Archive for the ‘London’ Tag

New Year Reflections

The start of the year is a time to reflect on what’s past, on where you find yourself at the present, and where you want to be going in the future.

We are now a couple of weeks into 2016 and I find myself, on the whole, to be in a pretty good place. I have several publications under my belt including three novels and another coming soon (SUFFER THE CHILDREN, my first novel, due for re-release from MuseItUp Publishing later this year). I’ve got two more novels in progress, and ideas for a few more. The day job is going well, and I’ve seen significant improvements in my health since taking the decision to drop twenty pounds in 2015.

However, my life is also pretty packed. The day job pays well but works me hard, and I spend not only eight hours a day five days a week there, but three hours a day commuting to and from London. I have my bass guitar lesson once a week and am doing regular open mic gigs with Hubby. I am trying to develop a regular exercise routine, we play Dungeons and Dragons twice a month, I run the T Party writers’ group which meets once a month, and this is before we start talking about fitting in the writing, the promotion, the conventions, and holidays.

Don’t get me wrong – this is not a whine. I am where I am in my life because I chose to be there, and I do not regret anything. However, there is always room for improvement, and the start of the year seems to be a good time to look at what I  can do better.

First of all, this blog has been neglected for the last couple of years, and I am going to endeavour to change that this year. Monday will still be the guest blog feature Monday’s Friends, as it has been for some years now. Wednesdays will be a writing-related post, cross-posted on the WriteClub blog. I hope to pick up the Ten Commandments of Writing feature, which rather tailed off halfway through last year. Friday Fears will feature with more regularity, and I would welcome contributions of two-sentence horror stories from anyone who feels inclined to send me one – credited, of course.

In addition, I’d like to feature other posts on the blog, about more general subjects. I can’t promise this will be weekly – it’s more likely to be once or twice a month. But when I started the blog, I was talking about commuting and London and weather and travelling and all the things that I deal with in my everyday life. And because I don’t want to be the kind of writer that only comes online to say ‘buy my book’, I’d like to get back to this again.

So, that’s one resolution: more regular blog posts. A second, more personal one, relates to the aforementioned weight loss. This was something that I didn’t really discuss on the blog, but those who follow me on Twitter will be aware of it, since I was Tweeting about my weekly weigh-ins.

This was something that came about when I went on a short holiday to France in June and couldn’t get the zip of my favourite summer dress done up. Coming at a time when I’d lost several family members and friends to cancer within a fairly short period, I was more mindful of needing to look after my health and decided the time had come to get a bit healthier. The weight loss was all about trying to shed bad habits, as well as a few pounds. I hate the gym, I hate vegetables and I love all things sweet and sugary. But sometimes you have to do things that are good for you, whether you want to or not. I aimed to get back to ten and a half stone (that’s 147 lbs for the Americans amongst you), which is what I was when I last lost weight, in 2009. The intervening years had apparently seen a gain of over twenty pounds, which I wanted to lose again. I managed to hit my goal just before Christmas, but then came all the eating and drinking and not moving from the couch for two weeks that accompanied the holiday season, and I’m now a few pounds above that goal again.

However, I resolved at the beginning of this year to try and go back to the good habits I’d adopted at the end of last year: regular exercise, more fruit & veg, fewer sugary treats, fewer takeaways, less red meat. I’ve ridden this whole weight-loss roundabout before. The weight comes off, I go back to eating what I like to eat, it comes back on again. This year, I want to try and keep the weight off – especially since Hubby bought me several new dresses in my new smaller size for Christmas, and I want to be able to keep on wearing them.

It can be quite difficult as a writer to stay fit, since writing generally involves sitting on a chair for hours at a time, moving only to get more tea and another couple of biscuits (favourite food of The Muse, apparently). And I am inherently quite lazy. I have no trouble getting up early to write, especially when my early morning writing sessions involve a yummy breakfast muffin at the coffee shop I set up in, but I am much less inclined to get up early to go for an early-morning swim.

