Book Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

“Hello? I hope somebody is listening.”

‘Radio Silence’ is one of those powerful, powerful novels that sticks with you long after you’ve finished it. It’s striking, rebellious, startlingly funny and incredibly honest at the same time. Most of all though, it’s a beautiful story about two people finding love and solace in each other. And when I say that, I mean in a completely platonic sense. Yes that’s right, the main relationship in this novel is a boy-girl friendship that DOESN’T turn into a romance. And frankly I think that’s what makes this book great.

There’s so much pressure in society nowadays to find a romantic partner – romance is portrayed as being the only way to love and be loved. Anything else is useless and a waste of time. But I really hate that idea, that love is basically worthless unless it’s a certain kind of love. I believe that you can find soulmates in platonic relationships too. And I don’t think a platonic relationship is less strong or less valuable than a romantic one. They’re just different kinds of love. Both good, both beautiful in their own ways.

Anyway, rant aside, I don’t see enough good friendship stories around, and ‘Radio Silence’ satisfies my need for one. It’s quirky, fun and the main character is a nerdy fangirl so I think most of us bookworms out there can probably relate. The story is written in first person from the point of view of Frances who feels alone, misunderstood, and basically pours all of her energy into her studies to distract herself from it. Her secret obsession is a sci-fi podcast called ‘University City’ which she draws fan art for and puts on tumblr. Then the maker of the podcast asks her to become the official artist for the show. Around the same time, she also meets and befriends the maker in real life – Aled Last, a shy boy who’s hiding more than one secret, including a missing sister who Frances used to be friends with.

Frances and Aled quickly bond over the podcast and become best friends, however when Aled’s secret identity as the maker of the podcast is revealed, the trust between them is broken and things start to go downhill.

Alice Oseman’s writing style in ‘Radio Silence’ is very grounded and authentic – she’s only 21 herself which is absolutely incredible, and in my opinion makes her very relatable to this generation of young readers. Tumblr and online culture play a big part in the book, much more so than in any other YA I’ve read, which again is all down to the author drawing from her own personal experiences. Also there’s a lot of diversity – non-white characters, LGBT characters, asexual characters, characters with mental health issues. I think this is an incredibly brave move, as I get the feeling that despite the demand for diversity YA publishers still tend to stick more to ‘conventional’ books as they believe there’s less risk attached.

Anyway, in conclusion, GO AND READ THIS BOOK. It’s a book about so many things – identity, sexuality, goals, friendship. Frances and Aled were more than just main characters, they were people I was rooting for and wanted to be friends with. And I think that’s how you know when a book’s good. When you’re so invested that it stops being fiction and becomes real to you.

Winter Carousel

I had a great day in London over the weekend at the Winter festival on the Southbank. I was with a good friend of mine  – Qilin –  who I’ve often collaborated with on photoshoots, so I just couldn’t resist getting the camera out and taking advantage of the brilliant natural lighting for some pics. It felt so good to be doing photography again, as it’s something I haven’t had much time for since starting a full time job. Also I absolutely adore this girl’s style, vintage fashion just looks so good on her! Here’s a selection of some of favourite photos from the over the weekend. You can find my full portfolio over on my photography page.

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copyright 2016 @ Annmarie McQueen

Unique blogger award

I’m super excited to announce that I’ve been nominated for the Unique Blogger Award! My blog is fairly new and this is my first award so it’s a big deal for me. I can’t thank Raistlin0903 enough for nominating me. Definitely go and check out his blog – he does some fantastic reviews of movies, TV and books. I’ve even discovered a great new anime series called ‘Orange’ through his blog which I’m really enjoying so far.

The Rules
• Share the link of the blogger who has shown love to you by nominating you
• Answer the questions
• In the spirit of sharing love and solidarity with our blogging family, nominate 8-13 people for the same award
• Ask them three questions

The Questions

1 If there was anything you could change about your favourite movie or novel, to make it even more perfect, what would it be?

