Floating in the Abyss – ROW80 Update

This week isn’t really an abyss, but it is the little break between ROW80 rounds, which means that things are a little quieter in the ROW world this week.

Last week was a weird week for me, productivity wise. I honestly felt as though I achieved literally nothing, which is absolute nonsense, but there we go. Thankfully, all the ticks in my bullet journal assert that I did in fact achieve things last week. Yay!

Last Week’s Goals

Keep up with bloggingA mixed victory. I only posted once on my travel/lifestyle/whatever blog last week, but I posted here four times. Which is five in total, so definitely not a failure. But not a resounding success.

Develop plot more fullyAnother weird, mixed victory. I do have a more firm idea of the plot, but in terms of actual, tangible plotting, this wasn’t a resounding success. So, a victory, but only just?

Create character interviews/profiles. Nope, didn’t even begin to happen. Oops.

Read The Uncommon Appeal of CloudsDone, reviewed, and reshelved to probably not be read again.

Do something creative every dayThis is the goal I really didn’t feel like I achieved, but looking back I did. Isn’t it funny how quickly we can forget the progress we’re making? Thank goodness for bullet journals and lists, I say. 

4/5 isn’t bad, in fact it’s quite a good success rate. So why do I still feel as though last week was a let down?

Best not to dwell in the past, me thinks.

This week you don’t really need to have specific ROW80 goals, but I’m going to have a few anyway in preparation for Round 2 aka writing round aka let’s get back into this thing round. Woo.

This Week’s Goals

Decide whether or not to participate in Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve never done Camp NaNoWriMo. It never really appealed to me as much as traditional NaNoWriMo did. Things have changed in the past year though, and now it’s almost the other way round. I like the flexibility of camp, although I’m not entire sure about the whole cabin system. Can’t I just do Camp like I do group work: preferably alone and without external input? So I’m currently solidly on the fence about camp. On the one hand, it could be a great way to kickstart writing Blood of Kings. On the other, I’ve become increasingly disillusioned with NaNo, so maybe camp isn’t for me. Any advice would be welcome in the comments, if you have your own ideas about NaNo/Camp!

Plot. I’ve tried being a pantser, and it just doesn’t work for me. I like to have a relatively clear idea of where my story is going, so that when my characters decide to go off in a completely different direction I at least know where they need to end up. It’s almost April/Round 2, and that means writing, so this is my last week to get some sort of plotting laid out before writing begins. Woo self imposed deadlines.

Read. Alex and I have two very long flights on Saturday/Sunday (one 8 hour and one 14 hour flight). What are flights good for (aside from increasing upper back pain and irritability)? Reading. I want to finish The Princess Diarist (which I’m listening to an audible at the moment), and perhaps one or two more. I stumbled across the complete Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness in a charity shop for £4.50, so I might give The Knife of Never Letting Go a go.

That’s pretty much it for this week. I also want to keep up my blogging, but I feel like that might be able to go without saying now.

Are you taking this week off for a well deserved creative holiday after Round 1, or are you, like me, continuing to set goals between the rounds?

Rachel Reviews: The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

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Title: The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds (An Isabel Dalhousie Novel)

Author: Alexander McCall Smith

Date completed: 24 March 2017

Goodreads rating: 2 stars

Blurb:

As a mother, wife, employer and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics – not to mention resident of Edinburgh, the birthplace of moral philosophy – Isabel Dalhousie is all too aware that to be human is to be responsible. So when a neighbour brings her a new and potentially dangerous puzzle to solve, once again Isabel feels she has no option but to shoulder the burden of other people’s difficulties.

An exquisite masterpiece painting has been stolen from the collection of Duncan Munrowe, old-fashioned philanthropist, father to two discontented children, and a very wealthy man. As Isabel enters into negotiations with the shadowy figures who have come in search of a ransom, a case where heroes and villains should be clearly defined turns murky: the list of those who desire the painting – or the money – lengthens, and hasty judgement must be avoided at all cost. Morals, it turns out, are like Scottish clouds: complex, changeable and tricky to get a firm grip on; they require a sharp observational eye, a philosophical mindset, and the habit of kindness, and fortunately for those around her Isabel Dalhousie is in possession of all three.

I promised myself that this year I would force myself to read from genres I don’t normally engage with. The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds was my first foray in years into the chick-lit, easy-read genre, and honestly, it was quite disappointing.

My mum sent me this book. In theory, it’s perfect for me: set in Edinburgh, intelligent female lead. It just unfortunately wasn’t my cup of tea. I’m sure it would be perfect for plenty of other people, but I just found it a bit…meh.

