Wednesday 13 August 2014

How to Create the Most Believable Characters

A little bit of a different post today, but I'm hoping that it will be a good 'un. I haven't done a 'creative writing' post in a while, and today I will be talking about how to create the most believable characters for your stories- something I have struggled with and have really had to work on as a writer.

A couple of years ago, when I was working on my second (and final) draft of Finding Theo, I was lucky enough to get some professional feedback on it, and one of the points of improvement mentioned was to strengthen my characters. One of my favourite things when writing a story is to create characters; I love creating scenes of them in my head interacting with each other, and bouncing their strengths off each other. I have piles of scrap books in my bedroom filled with magazine cut outs of people who I model on my characters. I associated them with colours, brands, TV shows they liked, and the clothes they wore. I really found that this helped me, when I had to imagine how one of my characters reacted in the story, because I knew so much about them. The problem with this was, I began to build my story on my characters, and not the other way round. I was so focused on my characters that the plot began to take on a mind of its own and verge off in directions I hadn't planned (which resulted in a confusing number of sub-plots!) While writing Finding Theo, I had so much fun creating characters to shape my protagonist, that I ended up creating way too many. 

I think that's the secret of creating a really fantastic character; whether it be a protagonist or just a nameless stranger who you describe to fill a paragraph. Go into detail, but not too much. You don't want the interest to be taken away from your story, and fully focused on your character. Sure, you want your reader to like, understand, and even empathise with your character, but you don't want them to be the ENTIRE focus of your story. The way I see it, your story should wind around your characters like a long, twisted road; your characters are simply interesting pit-stops on the way. However, don't diminish their importance. With creating great characters, you cannot afford to cut any corners. Characters can make or break a story. I have read books where the plot is absolutely fantastic, but the book has been let down by a character I feel wasn't developed enough, or who I didn't care about enough.

I would strongly advise, if you can draw (which I unfortunately can't), to sketch out your characters. They don't need to be good enough to hang in the Tate. Just some basic details; hair colour, eye colour, the type of clothes they wear, the facial expression they normally use. I have often not spent enough time reflecting on my character's appearance, and end up forgetting the colour of their eyes or their hair. It doesn't seem like the most important thing in the world, but it does get confusing when you can't remember whether your protagonist has blonde or brown hair. If you can't draw (like me), you can still visualise, or make some basic notes. You could even try the scrapbook idea; it may be more successful for you than it was for me. The important thing is being able to visualise your character, like you would be able to visualise the face of your best friend or a family member.

As far as inspiration goes, use the world around you. While on the tube, or walking across the beach, I will always see someone who will instantly inspire a character. TV shows and films is also a good place for forming characters- but make sure you don't directly copy a character! Be careful when using celebrities for inspiration- that could easily turn into fan fiction- and there is a very fine line between your own story and a story completely based on the true life of your favourite member of one direction! Characters from books have also inspired me to create my own characters, but again, don't copy.

I hope this post has helped, and hopefully, inspired you when creating your own characters! If there is anything you think I haven't included, comment below with your suggestions! Remember- one person doesn't know everything, but everybody knows something (that's how the saying goes- right?)

Until next time :)

Sunday 10 August 2014

How We Should Teach Shakespeare in Schools

Recently, I got in contact with Brendan Kelso, author of successful series Shakespeare for Kids, and got into conversation regarding my little sister and how she was finding studying Shakespeare in school. I could imagine, being in a class of nine and ten year olds, this wasn't as much of a fun experience as I believe it could be. When I was in primary school, we studied no Shakespeare, so when I moved up to secondary school I was thrown into the deep end; baffled with sentences that didn't make sense, characters who moaned endlessly at an empty, starless nights, and story lines that concluded with every character dying at the end. It was worlds apart from anything I had studied before. It took years for me to finally understand, appreciate and admire the work of this great artist; valuing the importance of every word he said, and realising how lucky we were that these great stories, that have been around since the 16th century, are still available for us to enjoy now. 

I was fourteen when I discovered my love for Shakespeare. Luckily, I had English teachers around me who cultivated my interest and helped me to develop my knowledge. With their support, I have been involved in BBC's 21st Century Classroom, where I was lucky enough to take part in a Shakespeare workshop, and I have also performed at Shakespeare for Schools in Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, in an abridged version of Macbeth. The way I was introduced to Shakespeare was not dry, boring or strenuous; I was helped along the way using a variety of methods: from hands-on active engagement, to learning monologues off by heart in one of the world's biggest broadcasting corporations. 

