National Novel Writing Month Days 11-15

DAY ELEVEN

Written 12/11/2017 for 11/11/2017

Friends are not unlike sanity.

You need them, or society will think of you as weird, but you can’t help but think you’d be a lot more relaxed without them.

I’ve been out with friends two Saturday’s in a row now, clubbing, like some eighteen-year-old.

It’s mad because of course, you have to drink (yes, you do) and that means however good a night you have; you guarantee writing off your entire Sunday.

This would be fine if you were a normal person who worked Monday to Friday, played on Saturday, and sat around watching telly and building matchstick towers on Sundays, but I don’t have that luxury.

I want to be a writer – for whatever reason – and that means I need Sunday as a day of work.

Usually, I’m excellent and get about nine or ten hours writing in but now we’ve had the first two Saturday’s of November and both have involved a night out leading to a hangover that has crippled my Sunday productivity.

So, with this in mind, I’ve had to get at least a decent showing on Saturday, even if I’m still not writing anywhere near as much as I do on a Sunday.

Yesterday, I worked for a couple of hours in the morning, working on a few bits, but dedicating a fair amount of time to my Nano project and knowing that, after the 849 words showing of the previous day, I needed to get at least a good couple of thousand on Saturday morning.

I did alright.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 11: 18,333

Words written: 3,940

Total words: 23,313

Words over Target: 4,980

Average per day: 2,119

Remaining: 26,681

3,940. That’s the best count so far, coming right after the worst count (and only second count under 1,000) yesterday.

Can’t be displeased with that.

Given that, I’m not going to worry too much tonight. I’d like to knock out at least 1,500, but I’ll see how it goes. Truth is, I have Monday and Tuesday off, so I expect those to be good writing days.

I can afford to do a bit worse today, but I’ll see how it goes.

 

DAY TWELVE

Written 13/11/2017 for 12/11/2017

As expected, following my night out, yesterday was not the best writing day.

But that’s okay. I said I was going to give myself a bit of a break on account of having my best day so far on Saturday and because I’m home Monday/ Tuesday.

So, while 1,784 only just misses out on my bottom three days, productivity-wise, it is still above the 1,667 you have to do a day to get finished, and, as a result of getting over that, I am now more than 5,000 over the daily target.

Not only that, but yesterday’s session took me over the halfway point (woo) in the 50,000-word target.

Not so bad then.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 12: 20,000

Words written: 1,784

Total words: 25,103

Words over Target: 5,103

Average per day: 2,091

Remaining: 24,897

Now, last time I had some days off I was hitting 15,000 words a day.

That will not happen now.

For a start I was starting at nine then and it’s already ten past eleven now.

For a second, uh, thing, I’ve got quite a bit of blogging to do, and that’s going to take up some time.

Thirdly, I’m just not feeling as motivated as I was with Project Perry, so, it ain’t going to happen.

But that’s not to say I can’t have a good day, starting as soon as I finish this sentence.

Ish.

 

DAY THIRTEEN

Written 14/11/2017 for 13/11/2017

I’ve always been good at self-blame and getting down on myself.

Not so much about the quality of my work – although, also that – but more about productivity.

Every day I set my alarm for six thirty, and every day I don’t get up till gone seven, and every day I feel shitty about it.

That’s the big one, but regarding writing output, I tend to do the same.

So, while a lot of people might look at yesterday’s output and say “man, that’s pretty good, even on a day off, especially seeing as you wrote a blog and did some other bits and pieces as well” I only look at it and say…

“But I did 15,000 words a day last time I was off.

That kind of thinking, of course, is counterproductive. I only did what I did and to wish I did more only wastes more time and energy.

So, today, when I assess the below, I’m going to try and look at it in a more positive light, in comparison to my productivity in this National Novel Writing Month, as opposed to in comparison with my last week off.

Let’s check it out then.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 13: 21,666

Words written: 6,176

Total words: 31,279

Words over Target: 9,613

Average per day: 2,406

Remaining: 18,729

Over 6,000 words is my most productive day so far, easily ousting my previous best by over 2,000 words.

So we’ve done well, pushing to almost 10,000 words ahead of schedule, and now with less than 20,000 words to go to “win” NaNoWriMo.

It would be stupid to feel bad about that.

So what about today? My last ‘free’ day before going up North to see my Grandma. Well, It’s not just gone midday. I’ve been out this morning to the bank and to have a haircut (thank you, I think so too) plus I’ve done some writing.

So, we’re not likely to do as well as yesterday, but let’s just see what we can do, okay?

After all, it’s only a game.

 

DAYS FOURTEEN & FIFTEEN

Written 16/11/2017 for 14/11/2017 & 15/11/2017

Okay, it happened.

At the halfway point as well.

I suppose I always knew it would, eventually.

But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

I went a day without writing.

I have a bundle of excuses, of course. I was stuck in a car from nine am until two pm. Then I was with my girlfriend’s Grandparents for a couple of hours then it was another hour drive, and then I was with my grandparents.

We had dinner and played games, and I had a few glasses of wine.

Then it was the Apprentice, ruining things again as it did on that very first day.

By the time that had finished, I felt groggy from the booze, tried from the long day of sitting next to someone who had to concentrate on driving, and that’s not to mention the horrific cold I have.

So it was a conscious decision, in the end. But not one I took lightly.

In fact, I was sure it was the wrong decision write up until I fell asleep, but I’d made my choice.

There was no going back.

The decision, I suppose was made a little easier by the knowledge that I had an okay day of writing the day before, following on from a great day, Monday.

The stats below are for Tuesday 14th. Averages will have dropped since then, but at least I know I’m in a good place.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 14: 23,333

Words written: 5,670

Total words: 36,949

Words over Target: 13,616

Average per day: 2,639

Remaining: 13,051

So I’m not allowing myself to be down.

I had a day off, but it followed my best two days of writing this November.

I just need to get back on the horse. It’s morning now, and I doubt I”ll get much done in terms of novel writing this morning because I’m going out for lunch and I need to sort my next blog, but this afternoon, I plan to get some words back down.

Get back on, and shoot towards victory.

We’ll see how that works out.

Man vs Bookshelf: Grandpa’s Great Escape

After struggling to get through Good Omens in the allotted time, I wanted to dive into a quick read.

I choose Grandpa’s Great Escape. It may look beefy, and weigh in at over 450 pages, but don’t let that fool you. It is, after all, a kiddies book, and thus utilises BIG words and plenty of pictures.

So I intended it to pose no problems, and it didn’t, as I raced through it in three days.

Nice and easy.

So what did I think?

David Walliams and Me

If you had asked me twelve years ago if I could see Little Britain’s David Walliams writing successful children’s books I would have asked you who you were and what you were doing in my school.

Totally inappropriate.

I suppose it’s not that weird to think that David Walliams is now writing children’s books.

Yes, Little Britain and Come Fly With Me were utterly inappropriate for kids, but that kind of irreverent toilet humour is ripe for translation into the type of books David Walliams now writes.

