Book Review: Mamaji by Elisheba Haqq

Release date: October 2020

Mamaji  by Elisheba Haqq, is a sometimes heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting memoir about self-discovery and a child’s journey from babyhood to being an adult without the guiding influence of a mother.

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The loss of her mother at 3 years old provides a poignant counterpoint to the love and laughter that fills Elisheba’s life from her six older siblings. The family have moved to Minnesota from India, and the children find it hard to fit in at school. A year after Mamaji dies, her father marries again and the children have a new stepmother in their lives. Sadly, she is not much interested in taking over the role of mother, appearing disinterested and selfish. The children of the family have a roof over their heads, but very little else and there is no love and affection for the children, apart from the love they have for each other.

Growing up without a Mother

Elisheba tells the story from her own point of view, honestly acknowledging her inability at 3 to understand what has happened, throughout her school years where she must try to fit into a school where she is an outsider, and into college and marriage, eventually having children of her own. Throughout the book, she tries her best to get on with her stepmother and maintain her relationship with her father. When Elisheba is able to visit Chandigarh, the place where her parents had spent their early married years and talk to relatives, she is able to find remnants of her mother and answers to the many questions that she has had. The book is filled with family photographs, which are memories of happy times.

The strength of a mother’s love for her daughter and that of a daughter for her mother, will stay with you long after you have closed this book.

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Do you enjoy writing book reviews? Try NetGalley

heart-shape-formed-by-central-pages-of-a-bookI have always enjoyed reading books. I am a member of a local book club and we meet up monthly to review and discuss books we have read. Reading a variety of books and authors is a really good way to improve your own writing.

An author whose blog I follow, mentioned NetGalley, so I checked it out and liked what I saw.

Read and Review

NetGalley is a website where publishers allow book reviewers and bloggers to read books before they are published, in order to get reviews. It is a UK website where you will need to create a log-in and undertake to review the books you get to read. As part of the profile creation, you are asked where you will review the books, whether on the website or on a blog. You are expected to review the book as part of it being made available to you.

There are a wide range of publishers registered there, including Faber and Faber Ltd, HarperCollins, Hodder & Stoughton and Mills & Boon. All kinds of books are there, including children’s books, non-fiction, fiction, autobiographical books and comics and graphic novels.

For the more popular authors or publishers, you might have to be approved before being offered a book to read and review, but there are also free books that anyone registered can access and read.

Digital Reviews

The downloads offered are known as digital review copies and they are similar to galley proofs. The text has been edited and corrected and proofread too. It is hoped that there are very few errors left as it is almost time to print the book. You might find one or two mistakes, but generally, the book is being offered as if it were an e-book. The aim is to bring the books to the attention of influencers in the book world and people encouraged to become a reader, include librarians, teachers, journalists and booksellers as well as reviewers and bloggers. You are encouraged to link your account to your social media, Goodreads and to verified industry organisations. The website used a NetGalley Shelf app to make the books available but other devices and apps are supported.

Readers and reviewers do not pay to use NetGalley, but publishers do. The website will also work with independent authors and marketing and PR companies. The aim is promote books and help with marketing and promotions.

My first book review for NetGalley will follow shortly. If you have a book blog or enjoy reviewing books, do check them out.

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Stronger Fiction: Should you write every day?

One of those pieces of advice given out to every writer is:

Write every day

It is given out so often that we are in danger of feeling that we are not writers if we don’t write every day. What if you find it hard to find time to write every day, however? What if you are at home with work emailing you, your children asking for help with school work and your partner locked away in another room constantly in another Zoom meeting? How can you possibly find time to write every day?

clock-coffe-mug-typewriter-spectacles

The fact is that we are not super-women (or men). We have a lot going on at the moment and that may mean that some things do not happen. But should the thing that gives, be your writing?

To be honest, it depends on how you feel about it.

The thing about writing is that it’s like a muscle. The more you exercise it, the more easily it comes to you. So if you can find some time to write as often as you can, then your writing will flow better and you will find more ideas for inspiration coming to you. If you are on the look out for ideas, they will come. Many writers carry small notebooks around just to jot down ideas as they happen, although in these days of smartphones, it is just as easy to make notes on that.