Not the most original answer, but my favourite book series is Harry Potter. And while I would not dare to suggest that such a masterpiece needs changing in any way, I really wish J.K would write a canon series about the marauders. She’s clearly interested in exploring more of the Potter universe which I think is great, but if she wrote a screenplay about the marauders I think I would actually die with happiness. There’s so much potential! Ah well, guess I will just have to satisfy my bromance cravings with fan-fiction for now.

2 Name three topics that you haven’t written a post on yet, but might be planning sometime in the future.

  1. I’m planning to write about my experiences with self-publishing through Amazon kindle, as I think it might be helpful to anyone thinking of going through the process too.
  2. I  want to write a ‘twitter guide’ for authors, as I think it’s an incredibly important tool for self-promotion and working in marketing has made me see social media in a whole new light.
  3. I’ve read a lot of excellent YA books lately dealing with mental health, so I will be doing a round up of those and discussing how mental health is portrayed in the YA genre.

3 If you could arrange a debate between two people that you admire, who would they be, and why would you want to let them debate?

Virginia Woolf and Caitlin Moran – obviously it’s not possible as Woolf is dead, but they’re both such different characters in the world of feminist writing that I think it’d be interesting to see them discuss it.

 

My nominations 
1 I’ve read this
2 Hokus Grey
3 Melanie Noell Bernard
4 The Magpie Says 
5 Swooning over fictional men
6 Dreaming the day
7 Scrambled Symbiosis
8 Wild and Whirling Words

 

My questions

  1. What’s one cliche or trope that you secretly really enjoy in a book, movie or TV show?
  2. If you could have a dinner date with one fictional character, who would it be and why?
  3. What’s the next thing you’re looking forward to?

8 tips for writing a novel

So recently I’ve decided to get more active in the online writing community. I think the internet provides so much opportunity for writers to connect, to share knowledge and help each other improve, more so than writers in the past have ever had. It’s a resource I’m determined to make the most out of. The writers forums and sites I’m currently part of are incredibly supportive; they include a mix of professional authors and beginner writers and provide a safe space, free of judgement, for people to have open and honest conversations about their writing. It’s something a younger, pre-University version of me would have killed for.

As part of this new resolution I applied to be part of the The Literary Consultancy’s ‘free read’ scheme which is a merit-based scheme offered to low-income writers who they see as having potential. I was accepted into the scheme and quickly paired up with YA author C.J flood, author of ‘Infinite sky’, who wrote me a detailed report on the 20k words I submitted to her of my current WIP.

As promised, a few weeks later I received a 7 page pdf with some very insightful comments on my storyline, character development and general writing technique. I’m super happy with the quality and the clarity of the report: sure, it wasn’t a glowing review of what I’ve convinced myself is my best book yet (I convince myself that every novel I write is going to be ‘the one’ until I get disillusioned and decide to start all over, so this is nothing new) but what I have learnt are some invaluable, personalised tips that I’ll be thinking about the next time I sit down to write. So for anyone who wants to improve as a writer, I would highly recommend applying for the TLC scheme.

Though the report was specific to my current novel, I decided that Flood’s insights were too good to be kept to myself and I’ve compiled a short list in my own words of some of her best general writing tips.

1. Clarify your characters’ motives: characters drive a story. But before rendering a character in text, it’s important that you understand who that character is, what drives them, what motivates them to make the decisions they do. If you’re not completely sure about your character’s motives, then you can’t expect the reader to know either, and it will weaken every aspect of the story. People want to read about characters they can relate to, and relating is based on some form of understanding. Don’t just imply a motive, be very clear about what your character wants and why they want it. I think the mistake I made is that I spent too long on the ‘how’ and not enough on the ‘why.’ Especially with fast-paced, plot-centric stories, it’s an easy trap to fall into. One thing I recommend to help with this is to write up character profiles or biographies that includes background, family history, unique traits/habits etc…

2. Avoid the manic pixie dream girl/boy: Clarifying motives and building character shouldn’t only be all about the protagonist. Does the protagonist have a best friend, side-kick, love interest? Do they have their own storyline or is it all about backing up the protagonist? Make sure you spend time building their character too. Give them a history, a personality, a whole other life that exists outside of their relationship to your protagonist. A couple of strange quirks does not make them a realistic, 3-dimensional character; giving them independent goals does. Why are they so invested in helping your MC? What do they get out of it? Maybe it’s love, maybe it’s money or power or something else entirely. Something is driving them to act the way they do. Explore it in subtle ways. Maybe you’ll find that it changes more in your story than you thought it would.

