Thursday, 28 December 2017

A Christmas Day Tradition

If I haven't already wished you so, Happy Holidays! I hope your plans are going swimmingly, which rather conveniently leads me onto a popular tradition in Exmouth - The Christmas Day Swim. Every year several hundred hardy souls plunge themselves into the sea, and a few thousand come to watch.

It was bitterly cold and raining on the 25th, but it didn't keep the swimmers away.

Do you have any local Christmas traditions you'd like to share?

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

IWSG: Thanks for the Right Stuff, 2017!

It's time for the last Insecure Writer's Support Group post of 2017. Before I answer this month's question, you can learn more about the IWSG group, it's founder Alex J. Cavanaugh, and purpose here. The awesome co-hosts for December's post are Julie Flanders, Shannon Lawrence, Fundy Blue, and Heather Gardner. Please drop by and say hello.

Time for December's question:

As you look back on 2017, with all its successes/failures, if you could backtrack, what would you do differently?

This isn't an easy question for me to answer. Personally, 2017 has been one of the best years of my life. I married my soulmate. We had numerous adventures together. No words could convey how much my life has changed for the better since meeting him in early 2016, and how fortunate we both feel to have met. 

If there a downside, and I'm reluctant to call it such a thing, it's that my life is far busier than it's ever been. Husband. Friends. Family. The days, weeks, and months seemed to have passed by before they'd registered as having arrived. Something had to suffer, and it was my writing. I have written and blogged, but it was sporadic at best.  

Truth be told, my temperament is often at odds with how I live my life. I love company, but I need time alone to create. I crave it. I'm often baffled by people who don't like or seem able to spend time on their own. A few hours or a day to myself is a rarity for me. It's a situation I need to change if I'm ever going to take my writing seriously. But here's the thing - I wouldn't change a thing about 2017. Highs and lows. Successes and failures. I lived and loved every moment.

How about you?

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

IWSG: Ellie's Story

It's October's Insecure Writer's Support Group post and, as per usual, I'm writing it on the day it's due. I've finally accepted I'm an 'at-the-last-minute' kind of person and I'm good with it. It's just the way my brain works and that's okay. 

Phew. Now that I've kicked that insecurity demon into touch, on with today's post. Before answering this month's question, you can learn more about the IWSG group and it's founder Alex J. Cavanaugh here. The awesome co-hosts for October's post are Olga Godim, Chemist Ken, Jennifer Hawes, and Tamara Narayan.

Time for this month's question:

Have you ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose?

No, and yes. Let me explain. I've never intentionally used deeply personal information to create characters. It's important to separate personal and writing lives. However, I know that my own life has and will continue to influence the characters and stories I write. What makes our writing unique is the sum of all our life experiences. However, I've also chosen to create characters that are the opposite of me in many ways. I enjoyed the challenge of thinking and behaving in ways alien to my own. I guess that's one of the many bonuses of writing - we get to live life in a myriad of ways. 

What about you? Do you put the personal into your characters or stories?

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Bronte Parsonage & Book Bouquet

Before I start this week's post, I must say a heartfelt thanks to everyone who offered advice regarding my author name in Reader, I Married Him. Although I've still not decided whether to continue using my maiden name or use my married name, your comments have given me lots to consider.

Whilst we were on honeymoon, Mr PS and I took a slight detour to visit Haworth in Yorkshire. Apart from it being a ten-minute drive from where he lived many years ago, it's also the home of the Bronte Parsonage Museum. The opportunity to visit where the Bronte sisters lived and wrote their classic novels was not to be missed. If you have the chance to visit the Parsonage, go. You can almost feel Heathcliff and Catherine's presence as you walk around the brooding village, surrounded by the moorland of Wuthering Heights.

What really made our visit special, was taking part in the re-creation of Wuthering Heights. Running from April 6th until December 31st, artist Clare Twomey is inviting visitors to be part of a hand written copy of Emily Bronte's famous novel.


It was also fascinating to see the table upon which all the Bronte novels where written.

Changing the subject, but sticking with books - when we were planning our wedding, I already knew I wanted something rather unique and different for my bouquet. I needed one that could travel with us on our long journey to the Isle of Skye and I wanted to be able to keep it. After a lot of research, I discovered bouquets and button holes made from book paper. What could be more perfect?

It took me a while to find a seller I was confident could make one I'd love, but I'll admit I still had some doubts before it arrived. I'd even promised a close friend that if it wasn't right, I'd switch to flowers. In the end, I needn't have worried.