Perceived wisdom has suggested that it takes 100,000 words of practice to make a novelist. That’s a lot of words, you had better get going now. Seriously, though, most successful novelists have a rough novel or two, hiding somewhere in their house, which they have sworn will never see the light of day. That’s a lot of work for something that people will never read, but it was important to achieve to find out how a novel is structured, how you manage to sit down and write words by the thousands and whether you can actually do it. Until you try, you will never know.

Do you need to write?

When you have been away from your notebook or laptop for a few days, do you find that you are itching to write? If you find that you are missing writing, then it will be important to find time for it.

Equally, if you are in the middle of writing something and you have got stuck, then you may avoid writing. You may open up the document, stare at it for a moment and close it again, without any idea of what you want to say. It can be hard to know where to take a story, when the characters seem to have a mind of their own.

If you want to write but just can not find time:

Write down your daily routine for a few days, then look for times when you might be able to fit writing in. Look for quiet times, times when the children are busy and times when the partner is in a meeting.

You could get up earlier, when the children are not expecting to be working, and take 15 minutes for writing

Why not write at a point when you are normally slumped in front of the TV in the evening?

You may have a small amount of time between when the children are finished schoolwork and it’s time to start cooking dinner.  Why not ask your partner to cook dinner occasionally to give you a bit more time?

Your writing time does not have to be every day, but it does have to be regular. It is no good just finding time to write once a month. Writing more regularly than that will help improve your skills. However if you are not working on something that you want to get done, then you may be happy writing 3 or 4 times a week.

Plan to write

If you are working on something that you expect to finish at some point, things may take a little more planning. You will want to snatch 15 minutes here and half an hour there so that you can finish your work. You will find that you do not have time for writers’ block, and that your need to finish the piece might outweigh all other considerations.

If you are stuck at a point and you are not sure where to go from there, then  leave it for a few days and come back to it. Pick up something else for a short while.

Go for a walk or a run to clear your head.

You may decide to carry on with the story for now and then come back to it. This may help you decide what happens next.

Try plotting out what happens next to help you get past the place where you are unsure where to go

If you are not happy with the direction your story is going in, you can always change it.

So should you “write every day”?

I suggest that you take this advice as a guideline. It depends on the jobs that you have got to get completed and how busy you are. Writing every day will certainly help you to feel more like a writer, but far more important is that you are happy with your writing life. You need to be comfortable with what you are achieving.

What are you writing at the moment? Are you finding it possible to write every day? Let me know in the comments below.

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Check out an Independent Book Shop during the Lockdown

This blog post was inspired by a Twitter chat this morning all about helping out independent bookshops.

3 bookshelves containing a mix of colours and sizes of book

Here is a link to the amazing chat:

https://twitter.com/RobGMacfarlane/status/1253073923916402689

although you will have to have an account with Twitter to see it. I know that Twitter can be toxic, but I also really enjoy hanging out there with other writers. On this thread, lots of independent bookshops tweeted back that they were still open for business.

You could also try a search on Facebook, as lots of bookshops will have pages there too. The aim of this post is to encourage you to use your spending power to support smaller businesses.

In this lockdown time, why not support your local small businesses? You can find a good-sized list at Indie Bookshops.

One of Jane Austen’s characters said,

“I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of any thing than of a book! — When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.”

Caroline Bingley may not have been entirely honest when she said this. She was trying to compete with Elizabeth Bennett for Mr Darcy’s attention by reading a book, at a time when Elizabeth was really trying to avoid conversation with people that she felt uncomfortable with, by reading a book.

Reading a book is a great way to get away from our tablet screens.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading ‘The Tennant of Wildfell Hall’ by Anne Bronte. It was bought it when we visited the Bronte’s old home last year while on holiday in Yorkshire. I had previously read ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’. It is a great read – took a while to get going, but now I am really into it and not far from the end. I am already planning which book to read next.