However, I am well aware that there are very few pupils at schools in England and throughout the world who feel this way. For many children and teenagers, Shakespeare still remains an exhausting, gruelling playwright to study, for numerous reasons. It begs the question whether it is merely the age of the works, or the way we are teaching our children Shakespeare, that make it such a demanding effort to teach and be taught. 

Brendan Kelso is one man trying to change this perception.

Kelso's books, 'Playing With Plays', aim to amuse, inspire and actively engage children and adults alike in Shakespeare's most classic works. The books are packed full of humour, drama and even include snippets of language from the original works. I also checked out Kelso's various teaching resources that is on his blog, to help educators in their teaching of Shakespeare, including the ever so popular Shakespeare Insult Generator. Even at 17 years old, calling my mum a 'frothy half-faced maggot-pie' is still hugely satisfying. After hearing about Kelso's books, I decided to investigate the ways teachers and actors from Europe and beyond are using imaginative and creative ways to engage children with Shakespeare. I spoke to Maria Serena Falagiani, an English teacher at the Scuola "San Gaspare del Bufalo", Florence, Italy. She used Kelso's books for her 11 year olds, who were learning 'Julius Caesar', and described it as 'an awesome experience'. When I quizzed her on how she managed to engage her students in a play written in the 16th century, she was very quick to reply with, 

'The language used by Brendan is lively and energetic and very easy to follow. I greatly appreciated the fact that Brendan maintained some of the Shakespeare quotes. The kids appreciated that too. Speaking the "real" Shakespeare language made them feel important!' 

So this got me thinking. Maybe it is not the actual language in Shakespeare's plays that makes it hard for children to be interested in the story. Perhaps it is the way that we teach Shakespeare that causes the confusion, the difficulty, the anxiety. This thought led me to Ian Campbell, who is the Artistic Associate for the Shakespeare by the Sea Festival in St. John's, Toronto, Canada. Having thought that the way children were normally introduced to Shakespeare was in 'a boring or intimidating way', he decided to change this, by putting on a Shakespeare production for kids to watch and engage in, for free. Being told the response they get from the children who regularly attend these productions, it opened my eyes to a completely new way of introducing children to Shakespeare, and something that should happen not only in Canada, but all over the world.

I also had the opportunity to talk to another teacher, Debra Williamson. What she had to say on the subject of incorporating Shakespeare into the 21st century classroom was riveting, and really turned my mind to how we should view the teaching of Shakespeare to our students in schools everywhere.

'I can't imagine why anyone would NOT teach Shakespeare in the classroom. There are so many resources available today to introduce young children to Shakespeare... I think your question to me really is the have to know your students, and within that group, find material that interests and engages them. My students loved choosing their own plays, creating their costumes, and feeling free to use Brendan's materials to showcase their own talents and newfound love of Shakespeare.'

Brendan Kelso was also kind enough to send my sister a review copy of his 'Macbeth for Kids'. As a ten year old being exposed to her first dosage of Shakespeare, I was very interested in how she would react to this very different way of understanding one of Shakespeare's most famous plays. This is what she had to say:

'I liked how it rhymed when the witches were talking. I love rhymes.  I liked the front cover it was very eye catching and colorful. I really enjoyed the book most of all because in my class we stopped learning about it and so I didn't know how Macbeth ended. I  was glad to finish Macbeth. It was good because it scared me a little bit and made me want to read on. It was bad because it had lots of killing. The three witches were my favorite characters in the book. Thank you for sending me this book, Brendan.'

I think those words can speak for themselves. If only we can eradicate the idioms 'hard', 'confusing' and 'difficult' from the language of students studying Shakespeare, then we can really start to change the way Shakespeare is taught, appreciated and understood by children, teenagers and adults in schools and wider society.

Check out Brendan's website here:

Tuesday 5 August 2014

'Shimmer' by Paula Weston (*****)

As you should all know by my persistent raving of the Rephaim series, I am a massive fan of these books, and will continue to be so for a very long time! When I first got sent Shadows to review, I knew that I was stepping outside my comfort zone, for these are not the typical books I would pick up in a bookshop. However, as soon as I had finished Shadows I could not wait to read Haze, and last month I was lucky enough to be sent the third book in the Rephaim series, Shimmer.

For me, Shimmer has to be my favourite book out of the three. Although it has more of the battle scenes that I have become used to, and more of the conflict between the Rephaim, The Five and The Outcasts, I found that it was entirely gripping and kept you wanting to find out more. As Rafa was absent for the majority of the book, there was less of the Gaby/Rafa romance and more beheading, so for the fans of the book who loved the romance, there was definitely less of that until the end of the book... when there is a very steamy chapter! However, I found myself to be a lot more engrossed in Shimmer than I had been in the other books, even though I absolutely loved all three. Where I had loved Shadows and Haze, I found myself to be obsessed with Shimmer. I read the book in three days; it was definitely the right kind of summer read that kept you turning the pages, and wanting the story to last forever.

