No False Stops

With the long crawl of time a coldness in my heart a numbness in my mind I exhale droplets into the air and fast they fall like hail from clouds they smash to the ground I step to the platform edge I am a face of rage torn today my world has no tomorrow or no yesterday I am a woman scorned with no poems forged I hear countless raps of repetitive trains on repetitive mornings those early mornings when you are drinking water to wash the dust and dead skin from your dried-out throat and your dried-out eyes they no longer cry under the fluorescent lights where office suits and ties weigh you up weigh up your life when you hide behind your frizzy hair burned out from under summer’s long stare styled in tongs for too long brushed a billion times until the fallen strands become a train pad for selfish suits to comfortably sit with their legs crossed their newspapers upright their eyes fixed on Financial Times numbers stocks and shares supressed in their minds I wonder how weak we must be to ride the endless rock the endless rap motion upon track and ballast the rap rock sound a dismal rap track a dismal ballad without love we stand on a platform edge swaying we stare at the back of knitted-hat heads in cold feet with cold heart with cold stare we wait for the doors to open

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My happenings…

Hi Readers,

I hope you are all well and you are having a fabulously creative year!

I have been busy reading books this year (more than writing) and I am happily on track to meet my reading goal of 12 books. I have read 8 so far this year. This is not too bad with a nine month old baby pulling at the pages as I feed her!

I have been reading quite a few Quick Reads books of late which I have loaned from the local libary. I love to support my local library as I feel it has such a vital part to play in the health of the community. When I walk in I often see babies and children in the children section, either reading or attending a monthly class. I often see elderly people relaxing with a newspaper and students looking up books in the reference section. A library is a wondrous places for people of every age. It crosses so many paths and lives.

Today, I finished reading a Quick Reads horror story called ‘The Little One’, by Lynda La Plante, which I found to be excellent. The story was one where the paranormal meets human; a subject I am always fascinated with. Keeping in mood, but slightly different in theme, my next read is going to be another Quick Reads book called ‘Wrong Place, Wrong Time’, by Simon Kernick. It is basically about friends who go out hiking and encounter a half-naked girl who cannot speak English. She is running away from someone and it is up to the friends to decide whether they should help her, even if it means putting themselves in danger. Ths synopsis totally grips me and I am so excited to read it.

I have been posting reviews on Goodreads for some time now. Some reviews are more detailed than others and some contain my views from a writer’s perspective. I guess that there are certain books that don’t leave much to say and so ask for a very simplified review – not to say these are bad books – but they are books that perhaps didn’t spark anything substantial to note down. Then there are those reviews in which I ramble and cannot get my words out quickly enough as I am filled with inspiration.

So what else have I been up to? Well in the beginning of July, I attended the amazing Buckingham Literary Festival, over three days. There I attended two talks by well known authors, Peter James, Louise Doughty and Clare Mackintosh – where I received signed copies of there books. These talks were super inspiring with the authors talking about their inspirations, how they approach writing and their thoughts on the Police unit. I have lots of notes on the talks, which I intend to write up and post on here very soon. I also attended two talks on writing; one on fiction writing and one on publishing. Again, I have lots of notes from these which I shall share with you in the near future. At the festival, I had been given a leaflet about a fiction writing class, which well known author Judith Allnatt will be heading. I signed up immediately and I cannot wait to attend in October. As writers, I think it is wonderful to find a network of people in the same world as you. There are so many wonderful literary festivals in the United Kingdom, and I am noting down Hay festival as a must visit for next year.

Readers, on a different note, have you heard of Trello? Last week, I discovered the Trello app by chance. It is a project management app, but one which I believe will also be perfect for my novel planning and research. With Trello you can collect all of your ideas, notes, images and keep them together in a given order via a card system. I am now using it for my first novel and I really think this is going to help me make quicker progress with that all essential ‘dipping in’ and ‘dipping out’ system that seems to work between baby feeds and nappy changes. I really recommend you try this app, if like me you tend to have bits of your novel everywhere and in no particular order.

Lastly, if you would like to keep up to date with my literary happenings, then please do follow me on Twitter and Facebook and Goodreads, which I use for all those little posts that I don’t necessarily want to use on my blog. I do like to keep my blog exclusive to my writing, occasional updates and book reviews. You can find me here;

Facebook Author Page link;

https://www.facebook.com/alittlebirdtweets/

Twitter Author Account link;

alittlebirdtweets (@alittlebirdtwee) on Twitter

Goodreads as Donna Henderson

I hope to see you there!

Best Wishes,

Donna x

Union Chapel

Crimson, mauve lights, flicker on smooth nineteenth century stone and converse in round whirlpools. The interval. A cello is off-key, eager to catch the racy strum and leg-kick of the bassplayer. Or is that just the distorted sound of Jazz? Eager mouths, alive with applaud, contort into triangles and squares in round stained glass windows. Hundreds of guts wreathe with laughter. And the white suited joker, mic taller than him, his hands reaching up, exhales his final line, his brow gaped in wonder at their very wonder of him. And I can feel the musk air that has likely never seen light, seep through the long varnished seating and into my bare thighs, letting out a shudder just like the kick of ginger root beer that catches my tonsils, my breath. I swallow, knowing that in this very minute, this moment, the world is sparkling and thriving and alive. I swallow, unaware we have escaped the gunshots, the explosives, the blades, only three miles away, or thereabouts, at London Bridge.