There, then, is Resolution Number 2. And then there are the writing resolutions, which I discussed in the December round-up post. I have two novels to finish. I have to crack on with them.

There’s an additional resolution that comes in to help me with all the others, and that’s to be more organised. I’ve got a rather anally retentive personality anyway, and I love lists. Lists are the key to staying organised. I have to do lists for every week, involving both writing and non-writing related goals, and they get dutifully ticked off as I complete the tasks. Finding time to write, or to exercise, equally involves noting appointments in my diary and making sure I turn up when I say I will – even if not doing so lets down no one else but myself.

It’s always dangerous to declare one’s intentions in a public forum, since you have a lot of people to answer to if you fail to fulfil them. But it also provides a good motivation to sticking to your resolutions.

Hence, I start the year full of good intentions. I guess we need to come back here at the end of the year and see how well – or otherwise – I’ve managed to do!

Whatever you wish for this year, I hope 2016 delivers.

The End In Sight

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I got the early train into London this morning for an early-morning Starbucks writing session – something I have not done in a while, it must be said.  In fact looking at my writing log made me realise the last writing session was dated 16 April – over a month ago.  I will say at this point I am rather anal about logging my writing sessions, noting word count and date of every one.  It helps me keep track of my monthly word count, and also how long it takes me to finish each draft.  But it also makes me aware of how long it’s been since the last session.

Why the gap?  The end of April and beginning of May was manically busy in the day job, and I was also working on edits for both DEATH SCENE and DEAD COOL, which made it hard for me to get my head around working on the WIP as well.  And then I was away for two weeks.  I did actually take the Netbook away with me, with the idea that if it was raining I might get some time to sit in the hotel room and write, but well…the weather was glorious and the writing didn’t happen.

Anyway.  Now I am back home again and trying to get back into my usual routine, including the early-morning writing sessions.  The current work in progress is the 1960s crime thriller, and this morning was a good session.  I’ve been wrestling with the climax of this one, but now I feel that the end is in sight.  The novel still needs a great deal of work – I am not deluding myself about that.  But I am nearing the end of the first draft.  And I’ve always seen the first draft as putting the scaffolding in place.  Once you’ve got that, you can start the real building work.

The main issue with this novel will be research.  It’s set in 1967, and spans San Francisco, London and Vietnam.  This is not an era I was alive to witness, but there are plenty of people around who were, and they’ll notice if I get it wrong.  The parts of the novel set in Vietnam – which is effectively the final section of the story – is proving particularly tricky.  This was a very emotive point in history.  In particular I want to know what Long Binh looked like in 1967.

Research has never been my strong point, and I’ve never let a mere thing like getting the facts right stop me from getting stuck into the first draft.  Of course, this generally means a great deal of changes between the first draft and future drafts.  Fortunately, the Internet has made doing research a great deal easier than it used to be.  A quick search has revealed that there are a lot of personal accounts and photos from soldiers who lived through the Vietnam war are out there in the public domain, and careful research will help me ensure I get it right.

For me, the most important thing is to get to the end of draft 1.  I’m not there yet with this WIP.  But I can just glimpse the light at the end of the long tunnel.

After that, the real work starts.  Doing the research, getting the facts right, sorting out the plot holes, working out what’s not working and what’s not in the novel that should be.  But all that will come later.  For now, I’m focusing on getting to the end.  And I feel like I’m almost there.

Another Promotional Roundup

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

This blog has been a bit quiet of late, and for that I apologise.  We had an unexpected burst of Spring here in London last weekend, and we all went rushing outside to make the most of it.  Sadly it seemed to have been a blip, with normal UK weather restored in time for the working week.  After basking in the garden in a t-shirt on Sunday, I was obliged to get back into my coat and scarf on Monday.  Still, at least the rain has been holding off of late.

And in the meantime I’ve been very busy in cyberspace, with two more guest appearances in the last week or so.