So, when I heard Walliams was writing fab kid’s books, I wasn’t surprised. Not only that, but I was keen to give them a go.

Now, full disclosure, I’m not a child.

Well, not in a legal sense, anyway.

Nor do I know any children to whom I could read these stories. But, if you think kids books are for kids and kids alone, you are a poop (ha!)

Kids fiction is at its best when it works on two levels. One for adults, one for kids. After all, it’s the adults that read the books to their kids, so it has to work for them.

And, when it’s top notch, it transcends age boundaries altogether.

Remember, Harry Potter was a kids book once.

(If you haven’t heard of Harry Potter, it is a series of books about a boy wizard. It was initially intended for children but has achieved a reasonable level of success across all age groups in the past twenty years, having sold at least forty trillion copies.)

So I was ready to give Walliams a go, and my girlfriend was kind enough to buy me three of his stand-alone stories. The Boy in the Dress, Gangsta Granny, and Grandpa’s Great Escape.

Grandpa’s Great Escape

‘Grandpa’ was the third of the three Walliam’s books I read.

Set in the 1980’s, it is the tale of Jack and his Grandpa, a World War II pilot who now suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. When Jack’s parent feel they can no longer look after Grandpa, he is moved to the old people’s home, Twilight Towers, run by Miss Swine.

When it becomes clear that Miss Swine is mistreating her wards for person gain, Jack must help his Grandpa make a daring escape. An escape that, if successful, will give Grandpa a final chance to relive his past and once again take to the sky in his beloved Spitfire.

As with Gangsta Granny and The Boy in the Dress, this is a fast-paced, exciting read, and ‘Grandpa’ is certainly the most action-packed book of the trio, racing from set piece to set piece without ever losing the heart of the novel.

It’s also – as the others were – funny. There’s plenty here for kids – fart and poop jokes – but also for adults. The sly humour that kids won’t notice and only adults will get. Always very well done.

Based on humour and pace alone, it’s easy to see why children and parents have fallen in love with Walliams’ books, but there is something else he achieves in his writing I find so impressive.

Dealing with ‘adult topics’.

I don’t read a lot of children’s fiction, but I imagine many writers shy away from the issues Walliams utilises in his books.

The story of Grandpa’s Great Escape is all about Jack helping his Grandfather escape the horrible old people’s home – Twilight Towers.

This, alone, makes for a great story, but it’s the framework, and the heart of the tale, that really sets it apart.

See, as mentioned above, Grandpa is inflicted with Alzheimer’s. Now, this is a horrible illness, and one I can imagine is difficult to convey to children in a way they can understand.

Walliams’ does it brilliantly. It is not shoehorned in as some idealistic message, tacked on to the story. It is the story. It drives the plot along. Nothing happens if not for Grandpa’s illness, and we, the reader, are never left in any doubt that this is the case.

What is particularly touching is that, given Grandpa’s condition, grandson Jack is the only one who can communicate with him. By learning to live in Grandpa’s memories with him, Jack can help grandpa more than anyone else. He coaxes the elder down from great heights when he – grandpa – believes he is in his Spitfire and he – Jack – understands that, just because Twilight Towers is not Colditz Castle, does not mean it is not a horrible place, worth escaping.

This entangling of adventure and illness sets up a beautiful – and emotional – finale, which I won’t ruin here. But is thoroughly earned and the perfect culmination of everything that has gone before.

I’m not ashamed to say; it would make some people teary.

Not me though. I’m well manly, and this isn’t Lion King.

No matter how popular Walliams gets, a lot of people will be put off these books because of Little Britain, or Come Fly With Me, or because you’re not a twelve-year-old boy.

Don’t be put off.

Pick up a Walliams book.

Give it a go.

You won’t regret it.

“Hang on, before you go…”

Yes, yes, yes, I know what you’re going to ask, why did I give it a 3/5 on Goodreads?

I don’t know, to be honest. I probably should have given it a 4. If it had been a ten point scale I would have given it a seven.

Hey, have I mentioned how much I hate Goodreads’ five-point scale before?

Next Time

We’re going away from fiction next time out as I will be reading the first of two Brian Clough autobiographies I have.

I hope I’m reading the first released, but it’s hard to tell.

See you then!

National Novel Writing Month Days 6-10

DAY SIX

Written 07/11/2017 for 06/11/2017

I’m overextending myself.

I knew I would. I always do. I get too into it I love the writing and the blogging and the tweeting, so I just add more and more.

At the moment I write this diary thing when I get to work before I start. Then at lunch, I write for my Man vs Bookshelf blog (or read, if I need to). After dinner, I do my tweeting and FBing and write for my latest writing project, and then before I go to bed, I do my reading.

It’s too much; I know it is. If I get talking before work, or I go out to lunch at lunch, or I spend too long watching telly in the evening, suddenly, I’m behind. Even though I’m getting my Nano targets hit at the moment, I’m still never going to get the whole book finished this month, and that’s depressing enough.

But I don’t want to stop. I can’t stop. Stupid as it is I’ll keep pushing myself until it all collapses around my shoulders.

So, that should be fun…

But like I say, I’m still hitting my targets and yesterday, despite The Walking Dead being on, I managed to do it again:

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 6: 10,000

Words written: 1,795

Total words: 12,898

Words over Target: 2,898

Average per day: 2,149

Remaining: 37,102

Tonight I’m going to the cinema, so that’s fucked everything up.

I’m going to get home, have dinner, and try bang out another 1,800 words before I go. If I do it, fab, if I don’t, well, I’ll probably spend the whole film crying.

 

DAY SEVEN

Written 08/11/2017 for 07/11/2017

Last night was an adrenaline packed race against time.

It was like a Michael Bay film but with a story.

I arrived home from work at half six, and I had until seven forty-five before I would be picked up and taken to the cinema to see Thor: Ragnarok.

In that time I needed to prepare dinner, eat dinner, and do at least 1,800 words on my NaNo project.

A terrifying task, but I was ready.

I chopped potatoes like a madman. Sprinkled herbs and spices over them like I had an infinite supply. Chucked them in the oven like I was flinging a baby from a burning building. Then it was to the writing.

600 words before dinner was ready. Food and conversation with the girlfriend followed and then it was back to the keys, time slipping away like a bar of soap out of wet hands.

But could I make it?

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 7: 11,666

Words written: 1,831

Total words: 14,729

Words over Target: 3,063

Average per day: 2,104

Remaining: 35,271

In the end, I suffered a string of texts from my ride to the cinema, but I managed to get the words done, doing less than 50 more than yesterday, but also drawing slightly further ahead of the target.

It was always going to be tough, but I did it, and I’m hoping for at least 2,000 words tonight.

Before The Apprentice that is.

We’ll see how it goes.

 

DAY EIGHT

Written 09/11/2017 for 08/11/2017

I’m going to collapse.