Five reasons to look at a smaller bookseller:

  • They really appreciate your custom
  • You may find some unusual books that you may not have found anywhere else
  • It is so easy to place an order and pay online – good for socially distancing too! Check with each shop how they would like you order – some take orders by phone.
  • Browsing books is so similar to the actual experience except you are probably wearing the right glasses already
  • You can often find unusual or specialist books at smaller bookshops.

Some Midlands independent bookshops that are open for postal business:

The hive offers a selection of books and supports local booksellers through the purchases made. You can choose an independent to send some money too. The hive offers both books and ebooks and book-related gifts.

AbeBooks offers a network of independent booksellers which offer rare, used and out-of-print books which can be posted to people through internet orders. Books are shipped directly from the seller.

  • Astley Book Farm in Bedworth, Warwickshire offers the ability to buy online. It looks an amazing place to visit and seems to have a vast array of books
  • Warwick Books in Warwick are currently selling books online. You can request books through email from this page, and they are putting together book bundles too.
  • The Chaucer Head Bookshop, Stratford-upon-Avon are selling through AbeBooks or you can call them directly from the number listed on their website, including a number for overseas visitors
  • The Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham is able to sell existing stock. They are also offering mystery boxes. You can email them from their website.

I have only been able to include bookshops with an online presence. Many independent bookshops have bricks and mortar only and so I could not include them. This is a list for Midlands-based booksellers and I will be doing more blog posts about other areas of the country. If you have had good service from an online bookseller, do let me know in the comments below.

The fact is, that we need independent sellers as well as the big giants. If the big giants are able to capture all our sales and shut the independents down, then the lack of choice will make us all captive audiences. Bigger is not always better.

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Stronger Fiction: Should you write what you know or know what you write?

One of the oldest pieces of advice for people who want to write fiction is that they should “write what they know’. This sage piece of wisdom is passed down from teachers to young pupils, from tutors to college students and in many creative writing classes. Yet, what does it actually mean? And is it a piece of advice worth following?

Write what you know

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Writing what you know suggests that the writer can not step outside their own experience. It suggests that their writing should be autobiographical in nature and always include a piece of themselves. While it could be good advice to write about what you know, if you were a former pirate, sailing the high seas who accidentally kidnapped a prince, more normal people may find it more difficult. Most people’s lives are fairly ordinary and there doesn’t seem to be much room for excitement.

Directing someone to write what they know, ignores the rich imaginations that most writers have. We can imagine what it is like to walk on a strange planet or to dive deep in the oceans. We can imagine how things could turn out when you meet the one person that you have always wanted to meet – even if it has never happened to you. I would not recommend that writers always stick to writing what they know or what they have experienced.

Knowing what you write is a different thing. Here, writers research before they write and use it to help create the story. You may not know everything before you begin to write, but you may have done some research and use it to help the story along. You may need to stop and make notes of further knowledge you need, but you can begin the story and leave gaps. This will enable you to slot in extra research, which will enrich the story. The best research fits seamlessly in the story.

Call on your emotions for your writing

We have all experienced emotion in one form or another, even if we have not experienced a specific event such as losing a parent or having our heart broken. Most people understand what it can be to fall in love, to like somebody who doesn’t know you exist or somebody unattainable like a celebrity. Using the emotions that you have felt during your life is a good use of writing what you know. It can enrich your writing and bring your characters to life.

Another variation on this rule is to write what you read. This is some of the best advice that a writer could be given. If you already read and enjoy a particular type of genre, then you will enjoy writing it too. If you don’t read, then how will you know what you enjoy and which type of book calls to you on a deeper level? Being a reader is the first step to becoming a writer.

Do you write regularly? Do you think that you should write what you know or were rules made to be broken? Comment below.

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Secrets of Stronger Fiction – more realistic bad guy/girl

Please note there are some spoilers in this blog post in the interest of creating stronger fiction.

Many adult stories do not contain a definitive bad guy.girl. In many children’s stories you will find a baddie character – someone who sees it as their life goal to thwart the main character and make their life difficult. Sometimes that evil character is just out-and-out bad, but sometimes, they are more morally ambiguous. This makes for stronger fiction.

