Category Archives: #am writing (and all things writing related)
About the Book
Ren Shephard is at a comfortable crossroads.
Enjoying the temporary freedom of her recent redundancy, her life revolves around her cherished friendships, sporadic communication with her unconventional parents and occasionally bailing her errant sister out of trouble.
However, when she signs up for an online writing course, she meets a group of people who will impact her in unimainable, unexpected and tragic ways.
When a gruesome murder takes place during one of the lessons, Ren becomes embroiled in a dangerous and terrifying sequence of events.
With the police stonewalling and Ren overtaken by a desperate urge to find the truth – and justice for the victim – she uncovers some shocking and mystifying evidence that sends her world spiralling out of control, whilst simultaneously placing her life in jeopardy.
About the Author
I graduated with a BA (Hons) in Writing; made it into my local newspaper, then spent the next couple of decades with my head buried in suspense fiction, absorbed in the work of others! In real life, I have been a College Lecturer for many years, alongside roles with various examination boards: marking, moderating, assessing and undertaking a host of other interesting duties.
During lockdown, I spent a reasonable amount of time in a virtual classroom: teaching, training, taking part in meetings…and the list goes on. With that in mind, I chose to base my novel around the world of virtual learning – where something deviant occurs online, and at the same time, throw a bit of family drama into the mix.
My debut novel (a.k.a My Lockdown Project) was written whilst navigating my teenage sons through online schooling; stopping my maverick husband from DIY-ing the house to death, and trying to negotiate a balance between comfort eating and regular 8km walks….I made it to 12km on one occasion! Needless to say, my hobbies are: reading, snacking, walking – and I simply adore my huge, raucous family!
What I Thought
I was initially drawn to this story by the idea of someone witnessing a murder during an online creative writing course and the premise worked very well. This reminded me a little of The Girl on the Train and it was so pacy I definitely didn’t want to put it down.
I have to admit that the ending was not quite how I would have preferred it to conclude – only because I liked the alternative option also laid out. Main character Ren – whose point of view the story is told from – did have quite an extensive vocabulary that had me reaching for a dictionary on occasion – but then again she is a wannabe writer. There was also a slightly out of date reference to CRB checks instead of DBS but I’m guessing I only know that because of my job.
Ren discovers during the course of the story that she wants to write for teeenagers and therefore I can’t decide if the author’s ‘I let out the breath I hadn’t realised I had been holding’ was an ironic homage to this 😉. These were the slight issues that took me out of the story temporarily but otherwise I really enjoyed it.
I thought the characters and their relationships were well developed.
Ren and her troubled sister Faye and wanderlust parents gave a nice balance and provided relevant backstory for Ren’s stubborn independent go getting attitude.
I enjoyed the scenes with her friends Lex and Kizzy and would have been happy to read more with them and ex boyfriend Denny definitely came in handy as the investigation progressed.
Her fellow writing group members provide sources of creepiness, romance and intrigue but can Ren determine fact from fiction when it comes to them?
The plot kept me guessing and brought the reader along with Ren at every turn. This is an assured thriller and I would definitely read another book by this author.
Do read on for a guest post from the author giving us more insight into main character Ren.
Most interesting facts about my main protagonist
Serendipity Shephard. We’d all love a best friend like her! Loyal, protective, fun-loving, level-headed, in everyday situations, and – for the most part – positive.
Ren’s loyalty is most evident in her relationship with her best friends, Lex and Kizzy, who mean the world to her, and she is happiest when in their company. A friendship formed in their heady university days, they have since followed different pathways but remain close and supportive of each other. Ren’s loyalty extends to her underserving sister who has been a thorn in Ren’s side for much of their adult lives. When most would have given up and cut ties, Ren, (exasperated though she is) battles on in her sister’s defence. But how far can she be pushed?
Ren has parent issues. Her nonconformist parents, Al and Angie, have made no secret of the fact that her very existence was neither planned nor favourably received. Her ‘chance’ conception was a hindrance which they felt they had no choice but to embrace. Unsurprisingly, the relationship Ren has with them is fractured and sporadic. Al and Angie exist in their own bubble, often detached from anything that happens outside of their world. Ren has never felt there is adequate space for anyone to penetrate their lives. The chasm between them is punctuated by their random communication, often consisting of Ren listening to animated and lengthy anecdotes of their adventures in Southern Asia. Ren is at a point in her life where she no longer allows their selfishness to affect her.
Ren had a nomadic childhood, having spent many years moving from place to place with her adventure-seeking parents. Although she has no memory of this, she spent the first two years of her life in Kuala Terengganu, a small fishing port in Northeast Malaysia; this followed by many homes across London. It was a long time before Ren established any solid roots or lasting friendships – partly why she places such high value on her relationship with Lex and Kizzy.
