Friday, September 30, 2011

Lessons From the Shark

Everything we know about queries, we learned from a shark.

This seemed like such a great idea on the surface
A shark, you would think, would be the last place one would look for advice. I mean, they're vicious, and ruthless, and the only way they can communicate with you is by biting you. Not the best teachers, right?

Wrong. Vicious is good. And ruthless is great. Let me introduce you to the Query Shark.

A blog created by NY literary agent extraordinaire Janet Reid, Query Shark takes queries and viciously rips them to shreds. And then follows the ripping with sage advice and vaguely shark-themed non-sequitors, such as "Thanks for being my chum!" It's like she's some kind of half-shark-half-human mutant or something.

Oh for...Goddammit Google Image Search! Can you leave at least one part of my brain untraumatized?!?
The thing I love about Janet is that she doesn't mince words. She minces bones, and tendons, but not words. If your query sucks, she'll tell you that, and then she'll tell you exactly why. This is not the place for people who say they want a critique but secretly want to be told how great they are. Query Shark will eat you alive.

And she just might make you publishable.

We're not going to lie. It took awhile. We read that blog like crazy, pouring over every entry, studying every critique like it was God's gift to writing. But even then it didn't work the first time.

I guess the shark just wasn't biting that day.

I mean, it was bad. No bites. Not even a nibble. And in one case, we may have accidentally killed one of the agents.

Going back to Query Shark was really hard after that, but we couldn't stay away for long. And good thing we did, because then we found this:
It was so unique, so original, so completely out-of-the-box, we almost wet ourselves after reading it. After that, Josin L. McQuein became our hero.

She made us realize that we've been going about it all wrong. We were way too wrapped up with following the rules, getting all the details right, and making it work that we forgot about the most important rule.

Hook the reader.

Like this, but with words instead of jail time
We killed our query. Started from scratch. And this time, we decided to throw all rules out the window. We decided that this time, we were going to come up with a hook so strong, they'd HAVE to read it.

And guess what? It worked!

Update: After 5 years of hard work, we finally signed with an agent!!!

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

appy weekend folks!  And happy October too.  I suspect a lot of us in Britain are enjoying the unseasonably hot weather - personally, I'm retreating to the shade with paracetamol, but I'll try not to begrudge heat-seekers their (literal) day in the sun.  I shall even add to their bounty with a book, a blog post, and a link.

1.) The link - is a rather amusing video from an old TV programme What's My Line?  For those not in the know, this ran in the 50s and 60s, where panellists had to deduce the occupations of guests, and then the identity of a mystery famous guest.  In this case the guest is Salvador Dali, and his self-belief makes the exchange especially funny.  The video is below and, if that doesn't work, the link is here.

2.) The book - is slightly unusual territory for me.  I don't think I've ever read a graphic novel, but I am very captivated by what I've seen of Brecht Evens' The Wrong Place, kindly sent to me by Jonathan Cape.  Besides Evens' astonishingly good name, I love the style of his artistry.  At the moment that is all I know about this book... perhaps the cover and an illustration from inside will be enough to captivate you too.  (The illustration is taken from Evens' own flickr set for The Wrong Place here.)  It's not published until Oct0ber 20th, and I will report back further in the future...

3.) The blog post - has to be Sakura's review of We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson - how lovely that she is reading some of my favourite books this year, and even lovelier that she's enjoying them so much!  But do also keep up with Darlene's wonderful travel-log (travelogue?) of her time in London.  I think I'm going to be in the next instalment, so there's an incentive ;) 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Happy 25th, Bloomsbury!

Firstly, I'm so pleased by your enthusiasm for my A Century of Books project!  It really is the anti-challenge challenge - in that I shan't be making a list beforehand, I shan't make many rules, I shan't really even pick books for it, it'll just quietly fill up as the year goes by... I hope!  I'll certainly be including re-reads and multiple books by the same authors, etc. etc., but I think it should be really fun.  I'm really excited about those of you who want to join in, and feel free to do so over the course of one, two, however many years - or maybe just keep a closer eye on the publication years of the books you read?

asks whether I could give some suggestions for books to read from the first half of the 20th century - oh, Jo, I am going to have the MOST fun doing that!  I'll try and compile something, and post it soon - but for some ideas, there are really, really wonderful lists by Lizzy and Every Book and Cranny (sorry, can't find your name!) 

So I'll try and work out a list of ones I already have read, but not a list for what I will read.  And then I'll be probably keep quiet on the topic until the end of the year...

And now for something completely different.  Have I mentioned how much I love Bloomsbury publishers?  Well, I really do.  Not only have they printed the wonderful Bloomsbury Group series, thus bringing Miss Hargreaves back into print (there you go, Dad, a mention of it!) and the upcoming Bloomsbury Reader e-reprints (more on those uber-soon, promise) but they happen to be the most friendly publishing company in the world.  I've met lots of lovely publishing folk, and (besides being universally impossibly glamorous) they've all been very nice - but Bloomsbury go the extra mile.  Alice, my 'contact' there, sends me the catalogue with her own inscriptions and suggestions - as well as exchanging emails about cats and baking disasters etc.

Well, today (yesterday by now, I suppose) I went to Bloomsbury's 25th Birthday Party!  I had arranged to meet up with Elaine (Random Jottings) and Karen (Cornflower) both of whom I've met a fair few times before, and both of whom it is always an utter delight to see.  There they are above; apologies for the blurry photo.  And how glad I was to be with them when we arrived at a huge party in Bedford Square - actually in the square, or rather the garden in the middle.  Big marquee, lots and lots of people - and us, staring at name-tags to try and find our Bloomsbury friends.  In the meantime, we celeb-spotted, and all got in a bit of a tizzy about seeing Paul Hollywood from The Great British Bake-Off.  Goodness!  Also spotted Grayson Perry, Raymond Blanc, Heston Blumenthal, and (I think) P.D. James.

But we were most excited about meeting Stephanie and Alice, the two people at Bloomsbury who have been so lovely to all three of us for the past four or so years.  And of course both of them are totally lovely in person too - we hugged, we were introduced as the most important bloggers in the country (doubtless not true, but how nice to be introduced thus!) and I even managed to whisper how nice it would be to have a copy of the latest Magnus Mills novel. 

