Author burnout - an occupational hazard?
Some of you already know that I've struggled to find my writing mojo in 2020. All was well until February, when I suddenly found I couldn't summon up the desire to write. The coronavirus restrictions hadn't yet come into force, so that wasn't the reason. Instead I believe I was experiencing a minor case of burnout.
I'm quite a driven individual and over the last two decades I've pushed myself hard in various ways. They include extensive travel (always a joy), moving three hundred miles away, leaving my accountancy career, operating a dog walking business before becoming a full-time novelist, achieving other important goals, etc. It's all been great fun and I have no regrets. But inside me, things were changing.
I began to experience a strong urge to slow my life down. The thought of waking up to my alarm clock didn't appeal (did it ever?) I yearned to do more than just write. I wanted to spend time with friends, make new ones, exercise more, improve my Spanish, etc. The pressure authors experience to pump out books filled me with dread. I wanted to write for love, not because I was on a production schedule. To my horror, I realised I no longer wanted to write. Anything. At all. I'd published seven novels as well as a novella and a non-fiction book. Perhaps I'd taken my writing as far as it was meant to go?
This wasn't a case of writer's block. I didn't sit in front of a blank screen, desperate to conjure up words. Instead I avoided writing all together, despite having completed a good chunk of my eighth novel. I told myself my writing mojo would soon bounce back. It didn't.
Unsure how to proceed, I turned to my author friends for help. To my surprise, they'd either gone through, or were currently experiencing, the same dilemma. Here are some of their comments:
I'm having the same doubts as to whether to continue writing, whether its worth the backlash and all the intense hard work.
I too want to try to take my writing to the next level, but am plagued by doubts.
I had an email from an author friend saying exactly the same thing, and that he was on the verge of quitting.
Phew! At least I knew I wasn't alone in this. I was also lucky enough to have a wonderful accountability partner. We check in with each other about our writing goals each Sunday via Skype and midweek via email. During this difficult time he was a huge source of support and encouragement, even when weeks turned into months and I still hadn't written anything.
How is my writing going now?
I'm pleased to report that, while I'm by no means out of the writing doldrums, things have improved significantly. What's changed? Two things. First, I asked myself whether, given that I'd dreamed of being a novelist for decades, it was likely I'd lost my writing mojo forever. Was this just a blip instead? The answers came back: no, and probably. Second, my writing buddy suggested I write a few words on my novel and see where it took me. I agreed, and committed to doing 1,000 new words the following week. And I did. The next week I managed 5,000 and the one after that, 6000. It's a way off the 2,000+ words I used to write daily before my 'blip', but I'm not worried. I'm writing again, and so far I've added over 24,000 new words to my eighth novel. At times I've even felt flashes of my old drive and energy, which is wonderful.
My aim is to complete the novel and get it to my editor/beta readers by Christmas. I'll keep you posted! Thanks for reading.
This is the first book by B P Walter that I've read, and I'm looking forward to more. A gripping psychological thriller, it weaves the stories of Julianne and Holly into a roller-coaster read that hooked me from the start. Here's a taster:
2019: Julianne is preparing a family dinner when her son comes to her and says he’s found something on his iPad. Something so terrible, it will turn Julianne’s world into a nightmare and make her question everything about her marriage and what type of man her husband is or is pretending to be.
1990: Holly is a fresher student at Oxford University. Out of her depth and nervous about her surroundings, she falls into an uneasy friendship with a group of older students from the upper echelons of society and begins to develop feelings for one in particular. He’s confident, quiet, attractive and seems to like her too. But as the year progresses, her friends’ behaviour grows steadily more disconcerting and Holly begins to realise she might just be a disposable pawn in a very sinister game.
A devastating secret has simmered beneath the surface for over twenty-five years. Now it’s time to discover the truth. But what if you’re afraid of what you might find?
Two women, two timelines, one awful truth...