Isabel Dalhousie is the editor of a philosophical academic journal, living in Edinburgh with her  handsome-and-muscular-but-never-works-out musician husband, and her “three and three-quarter year old” son Charlie, who is apparently a child-prodigy in the making. In her spare time, she reluctantly gets involved in other people’s problems as a sort of moral-sleuth, which is the premise of this series of novels. In this case, she’s roped in by her acquaintance Martha to help the very wealth Duncan Munrowe find his stolen, £3 million painting. It could have been a very interesting plot, filled with intrigue and mystery, but honestly I just found it irritating.

More specifically, I found Isabel irritating. She waxes lyrical about moral philosophy, and doing the right thing, and being a good person, but she’s awfully inconsistent, and quite childish. She happily gets involved digging about in Munrowe’s stolen painting/family dramas, and yet she won’t act as a character reference for her so-called friend, Eddie. She picks a rather odd fight with the nanny, Grace, over her decision to teach Charlie mathematics, but she never bothers to investigate the method Grace is using. If she had been a consistent character, I probably could have put up with her constant moral philosophising, but honestly I just found it irritating. I felt the same way about all the other characters. It was as though they were all just 2D stereotypes: the perfect husband, the perfect son, the headstrong nanny, the traumatised young man, the rich kid who hates the class system, the reserved, conservative wealthy land-owner. They didn’t really feel like characters, they didn’t have personalities that stood out to me. They were just, well, there.

Usually when I don’t like a book, I wish it had been shorter, but in this case I think the novel could have been improved by being a hundred pages longer. Without spoiling things, the main plot just sort of ends without really being resolved, which felt like a bit of a cop-out. More than that, all of the sub-plots (and there are quite a few) just finish mid-conflict without any real resolution or explanation. The entire time I was reading I felt like I was chasing different threads, only to find that they all stopped dead, mostly in frayed, unsatisfying trickle. At only 246 pages, McCall-Smith could definitely have added in some actual resolutions without stretching the length too dramatically.

If you’re in the mood for some easy-reading, the book equivalent to watching some trashy chick-flick that you can just switch your brain off for, you could read The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds quite easily in one sitting. Think a lazy Sunday curled up on the couch with a glass of wine, some snacks, and a crackling fire. I read it in three sittings, because I didn’t really enjoy it and therefore didn’t feel compelled to push myself to finish it. Then again, there are a lot of people who love these books, so maybe it just wasn’t my cup of tea. Maybe follow the advice of others on the Goodreads page and start somewhere else – one of the other Isabel Dalhousie novels or one of his other series, but not here. Unfortunately, I don’t know if I feel particularly driven to read any of his other work.

2.5/5 stars.

Contextless Intrigue – WIPpet Wednesday

Happy Wednesday, everybody!

I have been having a decidedly stressful, meh week. But that’s ok, because these things happen and I’m still here and well and safe and happy.

Today I have a whopping 19 words for you, because 22-3=19. As with everything I’ll be sharing for the next few weeks, this is a little snippet from Blood of Kings (my new project) that I’ve written down in my “Ideas and Scenes” page on Scrivener for me to insert into the appropriate moment when I actually get around to writing it. That means no context, and probably no introduction to many characters either. That will change soon, but bear with me and my intriguing, context-less snippets for a bit longer!

She shook her head. “You’re the brother of the Empress. Does that count for nothing?”

He shrugged. “Not here.”

Who is she? Who is he? You’ll have to wait and see.

Being Different – ROW80 Update

I decided to mix things up a bit, and do two separate posts for my goals update and my WIPpet. If you hate this and want me to put them together, I will, but otherwise, I like that this format keeps the posts uncluttered.

Today is technically the last official day of Round 1, which means most people are summarising how their round went. Seeing as I didn’t really participate, I’m just continuing on with preparation goals as normal until Round 2 starts on April 2nd.

So, here’s my update on this week’s goals:

Keep up with blogging. So far, so good!

Develop plot more fully. This is coming along nicely. I have a pretty solid idea of the overall, big picture plot now, so it’s just a matter of working out how the sub-plots fit together etc. 

Create character interviews/profiles. I haven’t started this yet, but that’s a deliberate decision I made. Expect more progress in the second half of the week.

Read The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds. I’ve started The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, but I’m having mixed feelings about it. It’s just a bit chick-lit, easy read-y, and I’m not really into those kind of books. I’m going to finish it as it’s really not long, but I don’t know if I’ll be reading other Alexander McCall Smith books. I’ve also been listening to The Princess Diarist by Carrie Fisher, which is hilarious and honest and wonderful and everything I expected it to be. 

Do something creative every day. Yes! I’ve been plotting and pinning and jotting down little snippets as they pop into my head. It feels lovely to just celebrate being creative, rather than focusing on how many words etc. At least for the moment, this is what I need to get back on track.

I’ve been feeling a bit off this week, but being able to look at the progress I’ve made makes me feel a lot better about things. The start of this week may have felt like a write-off, but I actually got a fair bit done, writing goals-wise at least.