I’m ploughing on. I posted my next Man vs Bookshelf blog yesterday, and I did my Nano words, but it came at a price.

I didn’t start writing till half eight; then I had to watch the Apprentice at nine. I got back to writing after but by the time I had done my words and tidied up etc. It was eleven o clock.

Eleven is the latest I like to be up, but I hadn’t even done my reading. By the time that was done, it was midnight.

Needless to say, I’m knackered today.

But at least I did my words, right?

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 8: 13,333

Words written: 1,875

Total words: 16,604

Words over Target: 3,271

Average per day: 2,075

Remaining: 33,396

What’s the target today? The last three days I’ve done a handful more words each day, so I guess let’s keep that going.

Today’s target is to get at least 1,876 words.

 

DAY NINE

Written 10/11/2017 for 09/11/2017

Oh, bugger.

I was supposed to write this in the morning. I always try to write my Nano update in the morning before I start, so I don’t forget the circumstances of what happened the day before.

But I was late to the office today, so didn’t get a chance.

And now I have actually forgotten.

So, um, bugger.

Luckily I write all my stats down the night before, so you can still enjoy reading those (you lucky thing), and I’ll get back to writing these things first thing tomorrow.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 9: 15,000

Words written: 1,926

Total words: 18,530

Words over Target: 3,530

Average per day: 2,058

Remaining: 31,470

 

DAY TEN

Written 11/11/2017 for 10/11/2017

I think NaNoWriMo can be a fantastic thing for writers.

I’ve said before how habit is vital for writers. The process of just getting words down day after day because, the truth is, the only way to get better is to keep writing.

You can read every book and blog going about how to become a better writer but, if you don’t start getting words down, it’s all for nowt.

So NaNoWriMo encourages this kind of commitment, but it also invites you to finish something, which is the other key to becoming a better writer.

In my years I have started over a thousand stories, novels and scripts and left them to die in the wilderness of my hard drive, and each one taught me a little more about writing. But, the problem with that is that no one publishes a first draft (I don’t care what Lee Child says, I’m not buying it).

Editing is vital to success. Reworking things that didn’t work in the first place.

It’s only by forcing yourself to this stage, however bad you might think the first draft is, that you finally learn to progress to a book that is good enough to be read.

So the habit NaNoWriMo brings is excellent, but I also think it’s worth being careful because Nano asks that you write at least 1,667 words a day, and this is where problems can arise.

Take last night, for example.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 10: 16,666

Words written: 849

Total words: 19,379

Words over Target: 2,713

Average per day: 1,937

Remaining: 30,621

I sat down after the England/ Germany game and pledged that I would write 2,000 words. I wanted to get further ahead of target, and I didn’t even want to think about giving up.

However, after about 250 words, it became clear it wasn’t working.

I couldn’t get into the right frame of mind, and I was pushing words out thoughtlessly. First drafts take a certain degree of free writing, but there comes a point – when you’re writing just for the sake of writing – that you’re doing more harm than good.

That’s what was happening to me last night, and it made me think.

I almost always cannot be bothered to start writing. It’s very rare that I’ll get in and want to get going. I start because I know I have to. Because I’m committed.

Despite this reluctance to start, once I’ve begun, everything tends to change. I fall immediately into the project, and I’ll just go, banging out however many words I can in the time allowed and not wanting to stop.

So, when I get to 250 words, and it’s just not clicking, even though that’s not very many, it is an obvious sign that something is not right.

I didn’t heed this warning last night, but I should have.

Luckily I came to my senses just after 800 words and realised I was wasting my time. I was tired, I was grumpy, and I was just junking out senseless nonsense to get the words done.

So here’s what I would say.

Promise yourself 250 words a night.

It’s nothing. It’ll take ten minutes, so you won’t be afraid to do it.

It’s because of this that you’ll almost always do more. You’ll smash targets, and you’ll be happier for it too. Keep writing as long as you feel good to keep writing, and you’ll easily make enough words on the on days to cover the days when 250 is about all you can manage.

I’ve been writing a long time, but it’s never too late to learn.

I’ll be holding this lesson close to me from now on.

Man vs Bookshelf: Good Omens

For a time it seemed ‘Good Omens’ might be a bad omen.

A terrible omen.

I was sure I’d never finish it in a week. I got three days in, with Sunday gone, and I wasn’t even halfway there.

I saw it all unfold before me. I would finish Good Omens on Thursday, a day too late. I would put it into my spreadsheet, and there it would be. This big, chasm-like gap in the cell next to “Week 3”.

It wouldn’t matter that I finished three books in week two, either. That isn’t the point. If I start throwing it all away after one good run, you might as well call me Man United.

No, an empty week was not an acceptable outcome.

So, I did what I had to do; I tend only to read before bed, but this turn of events took more extreme measures.

I read on the bus on the way to work. I stopped in Costa before work and read some more. I returned to Costa at lunch and, again, read some more.

Now we were kicking. I was flying through pages and, by the end of Monday, I felt much better. If I kept up reading at lunch and before work on Tuesday and Wednesday, on top of the usual before bed pages, I’d get it done.

I would not shame my family.

Still, disaster almost struck, when I returned to Costa at lunch on Tuesday.

There sat one of my colleagues, bold as brass, drinking coffee and smiling all innocent. Like she didn’t know what she was doing.

But she did. She knew of my challenge, and she wanted to quash it. Because what could I do? Step into Costa, and I’d have to sit and talk. Leave, and I had nowhere else to go.

It was lose-lose.

I slunk away. Deflated and defeated. Back in the office, I read a few more pages. Arms wrapped around my book, hiding it from the office as though it was a baby in a room full of kidnappers. It wasn’t great, but it was better than nothing.

By Tuesday evening, worry had set in. Wednesday was looming and with it a trip to IKEA (to get a bookshelf, of all things!) and another episode of the Apprentice. I was floundering. Afraid.

I wasn’t going to make it.

How would I look my mother in the eye?

[Pause for dramatic effect.]

Oh, but then I did it.

Yeah, I read the last 150 pages on Tuesday night like it wasn’t even a thing.

So, uh, turned out I was making a lot of fuss about nothing.

Pretty unusual for me [wink]

In the end, it took me six days, and a lot of complaining. But at least it gives me something to write about, and that’s what you’re all here for, right?

Unless, of course, you stumbled here by mistake looking for Man vs Boobshelf.

If so, I apologise.

This must be mighty disappointing for you.

No boobs in this post.

Sorry.

Anyway…

Review below

 

Terry Pratchett and Me

Haha, tricked you.

First, let’s talk about the writers.

For me, Terry Pratchett is a lot like Stephen King. From an early age, I loved humour fiction, as I did horror, and I knew there was a giant in the game I was missing.

In this case, that giant was Terry Pratchett.

As with King, I tried to like Pratchett. My step-granddad is a huge fan. Has every book he ever wrote, and I tried a few myself in time. Getting the furthest through The Colour of Magic, the first Discworld Novel.

