Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Non-Writing Book Recommendations

After my other list of books for writers, it makes sense to follow up with one that isn't primarily focused on writing, but can illustrate some important ideas and styles for writers to take note of. This isn't extensive, and it all comes down to my personal tastes, but I can guarantee you one thing: a book won't make it onto this list if I haven't read it - because there are already dozens of articles online with the same books on them as recommendations.

Paper Towns by John Green

Why? It is, in essence, a road-trip novel, and one that captures the experience so perfectly that it made me want to go on one myself. (Though, for the record, I don't actually have my a car of my own to do that with.) Don't attempt to write a road-trip book unless (a) you've been on one and (b) you've read a road-trip book. This one is my suggestion.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

One reason: a thought provoking but inoffensive exploration of suicide, and why one girl in particular took her own life. It's a very sensitive issue, and Asher manages to tread carefully, while covering the necessary ground - how the girl felt, how those she blames felt, their reactions to her death. It's not an easy read, in the sense that it's emotionally unsettling, but overall it's worth the experience.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

For it's treatment of racism, and the exploration of race through a child's eyes, it's a vital read. Why any school would ever ban this, I'll never understand. Bare-faced and daring, tense and unnerving, if you haven't read it, you need to.

Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Lawson's only book to date, this memoir of growing up in Texas explores a number of topics that many writers may never find themselves going through - and many more than writers are incredibly likely to experience. From a bizarre childhood to issues in parenting and motherhood, as well as an exploration of depression, Lawson somehow managed to create a book that was both hilarious and insightful, and, for a couple of chapters, heartbreaking.

One Red Paperclip by Kyle McDonald

The message from this memoir is simple: strange things are possible for ordinary people. If you think writing about suicide or racism or motherhood or road trips might present themselves as being too out-there for some readers, seemingly normal, but just a stretch too far with the imagination, then look no further than the Canadian who, through a series of trades, went from owning one red paperclip to owning a house. It's happened in real life - so who's to say whether or not you're pushing your luck with an idea? There are no limits in fiction, but especially not after Kyle McDonald pulled off this amazing feat.

The Commitments by Roddy Doyle

Why? The music. You don't necessarily have to like Soul music, but as a novel, it's a good example of how a band can come together, and how to include songs in a book. It also works as a great example of how a book can be written almost entirely using dialogue. Some of the colloquialisms may be difficult to understand for readers outside of Ireland, but there are always Irish readers out there who will happily translate for you.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

For an understanding of Asperger's Syndrome - albeit one that should be taken with a pinch of salt - Haddon's novel is a must read. A story of emotional difficulty, a search for meaning, and a seemingly impossible journey, it's ideal for writers trying to figure out how to make their characters different without making them weird. Even today, few writers include stories with autistic characters in the main cast - I've only ever seen one other character who fell into the category, in Cassandra Clare's latest novel, City of Heavenly Fire, and even then it isn't stated explicitly. If it doesn't challenge you to do something out of the ordinary with your protagonist(s), then nothing will. (Just, you know, be respectful of people who are actually going through the same things as your characters, and don't glorify what makes them different.)

Do you have any recommendations?

My list isn't comprehensive, but the books here present vast differences in stories and how they're told. I hope that, when you're working on your own ideas, these books might help highlight some key ideas for you to explore in a contemporary setting. (Or not.) Do you have any recommendations of your own? What books do you think writer should be reading?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Books for Writers

I have a habit of reading a lot of different types of books, but my non-fiction focuses on writing and business, for the most part. With that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to recommend some books for writers, no matter what stage they're at. (Though, obviously, more established writers may find less benefit from these than relative newbies.)

1. Screenplay, by Syd Field

Not everyone will write a movie. Not everyone should write a movie. However, as far as stories go, getting a strong overview of how to write one for one medium is a good idea, so long as you're prepared to transfer the lessons to another. Syd Field's book is incredibly approachable, and it covers all aspects of writing a story. The actual screenplay aspect of the book is limited to particular chapters. The rest is applicable to writers generally, with exercises most books on writing fiction don't include at all.

2. The Millionaire Messenger, by Brendon Burchard

While I would consider it of greater benefit to someone writing a non-fiction book than it would be for a novelist, The Millionaire Messenger is an excellent way of ensuring you focus on the task at hand. It's an important book for understanding the value of your message, whatever it may be, and it can help inspire you towards greater things.

