Need To Know – WIPpet Wednesday

As I’ve been getting back into writing, and starting on a new project, I’ve been trying to write down any little snippets that spring into my mind, even if they don’t immediately related to what I’m up to plot-wise the moment they appear. Today’s WIPpet is one of those. It actually happens MUCH later on in my current WIP, possibly even in its sequel (I’m uncertain if it’s going to be a stand-alone or a duology). Obviously you’re not going to have much context, because a) it hasn’t been written yet, and b) it’s pretty spoilery.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, WIPpet Wednesday is a tag run by Emily Witt here in the blogging world. The idea is that every Wednesday you share a snippet from your current Work in Progress (WIP) that somehow corresponds to the date (we’re a bit creative with this). If you want to join in, click on this linky thingy (or just click on it to see what others have posted this week).

Today, my WIPpet is 4 little paragraph things for the fourth month. Genius.

“When did you plan on telling me this? On actually explaining what the signal was?” Kora’s voice shook as she spoke, threatening to burst free from the wall of controlled indifference she had built up.

The resistance leaders glanced at each other, then at Vigo, but said nothing.

“Were you even going to tell me?” Tears welled in her eyes, but she pushed them back. The last thing she needed was for them to question her loyalty, or label her as hysterical. Her eyes locked on Vigo’s. “You? Surely you were going to tell me?”

Vigo’s eyes flickered down to the ground, then back, level with hers, but not meeting her gaze. “It was need to know.” He finally muttered.

Rachel Reviews: On The Other Side

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Title: On The Other Side

Author: Carrie Hope Fletcher

Genre: Magical realism

Format: Audiobook

Date Finished: 2 April 2017

Goodreads Rating: 2 stars

Blurb: 

Your soul is too heavy to pass through this door, Leave the weight of the world in the world from before,

Evie Snow is eighty-two when she quietly passes away in her sleep, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. It’s the way most people wish to leave the world but when Evie reaches the door of her own private heaven, she finds that she’s become her twenty-seven-year-old self and the door won’t open.Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to her long lost love…

I really wanted to like this book. I stumbled across Carrie’s YouTube channel about 18 months ago, and really enjoyed her videos. I read her first book, All I Know Nowwhich I quite enjoyed. I was impressed that someone breaking into the YouTube book market had managed to create a book that was worth the read, meaningful, and to be frank, not rubbish.

I had such high hopes for On The Other Side. It’s Carrie’s first novel, which honestly is probably why I didn’t give it a lower rating. First books aren’t always the best. Not everyone bursts onto the writing scene with an incredible best seller that catapults them to cult status (at least in the book blogging/tubing community). Although On The Other Side is a best seller. More on that later.

The premise of On The Other Side sounded lovely – after you die, if you have led a good life, you can go to your own personal heaven, the place you were at your happiest. But in order to get there, you have to leave behind the burdens from your previous life, and make right the wrongs that are weighing down your soul. For our main character, Evie Snow (again, more on that later), her burden is the loss of her one true love, Vincent Winters (see above brackets). It had the potential to be magical, and beautiful, and poignant, and great.

It wasn’t.

When Suicide Squad came out, one of the (many) criticisms was that Cara Delevingne just didn’t have the acting experience required to pull off the complex role of the Enchantress. I feel as though the same could be said of Fletcher and On The Other Side. The execution of what sounded like such a unique and lovely idea just wasn’t there. This review will probably be spoilery, because I have a lot to say, so bear with me.

The plot. I said before the overall idea was lovely, and had so much potential. It did, but the plot itself really let the idea down. Basically, to provide a short, spoiler-filled summary, Evie has moved out of her super wealthy family’s home to live in a flat her mother pays for to work as a cartoonist. She has one year to get a promotion or she has to return home and marry whoever her mother picks for her to marry. She falls in love with dark, artistic Vincent. She loses her job. She and Vincent plan on running away together to escape her mother. Her brother comes to her and tells her he’s gay, but can’t tell their parents or he’ll lose his inheritance and will have nothing. Evie decides to leave Vincent and do what her mother wants, because that way she’ll be able to financially support her brother. She does just that, and marries her best friend who is in love with her but who she doesn’t love. This is all the backstory for why Evie can’t get into her heaven.