3. The ‘Cut and Pace’ approach: Even pacing in a story keeps the plot flowing nicely and gives it a sense of rhythm, like a calm river flowing down a one-way channel with no blockages in sight. You don’t want blockages. You don’t want a great big dam in the middle of your story, or even worse every few pages. Best way to fix this? Cut and pace, cut and pace. Usually it’s best to write out the story you want to tell first, then go back and cut all the necessary stuff, i.e the slow bits that don’t move the plot along or build character. Be ruthless with your cutting. I know it hurts, and sometimes I can’t bring myself to take out passages because I get attached to them, but do you really need that extra metaphor? Does that bit of dialogue really add anything? Don’t let your dramatic tension be diluted. Cut it out, go back and read it again, see if the pacing is any better. Rinse and repeat.

4. Show don’t tell: This is something we were told repeatedly in my screenwriting classes. But it rings true for prose as well: too often I see, even in acclaimed published books, the tell-tale signs of ‘telling’ rather than ‘showing’ particularly when it comes to character’s backstories. Of course there are exceptions to this rule and sometimes it can be a stylistic thing, but if there’s a better way of bringing a scene to life then do that instead. I’m going to quote Flood here when she says: ‘sometimes when we write we are really telling ourselves the story.’ I thought it was a very profound statement. So don’t get too hung up on this in the first draft. Write what comes naturally, even if that is just to clarify certain things to yourself, and when you go back to edit you’ll have a much better idea of how you can turn that big block of backstory into something more engaging.

5. Don’t withhold too much information: It’s funny because often in creative writing classes you’re told to make sure you don’t spill all your secrets right away. However the opposite is also true: withholding too much information in your first few chapters frustrates your reader and causes them to lose interest. Crafting a good hook is probably one of the hardest elements in writing and it takes years and years of practice. You’re interested because you know all about this world you’re creating, but remember that your reader is starting from nothing. You have to start from the basics and world-build all over again except inside their heads this time. I would suggest taking some time out, reading other books written in your genre, and seeing how they handle it. Read like an English student would i.e read critically. Analyse how those books create dramatic tension and whether or not it’s working. Then go back to your own work and edit it line by line, making sure you’re saturating each sentence with as much detail about setting, character and plot as you can without it sounding like a lecture or an info-dump.

6. Raising the stakes: As the story progresses, make sure to keep the reader hooked by gradually raising the stakes, eventually resulting in some sort of climax where everything is resolved (or not resolved, I guess). This is generally quite a linear story structure and not every good book follows it in that order, but there is that whole saying that you should know the rules first before breaking them. Link the stakes to your character’s motives and use that to create conflict: MC wants something, but there’s an obstacle in her way, how does she overcome it? Something that threatens the MC’s wellbeing, the attainment of her goals or both usually works best. There should also be some sort of emotional pull to it, as this is what keeps readers feeling engaged.

7. Make your dialogue work harder for you: Dialogue is built on the bones of real-life, authentic conversation, but then artificially constructed to give away details of plot development, character, setting, socio-economic class, relationships, power-relations and pretty much everything in between. If you’re not comfortable writing dialogue, trying some basic exercises like eavesdropping on a conversation and transcribing everything they say. Read it back to yourself. It will sound strange. The way we speak is actually incredibly disjointed, to the point where it makes you wonder how we manage to communicate at all. Of course dialogue in prose isn’t like this, but still, pay attention to the differences between how people talk and try to manifest those differences in the way your characters interact. Give them a voice, a tone. Does one of them come from a very posh background? Think about the sort of words they’d use, the way they might relate to the people around them and how this can be conveyed through dialogue. They might appear haughty, superior, patronising, or they might use long multi-syllabled words and less common phrases. What about their age, is the way they’re speaking appropriate for their maturity level?