The characterisation was just as strong in Shimmer as it had been in the other two books. With Jude in the picture, I found that we, as the readers, learnt a lot more about Gaby and she became a lot more of a relatable character, whom I knew I could trust. Having been a bit confused before about the divided nature of the Rephaim and who the Outcasts were and so forth, I found that the whole nature of the Rephaim was a lot more deeply described in this book, which tied up a lot of loose ends. I thoroughly enjoyed how the entirety of the book was set in Italy, because I found that the action was more tightly contained; therefore more intense. Every single chapter ended on a cliffhanger, which is perhaps my favourite quality in a book. 

There was definitely more of an emphasis on Gaby and Jude's relationship in this book, which was a really refreshing new theme since we only met Jude for the first time in the last book. I found that the focus really shifted in this book, which was a pleasant experience for a reader who had read the other two books in the series.

As always, the ending was perfect in every way. The speed of the action until the last page was perfect, and the last line gave me shivers. I honestly cannot wait until the next book comes out, and I am sure that it will be the best one yet!

Have you read Shimmer? Let me know below in the comments!

Until next time :)

Summer Reading 2014

Since we are nearing about the middle of the gorgeous summer months, I think that it is about time to share with you what I shall be reading (and have read) whilst on my holidays. I am lucky enough to be residing in Cornwall at the moment, which means an abundance of reading on the beach while I wait for the tide to go down *bliss*. Here is my list which I put together at the beginning of summer, however since then I have already read a few, but I'm still working through the rest! Some of these books I have been sent to review, some of them I have been assigned from school to read, and some of them I have just bought to enjoy. This is a real mixture of everything I like to read :)

1) Charlotte Brontë- Kate Hubbard

2) Shirley- Charlotte Brontë (completed)

3) What Happened to Goodbye- Sarah Dessen

4) The Life of Charlotte Brontë- Elizabeth Gaskell

5) A History of Modern Britain- Andrew Marr

6) Shimmer- Paula Weston (completed)

7) The Apple Tart of Hope- Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (completed)

8) The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald (completed)

9) The Name on Your Wrist- Helen Hiorns (completed)

I hope that I finish all of these books before the end of the summer, and perhaps even get to number 10! I will keep you updated if I do :)

Please let me know below in the comments what you are reading this summer, I'd love to know!

Until next time :)

Friday 1 August 2014

My Day at YALC

Hey everyone! A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to attend YALC (LitCon) at the Excel Centre in Earls Court. It was an amazing experience and should definitely be the first of many. There were TONS of inspiring people there, as well as other bloggers like me who were thankful for all of the books and goodies there! Here are some snapshots and a video documenting the day, and there will be a mini haul (exciting :D) coming soon!

Until next time :)

'The Apple Tart of Hope' by Sarah Moore Fitzgerald (*****)

Another 5* review, another incredible YA author who I was lucky enough to discover! I had never heard of Sarah Moore Fitzgerald before (who has one other novel- Back to Blackbrick), but I read the blurb in my press release and it was something I just HAD to read and review! The book was something I totally wasn't expecting, in the best kind of way. It was beautiful and haunting and full of things to be happy about. Sometimes the best kind of books are the ones that seem simple, but in fact unveil to reveal something a lot deeper inside. Yup, this was that kind of book.

First of all, I thought the place that the book began was really cleverly thought out- it opened with Oscar Dunleavy's prayer service in the Church, leaving the reader believing that he was already dead and allowing them to be kept in the dark until Oscar's chapter. I really enjoyed how we were allowed to see the story through Meg and Oscar's eyes, and the other characters were a delightful addition to the mix of characters Moore Fitzgerald created. Not only were they extremely likeable and relatable (except from Paloma, that is), but they were real, and honest to the reader. I felt that it was Meg and Oscar who were speaking to me, not an adult writer. The worst thing to come across in a YA novel is when it is clear that the author is trying to write as an adolescent, and try and guess what  their character would say, however there is no hint of this at all in Apple Tart. The characters, particularly the protagonists, are honest, kind, smart and believable. 

My favourite thing about this very special book is the fact that it starts off with a story that seems inconsequential. After reading the first page, I thought I was able to predict everything about the book. I was delighted about the fact I was proven wrong. If I'm allowed to use the incredibly clichéd metaphor about a flower opening and revealing all of the beauty and intricacy inside, then I will use it here. Once you really get into the book, you realise that the whole situation is a lot more complicated than what you originally thought. I love it how you discover through Meg's eyes what has happened while she is away, and pine for the return of Oscar as much as she does. I boiled with anger at Paloma, and wished I could reach inside the book and give Oscar a great big hug.

