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

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Writer Wednesday

#WriterWednesday Dean J. Baker

I have decided that I am going to try to get on here and blog on a more regular basis – famous last words, I hear you cry! But I know I neglect it and my time here is sporadic and hard to follow, so I am going to try (with the best will in the world) to post on a weekly basis. Mondays will be #MusicMonday highlighting a particular band or song that I am currently into. Tuesdays will henceforth be called #TasterTuesday and give excerpts taken from The Dark Sanctuary books and any other works. And Wednesdays will be #WriterWednesday, giving shout outs to other writers who inspire me, whether they be my all-time faves or new finds and indie writers. I haven’t quite worked out what Thursdays and Fridays will be yet. Bear with me as I fear I am being slightly ambitious to think I’ll blog three days in a row anyway…but its always good to have ambition, right?

This weeks #WriterWednesday is a shout out for Dean J. Baker, a poet I found via wordpress.com and twitter. If you have gauged anything from my posts you will have realised that I have a soft spot for poetry, although I am not particularly skilled in writing it myself. At school I had the biggest writer’s crush on Ted Hughes and I always harbour a fondness for those writers who are able to harness words in a way that I never could.

Dean’s words capture great sensuality, romance, passion, anger, torment, soft sentiments about family and love. They always reel me in and I could literally hit that ‘like’ button over every single poem. Hell, screw that, I need an ‘ADORE’ button.

Below is a taster of what you should expect from Dean…..this is a poem he posted on 20th May:

HORATIO SAYS NOT ME

I’m not falling: that’s too silly
I’m not writing poems for you

I’m not staring at your picture
imagining how you move, hearing

Your voice, softly smooth –
what your scent must bring to mind

How you shine differently now
mornings, and southern nights

No, not me: I did not –
I won’t write this either, finally

Please, please go check out Dean’s work, you can find him hanging out at the following places:

http://deanjbaker.wordpress.com

@deanjbaker on Twitter

http://www.facebook.com/#!/DeanJBakerPoetAuthorComposer Dean’s FB page….I hope this link works as I copied and pasted it like the simpleton I am, but if it doesn’t I’m sure you people with more brain cells than me can find him on FB 😉

Anyway, you get the picture, go look him up and enjoy his wonderful words. Or I’ll set the hounds on you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Wading, writing and inflatable armbands.

When my writing and I first dipped our pinkies into the shallow waters of the public pool, it was not done without some weighty trepidation and a massive urge to run back to the safety of land where we could feel nothing but the comforting feeling of warm sand beneath our feet.

I have mentioned before that I wrote for years without ever uttering to a single person that I did so. I don’t doubt for a second that I’m probably not alone in doing that; whether you have love for writing, painting, singing, design, whatever….I’m sure many of you have done the same as me and hidden your passion away, for fear of a negative reaction from your nearest and dearest.

Well that hurdle was well and truly climbed a couple of years ago now and there was only one road that I could really take and that was the path down to the murky waters of the public world. I already had an open twitter account which I basically used to talk to* (*stalk) celebs in the hope one might reply and so it just took a few advanced twitter lessons to learn how to connect with other writers and soon my follower count began to grow quite steadily.

I created this WordPress blog, spent ages staring at the laptop screen, scratching my head and looking suitably confused as I tried to work out what the hell I was doing. A few more lessons from another well-versed WordPress devotee and soon I had the blog looking exactly how I wanted, had linked it to my Facebook and twitter accounts and set about thinking about what I should write about.

My first post (go check it out: Book-writing, Bloodlust and Blogging) focused on my rather nice but dim foray into the world of blogging and how I knew very little about life as a blogger. To be honest, ten months down the line and I still know and understand very little about the world of blogging, and it seems, even less about writing.

Okay, so I can write, but ten months worth of blogging and wading through the waters of the writing community, and I can pretty much say for certain that I don’t understand the writing world at all.

I write because I love to write #thatisall as we like to hashtag on twitter but really that is not all. In fact, it seems a simple love for writing is very much far from all these days. As a writer and one who aspires to get their work out into the public domain and acquire a readership wider than their friends and family, I have discovered you need to have a much wider understanding of the world beyond the written page.