But I could never get into them. My reading palette hadn’t developed enough. I wasn’t ready to appreciate the brilliance of Terry Pratchett.

And he is, by the way, brilliant.

I can’t remember why I went back to The Colour of Magic. Whether I kept hold of it or had to rebuy it. But, whatever the case, I picked it up again in my early twenties and gave it a go.

I loved it. Loved it so much I smashed through The Light Fantastic and Equal Rites straight after.

I stopped then. God knows why because I have Mort and Sourcery waiting for me, but it wasn’t for lack of enjoyment. I’m looking forward to hitting them later in the challenge.

For now, though, I decided to start with a book I’ve had much longer than any other Pratchett book.

And it wasn’t even written by him alone.

 

Neil Gaiman and Me

From early on, I had it in my head that I didn’t like Neil Gaiman.

I don’t know why. I don’t even think I read anything by him. But I was sure, judgemental bastard that I am, that I didn’t like him.

Sorry, Neil.

For this reason, I avoided his books like the plague for a long time. It was only when Amazon released American Gods as a show that I ended up picking up a Gaiman book.

The show hadn’t begun, and I was in an airport ready to fly back from holiday. I saw American Gods and thought “why not” it’s a neat shape.

So I bought it.

I read the first third on the plane, but after that, it took me a while to finish.

Even so, when I did, I had enjoyed it. Enjoyed it quite a lot, actually. Enough to make me reassess my previous, un-explainable, hatred for Gaiman and his works.

It’s down to that I picked up Good Omens so early in the challenge. I knew it was a cult classic. I knew I liked the authors.

Now, I wanted to give it a go for myself.

 

Good Omens

You’ll be sick of me saying this soon (now) but… I have had Good Omens a long time.

Long before I ever picked up a book written by either Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett alone.

It’s also older than a lot of the books on my shelf. I don’t really go in for the classics (Except the Outsides from 1967, which is incredible) so 1990 is about the limit.

But that’s all general points and relates nowt to the vital question:

What did I think of the Book?

Yeah, it was alright.

I gave it a three on Goodreads but only because Goodreads insist on limiting me to a ten-point scale. If Goodreads did use a ten-point scale, the book would have tempted me to give it a seven.

(Side note.

Question: how many times I’m going to mention my distaste for Goodreads’ five points system?

Answer: At least 210 times. Sorry.)

But, yes. The book is slow to get going, and the ending is a bit duff, but it was clever. It flowed well. It was funny. And the plotting is outstanding. Especially considering the amount of authors it has.

 

The Humour

As discussed, I’ve not read much Neil Gaiman. What I have read – American Gods – was not supposed to be funny. Unless I didn’t get it at all, that is. So, I can’t testify whether his sense of shines through here.

What I can say is this book is dripping with the kind of humour featured in Discworld. So, if you like that, as I do, you’ll be in safe hands. This despite the fact the book is set on Earth, rather than a fantasy world.

Gaiman and Pratchett have said they went into this book not hoping to make a smash hit, but to make each other laugh.

This shows. Comedy is front and centre here, and it works all the way through.

There are genuine laugh out loud moments. The kind that makes you want to turn to your other half and read them to her.

Even though she isn’t all that interested.

Sorry about that.

 

The Structure

Good Omens is slow to get going, but it becomes clear why this has to be the case as the plot progresses.

The story is not complex, per se, but it does have a lot of moving parts. A large cast of characters, all with their own stories, all travelling towards one location and climax.

This – the act of bringing so many moving parts together for the climax of a novel – is difficult to do alone. I can’t imagine making it work with two authors working together.

The fact that it does work is a clear testament to their strong relationship. Not to mention their respective talent as authors in their own rights.

The result of this clever plotting is a funny book that gets faster paced as it goes along. It creates a story that is an easy but exciting read.

From start to… well, from start to climax

 

The Ending

I recently read an article ranking forty Discworld novels. One point it made was that Pratchett wrote excellent books… but often with weak endings.

This is in clear evidence here, and it’s something I like to call “The Doctor Who Principle”.

The issue here is we have such a massive setup. The end of the world, no less.

But the problem with such setups is they are so big; it can be hard to end them satisfyingly.

This is especially true in media and literature where the heroes are not fighters, so there can be no battle.

I use Doctor Who as an example because he doesn’t fight. So it doesn’t matter if he’s facing one Dalek or a billion. At the end of it all, there will be some quick switch. Some mega button and all the foes will die at once.

It has to be that way, because of the nature of the show, but it’s something that has often left me unsatisfied.

It’s the same here. The good guys come up against the bad guys, and in one fell swoop, the bad guys are defeated.

By this point, the end of the world has been set in motion, but again, one line of text, and it is all solved.

It’s the one shame of the book. It works so hard to get so many characters together for this climax, all for there to be no real “final battle”.

It’s a disappointing end, but the book gets away with it. The rest is so good that you have to forgive it.

So while it’s one thing I would change, I don’t think it diminishes the effect of the book. And I would still recommend Good Omens to any fans of Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett that have not yet read it.

Maybe it’s not one for Christians, though.

Just a thought.

Next time

We’re sticking with the funny for a third book in a row next time out, but changing age group.

It’s Grandpa’s Great Escape by David Walliams.

National Novel Writing Month: Days 1-5

DAY ONE

Written: 02/11/2017 for: 01/11/2017

When getting into a new task or challenge, there’s nothing more important than getting off to a good start.

I said as much in Man vs Bookshelf. In fact, it was the reason I changed my mind about the book I was starting with at the last moment; to give myself the best possible chance of a good start.

I knew I was in equal need of a good start here. A first day of 2,000 words would have done it. A real chance to set down a marker and say, yes, I’m going to make NaNoWriMo mine. I am going to win.

So how did it go?

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 1: 1,666

Words written: 901

Words off target: 765

Total words: 901

Average per day: 901

Remaining: 49,099

Aye, not great.

Not great at all.

But it isn’t my fault. Who starts National Novel Writing Month on the same day as Apprentice and my trip to Ikea? Talk about poor planning.

You’re going to say that National Novel Writing has to start on the 1st of November because November IS National Novel Writing Month.

But “the 1st of November” as a concept is pretty transient, don’t you think?

Anyway, doesn’t matter. We are where we are, and at least I wrote something in the fifteen minutes I had sandwiched between dinner and The Apprentice.

I still hit nearly 1,000, despite the fact that I had a crisis about what I was going to write.

In fact, if you consider the fact I switched over and started writing something else halfway through the above mentioned 901 words then I would, in fact, have about hit 1,000.

But I changed back. It was only a wobble. I’ve been planning this book for the last two weeks and thinking about it a lot longer than that, and I’m going to get through it.

Tonight there is no Apprentice, and no Ikea (although, actually they didn’t have what I was after so I have to go back at some point, sigh!) so I’m going to take a big old run at it.

Today’s target: get up to 3,000 words total.

We’ll see how I do.