A new year…

Hello Readers,

I hope you are all well and you had a fantastic and creative 2016 – and a most marvellous Christmas and New Year celebrations.

I had an amazing year due to some big and spectacular life changes which I am going to tell you about shortly. These life events took priority over my writing and reading which is the reason why I haven’t updated my blog in a good few months – so I apologise if I haven’t managed to reply to your likes and comments. I will do. I promise.

On 1st October, me and my fiance Paul moved into our new house. I was heavily pregnant at the time so it had been a struggle for us both. But when all of the boxes were in the new home and the door clicked closed, we had let out a sigh of relief. We were in at last and we could take our time. Two months on and we are now practically sorted – bar a couple of rooms to be painted and furnished. We arrived in our new home in autumn/winter and we cannot wait to spend some summer days in our first garden.

Even bigger news than the house – on 23rd October we gave birth to our beautiful daughter Delilah, whom will be eleven weeks tomorrow. She was two weeks early and weighed 6lb10oz. I will be posting a photo on my facebook author page if you are curious as to what her little face looks like. Her character is developing very quicky and she is already smiling at rattles and toys and sucking her hands. We are so very happy that she will have her own nursery – a room that will be hers to enjoy for many years to come – and will no doubt undergo many transformations as she grows. We will certainly be filling it with many books. I want her mind to be filled with wonderful stories to stir her imagination. I am proud to say that Delilah has also joined the local library and has her very own library card – you can’t start books too soon. I visualise us spending many Saturday mornings in the library browsing the shelves.

Now that we are in January, and the festivities have come and gone, I really do feel that I can take a deep breath from life and begin to focus on my creativity again. I will be on maternity leave for a year and not only am I excited about spending this special time strengthening my bond with Delilah, I am also excited about the freedom that I am going to have to read books and write (in between those baby naps). Prior to maternity leave, I was commuting long-lengths into London, and tiredness would often overwhelm me and pierce my creativity bubble. I would manage to write, but most often with tired eyes. Although I do still get tired, I can honestly say that commuting and work is a tougher kind of tired than being baby tired. So I feel that this year is going to be a fabulously creative one.

Today, I started reading Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty – my first read of the year. I managed to read ten books in 2016, so this year my aim is a realistic twelve books. Instead of writing a to-read list as with previous years, this year I am keeping it random. Although, I do want to delve into more of Dean Koontz’ books. They always stay in my mind.

As always, I will be looking forward to staying connected with you all, meeting new bloggers and reading all of your wonderful and inspiring posts.

Wishing you all a Happy New Year,

Catch you soon,

Donna x

Book Review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

​Hi Readers,

Yesterday, I finished reading the thriller, ‘The Girl on the Train’, by Paula Hawkins, and I must say that this was a complete page-turner from the very beginning. Before I continue, please note that the following review does contain spoilers. So if you are planning to read the book I advise you stop reading now. As some of you may be aware from my previous book posts, I tend to analyse and review books from a writer’s perspective; as a means to teach me to become a better writer, and this can sometimes mean giving away elements of the book.

The first thing that grabbed my attention with this book (and actually made me buy the book) was the title, and the fact that I am also ‘a girl on the train!’ I have commuted on trains into London for eight years now, and I have used different lines on the London Underground, depending on where I have lived. From the very first description of setting in the book, I was reminded of Putney Bridge (on the District line) and my days of looking out of the train windows at the Victorian houses and the roof terraces. The fact that you can see up-close into the gardens and windows of the houses had a strong link with the real setting in the novel. I believe that the subject of the train, commuting, and the passing of numerous houses on the journey is quite a universal subject in which every human can relate. I also believe that the universal theme is what makes the book so successful. It certainly makes me think of my own work and themes as a writer – would I want my work to relate to a majority of people, or the entire world?

The Girl on the Train is a straight-forward read when it comes to the thriller genre. The reading focuses entirely on the characters and plot, which every great novel should do. There are no over-arty sentences or paragraphs, and there are certainly no over-the-top descriptions, as with some other books that I have read in the genre. Although I am a lover of poetry and creative descriptions, there is a time and place when it comes to novels. I find that sometimes over-used description can have a detrimental effect on the progress of the story, slow it down, and often irritate me as a reader. I think a great solution is to weave in the beautiful settings and descriptions through the actions, which I think this novel does brilliantly.

The book follows the perspective of three women. Rachel is the lead character ‘the girl on the train’, and she becomes entwined in the lives of Megan and Anna, from what she witnesses on the train, on her daily commute. As a trio of characters, together they slowly reveal a love/murder mystery, and this occurs through different time-frames (dates and times which are printed on the heading of each chapter). I particularly love the first-person perspective in writing and it works wonderfully with these three characters; each of them has their own unique voice and personality, yet there is a similarity in voice that ties them together. Although the first person can be a restrictive point-of-view (in that you only get to experience the story through that characters eyes and thoughts) you do tend to get the strongest connection between character and reader with this view-point – because it is as though the character is talking to us, the reader, directly. I think had Paula only told us the story from Rachel’s perspective then the book would have certainly felt restricted, but the fact that we have three characters narrate, makes the novel much more rounded and colourful. And whilst I am speaking of characters, another element I particularly loved about this book was the small number of characters. There were just enough to make the novel interesting, yet not too many characters which can make us feel disconnected and confused.