First up, I was interviewed by Pete Sutton for his BRSBKBLOG blog, which is described as ‘Adventures in Publishing’.  We talked a lot about the creation of my amateur sleuth Shara Summers, and the forthcoming re-release of DEATH SCENE, and you can find the interview here.

This week, I’ve been visiting ‘Waibel’s World‘, blog of fellow MuseItUp author Mary Waibel, and talking about how being a writer is both a curse and a blessing.

And finally, it’s just over two weeks until the Sci Fi Weekender in Wales, my first Con of 2014.  This year, not only am I going, I’m on the programme.  I’m very excited to have received preliminary details this week about the panels I’ll be on.  All will be revealed soon!

In the meantime, if you’ll be at the Con, do stop by and say hello.

Clumsy

I am not one of those people blessed with grace and elegance. I can’t throw, I can’t catch, I can’t run (and if I try I fall over), I possess no manual dexterity and I trip over my own feet a lot. This is probably why I’ve always been hopeless at sports. In school, not only was I always the last to be picked for sports teams, I had to endure the groans of the team that was stuck with me and the mutters of, “we’re going to lose now.”

Exercise remains a necessary evil. Whenever I try aerobics or zumba or anything else requiring co-ordination I get frustrated because I can’t keep up – I just can’t get my arms and legs to move the way they are supposed to. I persevere with the yoga, but it’s not easy for me. I have no balance and I get left and right confused, I ache for a week after every class and I appear to pull muscles (more on that later).

Things haven’t improved much as I’ve got older. I’ve always avoided hazardous activities such as ski-ing, since I’d be guaranteed to break a bone. Over the course of my life I’ve sprained my ankle three times, and it was always the same one (the left – it still gives me twinges now and again). On one occasion I was running across a field playing Paintball (told you running was dangerous), and on the other two occasions I was merely trying to walk down some steps. A few years ago I fell over trying to enter the underground station on the way home from work and bashed my head rather hard. I was taken to A&E and x-rayed, but my skull was intact. Instead I had concussion that had me off work for a week, and a golf ball-sized lump on my forehead that left me with a headache and a black eye as it receded.

A few weeks ago I managed to trip over my own feet walking across London Bridge on my way to work, and bashed my knee and my hand quite hard as I fell over.  I still can’t kneel down on that knee, and it looks a bit bruised.  This weekend I am also suffering with what appears to be a torn tendon in my calf.  Which I think possibly came about from my yoga class a couple of weeks ago – we were doing poses that involved leg stretches. It was hurting for a while,  and then it seemed to get better, but this week’s tube strike has necessitated more walking than usual on my daily commute, and this seems to have aggravated my injury.

This is how it’s been, all my life. I fall over simply moving through life. Apparently physical activity is bad for my health. It happens so often I get used to picking myself up and carrying on. I am usually full of bruises. I misjudge doors when I walk through them and walk into the wall. I swing my arm too wide and it hits something. I go to sit down on a bus and somehow manage to bash my backside on the bar separating the seats. I get bruises on my knees from bashing them on the underside of my desk.

I don’t what it is that causes this chronic inability to get my body to co-ordinate itself to do anything physical – even something as simple as walking. I spent quite a long time assuming I wasn’t any good at anything, but much of this came from the fact that when and where I went to school there was a huge emphasis on physical activity. Fortunately I had a couple of supportive English teachers who reassured me that one isn’t necessarily exiled from society simply because one isn’t any good at sports. They recognised that I had a talent for writing.

Perhaps the writing ability is nature’s way of compensating for my appalling lack of physical agility – as in, “kid, you’re going to go through life being completely hopeless at anything physical, but you’ve got a talent for something that you get to sit down for.”