First, let's deal with the characters. None of them are particularly likable, in my opinion. Julianne has a tendency to bury her head in the proverbial sand when it comes to her husband. James, Ernest, Peter and Ally are self-absorbed and cruel. Holly is unbelievably naive and at times an inverted snob.
None of this matters; I'm not the kind of reader who needs to like characters in a novel, but they do need to interest me. And they did. When would the scales fall from Julianne's eyes? Why can't Holly see how warped her friends are? Is James really that easily led by Ernest?
Other downsides to the characters? I wish the author had developed Diane, Julianne's mother, more. B P Walter does a great job of portraying this narcissistic woman and how she undermines her daughter, so i assumed this was part of a character arc/subplot that would develop as the novel progressed. I was wrong - Diane doesn't appear again. A shame, as her acerbic brand of commentary used as the novel reaches its climax would have, in my opinion, added to the tension. As it stands, she appears to contribute nothing to the plot.
As for Holly, she vacillates between uptight virginity and sexual abandon in a way that fails to convince. One moment she's a prudish bookworm, the next she's spying on her friends' sex lives. That scene where she hides in a wardrobe? Really?
I also rolled my eyes at the way the wealthy characters are portrayed as selfish and uncaring individuals who use their social status to procure their twisted desires with no regard for others. It's stereotypical thinking - 'All rich people are bastards!' - and says more, in my view, about the holders of such opinions than wealthy people themselves.
Other loose ends and anomalies
Let's move on and examine the plot. Some parts are hard to believe - would James really have saved those documents in the family Dropbox account, even by accident? However tired he might be, its hard to imagine him making such a catastrophic error. Also, the way his character arc ends is weak and far too convenient, letting him off the hook for his crimes.
The ending almost calls for a sequel and doesn't answer the question of whether the other members of James's cabbal get their comeuppance. From what we're told, it could go either way, but we never get to find out. The reader is left hanging, which makes for a less than satisfactory finale.
So would I recommend 'A Version of the Truth'?
You might be thinking that I disliked this novel. I didn't. 'A Version of the Truth' drew me in from the first chapter. It's soon obvious that Julianne's husband harbours a dark side; the mystery lies in the fine details and how James manages to conceal his depravities for so long. I enjoyed the way the stories of Julianne and Holly are interwoven along with the different timelines - that worked well. A warning - this book is not for the faint of heart. It examines rape, people-trafficking, abuses of power, dysfunctional families and class envy. Some readers may find the sexual scenes uncomfortable reading. The novel is dark, twisty and intriguing, despite its flaws. You can check it out via this link: A Version of the Truth.
Have you read 'A Version of the Truth'?
Did you like it, love it, hate it, find it a bit 'meh'? Leave a comment and let me know!
'The Abattoir of Dreams' is thriller writer Mark Tilbury’s third novel, and as I’m a fan of the first two, reading this one was a must! Unlike Mark’s other books, 'The Revelation Room' and 'The Eyes of the Accused', it's a standalone offering and not part of the Ben Whittle investigation series. Instead, in 'The Abattoir of Dreams' Mark takes his writing down a supernatural route, blending a paranormal theme with thriller material, a dash of time travel and dollops of humour. A unique and intriguing concept! Here’s a taster:
Michael Tate has not had an easy life. With his father in prison, and his mother dead, Michael was sent to Woodside Children’s Home.
Now an adult, Michael wakes up from a coma in hospital suffering from amnesia and paralysis. Confused and terrified, he is charged with the fatal stabbing of his girlfriend, Becky. He also learns he attempted to end his own life.
Detective Inspector John Carver is determined that Michael is sent to prison. With no way of defending himself, Michael is left in his hospital bed awaiting transfer to remand. But then strange things begin to happen and his childhood comes back to haunt him. Can Michael ever escape the past? Will he ever discover the truth about Becky’s murder? And why is DI Carver so eager to make him suffer?