3. Write and Get Paid For It, by Terry Prone

The title alone is worth paying attention to, nevermind the how-to information in the book. Terry Prone's guide on how to earn money from writing is important for writers who actually want to do that, and while the most recent edition is before most of the major successes in self-publishing and ebook publishing, the advise is still applicable to writers today. (The last edition was published in 2010, but take it from someone who's been publishing for a couple of years, and from a long-time bookseller - it's now an "old" book.)

4. The Curve, by Nicholas Lovell

Not everyone believes the future is digital. That's a problem for those people. Nicholas Lovell reveals what he knows and believes about digital technology, "superfans" and the power of free in his book The Curve, published in October 2013. It's an important book for understanding the challenges you could well be facing in the future, and it's handy to be able to prepare for them now rather than waiting to respond to them as they happen.

5. Is There a Book in You?, by Alison Baverstock

Alison Baverstock has always been a go-to writer for me. She writes plainly (which is a plus - everyone can understand her!), and she writes about topics that are important for writers. This book, her first about writing, is a good tool for self-identity. Not only does it help address the issue for many people - whether or not they can write a book - it also provides tips from the pros about how to write. It's old, at this point, but it's still a useful book to read, especially if you're just starting out.

6. The Writer's And Artist's Yearbook

AND/OR

Writer's Market

While you only technically need one or the other - the former being for the UK market, the latter for the US market - they're both incredibly handy to have at hand. Keep in mind they update annually. While older copies are good for finding listings, and for the advice articles inside, you need to be sure that (a) the agent or publisher is still in business and (b) that the contact details and editors listed are still current. If new copies are out of your budget (and the library doesn't have them in stock), a good Internet search should give you the answers you need.

7. Teach Yourself: *Insert preferred genre/form here* (e.g. Write a Play, Write a Novel, Write Children's Fiction, Write a Romance)

Some people wouldn't dare recommend Teach Yourself or For Dummies books, but I find them useful for getting down to the bare essentials of a writing style or genre. Pick one, and give it a read, but don't rely on it for everything. The most important thing is to find out how to do what you need to, or to uncover the tropes of your genre, and then to discover more about it all by writing. That's the best way to learn.

For marketing advice... go to Seth Godin.

For life-hack advice... go to Timothy Ferriss, Chris Guillebeau, and Niall Harbison.

For my books on writing... click here.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

For the Aspiring Authors Out There

More often than not, the piece of advice successful writers give to aspiring writers is this: write more.

That's the gist of it. Write more. Keep writing. Write until you have no more ideas left in your head, find some more, and write again.

The purpose of this exercise is to help you become more aware of the words you use, and to develop your "voice" as an author. It helps you build upon your writing skills, no matter how poor or strong they are. But what about the people who've been doing this for ten years?

I have another piece of advice: drop the "aspiring" part of your title.

Stop dreaming, and start making things happen. I don't necessarily mean publish a book by yourself right away, or submit a book to a publisher. Start with something smaller. Try submitting a short story, or a poem, to a literary agent. Pitch an article to a magazine or newspaper. Do something to get your name out there, and edit your online bios.

Why?

Let's look at it this way - you look a lot more professional if you say, for example, "Mum of three, working on my first novel" than "Mum of three, aspiring author". One says you're doing something, the other says you're thinking of doing something. Similarly, "Aspiring author, 16, student" says a lot less about you than "Young author, working on a book, 16, student".

Do you see the difference, yet?

If you want people to take you seriously, start presenting yourself seriously. The amount of people who want to support young authors and writing mums is astonishing. Yes, you need to keep writing. However, by living your dream instead of just wishing for it, you're much more likely to do something you can be proud of.

When I dropped the word "aspiring", I found the courage to set up a website and apply for a writing job (which I got.) A year later, I published my first book, and wrote an article for a magazine about it. It's all mindset and confidence. I improved as a writer by that simple act of identifying as one now.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Holiday Destinations

Travel is kind of a big deal for me, because I don't get to do it very often. I have big plans that are way outside my budget as it stands, but if I had to make a list of five places I'd like to see... well, that's exactly what I'm going to do now.

