March 2018 Goals

Polabooks Online (2)

In exciting news, I failed miserably in February. It seems that on the one hand I was overly optimistic and, on the other, I forgot just how short February is. But I’m still here, and it’s taken a fair bit of courage to open this site again, admit defeat, and try again.

Let’s start with the hard bit, these were my goals for February:

– Write 20,000 words of draft two. I wrote just shy of 15,000 words in February, so 3/4 of my goal. I can remember writing that goal just over a month ago, and knowing even then that it was far too optimistic, but I can’t resist a challenge. I’m not too disappointed with the outcome of this goal – I’m happy with the 15,000 words I wrote, they’re good words. (Well done words)

– Read ElmetI did read Elmet, and I enjoyed it. The real problem was that I didn’t have much to say about it. It’s such a slippery book – difficult to define, and even harder to critique with any finesse. I don’t expect to write a review of this one, I’m afraid.

– Read The Sealwoman’s Gift. I did not read this book. I am trash.

– Update this blog once a week. It is plain that this did not happen.

Okay, now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to set some goals for the month ahead (although we’re already six days into it – whoops!) –

– Write 10,000 words of draft two. I hope to exceed this, but as my focus is still on quality>quantity, I want to give myself the chance to really take my time.

– Prepare for Camp NaNoWriMoAs I’m sure you’re all aware, Camp Nano is in April, and this will be my first year participating. I’m not entirely sure how I’m going to approach it – I don’t particularly want to write another 50,000 words of utter crap, but I’m definitely going to find a way to use it as a source of motivation to keep this project going.

– Read something. Anything.

– Update this blog once. Just once.

The bar is on the floor, let’s hope I don’t make a fool of myself again!

February 2018 Goals

Polabooks Online

On the 1st of January, I wrote a post which set out four writing and reading related goals. I am pleased to report that I achieved the majority of these goals, as you can see from the summary below:

– Edit the first draft of my manuscript. I read (or at least tried to read) all 72,000 words, and as you’ll know from my previous posts, the verdict was not great. I added my notes to the physical manuscript, and made a list of all the most important over-arching changes which were needed. I then took a week or so off, before I sat down and thought about what the second draft might look like, you can read more about my subsequent conclusions here.

– Read The Buried GiantI read The Buried Giant at the beginning of January, and even wrote a book review!

– Read The Wake. I confess that this is the one goal which I did not achieve. I did attempt to read The Wake, but the bastardised Old/Middle English was a little too much for me at the time. I do intend to get round to it eventually, however, so watch this space.

– Update this blog once a week. The completion of this goal is perhaps the most surprising. I set out a very vague schedule in my head at the beginning of the year, but I am incredibly proud of myself for accomplishing it. Let us hope that I can keep it up!

This is the perfect time to set out goals for February, in the hope that this 75% completion rate might hold up for a little longer.

– Write 20,000 words of draft two. I have now started the second draft of my manuscript, and I have resolved to take my time with this one. It became evident with draft one that the scenes which were best were those which I had taken my time to think about, and write without distraction. Therefore, I am going to set my sights low in terms of word limit, in the hope that I will achieve quality, rather than quantity.

– Read ElmetI purchased a signed copy of this book today, and I am intrigued by the fact that the author is a fellow medievalist. I am not aware of any medieval influences on the narrative, but I am excited to read a book which has garnered so much critical attention already, especially as a debut!

– Read The Sealwoman’s Gift. I also purchased a copy of this book today, and I am extremely excited to read it! The setting is 17th century Iceland, and (although it’s superficial) the hardback cover is absolutely stunning, so I am very excited to give this novel a go.

– Update this blog once a week. Let’s see if we can keep this up! 🙂

What are your February goals? I’d love to hear them.


Book Review: The Book of Joan

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I was distraught when I heard about The Book of Joan. A close friend sent me the review which was recently published in The Guardian, and I simply could not believe my eyes. Lara Feigel describes how “Yuknavitch takes three real people from medieval France and reimagines them in a post-apocalyptic future”. Without giving too much away, I had hoped that a similar sentiment might be applied to my project in the future. Although my medieval sources are not French, Feigel’s description of The Book of Joan as a story which uses a post-apocalyptic setting to reintroduce medieval characters to a contemporary audience encapsulates (at least on the surface) everything I have set out to achieve with my own novel.