How does Mark Tilbury blend humour and horror so well?
Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Much of the action takes place in the 1970s, at a government-run children’s home. In recent years we’ve seen the unearthing of many terrible abuse cases that happened at such places, and this theme is examined in depth in 'The Abattoir of Dreams'.
The plot delves into many dark concepts, such as cruelty to children, corruption and murder and yet Mark throws in splashes of humour along the way. This is what has struck me before with his writing, and what makes him stand out – I read his books and think, ‘how the hell does he do that?’ You wouldn’t think horror and humour make good bedfellows, yet they do in Mark’s capable hands. He manages it with a succession of witty asides, sarcastic comments and other gems, often in the head of Michael Tate, the protagonist.
Talking of characters, what a fine cast we have!
There are many dark souls in this book: Michael’s father, Kraft and Malloy at Woodside, and none more dogged in his pursuit of Michael than D I John Carver, the police officer determined to bring Michael to justice. Alongside them are many sympathetic characters, though: Michael’s mother, her friend Rachel and the kindly vicar, Paul Brady. The friendship between the younger Michael and damaged fellow Woodside resident Liam is both tender and touching, and lightens the part of the story that deals with terrible things. And then there’s Michael himself. Paralysed, his memory faulty, he’s vulnerable to the machinations of D I Carver, and the reader feels for his plight, especially once his tragic story begins to be revealed. He needs to confront his past, but how can he when he doesn’t remember it? Michael has friends, however, and not all of them belong to this world. As a ghostly presence transports him back in time, the truth is gradually revealed, and Michael learns what really happened to Becky.
Want to know more? Check out these links:
Combining writing with travel - is it possible?
Those who know me well are familiar with my wanderlust! I've been passionate about solo travel for decades now and I've been fortunate to have explored many wonderful countries. For a long time it's been my ambition to combine travel with writing and become, at least for a while, a nomadic novelist. All I need to work is a computer and a decent internet connection, so the idea seemed very achievable. In addition, there were several trips I longed to get under my belt, and most of them were west of the UK, in the Americas. Combined with the nagging feeling I was in somewhat of a rut in Bristol, it wasn't a hard decision to arrange another overseas jaunt. This time I liked the notion of travelling without a set return date. I bought a one-way ticket to Canada to enable me to fly to Toronto in April 2017, with some vague plans as to where to visit after French Canada, which I'd missed on my last trip to the country back in 1990. I ending up spending a couple of months in Canada before I crossed the border into the USA, where I had friends with whom I wanted to reconnect.
In America I visited Vermont, then Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, before making my way to Las Vegas, where I hired a car and went touring for a week. My journey included the wonders of Monument Valley, Zion National Park and other beautiful places before I finished up in San Diego. Next came Mexico, El Salvador, Costa Rica, Panama. Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.
Towards the end of my trip I seized the chance to travel to the Falklands, South Georgia and the incredible White Continent, Antarctica. WOW!!! What a fantastic experience. The wildlife on South Georgia was awe inspiring - beaches packed full of seals and penguins, accompanied by some very strong fishy odours! As for Antarctica, a friend told me it's like being in a different world, and she was right. The silence, the ice, the remote location… I'd love to return some day and explore further.
So how hard was it to travel and write at the same time?
My main fear before I set off was whether I'd be able to combine travelling and writing. My previous trips had usually been done at a fast pace, with lots of planes, trains and buses involved - hardly conducive to the quiet writing environment I prefer! I found it hard to write the first draft of 'His Kidnapper's Shoes' while travelling in 2010-11, and I only completed the book by parking my butt in the gorgeous Bolivian city of Sucre and not leaving until I'd finished. Hence my concern. How would I manage all the sight-seeing I'd want to do while writing my novels? As well as maintaining the rest of my business - marketing, finance, etc?