 

DAY TWO

Written 03/11/2017 for 02/11/2017

I’ve been watching Game of Thrones.

This is causing problems.

Time was I would come home, watch half an hour of telly and start writing. I would hit up to 5,000 words an evening, and I wasn’t doing so much blogging, tweeting or Facebooking either.

After my terrible start to Nano on the first it looked like it was going to be another shit day yesterday. I came home, cooked and watched Game of Thrones. By the time that was done it was quarter past eight.

Now, nine o clock is reading time and I have to do that for my Man vs Bookshelf series, so time was already running short. Add in the fact I then had to schedule some tweets and Facebook posts, and I was sure it was going to be another terrible day’s work where I’d be lucky to hit a thousand. Mainly because I wasn’t feeling the writing at all.

Then I sat down and started, and you know what? It all turned out alright.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 2: 3,333

Words written: 2,270

Total words: 3,171

Words off Target: 162

Average per day: 1,586

Remaining: 46,829

So that’s alright then. I wrote till half nine in the end, but I’m now right under par. Much better.

Come tonight I want to get above that par. That’s the target.

 

DAY THREE

Written 04/11/2017 for 03/11/2017

Habit is vital for everyone. It’s what lets us get out of bed in the morning to go to work with only five or six minutes of screaming and do all the other crap we have to do after that.

Habits are particularly important for writers (almost important as they are to nuns, hehe).

For me, when I get into writing, and I’m doing it consistently every day, my output is incredible. I’ll knock out several thousand words a day (as I mentioned yesterday, I think), I’ll race through first drafts like nobodies business.

But, when I allow the habit to break… that’s when trouble arises.

Finishing my last first draft when I did, I was left in a quandary. Usually, I jump right into my next novel. Keep that momentum going because I know that if I don’t, I’ll get out of the habit, and then my writing efforts will fly off the rails, and that way disaster lies.

This time, however, I finished my first draft just over a week away from November 1st, and I was ahead of schedule for writing anyway, having smashed out 60,000 words in four days on that novel over a week off.

So I made a decision. A quite terrible decision.

I took those days off so I could take part in bloody NaNoWriMo.

It’ll be okay, I reasoned, like some sort of idiot. I love writing, I’ll just get straight back into it.

Twat.

Now, I’m on day three of November, and it’s just not clicking. I’m forcing myself to knock out some words every day (which is vital by the way, even if you’re not in the habit) but I’m not doing enough. I’m supposed to write between 7:30 – 9:00 every evening but the yesterday, as with the day before, I didn’t start till way too late. In fact, last night (Friday) I didn’t start till gone ten o clock.

I thought I would just write a few words (the bath was running, after all) but in the end, I managed to get in more than a few words.

I ended up with over a thousand words and a flooded bathroom (a double win, you might say, although that wouldn’t be very nice of you).

It’s still not enough. I’ve fallen further off target, my average words per day have dropped, and I’ve still not got into any kind of writing groove.

It’s becoming rather frustrating.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 3: 5,000

Words written: 1,027

Total words: 4,198

Words off Target: 802

Average per day: 1,399

Remaining: 45,802

Today is Saturday, day four. I don’t usually write on a Saturday but today will have to be an exception. I need to smash out a good three thousand words, get myself back on track, and see where I can go from there.

Let’s get habit building.

 

DAY FOUR

Written 05/11/2017 for 04/11/2017

Finally!

If I can, I like to write every day, but a lot of the time, I have Saturdays off. Sunday is my BIG writing day – I try to do a full working day from 9 till 6 – so I can get away with having Saturday off.

However, I knew I was going to have to get at least something done yesterday for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it had been another bad day for writing on Friday, and I was in danger of falling even further behind in the NaNoWriMo stakes and, secondly, because I was going out last night, and I know I can never write when I’m hungover, so it was very unlikely I was going to be able to write for a whole hour, let alone a whole day.

So, I sat down yesterday morning, and I got to it. Finally fitting a good amount of words and, for the first time, going above the target for the total word count at the day, as you can see below.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 4: 6,666

Words written: 3,569

Total words: 7,767

Words over Target: 1,101

Average per day: 1,941

Remaining: 42,233

Today, Sunday, is going to be a difficult day because of the aforementioned hangover and the fact that I’m writing this entry at twenty past seven and I’ve yet to write any words on my novel, so, the target has to be to reach the par of the of the day at the very least and, if I can get to 10,000 words.

I’ll do that now.

 

DAY FIVE

Written 06/11/2017 for 05/11/2017

I predicted yesterday when writing about the day before yesterday but talking about yesterday that I wouldn’t do much writing on account of being hungover.

This was not unfounded, although I did far better than might reasonably have been expected given how I felt earlier in the day.

The principle of writing though is that you always write. EVery day, no matter what. Or you will fall out of the habit.

So I got on my computer and, in the hour and a half I had, I actually managed to bang out a respectable amount. Just less than the day before, in fact.

Words to “win” NaNoWriMo: 50,000

Words for par, Day 5: 8,333

Words written: 3,336

Total words: 11,103

Words over Target: 2,770

Average per day: 2,220

Remaining: 38,897

So now we’re in a good place. I’ve built up over 2,000 words safety which means I can afford to drop a day further down the line, although I certainly don’t plan to do that. Today we are back to work, and tonight the aim is to reach at least 13,000.

Let’s see if I can get this week off to a better start than last.

The Morton family awaits

Hey, guys,

My book just landed on Amazon.

Joining literally billions of other books, all seeking your attention.

All trying to grab your money because the authors want to be rich.

Not me.

I don’t want to be rich.

I just want the Morton family to be heard.

 

Their lives are quickly tumbling out of control. They’re making bad choices left right and centre.

Blood will be spilled.

Honestly, you’ve got to see it.

So come on.

The Morton family awaits…

Here comes National Novel Writing Month

It’s that time again.

Tomorrow will officially mark the beginning of what many people are now calling “November”.

And, with the beginning of “November” comes more than just Christmas shopping, Christmas songs and lots of people crying about how cold it is.

November is also National Novel Writing Month.

(Woo).

For the uninitiated, National Novel Writing Month is where loads of people write a novel in a month. Loads here being an official stat.

Myself, I always try to write my novel drafts in a month, but I’ve never gone in for NaNoWriMo before.

This isn’t because I feel utter contempt for other writers and loathe participating in anything that reminds me of their existence. Although there is that. It’s more because it’s never been convenient before. When November hits, I’m usually halfway through another project. That project being my first campaign in the new Football Manager Beta.

But this year is different.

The new Football Manager has changed enough to piss me off, and I finished my last writing project ten days ago. Now I’m looking for something to write while that first draft gestates (gestates?!)

NaNo has come along at the perfect time.   

As for the project itself, I don’t want to talk too much about it as it could be a long time before anything gets released.

Saying that, I do think it might be interesting to talk about my NaNo experiences themselves. That’s why I’m writing this. I’m going to take notes of my progress day to day and post them up here for all my readers to see.

