the 18 i read in 2018

This year has been pretty full on in terms of books. Along with writing my own (yep, that finally happened) I devoured tonnes – in particular lots of books I’d never think of picking off the shelves myself, which is always a bonus.

I’ve done a round up below of the eighteen which were that good (or bad) they’ve made the highlight reel. Here’s to lots more reading in 2019 (and lots more writing!)

1. Northern Lights – Phillip Pullman

2. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

3. How To Catch A Star – Oliver Jeffers

4. The Truth Pixie – Matt Haig

5. The Chalk Man – C J Tudor

6. A Very Large Expanse Of Sea – Tahereh Mafi

7. The Beauty That Remains – Ashley Woodfolk

8. The Sun and Her Flowers – Rupi Kaur

9. All The Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr

10. The Queen Of Bloody Everything – Joanna Nadin

11. Some Kind Of Wonderful – Giovanna Fletcher

12. What Belongs To You – Gareth Greenwell

13. The Secret Life Of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd

14. Still Me – JoJo Moyes

15. Papillon – Henri Charriere

16. The Man I Think I Know – Mike Gayle

17. The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr

18. How To Be Happy – Eva Woods

 

I hope this gives you lots of inspiration for your tbr piles (or spurs you on to finish the book that’s been sat on your bedside table for the past month.)

love sophie

little books for little loves

I’ve absolutely loved getting to pick out stories every day for our 11am story time at The Little Bookshop Leeds. I’ve been so encouraged by the reactions my *terrible* voices have got from the little children who come to listen. It’s also such a treat getting to read some of my childhood favourites to them, and seeing them follow along with the story, often joining in if they know it well enough.

Along with The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Comet In Moominland, and We’re Going On A Bear Hunt, (my most favourite favourites) I’ve been introduced to some really fab picture books which have all been loved by the little ones who arrive to story time. I’ve picked some of my new favourites out, hopefully to give you some inspiration if bedtime reading is getting a bit repetitive!

1.Florence Frizzball – Claire Freedman and Jane Massey

This is an absolute joy to read at story time and also a story I relate to lots as a girl with untamed and frizzy locks. It’s funny, and a good one for little listeners to follow along with, especially those with curly hair!

2. Here We Are – Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers is a delight. His writing is so beautiful and he is a true born storyteller. It’s a book even the adults will enjoy reading, and his illustrations are stunning. The story follows a child’s journey into the world, punctuated with illustrations of the night sky, and the world.

3. How To Catch A Star – Oliver Jeffers

This is another one of Jeffers’ beauties. It follows a boy who dreams of catching a star, and his journey to find one. It’s full of beautiful spreads, and has some real funny moments and interactive parts which the children love.

4. I Wrote You A Note – Lizi Boyd

This is another beautifully illustrated book which follows a friend who writes a letter to another friend. Along the way, the note gets lost and the story follows who has found the note and where it ends up. A lovely story about friendship, as well as animals and wildlife.

5. Grandma Bird – Benji Davies

Benji Davies is fab. His book The Storm Whale was my first introduction to his writing, and now he has adapted his tales of the sea and families. This one follows Noi who spends the summer at Grandma’s. He gets into a storm, and the beginning of a new friendship is revealed. Davies is a fab storyteller and anyone who loves The Storm Whale will love this.

6. In My Heart – Jo Witek

This is an emotional story about feelings, great to read with children who are maybe struggling with expressing themselves. It is vibrant and humorous, whilst also dealing with hard emotions for children to understand. It is more of a celebration of the many different emotions we can feel, and is illustrated with different coloured hearts which fan out of the centre of the book. It would make a lovely gift, too.

7. Katinka’s Tail – Judith Kerr

Renowned for The Tiger Who Came To Tea and her Mog series, Kerr has put together a beautiful story of a cat with a rather remarkable tail. It’s a great story for children to follow, with gorgeous illustrations to keep the story going from each page. It is a good traditional storybook, with lots of humour and emotion, as well as a lovely dreamy element which includes a trip to the moon.