It turns out I needn't have worried. I managed to maintain a full work schedule and still got to visit the sights I want to see. Most times I would work during the morning and get out and about during the afternoon and evenings. I also tried to arrange travel and sight-seeing whenever possible at the weekends. It all worked out really well and my schedule left me plenty of time left to practise yoga, read and socialise. What helped was not having a set itinerary; there was nowhere I needed to be at any particular time. From what I understand, this way of working is becoming more common, with more and more people choosing to become digital nomads. and why not? If your work is internet-based, such as web design or life coaching, then you can earn money wherever you are in the world. You're not location-dependent for your income. It's immensely freeing and if, like me, you love travelling, it's the ideal solution. As I mentioned earlier, I'd become aware I was deep in a rut in Bristol, and needed to break out. It felt right to be backpacking again, with everything I needed in a couple of bags, moving from one wonderful place to another, doing as I pleased. Since my return from that trip, which lasted ten months, I've moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and been busy with other things, but I plan to continue combining travel and writing in the future. Who knows, maybe I'll inspire some of my readers to become digital nomads! See you in Rio, perhaps!
I still feel very much like a newbie when it comes to writing, even though I've been a full-time novelist for over five years, with seven published novels, a novella and a non-fiction book. I remember how I wanted to write a novel but hadn't a clue how to start. Part of my hesitation was down to not knowing any other novelists. If I'd had an example of success to inspire me, perhaps I'd have embarked on my writing adventure sooner.
As it is, I'm always looking for ways to encourage would-be novelists. That's why I've compiled a free book as a companion to 'Write Your Novel! From Getting Started to First Draft'. This one is called 'Write Your Novel! Success Stories from Published Authors', and it's packed full of advice and inspiration. Contributors include British best-selling horror writer Iain Rob Wright and American novelist Robert Bidinotto. Read the stories in the book, absorb the wise words contained therein, and I hope you'll be inspired to continue your writing journey. The book is only available from this website and is available in kindle (.mobi), ePub and PDF formats via the image or the button below.
It's my pleasure this week to review Tony Forder's 'Slow Slicing', the latest novel in his bestselling Bliss and Chandler police procedural series. I interviewed Tony for my blog in April 2019, and you can read that post here: Interview with Tony Forder.
Right, on with my review of 'Slow Slicing'! Here's a taster of the plot:
WHEN DEATH BECOMES THE KINDEST CUT OF ALL
When slices of flesh and body parts are discovered in different areas of the country, DI Bliss and his team are tasked with running the operation. After Bliss realises the victims have been subjected to a specific form of torture, it leads him to a cold case involving the brutal and bloody murder of a woman in London twenty-six years earlier.
As the team discover links between their victims, the murdered woman, and gangland crime, they begin a dangerous investigation into both the past and the present. But Bliss is stumped, unable to decide if the current spate of mutilations are acts of revenge or the result of ageing criminals seeking to hide their despicable actions. Following a leak to the media, Bliss’s reaction may have dire consequences.
With the hunt for the victims at fever point, Bliss uncovers evidence steering him in the direction of one particular individual. The only problem being, his prime suspect is the one person it cannot possibly be. When Bliss orders a sting operation, the astonishing truth is revealed. And that’s when things really start to go wrong…
More twists than a bag of pretzels...
Wow, sounds intriguing, right? And it is. 'Slow Slicing' is yet another superb book in Tony Forder's Bliss and Chandler series. It's a dark and disturbing read that delivers more twists than a bag of pretzels, and never fails to entertain. When I say 'dark and disturbing', I mean it - this is not a novel for the squeamish. At one point I had to take a deep breath before reading on, because what was happening wasn't pretty. I expect that from crime fiction anyway; the book blurb specifically mentions torture, so I can't say I wasn't warned. The violence described is never gratuitous, though; it's relevant to the plot but never dominates it.