I don’t even know where to begin. If On The Other Side had been set in the seventeenth century, or perhaps even as late as the VERY early twentieth century, I could have believed the premise of the plot. But it’s not. Vincent wears skinny jeans. They go to a prom (despite being 27 and 28). And as a result, the whole plot just becomes ridiculous. Arranged marriages are deeply frowned upon in Britain. If Evie was so deeply in love with Vincent that she couldn’t get into her heaven without making amends with him, then she (and her brother) probably could have just gotten jobs like every other adult in the world. I just couldn’t suspend my disbelief for the non-magical realism elements of the plot. I found the whole concept so utterly absurd (and not to mention unrealistic) that it really detracted from my enjoyment of everything else in the novel.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by the magic either. I am fussy about magic in books, but if it’s done well I feel like it adds amazing depth to a story. The Night Circus, for example, is a stunning tale of magical realism. In On The Other Side the magic felt disjointed, as though it was just thrown in to give the novel a genre. The parts set after Evie’s death worked mostly, it was a quirky exploration of the afterlife. The magic should have stopped there, not continued into the living world. It was so random and illogical that I often thought I was just reading a unique and rather elaborate metaphor, only to realise that no, her paintings actually did turn to glass, she did in fact take her heart out of her chest and bury it, and it did then grow into a weird tree. The magical elements, like a lot of the plot, just didn’t work, and they really let the book down.
My next big issue was with the characters. Not only did they all have ridiculous names that were rather unimaginative and repetitive (Evie Snow, Vincent Winters, Sonny Shine), but they were absurdly two-dimensional. The two main characters were just Carrie and her boyfriend, Pete. The only difference (and I mean the only) was that Evie couldn’t sing, whereas Carrie is a professional musical theatre actress. Whilst I understand drawing on what you know in writing, the obvious plucking of their relationship into a fiction world was a bit dull. Although many (ok, three) of the characters were LGBT, it just felt like that was slapped on to make the book match her YouTube brand (which is very open, and directed mainly towards younger viewers). It was nice that the characters’ sexuality wasn’t their only feature, but the lack of integration into the rest of the plot made it feel clunky and deliberately inclusive, rather than a natural evolution. I despised the characters I was supposed to dislike (such as Evie’s mother, who was quite possibly just every archetype for “evil mother” rolled into one), but I didn’t particularly like any of the characters I was meant to like either. They just fell flat, and weren’t able to hold up the slightly shady plot.

The one positive was that the writing itself was lovely, but it wasn’t enough to save this book.

Maybe, one day, I’ll give Carrie’s next novel, All That She Can See (another book with a lovely premise) a chance, but for now, I feel as though I’d once again be disappointed by a poorly executed example of a wonderful idea, that was only put up on a pedestal because of her existing audience. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate all YouTuber books just because they were written by YouTubers. But On The Other Side isn’t best-seller quality, and it doesn’t deserve that title. It’s not brilliant. It’s barely even mediocre.

2.5/5 stars.

Rachel Reviews: The Princess Diarist

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Title: The Princess Diarist

Author: Carrie Fisher

Genre: Memoir

Format: Audiobook

Date Completed: 31 March 2017.

Goodreads Rating: 4 stars

Blurb: 

When Carrie Fisher recently discovered the journals she kept during the filming of the first Star Wars movie, she was astonished to see what they had preserved—plaintive love poems, unbridled musings with youthful naiveté, and a vulnerability that she barely recognized. Today, her fame as an author, actress, and pop-culture icon is indisputable, but in 1977, Carrie Fisher was just a teenager with an all-consuming crush on her costar, Harrison Ford.