In case you're curious, the bouquet and Mr PS's button hole were made from the pages of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This was something of a novelty for the Etsy seller, as nearly everyone she makes is Harry Potter!

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

IWSG: Reader, I Married Him

It's time for September's Insecure Writer's Support Group post and I'll be talking about a whopper of an insecurity this month. You can learn more about the group's founder, Alex J. Cavanaugh, and purpose here. The awesome co-hosts for September's post are Tyrean Martinson, Tara Tyler, Raimey Gallant, and Beverly Stowe McClure.

On Sunday, Mr PS and I visited the Bronte Parsonage in Haworth. Whilst there, a mug with the Jane Eyre quote Reader, I Married Him caught my eye. It seemed rather appropriate given Mr PS and I were married on August 30th. I'm now Mrs Stephenson! Alas, this leads me to an insecurity of epic proportions. What name should I now use for my writing?

In 2013, I published two short story collections under my maiden name, Ellie Garratt. Should I continue to publish in that name or do I switch to Stephenson? If I switch to my married name, do I use Ellie Stephenson, E Stephenson, or even Eleanor Stephenson? Which would be better when considering I write mainly science fiction and horror? Do I vary my name depending on genre? Should I re-publish my two short collections under my new name? If I decide to keep publishing as Ellie Garratt, will that offend my husband?

My head is spinning with possibilities.

What do you think? I'm not in any rush to make a decision, but it is nagging away at me. I'd appreciate any thoughts and idea you might have.

I couldn't end this post without sharing some wedding photographs. We were married on the Isle of Skye, Scotland. It was a beautiful day, and every bit the fairy tale I thought it would be. We could not be happier, and are both looking forward to what the future brings.

Monday, 21 August 2017

June & July in Books

I didn't think I'd find time to write this post, but here I am writing book reviews the night before we leave for our wedding. Am I mad? I'll let you decide.

Here's what I read in June and July:

I've said in the past I'm not a fan of crime-based fiction, but as with Milo James Fowler's Charlie Madison books, I loved Red Planet Blues. Skillfully blend speculative fiction with crime noir and I'm in, and Sawyer does this in heaps. It's not hard to see why he's both a Hugo and Nebula award-winning author. Red Planet Blues is a must-read recommendation from me, especially with the action taking place on Mars.

Moondust was a riveting read, with a strong ecological theme at its heart. Whilst there were a few moments that stretched credibility, this young adult thriller set on the Moon kept me hooked. I'm hoping to read more from this author. 

When I was a teenager, I read a lot of my dad's Clive Cussler books. When Nighthawk hit the shelves where I work, I couldn't say no. Whilst I did enjoy it, there was way too much back history I'd missed by starting a series on book number 14 to truly appreciate it. Still a great read, though.

Find Me was a strange read, but one I feel has been unfairly judged. This young adult novel, set during a pandemic, wasn't always a coherent read and was at times quite odd. But I think many readers have missed the point - it was meant to be weird, odd, and disjointed. You'll either love or hate this book.

Four superb, short dark reads set in Susan Kaye Quinn's Singularity Series. Though these four stories can be read independent from the series, I'd recommend reading The Legacy Human first - it will give you some much-needed context. As always, you can't go wrong with a Quinn story.

I feel torn when it comes to reviewing I Owe You One Galaxy. On the one hand I wanted to punch the air with a resounding yes whilst reading the first half - a sort of young adult Firefly in the making - but on the other hand, it descended into way to much tell and not nearly enough show. Then there were moments that made little or no sense. Having said all of that, there is no doubt Verona has the imagination needed to be a great writer, and there was actually a book by another author on my July reading list that I deleted from my eBook reader after just 20 pages. I Owe You One Galaxy was not that bad.

Genesis Earth was well written and I didn't want it to end. If you like sci-fi and space exploration, it's a good, solid read. Were there a couple of plot points that seemed doubtful? Yes. Did it matter? No. I'm looking forward to more from this author.

Choosing a favourite read among all of the above was tough, but in the end Netherspace won. Set 40 years after aliens first came to Earth, I was fascinated by the book's premise - how does humanity trade with species it cannot understand? Fascinating, thought-provoking, and beautifully written, another must-read recommendation from me.

I ended July with 60% of my Goodreads Reading Challenge completed. Thirty-one books, equaling 8004 pages.

Right. Time to turn off the laptop and get some much-needed sleep. I'll be back in two weeks with a new surname and, hopefully, many happy stories to share.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

IWSG: Pet Peeves, Please!

Founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh, the IWSG's purpose is to share and encourage. A place where writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. 

The awesome co-hosts for August's post are Christine RainsDelorah @ Book LoverEllen @ The Cynical SailorYvonne Ventresca, and LG Keltner.

Before I answer this month's question, I should talk about my current writing insecurity. Four weeks today, Mr PS and I are getting married! Now we're into August, it's all become very real. Most of my spare time these last few weeks has been taken up with wedding preparation. There seems to be a never-ending list of tasks to complete and I haven't even started with the packing. I jokingly asked Mr PS what we'd do with all the free time after the wedding. He replied Christmas. I wanted to cry. I love him dearly and cannot wait to be Mrs PS, but I also want some normality. A few weeks of nothing but every day life. I'm seriously considering giving everyone a gift card this Christmas, because it would make my life much easier. Is that bad?

Time for this month's IWSG question:

What are your pet peeves when reading/writing/editing?

Excessive use of swear words. I don't like the use of swear words in fiction, but I do understand that sometimes a well placed swear world can add to a scene. I used the F word once in a story, because the character had to say it. I thought it worked well in the context of the scene. If a book is riddled with them, however, I'll end up putting it down. I don't see the need. The writer should be able to show us how the character is feeling without resorting to excessive profanity. How do you feel about the use of swear words in fiction? What are some of your pet peeves?

Monday, 17 July 2017

Balm for the Soul

Nothing recharges those batteries faster than a weekend away, which is what Mr PS and I did the weekend before last. We left home early Saturday morning and returned Sunday evening. We felt so relaxed, it felt like we'd been away for a week. New surroundings, fresh air, and sunshine is balm for the soul.

On the Sunday we went to an annual classic car show called the Rally of the Giants. It was a new experience for me. You have to use the word rally loosely in this context - no racing of cars took place. Instead owners brought their classic cars and parked up in designated spots according to the age of their vehicle. Members of the public could walk around, take pictures, and generally fantasize about the car they'd like to own - a silver corvette for me and a 1972 Lincoln continental for Mr PS. There were far too many beauties for me to include in this post, but here's a few.

The day before the Rally we visited Waddesdon Manor, a National Trust property near Oxford. This is by far the grandest National Trust property I've visited. The architecture and gardens were stunning and beautifully kept. The inside of the manor was, as Mr PS put it, so over-the-top in its grandeur it bordered on obscene and arrogant. It was a statement of wealth. Given its French ancestry, we could easily see what prompted the French Revolution. 

Mr PS loves his tea, and we were pleasantly surprised when it was served in this cast iron teapot at the Manor. When we returned home, I did some research. Renowned for distributing heat evenly to create a more flavourful cup of tea, it's Japanese in origin and called a Tetsubin. A quick search on Amazon and I was able to order one for home. Mr PS is happy!

All pictures © Eleanor Garratt 2017

What recharges your batteries and/or soothes your soul? 

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

IWSG: A Lesson Learned, Anthology, & Twitter Pitch

Founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh, the IWSG's purpose is to share and encourage. A place where writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. 

The co-hosts for July's post are Tamara Narayan, Pat Hatt, Patricia Lynne, Juneta Key, and Doreen McGettigan. Please drop by and thank them.

Now for this month's IWSG question:

What is one valuable lesson you learned since you started writing?

Not to compare myself to other writers. Whilst it's encouraging and motivating to follow other writers on their journey - often gleaming invaluable advice - you shouldn't compare yourself to them. As a writer, your voice and style is unique. It therefore follows that your journey as a writer will also be unique. Making comparisons can act to discourage you if you've not managed to write or sell as many books as they have. Trying to achieve their success by writing for their market could stifle your own creativity. Write for yourself and your readers.

On to other IWSG news. Submissions are still open for the IWSG Guide to Writing for Profit anthology.

All members of the IWSG blog hop, IWSG Facebook group and/or members of the IWSG Goodreads Book Club are eligible to submit. Submission closes on July 31st. Full details can be found here.

On July 27th, IWSG will be holding its first Twitter Pitch Party! #IWSGPIT will be running from 8am - 8pm Eastern time. Many writers have gone on to see their books published following a pitch, so this a must-do for writers. For full details on how to take part, click here

That's it for this month's IWSG post. What valuable lessons have you learned? Are you submitting an entry for the Guide to Writing for Profit anthology? Have you ever pitched via Twitter? What were your experiences of submitting that way?