I’m sure the three of you will be thrilled.

So, tomorrow is November, and my next first draft begins.

How exciting.

Man vs Bookshelf: Big Little Lies

Here we are, back again for book four of my Man vs Bookshelf challenge and, so far, I’ve been racing through.

I finished Big Little Lies on Wednesday, 14 days after this challenge began.

That’s two books a week rather than the one a week needed to stay on target.

Pretty effin good.

I don’t expect the pace to keep up, of course, but it’s good to get ahead early on.

Anyway, so, book 4, Big Little Lies, is done, and what did I think of it?

Liane Moriarty and me

Usually, at this point, I’d talk about my past experiences with the author or, as with the last book, the character.

But I can’t do that this time around because I don’t have any past experiences. With author or characters.

In fact, I’d never even heard of Liane Moriarty before I heard of Big Little Lies.

Like many people, I guess, I only heard of Big Little Lies because of the Nicole Kidman-Reese Witherspoon TV show.

I did consider watching the show but something drew me to the book. I picked it up in Tesco and, for whatever reason, bought it. I don’t remember the blurb blowing me away.

More likely I had too much other TV to watch first, so took a punt on the book.

Turns out, it was a fantastic decision.

Big Little Lies

I gave Big Little Lies a 4/5 and I regret it.

80%. How is that fair?

I don’t want to bang on about Goodreads and their stupid 5-point scale but also I’m going to.

This book deserved at least a nine. But I cant justify giving something 100%. That’s ridiculous. Nothing is perfect.

4/5. I have to live with that forever.

I should have just given it a five.

This is the first book in my challenge that has made me hate Man vs Bookshelf with a passion.

Not because it was so bad and I knew I had to get through it. Because I now want to read every single thing Liane has ever written and I’M NOT ALLOWED FOR LIKE FOUR YEARS.

That alone is indicative of how good this book is. It’s well written, the characters are great, the central mystery is compelling and it’s very very funny.

For anyone out there yet to read it – whether you think you’ll like it or not – I implore you to give it a go.

Except, of course, if it’s going to get in the way of you reading my book.

Structure

So thinking about what works well in the book, the structure comes to mind immediately.

Using a flash forward of a murder then going back and building up to it is a well-worn writing tactic, but it’s risky. Get it wrong and it fails in its aim building suspense and excitement for the audience. Worse, fail to hit the mark, and it looks like a cheap, tacky trick.

Liane Moriarty doesn’t get it wrong, though. She pulls it off with aplomb (assuming “aplomb” is good)

We know from the beginning there has been a murder, but we don’t know who, by whom, or why. We then jump back six months and for the rest of the book we are counting down to the murder through handy headings. “Four months to Trivia Night” etc.

The affect is further enhanced through “talking head” style journalist interviews. All with people there on the night of the murder. These both serve to build suspense and to be funny as fuck. Especially when it comes to Samantha. I love Samantha.

It’s clever too. I’m great at guessing twists and mysteries, usually, but I didn’t guess this. I didn’t know who had done the killing or even who got killed until Liane was kind enough to tell me.

Even more important. When the climax and reveal came, I wasn’t disappointed. Throughout the night of the murder, when I knew it was coming, my heart was pounding. By the time we arrived at the point I knew it was about to happen, it was beating so fast you might have thought I feared for my own life. Not to mention I was turning pages so fast I was tearing pages out. And it was my bedtime!

I was desperate to find out.

Then I did, and it was as satisfying as I’d expected.

 That’s how well the structure works.

Humour in the tough stuff

This is a very funny book. I cannot stress that enough. And what Liane excels at is making some difficult subject matter funny.

It’s a strange thing about comedy. There are some ‘dark’ topics that are easy to make funny and some that are more difficult to pull off.

Murder, for example, has always been a great source of comedy, and Liane uses this.

One more difficult is domestic abuse. Yet one of our leads here is being abused by her husband. Real dodgy ground for comedy that.

But Liane pulls it off.

And it’s more than that. She keeps it funny without diminishing the effect of the storyline. The way she portrays the struggle of our abused lead is so well done. It’s not your standard brute alcoholic husband beating his wife. It shows a different side to domestic abuse.

A side where we have a dad who is wonderful to his kids, kind to his friends, generous and giving. Most of the time he’s even a great husband. And the victim (I’m not saying the name here for spoiler reasons, by the way, I haven’t forgotten) uses this to rationalise what is happening to her. We can see that what he’s doing is wrong. That all the good doesn’t balance out the abuse. But she can’t, and more important, we can understand why she’s thinking the way she’s thinking.

So it is funny, but it’s not a joke.

That’s why it works.

Unputdownable?

These days critics throw the term “unputdownable” at pretty much every book on the shelves. To the point that it is becoming farcical. I actually picked up a 600-page book the other week on which was the claim: “I challenge you not to read this in one sitting”.

Spurious doesn’t cover it.

I took that challenge. I won. Where’s my prize?

My edition of Big Little Lies does not have any comment calling it “unputdownable” on the front. Presumably, the marketing team thought the top half of the heads of Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and, um, the other one, would be enough to generate sales.

But, for me, it was one of those rare books I actually did not want to put down. I read it in three days and, if anyone asked me to write a quote for the book cover (which I accept is unlikely), I would write:

“You will not be able to put this book down until you look at your clock and realise it’s gone midnight and think ‘enough is enough, I’ve got work tomorrow’”.

Because that’s a genuine comment and still highlights the truth of Big Little Lies.

That it’s a top quality book.

‘Nuff said.

Next time

We’re sticking with comedy, but in a different field next.

I’m taking on Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman in a book almost as old as I am.

Good Omens.

See you then.

Man vs Bookshelf: Devil May Care

This challenge has already been excellent for me.

In Horowitz Horror and Lisey’s Story I’ve now read two books that have been on my shelf for nigh on a decade, and now it’s time for Devil May Care, another unread elder of the shelf.

So, with two weeks past, I’m now ahead of schedule –

Three books down, 207 to go.

Let’s get into it.

Ian Fleming and me (and Bond)

Usually, this is the part in the blog where I talk about my previous experiences with the author, but this time around, that won’t be possible.

I’ve never read any Faulkner. I’ve heard of Bird Song (it’s about war or something? Is there even a bird?), but I’ve never read any of it.

But, of course, I’ve got a relationship with Bond, and, to a lesser extent, Ian Fleming (that’s him in the image, not Faulkner, by the way).

My dad has several of the Bond books, and I read at least the first two – Casino Royale and Live and Let Die – when I was younger.

I don’t remember much about them now, other than that we were easy reads, fast-paced, not too mentally taxing. Which can be good or bad, depending on what you’re looking for at the time.

As for the films, Brosnan was my first Bond. I watched (and loved) his Bond outings over and over as a kid. Especially the first two – GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies.

