Thursday, 21 September 2017

Should You Take A Writing Course?

One of the things I love about taking a writing course is the conversations it sparks with other people. I can't count the number of times that people respond with positive questions and comments like 'I've always wanted to do that' or something similar. Usually when I pry a little deeper or say, 'why don't you?' a lot of people aren't really sure what a writing course can offer or are under the misconception that writing courses are only for a certain type of person. Well, spoiler: they are for a certain type of person - those of us who like to write.

First of all you do not need to have any type of plan or agenda to take a writing course. Perhaps you want to dabble in novels in your spare time or you are convinced you have the ability to be the next J K Rowling. Both of those are great reasons to do a course! You don't need to be a literary whizz to take creative writing. The point of you taking a class is to become a better writer. In both cases, amateurs and the blessedly gifted can become better writers. So, how do you know a writing course is right for you?

  • You want to learn. I am a huge believer that every person can learn to be better at their chosen craft. For some reason there's a belief out there that you are either born an artist or you're not. (Although, yeah it helps to have a smidgen of talent to begin with.) The latter of us are forced to live out an eternity side-eyeing our naturally gifted friends and should just throw our laptops and pens out the window. This is a) dangerous b) costly and c) stupid. Completing a formal qualification is not a pre-requisite to being a great author but a lot of published authors became great writers through learning and then practising what they have learnt over and over again. 
  • You start projects and never finish them. You wanna know how many non-books I started and got nowhere with before starting my course because I didn't know where to start and how to finish? Too many to count. Sometimes the discipline of having a tutor to prod you along is just what you need to help you achieve your goals.
  • You don't know the basics. I didn't know what filtering was before I took my course. I knew what bad writing felt like as a reader but I often couldn't pinpoint why. Sometimes it's the seemingly simple things that can speed us ahead light-years when it comes to our own writing (and oh, filtering is a biggie). 
  • You want other people to read your work and critique it. Having other writers to soundboard off is key and writing courses are often built around workshopping each others work.
  • You are an open book. Be open to learning and you will enjoy the experience, trust me. The great thing about taking a course or a writing class is that you do not have to agree with everything you are taught. Writing is an artform, a craft. It can be as experimental or ridged as you make it. The only truth I have learnt through my course, is this: You cannot edit what you don't finish
Writing courses or classes come in so many different shapes and forms that there is no one way of studying or learning that is right. You might want to complete a Bachelor of Arts, or a diploma in the subject. You might be more interested in a semester course after work or doing something online that has more flexibility in the class hours and deadlines. Whatever you chose, if any of the above ring true joining a writing course might be a great fit for you!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: My Spring TBR List

September brings with it the changing of the seasons and thankfully means longer nights, sunny days and the wild and windy weather Wellington is known for! Surprisingly despite the coming warmth my to be read list is looking pretty dark. Take a look at this week's Top Ten Tuesday!

The Power by Naomi Alderman :: A sci-fi novel about a diverse group of teenage girls and how their lives change when they inherit the physical power. Seemingly overnight the world changes. I love this take on feminism and whether the world would change for better or worse, if women were physically dominant.

The Girl Who Takes an Eye For An Eye by David Lagercrantz :: Continuing on the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series, David Lagercrantz delivers the fifth book in the series. I read The Girl In The Spider's Web a few years ago and really enjoyed it.

The Break Down by B A Paris :: It's been a while since I've indulged in reading crime fiction and The Break Down has come up in my media feeds a lot lately.

Room and The Wonder by Emma Donoghue :: I absolutely loved Frog Music by Emma Donoghue and have always wanted to read more from this compelling author. Although Room and The Wonder are two very different books I love discovering authors who write a broad range of fiction.

Into The Water by Paula Hawkins :: Another crime book! I really enjoyed The Girl on The Train.


Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Top Ten Books: Featuring Students

This Top Ten Tuesday has a distinctive student theme. Here are ten great reads loosely featuring students!