I read the review in The Guardian on Friday, and on the same day I purchased The Book of Joan for myself. Over the weekend just past, I have devoured it, initially with the sole purpose of discovering whether or not my WIP was still worth pursuing, or if all my goals had already been accomplished by a more experienced and timelier author. Although I certainly achieved this goal, I also unwittingly discovered a narrative which was at times both beautiful and unbearable in its brutality, and simply impossible to put down.

Let me begin with a brief description, although that is a hard task, as the narrative is densely packed with action (both past and present) which is often alluded to, but not often recounted in full.

Christine lives on a space platform called CIEL, which floats above the dying earth in the year 2049. Only the most elite of the remaining population were able to gain access to this platform, where they now exist as white, papery figures with no genitalia and no human sensations like arousal, pain, or even sweat.  CIEL is ruled with an iron fist by Jean de Meun, who forbids any act even imitative of sexual relations, although both reproductive and recreational sex are equally unobtainable for these human survivors.

Jean de Meun’s nemesis is Joan, a warrior who carries a unique gift with her, bestowed in childhood. Her unique bond with the earth allowed her to lead a group of rebels against Jean de Meun, resulting in a war which very few survived.

What follows is a tale about the unstable link between creation and destruction, the full spectrum of gender, and the relationship between humanity and the earth. The scope of this book is epic, and much is achieved and covered in a relatively short space of pages.

The pace of this novel is thunderous, it gallops at a great speed, adding new characters and rules to the universe with blinding regularity towards the latter half. It can be hard to keep up, and hard to feel that you have understood everything you have read. In particular, the climax was not especially sophisticated, or well resolved, but there were some satisfying plot twists which were worth waiting for in the second half.

It should also be noted that the prose, although very pretty in some scenes, was often vague and laborious to read. The same adjectives were often repeated again and again to describe the same nouns, and many of the characters were prone to long spoken or internal monologues on lofty concepts such a love, death, and the meaning of life. These monologues were very messily constructed and often unclear in meaning, seeming digressive rather than profound.

Overall, my reading of The Book of Joan assuaged my fears. What made me breathe a sigh of relief was the lack of engagement with the medieval origins of the three main characters. There were certainly references and homages paid to their roots, but Christine and Jean’s narratives had very little relevance to the works which they produced in their own lifetimes. The Book of Joan appropriates suitable protagonists from the past, updates and reanimates them to match their setting, but does not simultaneously revive as many of the medieval ideologies, tropes, or symbols as I had anticipated it would.

With all this in mind, I thoroughly enjoyed The Book of Joan. The character of Joan was a particular highlight. Yuknavitch’s exploration of both gender and sexuality within this warrior is not only ground-breaking, but hugely empowering. Joan is a compelling narrator, and it is right that her tale should represent the very core of this novel, for she has the most incredible, unapologetic and unflinching story to tell.

I feel as though, by reading this book, and exploring its strengths and weaknesses, I have passed an important trial on the road to completing my own novel. More importantly, however, The Book of Joan represents a step in a new literary direction which I would like to follow, albeit with my own sense of style.

Seeking Out Conflict

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It’s official – I completed another January goal: I finished editing the first draft of my manuscript. It was not a pleasant experience, as my previous post would suggest, and it became a real struggle to force myself to read line upon line of badly-worded, sloppily-phrased prose.

The most pressing problem which loomed as I finished reading the first draft was that the plot needed a drastic restructure. ‘Restructure’ doesn’t even really cover it – I needed to slash at least half of what I’d written, and replace it with something much, much more interesting. Namely, what my first draft was missing is the most important ingredient for all plots: conflict.

Stories thrive on conflict, and wither away without it. It’s an important lesson for any story-teller, and one which Tolkien touches on in The Hobbit:

Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”

This passage comes when Bilbo visits Rivendell, and I vividly remember finding Tolkien’s descriptions of that wondrous haven so comforting that I found myself wishing, as Bilbo does, whether he might stay there forever. Unfortunately, as the narrator so aptly points out, that would not make a good, nor a long story. It is fair to say, therefore, that my first draft was neither a good, nor a particularly long story (although I certainly felt that it dragged on).