With these excerpts from her handwritten notebooks, The Princess Diarist is Fisher’s intimate and revealing recollection of what happened on one of the most famous film sets of all time—and what developed behind the scenes.  Fisher also ponders the joys and insanity of celebrity, and the absurdity of a life spawned by Hollywood royalty, only to be surpassed by her own outer-space royalty. Laugh-out-loud hilarious and endlessly quotable, The Princess Diarist brims with the candor and introspection of a diary while offering shrewd insight into the type of stardom that few will ever experience.

I am a HUGE fan of Star Wars. I grew up watching the movies, I have very strong opinions about which of the films is best, and I struggle to sit through any of the newest ones without crying because they get me right in the nostalgia-feels. I saw Rouge One the same week that Carrie Fisher died, and I think I felt the way people felt when Alan Rickman died. Someone who had been such a substantial part of my childhood, who had portrayed a character I had looked up to and loved (I once went to primary school with my hair like Princess Leia, only to take it out in tears when one of the kids made fun of me). I had never read any of her writing before she died, and honestly I didn’t know much about her life outside of Star Wars, but after she passed away I knew I wanted to read The Princess Diarist. 

A lot of people have criticised the book because it doesn’t really give all that much of an insight into the filming of the first (IV) Star Wars movie. I couldn’t have cared less. Fisher wrote with such humour, honesty, and openness, about what was clearly an incredibly formative time in her life. I found myself smiling time and time again as she reflected back onto what life was like at nineteen – the anxiety, the insecurity, the crushes, the feeling of immortality. Although I wasn’t on the set of what was the become one of the greatest movies of all time at nineteen, and I definitely wasn’t having an affair with my married co-star, it felt so relatable. She managed to tap in exactly to how it feels to be a teenager, and look back on it with fondness, embarrassment, and honesty.

Part of the book is made up of excerpts from the diaries Carrie Fisher kept whilst she was filming the first Star Wars movie. In the audiobook, these sections were read by her daughter, which worked brilliantly. Again, people have said that these sections were too vague, they didn’t mention Star Wars enough, they weren’t what they were expecting, but to me those criticisms are ridiculous. The diary sections weren’t pages of a manuscript, written in hindsight, with the intention of giving an audience information. They were pages from a very private diary, kept by a young woman who was feeling incredibly smitten and incredibly out of her depth. As a young woman who as felt (as to some extent continues to feel) both of those things, the diary entries, their raw-ness, the way they reflected a stream of consciousness without editing or overthinking, really resonated with me.

Overall, I really enjoyed reading The Princess Diarist, and I think it was even more enjoyable because it wasn’t Star Wars heavy. Don’t get me wrong, I would have loved a blow by blow account of what it was like filming Star Wars, but the fact it was more of a snapshot of Fisher’s life at nineteen made it even more relatable, enjoyable, and touching.

4 stars.

Madness – WIPpet Wednesday

A quick WIPpet on this sunny Wednesday morning. It’s part of the same scene I shared a few weeks ago between Ilia and Kora (although they may have had slightly different names then). 5 sentences for the 5th of April!

“Well surely we could go another way?” Kora glanced over the ramparts again, then drew back. “This is madness.”

Ilia scowled. “They say it runs in the family.”

Here We Go – Round ROW80

I had every intention of writing this and posting it on Monday, but that didn’t happen. We arrived in Australia on Sunday evening, and Monday was filled with chats with family, absolute exhaustion, and a 7pm bedtime. Yesterday was more of the same. But hey, here I am, on the first Wednesday of round 2, ready to begin! Because I missed the actual day for posting your Round goals, this is a long one. Sorry!

I’ve decided to split my goals for this round into 3 sections: overall goals for the round, monthly goals that chip away at these big goals, and weekly goals that build into the monthly goals. Nothing revolutionary.

I’ve actually had my goals for this round planned out for quite a while, as they gave me an idea of what I needed to work on in the weeks leading up to Round 2, seeing as I missed Round 1.