I hope this list is helpful to you if you’re ever looking for fresh inspiration, and if you’ve come across any of them already I’m sure you’ll agree they’re all great examples.

If you have any of your own favourite picture books, let me know!

love sophie

 

book club: eleanor oliphant is completely fine

I closed the last page on this beauty yesterday, and I was sad. How could a book this good actually come to an end?

From the very beginning I was fixated with the main character, Eleanor, a twenty-nine-year-old, set in the odd ways she goes about her business. Her routines, her likes, her dislikes. The characterisation Gail Honeyman employs is incredible. Eleanor’s voice is sharp and clear throughout the whole story, keeping you with her and routing for her.

She’s far from ordinary, but also so totally ordinary that she’s relatable. Maybe we don’t all sink a few bottles of vodka over the weekend, or go days without a human interaction, but the principles are there and we can relate, along with hard hitting themes. Loneliness. Depression. Social awkwardness. The pages encourage it all. So much so that I couldn’t put it down.

She’s a complete creature of habit, so seeing her unhinge throughout the story keeps you turning the pages for reactions and her awkward emotions.

With her unusual appearance, including an eczema glove and a scar on her face left by her mother, she’s perceived as a loner. The only contact she has, other than with the people she’s always worked with and the man in the local off license, is a weekly phone call with ‘Mummy’, who’s in prison for an unknown crime.

Then we meet Raymond, someone Eleanor works with.

Slowly and surely, the cracks of the past start to fill, and Eleanor – with the help of Raymond – addresses her childhood, and the reasons why she is the way she is.

It’s a book that will no doubt speak to introverts, those who are unsure of themselves and their quirks, and those looking for someone just like them.

The book is bold, moving, and original.

With such skilled writing, you can’t help but follow Eleanor’s journey and feel familiar with it from the off. To say it’s a debut is insane. Hats off to you, Honeyman. You are ace. Eleanor is ace. I blooming loved it.

love sophie

book club: northern lights

There’s something so spectacularly magical about the way Philip Pullman writes. His lyricism and imagination work so well together and the images he conjures are stunning. His Dark Materials make me want to read children’s books forever.

Set in a completely parallel universe, the book follows Lyra as she journeys to the Arctic in search of her missing friend, Roger, and Uncle Asriel who becomes imprisoned. It’s the first book in the trilogy and I’m sure I’m not the only one who wanted to pick up the next book as soon I’d shut the back cover.

The idea of human souls manifesting outside of our bodies is a major plot point, and these dæmons embody a sentient animal, bringing aid, comfort and companionship to their humans. The idea is genius, and one I loved as soon as I started reading. Lyra is intrigued after overhearing a controversial lecture on Dust from her uncle, Lord Asriel, and this leads her on her adventure.

Often fantasy novels take me a while to get into, but from the end of the first few pages I was hooked with Lyra’s character, and the idea of her dæmon.

Set initially in Oxford, Pullman uses varying forms of description to indulge the reader in the setting and life of Lyra. He does it so well it’s annoying. Pullman includes only what’s needed, and the scenes are visual and vivid, so much so that you can imagine them, and feel the atmosphere. Top writing, done well.

Along her journey, Lyra meets and interacts with many other people. There are themes of theology – particularly with the Gobbers – as well as abandonment and loss, which Lyra deals with both internally and externally. She’s a lot more than just her blonde hair, blue eye exterior, and this is developed throughout the novel and her journey, and the obstacles she has to face.

She’s crafty, brave, and equally curious. With Pan by her side, she manages to steer through the troubles and challenges until…

If you haven’t yet discovered Pullman and His Dark Materials, go and buy them. This introduction will leave you wanting more of his indulgent writing.

love sophie

writing for research: ‘what if?’

I’ve really struggled this week to keep on top of my writing. I’ve found my own lack of positives to be really affecting my characters, something I’m trying desperately to get to grips with before it starts leaking into my work.

