so much that they can seemingly do no wrong, even if we are quite clear about their flaws. But, in many cases, as readers – and I class myself as one of the guilty ones here – we are highly critical of female characters to the point where we wish they would do a Thelma and Louise off the edge of a cliff.

I’d love to know your thoughts on this, whether reader or writer. Have you experienced The Guinevere Beck Problem? Did you intentionally set out to create this kind of reaction on your readers, or do you think the reaction was unjustified? As a reader, have you ever reacted in a way (like I did) where you found yourself wanting the female MC to take a walk alone down a dark alley in the hope she’d meet a nasty end? Or do you see beyond a character’s flaws and try to find empathy with them, even if you don’t agree with their decisions?

 

 

 

THE WITCHING HOUR · Wattpad · Writing

The Art of Not-Writing and Becoming Quite Good At It.

I found it quite ironic that, after coming back here to write a new blog post, I realised the last post I uploaded was all about writer’s block and how to tackle it.

I wondered, briefly, why I couldn’t just heed the advice and tips laid out in that post (some being my own tips), however, with everything in consideration, I don’t think that what I’m currently experiencing is writer’s block. I’m not even sure what it is. Burn-out? Exhaustion? Apathy? A sudden lack of confidence?

So, here’s the thing: I’m no longer writing. I don’t even want to.

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Okay, that might be a little lie. I do want to. I think it’s that thing we writers have inside us… that little monster that is only ever satisfied when we write and when we’re not writing, it starts getting angry and frustrated and fucking hungry for words and paper and pen and ink. I know I want to write, but at the same time, I don’t want to. Does that even make sense? I have no idea, to be honest. I know that there’s a part of me that’s only truly happy during periods when I’m writing. I know that not writing makes me unhappy. In fact, scratch that, it makes me feel a bit empty. Useless. Like, if I’m not writing, what good am I? What else am I good at? (Note to self: You make a mean Victoria Sponge Cake and are good at organising stuff into piles. YOU CHAMPION.)

Yeah, yeah, I know. It all feels a bit dramatic, self-pitying and over-the-top, yada yada. But, my point is, I feel completely lost. I’m hanging out on social media and on Wattpad, reading all about my friends in the amazing writing community, doing their thing, writing their stuff, producing words. CREATING. I’m super proud of them all for just getting their shit done, but I’m all here, like BLEH. I feel a little bit like a fraud. As if maybe, I’m that person who wrote a few Wattpad books once and now the magic has disappeared into the nether and it sort of feels like I’ll never feel that rush of a new idea again – you know, that buzz you feel when you have a new story idea on the go and it’s just filling up space in your head and in your veins, until you think you might explode with pure passion and happiness. You know, RIGHT?

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I’ve had new ideas, sure. I’ve had a ton of them. Some of them I’ve run past my most trusted and beloved booky friends and come away feeling like I know which one I’ll write next. I’ve even got a couple of chapters down of one that seemed to pop its head up above the parapet of Shiny Bright Ideas, right before I took a catapult and took that head clean off its stupid shoulders.

And yet still… nothing. I’m not feeling strongly for any of them, and that’s not because I don’t like the ideas or because I don’t believe they have legs. I’m just not feeling it anymore. 

I’m not used to feeling like this and I’ve never completed a project without a firm idea of which one I’ll tackle next. Before I’d even finished writing the Dark Sanctuary series, I’d already started The Whitechapel Chronicles. Before finishing The Whitechapel Chronicles, I’d already begun writing Hedoschism. I’ve always started thinking about and writing something new, before I’ve finished my current WIP, even to the point when I’ve found the new idea SO exciting and SO intriguing, that it’s almost prevented me from reaching the end of what I was writing at the time. But, this time, I have no idea where to go next and it’s bugging the shit out of me.

Is it normal to be a writer and not have any idea which direction to head in? To not have anything in my head at all, apart from a growing frustration and an angry, hungry monster? Is it just life getting in the way? Truthfully, I haven’t sleep a decent night’s sleep in 5 weeks now. I am burnt-out. I know this. I’m trying to make moves to change things eg. establish better night-time routines, less screen time and subsequently less social media stalking in the evenings, take up a personal trainer at the gym to help me gain control of at least one thing in my life and improve my health.

But, in the meantime, what happens with my writing? Do I persevere? Wait it out? Just become a reader for the foreseeable future and forget that I was once a writer? Do I get a hobby? Watch more Netflix? Bake more Victoria Sponge Cakes (seems like a legit good use of my time if cake is involved)?

Does anyone else experience this horror? What do you do? Drop me a comment and save me from a life of Netflix binges and cake baking! (like anyone needs to be saved from that, right???)