I am much worse than many bloggers at reading review copies - I tend to squirrel myself off to the 1930s and ignore a lot of what's going on in the 2010s - because I want my blog to reflect my reading tastes, and I think that's why the people who do read my blog are here (yes? :)) so I'm very grateful to Bloomsbury and other publishers for still keeping me in mind, and being so friendly.  I was so surprised to be invited to this shindig, and delighted to accept - it was good fun, and even worth the horribly hot, overcrowded train journey I had home....!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Waiting on Wednesday # 66 - The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My pick:

Summary from Goodreads
Sherry and her family have lived sealed in a bunker in the garden since things went wrong up above. Her grandfather has been in the freezer for the last three months, her parents are at each other’s throats and two minutes ago they ran out of food.

Sherry and her father leave the safety of the bunker and find a devastated and empty LA, smashed to pieces by bombs and haunted by ‘Weepers’ - rabid humans infected with a weaponized rabies virus.

While searching for food in a supermarket, Sherry’s father disappears and Sherry is saved by Joshua, a boy-hunter. He takes her to Safe-haven, a tumble-down vineyard in the hills outside LA, where a handful of other survivors are picking up the pieces of their ‘other lives’. As she falls in love for the first time, Sherry must save her father, stay alive and keep Joshua safe when his desire for vengeance threatens them all.
The Other Life by Susanne Winnacker
February 1st, 2012 by Usborne

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A Century of Books

I tend not to participate in reading challenges, simply because I like to be spontaneous with my reading choices - well, as spontaneous as someone who does a full-time university course and belongs to three book groups can be.  It's relatively rare that I can just grab something off my shelf for pleasure-reading alone, and it's incredibly un-rare that I buy books.  You do the sums...

BUT I have decided to set myself a challenge for 2012 - one which I can't really envisage myself completing, but which will be fun to try.  I want to read (and hopefully review) a book published in every year of the 20th century.  I'm calling it A Century of Books

Why, you ask?  Partly out of the simple pleasure of a list, and to have (at the end of 2012) a very selective glance at the course of the 20th century.  And partly to make me diversify my reading a little bit - currently the 70s, 80s and 90s are rather neglected in my reading life.  But it's the sort of challenge that I'll be doing without really noticing that I'm doing it - hopefully most of the years will fill up as a happy coincidence to my everyday reading choices.  (It has dawned on me as I write this that similar challenges might already exist... oh well, there is nothing new under the sun, and the more the merrier!)

So, this will probably basically involve reading what I like until the autumn, when I panic and start filling in gaps...

I'll set up an ongoing list, which I'll link to whenever I read a book for A Century of Books, so hopefully the enjoyment won't be all mine.  Indeed, I'd be delighted if other people wanted to join in - are you interested? 

Feel free to use my logo for A Century of Books, or make your own - I imagine lots of you are more graphic-savvy than I am. 
(My selection won't necessarily - or even probably - include the books in the above picture.  I just picked books at random and put them in a vaguely chronological order...)

So... 1900-1999, here I come.  Or, rather, I will in three months' time, when 2012 gets around to starting... let me know if you'll be on board!  

Monday, September 26, 2011

quick question for Blogger users...

I've recently updated to the new user interface of Blogger (which shouldn't change the way you read posts, just the way I write them) - but, oddly, it has now made all my gaps between lines double in size.  So when I press 'enter' it looks like I've pressed it once in the draft, but appears as though I'd pressed it twice... anybody able to help?

Books, books, books...

One or two of you have asked about my spoils from last Wednesday, when I gave Claire an entirely altruistic tour of some London bookshops... ahem.  Let's gloss over the fact that, thinking about her baggage allowance, she only bought four books to my nineteen (plus two for other people).  Here they are, and I am enjoying have a camera which will takes a non-horribly-blurry photo of amassed books.  Let's take a gander at them, in a vaguely left-to-right manner, in rows...

Red Sky at Morning by Margaret Kennedy : I seem to remember this was on a list of books about twins that abebooks published a while ago?  Does anybody know anything about this?  I haven't read a word by Kennedy yet.  This came from the lovely Ripping Yarns bookshop, where I had the chance to say hello to shop manager Jen
Awakenings by Oliver Sacks : this is my token non-literary book of the haul.  I'm a fan of Sachs', and I enjoyed Harold Pinter's plays based on these cases - where people were awakened from years of being in a coma.

Diaries and Letters 1930-39 by Harold Nicholson : as Darlene said, the dates alone would make me want to grab this book - but combine that with Vita Sackville-West's husband on the cover, and I couldn't leave it behind.

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset : this is a hideous cover but a book I've been intending to secure for a while.  It came from an astonishing little shop (pictured below) near Archway tube station, run by an ancient Irish gentleman.  Books were piled at least forty high, in twelve stacks (four wide; three deep).  Teetering is the word.  Claire and I worked our way through as many as we could see without covering the floor, furniture and ourselves in paperbacks...

The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes : I don't know much about this Persephone book, but I was lucky enough to come across one I don't have for only £3 in the wonderful Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange.  Indeed, most of these books came from there...

Mr. Tasker's Gods by T.F. Powys : I greatly enjoyed Mr. Weston's Good Wine and have been hoping to find this one for a while - finding it in this lovely Chatto & Windus edition was rather a treat.

The Topsy Chronicles by A.P. Herbert : while I know APH's name from A.A. Milne's autobiography and other similar sources, I haven't actually read anything by him.  These look good fun, and (as a bonus) I discovered APH had signed and given this book himself.  I love it when these things happen...

Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald : I've had luck finding these beautiful editions...
The Golden Child by Penelope Fitzgerald : ...and here's another!  Which Penelope Fitzgerald should I read next?

Let The Great World Spin by Colum McCann : I've heard good things about this novel, and wasn't about to leave it behind with a pricetag of fifty pence... (have I mentioned how much I love Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange?)

The Mandelbaum Gate by Muriel Spark : how many more Spark novels am I going to stumble across??  The woman seems to have been unstoppable.