It’s really hard when the world around us is draped with bad news, and it was only on a second read through of one of my chapters that I’ve found it worming it’s way into the pages. My normally happy chappy is no longer beaming and I’ve sensed a whole different part of the character coming across when I’ve been reading back over it. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I want my characters to be three dimensional and vivid and real. But it makes me question how much of their emotions I need to include in the book.

A lot of the time, the research writers do is for themselves. Yes, some bits will dribble in and out of the book, but a lot of it won’t actually be included. We do it so we can flesh out the plot and write the best book possible. It doesn’t matter whether the reader knows that Great Aunt Silvia was born in a bungalow if it’s not integral to the plot.

This got me thinking, what emotions are integral to my plot and my characters?

So, as ever, I made a brew and tried to think of some ways that might help.

With the ones that weren’t so integral, I decided to make up scenarios so I could see how each character would react in a situation fuelled by this emotion. These weren’t necessarily situations that I could see being in the finished novel, they were more like ‘what if?’ questions to help me piece together my characterisation.

Some of the situations/what if questions I used were:

  • what if they were expelled?
  • what if their dog died?
  • what if they got drunk?
  • what if they woke up on Mars?
  • what if they were an only child?
  • what if they were at the bottom of the social hierarchy?
  • what if they didn’t get on with their family?
  • what if they could no longer hear?

Although I knew I wasn’t going to include these scenes, it was important for me to know the different sides to my character and how they would react and feel in situations out of their control.

I really enjoyed putting my character in other situations but also challenging myself to go out of my own comfort zone.

It is easy as a writer to stick with a certain age group/genre when you’re comfortable writing for them. But it does wonders for your writing if you can step away from what you’d normally write.

You never know, you might just like it.

loce sophur

writing dates: do they help or hinder?

February was one of those head-down-get-on-with-it kind of months (as well as lets-hit-Sophie-with-the-flu-just-when-she-doesn’t-need-it.) With just shy of 15,000 words due, I was trying to save every ounce of energy up to write my essays, and assignments. But when you can’t even think straight and spend most of the day coughing (my whole January was more like dry cough January than dry January) it’s difficult to get much done.

Cue a lot of writing dates with other writers/peers/anyone who would take me up on my offer of free flowing tea and biscuits, in the hope of it being inspiring and actually making me do some work.

But did it really help?

Here are the things I noticed happening to my work/me:

1. It got competitive

I’m not a hugely competitive person *flips the board of monopoly if she doesn’t get Mayfair* but there’s something about people sitting around laptops, typing endlessly which gets incredibly competitive. Now, this in theory is great, it means that you’re in competition to write the most and do the most work. But actually, what comes out of this (unless you’re a Sara Barnard level A+writer) is a very very very first draft which makes no sense. Yes I managed to write lots, but it wasn’t necessarily good stuff and needed lots of editing when I managed to escape back under the blankets with a cuppa.

2. It can be the world’s best procrastination

So you’re sat with your laptop, you’ve got a brew and you’re ready to get cracking on your next chapter. WRONG. Instead, you end up listening to your friends detail the whole night out that you missed in the classic debrief. You get way too into it, completely forget the reason you’re there, and suddenly you’re watching videos of cute goats on YouTube? (please tell me I’m not the only one?) Three hours later and you’ve exhausted yourself to the point of no work, so you turn to Netflix and drown your sorrows in tea, saying ‘It’s okay, I’ll do it tomorrow…’ even if tomorrow is the deadline.

3. It can be very distracting

This is especially the case if you’re all working on the same assignment. Or even if you’re all trying to do the same kind of thing. When it comes to writing, a lot of research is involved, especially if it’s high fantasy or historical, or you need to be factually correct with characters etc. This is all good and well until someone whips out a truck load of information which is then put on you because you just need to know it too. I think I’ve learnt more from my peers who have been researching for their books than I ever did when it came to researching for my own things. And then there’s the breaks. If someone pops to the loo, makes a drink, or declares lunchtime, it only seems fitting to take a break too. Even if you’ve only written the title.

