Thursday, 29 June 2017

Writing my First Draft and Creating a Writing Habit

Earlier this year I began a series of posts on writing that fizzled out as soon as I finished the first draft of my first novel. Recently I've begun editing that draft and have swapped part of it with a critique partner for feedback. Receiving feedback has reignited my enthusiasm, as have a few recent author talks.

In my latest video I talk about how I started writing, what my process was, and the resources that inspired me, including:

I've mentioned all of these before, but I want to mention them again because they really have helped to inspire me, particularly the podcast. I don't think you can listen to 150+ episodes of a podcast about writing without feeling inspired to write. The info is relevant, the interviewees are entertaining and educational, and you just never know what trick or method you'll learn from an episode.

If you have any resources that have inspired you or helped you to write, let me know! I'd also love to know what you're working on.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King

Still Life with Tornado by A.S. King
Published May 29, 2017 by Text Publishing
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Sixteen-year-old Sarah can’t draw. This is a problem, because as long as she can remember, she has ‘done the art.’ She thinks she’s having an existential crisis. And she might be right; she does keep running into past and future versions of herself as she wanders the urban ruins of Philadelphia.
Or maybe she’s finally waking up to the tornado that is her family, the tornado that six years ago sent her once-beloved older brother flying across the country for a reason she can’t quite recall. After decades of staying together ‘for the kids’ and building a family on a foundation of lies and domestic violence, Sarah’s parents have reached the end. Now Sarah must come to grips with years spent sleepwalking in the ruins of their toxic marriage.
As Sarah herself often observes, nothing about her pain is remotely original—and yet it still hurts.Insightful, heartbreaking, and ultimately hopeful, this is a vivid portrait of abuse, survival, resurgence that will linger with readers long after the last page.
Sarah, age sixteen, is having an existensial crisis. It starts at school, in art class. She's always loved art but one day she realises she can no longer draw, not even a pear. She realises that nothing is original. She quits school. She begins to ride the buss each day and wander around Philadelphia instead. It's on these solo adventures she starts meeting versons of herself; there's ten-year-old Sarah, twenty-three-year-old Sarah, and also forty-year-old Sarah. Slowly Sarah's memories of a family trip start to resurface and she has to face the problems her parents have been trying to hide for years.

A new book by A.S.King is always something I look forward to. Her writing is captivating, her topics compelling, her characters real and easy to relate to. These qualities are all present in her latest novel, Still Life with Tornado.

I was immediately drawn in by Sarah's dry, matter-of-fact manner. Her new attitude towards life; that nothing is original, that nothing really matters, is something I'm sure a lot of us think on a daily basis (it's not just me, right?) It's also clear there is a lot more going on in Sarah's life - some of it she's willfully ignoring, some of it she's forgotten, and some of it has been kept from her. I felt intrigued but also sympathetic and protective of her.

Helen, Sarah's mum, is an ER nurse who works night shifts. She's clever, sharp, and no-nonsense. The inclusion of Helen's perspective added a lot to the story, including an understanding of what had been hidden from Sarah. Her point of view balanced out Sarah's well, providing insight into their family history.

This is a book about a girl in crisis and a family living with domestic violence, but the violence itself is never the main focus of the story. It's a sensitive subject but I didn't feel as sickened or disturbed as I have done while reading books that includes graphic descriptions of violence. Sometimes that needs to be shown in detail, but this story managed to make the aftermath feel just as tense. The atmosphere of Sarah's home was palpable, and the volatility increased as the story went on.

Ableist language: crazy, insane, schizo, psycho, dumb.

Still Life with Tornado is the perfect blend of magic, mystery, and real life. It's clever, heartbreaking, and hopeful. And, despite what Sarah might think, it's most definitely original.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.

Cover design: Samira Iravani

This is an eye-catching and memorable cover, and I love that the design carried through into the pages of the book.

I videoed a tutorial of me painting this manicure, you can watch it below or on my YouTube channel.

Friday, 23 June 2017

New to Booktube Tag/Booktube Newbie Tag

My latest video is an introduction to BookTube - I talk favourite authors (lots of Aussies!), books I remember reading when I was younger, my current TBR, and what I hope to get out of BookTube.

The original New to BookTube Tag was created by Trina of Between Chapters. The BookTube Newbie Tag was created by Brenda.