Ren doesn’t allow life’s unpredictable challenges to faze her: redundancy, a relationship breakdown. She has faced both head-on in recent times and has approached each incident with the same positive spirit: onwards and upwards.
When faced with an unspeakable and harrowing situation, there is no telling which mode will kick in – fight or flight. Ren proves herself to be impulsive and audacious when she witnesses a gruesome attack online. She could never have envisaged herself in such a random and perilous predicament, but her tenacity and determination to get to the truth are endearing and commendable. She mentions early on in her story that she can be a ‘fierce lioness’ when she wants to be, and this is wholly demonstrated in her unyielding and indefatigable search for the truth. Her iron will isfundamentally brought to the fore in her story, where she is tested to the extreme. Her attempts to get to the truth, irrespective of the danger she is never far from, presents a side to Ren that is totally at odds with her regular, structured existence.
Thanks to Bee at Kaleidoscopic Tours for arranging a gifted copy for the purposes of an honest review. Do check out the rest of the blog tour by following the hashtag #ISawWhatHeDid.
Happy Publication Day to Josie Williams on The Wanderer out now from Firefly. Here’s my spot on the blog tour kicking things off with a character Q&A and a mini review.
About the Book
Nothing can stand in the way of love, not even death.
Alone in the world, Maggie only has her visits to her nan to look forward to. When the most popular boy in school saves her life she has no idea why he is suddenly acting like a different person.
Stuck between life and death, Ryder spends his days wandering around unseen by the living. When the girl he loves walks into danger, Ryder breaks the number one Wanderer’s rule: he saves her life.
But how can a Wanderer and a living girl ever reach their happily ever after?
About the Author
Josie Williams is the pseudonym of bestselling author Kirsty Moseley, whose New Adult romances have sold over 860,000 copies in English, and whose first novel, the YA romance The Boy Who Sneaks in My Bedroom Window, was an international bestseller translated into many languages. Josie has a large and loyal YA fanbase. She lives in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. @xJosieWilliamsx
I wanted to find out more about Ryder and Maggie before the story starts so here are their answers at the age of 15
1. Do you believe in ghosts?
MAGGIE: I’m not sure. To be honest, I’ve never really thought about it much. I guess, I would say there probably is some sort of afterlife, but what that is or if it’s ghosts or Heaven or reincarnation or what I don’t know.
RYDER: Nah, ghosts are made up to sell movies and books. Have you seen that programme Ghost Hunters? Man, people believe any old crap if they put it on TV.
2. What do you find attractive in someone?
MAGGIE: Um… there is this one boy that I find attractive. I guess it was his looks that first attracted me to him, but he’s also really funny, I like a good sense of humour. And, like, I want to be able to talk to them easily and it not be awkward. I guess it also helps if they have eyes you want to drown in.
RYDER: A type you mean? I don’t really have a type. I guess my last girlfriend had brown hair and eyes, tanned skin, you know the usual stuff, but I’m not really fussy. I just like someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously, someone who can fit in with my friends and who likes me for me.
3. Tell us about your family.
MAGGIE: Well, it’s just me and my nan. I lost my mum a few years ago so Nan is all I have left now. She’s amazing, funny, kind, she supports and encourages me in everything I do. Though I don’t have the conventional family that others do, I count myself as lucky to have her.
RYDER: I actually have a big family. I’m one of three boys so it’s pretty hectic in my house—never a dull moment. My parents are great, my dad has never missed a rugby match of mine and is like a big kid half the time. My mum is a ride or die mum, she’s always in your corner. If I was in a fight, she’d be the one I’d call. Out of all of them, I’m probably closest to my eldest brother though. He just started Uni this year so I miss him now that he’s not home. He’s wicked smart and wants to be a doctor. He’s got his life all planned out, he’s an inspiration and my hero, though I’d never tell him or he’d get a big head about it. We’re all just pretty normal, to be honest,
4. What would you do to be noticed?
MAGGIE: Why would I want to be noticed? I’m happy just trudging along with my book in hand. The people that notice me are the ones I want in my life, I don’t want to have to do something out of the ordinary or force people to pay attention to me, those people aren’t really worth having notice you anyway.
RYDER: Noticed? Why wouldn’t I be noticed? I don’t understand the question.
5. Where would you like to be in 5 years?
MAGGIE: I guess I would still be at university by then? I want to do a degree in English and/or business. My ultimate goal is to own my own independent bookshop where people can come in and browse and there’s recommendations on each shelf, maybe a corner where kids can come and sit and find their love of reading. So I guess in five years I hope to be working towards that.
RYDER: Down the seafront drawing people for five quid a pop. Perfect.