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

April & May in Books

This post covers everything I read during April and May. I ended May disappointed, having fallen behind in my Goodreads 2017 Reading Challenge. I'm now a month behind for the year. I have high hopes for June.

Here's what I read in April and May:

Books two and three of Frank Tayell's Surviving The Evacuation Series, Wasteland and Family, did not disappoint. I have a new favourite author, with Wasteland leading the race for my 2017 Read of the Year. If you're a fan of the post-apocalyptic and zombie genres, but want something a little different, give this series a go. You'll thank me for the recommendation. Check out my review of book one here.

The Hatching by Ezekiel was a strange read. I'm still not sure whether I really liked it or not. The premise - hideous spiders hatching and plaguing the world - was enough to hook me. Show me a disaster story and I'm in. The book itself read like a movie - if there isn't a movie in pre-production, I'd be surprised. What I didn't enjoy was the way every character was obsessed with sex or the lack of it. There weren't any gratuitous sex scenes, rather mini biographies of whom a character had slept with or wanted to sleep with interwoven into the plot. It just seemed unnecessary. Maybe it's just me?

The End of the World Running Club was a great read. It caught by surprise, because I'd wrongly assumed it was set in America. Not so. Starting in the north of England, the story headed roughly southwest. It wasn't at all what I'd expected, and I was a little disappointed the actual running part took so long to start. I was also baffled by the geography of the run towards the end. I won't say why I was baffled, because that would be a plot massive spoiler. Having said all of that, the ending was five-star for me. I did not see it coming. 

The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers was a fun read. I didn't realise until after I'd finished it that this was a crowd-funded novel. I'm sure everyone who backed Chambers felt theirs was a wise investment when they finally held her book in their hands. If you loved Firefly and enjoy space opera, then this is a must-read. 

Despite being a Stephen King fan, I'd never felt the urge to read his The Dark Tower series. Why? It's a predominately fantasy-based series. Give me horror or science fiction any day. However, I finally decided to give it a go and really wished I hadn't. I'm sure to the right group of readers, the Towers series is the best thing King has ever written. In its genre, I'm confident it's outstanding. For me, it confirmed everything I dislike about the fantasy genre. After finishing book one, I know it would be pointless carry on. Sorry, Mr. King.

I ended May with 35% of my yearly target completed. What books did you read in April and May?

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

IWSG: Did You Ever Say "I Quit?"

Founded by Alex J. Cavanaugh, the IWSG's purpose is to share and encourage. A place where writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds. 

The awesome co-hosts for June's post are JH Moncrieff, Madeline Mora-Summonte, Jen Chandler, Megan Morgan and Heather Gardner. Please drop by and thank them.

Now for this month's IWSG question:

Did you ever say "I quit?" If so, what happened to make you come back to writing?

I've come close on more than one occasion. There have been times, like now, where daily life leaves no time for writing. I seem to stumble from work to home to work again, promising myself I'll get back to my writing later. The problem is later never arrives. When I feel that overwhelmed by daily life, I ask myself whether writing will add another layer of stress I don't need? Wouldn't it be better to just shelve it?

I think you'll already know the answer to those questions - a resounding no. I couldn't quit writing any more than I could quit breathing. Even if I'm not putting words to paper, I'm constantly thinking up new stories and working out plot holes. Characters tap their feet, while muttering "Hello, it's me." They're living, breathing entities, who need their story to be told. 

It might take me a long time to start publishing again, but I'll never quit. What about you? Have you quit or come close to it? What pulled you back?

Monday, 29 May 2017

Bookstagram & Book Goodies

I've finally signed joined Instagram. I'd been reluctant to do so, because it meant another form of social media to maintain. What I've discovered is that like Twitter, it's incredibly quick and easy to use. As I've decided to keep the focus on my love of books, I don't have to think too long or hard about content. I get to share the books and book-related goodies I find and peer enviously at the memorabilia other bookstagrammers own. I can see my wishlist growing.

Empress of a Thousand Skies was my March book box read. 
The picture I took below has proved to be my most popular 
bookstagram so far.

I was really tempted to buy this Christine car model. If it hadn't 
involved putting it together myself, I would have bought it. But 
at £29.99, I didn't want to waste the money (I'm that hopeless 
with kits).