Harry Potter series

For example, in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling, the evil-doers are evident from the start. Even the reluctance to name him (he-who-should-not-be-named) points to the fact that Voldemort is not someone that you would like to be best friends with. Some of the other characters who support him are not so clear cut (and some are!). Draco Malfoy, for example, hates Harry with a loathing and the feeling is mutual. Draco tries to kill Dumbledore and this reinforces that he is evil. However at the end of the books, Draco is rather a pathetic figure who has been damaged by the evil that he has done. Dorothy Umbridge, however is definitely evil, but Professor Snape is eventually revealed to have been working for the good forces, for all he disliked Harry.

Of all the characters in Harry Potter that appear to be evil, Snape is the most interesting. At the start he is always there to catch Harry out, his allegiance as head of the house of Slytherin gives him a vested interest in taking points off Harry and therefore Gryffindor, his rival. But as more of Snape’s story is known: his closeness to Harry’s mother Lily at one point and how he felt when Janes and Lily got together gives the reader a sympathy for him by the time of his last scene.

Matilda

The best stories have a mix of characters including those who are borderline. Matilda by Roald Dahl has a very definite bad gal in Miss Trunchbull, the angry headmistress who hates children. Miss Trunchbull is tall and broad and uses her size to intimidate both the children and teachers. Everyone that is except for Matilda. Matilda is able to use her new powers to scare Miss Trunchbull and protect her friends. But while the headteacher is a very obvious evil person, less so are Matilda’s parents. These two people are self-centred and not above indulging in criminal activity. They don’t seem to care very much for their daughter and even less for her schooling. They are not as vicious as Miss Trunchbull, but because they ignore Matilda instead of chucking her in the chokey, does that make them any better?

Matilda knows her parents’ failings and they do not seem to affect her, but neglect could be a very serious thing for her. Thankfully she has met Miss Honey who is prepared to take her on and love her.

Artemis Fowl

The Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer introduces a character who self-identifies as a criminal mastermind, or at the very least an anti-hero. He aims to steal to further his own ends, but finds himself in trouble when stealing from fairies, more specifically a police fairy known as Holly Short. Artemis may have started out as evil (how can you help it after being named Artemis), but he fairly quickly finds himself being forced to do the right thing. Throughout the series of books, he finds himself involved in a number of scary escapades, but usually on the right side of the fairy police. Incidentally, the books introduce Opal Koboi, a narcissistic pixie who is capable of far more evil actions than Artemis, himself.

Which characters are your favourite bad guys/gals and why?

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Secrets of Stronger Fiction 1: Characters who run against normal society – Anne with an E

I am not only a writer, I am a reader. I love a good piece of historical fiction, where the details take you back in history, the sights and the smells and the experiences of people long ago fill the story with the results of a writer’s long hours of research.

Some of my favourite characters are historical characters from the novels that I first encountered as a teenager. Many of these do not need such research, as they were written in their time. I love reading about characters that stand out from the crowd for their time – I always feel as though I would have loved to know them.

Anne Shirley of Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery

The series of stories about Anne see her grow up from an orphan of about 11 into a young woman, then a mother and beyond. Anne is not a normal little girl, at least to the good mothers of Avonlea, who fear what she is teaching her daughters. Anne’s unconventional upbringing has meant that she knows a lot more about life than some of her sheltered friends, but her heart is kind and her creativity brings her the admiration of her friends. The book was first published in 1908 and is set on Prince Edward Island. Many of the descriptions in the book are based on real places on Prince Edward Island and local people there have set up tours and a museum based on the book.

Anne is a typical 11 year old who gets into trouble, but she is always supported and loved by Matthew Cuthbert, the farmer who adopted her. His sister Marilla is quicker to judge, but she always supports Anne in the end. Some of Anne’s difficulties involve dying her hair green instead of raven black and accidentally getting her best friend drunk on what she thought was raspberry cordial but turned out to be currant wine.