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THE WITCHING HOUR · Writing

Scaling Writer’s Block Mountain and How to Get Back to Basecamp

I’m talking this week about the mountainous challenge that is writer’s block.

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Most writers I know have experienced this at some point in their lives, some far more often than others (yours truly included) and some perhaps on specific projects where the finish line seemed to move farther and farther away each time they looked. Of course, there are some writers who don’t believe writer’s block is even a thing, but let’s not discuss those wily wizards here, because they clearly have magical powers and we should avoid them at all costs for fear of feeling even more useless than we already do (I’m joking of course, because they might just have a point, but we’ll leave that for another post).

I’ve experienced writer’s block (the curse, the plague, or whatever fancy name you wish to call it) throughout practically all of my writing life. I’m not sure there’s one project where this hasn’t been an issue, apart from maybe some naff short stories I wrote way back in the day. All the full-length works I’ve produced on Wattpad have been affected by writer’s block at some time or the other, sometimes for fairly short periods that I’ve managed to get over with a bit of perseverance, and sometimes for lengthy periods of time when I was left panicking that I was never going to write again and that I should probably just give up.

Now, this has always been partly due to my writing schedule, or lack of it, because sometimes when life just gets a bit huge and horrible and hectic, finding the time to write and focusing my mind on it, becomes something I can only dream about in some Disney-inspired fantasy where small tweeting birds and cute woodland animals clean my house, run all my errands, look after my family and do my day-job for me, leaving me time and peace to be able to write. Once life gets in the way, I can find it difficult to find my flow again and get back on track. I’m sure this is the same for other people, or maybe you do have time to write, but the words just won’t come. Maybe you write full-time (you lucky bastards) or maybe you have a set routine every day where you allocate time for writing, but no matter how hard you stare at your laptop screen, you come away with nothing but frustration and a desire to fire the afore-mentioned laptop out of a cannon (don’t do that, it won’t help you).

So, what do we do when writer’s block hits? How do we climb the mountain?

There’s many different ways to overcome it, and as with everything, one size definitely does NOT fit all. Often it takes trial and error, what works for one, will not work for another, and also, what works once for you, might not work again, but here’s a few methods that seem to be the most popular when I asked fellow writers on Twitter last week.