Don't Look Round by Violet Trefusis : having loved her novel Echo earlier in the year, I was more than happy to add to my Bloomsbury Group library.

Here's How by Virginia Graham : this is the book I was most excited about - indeed, I've already started it, and it's hilarious.  I adored her faux-etiquette guide Say Please a couple of years ago, and this one is a faux-instruction guide.  So far I've read How To Sing, How To Dance, and How To Play the Piano.  It would be going too far to say I've learnt anything practical, but I've certainly laugh.  I'll quote some for you all soon...

The Celestial Omnibus by E.M. Forster : I read the title story from this collection when it was published by Penguin in their short story series, and now I'm keen to read some more.  And such a nice little edition...

Fair Stood the Wind for France by H.E. Bates : chivvied on by Lyn's recent review, I grabbed this when I saw it on the shelf.  This'll be my first Bates...

The Devastating Boys by Elizabeth Taylor : I've heard all-round good things about this collection, not least in Nicola Beauman's biography of Taylor - and which of us Virago-fans can resist a VMC?

My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin : see above...

Across the Common by Elizabeth Berridge : this is the other book I bought in Ripping Yarns, on the basis that Berridge is a Persephone author.  Not that I've read anything by her yet...  Pictured above are the beautiful shelves in Ripping Yarns, which made me go a ltitle weak at the knees...

Stately as a Galleon by Joyce Grenfell : I need a little more Joyce in my life.  This might be my next dip-in dip-out book...

So, there you go!  As always, I want to hear your thoughts - on which books you've enjoyed, or think you would enjoy, etc. etc.  Over to you!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac

This post title could easily be a confessional moment for me, couldn't it?  Well, fear not, we won't be delving into anything too untoward today - rather we'll be turning back the clock to 1896 and discovering that an irrational love of books is nothing new.  For it was over a century ago that Eugene Field's posthumous book The Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac was published, and it feels like a century ago (although it is in fact only two years) since my friend Sherry kindly gave me the book.

I should explain, before you wonder how tawdry this Victorian reader was, that the love affairs are strictly of the literary variety.  Mr. Field was a single man up until his death, but his love affairs with books were as lively and happy as many marriages.  

Initially I thought Field and I would have little in common - since he died before the end of the 19th century, he necessarily could not have encountered many of my favourite writers - and, even with the 19th century stretching out behind him, he makes no mention of Jane Austen, and only scant whispers of Hardy and Dickens.  Instead he reserves his fondest passions for Boccaccio and others of that ilk.  He quotes reams in Latin and Greek.  And he cares deeply about fine volumes from centuries ago, beautiful bindings, and the scarcity and value within a library.  I, on the other hand, don't.  I love having books signed by some of my favourite authors (including E.M. Delafield, Rose Macaulay, and Dorothy Whipple) but aside from that, I don't care whether a book is a first edition or a scruffy reprint - except for unrelated issues of aesthetics.  I'd rather have an attractive reprint from the 1980s than an ugly 1880s first edition.

So I settled down into Field's company, expecting to enjoy the lust of a collector with the same detached interest that I read Wolf Mankowitz's excellent novella Make Me An Offer about hunting down a valuable antique vase.  But then I found Eugene Field writing things like this:
Books, books, books - give me ever more books, for they are the caskets wherein we find the immortal expressions of humanity - words, the only things that live forever!
and this:

As for myself, I never go away from home that I do not take a trunkful of books with me, for experience has taught me that there is no companionship better than that of these friends, who, however much all things else may vary, always give the same response to my demand upon their solace and cheer.  My sister, Miss Susan, has often inveighed against this practice of mine, and it was only yesterday that she informed me that I was the most exasperating man in the world.

not to mention this:

All men are not as considerate of books as I am; I wish they were.  Many times I have felt the deepest compassion for noble volumes in the possession of persons wholly incapable of appreciating them.  The helpless books seemed to appeal to me to rescue them, and too many times I have been tempted to snatch them from their inhospitable shelves, and march them away to a pleasant refuge beneath my own comfortable roof tree.
A kindred spirit!  A fellow bibliomaniac, indeed!  No matter that the biblios he maniacked were centuries-old copies of Latin poets whilst mine are 1930s novels by middleclass British women, we are singing from the same song-sheet.  This collection of essays is a bit like other Stuck-in-a-Book favourites like Susan Hill's Howards End is on the Landing and Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris, in that it bubbles over with a love for books and reading.  

Field's collection of essays starts off quite generally, with the sort of sentiments quoted above, before getting increasingly specific.  Since our tastes diverge so greatly, it was the more general sections which I truly loved.  I wanted to reach out, across the entire 20th century dividing us, and shake his hand.  The beautiful essays at the beginning of this volume, tastefully over-written in the paradoxical way which so inimitably belongs to the 1890s, touch so closely at the shared love of literature we all have.  They could have been blog posts.  For even if his books are valuable, he does not appreciate them simply as valuable objects, as though books were no different from ornaments or houses or bank vaults.  As he says:
There are very many kinds of book collectors, but I think all may be grouped in three classes, viz.: Those who collect from vanity; those who collect for the benefits of learning; those who collect through a veneration and love for books.  It is not unfrequent that men who begin to collect books merely to gratify their personal vanity find themselves presently so much in love with the pursuit that they become collectors in the better sense.
I doubt many of us have, or want, valuable libraries - but I think many of us can empathise with the assembly of a book-collection which comes from 'veneration and love for books'.  And there is one manner in which Field is simply a blogger ahead of his time.  I, with Project 24 under my belt, did have to laugh at this:
Whenever Judge Methuen is in a jocular mood and wishes to tease me, he asks me whether I have forgotten the time when I was possessed of a spirit of reform and registered a solemn vow in high heaven to buy no more books.  Teasing, says Victor Hugo, is the malice of good men; Judge Methuen means no evil when he recalls that weakness - the one weakness in all my career.
No, I have not forgotten that time; I look back upon it with a shudder of horror, for wretched indeed would have been my existence had I carried into effect the project I devised at that remote period!
Oh, Eugene!  There is a place for you in the blogosphere.  How many of us have had this absurd intention, and how few of us have seen it through?  And even fewer of us regret this decision!