New York City

Beginning the Incredibly Clichéd List with NYC is no big surprise. I've never been to the States, but I've always wanted to go. We just aren't one of those families that had the money for a big holiday like that - sun holidays are expensive enough, and you can go on them and not worry about the whole Capitalist Nature of the place you're visiting. But New York? No, not a chance. Not one of us could have afforded to go there and justify spending money on most of what we wanted - which, from an Irish point of view, is a waste of a trip to New York. It's seen as a shopping holiday.

For me, though, it's more than that. I want to do the stupid tourist things. I want to see the city in the flesh that I've seen in comic books and movies for most of my life. I want to make this big Dream City a reality.

London

I've already been. I have to admit that right now. But I want to go back. I want to see the London Dungeons, and do the Jack the Ripper tour, and go see the big tourist attractions. Yes, my trip to London was amazing. Yes, I would do most of it again (the trip to The Who Shop was disappointing...). But we didn't have enough time for everything. So, I want to go back, and I want to do everything I missed out on. Even if it took me two weeks of being a Tourist-with-a-capital-T.

Barcelona

Again, I've already been. Twice, in fact. But I love it, and it was the last place we went as a family. I want to see the architecture again, and Monte Serat, and the Gaudi museum. Everything, really. I want to see the city, and relive some memories, and try some of the more authentic local cuisine. The Hard Rock Cafe is good, but it's the same everywhere you go.

Paris

I never thought a huge amount about Paris beyond it being one of the big romantic getaways for couples. But, and this is largely from reading Michael Scott's books, I've come to see that the city is full of this extra life. Take into account the fact that two of my favourite people from history lived in the city - Nicholas Flamel, because of the myths around his life, and Marie Curie, because of her contributions to Science and recognised achievements in Physics and Chemistry - and it's a package deal. There are at least a dozen other people and reasons I'm not even thinking about right now, and that's just more reason to go see the city for myself.

Rome

When I was college, I had three opportunities to go to Rome, and I could never afford it. Ever. I always regretted that fact. So, I want to go myself (or, you know, with someone - not the point.) Basically, I just want to be a tourist for a bit, and eat fresh pasta, and try catch a mass with the Pope, even if at that moment in time I'm not feeling the whole Christian-vibe thing.

And the rest...

It's bad, but Europe keeps calling for me to visit it. I want to see Amsterdam, and Auschwitz, and Berlin. I want to go to Stockholm, and Edinburgh, and Belfast (which, really, isn't that difficult for me to do!) The main thing holding me back is money, because full-time work at a rate higher than minimum wage just isn't a reality for me at the moment. But I want to make it happen. When I finish my Masters, I want to mark one of these cities off my list. I want to just get away for a while, get some experience in the world. I think, before I get bogged down in the world of Being an Adult, I need to do some soul searching abroad. It's cliché, and everyone talks about doing it, and I think, right now, I really just need to make it happen. No more fussing about over it. No more just thinking about it.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Music to My Ears

My musical tastes have changed radically in the past ten years. When I was thirteen, I didn't listen to anything. Not really, anyway. I never chose what music would be played.

Then I gave Green Day a try, and they were all I played for a year. Literally. It wasn't until reading and watching The Commitments that everything changed. I found Soul. I became especially fond of Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Marvin Gaye, and Bill Withers. I would switch their CDs around, listen to their greatest hits, attempt to sing along - all the usual things a teenager does when they listen to music, except that most of my favourite artists were dead.

Over the following years, I was introduced to Muse, Nightwish, Hollywood Undead, Smashing Pumpkins, The Doors, Elbow, Oasis, and a plethora of others from the 60s and beyond, including The Beatles, She & Him, and The Mountain Goats.

These days, I find myself listening to three different things over and over again, two bands and one "genre" of music - Walk Off the Earth, A Great Big World, and Disney songs.

I first found Walk Off the Earth when one of the papers printed a link to a cover they did of Gotye's Somebody I Used to Know, when the whole band played the same guitar for the performance. That turned into subscribing to them on YouTube, going to see them live in Dublin, and playing their EP on repeat in the kitchen until I knew next to all the words.