  1. Music – this proved to be a real tried and tested method of combatting writer’s block and it’s definitely one I use myself. Making a playlist inspired by your story is a great way to find your way back to your WIP. Whether you have chosen songs that are specific to your characters, or whether you prefer to listen to mood music that sums up the ‘feel’ of your story, making a playlist can really help give you a sense of what you’re writing about. I play my lists on the commute to work and when I’m doing mundane shit, like the household chores or walking around the supermarket. Listening to music while you write can also help kick-start the inspiration. I listened to classical (Eric Whitacre’s Deep Field) when I was writing the final scenes of Hedoschism, because it made me feel like I was watching a movie adaptation of my story, something I find always works for me when writing action scenes in particular (I need to see it, hear it, smell it). Whether it’s Little Mix, Nirvana, or Cliff Richard (okay, maybe not Cliff), music can definitely fuel the writing fire.
  2. Read – okay, now this one intrigues me, because quite often in the past, when I’ve really been struggling to write, reading something else – particularly when it was a good book – only served to make me more miserable and compound this idea that I lacked any talent whatsoever and should probably fire the laptop out of the cannon again. It took me a long time to get over this fear that reading somebody else’s work when writing would lead to nothing but certain doom. These days if I’m not reading when I’m working on a story, it’s usually because I’m crazy busy and want to remain focused, however I do know writers who won’t read the same genre as the story they’re writing because it encourages the same feeling of inferiority and leads ultimately to pointless comparisons where they only come off the loser. Reading figured highly on the list of things to help beat writer’s block when I put the question out there to others. Some said the emotions other books inspired in them, helped in turn to inspire them to write. Reading something completely different to what you’re writing can also help, or even reading through your entire WIP from the start can help pull you back into the story and work out where to go next.
  3. Write something – anything! – Okay, now this I LOVE. Love love love. It seems a weird idea, doesn’t it? Writing when you can’t write? However, often writer’s block doesn’t stop you from writing altogether, it just prevents you from writing the story you’re currently working on. Switching to something else can help you find your way over the mountain because it brings back that sense of self-belief and motivation that you were missing. Quite often I combat writer’s block by starting a completely new project or messing around with a new idea (weirdly enough, Playing Dead came about because I was stuck while writing the last of the Dark Sanctuary series and Hedoschism came about because I was stuck writing the last of The Whitechapel Chronicles). Write just three words. Or ten. Or fifty. Write poetry. Write a blog post. Write that YA paranormal romance you’ve secretly been harbouring a desire to write. Quite a few writers I spoke to mentioned flicking back and forth between multiple existing projects to help inspire them (and to those people I’m in awe, as it’s rare that I have more than two on the go and the second will be barely anything substantial at all). If you are one of those magicians able to have multiple projects on the go, it’s great to be able to move to another one every time one becomes particularly difficult. It keeps your words flowing and your mind moving. Others have said just write something, no matter how irrelevant it seems, or indeed, no matter how bloody hard it seems – sometimes a dogged perseverance is the only way to get through the wall.
  4. Research – now this was an interesting one that never occurred to me as a way to combat writer’s block, but was something that I did without even realising it was helping me find my way back to writing again. Researching can take you on all sorts of weird and wonderful journeys. One minute you’re reading about Archangels, the next, you’re writing copious notes about the Library of Alexandria or drug abuse (yes, I did this). I’ve got notebooks full of research notes and it has, at times, inspired me to write again, whether that be for a new story idea or using the research to write a new chapter of an existing story.
  5. Plotting – I’ve never been one to plot out an entire story before writing, instead choosing to plot maybe 4-5 chapters at a time, write them, plot again, and so on. If you’re not a pre-plotter and you are experiencing difficulties with how to take your WIP forward, taking some time to plan out the next block of chapters, or indeed the rest of your story, can be a great way to help you keep the words flowing. Not knowing where your next chapters are heading can fuel writer’s block and sometimes, just writing a few plot notes (it doesn’t even have to be extensive planning) can help you visualise the next steps for your characters.
  6. Watch a movie/TV – surely this is just pure procrastination, I hear you cry! And yes, you’re probably right if it only serves to take you farther away from your WIP, but one of my Twiter contributors mentioned this was something she does – watching a cheesy romcom, while writing at the same time. Now, I have a tendency to believe she might just be one of those wily wizards I spoke about earlier, because I do usually get more distracted when the TV is on, but, like I said, one size does not fit all and if it works, it works. Personally, I would use the procrastination time watching TV, to help give me a bit of a break from the pressure of stressing over my writing, in the hope that it will take my mind off it and give me a chance to breathe a little before I come back to my WIP, so however you do it, I happen to think there could be something in this suggestion that works.
  7. Brainstorm with friends! – because what’s a writer without their writing community? This is one I get behind whole-heartedly and I use this often to get over writer’s block, particularly if I’m struggling to see a way forward or untangle a plot thread that seems destined only for the deepest, darkest oubliette. Bouncing ideas off your friends (whether writers or readers) is a fantastic way of shining a light on the path ahead. When writing Hedoschism, I often called upon my nearest and dearest writers and betas to help me unravel the mess I’d made of things, to suggest alternatives, kick me in the shins when I came up with something stupid, or to just bolster the better ideas and tell me I’d done good. Writing can be a solitary and lonely artform when hibernating in your writing caves and internalising all your stresses and anxieties about your story – but it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s a wealth of help and support out there that can give you the kick up the butt you need to climb the mountainous hurdle of writer’s block and I know I couldn’t have finished most of my stories without my invaluable friends.

What do you think about the above suggestions? Do you have any tips and hints I haven’t covered above? How do you overcome writer’s block mountain?

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I’ll leave you with this little precious nugget of gold sent to me by Gerard Smith:

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Huge thanks to my amazing contributors on Twitter for all their tips and advice on how they combat writer’s block: 

Morgana D. James @MorganaDJames www.morganas-bookbox.com

Rodney V. Smith @RodneyVSmith www.wattpad.com/user/RodneyVSmith

Zeena Gosrani @zeenagos www.wattpad.com/user/NeverTrustADuck

Gerard Smith @francisxyzk www.wattpad.com/user/francisxyzk

Alison Archer @AlisonJArcher

Vee Lozada @BecauseItsVee www.wattpad.com/user/LittleVee

Thord D. Hedengren @tdh www.tdh.se

Madhurima Sappati @MSappatti www.thatbroketraveller.com

Shaun Allan @singularityspnt www.wattpad.com/user/shaunallan

Rebecca Robertson @rebeccajade_ www.rebeccarobertsonbooks.com

Jenny G. Rankin, PHD @JennyGRankin www.jennyrankin.com

Gary Jarvis @garyjarvis1976 www.wattpad.com/user/garyjarvis1976

Kate Y @kateBYac www.wattpad.com/user/MissKatey