Blogging is something I am still coming to grips with. For a start, I rarely find the time to sit down and come up with a post. I’m not here that often, so I’m already facing a barrier in the sense that random, rare blogging is never going to attract a wide range of readers. Blogging isn’t just about posting your thoughts on-line and wandering off into the sunset, pleased you got that out of your system. It’s about dialogue. It’s about striking up a conversation between yourself and your blog followers. It’s about posting an opinion or a story or poem and asking your followers “So what’s your take on this? What do you think? How did this make you feel?”.

If like me, you don’t blog very often, your dialogue is going to be limited to a few supportive comments from family and friends and if you’re lucky, the odd constructive comment from someone who you don’t have dinner with on a Sunday lunchtime. Hell, I still get excited when someone hits that ‘like’ button.

Secondly, there’s the twitter writing community. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have been lucky enough to meet some amazing writers through twitter but out of over 1000 followers, the majority of whom are writers, I probably talk regularly to maybe just thirty-forty of those. Is that usual? I just don’t know. Maybe I jut don’t make enough effort to connect with people, but the truth is the writing community scares me a bit.

I see people who are completely on top of their game and know exactly how to master the twitter and blogging world. Most of the time I’m in a daze, baffled by everyone’s ability to self-promote, self-market, blog, re-blog, blog-hop, blog-tour and review without batting an eye-lid. People talk about writing groups, beta readers, editing, cover designs, writing forums, e-publishing and traditional publishing with such knowledge and expertise, that I’m completely bedazzled by it and embarrassed that I know practically nothing.

If anything, I find it all very daunting and pretty damn scary and I’m tempted to go scuttling back into my shell and pretend the outside world doesn’t exist.

But, the truth is that I can’t. If I want more people than my dad, brother and close-knit group of friends to read my work (and I really do) then I need to keep dipping my feet in the shallows until finally I’m ready to tread the waters like everyone else.

I will do it. Only excuse me if I happen to be wearing an inflatable rubber ring and matching armbands just in case.

 

 

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If you can’t hear a gunshot, did someone really die?

Bullets, Bourbon & Brass by Kim Karter – A Review

Okay, so as you all know, I am becoming a seasoned veteran of new genre reading challenges. Throw me a genre I wouldn’t usually take a second glance at and I’m there with my saddle and riding hat, ready to rodeo that book into oblivion.

Step into the spotlight, Kim Karter and her gloriously lush Southern novella, Bullets, Bourbon & Brass.

As is the way these days, I met Kim via Twitter some months ago and found myself promising to read her work, albeit with false grin and over-enthusiastically nodding head.

“Southern fiction?” I thought “I’m British. I know practically as much about the southern counties of the U.S as I do about fly fishing. Now I’ve gone and said I’d read it. Crap.”

So now I know you’re thinking….”Well you could have said you read it but not actually read it.”

But I can’t do that either. If I tell another author I’m going to read their work, then I’ll read it. Then I’ll worry later what to say if I really didn’t like it. For me, that’s a kind of unwritten law.

In this case, thankfully, I didn’t have to worry about what I’d say to Kim.

Bullets, Bourbon & Brass centres around Jackie Dawson, kick-ass Southern Kingpin who not only has her fingers in every bootlegging or gambling pie in the state of Alabama, she made those pies and owns them with a ruthless, cutting edge that would make any male gangster’s balls shrivel to the size of walnut.

Jackie-Daddy, as she is known, is no dolly-bird mafia wanna-be, reliant on her looks to win her way to the top of Alabama’s criminal underworld. She is a gun-toting, ball-crushing, Jim Beam drinking bank-robber that wastes no time in dealing with those that cross her and never apologies for taking you, the reader along for the very bumpy and very violent ride.

Released early from a long stretch at Kentucky prison thanks to the dodgy Governor, Jackie is thrown straight back into trouble when she comes up against the White clan, eager to take over the Dawson empire. With her love, Lily-Anne in grave danger, Jackie knows she has to step up and show the White’s just who has the biggest balls in town.