Armada by Ernest Cline
I am 45 pages into Armada but this science fiction novel from the author of Ready Player One has sparked my interest. Zack Lightman a student (with a most excellent moniker) sees a flying spaceship from his favourite video game while daydreaming out the window one day.

Fan Girl by Rainbow Rowell
A coming of age story about a young girl who writes fan fiction. It's a cute, easy read that deals with all the anxieties of starting university and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Oh, and young love.

Harry Potter by J K Rowell
Having recently binge watched the entirety of the Harry Potter movies it might be time to revisit these timeless books.

The Catcher in the Rye by DJ Salinger
16 year old Hayden Caulfield's story of teenage rebellion is a modern classic.

Paper Towns by John Green
A snappy road-trip coming-of-age novel from YA master John Green. I preferred the book to the movie.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Marina Keegan
A post-humous collection of writing from Yale graduate Marina Keegan whose essay of the same name went viral.


Thursday, 17 August 2017

Girl At War by Sara Novic and Why You Need Tissues

I have read a few war novels over the years but Girl At War stands out for a few reasons - the main one being it's a much more personal experience. Told from Ana's perspective, Girl At War follows her journey from a carefree ten year old living in Zagreb in 1991, to surviving the ethnic atrocities and fleeing to America. As a college student Ana can't escape from her past, and returns to Croatia to lay her ghosts to rest.

I can't tell you how many times I cried during this book. I think in the end my eyes just had a permanent watery state about them. Watching the war through Ana's eyes was heartbreaking and yet, she is such a strong character, resilient and determined in many ways. I think it was her strength that sometimes upset me, that a child of ten becomes used to the backdrop of war, death and terror. I remember watching the war unfold on television as a child and it dawning on me for the first time that there were people around the world living in fear, persecuted simply for their race or religion. I was about seven at the time. Maybe some of those childhood memories came back to me while reading this, I'm not sure. But, whatever it was, Girl at War was an emotional reading experience.

There were other reasons this book stood out to me. Sara Novic touches on the themes of grief and resilience. As Ana struggles to adjust to life in America she learns to bury the ghosts of her war for the sake of those around her. Like grief, empathy for Ana's situation is shortlived, with most people wanting to move on - her adoptive parents refer to the war never directly for fear of not wanting to upset her. Unfortunately, as anyone who experiences grief knows, these feelings don't just fade away. There is no getting over losing someone, including your home and culture. Ana struggles with feelings of loss - both for the family she has left behind and being an outsider in her new home and guilt at not feeling grateful for the new life she has been given.

I hope I haven't painted this book as a depressing read, because it's not but Ana's story will stay with you long after closing the final chapter. There is death, but there is also hope and peace in Ana's story. Overall Girl at War was a stunning read, unlike any war novel I have read before.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Top Ten Tuesday: Book to Film Recommendations

Top Ten Tuesday returns! While the rest of the world is basking in summer, down here in the south pacific we're rugged up on the couch with a blanket and a good book. With so many book to screen adaptations this year, here's my picks of what you should read first. Check out more from Top Ten Tuesday on the Broke on the Bookish.

Big Little Lies :: Liane Moriarty
An Australian novel that follows the lives of a handful of women and the suspicious circumstances around a murder. The movie version was set in California and has a stunning cast (Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon) but the book is really great and deserves a look in. Liane has a lighthearted writing style but manages to tap into the emotional heart of a story. I love that this book delves into the lives of 'normal' women, they are mothers and wives all balancing their own identities with those of their family and kids.

Ready Player One :: Ernest Cline
When I saw the trailer for this move a while ago I made a mental note to read the novel before I see the movie. Sci-fi and fantasy is something I have been pushing myself to read more and the fact that Ready Player One has a fun 'retro' element to it with references to the 80s makes it more palatable for non-science fiction readers.

The Handmaiden's Tale :: Margaret Atwood
I'm going to suck it up and just buy this damn book as every visit to the library has it checked out. Surely a classic that I would *probably* read again and again.