Whilst I was putting this post together, I released just how many book-related items I have. Not a good thing when I'm already struggling to find space for all my books. The trials of an avid reader! There is a solution coming. Mr PS is building a massive floor to ceiling bookcase and a summer house that has two rooms. One of those will become my writing room, along with lots of shelving for books. I can't wait to fill them both up.

Are you on Instagram? Do you have a lot of book memorabilia? Have you built anything from a model kit and it went well?

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Book Cover and A Proposal

May 4th marked a year since I moved in with Mr PS, and he'd asked me to choose somewhere to celebrate that evening. I decided no ordinary venue would do. A friend had mentioned a place called The Book Cover - a 1920s style Speakeasy hidden behind a vintage book shop - and I knew it was the perfect location.

I didn't tell Mr PS where we were going, only that he needed to dress smart. Just before we arrived, I gave him a small gold card that contained the password required to get in. He was totally baffled, and beginning to think we were going to a murder/mystery evening. The look on his face when we arrived and he saw all the books and a table with an old fashioned typewriter was priceless. When a 1920s styled waiter appeared and asked for the password, it took Mr PS a couple of seconds to realize the phrase on the card - Cat Among the Pigeons - was it. Inside was stunning, from the lighting to decor. I don't think any pictures I post will do it justice, but this one gives you an idea.

Mr PS decided he'd have a wander around while I sipped my drink. After a minute or so, he returned and said I should do the same. I walked past the plush booths and tables to the small stage - home to the jazz band playing later that night - and gazed at the collection of mirrors on the wall behind. Mr PS appeared at my side and asked me what I thought of the stage. I said something about it being small, but that I loved the way it was lit from below. Then he said something strange. He asked if I thought it was odd. When I said I didn't think so, he pointed to a small box on the stage. I said that maybe it opened up and it was a place for musical instruments to be plugged in.

I'm not sure if you've guessed the outcome of this story yet, but he realized I just wasn't getting it. As soon as Mr PS knelt down and picked up the box, I knew exactly what the box meant. The following 30 seconds or more was him going down on one knee to propose, me saying yes and then sobbing deliriously happy tears.

Cocktails, champagne, and truffles followed. Given I rarely drink, I was a little hungover the following day at work. It didn't matter. Nothing could have ruined my mood that day.

For the first (and only time in my life), I'm engaged! Given that I told my best friend within a few weeks of meeting Mr PS he was the one I'd marry, I can safely tell you he's the one. We could not be happier. Plus, we got engaged on May the Fourth Be With You. Do we need a better omen?

Monday, 17 April 2017

March in Books

This post is a little later than planned, so you haven't read the title wrong. It really is April 17th, or day 17 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge. If you're taking part in A to Z this year, how's it going?

Here's what I read in March:

I found This Book Is Full Of Spiders while in my local Waterstones. It's the sequel to John Dies at the End, but can easily be read as a standalone. What drew me to the book, apart from the spiders, was the funny blurb and introduction - I needed a good laugh. The book delivered. I'm guessing this is the type of book you'll either love or hate because of the spiders. I've no fear of them, so this was a fun read for me.

Empress of a Thousand Skies was another Fairy Loot read. My favourite genre, and a quick read. Don't be fooled by the quick read comment; the universe and cast of characters Belleza created was vast and impressive. The author's tight prose and clean style made it a joy to read. I'm guessing book two won't arrive until 2018, which will be a long wait.

I read two books by Frank Tayell during March - London: Surviving the Evacuation Book One and Zombies Vs The Living Dead (An Evacuation Story). I discovered Tayell in 2015, when I read Work. Rest. Repeat. I was so impressed, I added him to my TBR list. After my severe lack of reading in 2016, I promised myself I'd read his zombie series in 2017. After reading book one (I've since read book two), I could quite happily read all nine books back to back. It's been a long time since I've read a story told through a diary format. It's also been a long time since a story's twists and turns genuinely surprised me with their originality, especially so in book two. I do, however, have a lot of books waiting to be read. The readers dilemma. One a month?

Finally, book seven of M. Pax's The Backworlds series arrived. Like the first six books in her superb space opera series, Freefall delivered in every way. When you're seven books into a series, there's a certain amount of fondness for the characters and the worlds they inhabit. You've also invested a lot of time and energy, so each book is opened up with some trepidation (or turning on the ebook reader in this case). As always, Pax did not disappoint. You know the way favourite television series surpass their fictional roots and the characters become real people to those watching? The Backworlds does that for me. Now begins the wait for book eight.

I ended March with 23% of my yearly target completed.

What books did you read in March?