There was one element in the book that I did find rather annoying, and this was the author’s tendency to over-mention Rachel’s alcoholism. Rachel has an alcohol addiction, which although is very relevant to the story and how she acts as a character, the repetitive ‘nipping to the off-license’ and ‘going to the fridge to grab wine’ scenes became irritating. When you find yourself feeling this way when reading, you have to ask yourself, as a reader and a writer, ‘Is there a need to mention it again? Does it do anything for the story, move the scene forward? How many times do we need to be told this? Readers are intelligent, and sometimes it need only take several mentions to get us to be aware of the character’s habit. I think it was important for us to be aware that Rachel was an alcoholic, and I can understand the repetitiveness to a certain degree, but I think this was one thing that was negative about the read, mainly because it took my thoughts away from the story.

Although I loved the book and it had me gripped, I must admit that I did find the ending to be rather rushed and very ‘convenient’. I got the impression that the author had written the ending first, as many authors do, and this was probably because of the faster pacing towards the end. The wrapping up of loose ends and any holes were perfectly applied by Paula, but I did find that the end suddenly ‘jumped’, just to meet the advice of the writing books. For instance, we know a character must nearly always change and learn something by the end of the story, but Rachel suddenly gives up alcohol for 12 weeks and moves to a new place without any natural push from the plot.

Overall, this was a great book, and I highly recommend it. Especially if you like your characters to be a little strange and if you like a little mystery that needs to be unravelled.

This is the ninth book that I have read this year, and I am so delighted to have read it before the movie is released in the UK in October – I can’t wait to see it! It is always a pleasure to get to read the book before the movie – especially when you get those spoilers whom tell you about the movie and end up ruining the book.

Until next time,

Best Wishes,

Donna x

It’s all happening…

Hello Readers,

It has been a while since I have posted on my blog, and this has been due to two very big reasons. Firstly, me and my fiance are expecting our first baby in November, and secondly, we are also due to move into a new house in the next few months (fingers crossed!). Two big life-changing events running in parallel. As you can imagine, life has become very busy with mountains of organising, paperwork and to-do lists! My head sometimes floats from one idea to the other, like a game of tennis.

Although my writing has been slack, I have been fortunate to find the time to keep up with my reading – which has been my welcome escape route when I have needed to switch off from all that has been going on. I read mostly on my London Underground commutes to work, and I get a good number of pages in over that hour and ten minutes each way. I am currently reading ‘The Skeleton Cupboard’ by Tanya Byron, which is an absolutely amazing read. Tanya recounts her life as a trainee psychologist during some short stories – which are all about her meeting and treating patients with psychological problems. Although they are recounts, obviously some of the facts had to be fictionalized due to patient confidentiality. The stories are very moving, even chilling at times, and if you love psychology then this is a must-read.

I am also reading a couple of baby books. One which takes you through the stages of pregnancy. And another called ‘Baby Sense’ by Megan Faure and Ann Richardson, which is particulary interesting as it delves into the world of baby senses and how they connect with the world around them. I have also been glancing through a baby names book. I am thinking that these reads will definitely benefit my writing with regards to character development and creation. The baby psychology that I have already learned could be very useful material should I ever find myself creating baby characters – a world I haven’t yet delved into! The baby names book is also guaranteed to provide me with endless inspiration in character naming too. The book gives a brief definition against the name which is always intriguing to read. As writers, we certainly know the importance of choosing a meaningful name for a chatacter in fiction.

I am hoping to get a new written piece of fiction on my blog in the next few days. The new worlds and new inspirations that I have encountered in the past few months can only but colour my writing (I hope!). 

I will still be visiting all of your wonderful blogs too, now and forever. I promise.

Until next time, happy reading and writing my dear WordPress friends.

Best Wishes,

Donna

Fluttering

May your golden wings fall from the sky,
Shatter into fragments,
At my feet.

May your fingers twist my wounds,
Prompt my arms to flail like an
Inquisitive insect.

May you whisper timeless lyrics,
Mutate them,
Into significance.

May the last nine strums of your mandolin play.

@alittlebirdtweets2016

Prism Dreams

I long to roll down the river called Prism Dreams; to feel the night sky percolate the open pores of my skin. But I heard that the riverboat overturned last winter; had kicked all of the stars out of kilter, had halted the flicker of dragonfly wings under a wearisome moon. I heard that life had become receptive to the fear that had flourished in the eyes of the submerged.

@alittlebirdtweets2016

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Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Hello Readers,

Last week, I finished reading ‘Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed, and since then I have been organizing the review notes that I had typed into my phone whilst I read the book. The review notes were typed mainly on my commute to work, with my phone rested on the opened book. I was switching from reading to typing, which proved to be tricky in those moments when I had no seat, and the train had me rocking me back and forth!

In the past, I have had the tendency to over-analyse books whilst reading them, and this has been due to me wanting to untangle, discover and capture every writing element that I possibly can from the book. Although this process has taught me to better understand writing, I also think that it has slowed my reading, which in turn, has gone on to impact my annual reading goals. So this year, I am going to attempt to analyse a book ‘naturally’, rather than force the process. But, this will require me to have my sixth sense ‘open all hours’, and it will require me to capture those important messages when they magically emerge. During this sixth-sense process, I will look to capture emotional triggers, theme, symbolism, notable progressions in plot, character changes, description etc. And as always, I will include these discoveries in my reviews, to share with my readers, and other writers.