4. It’s an emotional battle

Just like reading a book, there’s a definite emotional rollercoaster that comes with writing dates. I don’t know whether it’s having someone you can complain to/talk things through with, or whether it’s just because it can be really hard, but writing dates often turn into therapy sessions punctuated with ‘you can do this’ and ‘just focus on writing this chapter’ which is all good and well if you have an idea you believe in. This is when those extra biscuits you brought (just in case) make their way out whilst you shut down all your word documents and cry internally over the fact you’re never going to get published. You then have to sit there whilst the other people, who are still tapping away on their keyboards, continue to casually mosey on through the brick wall ahead. Total writing torture.

5. Everything takes time

When initially planning the date, you have to bear in mind that at least 70% of it will be spent making tea, talking, scrolling through your phone, eating, giggling, watching funny videos, etc. So you only ever really get 30% maximum done. This is something you should take into account when planning when to meet and where. If you meet before lunch, you may be more productive in the morning but end up having more breaks. If you meet after lunch you might have passed the most productive part of your day. It’s a battle you sometimes just can’t win. I try and meet up as early as possible because then at least I’ve given myself the whole day to procrastinate. And even if I don’t manage the target of words I set (or even half of them) I know that it’s more than I would have done anyway.

Let me know if you have any tips on writing in a group, and whether there are any ways it helps you/any suggestions to make it work better!

love sophie

rainy days: inspiration in the weather 

I ventured out of the house today for all of ten minutes. I came back in looking like a drowned rat and my clothes were drenched through with rain water. But I loved it.

I think rainy days, although often miserable because you maybe can’t do what you’d planned, are my favourites. They bring about a spontaneity which you don’t get if your plans go ahead, and everything runs like clockwork.

I’m also a lover of anything muddy and mucky, something many people don’t realise about me. I’d rather spend a day on the beach, mid-winter, making mud pies and paddling in the sea in just my knickers and a jumper than being snuggled up inside watching films all day. And I love riding my bike through big, boggy puddles and splashing mud all over myself whilst steaming downhill. Obviously, the hot bubble bath and film night that follows is still on the cards, I just feel like it’s been earned. And, although cleaning the bike in the dark is a chore, the mud splatters are worth it.

One thing rainy days really help with is my inspiration for writing. I can be on a beach, on a mountain, or tucked up watching raindrops race down the window from inside, and I’ll be able to channel my character, or just be a kid again.

Stomping in muddy puddles – minus wellies – is the best. Yes, your feet get cold. Yes, your shoes get damp. But they dry, and you soon get warm again. The thrill of doing something that nobody else is doing, and something that would normally be suggested as a bad idea makes it all the more fun.

Don’t get me wrong, I like summer. And I like it when it doesn’t rain, too. But for those ten minutes of leaving the house today, I felt like a kid again. I was soaked through to my socks, and had to stuff my shoes with newspaper so they’d dry, but I came in, warmed up, and started writing.

Is there a season you prefer to write in? Does the rain help your writing, too? Let me know!

love sophie

social sundays: the importance of getting out and about when writing

I left the house on Sunday for what felt like the first time in months. (Am I the only one who thinks January is dragging?!) I got the bus (having sucked it up and hoped that because it was a Sunday, I wouldn’t be bashed about) and met up with a friend from uni who I haven’t seen since we both graduated in July – too long!

It was super nice to just get out of the house for a few hours and spend some time in someone else’s company. (It’s amazing how solitary writing can be, and how long you can go without speaking to anyone in person or on the phone.)

We went to Velo Lounge, an old favourite from our student-ville days when it was just a short walk away. We sipped our way through large and small pots of tea, and chatted about life, our jobs, our houses (so adult) before laughing over old videos from our student days (which was incredibly amusing – it’s crazy to see how much we’ve changed in three years!)

It did wonders to be in a different place, out of the house, and in the fresh air. All too often (especially when those pesky deadlines come looming) I’ll barricade myself at the writing desk until they’re all done. It doesn’t help, in fact if anything it makes it 1000x worse. But the thought of being in front of the laptop and fully immersed in it makes me think I’ll actually write.