1. Where are you joining us from?
2. How old are you?
3. Why did you join booktube?
4. What is the meaning behind your channel name?
5. What types of books do you read / want to talk about here?
6. Who are some of your favourite authors?
7. What’s the last book you read?
8. What are you currently reading?
9. What do you use for bookmarks?
10. Show us your current TBR pile!
11. Which do you prefer: Hard cover or paperback? Ebooks or physical books? Owning or borrowing books?
12. What book or series got you into reading?
13. How did you discover booktube?
14. What challenges do you think you’ll face with your own channel?
15. Where else can we find you?

If you have a YouTube channel you'd like me to check out, leave me a comment below!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield

Ballad for a Mad Girl by Vikki Wakefield
Published May 29, 2017 by Text Publishing
Source: the publisher
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Everyone knows seventeen-year-old Grace Foley is a bit mad. She’s a prankster and a risk-taker, and she’s not afraid of anything—except losing. As part of the long-running feud between two local schools in Swanston, Grace accepts a challenge to walk the pipe. That night she experiences something she can’t explain.
The funny girl isn’t laughing anymore. She’s haunted by voices and visions—but nobody believes a girl who cries wolf.
As she’s drawn deeper into a twenty-year-old mystery surrounding missing girl Hannah Holt, the thin veil between this world and the next begins to slip. She can no longer tell what’s real or imagined—all she knows is the ghosts of Swanston, including that of her own mother, are restless. It seems one of them has granted her an extraordinary gift at a terrible price.
Everything about her is changing—her body, her thoughts, even her actions seem to belong to a stranger. Grace is losing herself, and her friends don’t understand. Is she moving closer to the truth? Or is she heading for madness?

Ballad for a Mad Girl is Vikki Wakefield's fourth YA novel. Set in the small, rural town of Swanston (nicknamed Swamp Town), we meet seventeen-year-old Grace Foley. Grace grew up on the family farm but after the death of her mother, her father moved Grace and her older brother to a house in town. Since then they just coexist. Grace feels suffocated by her father's rules, and breaks free by entertaining her friends with pranks and stunts, many involving the local gorge.

Grace's personality is so clear, right from the first page. She's mad, she's hurt, she's fed up with the life her father is trying to make them live. She doesn't want to live in a small house, she wants her life to go back to the way it was. Back when her mother was alive. To take her mind off things, Grace spends as much time with her friends as possible, but even then, things are changing. Her best friend Kenzie is dating Mitch and Grace won't accept being third wheel. She feels rejected, left out, left behind.

There is a horror element to this story, but it's just the right amount for someone like me who doesn't really do horror (unless it's reading a Stephen King novel during daylight hours.) The opening scene gave a subtle nod to King's novel, Carrie, and from then Vikki Wakefield wove the atmosphere in a way only she can do. There was a growing sense of unease and suspicion. There was a touch of unreliability, mystery, and an ominous history. All of this building to a climax I could not predict. The story was so intriguing I found it easy to immerse myself in Grace's life, to go along on her journey for the truth.

Vikki Wakefield excels at writing about loneliness and small towns, two things that are a major component of this new book. She also tackles grief in a sensitive way, showing how much Grace hurts and the lengths she'll go to to avoid her feelings.

Beautifully written, chilling and atmospheric, Ballad for a Mad Girl is a story with heart, horror, and hope.

Thank you to Text Publishing for my copy.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

A Visit to Beachside Bookshop

One of my favourite places to visit is Beachside Bookshop in Avalon. Beachside Bookshop is a store dedicated to children's and YA literature, with a strong focus on promoting #LoveOzYA books! Libby and Dani are experienced and knowledgeable booksellers and they'll be able to help you pick out your next great read. I know I always leave with at least one book, as well as a list of a dozen more I want to go back for!

Here's a video tour of the beautiful shop, I hope if you're in Sydney, you'll make the trip to Avalon Beach to visit them!

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
Published January 2015
Source: library
Rating: 4 stars

From the blurb: Theodore Finch is fascinated by death, and he constantly thinks of ways he might kill himself. But each time, something good, no matter how small, stops him.
Violet Markey lives for the future, counting the days until graduation, when she can escape her Indiana town and her aching grief in the wake of her sister's recent death.
When Finch and Violet meet on the ledge of the bell tower at school, it's unclear who saves whom. And when they pair up on a project to discover the 'natural wonders' of their state, both Finch and Violet make more important discoveries: It's only with Violet that Finch can be himself - a weird, funny, live-out-loud guy who's not such a freak after all. And it's only with Finch that Violet can forget to count away the days and start living them. But as Violet's world grows, Finch's begins to shrink. 