I hope all you ROW-ers enjoy the little break, and I’ll be joining you ready to go for Round 2! Until then, hang around for my WIPpet, or check  back in on Sunday to see how I went with my goals for the rest of the week!

Gearing up for Round 2 – ROW80 Check In

My my weeks fly by so quickly these days. Is this what getter older feels like? I remember when weeks used to drag on, and now it seems I can barely register what day is it before the next one comes along!

Last Week’s Goals

Write 6 blog posts, 3 for this blog and 3 for my lifestyle blog. I only ended up writing 5 posts this week, but I’m still counting it as a victory. I blog because I enjoy it, and I don’t want to be that person who churns out meaningless lists just for the sake of reaching an arbitrary target.

Finish The Amber ShadowsI finished this on Friday night. You can find my review here.

Write 500 words every day. This definitely didn’t happen. I’ve been writing something every day, but definitely not 500 words a day. Again, I’m not too disappointed. I’ve never been one to go cold-turkey into (or out of) something.

Figure out a more solid plotI still want to do a bit more tweaking/organising, but I have a plot, I have an ending I’m working towards, and I have a title! You might remember ages ago I renamed Rebellion to Blood of Kings. Well, I decided that Blood of Kings is actually THIS project (yeah, my brain works in mysterious ways), and Rebellion should be called Centuries. Long story short, current WIP = Blood of Kings.

Create novel-related pinterest boards. They’re obviously not 100% done forever completed, because that’s not the point of a pinterest board. But they’re done in the sense that my goal for this week has been accomplished. Again, you can check them out here, along with all my other non-writing pinterest boards (if they take your fancy).

 

I’d say I had a pretty successful week last week, goals-wise at least. It also felt embarrassingly amazing to finish a novel. The reading slump has been fierce, you guys.

This round is almost over (so close), but I’m still setting goals for this week. My goals are really just lead ups to Round 2 at the moment, anyway, and I don’t want to ruin the momentum I’m building.

This Week’s Goals

Keep up with blogging. I’m not setting myself a numerical goal this week. I feel like I’m getting back into the routine of blogging, and I want to feel free to post more flexibly (4 on this site, 2 on my other one, for example). Creativity and all that.

Develop plot more fully. This is deliberately vague. I’m not sure if I want to follow the good old snowflaking method, or follow another plotting strategy. Either way, I want to iron out a few big picture plot details before I really delve into writing.

Create character interviews/profiles. I love this little blogging trend, and I find it really helps me get to know my characters. I want to do them now, so that I can get to know my characters better. If anyone is interested, I’ll also post them here.

Read The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds. My mum sent me this book to read, as it’s set in Edinburgh (and everyone knows how much I love Edinburgh). I know literally nothing about it other than it’s a detective-y story (I think), but it’s less than 300 pages and sounds interesting, so I figured I’d give it a go (also I means I can cross another genre off my Reading Challenge list)!

Do something creative every day. This can be write, pin, plot, doodle, world-build, whatever. Just something creative (and related to writing).

So that’s it, they’re my goals for the week. Once again, not much, but I’m easing into this, remember? How was your week? Successful? Fast?

Rachel Reviews: The Amber Shadows

I literally just finished reading this book. I’m not even kidding, I finished it about 15 minutes ago. I figured now is probably the best time to write my review, as everything is still fresh in my mind (and I’m short a blog post for this week). It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so forgive me if it’s a bit rusty.


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Title: The Amber Shadows

Author: Lucy Ribchester

Date completed: 17 March 2017 (just)

Goodreads rating: 4 stars

Blurb: 

On a delayed train, deep in the English countryside, two strangers meet. It is 1942 and they are both men of fighting age, though neither is in uniform. As strangers do in these days of war, they pass the time by sharing their stories. But walls have ears and careless talk costs lives…
At Bletchley Park, Honey Deschamps spends her days at a type-x machine in Hut 6, transcribing decrypted signals from the German Army. One winter’s night, as she walks home in the blackout, she meets a stranger in the shadows. He tells her his name is Felix, and he has a package for her.
The parcel, containing a small piece of amber, postmarked from Russia and branded with two censor’s stamps, is just the first of several. Someone is trying to get a message to her, but who? As a dangerous web weaves ever tighter around her, can Honey uncover who is sending these mysterious packages and why before it’s too late…?

This time last year (ok, last February but shhh) I read Lucy Ribchester’s debut novel, The Hourglass Factory, and really enjoyed it. You can read my review of that here. I’d been meaning to pick up her next novel, The Amber Shadows, for about a year, but I hadn’t been able to find it anywhere in Adelaide and then the honours monster came and ate all my reading mojo. When I stumbled across it in Waterstones in January, I bought it without a second thought.