That’s until I actually leave my room and forget about what I’m writing for a bit. Then it all just flows out of my brain like it’s been scripted. (I know this, so I know I should leave my desk but sometimes it’s just too stressful to step away.) I always take a pen and notebook with me, and I have one in the car for when I’m driving around for inspiration which is actually very very full (night time driving is the cure of the supposed writers block for me). I also use my phone a lot to jot things down, even if it’s just a conversation I hear, or a description of what someone is wearing (a bit weird but I’m a writer so I have an excuse.)

Anyway, after we’d drunk buckets of tea and chatted for several hours, we said our goodbyes and I was automatically inspired to write. AMAZING!

I have to grab moments like these and run with them because they don’t often stay for long. I managed to write a lot of words which was great, but more importantly I got to use what I’d written in my journal that day of all the things I’d seen and done.

I even used things we’d talked about over lunch when looking at my character arcs.

It’s amazing how much can come out of one adventure away from the writing desk.

I’ve been keeping up with my morning pages which has been going really well this month, so it’s nice to get the opportunity to expand and develop little ideas that have been niggling their way to the front of my brain.

Safe to say it’s had a domino effect and I’ve been out of the house everyday since Sunday too (it was only one day but it still counts.) Yesterday I went along to rugby training (which I really didn’t feel up to but I’m so glad I did) and the same thing happened. I came home and wrote words. Actual, proper words that make sense when joined together.

For anyone else struggling with the inevitable block, put your shoes on, grab a brolly and go and take on the outdoors. It doesn’t have to be loads, it could just be a walk around the garden or a trip to the postbox down the street. Take some time away from your writing and it might just catch right up with you.

Let me know if you have any luck!

love sophie

i canuary

I had one of those ‘head in hands’ moments this week.

It’s January, which means I’m tired, broke, deadlines are looming, and all I want to do is eat the treats I got for Christmas (those that made it this far…) and snuggle up in bed with an extra large cup of tea.

But, I’ve got a Masters to finish, and a novel which needs editing.

My mind is also away with the fairies so I’ve been trying some different ways to get my mind back on track to what I’m actually supposed to be doing… and telling myself that I’ve got this. Because sometimes life is just a little bit overwhelming.

Anyone who knows me will know I’m a list queen. I like everything written out (a million times) so that I can see it and know what I have to do and when I need to do it. So, in the amongst the essay writing, I made a couple of lists to lull me out of my stress-head state. And, although some of them got my mind wandering off piste, (I am also the queen of procrastination) I was able to get on with my reading and managed to make lots of notes which I am going to magic up into the essay.

Here are a few examples of lists I’ve made when I’ve been super stressed…

  • Blog post ideas (because blogging counts as productive procrastination)
  • Best bits of the year (this could be what you enjoyed most about last year or what you’re looking forward to this year)
  • Bucket List (of places I want to go to/things I want to see etc.)
  • Book list (books I want to read this month/year)
  • Inspiration List (people/things/ideas that inspire me – Pinterest is great for this)
  • What I’m grateful for (a nice way of reflecting on something you already have)
  • My five year plan (enough to scare anyone back into an essay)
  • A shopping list (of things I can’t actually afford)
  • Meal plan for the week (especially good for anyone doing veganuary etc.)
  • Words of wisdom (for when life really does get tough)
  • Songs to listen to (usually whilst writing/working)
  • My to do list (always include a couple of things you’ve already done and tick them off so you don’t stress out even more)

So they are all just ideas which have helped me to get my mind back. Sometimes when I’m stressed I get so wound up with myself that if I don’t take five minutes out I want to give up.

These lists are a good way of bringing you back from stress island and hopefully will help you as much as they’ve helped me.

(They’re nice things to do anyway if you get the chance. It’s often quite nice to just reflect on what you’ve done/are going to do.)

Let me know what you think!

love sophie

 

 

 

 

 

creative writing vs. essay writing: help

As an author of children’s fiction, and a Masters student, I have to write creatively, as well as formally in essays *cue meltdown.*

Now, I absolutely hate writing essays because I can never get a formal voice going, and I often repeat myself and word vomit all over the page (yes, that is a thing).