Round 2 Goals 

  • Finish the first draft of Blood of Kings
  • Read 10 books across at least 3 different genres
  • Continue to blog x6 a week across my two blogs
  • Create relatively in-depth character profiles and pinterest boards
  • Establish world layout, major locations, and pinterest inspiration for Blood of Kings world

April Goals

The first two weeks of April are a bit tricky – we’re back in Australia, and obviously I want to focus the majority of my attention on catching up with friends and family, rather than hiding away writing and reading. Once we’re back in Edinburgh I start my new job, which will mean a bit of a shift in routine. As a result, I’ve tried to set up my goals to correspond somewhat to my weird month.

  • Write 50,000 words of Blood of Kings. I’ve decided to do Camp NaNo after all, but my way. Rather than sign up on the website, join a cabin, and all of that stuff, I’m just going to use it as a personal goal. I’ve written down my daily word count aims in a little tracker in my BuJo, and I’m just going to shade them in as I go. I enjoy the way NaNo can get me out of a writing slump, but I’m not sure if the community etc (which I know is the whole point of NaNo) quite works for me.
  • Read 4 books (from at least 2 different genres). I’ve really been enjoying getting back into reading, and hopefully having two (well, technically four) long haul international flights in the first two weeks of this month will help me achieve this goal. I’ve already read one book this month, which I’ll have a review up for shortly.
  • Blog x6 per week. I’m not going to try and restrict myself this month to strictly writing 3 posts per week for each of my sites, because quite honestly I don’t always have three post ideas for my travel blog every week. But I like the number 6, because it gives me one day off each week, so I’m going to stick to that, even if I am a bit more flexible with how many posts each blog gets.
  • Write character interviews for the Blood of Kings cast. I really did intent to do this in March, but for one reason or another it just never really ended up happening. This month, however, I’m determined to get these done. I’ll be sharing them on here, probably over the next month or two, but I want to at least get them all written in April.
  • Work out settings and create pinterest boards. I never start writing something with an idea of where it’s set, what the world looks like, or anything like that. I suppose the plot and the characters come before the world. Obviously it’s a pretty important detail though, so I really want to suss that out sooner rather than later. I already have the outline of a Settings board on pinterest, but it’s a bit haphazard and needs some organisation.

This Week’s Goals

The start of this week has, understandably in my opinion, been a bit of a write-off. International flights, jet-lag, and trying to catch up with as many people as possible in four days doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for much else (case in point: I’m writing this at 6am having been up for 2 hours already because of jetlag). Still, I’m trying to make the best of a less-than-ideal situation.

  • Read 1 book, and start a second. As I mentioned before, I finish a book on the flight over here, so that’s done. I still haven’t decided what I want to read next, but I’m feeling some good old fantasy!
  • Reach 11,666 words. This is technically where I’m supposed to be at the end of week 1, according to my little word count tracker. Honestly, I’m not feeling particularly optimistic, as the rest of this week is just as busy (if not more busy) than the start, but I’ll do my best.
  • Write 6 blog posts. I refuse to give up hope. Posting this will bring my count up to 2 (I wrote a travel post earlier in the week), and I’ve still got a WIPpet and a book review to come over here. I’m sure I can find two more travel post ideas, even if they’re just short ones.
  • List Blood of Kings characters for character interviews. Blood of Kings is still pretty new in my head, and as a result I’m still getting to grips with the characters that keep appearing during plotting sessions or whilst my brain is wandering. Having a nice organised list will definitely help when it comes to prioritising character interviews (and working out POVs – ugh).
  • Organise Settings Inspiration board. If I can create the beginnings of a visual collection of what I think the world looks like, I’ll find it a lot easier to properly world build. That’s just how my brain works.

 

Wow. That was a whopper of a post. Hope you’re all excited for Round 2, let’s see what it throws at us!

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

Genre: Fiction

Format: Hardback

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.