Let's start with the story. The pacing is relentless and the narrative fascinating. 'Slow Slicing' is a page turner that poses intriguing questions. Why has the torturer waited so long to exact revenge? Wait - maybe it's not vengeance, but an attempt by gangsters to conceal other crimes. Other weird stuff crops up too. What's the reason for the letters and numbers carved into the victims' body parts? Tony keeps his reader guessing throughout, but all the questions are answered by the time the satisfying conclusion rolls around.
Bliss and Chandler are well-drawn characters, and continue their symbiotic relationship in 'Slow Slicing'. This time Chandler takes a back seat, with Bliss often branching out on his own. At best this causes tension between him and Penny; at worst it entails serious consequences for Bliss's career. Bliss, with his usual 'don't care' attitude, is solely concerned with catching the bad guys, and if his methods are unorthodox, so what? That doesn't go down well with his superior officers, of course!
I've said it before and I'll say it again - this author ranks in terms of talent with the very best of novelists. I wish I could award 'Slow Slicing' more than five stars, but hey ho, life's not perfect! Let's just say the five stars I'm giving this book are all supernovas.
Discover more about Tony Forder and his novels:
Recently I read 'Thinner' (1984) by Richard Bachman. For those who don't know, Richard Bachman is a pseudonym of the great Stephen King. When King was embarking on his writing career, many publishers opted not to release more than one book per year by each author, since they believed more would be unacceptable to the public. (How times have changed!) King therefore chose to write under a pen name to increase his sales without over-saturating the market for his books. There are seven books in the Bachman collection, with Thinner being the fourth; the others include 'The Running Man', later made into a well-known film. King has stated that that writing as Richard Bachman was also his way of discovering whether his success was due to talent or luck. He deliberately released his Bachman novels without much marketing fanfare, but his identity was revealed before he ever got his answer. Here's a taster:
'Thinner' - the old gypsy man barely whispers the word. Billy feels the touch of a withered hand on his cheek. Billy Halleck, prosperous if overweight citizen, happily married, shuddered then turned angrily away. The old woman's death had been none of his fault. The courts had cleared him. She'd just stumbled in front of his car. Now he simply wanted to forget the whole messy business. Later, when the scales told him he was losing weight, it was what the doctor ordered. His wife was pleased - as she should have been. But . . . 'Thinner' - the word, the old man's curse, has lodged in Billy's mind like a fattening worm, eating at his flesh, at his reason. And with his despair, comes violence.
Wow! A gypsy curse - great material for a maestro like King!
'Thinner' doesn't disappoint. It's shorter than his usual trademark novels that weigh in at several hundred pages, but its writing style is pure Stephen King. How did it take four Bachman books before his cover got blown?! Sprinkled throughout the narrative are his trademark motifs, such as splitting a sentence over a few lines, with italicised and bracketed text in between. Also evident is his penchant for all-American brand names, and the fact that much of the action takes place in Maine. What's more, his characters even refer to a situation as 'like something out of a Stephen King novel' at one point. Cheeky, but amusing!
The protagonist, Billy Halleck, is not a likeable character; he's arrogant and lacks self-awareness. Nobody else in the book, with the possible exception of Billy's wife Heidi, comes across any better. The originator of the curse, Taduz Lemke, and his granddaughter Gina are especially vicious, unforgiving individuals. This lack of anyone with whom to empathise might mean some readers could find it hard to connect with the story, but that aspect didn't bother me. To me, Billy is all too human in his failings; had the woman's death been murder rather than an accident, the gypsy's curse may have been more understandable, but the old man acts out of malevolence and spite. What I found fascinating was King's examination of the various emotions Billy experiences throughout the book. From the start we know he killed another human being through a motor accident, and the story is very much about guilt, responsibility and justice. At first, Billy wants to put the incident behind him, and it's not until he understands he's been cursed does he begin to deal with his demons. Having said that, the book contains much injustice; it's hard to say more without giving plot spoilers, but the cruel twist at the end is a good example. That was unkind of you, Mr King, although I guess you intended it as poetic justice! Anyone for strawberry pie?