I should probably give up on all things sporty and focus on the writing instead. At least I’m not likely to injure myself that way. Well, apart from bashing my knees on the underside of the desk…

Con Conundrums

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

It has come about that my last two Cons of 2013 fall on consecutive weekends.  This weekend I’m at BristolCon, and next weekend is World Fantasy Con in Brighton.  At BristolCon I am a participant – two panels and a book signing – and at World Fantasy Con I am merely a delegate.

The usual Con conundrums apply.  The first is – what to pack?  For Bristol this is more crucial, since I will be performing the role of ‘author’, instead of just watching other people do it.  So what outfit says ‘serious writer’ without saying ‘I’m mad as a box of frogs and you don’t want to come anywhere near me.’  Sometimes the Con involves a formal dinner that obviously involves having to pack an outfit for it.  Sometimes I worry I try too hard with this issue of Con clothing.  Jeans and a t-shirt is probably an acceptable Con outfit for a writer.  It might be appropriate for my ‘horror writer’ t-shirt to get another airing this weekend.

Mode of transportation is also relevant to the first question.  If I’m driving to a Con, I can take more stuff.  But this generally only happens if I can take the day I am travelling off work.  On neither forthcoming Con I have been able to do that – which means it’s easier to take the train from London than travel home, pick up the car, load it up and set off again.  But taking the train directly after work means I have to take all my luggage into London, which is another factor to consider.  Whatever I take has to be transported on a packed commuter train, and sit in the office until I leave.

On Friday I have to be at work for a meeting, so I will be leaving as soon as possible after that’s finished.  It does mean that the smart ‘work clothes’ that will be required for that will have to be my travelling clothes to Bristol.  Unless I take a change of clothing.

When travelling to a Con, the issue of having space for books also must be considered.  It is impossible to leave a Con without having acquired books. Many of them give out freebies in the delegate bags, and there’s a pretty good chance you’ll buy some, too.  For BristolCon, I am also taking some copies of SOUL SCREAMS for the author signing session.  But I am really hoping that I will sell at least a couple of them, otherwise I have to cart them all back home with me.

I am looking forward to both Cons, and they will both be very different experiences.  Hopefully they will both give me something to blog about for the next two weeks, too.

And once I’ve had a chance to catch my breath, it will be time to plan 2014’s Con schedule…

Not Enough Words?

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I have finished my new horror novel!  This is a cause for celebration, and time to start submitting it.

The novel is about a group of LRP-ers who unwittingly unleash an undead magic user onto the world whilst performing a ritual during a game, which proceeds to wreak death and destruction on those involved in the game.  The finished draft has come out at 69,000 words.  I’m aware that this is a very short novel.  In fact, to some it’s only half of a novel.  The majority of people in the T Party Writers’ Group are fantasy writers.  Most of their first drafts start off with over 150,000 words.

I’ve never really ‘got’ how you can stuff so much into one novel to make it so long.  I am the opposite.  I end up with 50,000 word first drafts and then I have to pad them.  Only that’s what it looks like – padding.  I used a fair amount of padding in the version of DEATH SCENE that got submitted to Lyrical Press.  My editor promptly stripped out all the padding, saying – quite correctly – it was superfluous to the plot.

I remember that lesson when I write novels now.  Is this scene moving the plot forward in some way?  Is it revealing something about a character, or a plot point that becomes important later on?  If the answer to all of these is ‘no’, the scene has no place in the book.  So this is a very short novel.  But it doesn’t have much padding, and I think I’m going to keep it that way.

I am a voracious reader, as anyone who follows this blog will know.  I read quickly, and I like strong plots, but I read so many books I don’t retain plots of books I’ve read for very long.  I like clear beginnings, middles, and ends.  I don’t like subtle hints, I don’t like ambiguity (my attitude to this is if the author couldn’t be arsed to work out what was really going on, why should I?), and I like satisfactory endings.  If it’s a horror novel, the horror should be resolved.  I don’t mind if all the main characters die – that’s acceptable in horror.  But if it’s a crime novel the killer must be caught.  If he or she gets away with it, that’s an unsatisfactory ending.