Thank you, Sherry, for sending this book to such an amenable bookshelf, and to so kindred a spirit.  I hope this blog post will send Eugene Field to many other appreciative libraries around the world.

A word of warning.  There are lots of unattractive print-on-demand copies dotted around, and it can be difficult to find the pre-1900 editions on bookselling websites, even though they're actually pretty affordable once you track them down.  To save you some time, they're here on and (cheaper) here on

In My Mailbox # 44

In My Mailbox is a weekly bookish meme hosted @ The Story Siren

Not much, but wow, I won it from the author and want to read it so much! :)

What did you get this week?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Song for a Sunday

Have a great Sunday, everyone, and whilst you're doing that, why not listen to Come On by Princess & Mr. Tom, featuring Elin Ruth Sigvardsson?

Happy Sunday!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Banned Books Week Hop (Giveaway)

I don't believe in banning books (or anything at all). I believe that we are capable of thinking for ourselves and we are able (and have the right) to choose what we want to read/see/think/believe.

The Banned Books Week is basically a week where readers decide to defend their right to read whatever they want. It's the perfect week to decide four yourself it you want to read read that book some people is tying to challenge or ban...
Intellectual freedom—the freedom to access information and express ideas, even if the information and ideas might be considered unorthodox or unpopular—provides the foundation for Banned Books Week. BBW stresses the importance of ensuring the availability of unorthodox or unpopular viewpoints for all who wish to read and access them. More information about the Banned Books Week here.
I'm sure there is a lot to say about this topic. But I think if all can be resumed with this question: Are you the yellow eyed robot or the blue eyed robot?

Giveaway: One person will win 10$ to buy a banned book from Amazon or The Book Depository. It's open to everyone and ends 10/1.

In order to be eligible you have to leave a comment about a banned book you want to read, and fill out the form below.

If you're not sure about which books are being challenge, here is a list.

More giveaways:

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Happy weekend, everyone.  I'm tucked up in bed, feeling better than yesterday but not quite fighting fit just yet.  But fit enough to give you a link, a blog post, and a book.  In fact, as a special treat, let's have two each of all of 'em... and a question for you too.  

Does anyone have any tips for finding out when people link to your blog?  I use Google Alerts, which used to be quite good, but now don't seem to turn up many results - often I find blog posts have linked to me, and I've been unaware of it.  Occasionally I check Technorati, which catches some of them, but I'd like an alerts service that actually does the job....?

1.) The blogs - two whole new-to-me blogs this week, rather than just blog posts!   Firstly, Helen at A Gallimaufry - she's been going for a while, but somehow I've only just spotted her blog.  It has a lovely scrap-booky feel, with beautiful archive photos surrounding her insightful reviews.  How could I not love a blog which has featured reviews of The Love Child and The Skin Chairs?  Go and have a gander.

And secondly, my friend Barbara - my e-friend, that is, whom I've known online for seven years - has finally succumbed and set up this rather beautiful photo-orientated blog, Mi Lady's Boudoir.  Travels and photos and books and delectable things like that.

2.) The books - are both review copies, and rather from the sublime to the ridiculous.  The sublime, from Frances Lincoln publishers, is Enthusiasms by Mark Girouard.  It's a collection of the unusual minutiae of literary exploration, from a neglected clue to Jane Austen's first love affair to the location of Waugh's Brideshead, stopping off at SiaB favourites like Oscar Wilde and Vita Sackville-West.  This one's going to be fun.

But perhaps not as much fun, and certainly not as much guilty pleasure, as the book Michael O'Mara Books sent me - Brendan Sheerin: My Life.  For those not in the know, Brendan is the (international) tour guide on one of my favourite TV programmes - Coach Trip.  It's the world's most budget reality TV programme, utter rubbish but completely compelling.  Friends come around and we watch seven episodes at a time.  This book will doubtless prove as guiltily entertaining.

3.) The links - are both of a bookish nature, quelle surprise.  Lyndsay pointed me in the direction of this - Esquire have named 75 Books Every Man Should Read.  Oddly all but one of them are by men.  Methinks they got confused about Carson McCullers...  Naturally I think this is probably all quite silly, from the idea that men should read different books from women to the idea that men should only read books by men (and Carson McCullers).  But I loves me a list, and couldn't resist it.

Speaking of lists... Laura of Guardian Books sent me a link to their Power 100.  Also clearer list etc. here.  It's the hundred most powerful people in books, including booksellers, authors, publishers, agents... and nary a blogger in sight, which isn't really entirely surprising.

So, twice as many goodies as usual there.  I'm off to bed with a book...

Book Review: The Perfect Play by Jaci Burton

Title: The Perfect Play
Author: Jaci Burton
Series: Play by Play #1
Release Date: February 1st 2011
Publisher: Berkley
Age: Adult
Football pro Mick Riley is an all-star, both on the field and in the bedroom. But a sexy, determinedly single mom just might be the one to throw him off his game…
For years Mick has been taking full advantage of the life available to a pro athlete: fame, fortune, and a different girl in every city. But when he meets and beds confident, beautiful event planner Tara Lincoln, he wants much more than the typical one-night stand. Too bad Tara’s not interested in getting to know football’s most notorious playboy any better.
As the single mother of a teenage son, the last thing Tara needs is the jet-set lifestyle of Mick Riley; even though their steamy and passionate one-night stand was unforgettable. Tara’s life is complicated enough without being thrust into the spotlight as Mick’s latest girl du jour. Tara played the game of love once and lost big, and she doesn’t intend to put herself out there again, especially with a heartbreaker like Mick.
But when Mick sets his mind to win, nothing will stop him. And he has the perfect play in mind.
OMG! This book is hot! And not only for the cover ;)

The Perfect Play is the story of Mick and Tara. Mick is a football star, with a rocking body but a really sweet heart. One night at an event, he met Tara, the cute event planner and instantly likes her. After a hot night at his suite, he ins't ready to let her go, but Tara has other plans.

Tara is a single mother, and a successful event planner. She barely has time for herself, between work and her son. But when Mick seems interested in her, she decides to give herself only one night with the hot football star.