So would I recommend 'Thinner'?
Yes, I would. The book rambles a little at times and it doesn't rank for me as one of King's best, but it's a lot better than 'From a Buick 8', which lacked structure and rambled a LOT. (Click here to read my review - From A Buick 8). Also, as a diehard Stephen King fan, I'm happy to sample his lesser-known work. I'll look out for further Richard Bachman books.
What about you? Have you read 'Thinner'?
Did you enjoy it? Leave a comment and let me know! (UK readers, you can check out 'Thinner' by clicking on the main image.
Today I'm delighted to welcome novelist Ian Skewis to my blog. Ian's first novel, 'A Murder of Crows', was published in 2017. A proud moment for any writer! Let's get going with the questions.
Tell us about 'A Murder of Crows'.
'A Murder Of Crows' is a crime thriller featuring DCI Jack Russell, who is on his final case before retiring. He is led to believe that the case will be relatively simple and it proves to be anything but. A serial killer has emerged and seems to be just getting started and it becomes a race against time to prevent the evolution of this new menace.
Sounds great! What inspired the plot for the book?
It was part inspired by an event that happened to me when I was nine years old. I was out for a walk in the country with my parents and we found a dead man hanging from a tree. My dad called the police and my mum kept me away from the site. But my imagination kind of filled in the gaps and from there a very strange little tale emerged. Needless to say, the countryside has long since taken on a rather more sinister aspect for me and this is very much evident in the book. This was in 1979. Now finally, the story, which I officially started writing in 1989, has taken flight as it were. Pun intended!
What’s next for you? Will A Murder of Crow be the first in a series, and if so, can you give us any hints?
About three years ago I came up with an idea for a sequel of sorts but I was determined that I wouldn't write it unless I could find something really challenging about it - I think I now have a really good follow-up story - one that will take on some very surprising twists and turns. As for hints, it begins six months after A Murder Of Crows ends and will involve a psychic, a female detective and the return of an old enemy...
What is your all-time favourite novel?
Atonement by Ian McEwan is still my favourite. I loved the fact that this character felt so bad about what she had done to what were essentially two innocent people, that she completely rewrote their history in a book - an act of kindness, albeit many years too late. I was surprised at how good the film version was too. Books that comment in some way on writing and its gift to heal always appeal to me - Life Of Pi being another example.
Do you prefer to read e-books or paper books?
I always prefer paper, and in particular, paperbacks. They yield and become old, dog-eared and yellowed with age and there is something very human and comforting about that. Hardbacks are good too but they don't bend easily and are less portable, I feel.
Do you think the cover plays an important part of the buying process?
Absolutely! I had a whale of a time designing my book cover. My publisher actually sent me a three page questionnaire asking things like what font I wanted to use, how I would describe the contents of the story and what images did I reckon would be suitable for the cover. I always knew it would be a lone crow. I actually had some sketches from 2009 that I did when I could only dream of such things as book covers and it was amazing to be able to literally draw on that and see it come to life! I'm thrilled with the end result, and all thanks to Mark Ecob for being very patient and such a good collaborator. The book cover is very stark and haunting and the crow's eye contains other elements such as a blood red moon, and a farmer's scythe - all very symbolic...
What is the hardest thing about writing a book?
For me it was always a lack of confidence. I spent years listening to those doubts in my head telling me that I wasn't all that good, and who did I think I was, deigning to write? I know now that this was just my inner critic, which is healthy and no bad thing. But a healthy balance is what's needed. It goes back to believing in yourself and reaching for the stars but keeping one's feet on the ground.
What is the easiest thing about writing a book?