 Conflict is probably one of the first elements of a story which writers conceive, when they first come up with an idea. Without conflict, there can be no quest, no motivation and absolutely no progression. Can you imagine The Hobbit without Smaug the dragon? What about Paradise Lost without Satan’s plot to deceive mankind? Think about your favourite stories, and what would be left of them without the sources of conflict which drive them forward. Pretty grim stuff, right?

It’s fair to say that I did have a source conflict in mind when I began writing this WIP, but this means of motivating my characters onward did not prove to be quite so urgent as I might have liked. But seeking out a source of conflict, having already shaped a setting and characters, is quite different and, in truth, quite difficult.

It was probably not wise to start plotting for a second draft so soon after I had finished looking at my first, but, unfortunately, time is precious and with a weekend alone in the flat I thought it was the best use of my time. I started searching for a new source of conflict by asking myself some questions: Where must this tale end? What must be achieved on the way? What obstacle might prevent this from being achieved?

It took a while to get there, but once the idea came, everything started to fall into place. I am pleased to report that I now have a full outline for a second draft with a new and shiny source of conflict. This single (but significant) change has helped me to develop not only the plot, but also my characters, my sense of pace, and most importantly a story which is much more interesting for me to tell and (hopefully!) for you to read. Those three simple questions really helped me to pin down what my intentions are as the story-teller, and I’d really recommend that (even if you don’t end up in the same predicament I found myself in) that you ask yourself the same questions.

I have a lot left to do. My plans before the first draft were not comprehensive and, for the second draft, I want to spend a little more time setting out my plot scene-by-scene, exploring my characters’ backgrounds, and preparing myself for a more successful draft. All of these pursuits, however, have been made much easier by the fact that I now have a solid grasp of the conflict for my yet untitled WIP.

Moral of the story – as unpleasant as they might be, every story needs a Smaug, a Satan, or a tone deaf Pierce Brosnan (thank you, Mamma Mia).

Book Review : The Buried Giant

Book Review_The Buried Giant


The Buried Giant is a fantastically tender tale. Elderly Britons Axl and Beatrice set out to visit their son in a nearby village. Their journey is quickly diverted off course, and they become the travelling companions of Wistan, a Saxon warrior from the Fens; Edwin, a promising young lad shunned by his village, and Sir Gawain, the last remnant of King Arthur’s court. The plot which unravels represents a unique combination of historical, fantastical and literary fiction, and the narrative proves to be both delightful and immensely endearing.

Although there’s a fair share of action, The Buried Giant is fundamentally a character-driven novel. Axl and Beatrice are highlights among the cast of players, and it was extremely refreshing to see a large part of the story through Axl’s eyes, particularly in a historical/fantasy setting. These genres tend to favour younger and able-bodied heroes, but Axl and Beatrice’s ailments and struggles made their journey feel much more tangible to the reader.

My favourite character by far was Sir Gawain. Ishiguro dedicates two chapters to Gawain’s reveries, which are bumbling, aimless and digressive in the most charming way. I was extremely excited to hear that Ishiguro was somewhat inspired by Sir Gawain and the Green Knight whilst writing this novel, and I think this influence shows most in his depiction of Sir Gawain as a figure travelling through the dangerous English landscape, with ‘no fere bot his fole‘ [no friend but his horse].

As with Axl and Beatrice, much of the innovation of Gawain’s character comes from the fact that he is reaching the end of his life. In fact, this innovation applies to the setting of the book as a whole. Ishiguro expertly navigates the dying influence of Arthur’s court; a unique perspective which has not been thoroughly explored in fiction (historically, writers have preferred to track the rise, and then the fall), and although King Arthur does not feature prominently in the novel and (as far as I can remember) does not have any dialogue, his tracks can be seen everywhere in The Buried Giant.

When researching the book, it quickly became clear that there has been much discussion about the genre of The Buried Giant, and in retrospect I feel that the attention drawn to this topic is unwarranted. The Buried Giant mixes genre no more than any of Ishiguro’s other works. Never Let Me Go, for instance, mixes science fiction, romance and literary fiction. However, it should be said that the inclusion of fantastical elements in The Buried Giant is particularly masterful, and Ishiguro weaves them into his world so effortlessly that they become a believable part of the landscape. Furthermore, the use of these tropes does not sacrifice any of the literary significance of the work, rather it adds to it.

There was one major point of contention which I had with The Buried Giant: the use of multiple points of view. The multiple narrators worked well at times, supporting various plots, sub-plots and character arcs with ease. As ever, Ishiguro’s use of the first person is strikingly effortless, and this is most evident in the chapters dedicated to Gawain’s reveries and the final chapter, which I will not spoil. However, I was somewhat disappointed on the first occasion when the perspective moved away from Axl, and I couldn’t help feeling that I was far more attached to him as a narrator than any of the other points of view which emerged. Out of all of the narrations, Edwin’s was by far the weakest and I found myself rushing through his chapters to reach something more interesting.

Overall, The Buried Giant is a fantastic read, particularly for any individual with an interest in medieval history, literature or language. Ishiguro approaches the setting of post-Roman Britain with sophistication and nuance, and resists trying to fill in too many gaps or make too many assumptions. As an exploration of collective trauma and the quandary of remembering versus forgetting, it is sublime and I would very much recommend it to any interested readers.

Thoughts on Editing

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I’m only about five days and 110 pages into editing the first draft of my WIP (work-in-progress) but I’m already exhausted. Reading shit prose by itself is tiring, but the added factors of disappointment and embarrassment make reading your own shit prose somewhat more taxing.

I knew it wasn’t amazing when I was writing it. As many of you already know, my WIP was written as a part of NaNoWriMo 2017, when the daily struggle is simply getting words on the page, with absolutely no concern for their quality. It worked – I have 72,000 words to read, but I’d bet only 15,000 words (at the most) will find their way into the next draft.

It begs the question as to whether challenges like NaNoWriMo are productive. In the run up to last November, I found myself watching lots of videos and reading lots of blog posts about the pros and cons to participating. My conclusion at the time, evidently, was that taking part would be at least somewhat beneficial, and it has been. Even if zero out of 72,000 words make it into draft two, I am almost certainly a better writer for having written them, and (more importantly) for being able to recognise that they’re shit.

As sick as I am of my weak dialogue and uninspired descriptions of setting, I do feel that I am making progress. I’m around halfway through the manuscript, and already I have a notebook of new plot ideas, character arcs, and helpful suggestions like ‘be better’ and ‘no, not this’. When I initially finished the manuscript, after the first rush of ‘I did it’ settled and dissipated, I felt worried. I knew that the story needed more of just about everything, and that the plot’s structure would need a significant makeover between draft one and two. I knew changes needed to be made, but I didn’t know exactly how to make them and what devices I would use to solve the problems. Now, for the most part, I do.

My adventures in editing are far from over, and even after I finish reading the manuscript I will need to spend a significant amount of time mapping out my plot, thinking about my characters and making sure the next draft will be at least a little more successful. The going is getting tough and I can only cope with 5-10 pages at a time, but for every 5,000 words of pure bullshit, I find a sentence with some steel. Let’s hope that ratio improves somewhat in the future!


Hello! Welcome to my blog, which I hope will become a hub of useful resources for others and, most importantly, a means of holding myself accountable for my goals! As an aspiring author, my content will chiefly revolve around reading, writing, research, and the skills relevant to those pursuits.

To start as I mean to go on, especially given that it is the first day of a new year (!), I will set out some goals for the next month:

January 2018

– Edit the first draft of my manuscript : Following Nanowrimo 2017, I have been working on a fiction project which currently stands at 72,000 words. Over the next month, I intend to read through everything which I have written so far, identify the problems and make notes on what needs revision, with the aim to start work on a second draft in the near future!

– Read The Buried Giant : I am approximately halfway through my signed copy of this book, and very much enjoying it so far. Ishiguro’s mix of genres and his choice of setting are relevant to my current project, so I hope to learn a lot from finishing this book. Once this goal is complete, I will be sure to share my thoughts with you!

– Read The Wake : Again, this title’s setting and inspirations are relevant to my project, and I know that The Wake will be excellent research.

– Update this blog once a week : This latter goal relies upon me generating sufficient content (such as achieving the tasks as set out above), but I am determined to do my very best!

Until the next time we meet, I wish you all a Happy New Year and best of luck with your writing goals for this month!

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