Before I begin my review of Wild, I would like to highlight to any new readers that might be reading, that I analyse and review books from a writing perspective (not from a synopsis step-by-step perspective). My reviews will certainly contain spoilers, (including elements of plot) so please bear this in mind if you plan to read the book, or watch the movie. But please do revisit once you have experienced it with your own eyes.

In a nutshell – Wild is about a young girl called Cheryl Strayed, who decides to backpack along the Pacific Crest Trail, in America, following the devastating loss of her Mother, the breakdown of her family, and the crumbling of her marriage. It is a non-fiction book, and Cheryl Strayed, is the author and main character in the book.

I have always had a fondness for books with an ‘adventure’ plot – plots where a character decides to embark on a journey, either for the purpose of escape and self-discovery, or because they are intrigued and excited by unknown lands. I have read some breath-taking books that contain such story-lines – The Backpacker by John Harris, The Beach by Alex Garland, Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien. These are books that have certainly opened my senses, and have taught me more about the world we live in. These books have also managed to rekindle the child in me – the child that desired adventure – the child that had spent countless summer holidays riding her bike with her younger sister (and pet Chihuahuas) in parks, woods and streets, seeking an imaginary world far beyond the one we knew.

Wild is written in the first-person point-of-view. The first-person point-of-view creates the closest protagonist-reader connection. It is certainly the best choice of perspective for this book, and any book where focus needs to be placed on the main character and his/her perspective of the world within the story (and where less focus needs to be placed on the perspectives and thoughts of other characters).

Backstory is introduced mostly when Cheryl’s memory is triggered by an event or situation in the present that directly links to an event or situation in her past. I haven’t noted this connection with any other book that I have read until now, so it is certainly an exciting discovery. One example of the present-to-past connection is when Cheryl touches the image of her own horse tattoo. The image of the horse directs her thoughts to her Mother, and allows Cheryl to describe her Mother’s desire for owning and riding a horse, and her life with a horse that she had come to own later on. This connection allows the writer to introduce deceased and past characters that are no longer a physical part of the character’s life, but are yet still very much alive and breathing in his/her mind. During this process, the writer has the chance to choose the best scenes in which to capture the personality of that character, and the reasons for their part in the story. During the present-to-past scenes, we get to witness Cheryl’s childhood – scenes that include her Mother, Father and Step-Father and siblings, as well as her more recent-past, romantic relationships. These scenes contribute to the various themes in the story, which help to build on the reader’s emotional response at the end. These past scenes slowly teach us to understand Cheryl’s history, and why she came to journey the Pacific Crest Trail.

In the early part of the story, we see Cheryl prepare her backpack with various essential and non-essential items. As writers, we must ensure that an item we introduce in the early part of a story is introduced in the later part of the story. This is an essential element in writing. One of the items that Cheryl introduces early on, whilst packing, is a whistle – and later we witness her blow the whistle to deter animals. Cheryl decided to name her backpack Monster, due to its heaviness and burden (symbolic of carrying a load), and she learned key lessons along the way. Characters informed her that certain items were not required for the journey and were only weighing her down. Cheryl had also carried books with her, and so she learned to rip and burn the pages of books that she had read at night (in her tent). A list of books burned and those not burned are listed at the end of the book, which is quite fascinating. It is from these books that we are informed of other writers and poets that inspired her.

During her journey along the Pacific Crest Trail, Cheryl describes the changing scenery that she witnesses. It is in these moments that she gives the most beautiful and poetic sentences. As a writer, I believe that the best time to ‘play poet’ is when describing a setting. Cheryl describes the setting through her five senses. She describes trees and plants by their names, which definitely assists in creating good description. We know from the story that she came to know these trees and plants species either from her experience of living in her hometown of Minnesota, or from the guide books that she carries with her on her journey. This brings to mind ‘intelligence of the character’. As writers, we must ensure that the intelligence of our characters is accurately translated through their thought, knowledge and dialogue. We cannot expect a character to be informed about something if that something has never been experienced in their life. I believe it is a wonderful thing when a writer provides the reader with new, interesting, and factual information about the world we live in. It’s a gift from the author.

Conflict is a crucial writing element in any book. Without conflict, we have characters that are unchallenged, and able to reach their goal easily. As readers we want to see our characters stumble and fall, because it makes the victory in the end feel so much better. Also, as readers, we also want to learn from their difficult situations and understand what we would do if we were faced with a similar situation. On finishing a book, a reader should feel that they have been on that peak and trough journey along with the character, and that they too have learned from the experience.

Conflict exists in various forms within Wild. There are internal and external conflicts that challenge Cheryl’s journey – and these are all used to different degrees, from minor to life-threatening. From the outset, Cheryl questions her ability to walk the trail. But she continues, pushes forward, and finds comfort through her connection with nature and the universe, and through the encouraging words from characters that she meets along the way. The external conflicts and obstacles included; meeting / potentially meeting various dangerous animals such as mountain lions, rattlesnakes and bulls, encounters with strange men (as a female solo traveller), extreme weathers (that threatened her survival), a lack of supplies (water) which threatened her life, and external forces such as companies letting her down with deliveries (her new boots). During these scenes of desperation, the plot had me thinking, ‘Is she going to make the journey?’, ‘Will she be involved in a terrible incident, or even die?’ The suspense was great, and I was on the edge of my seat throughout wondering about her outcome. Internal conflict came mostly from Cheryl’s past, and with her having to deal with the emotions and trauma that arose from it.