I do most of my reading on the train, going in and out of London to the day job.  I have about 40 minutes at each stretch.  On my journey home I want to be able to pick the story up again from where I left off that morning.  I don’t want the plot to be so complex that I have to re-read the last 10 pages to remember what’s going on.  I don’t want to be re-introduced to a character who had a brief appearance 100 pages ago and I’m supposed to remember that, because I won’t.  And I like chapters to be short.  When I get to the end of a chapter at Clapham Junction I will be checking to see how long the next chapter is, and if I have time to read it in the few minutes I’ve got left until the train gets in to Victoria station.  If it’s only five pages, I will keep reading.  If it’s 20, or worse,  I will put the book away at that point and put some music on instead – because I hate finishing a reading session mid-chapter.

I am aware that my writing style reflects my reading preferences.  I write plot-driven stories, I focus on a few main characters and the peripheral ones are never really fleshed out, I don’t complicate the story with lots of sub-plots, and I write very short chapters.  The vast majority of them are between 1,000 and 2,000 words, and I have been known to chapters less than 1,000 words long.

Consequently I tend to write very short novels.  But you know what?  Maybe that’s just the way it is.  I’m never going to win any literary prizes for fiction, and maybe I’ll never write the kind of doorstopper that hits the best sellers list.

But that’s OK.  I write what I write.  It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, and I get that.  But I know there’s a few people out there that like what I write, and the way I write it.

And so this new novel is for you.  It’s short, but it’s finished, and it’s about to go out into the big wide world to find a publisher.

A Post About Responsibility and Choices

As a precursor to this blog, I am issuing a warning that it might get political.

I don’t read newspapers anymore. They all have a political bias and I just get cross. I get most of my news from the BBC news channel (or its website) these days, which seems to have at least some semblance of objectivity. Newspapers all seem too keen to point the finger of blame at whose fault it is the world’s in a global recession. Corrupt politicians. Unscrupulous wealthy people. Or it’s all the fault of single mothers and people on benefits – depending on which paper it is.

When I was 18 I was a rampant socialist – bordering on communist, in fact. I thought it was grossly unfair that some people had money and some people did not. Then I finished high school in Canada and moved back to England. I had a plan to go to university here. I discovered that I was not entitled to any kind of financial assistance to aid with fees, as I had been out of the country for too long. Nor could I claim unemployment benefit, I discovered when I went to do so. Instead, I went out to find a job. Having no particular skills or experience, I went after any sort of job that was available. I ended up working in a book shop for a few years.

When I was 21 I qualified as a ‘mature student’ and could do a university degree part time in evening classes. So this is what I did. It took me six years, instead of the usual three. By that point I had a local office job, for a software distribution company, so after working all day I ended up taking a train and hauling all the way over to North London to attend my lectures. I got home late, and often nodded off during them. I spent most of my weekends doing course work – doing the reading, or working on essays. Several TV shows I’d previously been addicted to I stopped watching when I realised I had six weeks’ worth of episodes recorded and never had time to catch up. And at the beginning of each term I paid the fees out of my own hard-earned cash. When I finally got my degree – a 2:1 in English Literature – I felt like I’d earned it.

I was also 21 when Hubby and I, having decided we were in this relationship for the duration (though we weren’t married at that point), bought our first place together. It was 1991, and property prices in London were on a downward spiral. We bought a tiny one-bedroom flat on a brand new estate. It was all we could afford at the time. Developers were keen to sell, given the market crash. By the time we moved into the place, it was worth about half what it had been when they had started to build.

Five years later, we moved to a two-bedroom split level maisonette. We recruited friends and family and a mini van to move all our stuff. It took seven trips to move everything out, and we wondered how we managed to fit so much stuff into such a tiny place. We also ended up being in negative equity, since the flat was worth less when we sold it than it was when we bought it.