8. Build a sense of place: Creating a setting for your story to play out and transporting your readers into that setting is incredibly important. You don’t have to go through the 5 senses every single time you’re describing somewhere, but at least try to keep them in mind and drop them in when it feels appropriate. Sometimes a particularly unusual and vivid metaphor or simile can bring a place to life and give it a certain feel: make sure to use figurative language to create the right atmosphere you want, something that fits the characters and the general tone of the novel.
That’s it! I’m sure for all you seasoned writers out there what I’ve said is nothing new, but if nothing else I hope it reminds you of some of the main things to keep in mind when drafting and editing. And for any beginner writers, or anyone thinking about writing for the first time, go for it! Despite my long wordy list writing isn’t all about the technical stuff. It’s a craft, yes, but one that’s supposed to be rewarding and fun. So while I’d suggest keeping in mind some of these points, it’s also important that you enjoy the process of writing itself and don’t let it turn into a chore.

What’s ‘new’ about New Adult?

So, this time 3 years ago, I was a cute little fresher going off to Warwick University for the first time, totally amazed by the idea that I could stay up all night if I wanted to and subsist off of chocolate for weeks on end. Independence sounded really, really awesome. So I thought ‘hey let’s write a novel about this.’ I figured it was a universal experience – the excitement of leaving home for the first time, feeling nervous about living with new people, the pressure of adult responsibilities.

3 years on, I’ve finished the novel and though it turned out very differently to what I’d originally planned, I’m pretty happy with it. So I decide to start querying agents with it. I write the query letter, get some feedback on writer forums, all the while assuming that it’s a simple YA. After all, it seems to fit the criteria. My characters are all 18, still teenagers dealing with issues that are basically hallmarks of YA: relationships, drama, academic pressure, family issues etc.. I’m certain that there’s no question what genre it’s part of.

But then someone says ‘wait a minute isn’t this a new adult?’ and I’m not so sure anymore.

Ever since then, I’ve done a lot of research on what this whole ‘new adult’ genre thing is about. I’ve trailed through countless websites, book blogs, agent interviews and I’ve made some interesting findings.

From what I’ve gathered a general definition of the ‘new adult’ genre is ‘novels with protagonists in the 18-25 age range, fiction similar to YA but which can be marketed as adult as well’. Most say that the cut off point for YA is the summer after secondary/high school: any protagonists older than that count as new adult.

However I don’t think it’s just about ages. It’s about where the characters are in life. In New Adult fiction the characters have far more independence; they’re thinking about future careers, figuring out who they are outside of the family dynamic, learning to mature and basically transition into responsible adults. For all these reasons, I think the ‘New adult’ genre is a great idea. The themes NA fiction deals with are different to YA and I’m glad someone decided to coin it. The problem is hardly anyone seems to know about it, much less understand what it is. As someone currently trying to get an NA book published, I’ve realised that it’s still not widely accepted as an established genre category and because of this is very often overlooked, even by people working in the industry.

Most class NA as a branch of adult literature. Amazon categorises it under the broader genre of ‘Women’s fiction’ which I really object to. For one, the whole idea of ‘fiction for women’ seems kind of sexist and automatically excludes a male audience. It reinforces the old stereotype that women only read romances and men read crime/thrillers/historical/basically everything else since there’s no ‘men’s fiction’ genre. Furthermore, New Adult isn’t really geared towards one gender or the other. It’s about the challenges and joys of growing up, something which everyone should be able to relate to equally.

Going on from this though, I am disappointed by what i’ve seen of the NA fiction already out there. Most of it seems to be glorified sex scenes with a little plot on the side. Sure, that stuff sells apparently, if we’re judging by Fifty shades of Grey, but frankly I want books with a little more substance. I want to see books about friendship, about real-life issues like racism, sexism, trauma etc.. I want to see complex characters who have more ambitious goals than getting the guy/girl. I want to see books where romance isn’t the main plot at all.