The contrast between Anne, who has no idea who her parents were: they are just names on a birth certificate, and her classmates on Prince Edward Island is large. Anne’s best friend Diana, is expected to attend finishing school and marry well. This is an old-fashioned ideal for the time, but Diana’s parents are very conscious of their social position. She is not allowed to continue school, even though she has the brains to do so.

Anne has no thought of her looks apart from the things she despises about them. She hates having red hair and breaks her slate over her classmate, Gilbert’s head when he calls them, ‘carrots’! She also dislikes her thin frame and pale skin and freckles. She only cares about her brains and works hard to stay at the top of the class with Gilbert. The two of them have quite a rivalry when it comes to school work.

Anne of Green Gables and the sequels that have followed, have endured as a classic for a very long time. The story of the orphan boy who turned out to be a girl is full of heart, emotion and character you care about. Anne is easily identifiable with, and so are many of her classmates. The stories stand as a testament to the strength of the cast of characters as well as its leading lady.

Writers’ Notes

What can writers learn from Anne of Green Gables?

LM Montgomery wrote the story from a newspaper headline that caught her attention

Writing an unconventional character can bring your story to life

Writing contrasting characters can help bring the story along.

Bringing characters into the story that oppose your main character is a great way to introduce conflict to the plot

You never know where your idea might come from next!

Keep an eye out for interesting headlines in your local papers – could you turn one of them into a short story or even a novel?

Who is one of your favourite characters in literature and why? Comment below and let me know.

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7 retro blog posts you might like to check out

7 retro blog posts

When you’ve put a lot of effort into writing your blog posts, it can be difficult to lose them off the top page and awkward for visitors to your page to find and read them, unless of course, they found them through searching a specific topic in Google. So it is good to occasionally write a blog post review to search through your blog and find some of the highlights that may enjoy seeing the light of day again.

I have enjoyed searching through my blog and finding some of my highlights from recent years. Many of these were from a 30 day blogging challenge I undertook in 2016. Definitely think it’s time for another one!

  1. Great Hero Character Names

In this blog post, I wrote about some of my favourite character names in novels and why I liked them.

2. My Top 10 Fictional Villains

What is a hero without a villain to try to foil them? These are some of my favourite villains, but I know there are many more.

3. Writing Prompts, Story, part 1 and Story part 2, and Editing a Story

I’m cheating here – there are actually 4 blog posts in one go: writing prompts and parts 1 and 2 of a story. I had fun creating this. Then I wrote a further blog post, explaining how I might edit the story, having read it back and analysed what I had written.

4. Procrastination and the Writer

This blog post was one of the most popular on my blog at one point. I think it chimes with most people who want to be writers.

5. 30 Ways to find Blog Post Ideas

For those days when procrastination is at its highest…

6. Six Girl BFFs in Fiction

I love a story with a really good girl BFF in it and here are some of my favourites.

7. Ten of the Best Bromances in Fiction

You can’t leave the boys out! Here my top ten bromances in fiction too.

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The Writer vs the Blank Page

Writing vs the Blank Page

“You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” (Jodie Piccoult)

It can be tough settling down to work, but there is nothing worse, as a writer, than settling down to write, then realising that you don’t know what you want to say. Facing a blank screen or blank page is almost guaranteeing that your brain will go blank too!

When I was young, there was something enjoyable at school about turning over a fresh new page to write on. I used my best handwriting, carefully drew the curliest ‘y’s and ‘g’s and tried to make sure that my work looked good. As a writer, there have been times when I have found myself with a little valued writing time, opened up a document and – nothing! All words have left me and it can feel very frustrating!

So why do writers put this pressure on ourselves? Why do we panic when faced with a blank page and what can we do about it?

There may be a few reasons why we freeze:

  • we genuinely don’t know where we want to go next in our writing
  • we are starting a new project but don’t know where to start
  • we need to do some research before we start writing
  • some other reason

Where do I go next in my writing?

You’ve opened up a blank document, but you really haven’t a clue where to continue on with your writing. How can you find a way around this and use your writing time productively? A good idea can be to always leave your work at a point where you have an idea where it is going to go next. So you are writing a story where the main character is going to visit her friend and chat about the leading love interest. If you leave your story where the main character knocks on the door of her friend, then you have something to start writing about straight away when you come back to your work. If however, you finish work at the end of a chapter, then it can be harder to come back in to a completely new one.