The story line bucks and kicks like a rodeo stallion; it’s fast-paced, powerful and unrelenting. The characters are captivating, energetically well-written and have more grit than John Wayne. The violence probably will make you wince once or twice, but in a kind of adrenalin-filled-rooting-for-Jackie kind of way.

A a female reader, it’s refreshing to find a female lead who can stand up to the toughest of men but all you male readers out there won’t be disappointed as this book has a hard-enough edge to keep you gripped from start to finish.

Coming from The School of Paranormal and All Things That Go-bump-in-the-night-and-want-to-scare-the-shit-out-of-you, I wasn’t sure what my elitist horror tendencies would make of this  book but I’m pleased to say that I was soon swept into the action and found myself wishing that I did know more about Southern fiction than I did about fly-fishing.

And now, fortunately, I can say that I do and I will definitely be going back for more.

You can find Bullets, Bourbon & Brass on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

You can also find Kim on Twitter @Kim_Karter or on wordpress.com  at http://kimkarter.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Where for art thou, Kindle?

Forgive me WordPress, it has been 12 days since my last post.

I always seem to start these with an apology don’t I? Well, I guess everyone has worked out that I’m pretty crap at this blogging lark by now so maybe I should dispense with the apologies.Let’s get onto business……

It’s been an eventful weekend.

Flu came to visit on Friday like the unwelcome family member no one wants to answer the door to. It’s still here, abusing the medicine cabinet, helping itself to hot drinks, and generally making everyone miserable in the process.

The little guy was sick three times yesterday. Always fun and written in the small print of The Parenthood Contract together with them insisting that you accompany them to the toilet every time you sit down to blog/read/eat/watch TV and having to cope with them throwing themselves on the supermarket floor in a tantrum (which incidentally also happened this weekend *cue fixed grin*).

Had to drag my scarecrow hairstyle to the shop to get Calpol. I’m pretty sure the five metre radius around me in the till queue had nothing to do with the fact I smelt so strongly of Olbas Oil it was burning people’s retinas.

Dragged my scarecrow hairstyle back to the shop ten minutes later when I realised we were out of dog food and the poor mutt was practically digging a hole in the floor in an attempt to get next door and devour the neighbours.

The dog was sick on the floor today.

Five minutes later the little guy threw up in exactly the same place. Praise be to the god of laminate flooring.

Oh and I managed to get some reading done. I finished reading Atticus For The Undead by John Abramowitz, a legal paranormal thriller that I thoroughly enjoyed and will be writing a review on (when flu gets evicted this week).

In fact, this set me thinking about the amount of reading I have managed to actually achieve this year. I’ve mentioned before on this blog about how at some point I sadly lost my reading mojo and I can thankfully say that with much thanks given to my Christmas Kindle, I have gone some way to resurrecting my first love from the shallow grave in which it had been cruelly discarded.

Now I know it certainly wouldn’t beat any records, but January saw three books finished and I actually see that as a great start to the year. I’m not a New Year’s Resolution Maker by any means, but if I was ever to make one, then reading more would definitely be the one to make. It’s certainly one I would enjoy, to put it mildly. Forget dieting. Forget abstaining from chocolate/alcohol/googling Caleb Followill.

I was definitely most sceptical when I first heard about the Kindle or the e-book reader in general. I recall standing in front of the display in Waterstones with one of my very good friends and I said “What do we think about all this e-book malarkey then?” (Note: We always ask each other what we think, because more often than not our opinions are one and the same on many things from books to the fact that printed leggings are a no-no). And oh how we scoffed at the little skinny device as it sat lonely on the shelf as every customer walked past and headed to the shelves all filled with the most beautiful, curvaceous books.

But, probably over a year down the line, I am (gasp if you want) more than happy to admit I was wrong.

That little skinny device is genius! That thin, sleek beauty is the ying to my yang; the ketchup to my fries; the Marge to my Homer; the…..oh well, you get it I’m sure.