What I Thought
I loved this. The characters of Maggie and Ryder are so compelling and it makes you really root for them. Maggie has certainly been through a lot in life and Ryder hasn’t had the easiest ride in the afterlife.
Giving me echoes of films Casper, Ghost and Everyday (by David Levithan) this book is perfect for this time of year and I challenge you not to fall for Maggie as hard as Ryder does.
I liked that the ethics of lots of aspects were explored too – stalking, body snatching, consent and so on – That’s not to say our two lovebirds act perfectly- they are teens falling in first love after all but there is a real humanity to both of them.
The side characters also feel super real and part of me hopes we might get more in this ‘world’ from author Josie Williams.
Dealing with love, loss, grief and ghosts this is a perfect read for the season and now I want to go and watch a whole load of spooky films. I can’t believe I don’t own Casper in proper DVD so will be rectifying that asap! If you want to know why I picked Die Hard for the background and see if Maggie and Ryder’s 5 year plan comes true then you’ll just have to read the book to find out!
A huge thanks to Karen, Firefly and the author for the gifted book for the purposes of an honest review. Do check out the other spots on the tour – some fab fellow bloggers and superb humans taking part in this one.
I’m delighted to host a guest post from debut author Finbar Hawkins about his publishing journey for Witch. This is a powerful tale of revenge, grief and sisterhood and is perfect for Halloween week. Later in the week I’ll share my full review but for now I’ll hand over to Finbar.
My Publishing Journey
I’ve always written, but even with seeing ‘Witch’ out on the shelves, I still have difficulty describing myself as a writer. It’s not so much self-doubt, I think it more springs from each new thing you write feels like starting again, finding out how to write again. I’m not sure I’ll ever get over the feeling, and to be honest I feel it’s a good spur, a jab of the heels to keep me coming back to the blank page.
My route to publishing started with the Arvon Foundation. I had never experienced a writing workshop before, working on exercises to approach character, setting and emotion. The writing samples I brought with me were little short film ideas, so I wasn’t even writing prose at that time. But it was through a number of exercises in class, under our tutor Lucy Christopher’s guidance, that the beginnings of a story emerged, and I kept going through that amazing week and into the months beyond. Lucy is a lecturer at Bath Spa (now the Course Director!) and she had encouraged me (along with a number of my Arvon compadres) to apply. Through early morning starts before children were awake and work, the story that I started had now grown into approximately 30k. But I craved feedback, more of what I had experienced at Arvon – critical feedback from other writers.
I was delighted to get a place on Bath Spa, because over those two years part-time I started to write properly around critical workshops. And the thing is about workshops is that you have to raise your game – you’re delivering to a little audience, and you’re going to be hearing other people’s work, giving your own thoughts on it. I also learnt that giving a critique is just as important for writing, because you’re looking at the craft all the time, your training that writing muscle.
I decided to park the ms I had been working on since Arvon because in that first term, Witch came bowling along and demanded to be told. The workshop was integral again, because I had a very good set of notes from a group of other writers – who wanted to know what happened next. I was immensely interested also in the challenge of writing from a young woman’s perspective.
The core of the MA is about working on and delivering your ms, and from there we all then work on putting together an Anthology to showcase our work for a launch event in London. Agents and editors are invited along to this terrifying and exhilarating evening. There I met Catherine Pellegrino of Marjacq Scripts who had read and liked my anthology extract.
I knew Catherine was the agent for me, because she pushed me to make the ms as good as it possibly could be. So we set to work, and over several drafts pushed and pulled Witch into submission shape. I would stress that there is no real time frame for this, and you shouldn’t feel rushed. Let the ms ‘bake’ in between drafts, write other bits and pieces and then go through it taking notes. It will all be much the better for it.
Finally we both felt that Witch was ready to fly. And at the end of an excruciating week waiting to hear back from editors, it was Fiona Kennedy at Zephyr who from the outset pretty much demanded my book should be published by her. There were other others in the frame, but because of Fiona’s incredible passion for Witch, I knew I had found the right home.
My publishing journey has all been about some fundamental things – you need to take that first jump and put your writing in front of a critical audience (it’s hard, but you’ll get used to it); you need to trust your instincts when meeting agents and editors; you need to take your time; and you need to remember to enjoy it!
WITCH by Finbar Hawkins is out now in hardback (£12.99, Zephyr, an imprint of Head of Zeus)
Follow Finbar Hawkins @finbar_hawkins and find out more finbarhawkins.com
I’m not going to lie I’ve been eyeing up both the Arvon Foundation courses and the Bath Spa MA for years and like Evey’s jealously of sister Dill I must try and keep my green eyed monster in check. Maybe one day!
Huge Congratulations to Finbar on a wonderful debut. Come back on Wednesday for my full review and do check out the rest of the posts on the tour running this week.