The Circle :: Dave Eggars
Staring Emma Watson, The Circle was a book I read earlier in the year and couldn't put down. It's a fast paced thrilling science fiction novel that had me questioning the future of privacy and sharing information online. The Circle is a giant tech company that encourages the use of shared information online but the loss of privacy comes at a cost.
Live by Night :: Denis Lehane
With Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, The Drop and Shutter Island all successful movies adapted from Lehane's novels, it's no wonder there's another film the pipeline this year. If gangsters, prohibition and 1920s America sounds like your cup of tea then Live By Night might be too.

The Snowman :: Jo Nesbo
I love Scandinavian crime fiction and this adaptation makes me very happy since Michael Fassbender plays Detective Harry Hole. Dt Hole is called in to investigate a woman's disappearance, of which the only clue is a scarf left behind on a snowman. This is a Jo Nesbo book I haven't yet read but if it's anything like The Leopard I think I would enjoy it.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Other People Recommend #1

Today I'm stealing my favourite people's book recommendations and passing them on to you! I love seeing what books my friends and family love reading. Being a book lover the subject of reading often comes up so from now on I thought I wouldn't keep these gems to myself. Here are 6 recommendations that don't come from me:

Norwood by Charles Portis
If you're into gritty reads my Dad recommended this to me because of my love for Cormac McCarthy. It's a very slim book so maybe a good idea for those who haven't dipped a toe into the western genre before.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I have only even read one article by David Foster Wallace. It was about lobsters. It was brilliant. This is a hugely intimidating book at over 900 pages but if the man can make half a dozen pages on lobsters entertaining then I'm pretty much sold.

Goodmorning, Midnight by Lily Brooks-Dalton
A science fiction novel set between the polar regions of the Arctic and outer space. This recommendation comes from one of my fellow writing students and it sounds amazing!!

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mendel
This book was doing the round as a great read on Youtube when it first came out. More recently Books and Quills had it as her End of the World Bookclub pick (great name by the way). She has great taste in books so this is sure to be a winner.

The Plague by Albus Camus
I bloody love a good Favourites Youtube video and stumbled across some recommendations from Arden Rose. Her top picks included Catch 22 and Lolita so I felt like this classic book could be a great recommendation.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Top 10 Inspirational Youtubers: Fashion & Finance

It might seem like fashion and finances are polar opposites especially when Youtube is chock full of haul videos but to me they are two sides of the same coin. Making smart decisions with your wardrobe not only saves you money but help you develop a better personal style. Here are ten Youtubers who I recommend binge watching pronto.

Justine Leconte
Justine is a French fashion designer with her own label, who lives in Germany. Her videos are super informative and cover things like the history of clothing, how to shop for your body type and trends in the fashion industry.

Lauren Messiah
Smarty, witty and totally stylish, Lauren is a personal stylist whose videos cover practical fashion questions, advice and tips. She has a super helpful Style Type series to help you nail down your personal sense of style.

Sugar Mamma
Cana is a financial advisor who offers loads of great advice on finances and shopping smart. She has a great minimalist mindset which I find really inspiring about loving and investing in the things that make you happy. She's also a total boss when it comes to investing.

The Financial Diet
Possibly one of the only blogs about money that make it interesting and fun?! Check out Lauren and Chelsea's Youtube videos for great advice on being smart with your money. They offer tips on everything from where to invest in your kitchen, how to not be broke at College and general financial advice for twenty to thirty something women.

Ashley Brooke
Ashley's channel recently went into an uproar over her 'How to Style' series ending. Fortunately this super-sweet New Yorker has brought them back. Overall her channel is fashion based and while it doesn't focus on buying less, I do find her style advice extremely helpful.