Children’s fiction, however, comes out of me wrapped in a bow (although it takes me a while to think up ideas sometimes, when I’ve got one I can run with it.)

So how do I manage to bridge the gap when asked to write essays for my course? Well… the truth is I find it incredibly difficult to channel my inner English Lit girl who quotes amazing works, and actually I resemble something along the lines of my teenage  characters. I usually give up too (and if you know me, I’m no quitter) and spend my day procrastinating, normally drowning in rooibos tea to make up for how I feel.

BUT

New year new me (and all that rubbish) so here I am, fighting fit, ready to take on the essay which I’ve had planned for months (with a fresh pot of tea for support.)

So here is how I plan on defeating it: (if you’re in a similar situation, I hope it helps)

Step 1: Plan plan plan…

I’m not a big planner when it comes to my creative work, I usually just write and see where I end up. But, when it comes to essays, that isn’t an option. Otherwise it just ends in waffle (and not the tasty kind.)

I start off by structuring the essay and working out how it is going to flow, and deciding which points link best. (This takes a couple of days in itself so almost counts as procrastination.)

I think of it like my novel. The book has to flow and make sense to the reader; there can be no room for misinterpretation. This is the same for my essay.

Start by plotting a brief structure, including an introduction, first point, second point, third point, and then conclusion. (Obviously you can tailor this to however many points you have.)

One of the best things I do (or try to do) is make a tick list of the mark scheme and definite things you have to include. Once you’ve finished the essay you can look back on it and see if there’s anything you’ve missed.

Step 2: Bulk it out. (P)

So you’ve got your plan, and now you’re ready to put points onto paper and give yourself proper words to work with.

Start by writing out all your points onto separate pieces of paper, that way you can move them and change the order to get the most formulaic structure. You only need to begin with bullet points.

Once you know your points, and after researching enough to build them up, seeing them on paper makes it easier to put the pieces of the jigsaw together.

Step 3: Get back up. (E)

You’ve got your point, now you need to back it up with evidence. Get out your books (read them) and pick out some quotes that support what you’re trying to say. Search the internet for journals, articles, anything. The more varied the support, the better the grade (hopefully.)

Don’t just pick things because you think they kind of link, pick them because they support your point fully. If you find any that oppose your point, pick them out too. It’s always good to be able to have a counter argument.

Step 4: Why? (E)

Explain to the reader (or the marker) why this quote or research in particular helps to strengthen your argument. What does it say that helps? What specifically is it doing to the point you’re making?

If you can’t explain this, you might need a stronger quote.

Step 5: Link it up. (L)

Connect the point to the next point you’re making/a counter argument. Use further evidence, just be careful not to repeat yourself. Also this is a good chance to make sure you’re properly answering the question in each point. It doesn’t have to be explicit, but make sure you’ve done what you set out to. Conclude in your last paragraph and go back to your introduction. The essay may have changed slightly since you started it so check it all fits together.

Step 5: Reread.

Just like when writing creatively, one of the most helpful things I find is rereading the work aloud. This shows you if there are any jarring bits for the reader, and whether the piece flows well. Make sure you’ve done what you set out to do and argued or explained all the points you’ve made with enough evidence.

 

By using the PEEL paragraphs you’ll be able to incorporate all aspects of the point to recoup the most marks. Obviously, all essays are different and all have different mark schemes so do take this with a pinch of salt. I’m aware this might work for one, and not another. But hopefully you can take the main ideas away from it, even if it’s just with planning.

One of my major faults is that I try and write too eloquently in essays, so much that it doesn’t actually make sense. Don’t do this. The best thing to do is to write the points out (even just in bullet points), finish the essay steps and then come back to look at wording in a draft where you can flesh it all out.

Getting words on the page is always the hardest part so by drafting it out, in a more relaxed way like this, can really help to take the pressure off. It also allows for lots of breaks in between points to refill your tea.

I hope you find this helpful, and if you have any top tips to help me write my essay, or that you think might help others, post them below.

Now, back to the essay…

love sophie