The negative equity was gone by the time we sold the maisonette in 2003, because by that point property prices had skyrocketed, and they’ve never really fallen in the same way since. Our most recent move last year took us to a four-bedroom house. I don’t apologise for that. It’s taken us 20 years to get to a house that size. We have more stuff, and more income, and can now afford a bigger mortgage. And we could also afford a removal company, to take away the stress of having to pack up and move everything ourselves.

I have been part of the British workforce for 25 years now. In all that time, I have paid my taxes and claimed maybe two months’ worth of unemployment benefit. I have never walked out of one job without having another one lined up, no matter how much I hated it (and believe me, I’ve had some jobs I really hated) and in spite of being made redundant several times, I soon discovered that as long as you can type and have some organisation skills and office experience, there are always temp jobs available while you look for permanent employment – just as long as you don’t mind where you work, or for whom.

I don’t believe that the majority of the rich are out to screw over the poor, like I don’t believe that the majority of the poor are benefit cheats. There are, of course, always bad apples in every barrel, and these are the ones the media focuses on. But it’s dangerous to make sweeping generalisations. Human nature makes people criticise those they envy, and cry, ‘not fair’ because someone else has something they don’t.

But you know what? Life isn’t fair. That’s a lesson that should be learned by everyone early in life. My politics have shifted in the 25 years I’ve been part of the working world. Everything I have in my life – including the house, the holidays and the English degree – I’ve worked for without assistance or subsidies from anywhere (well OK, apart from the mortgage, but to qualify for one of those these days you have to have a good track record of paying it back, and it gets paid every month).

We all make choices in life. And we have to live with the consequences of those decisions. I chose not to have children. Maybe I’ll be alone when I get old if Hubby goes first and I have no other relatives, but that’s the choice I’ve decided to make. I have chosen not to take the plunge and give up the day job to write full time. If I were to do that, maybe I’d have more time to write, get more done and hence make more money from the writing, but I’m not really a risk taker, and I’m not willing to take that chance. So my choice, instead, is to continue to juggle the day job with the writing, even if it means having to keep getting up at 5:30 am to find time to write.

Sometimes we are dealt a bad hand in life, through no fault of our own. These are difficult times we live in, and a lot of very well qualified people have found themselves unemployed because their companies have gone bust or have had to downsize. Some of these people have mortgages to pay and children to provide for, and life is hard. And they might think that’s unfair. I thought it was unfair all the times when I got laid off. Sometimes it was a struggle for us to pay the mortgage on one salary. But we got by. We had to cut back for a while, on everything. And we got through it.

Life is unfair. We can’t always get what we want.

Human beings have a tendency to blame their problems on someone else. Blame the rich, for exploiting the poor. Blame the poor, for cheating the benefits system. Blame the immigrants, for coming over here and taking all our jobs (and incidentally I have heard this line from locals in every single country I’ve visited). Blame the corrupt politicians for taking cash away from services to line their own pockets. I’m not saying there aren’t unscrupulous rich, or benefit cheats, or corrupt politicians, because obviously there are. But they don’t all fall in this category, and we shouldn’t be so quick to allocate blame to a particular group of people.

People I knew who were in this world a few years ago are no longer with us. Life may not be quite the way you want it to be, but every birthday you pass still breathing, is an achievement. No matter how many excuses you make, you still have control of every decision you make in your life. If you want things to change, you have to make the first move. But change is difficult – and sometimes it seems insurmountable. So it’s easier to keep on the well trodden path and come up with excuses why you can’t get off it.

I am not pulling these meaningless phrases out of the air. I am the first person to resist change. When my parents divorced I was six years old, and not only did that change shake my life up, I spent the next 25 years blaming them for everything that went wrong in my life. But I did in the end learn to forgive them and move on. Perhaps I should have been able to let go of this earlier than I did, but I was slow to learn the lesson that the experience presented to me. I’m also still learning the lesson that change is generally a good thing, even if it doesn’t seem that way at the time.

I am now getting off the soap box. I’ve had my say. You don’t have to agree with me, and that’s OK.