Tara was a little bit complicated for me. She had so many issues from her past, but at the same time she moved on and now is having a very good life. But she kept pushing away Mick, which I didn't really understand. I mean, Mick is sweet, hot, millionaire and he loves her!

Mick at fist seemed to be a casanova, but he's actually a very sweet/good man. He has some secrets from his past, but nothing so bad that I couldn't like him. Also, I loved how good he was with Tara's son. But Mick is HOT stuff on bed. And I mean it. He isn't a good boy when he's with Tara, he's just in flames! Their romance scenes are not for women who might faint...

Overall, I really liked The Perfect Play. I'm planning to continue reading this series, and learn what's going to happen with Mick's brothers. As I said before, Tara didn't totally convince me (really girl, Mick has everything!), but I was happy with their ending.

More about this book at www.jaciburton.comGoodreads, Amazon, The Book Depository.

Cold in da doze...

Sorry not to reply to comments yet, there have been some very lovely ones which made me feel all warm inside, and also very lucky to have met such wonderful bloggers (oh, and Rachel, the Edith Wharton came from the previous day, otherwise I'd have offered it to you first!) but right now I'm feeling all sorry for myself, with a cold.  I know, man flu man flu... I must confess I'm good at feeling sorry for myself, but I'm also good at being proactive about it - I have bought most of the Boots medicine counter, and made myself a big saucepan of carrot and coriander soup to see me through the next couple of days.

So I'm getting lots of early nights at the moment - will come back and tell you about the twenty (!!) books I bought on Wednesday when I'm feeling more alive.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Five Stages of Rejection

Hey there, Internet Audience. As regular readers (all two of you) may remember, a while ago we began sending out queries to agents for the first time. It did not go well. And to all the other aspiring writers out there who will probably have to go through the same experience we did, I'd like to take a moment to talk about what that actually felt like.

Dealing with rejection is a strange experience. I mean, Kristy and I have had to deal with setbacks before, but not like this. This was an entire industry clucking their tongues, shaking their heads, and saying "Nope. Not good enough." This was an entirely different monster.

And you know what's weird? What we went through while dealing with this seemed oddly familiar. Like something we vaguely remembered learning about before, but neither of us could put a finger on it. Until today. So today, I'd like to present to you, Internet Audience: The Five Stages of Dealing Rejection.

Stage One: Denial
"No, they can't mean that! They must have just misunderstood my query or something! Or maybe they got my email address mixed up with someone else! Their rejection can't possibly mean that I'm a bad writer!"
It's amazing how quickly this stage sets in. Literally seconds after reading those rejections, these thoughts started forming. And I guess, in a way, that's everyone's initial reaction to bad news. The instinct to rub your eyes, pinch yourself, and convince yourself that it's just a bad dream. It kind of felt like floating in a bubble of blissful, willful ignorance.

It didn't last, though. That's the thing about bubbles. They all burst.

Stage Two: Anger
This is the part where we got all mad and indignant. HOW DARE THEY REJECT ME! THEY DON'T KNOW WHAT THEY'RE TALKING ABOUT.

It happens to the best of us. We promised ourselves that we wouldn't go to that place, but all that did was make it even more surprising when we got there. There's no magical secret to making this stage go away. It's all emotional. It ends when it ends. The only thing we found that we actually had any control over whatsoever was how we dealt with it. And if there's one piece of advice we can give to other aspiring writers going through this, it's this: Never burn any bridges.

I immediately regret this decision
Just like in a job, just like in relationships, just like in life. Never, ever sit down and pen that angry profanity-laden diatribe that tells the other person exactly what you think of them. It never works out well.

Stage Three: Bargaining
Ah, the bargaining. It's the part where we started asking ourselves "What if I do this? Will that fix it?"

Unlike the last stage, this part we wanted to last as long as possible. Because for us, this is when we stopped being dreamers and started being writers. Because those rose coloured glasses we'd been wearing? Gone. Smashed. Destroyed.
Goddammit! I liked those!
This stage forced us to take a cold, hard look at our story and that's when we finally realized it.

Something doesn't work.

By no means was this an easy thing to do. Not by a long shot. But it's incredibly useful. Because a manuscript or a query, no matter how flawed, always looks perfect when viewed in the warm, flickering candle-light of delusion. Only in the harsh, flourescent light of rejection do the flaws become obvious.

And BOY do those flaws become obvious. It's actually amazing how obvious they are! Things we found "cute" and "clever" in our query all of a sudden revealed themselves for what they were: two-ton anchors weighing the thing down. And that's when we realized something.

It's the Bargaining. The Bargaining that we did with Reality. That's when we grew.

Stage Four: Depression
This part? Not fun. Not fun AT ALL. This is the part when we started thinking: Maybe we're not good enough. Maybe we'll never be good enough. Maybe we were never meant to be writers.

Why doesn't anyone like my story about robot cowboys set in old-timey England?
Those thoughts were toxic. Those thoughts were poison. And, like the Anger Stage, there wasn't a whole lot we could do to shorten this part. But, like the Anger Stage, what we could control is that we didn't do something stupid.

Something stupid like quit. Something stupid like give up. Because the next part's coming up...

Stage Five: Acceptance Rebound
Now, I know, I know. Normally, this stage is called Acceptance. Because this is supposed to be the part where we decide to accept things that you can't change. But this is the one part where we depart from the Norm and forge our own path.

This is the part where we picked ourselves off the ground, dusted ourselves off, and threw ourselves back into the fight. Now, it's a saying that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. But this was different.

Because we're not the same person anymore. We've grown. We've learned. And maybe, just maybe, we're slightly better writers now. So we're going to hit the ground running, and we're going to run even harder and faster than the first time. Because that's the last thing they're going to expect.
Awww, I'm so sad and dejected and BOOM! WEREN'T EXPECTING THAT, WERE YOU?!?
How about you? Have you ever had to deal with rejection?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Will I ever get enough of London? (yes... that's enough now)

(Thanks to those of you who expressed interest in receiving a copy of my paper - I'm not ignoring you, will email off Thurs evening!)

Wow, if you thought I bought a lot of books at the weekend, wait til you see how many I got on Wednesday with Claire (who, remembering her luggage allowance, was rather more circumspect).  That's for another day, though.  For today I'll just show off this photo of me meeting Claire (taken by Darlene - who joined us for dinner, giving me the delight of seeing her twice in one week.)

Tonight, tired, and having succumbed to the inevitable cold (all my housemates have it - it was only a matter of time) I just wanted to write a quick question...

This is to all the bloggers who have met other bloggers in person.  I can say, without hesitation, that all the bloggers I've met have been lovely, Claire being (of course) no exception.  But what does change quite a lot is how similar or different they are to/from how I imagined them.  Some bloggers - perhaps especially Karen and Thomas - were exactly how I'd envisioned them.  Others, while lovely, were lovely in a whole other way that I'd anticipated.

I've been lucky - I've met probably 30-35 bloggers in person (I'll have to do a proper count sometime) so I can make these sorts of statements - but I'd love for you to answer, if you can!  How have your face-to-face blogger-to-blogger meetings gone?

And, for an even smaller group of respondents... was I how you imagined I'd be, when you met me?!

Waiting on Wednesday # 65 - Shooting Stars by Allison Rushby

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My pick:

Summary from Goodreads:
Meet Josephine Foster, or Zo Jo as she’s called in the biz. The best pint-sized photographer of them all, Jo doesn’t mind doing what it takes to get that perfect shot, until she’s sent on an undercover assignment to shoot Ned Hartnett—teen superstar and the only celebrity who’s ever been kind to her—at an exclusive rehabilitation retreat in Boston. The money will be enough to pay for Jo’s dream: real photography classes, and maybe even quitting her paparazzi gig for good. Everyone wants to know what Ned’s in for. But Jo certainly doesn’t know what she’s in for: falling in love with Ned was never supposed to be part of her assignment.

Shooting Stars by Allison Rushby
February 28th 2012 by Walker & Co

Sounds cute!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Londoning (the books)

Time to share with you the books I bought in London!  Blogger has a new interface thingummy, so I'm hoping things will go to plan... if I press the wrong buttons and everything turns out enormous or slanting to the right or something, then forgive me.  (Is the font still a readable size?)

First up are the two books I bought at the conference.  My heart more or less stopped beating when I walked into the conference hall on the second day - there was the most middlebrow bookstall in front of me.  Elizabeth von Arnim, E.M. Delafield, Viragos everywhere... Not the cheapest selection in the world, but I did manage to pick up a couple of gems:

Opus 7 by Sylvia Townsend Warner: the first book she published, this is a book-length poem and thus not my normal cup of tea, but I'll give it a go.  Plus... beautiful, no?

Novels and Novelists by Katherine Mansfield: a collection of her reviews, which is rather wonderful.  Lots of unfamiliar names in the index, and thus probably a more accurate representation of the period.  It does, serendipitously, include a review of Elizabeth von Arnim's Christopher and Columbus, which I was reading the day I bought this.

Off I trotted during some free time, and down to Judd Books, wherein I bought these: 

At Freddie's and Innocence by Penelope Fitzgerald.  There are plenty of Penelope Fitzgerald novels around, but I fell in love with this series of editions from Flamingo - another incentive to explore more PF territory.

The rest of the weekend's purchases are shown, colour-coded...

Blow on a Dead Man's Embers by Mari Strachan: I recently loved Strachan's first novel, so was delighted to pick her second up for £1.

Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark: it's no secret that I adore this novel, but the copy I read was from the library - I've been on the look-out for a cheap copy for a while.

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay: somehow this was not amongst my Macaulay collection, despite being perhaps her most famous.  Thanks to Mary for spotting this outside the bookshop!

Epigraph on George Moore by Charles Morgan: I love authors writing about other authors, and although I've only read one book by Morgan, and none by Moore, this seemed like one I rather wanted to own...

Plagued by the Nightingale by Kay Boyle: between recognising Boyle's name, an instinctive covetousness for any Virago Modern Classic, and the cover painting, I couldn't leave this behind.  The cover is 'Portrait of a Young Woman' by Meredith Frampton, one of my favourite paintings in the Tate Gallery.

The Old Maid by Edith Wharton: I've been wanting to read more Wharton, and this is perfect for my research into 1920s spinsters - not to mention a rather lovely copy.

T.H. White: A Biography by Sylvia Townsend Warner: another one I should probably have on hand for my research - making this book buying haul, on the whole, an academic excursion... no?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Londoning (a many varied post...)

I'm back to what will hopefully become normal schedule now - and several busy days in London to report! This picture is a sneak preview of what I will talk about...

As I mentioned in my last post, I've been attending a Middlebrow Conference called The Popular Imagination and the Dawn of Modernism, and very enjoyable it was too. (Hello to the people I met there, if you're now reading this!) Well, it was enjoyable tinged with nerves, unsurprisingly, since this was my first time presenting outside of a graduate conference in Oxford. My paper was called (laboured pun alert) The Love Child, The Witch and The Spinster: The Fantastic Middlebrow in Two 1920s Novels. Those novels were The Love Child by Edith Olivier and Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner - both, incidentally, very good indeed - although even at a Middlebrow Conference, where names like E.M. Delafield, Elizabeth von Arnim, and E.H. Young were thrown around confidently, nobody had read The Love Child...

I was on a wonderfully cohesive panel, all of talking about 1920s spinsters, including a paper on E.H. Young's Miss Mole and The Missess Mallett, which delighted me. In the interests of keeping their research private, I'd better not share too much - and, indeed, with some vague notion of Intellectual Property I shan't post my paper on here, but I'm happy to email it to anybody who fancies reading 3000 words on those novels. Just email me, or mention it in the comments. Oh, and while I was there I had the very great pleasure of meeting Tanya - we'd pre-arranged to meet up, and it was so lovely to have someone I 'knew' at the event.

Rather than any intellectual recap here, then, I shall instead relate the hilarious train journey I had on the Thursday, sitting opposite a delightful mother-and-daughter pair. The daughter, I quickly learnt, was almost seven years old, and called Megan. They were on their way to Disneyland - accompanied, I should add, by a singing Zac Efron doll ('Can I Have This Dance?' from High School Musical 3, since you ask) and a non-singing Justin Bieber doll. Megan was convinced that Justin had cellulitis (how on EARTH does she know this word?) and ignored her mother's correction that she meant laryngitis. After a while of silently laughing to myself, I started to scribble down their conversation... it makes the mother sound a bit mean, but you should know that she was clearly joking throughout. It was evident that they had an amazing mother/daughter relationship, and just being near them brightened up my day. And it might brighten up yours...

Megan: What are you getting me for my birthday, Mum?

Mum: The trip to Disneyland is for your birthday! What more do you want from me, blood?

Megan: Daddy's getting me a necklace, and Nanna's giving me money. Will Auntie Michelle get me Barbies?

Mum: No love, honestly, she won't get you Barbies, I promise you.

Megan: Why not?

Mum: She hates them, love. She thinks Barbies oppress women.

Megan: [pause] I want a Barbie!

Mum: You can buy one with your own money, I'm not buying you one. Seven year olds don't need Barbies.

Megan: I love Barbies! I'd play with them more, only I've got all my homework to do.

Mum: Oh yes! Is that before or after I make you scrub the kitchen floor? And clean the toilet with a toothbrush?

And on it went, putting me into a great frame of mind for the conference. But my three days of conferencing did not lead to a well-earned rest in Oxford on Sunday. No, it saw me back on the good old Oxford-to-Paddington train. This time with unadulterated bookish fun in mind...

I met up with not one, not two, but three delightful bloggers on Sunday. Guest of honour was Darlene, over from Canada, and also very honourable were Mary and Rachel. (Mary isn't fond of being in photographs, so she was chief-in-charge photographer.) I arrived shortly after them at the cafe of the National Gallery, and from then on we spent the next five or so hours chatting nineteen-to-the-dozen, buying armfuls of books, eating quantities of cake, and following the Virginia Woolf Guided Walk (before sloping off to, er, eat cake).

I'll devote another post to the books I bought, but they were several - from the shops on Charing Cross Road. In Henry Porde Books there were dozens of our-sort-of-novels (Delafield, Arnim, and Young all featured here too) most of which had one lady's name inside them. I can't remember it now... Muriel Nicholas, maybe? Sadly my tastes were rather *too* close to this fine lady's, since our libraries overlapped somewhat too much. I rather riled Rachel by the number of times my response, to proffered books, was "I've got it." Not, of course "I've read it"...

When I meet up with bloggers, it never feels like I'm meeting a stranger. I know their voices so well from their blogs, and (especially with people like Darlene) feel a very real warmth and affection from them - even when I have never heard their voice or seen their face. As we traipsed through bookshops and along streets, Darlene and I bonded over our shared inability to navigate ourselves out of a dead-end street. Darlene also brought us all some lovely maple Canadian candies in a Canadian tin - I love tins and boxes for stationery and so forth, and (it goes without saying) I love sweets. Serendipitously, Rachel and Darlene had won my giveaway of As It Was by Helen Thomas, so I was able to hand out those too. I just felt bad not to have anything to press into Mary's hands!

It was such a wonderful day. Really one to remember. Here's a final picture, us showing off our spoils from Bea's of Bloomsbury - and Rachel looking sad because she'd bravely decided to save her cupcakes for her mum and sister, and couldn't join in our icing-consumption. Oh, how I do love all the joys of blogging!

Read Your Own Books Read-A-Thon: Finish Line!

The Read Your Own Books Read-A-Thon is over! Thanks to for hosting it :)

My goal was to read 3 books....I fail. :/ The only day I could really read was Saturday, and I read 1 book.

But still, I'm glad I finally read Divergent by Veronica Roth. It has been on my TBR pile for so long!

I also managed to read a couple of pages from Going Bovine by Libba Bray. It was my goal to finish it, but I guess it will have to be in another time :)

Anyway, did you meet your goal?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book Review: The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson

Title: The Girl of Fire and Thorns
Author: Rae Carson
Series: Fire and Thorns #1
Release Date: September 20th, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
Age: Young Adult
Once a century, one person is chosen for greatness.

Elisa is the chosen one.

But she is also the younger of two princesses, the one who has never done anything remarkable. She can’t see how she ever will.

Now, on her sixteenth birthday, she has become the secret wife of a handsome and worldly king—a king whose country is in turmoil. A king who needs the chosen one, not a failure of a princess.

And he’s not the only one who seeks her. Savage enemies seething with dark magic are hunting her. A daring, determined revolutionary thinks she could be his people’s savior. And he looks at her in a way that no man has ever looked at her before. Soon it is not just her life, but her very heart that is at stake.

Elisa could be everything to those who need her most. If the prophecy is fulfilled. If she finds the power deep within herself. If she doesn’t die young.

Most of the chosen do.
I was so excited about this book! Elisa sounded different than the usual protagonist and I'm glad it didn't disappointed me.

Elisa is sixteen years old and the chosen one. One day, when she was just newly born, a light surrounded her and now she has a jewel in her body, marking her as the chosen one. The chosen one is destined to fulfill a prophecy, but no one can see Elisa as the chosen one. She's just a young, fat and dumb princess.

I really liked Elisa. She starts as this shy and sometimes dumb girl but transforms into a strong and intelligent woman. It wasn't easy, and her journey is long and difficult, starting with her "secret" marriage and then being kidnapped.

Sometimes I thought the other characters asked too much from her. From the beginning it is kind of obvious nobody thinks she can fulfill the prophecy, but at the same time nobody helped her. They kept secrets from her, like what exactly does the prophecy says, or what are the dangers she has to face when the time comes.

But it works out because Elisa finally realizes she has to be strong and do things for herself to survive. Her journey is full of adventures and a sweet and very innocent romance, which left me surprised and kind of sad at the end.

They only thing that kept me from loving this book 100% was that I thought it was kind of ridiculous (and not at all realistic) the fact that she had a jewel in her belly, or that the jewel seemed to had a life of it own.

Overall, I really liked The Girl of Fire and Thorns and I can't wait for the sequel, The Crown of Embers. I enjoyed Elisa's adventures and I think she's a great example for young girls.