The thing is, I think all of this will come. I think at the moment it’s still a developing genre, but that with more awareness and recognition in the publishing world New Adult has the potential to become an increasingly diverse and significant category of literature. And if self-publishing is the way to make that happen, then I’m not complaining.

Review: Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell

“Dreams are shores where the ocean of spirit meets the land of matter. Dreams are beaches where the yet-to-be, the once-were, the will-never-be may walk awhile with the still are.” 

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’ve just finished reading the novel ‘number9dream’ by David Mitchell, acclaimed author of ‘Cloud Atlas’ which was recently made into a film. It’s his second book and was shortlisted for a Booker prize (though in my opinion it should’ve won one.) Though it must be clear by the rating I gave it, I was thoroughly impressed with this novel. It’s the sort of book that makes you question your own sanity, as well as the author’s, but that’s what I loved about it. By the time I’d finished reading it I was beginning to wonder if I was in a dream or not as well.

I was given this book as a present from a friend who said it ‘reminded her of Haruki Murakami’ (who I absolutely adore). She couldn’t have been more right: not only is ‘number9dream’ in the same vein as this Japanese cult author, it is actually inspired by it and freely acknowledges ‘Norwegian Woods’ as its inspiration within the text. There are certainly many aspects shared by both books: the writing style, the surreal image of Tokyo and the characterisation of the two female protagonists (Ai Imago and Midori) have clear similarities. It seems the Beatles are a very popular muse in literature nowadays.
‘Number9dream’ is a coming of age story at heart. Much like Norwegian Woods, it’s about coming to terms with identity, finding love and dealing with loss. Eiji Miyake, the protagonist of the novel, travels to Tokyo with the goal of finding the father he’s never met. However along the way he gets side-tracked, falls in love and gets in trouble with the Yakuza. I guess that’s the simple summary of the story. Except the narrative structure is far more complicated, as it contrasts the parallel universes of reality and dreams, to the point where you’re no longer sure what’s real and what isn’t. So basically, it’s a 418 page existential crisis in bound print.
Eiji’s story is the over-arching backbone of the novel, and everything else within is perceived through his point of view, including his fantasies. Each chapter, or ‘dream’, features another of these ‘illusions’ that Eiji uses to escape from reality, sometimes through video games, or books, or film. In fact one of these ‘illusions’ has recently been made into a short film: it’s called ‘The Voorman problem.’ Fun fact: my screenwriting professor this year helped produce it! Another of my favourites was the chapter ‘Kai Ten’ in which Eiji reads the journal of his great uncle, who was a Kai-Ten torpedo pilot during the 2nd world war. Through these illusions, the author manages to showcase a number of different narratives and ways of story-telling, creating a compelling blend of voices.
One of the things I love most about this novel is its blatant pretentiousness. I know that sounds a bit strange, but it takes a lot of skill to pull off something so experimental. Though there are a lot of detailed, banal and very realistic descriptions of Tokyo, it’s clear the author is not confining his writing to the category of ‘believable.’ In fact a lot of the dialogue is precocious, quirky and witty in a way that real people just aren’t. But that’s okay, because it’s good dialogue and even though it’s a bit cheesy, sometimes cheesy can be good when done in the right way. The author doesn’t just make his meaning obvious, he goes a step further and has his characters actually discuss it. Oh, the irony and meta-drama.
One very apparent example of this is the chapter ‘Study of Tales’, which is a collection of children’s stories that Eiji reads. They are more like thinly-veiled allegories for the writing trade and publishing business, each story dealing with a different aspect including the search for originality and the effect of the internet revolution on publishing.
Overall, I love this book because despite the magic realism side, the heart of the narrative contains genuine granules of human truth. Eiji tries to escape from reality to deal with the loss of his sister, but in the end he has to face his past in order to heal. One of my favourite quotes from the book is this: “maybe the meaning of life lies in looking for it”. A valuable piece of advice, it’s the reminder that meanings are not a fixed point to strive for but something that can change and evolve with us.