It is safe to say that the Kindle is a much welcome guest in my home and it’s feet are so firmly under the proverbial kitchen table that I have decided to adopt it and keep it close forever and ever. Amen.

Don’t get me wrong, the book, with its sumptuously voluptuous pages and glossy cover will always hold a firm place in my heart but I don’t see any reason why I cannot share the literary bed with both these beautiful creatures?

Greedy, some might think. Open-minded, I prefer to say.

I can’t even tell you why the Kindle has revived my love for reading. Maybe it’s the accessibility of so many books literally at my fingertips. Wander through the Amazon store, browse from the comfort of your sofa and hey presto! A book is delivered directly to you at the click of a button. (Warning: Clicking that button too many times can seriously damage your bank balance so beware!) Maybe it’s because I see so many of my twitter writing family have realised their own dreams by publishing to the Kindle and can visualise my own work, sitting alongside theirs.

Whatever it may be, it’s a mystery. But I would urge anyone with a love for reading who hasn’t yet succumbed to the delicious temptation of the e-book, to loosen the shackles of scepticism and cross the divide.

And if you don’t quite have the courage to commit full-on adultery to the paper book and go spend your cash on a much younger, sleeker model……download an e-book reader app and dip your toes in the water to see if you like it.

You might just be as surprised as I was.

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Mrs Mojo Rising……

It’s fair to say that over the past couple of years I have somehow lost my reading mojo.

WHAT?? I hear you all shriek.

Yep. I know. And I am mightily ashamed of it, trust me.

Reading has always been a huge part of my life. From Enid Blyton when I was younger, to the pre-teen years of Judy Blume and then moving into the world of horror not long after that with James Herbert and Stephen King, I have always read and could never understand those that didn’t.

And then suddenly, reluctantly, I became one of those people. Life simply took over. I went from reading two books a week to barely two book in six months. My never-ending cycle of work, being a mum, insomnia, exhausted me to the point that something had to give and one of those things was reading. The one thing I always used to calm my soul, the one thing I used to escape reality for a while, the one past-time that I loved above all others and all of a sudden, I felt it slipping through my fingers.

The weird thing is that throughout the whole drought, I kept on buying books. I would spend ages in the book store, running my fingers along the spines, falling for the beautifully designed covers and drinking in the synopsis of each one and feeling the hunger still there, burning inside, so I would buy one or two and carry them home in my bag, feeling guilty that they would probably sit on my bookshelf untouched.

I also had a pile of barely started books on my bedside table and in the end I moved them to the other room, so I wouldn’t have to feel their accusatory glares.

And then I somehow managed to see a light at the end of the tunnel. My friend had bought me a box set of J.R Wards Black Dagger Brotherhood series which also had been confined to the bookcase for sometime until one day I thought what the hell and picked one up. I won’t say it was a quick road to recovery, it took me a while to get into the first book. I started. I stopped. I lingered. I started again and then before I knew it, the book was completed. Okay so I will admit it probably took a month but the feeling of finishing that first book was pure elation! The next book was finished within half that time and before I knew it I was on the last book in the box set.

I was hooked! Totally addicted to the characters. Each book was about a different vampire Brother and I couldn’t wait to learn more about each one and see where their journey would take them.

Father Christmas arrived and kindly bought me a Kindle in return for a mince pie, beer and carrot for Rudolph and I couldn’t wait to start consuming more wonderful words.

First stop: Things to Do in Denver When You’re Undead by Mark Everett, a writer I came across on twitter. I was in paranormal fiction heaven! If you haven’t looked this one up, I would whole-heartedly recommend it. Centering around Kal Hakala, senior agent for the Bureau of Supernatural Investigations, Mark catapults us into a world of ghouls, vampires, zombies and magicians and I was thrown in so deep, I didn’t want it to ever end. Luckily for me, I get to keep Kal with me a little longer, having just downloaded What Happens in Vegas, Dies in Vegas.

Next stop: The Book of Lost Souls by another twitter friend and talented author, Michelle Muto. I’m three chapters in and loving it and can already feel the characters tightening their hold in a magical way.

Hello mojo, oh how I’ve missed you!