The freedom to do anything you like. One of the reasons I gave up acting (I was a professional actor) was that I always felt like part of a greater whole and often I had bigger ideas than that. Now as a writer I can conjure up entire worlds. I have the last word on everybody's destiny. That is an incredible palette to be able to work from. However, when you play God, and all writers do to a greater or lesser degree, then that comes with a huge responsibility. So when I have to end someone's life in a story for example, I never take it lightly. When I had to kill someone in 'A Murder Of Crows' I cried as I wrote it because I wrote it not from the point of the gore or the violence but from the memories of that person as they faded away, the ground rushing up towards them, all their regrets, all the things they still could have done, had their life not been cut short. Another character in the book has a tragic and very emotional ending that was really difficult for me to write. I felt I had somehow locked them up and thrown away the key, condemned them to a terrible existence. If these characters were real they would probably slap my face for what I did to them - and deservedly so!
What advice would you give to would-be novelists?
Believe in yourself - but keep your feet on the ground. And beware of who you take advice from. All industries have their charlatans. It's worth stating here that if something feels wrong then it probably is - so above all, trust your instinct!
Thank you, Ian, for your time! It's been a pleasure interviewing you.
If you'd like to know more about Ian and his books, check out his website: www.ianskewis.com.
Blood is thicker than water...
This week's post is a review of the Sunday Times bestseller 'Good Me Bad Me' by author Ali Land. Here's a taster:
Annie's mother is a serial killer.
The only way she can make it stop is to hand her in to the police.
But out of sight is not out of mind.
As her mother's trial looms, the secrets of her past won't let Annie sleep, even with a new foster family and name - Milly.
A fresh start. Now, surely, she can be whoever she wants to be.
But Milly's mother is a serial killer. And blood is thicker than water.
She is, after all, her mother's daughter...
The old question of nature versus nurture
'Good Me Bad Me' is told entirely in the narrative voice of Milly, formerly known as Annie, a fifteen-year-old in foster care after turning her serial killer mother in to the police. At first I struggled with this; Milly is a confused and very disturbed girl, and the writing reflects her anguish. Short, clipped phrases show her inner turmoil and the book wasn't easy reading at first. Sentences such as 'Shifted in his chair he did. Sat up straight, him and his gut' jarred on me, but after a while I got used to the author's style. Taken from a terrible situation in which she is horribly abused, you'd think Milly's new foster family would offer her some hope for a brighter future. They are wrestling with their own issues, however, and hide dark dysfunctional secrets. Mike, her foster father, is tasked with preparing her for the trial against her mother, which he does as best he can, but Saska, his wife, is a different matter. Remote, emotionally absent, she barely touches Milly's life and in no way provides an adequate maternal substitute. The daughter, Phoebe, bullies Milly and over time the pressure on the vulnerable fifteen-year-old grows. In her head, Milly talks to her mother a lot, seeking to make sense of her fractured life but unable to break free from the woman's stranglehold over her emotions.
The book throws up uncomfortable questions, such as: should she be pitied or feared? Nature versus nurture? On the one hand, Milly is desperate for reassurance that she's not a psychopath like her mother. On the other, how can she escape her terrible start in life? As the blurb says, blood is thicker than water, and Milly has witnessed things no child should ever see. Her turmoil has to find an outlet somehow...
The plot has some frustrating elements, such as some loose ends. For example, a threat to the safety of Miss Kemp, one of Milly's teachers, is hinted at when Milly finds out where she lives. Milly considers herself slighted by this woman, giving rise to the expectation that she will attempt to exact revenge. However, this tantalising glimpse of what might have been never gets resolved, which makes me wonder why it was ever included. In addition, the ending is somewhat odd; it's hard to say much without giving plot spoilers, but I doubt Mike would have capitulated to Milly's manipulations as quickly as he did.
I also suspect Milly's behaviour would have been very different. Most of the time she is well-behaved, polite and strives to fit in with her foster family and at school. Would a girl who has been physically and sexually abused, who has witnessed murder, act this way? Would she not be self-harming, hurting others, trashing her room, etc? Perhaps the 'good me' part of her character is a little too saccharine and unlikely.