Ender’s Game – Best of Sci-Fi

So, it took me three whole days to finish reading the novel ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card, and then move quickly onto the film. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of those books that you can’t put down, that makes you forget your body’s annoying need for things like sleep, that makes all other tasks in life seem dreary and completely unnecessary because, dammit, you could be reading instead.

I digress, but my point is that it was very hard to tear myself away from this particular book and it became a bit of an addiction. Let’s face it, beautiful prose is basically a Literature student’s version of substance abuse.

I’ll be focusing only on the novel today, though I may blog in the future about the film adaptation also. I’m going to choose the top 5 things I love about the novel. 

The Originality – I have to admit, there has been a LOT of sci-fi ‘stop the alien invasion’ fiction around lately, but Ender’s Game has got to be one of the most creative and original concepts I’ve seen in a long time. For one, the aliens aren’t actually the main focus. Yes, they’re the driving force of the plot, but that’s all they ever are: a mysterious ‘enemy’ that must be defeated, except no one really knows why until the very end, leaving us to question the morality of it throughout most of the book.

The Detail: Card’s writing style is very easy to read and get into. He delves right into the story and constantly moves the plot along at a pretty fast pace. No time to stop and dawdle on the majesty of the universe, or waste a few pages describing the artful space chair (cough Charles Dickens cough take a hint). There’s a nice balance between dialogue, description and emotion. Enough so that we as the reader have the chance to connect with Ender and feel sympathy for him, but not so much that we start to hate him for being a whiney brat. Though I did find some of the action scenes in the battle room hard to visualise because of the whole ‘null gravity’ thing, I liked that Card didn’t try and patronise readers by over-explaining everything and instead trusted us to use our own imaginations. He’s fantastic at the whole ‘show but don’t tell’ thing, a skill which has been drilled into my head by every creative writing guide I’ve ever read.

The side-plots: I liked how the author wasn’t afraid to shift perspective from Ender to some of the other protagonists, making the plot that much more complex. General Graff, for instance, provides an interesting insight into how the bureaucracy has chosen to justify using children as military weapons. His relationship with Ender, too, can be seen as almost paternal. The other big plot line is that of Valentine and Peter: Ender’s siblings. After all, if a 10 year old military space commander is believable, then why not a 14 year old megalomaniac intent on world domination? Peter and Valentine’s little political stint makes a nice real-world contrast to all of the intergalactic conflict happening in Ender’s life, and in a way reminds us that the futuristic society that the novel is set in may not be all that different from our own.

The supporting characters: I found that every one of the supporting characters had their own distinct personality traits, and there was something to either love or hate about all of them. Sometimes, especially with the bullies like Bernard and Bonzo, it’s how they react to situations and how they are provoked. Sometimes it’s the language they use: certain slang words, a way of speaking. A lot of the time it’s through Ender’s relationship with them, most notably Alai and Bean.

Ender himself – ah. How do I even begin? Of course you have a soft spot for him. Everyone does. Even the people training him to commit genocide. Admittedly, I do have a soft spot for misunderstood clever boys (cough Sherlock cough) but Ender is a special case. Maybe because he’s always getting bullied and everyone loves an underdog. Maybe because he actually defends himself. But I think the main reason is that despite being a child prodigy, he still retains his innocence and compassion. ‘Ender’s Game’ is just as much about Ender’s humanity as it is about him being a badass military commander. He feels guilt for hurting others, but does it anyway because he knows he has to. It seems like the reluctant hero is always the most loved.

Overall, it’s a brilliant book that deals with a lot of dark themes. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like YA at all, even though it would technically be in that genre as the protagonist is only 10 years old for most of it. Somehow, Card made the entire concept of a kid in the military very believable, and while telling Ender’s story simultaneously questions the morality and ethics of warfare. Though it may be set centuries into the future, Ender’s Game relates to timeless issues affecting all of us – what makes us human? How far can we go while retaining our humanity? To destroy monsters, you must become one. I have no idea who came up with that quote, but it seems very applicable to Ender Wiggin.