Since then I’ve watched all the Craig films as they’ve been released, as well as many of the older Bonds. At least one of each Connery, Moore and Dalton (though I’ve never seen the Lazenby one).

But, considering my limited experience of the books, what did I think of the Faulkner outing?

Devil May Care

James Bond is a British institution.

He’s up there with Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Who and Karl Pilkington.

As such, every new release tends to come with high expectations.

Not so with me.

As a lifelong fan of the England football team, I’ve learned to douse any high hopes with those things I love the most.

They say if you have low expectation, you’ll never be disappointed. This is nonsense, of course. But while you will be disappointment, at least you won’t be surprised.

So, I went into Devil May Care with low expectations.

And I wasn’t surprised.

That’s not to imply the book is rubbish. It’s not. It’s… fine. For what it is.

It may even be everything you expect from a spy thriller. I wouldn’t know, it’s not a genre I have much experience with.

Like the original Bond books, it’s fast-paced, it’s easy to read (I got through it in three days) and there is very little in the way of surprises. (Yes, there is a sort of twist but, please, who didn’t see that coming?)

I gave it a 3/5 on Goodreads, but it’s a five out of ten. A middle of the road book. It didn’t soar above my expectations but, given what I was expecting, it didn’t let me down either.

So, in assessing the book a little further, I’m going to look at how many of the ‘classic Bond tropes’ it had under three categories – the villain, the woman, and the man himself.

Note. as my experience is, in the main, with the films, not the books, I’ll be judging it against those for my tropes.

The Villain

Julian Gormer, our story’s resident maniac supervillain is about as Bond Villain as it is possible to be.

In fact, if he had turned up in another book, I wouldn’t have been able to take him seriously until James Bond – or Austin Powers – burst through the door and started fighting him.

The James Bond – Julian Gormer timeline is also as I was expecting:

Bond hears about Gormer from M, who sends Bond to investigate.

Bond arranges a meeting with Gormer where they can compete, and each pretend they don’t know who the other is. Even though they do. (Note. The competition in this instance is tennis, and I hope you like it. The game takes up about ten pages.)

Following this farce Bond later gets himself captured through his own stupidity (more on that later). Gormer’s henchman (more on him later) takes Bond to Gormer’s lair (more on that later). Where Gormer explains his plan (more on that later) before Bond escapes.

Finally, they have one last showdown, after Bond has thwarted Gormer’s ridiculous plan.

So far, so good. But how else does Gormer stack up to other Bond villains? Let’s take a look at…

The Bond Villain Checklist

  1. A physical deformity? Tick – In this case, it’s a monkey’s hand which he hides under a white glove (presumably a modified one) and is sensitive about.
  2. A brute henchman with a horrifying backstory? Tick – Chagrin. He also has a deformity. This one covered by a beret rather than a glove, presumably because a glove would look silly draped over his face. He loves tearing people’s tongues out with pliers and smashing their eardrums with chopsticks. He underwent surgery to have his emotions removed (or something), and as a result, his ability to feel pain has been damaged. Something which is never plot relevant.
  3. An underground lair? Tick – Yep, hidden in the deserts of Iran. It’s here he produces and ships out vast quantities of heroin and assorted drugs, yet no one can find it. Go figure.
  4. A ridiculous plan with ridiculous motivation? Tick – Julian hates Britain because he felt bullied when he went to university there. So, of course, he wants to destroy the country and everyone in it. Reasonable. At first, he planned to do this by flooding the country with drugs. When that wasn’t killing Britain fast enough, he resorted to Plan B, which was even more mental. Attacking Stalingrad and the centre of Soviet Union nuclear operations to provoke them into nuking London. Why would the Soviets blame the British? Well because his very none British crew (killed on arrival) will be carrying British passports. Duh! To call all this an overreaction to being bullied in university would be a horrific understatement.
  5. A desire to explain his plan in meticulous detail to the rea- Bond? Tick – Yes! He spells out the whole thing without realising how mental he is and calling the entire thing off.
  6. A gruesome death – Yeah. It’s pretty gruesome. Serves him right, really.

The Woman

Ah, yes, what is Bond without his girls? Not quite as commercially successful, I’d imagine.

Our Bond Girl in Devil May Care is not unlike the ones I’ve become used to since I started watching and reading Bond. Jaw-droppingly beautiful, smart, able to survive almost anything and complete with an incredible ability to fall in love with Bond on their first meeting.

What differs here from a lot of other Bond stories is A) Scarlett is the only girl. (Most Brosnan films he’d bedded one girl before the opening credits rolled) and B) He falls in love with her, which feels wrong for any Bond, let alone a sixties Bond (people didn’t fall in love in the sixties, I know, I did a History degree)

The Man Himself

Bond, James Bond.

Corr, I get shivers just uttering those words. The world’s worst secret agent.

Here he is… quite flat. I’m not sure I’d remember his as the main protagonist was he not the famous James Bond.

He walks, he talks, he moves the plot along, he gives the occasional quip, but that’s about it.

He is also prone to some bouts of incredible stupidity. As I read these days, I write notes of anything interesting that comes to mind. Usually, I don’t even use them, but one note I’ve written here is: “Ch 11 – dumb plan what a twat.”

I don’t even have to look back to know what that’s referring to.

I know Bond gets captured every book/film and, yes, that’s bad enough. Someone should just kill him. But he doesn’t help himself with plans like this:

Having broken into a hanger to find Julian’s weapon, he has to do a runner because there are guards and because he didn’t bring his camera…

So he about escapes, and when he has time to regroup, what does he decide he’s going to do next?

Come back the next day.

And that’s exactly what he does. He comes down to the compound the next day, picks the lock, walks right in and then – oh my God there are about 100 men with guns waiting, what a shock!

Seriously, why isn’t this man dead?

Next time

Moving on from the world of spies, fast-paced plots and clunky writing (sorry Sebastian) we’re heading to Sydney for our next read.

Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty.

See you then.

Man vs Bookshelf: Lisey’s Story

So here it is. Book two of 210 in my Man vs Bookshelf challenge: Lisey’s Story.

As you’ll know from the introduction and last entry, I had intended Lisey’s Story to be my first read.

Then I wussed out.

I was afraid I wouldn’t finish Lisey in a week (no pun) and would be behind as soon as I started. A nightmare scenario.

To combat this fear I turned to Horowitz Horror, a short read I knew I could blast through in a couple of days. As I did.

That done, it was time to turn to Lisey’s Story, a 647-page beast.

As it turned out, it took me only six days to read anyway, but that’s beside the point.

Point is, what did I think?

I’ll get to that but, first off, let’s discuss my relationship with the book’s legendary writer. Stephen King.

Stephen and Me

As a teenage reader there was one name I always knew was missing from my bookshelf: Stephen King.

I loved horror. But at some point, it becomes criminal to say such a thing and not be able to follow it up with your favourite King. (Henry Tudor, FYI, is not an answer anyone is looking for.)