All the Bright Places is Jennifer Niven's debut novel and it's one I've known about since before it's release, yet it took me until this year to read it. Perhaps I knew how it would make me feel and had to wait until the right time.

Told via dual narrative, the story revolves around two teens: Finch and Violet. They are bought together by the idea of death, but become friends because they both want to protect the other. They bond during a school project and slowly get to know one another, even though there are secrets being kept.

All the Bright Places will tap straight into your emotions and leave you feeling overwhelmed. I was sure I knew what was coming and still I cried and felt heartbroken. It was beautifully told, sensitively explored, and all the more real knowing that Niven wrote it based on her own teenage years.

Hand-lettering and illustrations: Sarah Watts 
Jacket photographs: Neil Fletcher and Matthew Ward/Getty Images

This is such a lovely cover and one that is really memorable. I knew I wanted to paint a set as a gift for Jennifer and I was able to give them to her when she was in Australia for the Sydney Writer's Festival.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Bookish Nail Art Tutorial - Begin End Begin

I've been wanting to film a nail art tutorial for a while now and I've finally done it! I get lots of comments on my work and I wanted to show how I do it because it's something others can do as well. All you need it some nail polish and/or paint, and some paint brushes.

In this tutorial I paint nails to match the new LoveOzYA Anthology: Begin End Begin, edited by Danielle Binks. I was able to meet Danielle yesterday at high tea at Better Read Than Dead. It was wonderful to meet her after knowing her as a book blogger for so many years.

Cover design: Kate Pullen, The Letterettes

Here's the video:

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

May Book Haul + new YouTube channel!

It's been a while since I did a book haul post and even longer since I filmed a vlog. If you followed me back on my first book blog, the Vegan YA Nerds, you might remember a time when I participated in Stacking the Shelves with weekly vlogs.

Recently I decided to start a new YouTube channel, a place to combine my three main interests: reading, vegan food, and nail art. It's called Cook Read Create. My first video is my May Book Haul - I received some amazing books, including lots of new AussieYA!

Are any of these books on your to be read list? What books have you received recently? If you're on YouTube let me know in the comments, I'd love to check out your channel!

Monday, 5 June 2017

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan

We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
Published March 1, 2017 by Bloomsbury
Source: ARC from the publisher, purchased a finished copy
Rating: 5 stars

From the blurb: Nicu has emigrated from Romania and is struggling to find his place in his new home. Meanwhile, Jess's home life is overshadowed by violence. When Nicu and Jess meet, what starts out as friendship grows into romance as the two bond over their painful pasts and hopeful futures. But will they be able to save each other, let alone themselves?

Sarah Crossan recently visited Australia for the Sydney Writer's Festival and I was lucky enough to hear her speak at two events. She is an energetic, engaging, and entertaining speaker and she has great insight into the writing process. Sarah said the idea for We Come Apart started when Brian Conaghan contacted her and suggested they write a verse novel together. They began by exchanging chapters via email, moved onto editing via Skype, and the result is a powerful novel. They've also developed a new creative partnership, become good friends, and learned to balance their different writing styles.

We Come Apart is set in North London. Nicu and his parents have moved from Romania to earn some money before returning home where Nicu will marry a bride of their choosing. They come from a small village community of Roma gypsies.

Jess lives with her mum and step-dad. Her father left a long time ago and her older brother moved out recently. Now she's left on her own, a lonely witness to the beatings her mother receives. Jess copes by shoplifting and after her third offence she's forced into doing community service.

Verse is the sort of medium that allows the reader to instantly feel part of the story, the format strongly connects you to the characters. Jess' chapters left me feeling sickened, scared, and chilled. These feelings increased the more her step-father started paying attention to her and I could feel the sinister atmosphere seeping through the pages.

Nicu's story evoked feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and frustration. He is trying his best: speaking English, helping his father, attending school, doing community service, but still he feels as though he's on the outside and will never fit in. People only see his skin colour and hear his accent.

The friendship that develops is bittersweet. Jess has so many walls up because of the abuse she's witnessed. Nicu is desperate for a friend, for someone to talk to, and they both find security in each other.

We Come Apart is a beautiful verse novel with captivating, realistic characters, and a compelling story that is so relevant to our world right now.

Thank you to Bloomsbury for the ARC.

Cover illustration: Ben Tallon

Sarah's books always have amazing covers and that includes her latest, We Come Apart. I love the illustration by Ben Tallon so I painted a set of nails to match and gave them to Sarah as a gift.

Sonia from Bloomsbury sent me this lovely photo of Sarah and my nails: