#IWSG – Sneaky Surprises

Created  and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, theInsecure Writer’s Support Groupmonthly blog post is here again – and so am I, insecure or maybe just guilty.

Guilty as my writing in July continued to be minimal: a few book reviews and the first draft for my August #WEP/IWSG CHALLENGE – due a fortnight (two weeks) today. Meanwhile, Sparkle Anwyl has taken a holiday in my head. And I’m still wading through a backlog of emails that fills up like sand.  Or is it my gaming distractions or my health?   

Rabbit holes – like researching hashtags that describe me: #IWSG #WEP/IWSG #crimefiction #ubisoftgames #assassinscreed #gamer #bookworm #goodreads #MS. Those were for #PWPoePrompts.

My biggest concern is my entry for the 2019 Annual IWSG Anthology Contest. I’ve done most of the research, but some key bits are missing. I’ve outlined my story but I’ve yet to finish the first draft. Finally, I fear I need more than beta readers that know MG. The deadline looms – September 4th. Panic is setting in.

Beta readers. I keep losing them. I even need some to help get ‘Azure Spark’ ready for pro-editing. Are my own critiques frightening writers/readers away?

The brutal truth. Can anyone help me, please?

Anyway, on to the IWSG monthly question.

August 7 question – Has your writing ever taken you by surprise? For example, a positive and belated response to a submission you’d forgotten about or an ending you never saw coming?

I can’t claim any ‘industry’ surprises. But that’s not surprising given my lack of productivity. A few expected rejections, a few years ago. One hoped for acceptance – my debut novel, Spiral of Hooves. But unsurprising low sales and mixed reviews.

However, there was one surprise while writing Spiral of Hooves – the identity of the antagonist. S/he changed as I edited the early drafts and focused the story – as did her/his motive.

In one of my current WIPs, part of the Snowdon Shadows series, one of my favourite characters became an unexpected victim – but with a twist. Where did that come from?

There must be a devious person at work in my mind. Who is it? Why did I create a link back to my unrelated debut? A character in the WIP series appeared after playing a minor role in Spiral of Hooves. Who was more surprised? Me or Sparkle?

*

The awesome co-hosts for the August 7 posting of the IWSG are Renee Scattergood, Sadira Stone, Jacqui Murray, Tamara Narayan, and LG Keltner!

(I so admire these guys as I know they have commitments too. Ticker-tape applause.)

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film – a review

Life has thrown up more diversions – okay, my weak will did. I still intend posting a Thursday Creation Review every week – as originally planned. Well at least until my five outstanding reviews are written – three crime, one historical and one historical-fantasy. I’m hesitating over adding my review of the TV series Good Omens until I’ve read the book.

Anyway, today – a day late – it’s a non-fiction writing guide up for review:

Writing Diverse Characters for Fiction, TV or Film

by Lucy V. Hay

We’re living in a time of unprecedented diversity in produced media content, with more LGBT characters. more characters of color, more disabled characters, and more characters from various religions or classes. These characters also appear in genre pieces, accessible to the mainstream, instead of being hidden away in so-called “worthier” pieces, as in the past. This book discusses issues of race, disability, sexuality and transgender people with specific reference to characterization in movies, TV, and novel writing. Using such examples as the film Mad Max: Fury Road and the novel Gone Girl, the book explores how character role function really works. It discusses such questions as the difference between stereotype and archetype, why “trope” does not mean what Twitter and Tumblr think it means, how the burden of casting affects both box office and audience perception, and why diversity is not about agendas, buzzwords or being “politically correct.” It also goes into what authenticity truly means, and why research is so important; why variety is key in ensuring true diversity in characterization; and what agents, publishers, producers, filmmakers and commissioners are looking for—and why.

 Review 5 stars

This timely and excellent book was everything I’ve needed especially since attempting to write a novel about a queer Welsh detective and her Tamil partner. (There are days when I feel totally out of my experience zone.)

This is essential reading for any serious writer – especially one aware of the value in addressing the ‘diverse issue’. It was full of invaluable advice and information for me – a WASP, albeit one with Latin blood and in a wheelchair.

Lucy Hay has researched the hot issue of ‘diversity’ for many years. She has become a prolific advocate of diverse characters in all areas of fiction as a writer, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her www.bang2write.com consultancy, which I follow. This book builds on her knowledge and suggests how writers can embrace the thorny topic – “as long as they do it justice” with “due diligence”

That ‘due diligence’ means recognising where the debate is going, the mistakes and progress, how to ensure diverse characters function effectively – and not as stereotypes – plus, the potential and the pitfalls. Hay provides a wealth of observations, suggestions and links with which writers can develop their own craft. Many assets are provided to inform those that are serious about ensuring they tread wisely.

These range from a definition of ‘diversity’, and the myths surrounding it, to examples from modern movies and novels to explain aspects of how to handle ‘diversity’ – and how not to. All Hay’s thoughts provide food for further discussion and research.

I’m still learning and researching the best approach to diversifying my plots. This book has great insights that will help me as a writer as I progress into this complex area. Many of my characters are not ‘diverse’ like my leads, but there are techniques that Hay provides which will help them stand out as unique as well.

This book is timely and important so a guide that will be a stalwart on my desk as I now have both Kindle and paperback versions.

Utility – five stars

Content – five stars

Topicality – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Readability – five stars

Structure – five stars

Editing – five stars

Marred – a review

I’m still behind with my book reviews as my reading continues to be faster than my writing.

Lies, all lies: I keep getting distracted and wasting time with trivial pursuits. I’ve switched off my Kindle and shelved my next physical reads.

So, I’ve forced myself back to proper keyboard work. Maybe the reviews will get written now – and the Audible reads get caught up.

However, I’m ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 22 books read from my target of 35. So, I might make that target.

As for the other challenge, this will be my tenth Cloak and Dagger review of 2019; with three more to review. I should end up reading the 5-15 books that earn ‘Amateur sleuth’ title. The next grade matches my Welsh policewoman: 16-25 books – Detective. I have three more mystery/suspense/thriller/crime novels on my desk and more on my Kindle and Audible.

But I have ‘shelved’ books in other genres like historical, fantasy/SF, and alternative history. My other three outstanding reviews are one historical and one historical-fantasy – plus, a non-fiction writing guide.

So, back to the review:

Marred

(Grafton County #1)

By Sue Coletta

When a serial killer breaks into the home of bestselling author, Sage Quintano, she barely escapes with her life. Her husband, Niko, a homicide detective, insists they move to rural New Hampshire, where he accepts a position as Grafton County Sheriff. 

Sage buries secrets from that night—secrets she swears to take to her deathbed.

Three years of anguish and painful memories pass, and a grisly murder case lands on Niko’s desk. A strange caller torments Sage—she can’t outrun the past.

When Sage’s twin sister suddenly goes missing, Sage searches Niko’s case files and discovers similarities to the Boston killer. A sadistic psychopath is preying on innocent
women, marring their bodies in unspeakable ways. And now, he has her sister.

Cryptic clues. Hidden messages. Is the killer hinting at his identity? Or is he trying to lure Sage into a deadly trap to end his reign of terror with a matching set of corpses?

Review 4.4 stars

I was looking forward to reading this novel as I follow the author’s blog on crime. This was my genre and it’s a well-written and crafted novel. But I’m not sure I can take more graphic details though – even with the promise of corvids in the rest of the Grafton County series.

However, there was so much excellent elements that stood out and swept me along – most of the time.

The characters were memorable and complex. At the novel’s heart, bestselling author, Sage Quintano, who is living with the painful memories and secrets from three years earlier when a serial killer broke into her home. A past that drives her to resolve things for herself and to keep things from her husband.

Not easy when her husband, Niko is a homicide detective and Grafton County Sheriff. So, when a strange caller threatens her, she doesn’t tell Niko everything – enough to disturb me as the caller made rules about who to tell. I asked, ‘Will he ignore them too?’

Anyway, with a sadistic psychopath preying on innocent women, Niko has his own concerns – as do his team. The investigation with its clever introduction of forensics explores the evidence and the other officers.

The dynamic between the deputies is realistic, especially as promotion is at stake. I was rooting for Frankie, despite her ability to rub people up the wrong way. She was my kind of detective and I wanted more of her.

But we get more bodies marred in horrific ways instead. And more graphic detail which to me felt excessive. But that’s me and most readers will lap it up. It’s realistic and Sue Coletta’s knowledge of forensics and pathology is outstanding – and why I follow her blog.

It makes for a rollercoaster read, but I get scared on some rides and even in bloody movies. The other extreme from cringe cute cozies.

Back to Niko with all his problems – a sadistic psychopath, competing deputies, and Sage…

Despite his troubles, my reaction was, ‘Why are men so difficult?’ – we struggle to multi-task unlike women. I understood his frustration but wished he could do some lateral thinking.

Unlike Sage who joins the dots between the caller and the psychopath. And now, he has her twin sister, Chloe. Sage gets a clue to Chloe’s location and, as all mystery writers do, follows down the rabbit hole. But why? Distracted Sheriff husband? Her own secrets? The killer’s rules perhaps?

But I hesitated from reading on – like that moment in the horror movie when the teenager wanders off. Who was braver Sage or me? I eventually had to keep reading.

And the plot twists kept coming – in ways I never saw coming. The tension builds. The resolution and revelation of the psychopath are unexpected – and ingenious.

There is so much to look forward to in the ongoing Grafton County series with superb characters to savour. So, I would recommend this novel from an author that researches crime meticulously – even if I felt too swamped to tackle more gore for now.

Story – four stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – four stars

Readability – four stars

Editing – four stars

#IWSG – Trait Train

Created  and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, theInsecure Writer’s Support Groupmonthly blog post is here again – and so am I, insecure or maybe just ashamed.

Ashamed as my writing in June has been minimal: a few book reviews and my piece for the #JUNE #WEP/IWSG CHALLENGE – since the last IWSG monthly post. My excuse is that I’m still wading through a backlog of emails that fills up like sand.  Or is it my forays into Greece that distract?

Anyway, on to the question.

July 3 question: What personal traits have you written into your character(s)?

At first glance: none directly. My characters are somewhat different from me in terms of profession and in some cases gender. Those factors make their central distinguishing traits distinct from mine, although my protagonists tend to be tenacious – a trait in me that is stubborn if something needs to be done. Dogged.

Rose Gold Pendant –http://celticandwelshjewellery.co.uk/product/rose-gold-pendant-26/

I’m not my current MC, Sparkle Anwyl – even if Wales is where my heart is – but I admire the traits that make her a good detective. Her mind games like her mnemonics are a method I use to overcome the memory problems associated with multiple sclerosis. Mnemonics preceded Sparkle, but is it a trait?

No more than sneaking in horses where I can. That’s just a result of my last career move – equestrian journalist. Yes, I had to be dogged and focused for that. And Sparkle must stop her mind from pursuing rabbit holes. Focus.

I have snuck in a journalist or two. But careers are not traits, even if I use mine. I made Carly Tanner, the heroine of my equestrian mystery ‘Spiral of Hooves’ a staunch organic farming advocate. Organic food is a personal passion and drove an earlier career.

But maybe there is a trait there – a fervent commitment to a cause, whether green issues, horses, or justice. Fervour.

Even Norman, the protagonist of ‘Wyrm Bait’ – an unpublished gaming mystery – had a strange type of ‘dogged and focused fervour’ in the way he pursues the game objectives, the mystery girl from his game, and the antagonists. I suspect I wrote more of me into Norm than I would admit.

Now where did I bury that old wyrm-chewed manuscript?   

*

The awesome co-hosts for the July 3 posting of the IWSG are Erika Beebe, Natalie Aguirre, Jennifer Lane, MJ Fifield, Lisa Buie-Collard, and Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor!

(I so admire these guys as I know they have commitments too. Ticker-tape applause, please.)

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say. 


The Alice Network – a review

It’s frustrating as I’m still behind with my book reviews as my reading continues to be faster than my writing. However, I’m ahead in my 2019 Goodreads Challenge– 21 books now read from my target of 35.

As for reviews, this follows my review of The Huntress – my belated introduction to the brilliant Kate Quinn. I still have six more outstanding reviews as I finished reading another novel as I wrote that last review.

Oh well, I’m further behind reading emails so can’t panic – yet. So, onto the review.

The Alice Network

By Kate Quinn 

Narrated by: Saskia Maarleveld 

In an enthralling new historical novel from national bestselling author Kate Quinn, two women – a female spy recruited to the real-life Alice Network in France during World War I and an unconventional American socialite searching for her cousin in 1947 – are brought together in a mesmerizing story of courage and redemption. 

1947. In the chaotic aftermath of World War II, American college girl Charlie St. Clair is pregnant, unmarried, and on the verge of being thrown out of her very proper family. She’s also nursing a desperate hope that her beloved cousin Rose, who disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during the war, might still be alive. So when Charlie’s parents banish her to Europe to have her “little problem” taken care of, Charlie breaks free and heads to London, determined to find out what happened to the cousin she loves like a sister.

1915. A year into the Great War, Eve Gardiner burns to join the fight against the Germans and unexpectedly gets her chance when she’s recruited to work as a spy. Sent into enemy-occupied France, she’s trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies”, who manages a vast network of secret agents right under the enemy’s nose. 

Thirty years later, haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network, Eve spends her days drunk and secluded in her crumbling London house. Until a young American barges in uttering a name Eve hasn’t heard in decades, and launches them both on a mission to find the truth … no matter where it leads.

Review 5 stars

I bought the Audible version of ‘The Alice Network’ after reading Kate Quinn’s ‘The Huntress’ so knew I had to read more by this talented writer.

I was not disappointed. We weren’t…

My wife and I listened transfixed, not wanting to pause the excellent narration or the flow of crafted words. Kate Quinn at her best and deserving many more stars.

From the tantalising opening in 1947 with pregnant, unmarried, American college girl Charlie St. Clair remembering her beloved cousin Rose, we were pulled into this intricately crafted tale that spans two World Wars. Rose disappeared in Nazi-occupied France during WWII, but the key might be Eve Gardiner, who is haunted by the betrayal that ultimately tore apart the Alice Network of secret agents, thirty years earlier during WWI.

Eve was sent into enemy-occupied France and was trained by the mesmerizing Lili, the “Queen of Spies,” who uses the pseudonym of Alice Dubois – hence the network’s name. Her story and her memories of that period are woven into the ongoing story once Eve and Rose meet – well, a clash of opposites…experiences versus youthful recklessness. A clash that needs to be resolved.

After the betrayal during WWI, Eve escaped into drink, but in1947, Charlie persuades her – mentioning a significant name, René Bordelon – to embark on a mission to find the truth … no matter where it leads. During that journey, we gradually discover more about Charlie’s relationship with Rose, and more about Eve as she recounts her traumatic career as a spy.

Two other characters play vital roles in that ‘present day’ story: Finn Kilgore, the Scotsman and ex-soldier who looks after Eve. The second character proves to be his Lagonda LG6 in which he drives Eve around and then in which he takes Eve and Charlie on their mission of discovery. Finn obsesses about the car, nurses it through its mechanical problems – but he is a mechanic and more. Plus, he is the second Scotsman in Eve’s life – the first, Captain Cameron recruited her as a secret agent.

How Eve’s relationship with Cameron is resolved parallels Charlie’s involvement with Finn. One of many parallels and contrasts between the two women that weave through the book. Not least René Bordelon, the antagonist that ties together all the evils of both wars – even if he attempts to justify himself.

René is as complex as the other main characters. Cultured or at least coveting the trappings he acquires or desires. His favourite poet – he quotes him obsessively – Baudelaire adds a clever twist in what Lili calls her spies. A phrase echoed by Eve.

“Fleurs du mal,” Eve heard herself saying, and shivered.

“What?”

“Baudelaire. We are not flowers to be plucked and shielded, Captain. We are flowers who flourish in evil.”

Lili is another complex character and Eve’s mentor, friend and confidante. Lili, whose real name is revealed as Louise de Bettignies, was an actual person as was her Alice Network. This true-life story is skilfully told from Eve’s point of view and impacts on the unfolding novel, changing lives over time.

On first meeting Eve – through Charlie’s eyes – she doesn’t appear to be anything like the young determined woman who becomes a spy in 1915. In other novels, I would suspect not – and there have been great examples of switched identities. But not here. Kate Quinn shows how and why the young Eve became the embittered drunk – and yet there are plenty of glimmers of the young Eve under the surface.

Thus, I understood her brief appearance in ‘The Huntress’ – although I hadn’t known who she was.

 “She used to do something unbelievably vague in British intelligence, and people like that are rather good at observing things.”

However, I will say no more about such meetings. There are so many tragic twists as the tale unfolds and I won’t spoil them. Just believe me when I say this story is brilliant – great writing and excellent narration.

Narrated by Saskia Maarleveld, this Audible version was an engaging listen. Saskia is able to make every character distinctive – helped by the first-class writing. She brings emotion and pacing to her narration that earns her five stars. Now we’ve finished listening to ‘The Alice Network’, we will listen to the author’s excellent ‘The Huntress’ as they share the same superb narrator.

Five-star recommend doesn’t do ‘The Alice Network’ justice. So, I’m handing the last few sentences to a talented author whose research is meticulous.

“Clearly, women in active fighting zones unsettled their contemporaries, but they still left a legacy behind. Girls of the ’30s and ’40s joined the SOE to train as spies against the Nazis because they had been inspired by books and stories about women like Louise de Bettignies—and they weren’t inspired by her feminine graces. They were inspired by her courage, her toughness, and her unflinching drive, just as I imagined Charlie being inspired by Eve’s. Such women were fleurs du mal indeed—with steel, with endurance, and with flair, they thrived in evil and inspired others in doing so.”


― Kate Quinn talking about The Alice Network

Story – five stars

Setting/World-building – five stars

Characters – five stars

Authenticity – five stars

Structure – five stars

Narration – five stars

Editing – five stars

And if you are interested to read more about The Alice Network: https://www.readinggroupguides.com/reviews/the-alice-network

AND

https://www.bookcompanion.com/the_alice_network_links2.html

And for the real Louise de Bettignies: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louise_de_Bettignies

#IWSG – Favoured Genre

Created  and hosted by the Ninja Captain himself, Alex J. Cavanaugh, theInsecure Writer’s Support Groupmonthly blog post is here again – and so am I.

I’m still recovering from the A to Z month and INSECURE as I have a shrinking backlog of emails/blog posts, reviews to write, as well as the final few WRiTE CLUB rounds, plus short stories to write.

These include an entry for the 2019 IWSG Anthology – another Insecurity. I’m going to write outside my comfort zone as the requirement is: Genre: Middle Grade Historical – Adventure/Fantasy. Sounds great. Middle Grade – I’ve never tried. Historical – I read so okay. Adventure – check. Fantasy – check. But together? What sort of genre is that?

Theme is no problem as ‘Voyagers’ can be interpreted lots of ways. I even have two historical ideas, but they aren’t fantasy as such – not yet.

I’m going to read The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell as it’s MG. It’s MG, historical, and fantasy – according to Goodreads – and it’s on my desk. But I’m unclear whether my ideas fit ‘Historical – Adventure/Fantasy’. More research?

Katherine Arden’s The Bear and the Nightingale as a read might fit, and it’s on my bookshelf – but it’s YA not MG.

Lots of reading ahead whatever path I tread.

Anyway, on to this month’s question.

June 5 question: Of all the genres you read and write, which is your favourite to write in and why?

Interesting question as I read multiple genres: mystery/crime/thriller; historical; alternative history; fantasy; science fiction/speculative; post-apocalyptic. Over the decades, I’ve tried to write most of those.

But – for now – I come back to crime. Crime in the sense of my police procedural series, Snowdon Shadows.

Why? As my protagonist, Sparkle Anwyl is a fascinating character to write – quirky and a detective with her unique approach to solving crime. Plus, my heart is back in North Wales, where the series is set.

Yes, there are other draft novels in different genres. But Sparkle and duty calls.

*

The awesome co-hosts for the June 5 posting of the IWSG are Diane Burton,Kim Lajevardi,Sylvia Ney,Sarah Foster,Jennifer Hawes, and Madeline Mora-Summonte!

Purpose of IWSG: To share and encourage. Writers can express doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds!

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.

Posting: The first Wednesday of every month is officially Insecure Writer’s Support Group day. Post your thoughts on your own blog. Talk about your doubts and the fears you you have conquered. Discuss your struggles and triumphs. Offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. Visit others in the group and connect with your fellow writer – aim for a dozen new people each time – and return comments. This group is all about connecting!

Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG.

Every month, we announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG post. These questions may prompt you to share advice, insight, a personal experience or story. Include your answer to the question in your IWSG post or let it inspire your post if you are struggling with something to say.