There are a lot of fictional characters that I have grown to love, and who I think we should look up to and learn from. Jem and Atticus Finch. Jane Eyre. Constantine from The Help. After reading Apple Tart, I strongly believe that Oscar Dunleavy could join that list. There's nothing better than a book with morals, I think. Simple, beautiful morals that could make the world a better place. That's effectively what this book is about. Doing everything in your power to spread that little bit of hope into the lives of the people around you. 

I hope you have enjoyed this book review! Make sure to check out 'The Apple Tart of Hope' and 'Back to Blackbrick'! You can check out Sarah Moore Fitzgerald here


Until next time :)

Helen Hiorns Interview

When did you first start writing?

I first started actively writing stories and posting them online when I was about thirteen… but, when I think about it I was drawing out family trees for the biggest fictional family ever when I was eight, I was writing terrible poetry (for church, embarrassingly enough) before I was a teenager and I handed in half an exercise book of terrible handwriting when asked to ‘write a story’ waaay back in year one. I guess I was writing long before I acknowledge I was writing – it was just something I did without really noticing it for a long time. From early teen onwards, though, I was dedicated to it. I think I once worked out that I wrote and posted and average of 600 words a day for nearly six years. That’s a lot of writing!

Before the Sony Young Movellist Competition, did you ever think of sending your work off to a publishing house?

I’d never wanted anything like I wanted to be a writer. I remember spending whole days sitting around and moping about how I’d never be good enough/would never manage it/would never get to be an actual writer. I realise now that this was somewhat pathetic… but it did half lead to some very vague experiences of publishers before the competition.

When I was about fifteen I was co-writing a book with one of my friends. He sent so many thousand words and a synopsis to a really small publishing company (being much more proactive than me; I was more of a sit and feel sorry for yourself without ever doing anything about it type). They got back to us and said that they were definitely interested… then the credit crunch hit hard and the company went bust. We never actually finished that book and it was a very small company, so it was probably for the best.

At a similar time I was writing a lot of stuff online, mainly fanfiction, and some of it was pretty popular. I had this one story that now has about half a million reads, although didn’t have quite that much at the time, and a few thousand reviews. One of the readers of that story contacted me and said that her parents, godparents, family friends and basically everyone in her life were in publishing, and she’d love to give them some of my work if I was interested. Anyway, she did, and they said they liked it but that no one was taking on any new authors because of that recession thing (I don’t know how much of that was actually true, but it was a confidence boost anyway).
So, the movellist competition was actually third time lucky for me. I didn’t think I was good enough yet, so I entered on a complete whim and didn’t expect to hear anything back from them. I had considered self-publishing, but I’m really glad that I didn’t have to go down that route. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to edit and promote a book all by yourself! I have serious respect for anyone who manages it.

How did you come up with the idea for 'The Name on Your Wrist'?

I have this bad habit of getting irrationally angry about commonplace ideas of what’s ‘romantic.’ I’d read a couple of things about soul mates and I just didn’t get why it was supposed to be a romantic notion. Surely it’s more romantic if you could be happy with a number of people that you’re compatible with in some way, and then you chose a particular person? What would happen if your ‘soul mate’ died? Or if you never met? Are you just supposed to sit there and be lonely?

So I decided I wanted to take a different slant on the notion of soul mates and wound up with a dystopian-esque teen romance (ish). It was fun.

What's the difference between having your work published on an eBook, and having it published in paperback? Which do you like better?

I remember a while back I was talking with one of my friends about writing and my ebook. He goes ‘well, you never know… one day you might be on a shelf in Waterstones’ and I had the great pleasure of being able to bite back with ‘yes, that day is called the second of January.’
Nothing screams ‘I’m a real author’ like a paperback. Having an ebook was really exciting… but no way near as exciting as having an actual 3D edition of your book. I got to hold it and everything! And whenever you’re casually staking out a bookshop you have the option of seeing whether you can find your name on the shelf. Not that I do that.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I’m going to fall back on one of those annoying cliché answers here and say life. Spending time with my friends, overhearing conversations and being busy is what gets my muse going… which usually means that I’m most inspired when I’m at my busiest. Trouble is that always leads to me itching to write all day. Then I get home, exhausted after doing whatever-it-was, crawl into bed with my laptop, put some mindless tv show on for background noise and try to write. Inevitably, I end up watching the bad TV show and falling asleep.