Would I recommend 'Good Me Bad Me'? Yes, despite the minor niggles. The story is engrossing and, as a debut novel, it's impressive. Definitely worth a read, in my opinion.
People who see music and taste words...
In October 2016 I discovered I have synaesthesia, which came as a surprise! It seems that many people, myself included, don't realise that they view the world differently.
What is synaesthesia, you may be wondering? It’s when the senses cross over, meaning one type of stimulation evokes the sensation of another. For example, hearing a sound may result in a synaesthete seeing that sound in colour; musicians such as Billy Joel and Mary J. Blige visualise music this way.
Synaethesthia can combine any of the senses, although the most common types are the ones I have, when letters, numbers and time assume colours and shapes. I find some of the rarer forms, such as lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, in which people taste words, fascinating! As a foodie, I’m quite envious of that one, but studies show only 0.2% of people have lexical-gustatory synaesthesia.
To help non-synaesthetes understand, to some extent we all do this anyway. Have you ever talked about warm colours or complained that the weather is bitterly cold? Then you’ll have some idea of what I mean. Think about smell and taste; those senses are linked for almost everyone, meaning we can predict how a food will taste from sniffing it. Synaesthesia takes this process a step further.
It’s a shame some of the articles I read referred to it as an affliction or medical condition. To me, that smacks of the prejudice that existed decades ago against left-handed people, and isn’t helpful.
August is such an orange month...
There are two main forms of synaesthesia – projective and associative. People with the former type actually see the shapes and colours projected into their vision, whereas others, like me, have the associative type – we see the results in our mind’s eye, not in reality. Statistics vary as to how many people are synaesthetes – the most common one indicates that 4.4% of people have it. Some researchers have postulated that everyone is born with synaesthesia, with most people losing the ability early in childhood. Early research linked synaethesia to being left-handed and poor with mathematics, although later studies contradict such findings. As a right-handed ex-accountant, that's definitely not true for me!
I came across the condition a while ago, thought "yeah, I have that - doesn't everyone see letters in colour?" and then didn't think any more about it. After all, we don’t tend to ask people what colour their alphabet is, or how they visualise time; I honestly thought everyone must use some sort of mental map to process numbers and years. It was only when I read something about Vladimir Nabokov, who was a synaesthete, that I chanced on a Wikipedia article on the subject. After reading through it, it was obvious to me that I had synaesthesia and that it took several forms, which apparently is common. I took the long and very detailed online test at http://www.synesthete.org/ and the results confirmed my suspicions.
Tasting of Flora and the country green...
Kandinsky may have been a synaesthete! It appears that synaesthesia may be more prevalent in women than men, and is seven times more likely to occur in artists, musicians and writers. Besides Nabokov, other authors with synaesthesia include Joanne Harris and Orhan Pamuk. In literature, synaesthesia refers to a technique adopted by writers to present fiction so it appeals to more than one sense at a time. Take this quote from Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale: 'Tasting of Flora and the country green, Dance, and Provencal song, and sun burnt mirth!' In this example, music, dance, etc, are described as having taste – very synaesthetic!
What about this quote from Julia Glass’s novel 'The Whole World Over'? 'The word would fill her mind for a few minutes with a single color: not an unpleasant sensation but still an intrusion… Patriarch: Brown, she thought, a temple of a word, a shiny red brown, like the surface of a chestnut.'
I have to disagree – ‘patriarch’ is definitely lemon-coloured! No two synaesthetes view things in quite the same way, it seems. For me, words take on the colour of their first letter, unless we're talking about weekdays or months, and 'P' is pale yellow.
I’m considering ways to use my synaesthesia in my writing, both through my narrative description and as the basis for a novel or series of novels. Now that I’ve discovered I’m a synaesthete, I’m keen to put it to practical use!
What about you?
Are any of you synaesthetes and if so, what types do you have? Leave a comment and let me know!