Conflict also came from ‘trail’ information (dialogue) that was given to Cheryl via other characters. These were conflicts that would have impacted her future journey – conflicts such as heavy snow on the trail beyond, and wild fires happening nearby. I thought this added to the suspense of the story and boosted the ‘What will happen?’ question that was on my mind throughout reading. The information gave me a glimpse into the kinds of dangers that she was about to face ahead. At this point I was asking ‘Will she continue? The story was very powerful in capturing the past, the present and the future. I liked how the story lived in all three places in time.

As mentioned previously, Cheryl encounters numerous characters along her journey, ranging from fellow travellers to local people that live in the places she passes. Cheryl enters into dialogue with these characters, and it is through the other character’s speech that we see Cheryl from different perspectives. This really helps to round her character. Dialogue is a particularly strong method with which to illustrate other character perspectives on a particular character, especially when the story is in a first-person point-of-view. Cheryl meets and separates with several friends along the way. The friendship characters inform her about information on the trail, they give her tips on how to use backpacking equipment (such as an ice axe), they inform her on how she can lighten the backpack load, and they also provide her with words of wisdom, which helps to give her strength. Two characters give her spiritual mascots to take on her journey (a Bob Marley t-shirt and a Black Feather). The black feather acts as symbolism in the novel – meaning ‘renewal’. Cheryl also embarked on a 24-hour romance that highlighted her loneliness, and her weakness for men. It is something she disliked about herself, and by the end of the story we witness her change (as she doesn’t take up the offer of a date with a businessman she crosses paths with at the end of the book). Throughout the story, Cheryl opts to leave other characters in order to be alone, and I believe that it was in the moments in which she was alone that she was healing the most.

Throughout the journey, Cheryl reaches milestones, and we are told of them throughout the book. It is important to keep the reader on par with the time-frame of a story, and in this particular story the nautical miles covered was the most suitable form. We watch the days pass and the nights arrive, and this also acts as a great short-term time-frame. A day beginning and a day ending can form great frames for creating scenes. Milestones also helped her with her own journey because it was a way in which she could track her progress. The milestones also informed the reader of specific geographical places and the distances between them. Kennedy Meadows, known as the gateway to High Sierra, was one of Cheryl’s most anticipated milestones, and we really feel the distance involved in her reaching this particular point. As her journey progressed, we see how she began to connect with nature and how it helped to soothe her internal pain (pain from family, relationships, drug abuse) and external pain (ruined feet, sore hips). She grows stronger and stronger with each passing day, and her mind and body are changing for the better. Character change is such an important element in writing, and this book is a fine example of a character changing both internally and externally.

Cheryl witnessed her own physical change, in the form of a mirror. She glimpses a look at her new athletic frame, and she wonders how Greg (her 24 hour romance) will view her. She also experiences her own change in taste for food and drink, and she caves into luxuries such as Snapple lemonade and ice-cream. She turns to foods that she would never have been drawn to in her previous life. When she hears music for the first time in days (whilst being picked up in a truck), she realizes how much she had taken the sounds for granted. Cheryl is aware that she is changing, and the reader is given examples through several of the senses.

At the end of the book, she feels the desire to touch the Bridge of the Gods, the final part of the trail – this is the finishing moment – like the breaking of the tape after running a marathon. During the trail, she often contemplated where she would live afterwards, and regularly mentioned that she would move to Portland with a friend. She does just this, and manages to write this very book, both in Portland, and in other locations.

Cheryl tells us how she would never have known that she would be married with children, that she would have tracked down friends from the trail. This is definitely information that the reader would have wanted to know. Because the book was about healing and finding strength, we would have felt cheated without it. As writers, we should always be asking ourselves whether we are including everything that we need to within our writing. We should ask ourselves, ‘Will the reader have any remaining questions once they have finished the book?’

Lastly, there is one powerful sentence that Cheryl mentions in the book, and for me it summarizes the entire novel perfectly.

“It was the idea of not doing it that scared me.”

Wild was an inspiring and exciting read, and it is certainly a story that will stay in my mind (along with all of the other wonderful adventure stories that I am grateful to have discovered in my life).

Until next time,

Happy reading and writing!

Donna x

@alittlebirdtweets2016

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My 2016 Reading List

Hello Readers,

Firstly, I would like to wish all of my fellow blogger friends a happy and creative 2016. Let’s hope it is a successful one for us!

In 2015, I read 13 books out of a planned 36 books, which wasn’t a huge achievement, and is certainly something that I aim to make up for in 2016.

The low reading number was mostly due to other life commitments, and also due to a year of meeting and staying with ‘bad books’. By ‘bad books’, I mean those books that spark your interest several chapters in, but then curve-off in interest, thereafter. For me, the ‘curve-off’ has been mostly due to the plot either become boring, or me not caring enough about the developments or outcome of the main character. In these ‘curve-off’ moments, I have found my mind wandering over to grocery lists or gliding through social media newsfeeds. But even so, I forced myself to stay with the books. A regret. But certainly a learning curve.

*Please note that I use the term ‘bad books’ for personal use only. I am aware that although I might not enjoy the books, it doesn’t necessarily make them ‘bad books’ in the wider universe.

But this bad book situation we all find ourselves in from time to time, creates a tricky dilemma for us as readers. Should we abandon a book, or should we stay with it? I guess the best way to answer this, is to ask ourselves, ‘Are we reading for the pleasure, or are we reading in order to develop our writing skills?’ If we are reading for the pleasure, then I’d advise abandoning a bad book. But for honing our writing skills, then I’d advise staying with it. They can colour your world and shape your skills as a writer.