Friday, September 16, 2011


OK, I know I said that we would try to stay grounded throughout this entire process. Stay realistic. Keep our heads out of the clouds. We told ourselves that nobody makes it on their first try. But the truth?

We wanted that Yes.

We wanted it SO badly.

And we didn't get it.
BOOM! That's what you get for having dreams!
A month ago, we sent out five queries. And this is what we got so far.

Janet Reid: Pass.
Suzie Townsend: Pass.
Sarah Heller: Pass.
Stephen Barr: Pass.

Well, nobody ever said this whole writing thing would be easy. But we never expected it to be this hard. Come on, people! Not even a nibble? Do we suck that badly?

I guess we need to go back and read that first post of ours: Writing is hard. Writing is incredibly hard. But you know what, Internet audience? It doesn't matter.

Because we'll never give up.

They can reject our query, but they can never reject...OUR FREEDOM!!!


Sorry to go silent for a few days, I've been at a Middlebrow Conference - this one, in fact - and will report back soon. Just thought I'd keep you posted! Have a gander at the programme, and let me know what you think...

Cover Reveal: Insurgent by Veronica Roth

Look what I found at! Do you like it? Insurgent is the sequel of Divergent, by Veronica Roth.

I have only read amazing revies about this book, and it's on my list to read for the Read Your Own Books Read-A-Thon!

What do you think?

Here is the cover of Divergent, in case you want to compare it:

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Read Your Own Books Read-a-Thon: Starting Line!

The Read Your Own Books Read-A-Thon is starting now!

- Runs from 9pm on Thursday the 15th (EST) until Sunday the 18th at 9pm (EST).
- Twitter hashtag: #SIRYOBM

My goal:
Read 3 of my own books! :)

- ??
- ??

I must read Divergent, everybody keeps saying it's fantastic! But for the other two books, how about random books? I just want to grab one and read it :) Here is my IMM shelf, feel free to make recommendations!

Oh, and I also should finish reading Going Bovine by Libba Bray!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Shaving Through The Blitz

I believe, when I told you about my purchases in Hay-on-Wye, I advertised Shaving Through the Blitz (1943) by G.W. Stonier as being akin to 'Mr. Miniver', had that book ever existed. Which probably got quite a few of you interested.

Well, it isn't anything like that, really. About all is has in common is that is was evidently once columns in a paper. But it's still really good. Keep reading...

I was expecting whimsy and cosiness and a general determination to ignore the more brutal aspects of war in favour of bottling pears and entering flower shows - that sort of thing. And I was prepared to devour it in the same spirit. But Stonier's book - and his narrator Mr. Fanfarlo - is of a rather different temperament. It's quite lyrical, in a semi-experimental manner, moving through the sights, sounds, and feelings of wartime London, rather than narrating them in a straightforward manner. Fanfarlo is also proudly aesthetic, and is given to this sort of moral dilemma:
Suppose during an air raid I held Botticelli's Venus under one arm and an old woman unknown to me under the other, with the chance of saving one but not both, which should I choose? Immortal painting or crumbling flesh and blood? The first! As an artist, I claim that right.
I say moral dilemma, but he is not unduly given to morals. Shaving Through the Blitz was surprisingly 'progressive' - Fanfarlo lives with a woman called Lizzie, who would quite like him to propose, but doesn't intend to force the matter. He works, in a fairly dispassionate way, at the Ministry to 'provide slogans that shall be breezy and full of dare-and-do'. There were definite overtones of Evelyn Waugh's Put Out More Flags. Which is a hint that Stonier can be very funny at times, even while being aesthetic and high-falutin'. I particularly liked a little conversation about a young man writing for the Mass Observation project. A lady comments:
"That's bad. Can't you break him of it? My little nephew was a terrible mass-observer, too, before he got married."

That puts Nella Last et al in their place, doesn't it?

As always, it is deeply interesting to read about the war from those who experienced it. I feel like I have a fairly informed awareness of the (upper)middle-class housewife's view of war, from various contemporary novels, but Stonier provides a viewpoint I hadn't really encountered before. All the pieces slotting together is satisfying, to create a portrait of how wartime Britain would have felt. And this (lengthy) excerpt, below, made the book worth finding, all by itself. I think it a really moving, unusual angle upon the way the war changed, and how people at home changed their responses to it. I'm going to finish off this post with it, and encourage you to track down a copy of Shaving Through The Blitz if you can. Not the most whimsical of wartime books, but perhaps one of the more unusual.
How it has changed in the last eighteen months! Do you (who does not?) remember the carefree evenings when we all used to go for strolls in the new-found dark? It was a spree then, to walk to a theatre, or merely to walk, to stumble over sandbags and cross the road by others' lights. "Sandbags!" we would exclaim as we picked ourselves up and went on to discover lamp-posts. Friendliness displayed itself in many ways, in a noisy jostling, in such illumination as was allowed. Torches stared at one another, cigarettes flickered a dialogue on street corners. Along Tottenham Court Road gaiety had lost nothing with the lights down, and a bubbling trail of voices down each pavement drew whisperers out of side-streets and brought even the sedentary to their doors. A gross amiability, the adolescent pleasure of being heard but not seen, infected every one who was being nudged, shoved, swept along and held back by the stream. A match would flare nearby, thrillingly, in the darkness, to reveal a face lit from below: a girl's sucked-in cheeks over a cigarette, a beaming negro, perhaps, delighted with hours when others were as black and easily tickled as himself.

All that has disappeared - the lingering, the voices, the cigarette dream; and now with darkness falls the hush. Emptiness, but with every cranny filled. London has been given over to a monstrous drama, an act of darkness from which ordinary people, you and I as individuals, shut ourselves away. Earth and sky contract to form the arena; the city puts up its searchlights, a beetle laid on its back and helplessly wavering its legs, while the hornet drones overheard; night after night the assailant returns, the victim quivers with upturned belly. "A very bad night," says Mrs. Greenbaum, heaving over in the morning to probe her fatness with an indignant finger, "an awful bad time it was last night, sure." The rest of us, having shared the same delirium, with the same hornet boring down to a point in our bellies, nod stoically and blink at our silly nightlight.