And I did try to get into him. I remember that. I picked up my first King at the local library – The Dark Half – and was sure I was on my way. There was one problem.

I didn’t finish it.

Not even close.

The truth was as a younger reader I wasn’t ready for the heavy, expansive writing style. The books that focused more on character development and less on a plot that rattled along, as I’d been used to.

So even when someone gave me Lisey’s Story and Duma Key, I couldn’t get through them. I made it halfway through the latter and didn’t even bother with the former.

But, of course, our reading tastes develop over the years. Towards my later teens, I read ‘Carrie’, ‘Salem’s Lot’ and ‘The Shining’ and enjoyed at least the first and last of those. Then I started on the Stand and stopped once again. (Let me off, it’s bloody long)

Since then I have read ‘The Long Walk’ and the first four Dark Towers novels and enjoyed them all. But it was only this year (2017) that I got into a King in a big way, and startled rattling through them.

Since January I’ve read ‘The Stand’, ‘It’, ‘Christine’, ‘Bag of Bones’ and ‘From a Buick 8’ and have enjoyed them all.

I had finally caught the bug, and so, when I started this challenge, a King novel was always going to come early on.

And with book two, it was here.

Lisey’s Story

Enter Lisey and her story.

Confession first. I’ve had Lisey’s Story a long time. If not a decade then creeping fast towards it.

But, like so many of the books on my shelves, I’ve never actually read it.

Why?

Well, I didn’t think it looked any good. Not from the blurb and, in all honesty, not from the first 200 plus pages.

But I persevered – because of this challenge, more than anything – and boy, was I rewarded.

If Goodreads used a ten point scale (which they should), I would have given Lisey’s Story a 9. It’s in my top three King books with ‘It’ and the fourth Dark Tower book, ‘Wizard and Glass’. Although this may change throughout the challenge.

In the end, I gave it a 4/5.

Not too shabby for a book I didn’t think I’d like.

The Story

In essence, Lisey’s Story is the tale of Lisey Landon coming to terms with the death of her husband, Scott, who is (as is customary in a King book) a famous author.

That’s pretty much it, and the great thing is, while you might think 647 pages is too many to deliver on a simple concept. It isn’t.

One of my biggest criticisms of King in the past has been that his books often contain (or are stuffed with) ‘extras’. Subplots that don’t relate to the main plot. Character backstories for cameos. The kind of stuff you could skip without it detracting from the novel as a whole.

Not so with Lisey’s Story. Here we have a story where every page is essential. Every line adds to the story. And, in the end, every strand of every subplot is pulled together, so you can see that it was all necessary.

I didn’t see that at the beginning. It leads you into believing the story will be about the professor who has hired a madman to claim Scott’s unpublished papers.

I fell for that and was frustrated. King introduces these unpublished papers and the man who wants them almost from page one. But it’s not until around page 100 that Lisey receives a threatening phone call from the madman. Then not until page 219 that she finds a dead cat in her mailbox and a letter from the maniac.

By page 318, when the madman finally shows up at Lisey’s place, however, it’s starting to make sense.

Because, while the time spent with Lisey’s catatonic sister and her memories of her relationship with Scott had seemed pointless at first, we were now starting to see. It was all starting to come together, and as it did, the story began to take off.

Scott, having foreseen his death, was looking out for his wife, and from the midway point it begins to come together, and you realise all of it was relevant. The memories she is unfolding allow her to save her sister, as she had once saved her husband. Saving her sister gives her the help she needs to defeat the madman – who we now realise is a deranged fan of Scott who wants to hurt her more than he wants to help the professor with his little problem. And in the end, all that comes together to help Lisey achieve what mattered most all along.

Getting over Scott.

This is what makes brilliant storytelling. The way all those storylines converge in a way you never saw coming. This is what makes the last 300 pages of the book so gripping. King drags you along in his wake and makes those last 300 pages seem like 50. You can’t believe the way you’ve shot through them.

That kind of trick is hard to pull off – I know, I’ve tried – and you can see what a master storyteller King is in the way he handles it so brilliantly.

Memory

Having read ‘It’ not so long ago, I know how King can use the power of memory to build suspense.

In Lisey’s Story, he uses it again, and to even greater effect.

Here, we have three storylines unfolding at once where memory is concerned. There is Lisey in the present, with Scott leading her from beyond the grave to start facing her repressed memories.

There are those memories, which detail some of the darker moments in Lisey’s relationship with Scott.

And finally, there is Scott’s childhood, told by him to the Lisey in the past.

What we end up with is like Inception for memory. At one point Lisey is remembering a time when she sat with Scott who was in a catatonic state. Within this memory, Lisey is remembering a story Scott told her from his childhood and, as he tells her this, we, the reader, are taken further, to experience it first hand.

Confused?

Yeah, I’m not surprised. But within the narrative, King switches deftly between the different levels of memory. He takes us between present Lisey and two past Lisey’s as well as Scott telling a story and Scott in the past. But we never get lost. King, with all his writing mastery, makes sure of that.

Done so well, it makes for the perfect device for carrying the narrative forward. Right to the end of the novel.

And speaking of endings…

Endings

I read recently that King doesn’t like endings, and having read ‘It’ and ‘From a Buick 8’ I can see that.

But here, what we have works perfectly.

In Scott’s past, his story comes to a close with his father’s murder and his departure from the only home he’s ever known. In Lisey’s past, Scott dies with her at his side.

These events are not surprises. Scott is two years dead at the start of the book, so we knew he was gone. And Scott had told Lisey some 300 pages ago about the death of his father.

Yet, when we get to read about these events first hand its perfect. Both stories are heartbreaking for Lisey and for us. The last piece of the memories that have been unravelling throughout.

Finally, in the present, we experience the last memory of Lisey and Scott together. While the final story from his childhood is new to her. The final piece of the puzzle, it turns out, to help her move on. Not just from Scott, but from his other world and the malevolent force there that has marked her.

This, along with her finally clearing out his study (the study she started off trying to clear but being unable to), is the perfect way to end the novel.

Scott and Lisey’s Story.

Fantasy

One more thing.

I’ve written this review and (aside from one allusion right at the end) have not mentioned any fantasy.

But, of course, this is a King book, so it is present (otherwise it would be a Bachman book). There is another world (Scott calls it Boo’ya Moon), and there is a big monster (Scott’s Long Boy). That’s not to mention the dark curse of Scott’s family which manifests itself as a monstrous possession (referred to in story as “the bad gunky”.

All these things do feature and are key parts of the plot, but they aren’t the point. They exist only to move the plot forward, and the plot, as I said, is about Lisey and Scott.

So read this story. Give it a real go. But understand that. This isn’t ‘It’ or ‘Salem’s Lot’. There is no focus on destroying some big evil.

It as, at it’s core, about a woman, getting over the death of her husband.

And that feels just as it should be.

Next time

By the time this blog lands I guess I will almost have finished my next book. And it is:

Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks (Writing as Ian Flemming)

See you then.