For me, there have been many reasons for staying with a bad book. The first reason has partly been for achievement purposes – for getting my book count in. I felt that after investing time in several chapters of a book, that it would be a waste not to capture that time spent reading. This is plain awful.

Sometimes the reason has been due to wanting to know if the character makes it through, or finding out whodunnit? This is a great example of when an author has created a marvellous main character, but has lagged on the plot. But as a writer, this also tells me that creating great, rounded, characters for readers is a highly important aspect of writing. It means that a reader (including myself) is willing to stay with a book even with a lousy plot.

Sometimes, I have decided to stay with a bad book long after that ‘curve-off’ moment, in order to identify the elements that I dislike in the book; so that I don’t adopt them in my own work.

I have always been aware of, and believe in, the concept, ‘bad books can teach you as much as the good books, when it comes to developing writing skills.’ But I do believe that the ‘reading for writing’ direction can really put a damper on reading books for pure pleasure. So this year I am going to read for the pleasure! I am going to crush my curiosity over character outcomes, and I will remind myself, that spending time on ‘bad books’ is time lost on ‘good books’. But hopefully, I will still identify little ‘dislikes’ even in those good books. Because my favourite saying is, ‘the sweet ain’t as sweet without the sour.’

I will be writing reviews on every good book that I read this year. How will I develop these reviews? Well rather than analyse writing continually as I read (as I have done in the past), this year I am going to capture those magical moments and natural realisations whilst reading, and jot them down in my notebook.

Moments such as when you stumble on a perfectly constructed sentence, a beautiful word, stunning symbolism, or a descriptive setting that has the power to transport you there. This year, I am going to let my heart take the lead and allow my analytical mind to rest.

Here is the list of 13 books that I read in 2015…

Life Expectancy – Dean Koontz, Instructions for a Heatwave – Maggie O’Farrell, The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton, The Book of You – Claire Kendal, Daughter – Jane Shemilt, The Little Old Lady Who Broke all the Rules – Carolina Ingelman-Sunberg, Never Tell – Claire Seeber, The Hobbit – J.R.R.Tolkien, Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie, Fiction Writer’s Handbook – Nancy Smith, The Memory Game – Nicci French, A Place of Secrets – Rachel Hore, The Scold’s Bridle – Minette Walters.

Here is the list of the 44 books that I plan to read in 2016. I have taken some books from previous lists, and some books are brand new and in the book charts. As the year goes on, some books may be added or replaced with new releases or old classics. Also, Richard & Judy are always an inspiration with the development of my reading lists, so I highly recommend you visit their book club.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Our Endless Numbered Days – Claire Fuller

The Quality of Silence – Rosamund Lupton

The Girl in the Red Coat – Kate Hamer

Disclaimer – Renee Knight

The Versions of Us – Laura Barnett

Revolution – Russell Brand

On Writing Horror – Mort Castle

Writing – The Horror Movie – Marc Blake and Sara Bailey

The Girl in the Photograph – Kate Riordan

Vanish – Tess Gerritsen

Eyes of a Child – Richard North Patterson

The Kind Worth Killing – Peter Swanson

Us – David Nicholls

Velocity – Dean Koontz

The Husband – Dean Koontz

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

The Year I Met You – Cecelia Ahern

Elizabeth is Missing – Emma Healey

Cilla – 1943 – 2015

Edie – An American Biography – Jean Stein

The Skeleton Cupboard – Tanya Byron

Want You Dead – Peter James

Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

The Doll Maker – Richard Montanari

The Killing Room – Richard Montanari

We Need to talk About Kevin – Lionel Shriver

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

Never Knowing – Chevy Stevens

Trafficked – Sophie Hayes

Apple Tree Yard – Louise Doughty

A Kind of Intimacy – Jenn Ashworth

Everything’s Eventual – Stephen King

Songbird – Josephine Cox

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff – Richard Carison

Tapping The Source – William Gladstone

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

The Orphan – Christopher Ransom

No Time For Goodbye – Linwood Barclay

The Dice Man – Luke Rhinehart

Nightmares and Dreamscapes – Stephen King

The Host – Stephanie Meyer

Black Eyed Susans – Julia Heaberlin

Frankenstein – Mary Shelley

So there it is! I really am going to push myself very hard to read these books, this year. Several of these books have been sitting on my book shelf for years. At some point, some where, they had triggered my interest in buying them, and there is a definite sadness in letting the years go by, where they collect dust. It’s time to open those pages and bring the characters to life!

Until next time, I say goodbye.

Best Wishes,

Donna x

@alittlebirdtweets2016

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Torn

The roses in the garden were wilting, as though they were nodding their approval of your ignorance towards me. So I tugged them from the earth, removed their mocking heads, and threw them into the sad September breeze. The stalks they cried. The thorns they hailed. And the embers of petals floated back to me, and melded to my sweating body like greedy leeches. The embers still remain there, burning into my soul, like a wild and sorry tattoo.

@alittlebirdtweets2015

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Blink

A medley of Bach was the only thing that could silence her mind, in this racing city. She pressed the volume up on her Ipod. The iconic chords managed to dumb-out the sound of her heavy stilettos upon the pavement; a sound that seemed to mimic the screech of a pneumatic drill in concrete. She longed to hear the pigeons coo; but even they failed to take a breath amongst the madness. They bobbed past her feet aimlessly, in their search for mangled morsels. She watched one blink, and she winked right back.