Daria Andronescu
Daria is a Russian personal stylist living in Europe and she is all about the capsule wardrobe. What's different about her is she loves colour and prints. Her videos are probably the most inspiring about how you can create a capsule wardrobe without it being black, white and denim focused. Her style is so not basic and for that I highly recommend watching.

Kristin Leo
My most recent ethical fashion discovery is Greek Youtuber Kristin Leo. She's vegan and all about ethical fashion encouraging thrift shopping and buying ethically sourced clothing. I really like her videos about shops she avoids (H&M, Ikea, Zara) as she is informative without shoving her message down your throat. Basically she makes you want to be a better person without hating yourself in the process.

Lindsay Albanese
Lindsay is an American celebrity personal stylist and has the biggest, bubbliest personality on Youtube. Her videos are just so damn helpful. It's practical fashion advice delivered in a friendly and fun way. She's also not adverse to throwing every rule out the window and just saying 'You do you.'

The Anna Edit
What started out as a beauty channel has merged into a bit of everything - fashion, beauty, fitness, food and interiors. The thing that's kept me watching over the years with Anna is she's all about that balanced life. Her capsule wardrobe series are informative and it's refreshing to see a youtuber with a paired back collection of things. If you're over 'keeping up with Joneses' then I thoroughly recommend giving her channel a watch!

Karen BritChick
Karen's love of fashion is infectious and she is a literal joy to watch. Her videos offer great advice on styling - she's done a great video on different ways to wear a button down shirt - you're sure to come away with a new way to wear what's already in your closet.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Mid Year Book Manifestations

With over half of 2017 gone (where? how?) I thought it would be fun to do a little mid-year check-in and set some manifestations for the remaining months ahead. With course-related reading out of the way I wanted to share some goals/personal mantras that I'm hoping to take with me throughout the rest of the year and beyond. Here they are:

Read More New Zealand Authors
My mum has always been great at buying and reading New Zealand fiction whereas when I was growing up all I wanted to read was anything set in a different culture. I want to get better at reading New Zealand stories and authors. Mr Pip by Lloyd Jones and The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton are two great examples of what authors in this country can produce.

Buy From Independent Retailers
I am an avid library user and will take my library card with me to my grave. However, I can't resist buying books so I would rather my money supports local businesses who in turn support local authors. Independent shops or the book chain store Paper Plus are the best ways to support the book trade. Paper Plus have a great reputation in stocking kiwi authors and the profits stay in our country while any small store means your money really is staying local. Fortunately, Wellington has a great little independent bookshop scene.

Read Two Books A Month
I am a fast reader but I am also a) easily distracted and b) prone to procrastination. With Netflix, Youtube and Season 4 of Black Sails all tempting me away from my bookshelf, I need to make more time for reading each night. I set myself a reading challenge on Goodreads of ten books for the rest of the year and I'm quietly confident I can make it.

Stop. Getting. Library. Fines.
Is this why checking out books doesn't seem to be as popular within the book blogging/youtube community than just buying them? Library fines, like parking fines, seem to be the bane of my existence and one of my more costly failures at being an adult. Damn you Wellington library for your pricey overdue items!

How are you going with your mid year goals?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The Bedside Table Stack #14

This month's bedside table stack is a mash up of genres as I love switching up my reading pile.

Girl at War by Sara Novic
A young girl's idyllic childhood is shattered with the outbreak of war in Yugoslavia. Split between Ana's life in Zagreb in 1991 and her life as a college student in Manhattan in 2001, this book is part coming of age story part war novel.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V E Schwarb
Magic and fantasy combine in this story about multiple London's and the parallel universes each one exist in. Kell is a traveller who can move between all of them. A fun, magical adventure set in one of my favourite cities seems like a no-brainer for a good time.

Heloise by Mandy Hager
My writing tutor wrote her seventh (!!) book and I was lucky enough to attend the book launch a few months ago. 12th Century Paris. Heloise is a talented young woman, exceptionally bright and worldly, especially for a woman of no stature. This novel recounts the true story of her life and ambition to pursue learning and the relationship she has with famed philosopher Peter Abelard.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

The Bookshelf :: To Hell in A Handbasket

I'm not saying that these picks have anything to do with how I feel about the state of the world at the moment but for some reason I've got dystopian and sci-fi thrillers on the brain.