Going into The Amber Shadows, I already knew a few things. 1) I really enjoy Lucy Ribchester’s writing, and 2) I especially enjoyed the way she uses history as a backdrop for fictional stories (aka historical fiction but shh).

All in all, I wasn’t disappointed. It’s so obvious when reading Ribchester’s novels that she REALLY does her research. Bletchley Park is a place still so shrouded in mystery, so it would have been easy to just gloss over the historical details, but The Amber Shadows is impecibly researched. This probably isn’t a bit deal to normal people, but as a history student it’s refreshing to come across historical fiction actually written by someone interested in history.

Once again, I really enjoyed Ribchester’s female characters. Honey was everything she needed to be, simultaneously timid and plucky, and even when she was doing my head in, I still had a soft spot for her. The supporting cast of female characters are wonderfully developed, and it was lovely to read a novel where the female friendships are really at the heart of most of the plot. The male characters were slightly less obviously well-developed (does that even make sense) than the female characters, but this worked into the whole mystery of working at the park, so really added to the plot.

Now, even though I knew The Amber Shadows was a mystery/thriller/murder type story, I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so thriller-esque. This is not at all a criticism, it was a wonderful surprise. About 1/3 of the way through the novel, I found myself feeling a bit confused and disjointed, until I realised I’d been reading it wrong. It wasn’t a clear-cut, Midsomer Murders-style who-dun-it, the novel is a proper thriller, where you’re not sure what is real, what is fiction, and what is caused by Honey’s constant stress and lack of sleep (because of the war and working at Bletchley, you know).

The middle did feel as though it dragged slightly, but I didn’t mind and it didn’t really impact the pace I was reading (I read 2/3 of it today, after all). The sub-plots might not all have been necessary, but they were bloody good to read! Other reviewers have critiqued the timelines, or the realism of the plot, but that stuff just doesn’t really bother me. I think The Amber Shadows handles its weaknesses well enough that it doesn’t detract from the reading experience, and there was nothing so glaringly obvious that it threw me out of the story. I sometimes think some people need to chill out a little bit, and remember that they’re reading a story.

I won’t give too much away, but I loved the ended, which I didn’t spot until mere pages before it happened. If I had to criticise, I’d only say that I wish more time had been devoted to really playing out the conclusion, and slightly less time on the sub-plots in the middle.

If you’re looking for some refreshing historical fiction with strong female leads and really inspired (and unique) storylines, look no further than Lucy Ribchester’s books. I can’t wait for the next one.

4/5 stars.

Going Along Smoothly – Update and WIPpet

I think I’m starting to slip into an almost routine. Things are a bit up in the air life-wise at the moment, so it’s really nice to have some routine to keep me grounded. On top of my ROW-related routines, I’ve also started doing pilates every day (except Sundays, Sundays are for pub roasts) and I’m beginning to learn Scottish Gaelic. If you’re interested in my language/academic related goals, let me know and I’ll include them in Round 2’s updates!

Progress so far this week:

Write 6 blog posts, 3 for this blog and 3 for my lifestyle blog. This will be my third for the week. I’m hoping to have two up on my lifestyle blog tomorrow and Friday, and one more on here either Friday or Saturday. So far, on track.

Finish The Amber Shadows. Not quite as on track with this, I have to admit. I maintain my optimism that I will finish by the end of the week, but we’ll see.

Write 500 words every day. I have’t done this, but to be honest I didn’t think I would. I’ve been writing, either novel or planning, every day, but I don’t think it’s come to 500 words per day. Oh well.

Figure out a more solid plot. This is coming along more smoothly. I have the bones of a plot (the very barest, but hey), I had a stroke of inspiration last night, and I’m feeling positive. I think changing it up to something different has been the move I needed to get me feeling motivated about writing again!

Create novel-related pinterest boards. My three novel related pinterest boards (characters, settings, world building) are coming along nicely. I might add a plot board, but we’ll see. You can check them out here, if you’re interested.

All going along swimmingly then (touch wood).

 

 

I figured a good place to begin with this new novel, WIPpet wise, was the beginning. There’s something nerve-racking about sharing an new piece of work with other people, even if it’s only a few lines. It’s still a bit rough, but it should give you an idea of how the novel will open. Also, if anyone can suggest any names for a female character, that’d be fab. Names are my nemisis, and a new plot means LOTS of new names!  WIPpet math is 12 sentences for 15-3.

“This isn’t a good idea.”

“Shh.”

The pair leant over the castle ramparts, peering down through the darkness into the city below. Beyond the city walls, inky water lapped at the breakwater, glinting occasionally as the beam from the lighthouse passed over it. “I’m serious, Ira.” The taller of the pair straightened. “This can only end badly.”

“You always say that.” The Queen huffed, swinging her left leg over the stone balustrade.

“And I’m always right.”

“Stay here then. I can go without you.”