I find fiction and music inspiring too, but because of how it encapsulates life. I read something beautiful or profound or just plain touching, and then I think I want to do that too. I want to make my thoughts words and solidify them into fiction.

Still, what it usually means is that when I reach the summer holidays and months of scheduled nothing, I end up staring at a blank word document and re-remembering that spending whole days watching Jeremy Kyle and Come Dine With Me has never inspired anyone.

How do you balance university, work and writing?

Oh, this is so difficult.

Last year, I managed it easily. I finished four novel length works last year (three of them had already been started, one was from scratch). I was really lucky because I was placed in a flat with people who were soon to become my best friends, found brilliant course mates in my first few weeks and really loved the content of my degree, too. I was so happy and so inspired that I somehow managed to squeeze writing in around having a social life, work and coming home and doing my old Saturday job at Christmas. This year…. Not so much.

I started this year with six months solid of writer’s block. I think it was probably a publishing hangover, because I’d never had any kind of block like that happen to me before. I considered not writing for three days in a row pretty extreme back then. They don’t tell you that having your dream come true is terrifying. Wonderful, but terrifying.

I got my mojo back at Easter, colliding head on with a triple essay deadline and the exam season (another six essays). I also took on a load of volunteer work type stuff around that time so… yeah, I’ve written hardly anything this year.

So… I’ll get back to you on that when I’ve actually worked it out.

What has been the best thing that has happened since your book has been published?

My life is genuinely brilliant at the moment, so it’s really difficult to say. Bookwise, we sold the rights to Brazil and they’re translating it into Portuguese, which is awesome. I had a whole display dedicated to my book in one Waterstones. I now have access to this up to date track of book sales, which may possibly have ruined my life. Cannot stop refreshing.

I’ve also found a church I love in Sheffield where I’m at uni, spent another year living with my best friends, had a wonderful time at uni, the opportunity to take a break from the crappy English winter and go to Cyprus with two of my course mates and am beginning to work out what I want to do when I finish my degree next year. Things in my life are much better than I ever thought they could be. No complaints from over here.

How has Movellas helped you on this journey?

Although I only found out about Movellas through entering the competition, they’ve been so helpful.
I was backpacking round Europe when I found out that I’d won the competition and they’d be publishing my book in a few weeks’ time, which was very impractical (although very romantic, it’s got to be said). I got calls from Random House in Hamburg, calls from Movellas from Poland, edits to do in Prague and a video to film in Switzerland… but in actual fact the whole thing ran like a well-oiled machine. The awards ceremony was brilliant and the competition was such a wonderful opportunity to give to young authors.

Since then, I’ve written a few blogs for them and they’ve talked about running a competition around my book at some point.

Writing platforms like Movellas have given me so much over the years. I definitely would never have finished writing my first novel (and beast of a thing with so many irrelevant side plots that I can’t stand to read it anymore) without readers… and I wouldn’t have learned what things worked and what didn’t, or that I can write humour as well as angst. Giving people an audience they can interact with is a wonderful thing.

What is next for you?

Hopefully, more words.

The Name on Your Wrist was always supposed to have a sequel and I’ve been working on that sporadically over the past year. It’s been one-upped slightly by this idea I’ve been completely in love with for a year, but could never get to work properly until recently. Now it’s summer I’m hoping to get lots of writing done. Ideally, I’d like to finish both the sequel and the other story this summer… but we’ll see.

I’ve also got a couple of other novel ideas that might need a bit dusting off.

I should probably also go outside at some point this summer.

Any advice for young, aspiring writers?

I’m sure this isn’t anything that hasn’t been said before, but it’s definitely important to write about something you’d like to read about. Write the story you’ve been itching to see told. Not only does that definitely help with motivation and makes sure that you’re passionate about the story, it probably means someone else would like to read it as well.
Keep writing. The Name on Your Wrist was something like my eighth or ninth finished novel length work… and you get better the more you write. And try writing everything. I used to be convinced that I couldn’t write humour, not at all, but it turns out that isn’t as true as I thought.

My number one piece of advice is to remember why you’re bothering to write in the first place. Writing is amazing. You can put your thoughts and feelings and perspectives into words and characters that people can relate to. Telling stories is this amazing intrinsic human need. Words can do things.  Remembering that is really important… and seriously inspiring.

Thank you so much Helen for agreeing to be interviewed! You can buy Helen's book here, and follow her on Twitter here (believe me, if you think she's witty and hilarious in this interview, you clearly haven't seen her Twitter).

Check out my book review of 'The Name on Your Wrist' here.

Until next time :)