Political broadcast now over. Normal service will be resumed with the next post.

Chapters

(Cross-posted on WriteClub blog)

I am a big fan of chapter breaks. Every story I’ve ever written, bar those less than 10,000 words, has had chapter breaks.

When I am reading a book, I like chapters. I particularly like short chapters. I hate stopping my reading session in the middle of a chapter, because when I come back to the book I have to hunt around the page to work out where I got to last. A chapter break makes it so much easier to find your place. Most of my reading is done on the train, going to and from work. Short chapters make it much easier to work out where to stop. When my train is ten minutes away from its final London destination, I will check and see how long the next chapter is. If it’s short, I can get one more in before it’s time to stop reading and get off the train.

Short chapters are also good when I’m reading in bed. It’s getting late, and I’m tired, but if I’m enjoying the book and the next chapter is only five pages long, I’ll probably read that one before stopping. And maybe the one after that. If I’m looking at 20 more pages until the next chapter break, I’ll probably stop there and turn out the light, no matter how much I’m enjoying the book.

No chapter breaks in a book really bugs me. For all the aforementioned reasons, this is one of my pet peeves. Much as I enjoy Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, none of the books contain chapter breaks and it drives me crazy. Lindsey Davis, on the other hand, knows how to write a chapter. Her books about Roman informer Marcus Didius Falco have short, snappy chapters. In fact, she has been known to finish a chapter after one paragraph.

It was pointed out to me recently that my novels always have short chapters. I don’t think this was intended as a compliment, but I saw it that way. Yes, I love short chapters, for all the reasons above, and there are even more reasons to love short chapters when I’m writing them. As I hate putting down a book in the middle of a chapter, I also hate finishing a writing session in the middle of a chapter. Sometimes it’s unavoidable – like if I’ve started a chapter but I don’t know what happens next, so I have to stop and come back to it later. But on the whole, if I come to my WIP with my chapter plan, I know what’s supposed to happen in the chapter when I sit down to write it. My chapters are, on average, 1500 words long – often less. If I’m on a roll, it is possible for me to get that many words written in my hour-long early morning writing session in Starbucks.

Some writers like their 20,000+ word chapters. Some claim to hate chapters completely, preferring to let the narrative flow in unending waves. But I am much more likely to finish reading your book if it has frequent chapter breaks. If I get to page 50 and there’s been no chapter break, there’s a good chance I might abandon it right there. So of course I write short chapters – my writing reflects my reading preferences.

So what about you? Whether you’re a writer, or a reader, what’s your take on chapters?

Speed Reading

(Cross-posted on the WriteClub blog)

I’ve been reading books since I first learned how to read. In fact, I’ve been devouring books since then. It’s always been about finishing one and going straight on to the next one. I don’t remember a time when there wasn’t another book to read once the current one was finished.

Some people have told me I’m a fast reader. I never really thought about it in this way. I do get through a lot of books – average count is about one a week. But I spend over two hours a day on public transport, going to and from work, and most of that time is reading time.

I do prefer books that are plot driven, and the vast majority of the books I read fall in the genres of crime and horror. The nature of these genres generally demands a suspenseful plot, and when I am reading I am focused on getting to the end of the page so I can turn over and find out what happens next. So maybe I do read fast. I never thought about the fact that I might read faster than other people, until recently.

Every day I take the train into London Victoria, and then I have two stops on the underground to work. I am on the underground for precisely four minutes. I’ve been doing this journey a long time – trust me, I know how long it takes. Four minutes is generally not long enough to get back into my book, in my view – by the time I’ve jostled with the crowd to gain access to my bag, get out the book or the e-reader and find the right page, it’s time to get off the train. And I’m generally standing on the underground anyway, which makes it even more awkward. So more often than not, as I’m hanging onto a pole being jostled around on the subway train, I’m standing next to someone who is sitting down, reading a book of some sort. Being a nosy sort of person, and as there’s not much else to look at on the underground, I’m reading over their shoulder. I’ve started to notice that in those four minutes I am reading their book over their shoulder, the person doesn’t turn the page. I get off at my stop and they are still on the same page they were when I got on four minutes ago. I’ve read that page four times over in that time.