The Handmaid's Tale :: Margaret Atwood
I have been wanting to read this before watching the television series. Margaret Atwood's novel explores a world where the Handmaid's are valued only for their fertility and are forced into breeding for the upper classes. Fancy living in a world where women don't have control over their own choices. Oh, wait...

The Circle :: Dave Eggars
A thrilling read in a which a Google-like company aims to make the world a fully transparent place where all knowledge is shared at the cost of privacy. It will make you question how much is too much when it comes to sharing on-line and is full transparency really a good thing?

1984 :: George Orwell
I feel as if this book has been on my need to read list forever (probably because it has). A timely read now more than ever.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Three to Read: Best Reads of 2017

Embarrassingly, I think I can count on one hand the number of books I have read and finished this year (outside of my course-related texts.) The good news is some of them have been pretty darn great! Here are three standout novels you might enjoy as much as I did.

It Ends With Us :: Colleen Hoover
Having never read a Colleen Hoover novel before I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew she usually wrote romance-related novels but It Ends With Us blew me away. I burned through it in about two days. Centred around domestic violence this is not your average romance novel. From what I have heard this is one of her more mature books but still suitable for adult and older YA readers.

The Circle :: Dave Eggers
Another read that I could just not put down, The Circle by Dave Eggers had me transfixed. Mae Holland gets the gig of a lifetime working at the Circle (think Google, a large tech and social media company that combines all users online data so that users have one online identity for everything) but the further she advances at work the more she questions the Circles thirst for shared knowledge and distrust of privacy. A fascinating and suspense-filled thriller.  

The One Plus One :: Jojo Moyes
I am an unashamed Jojo Moyes fangirl so there was no doubt that I was going to enjoy this book. Jess' life as a single mum is not what she had in-visioned for herself. When her daughter has the opportunity to sit a scholarship test that could change their future Jess has to figure out how to pay the bills and get her daughter to the other end of the country along with their oversized dog and her step son who is struggling to find his feet. Then in walks Ed who could be the answer she was looking for. Naturally things don't go as planned. A fun and light-hearted read.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Why Hello There! It's Been A While

I wasn't going to delve back into posting on here without being like, so, long time no see! So here it is my little hiatus from the internet explained. Basically 2016 was a year of big changes some good and some not so good. I finished renovating my house, moved countries at the end of the year from Australia to New Zealand and unfortunately ended a five year relationship in the process. There was a lot going on and writing this blog was the lowest on my list of priorities.

The good news is that amongst all of that to contend with there was also something exciting that kept me away from filling up this little space and that is this: I'm writing my first novel! While the shit was hitting the fan in my personal life last year I was also working on a submission to study a diploma in creative writing which is now my full time project this year. I'm about halfway through my first draft and hoping to play the long game of having my book finished at the end of next year. Who knows what will become of it! Hopefully this will be the first of many I write and whether I have the opportunity to publish traditionally through a publishing house or go it on my own as a self-published author, one day soon(ish) I hope to have my first book sitting on my own bookshelf.

After much deliberation and several attempts at getting locked out of my account for this blog (ha) I've decided to pick this back up as a hobby. The thing is, last year when I was trying to get my manuscript submission in and being the terrible procrastinator that I am, churning out a 200 word blog post was much easier than focusing on the mammoth task of writing a book, and the even more mammoth task of writing the first three chapters. My writing being my first priority I am hopeful that this can continue to be the fun space I started it for.

So, what can you expect in 2017? More book suggestions, round ups and keeping-it-casual reviews. With all my required reading done for my course now is also a pretty perfect time for me to get back into reading as it's been a long, long time since I ready anything just for fun.
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