@alittlebirdtweets2015

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Wildfire

If you were stood here watching my eyes, you would see a reflection of what I see before me,

Of smoking clouds punching at the forever seas, crashing waves to starry heights.

You see, there is an alluding mystery that pins me to this place,

Like a song playing on loop,
Tangled hair buffering in the breeze.
There is certainty in memories repeated.

If you were here, you’d hear me humming your biker name,
Stood in clad leather, a girl in the gang, your girl called,

Wildfire.

You would tune into the fine red threads that pass over my eyeballs like road maps.

And I know that you’d know, that they are red thread highways, carved away over time,

by my desert love.

@alittlebirdtweets2015

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Book Review: The Memory Game by Nicci French

Hello Readers,

Last week I finished reading the psychological-thriller, The Memory Game, by Nicci French.

The following review focuses on the book from a writing perspective, with less focus on the sequence of events/plot. Please note, there will be spoilers.

Before I begin the review, I’d like to mention that one of the first books that really moved me as a reader (and actually made me want to write my own novel) was the psychological-thriller called Beneath the Skin, by Nicci French. I had immediately been drawn to the dark and frightening ‘stalker’ plot, the closeness of the first-person point of view, and the ‘zoomed-in’ attention to detail in description – it had me gripped! This book had inspired me to read more Nicci French books, such as Safe House and The Red Room. However, although I enjoyed reading these books, they never did have that packing punch that Beneath the Skin had delivered to me.

This led my mind to think about something completely different – why does a book become a bestselling book or even a classic? May be there is some kind of universal magic that bonds us all. For me, Beneath the Skin would have to be a Nicci French classic – but then is it a universal book, would it speak out to us all? This is something we can all consider in our own writing if we are aiming for the bestseller lists. We have to dream big!

The Memory Game is Nicci French’s first novel, which was released in 1998 – and this is clearly evident from the writing. It is full of old-fashioned dialogue and slow-paced writing which I found rather author-lazy and off-putting to read. When we think of thrillers we think of fast-paced, edge-of-our-seat, twisting plot-lines – but this book was very much the opposite. The beginning was long-drawn out, and introduced too many characters at once, leaving me confused, annoyed and foot-tappingly anxious. I understand that the practice of introducing characters can be a useful tool when we want to create a murder-mystery set-up (such as in Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie) but it does not work in this book. The big cast of characters caused me to focus on the ‘family tree’, which is one of my big pet hates in fiction. The character’s should be weaved in effortlessly, and introduced to us in a way in which we will remember them and how they are related. In this book it was a case of ‘who is this character again?’ It was made even more irritating due to the fact that some of the characters did not play any real part in the plot – they could have been axed without any real effect – this is a big flaw in novel writing. Writing books constantly tell us to axe characters that are merely just extras or side props with no purpose. Even a minor character needs to push the plot forward in some way – whether it’s by them prompting a plot action, or through dialogue with the main character (to show another side to the main character) etc. There is also a big risk of losing a reader for good when the author does not set up an emotional lead character bond early on. I find that readers do not want numerous characters that we only get to know on a superficial level. You will find that the only time this method works best is in the plot-driven ‘who-dunnit’ mystery or suspense novel – where the big question is raised, and our intrigue is held. I have come to learn that we must fall in love with our characters early on – we must have an emotional attachment, or a similarity with which we can relate in order for us to care and read on. Unfortunately, this book and it’s characters left me bored. So why did I finish it? Well I have gathered that you can learn a lot from books you dislike and learn all of the sins and bad habits that you would never want to include in your own writing.

Nicci French has a terrible habit of giving her characters food and drink addictions – and she throws these over us like confetti when it is really of no importance. In this book it tends to happen in those moments when we are plot focused, wanting answers and actions – and all we are given is a character’s burning desire for a skinny mocha or latte, whilst they suck on a yellowing Marlboro. The character habits are repeated too much in this book, and the habits only really needed to be hinted at once or twice to give us an idea of the lead character’s personality. Readers are intelligent and will remember the habit the first time around. Repetition such as this can also show us that a book may have surpassed several, crucial, editing stages. If any one happened to re-read this book, then these flaws would have been clearly evident and likely been removed.

Personally, I love psychological fiction and traumatised characters, because it is in these types of characters that we learn about the darker sides of humanity; we learn how the weakest of characters can pull through a nightmare situation. The most interesting part of the book happened to hit on the area of psychology – with the psychotherapist and the lead character undertaking sessions, in an attempt to get the character to face her problems (the trauma of her missing school friend – who is later found dead – and the murderer having been a family member – ending spoiler!). The psychotherapist prompts the main character to talk out her feelings while all along we are wondering if she is hiding something that is the bigger answer to the bigger question in the book – what happened to Natalie?

I was very disappointed with this book and found it boring to read. I don’t like to put works of fiction down, because I do admire any one who manages to write even one novel in their lifetime, however this book just wasn’t cutting it for me. However, there are some good reviews of this book on Goodreads, and one person’s hate is another person’s love! So please don’t let my judgement put you off reading the book. Nicci French (wife/husband pseudonym) is an excellent writer, and we must consider the fact that this is their first novel.

Ironically, even though this is one of the worst books I have read, one of my favourite books (as mentioned above) happens to be ‘Beneath the Skin’, and I highly recommend this book to readers who love a psychological-thriller. It takes pride of place on my bookshelf.