Similarly, if you are writing an article, try to write down some planning and research points rather than just plunging into the first paragraph. Of course, if a great idea for the first paragraph comes to you, then write it down, but if you normally find it hard to get going, then it is best to anticipate this and make sure that you are able to write something down. Often just getting going is a good way to overcome the blank page.

Starting a new project

Sometimes you want to start a new project, but you don’t know where to begin. You might have fragments of a story in mind, you could have an idea for a new blog post or you may have found a great title that you want to use in a piece of writing. The idea is sketchy and you are unsure where to go next with it.

Again, the trick is to release the pressure on yourself. No one is able to write a perfect first draft, so don’t worry if it’s a bit rough. Write notes, sketch out some characters or interview them, write some outlines, play with the concept. For blog posts, you can check out what other writers have written on the subject, to get some width on the subject, play with the title and list out the points you want to make. Try to always have something on the page, even if it eventually gets deleted.

Need to do some research

Some writers just go straight into a piece of writing, then they come up against a blocking point where they need to research in order to finish it. As a writer, you could look at the positive side – at least you wrote something down and are not faced with a blank piece of paper! By all means, go and find the answer to your question in a text book or search engine. Your work will be waiting for you when you come back. Sometimes it takes longer than you think to find the answer to something, so before you leave your work, write down some markers so that when you come back to it, you will be able to pick up your thought thread. Nothing worse than coming back to a piece of work, only to realise that you have absolutely no idea what you were going on about. Almost worse than that blank piece of paper!

Something Else

Insert your own reason here – for whatever reason, you find yourself facing a blank document with the blank brain to match. However, if you’ve been smart and paying and attention, you will have realised that this doesn’t need to be the case! You can leave yourself notes, character sketches, research notes and references or anything else that will help you pick up the work when you come back. If you are writing whole blog posts, then decide what the next topic is going to be and leave a title on a piece of paper along with a couple of references to remember where you planned to go next.

There is no need for a writer to be afraid of that blank piece of paper. It is just a blank page, waiting to be written on. If you find beginnings hard, then always start your beginning before ending your work for the night. Then you should always be able to spend that unexpected but welcome piece of writing time, productively.

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Day 26: 30 Day Blogging Challenge – Author Websites Worth Visiting

These days it is recommended that authors have a website. Some are almost purely bibliographies, lists of their published books, a brief ‘About’ page and some contact details for literary festivals.

Mah Bookshelf by kreezzalee on Flickr CC
Mah Bookshelf by kreezzalee on Flickr CC

Other authors clearly enjoy the process: they add extras like FAQs, podcasts of interviews and reprints of newspaper articles. I really enjoy checking out these websites: they offer the would-be writer so much more than just a book list.

When I find a new author I like, then I love to head over to their website and see what they will be doing next. Here are five author websites that I really like and would recommend that you visit and take a look around.

  1. Philippa Gregory is an historian who writes historical novels including The Other Boleyn Girl. Her website is great for those authors who are looking to write historical novels because she includes fascinating bits of history research on it. To access them, check out the purple tab: News & More.
  2. Michael Morpurgo has a fascinating website, full of tidbits to click on and interesting items. He has an amazing back catalogue of written books, including the now famous ‘War Horse’ and his website is well worth a look.
  3. Joanne Harris has long been one of my favourite writers – I love her books. Her website talks about her job and gives some useful information for someone looking to book an author for a visit.
  4. Julia Donaldson has written about the Gruffalo, the Gruffalo’s Child, Room on the Broom and many others. Her website is great for sheer amount of many different things that she writes. It’s also a very bright and colourful website.
  5. Anthony Horowitz has written the Alex Rider series, and more recently a couple of books based on Sherlock Holmes. His website has some good advice for writers and is very enjoyable to read through. Again, the amount of different projects that he gets involved in is breathtaking. He has written film scripts and TV scripts as well as novels for both teenagers and adults.
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