So I’m starting to think maybe I do read faster than most people. I don’t pick up every detail of plot; I’m wanting to know what happens on the next page, instead of focusing on every detail on this page. I probably don’t savour a book; I devour it.

This has always been the way I read, and I never thought there was anything wrong with it. There are a lot of books in the world to read and we’ve only got so many years to read them, so I don’t want to spend too much time on each one. Most of the books I read I don’t remember much about a year or so later. The books that make a particular impact do stay with me – and they are the ones that are featuring in my ‘My Life in Books’ series. Books that I can still remember, because they made an impact.

I read so many books that sometimes I’ll pick one up and be halfway through it before I remember I read it before – some details seem familiar. But because I don’t remember every detail, I can re-read books and enjoy them again, because I don’t remember much about the first time around. This is another reason why I like Goodreads. I can log all the books I read and the log will job my memory about what I’ve read and what I thought of it. And of course it also lets me keep a list of everything I’ve read, which appeals to my anal nature.

Anyway, got to run. There are still more books out there to read…

That Time Again

At this time of year, I have been known to ruminate upon the festive season (see posts for December 2011 and December 2009). And if you’ve been following this blog you’ll know I am not the world’s biggest fan of Christmas. Yes, there are good things about it. It’s mostly the blatant commercialism I object to – the pressure on people to buy things they can’t afford for people they don’t like.

And there’s the hypocrisy. It’s supposed to be the season of peace and goodwill. It’s not. The number of angry stressed people I have encountered over the last three weeks has been startling, even for London. We might be aiming for peace and goodwill, but since the human race seem biologically inclined to kill each other, we’re not going to achieve it. If we were, we would have gone some way to eliminate war, but from what I can see there are as many conflicts around the globe as there ever were.

However, I do get a tad more philosophical as I get older. I don’t mind spending time with the older generation at this time of year, even if I don’t agree with their politics. They’re not going to be around forever, and if gathering the family around for Christmas dinner makes them happy, it’s not that much to ask.

Generally I refuse to even think about Christmas until we are well into December, but we’ve had to be unusually organised this year. Hubby was despatched to the US to work for most of December. We had to have conversations before he left about what presents we were buying for who, and many emails were exchanged about this, including links to suitable gifts that could be bought online. Hence, most of it was ordered online and the only hardship I had was carrying various packages home from work via public transport.  Which was infinitely better than having to fight my way through the shops in the West End.

Of course the blatant sexism of Christmas adverts (particularly Asda’s Christmas advert – see my earlier post on sexism for more about this) is still intensely irritating. Every time yet another perfume advert comes on, I want to throw something at the TV. But I like the concept of ‘eating, drinking and making merry’. If nothing else, it’s an excuse to go out for drinks with your friends. And I can accept the fact that this time of year should be a time of feasting and merriment. Christians may disagree, but you can celebrate the festive season without believing in Christ. Most major religions have a time of feasting and celebration round about the winter solstice, and many of our Christmas traditions are pagan in origin, and have nothing to do with the birth of Jesus.

Then there are Christmas songs. I admit to liking Slade and Wizzard’s festive offerings, and of course the Pogues’ “Fairytale of New York” is wonderful. But my favourite Christmas song ever is Greg Lake’s “I Believe in Father Christmas”. I think I like it because it’s slightly cynical – a comment on the over-commercialisation of Christmas.  I include the original video.  The quality is bad, but I like the fact that it was filmed in the Middle East in the midst of conflict – a further comment, I think, on the irony of Christmas being about peace and love.

So go out, celebrate, eat and drink and make merry. However you choose to spend the festive season, I wish you happiness.