Until next time,

Thanks for reading,
Donna x

@alittlebirdtweets2015

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Book Review: Life Expectancy by Dean Koontz

Hello Readers,

This week, I finished reading the suspense-thriller/horror novel, ‘Life Expectancy’, by Dean Koontz.

The following review is written from a writing perspective. Rather than describe the plot-line in detail, I will be highlighting key areas of the book that particularly drew my attention as a writer. Please note that there will be spoilers.

A brief blurb of the book goes something like this; Jimmy Tock is born on the same night (in the same hospital) that his Grandfather dies. In his dying words (over a thunder and lightning storm) the Grandfather leaves his own son (Jimmy’s Father) five bad predictions that will occur on particular dates in Jimmy’s life.

When we read the blurb on the back of the book, we are told that there will be five predictions, but not what they are. This is a perfect example of ‘the power of a hook in a blurb’. When we discover that there are five predictions but not what they are, our curiosity is sparked and we are held in a grip wanting to know more. The main reason for a hook is to raise questions inside a readers mind (the what, where, why) and to push them on to read further. The blurb’s hook leaves us asking several questions that we want answers to, for instance; What are the five predictions? Where do these predictions occur? Why does it happen, and why does it happen to Jimmy Tock? And ultimately, will Jimmy survive these five terrible predictions?

The book is written in first person, from the viewpoint of Jimmy Tock. The first person tense has an immediate connection with the reader; enabling us to step into the protagonist’s shoes and experience their world through the five senses. I personally loved the ‘voice’ of Jimmy – a guy who has a slight complex about his physical appearance (and talks about it to us) yet is strong-minded – in general. I have often read that a main character (hero or villain) should be capable of dealing with all of the obstacles that you place in his path – that they should be able to fight all conflicts to the bitter end – even if in the end they win or lose. I have also read that a main character should not be completely perfect and that they should have at least one flaw – one that he has to face and fight on a more personal level. If we analyse the profile of Jimmy Tock, we get a real-life, everyday guy with an unusual, personal flaw -but one that is used for a very different reason in this book (I won’t give the flaw away!).

Jimmy is capable of battling out his conflicts both internally and externally, and he changes and gets strongers as the book progresses. Of course, although he ultimately gets stronger, we do have to see his efforts waver along the plot line in order to keep the reader tense – and guessing. It is essential that we see him fall and rise at his own efforts – and that he used all he had to reach the end. We should adopt this process with every character we design.

I also think that Jimmy ‘shined’ as a character because of his impeccable sense of humour. When I look more closely at the entire chemistry of the book, I see a strong fusion of horror and humour. This dark/light is a fantastic combination because it ensures that we are not trodden down in darkness and depression for pages on end. The humour brings us to laugh (even in the darkness moments) with the characters.

It is often said that it is a crime for the author to ‘step into a narrative with his own opinions’, and I agree. But should an author want to air an opinion in their novel (politics, religion, law etc) then they can learn a lot from Dean Koontz and his method. I am not saying that all of the views in his books are ones that he believes and airs, but as a reader I have analysed that it often seems to be the case in places. I think that this can be a good thing when done correctly because it adds a personal touch without spelling it out. So how does Dean do this? Well his views get injected through his characters and their dialogue. The dialogue of one character may contain an author’s personal view of something happening in the world – or it may contain a humorous line that the author has always told in his own life. This is where we get into the territory of ‘how real or fictional are your characters?’ I believe that most authors, when sketching out characters, will use a mixture of both real and imagined personalities in order to create new and unique characters. I have often wondered how much of the author is in a character – in the many of the characters I have come to meet in books. In the case of Jimmy Tock, I believe that he contains a lot of Dean Koontz’s sense of humour – which I must say is impeccable!

I am not sure if any of you have heard of the quote ‘all you need for a movie is a gun and a girl’ by Jean Luc-Godard (a French Film Director) but I believe this quote rings true for almost any film and any horror/thriller book. It certainly rings true for this book, where there are numerous guns and gunshots – which also occur around an attractive female character, that later becomes the wife of Jimmy Tock. I suppose what the gun and girl quote is really saying to us is that a story isn’t a story without a gun (symbol for conflict) and a girl (symbol of romance) as such. That without conflict we have no story, that without love we are missing a key part of our souls – that together they fuse a Universal idea. Both these elements combine love, excitement, danger and romance – and what is more exciting than that? Nothing. Knowing that this book contains what I consider to be two essential themes in fiction, tells me that Dean is a master of his craft – that he has studied and mastered the mechanics of writing and his specific genres. This allows him to go that extra mile with his trade-mark sense of humour.

Lastly, even though this book was made up of many pages, the tightness and suspense of plot, the interesting characters, and those five predictions made me read on to the end! I am usually a medium-paced reader, but with this book I was flying through! That’s a good sign.

I recommend this book to readers who love a fast-paced suspense thriller/horror – and those who like a dry and wicked sense of humour mixed in. When I read the last page I was sad that I would never live with these characters again – that their journey’s had ended. If a writer can inject a character or two into a reader for life then they have done their job well. That’s why we remember and love the classics – it’s all about the characters. I still find myself repeating some of Dean’s creative character names from this book, just because they sound so good on the tongue! Punchinello, Konrad Beezo… Amazing!

Until next time,

Thanks for reading!

Donna x

@alittlebirdtweets2015

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