My discovery of A Great Big World is a little more geeky than that. I first heard one of their songs on Glee. I loved This is the New Year so much that I looked up the original song, and fell in love with the band right away. I waited for months for their album release, played it constantly in the house, even got my niece singing along to Rockstar, and have tracked their tour right to London - which is still too far away for me to travel to for the day to go see them.

The Disney music varies quite a bit, depending on my mood. Sometimes it's songs from Frozen. More recently, Hercules and Mulan found their way in there.

All of this leaves out soundtracks, and a collection of albums from DFTBA Records. I don't listen to single genres anymore. I'm more open to listening to new bands for the first time. And I love it.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Top Ten Favourite Movies

I go to the cinema a lot. I mean, every week, sometimes twice. In the past seven years, I've seen over 300 movies on the big screen alone, never mind the movies I saw on Sky or on DVD. Narrowing it down to a top ten is a little bit unfair, but it comes down to this: if I'm looking for a movie I want to re-watch, whatever I think of is worthy of a place on the list.

In a similar fashion to my book list, there's a caveat or two: there is no set order to this list, and, if a movie is an adaptation of a book I read before seeing the movie, it won't appear on the list. (So, no The Fault in Our Stars or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, for example.) Onto the list!

Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World

My first time seeing it, I was alone, and I loved every bit of it. I loved it so much that, the next day, I watched it again with my brothers. It was quirky and weird and funny, and it played off so many perfect video game and comic book devices that I couldn't not fall in love with it. (So far, I've only read the first graphic novel, but I loved that too. Double win!)

The Breakfast Club

First year in college, when I should have been studying for exams, a bunch of us sat around a laptop in a lecture room and watched a movie. This movie. This was during a tough period of my life (see A Bad Seven Months), and it helped me come to terms with myself in a way that I needed about five years beforehand. I felt more secure in who I was. More than that, I felt confident in who I was, for maybe the first time in as long as I can remember. I needed the movie, and the experience, and the people I shared it with.

Ferris Bueller's Day off

Did you ever see a movie that made you want to take a step out of your life for a while? For me, Ferris Bueller was that movie. I can't remember the first time I saw it, because I've seen it so many times since. I've watched it with family, with friends, with family of a friend, drunk and sober, and sometimes I've barely been able to hear it, and every time it made me want a friend like Ferris who could make a day off possible.

Stranger Than Fiction

My favourite Will Ferrell movie isn't a comedy. It's funny, in a way, but it's more charming and romantic and weird than it is funny. It forced me to think about what I write a little more closely, and it made me want to try new things in my life. I revisit it every time I'm feeling a little lost in my writing, and while it doesn't always serve as a therapy session, it does succeed, every time, in making me feel better.

Never Let Me Go

When I needed a story that sought out life, I found Never Let Me Go. I found a story of people who just wanted to live their lives together, against all the odds. It was beautiful and heartbreaking, and I fall in love with it every time I watch it.

Across the Universe

What do you get when you take Beatles songs and make a movie out of them? A pretty damn amazing movie, that's what! We watched it in a friend's house, on a laptop, all of us cramped together in a little room, and when it was over, I wanted to watch it again. (So I bought it, and did.) It has all the psychedelic nonsense you need from the Beatles' later albums, it has pro-peace rallies, and drinking, and bromance, and all the sort of stuff you need to make a movie set in the 60s all the more awesome.

The Rocky Horror Picture Show

Don't even ask me how I heard of it. Somehow, it found its way into my life, perverse and sexual and full of crazy dance numbers, and I never let it go. On the off chance I'm ever out on Halloween night, I request that the Time Warp be played, so I can teach people the dance moves. It takes everyone by surprise. The show even found its way into The Perks of Being a Wallflower, which made the reading and watching all the better, and when Glee did a Rocky Horror episode, complete with soundtrack, it was all I listened to for a long time. (And, you know, sang along to. Every time. In public. Including Touch Me.)

Chef

New to the list, after a salivating viewing experience a few weeks ago, is Chef. It's all about what it says in the title - a chef. Specifically, one who loves to cook real authentic food. And he drives a food truck. And makes amazing sandwiches. And between the outright food porn and the score, I came out of the movie feeling more upbeat and thrilled with life than I ever have.

The Muppets

Yep, the Jason Segel one. When I watched it, I was reminded of an experience that no one should ever truly forget - my childhood. It felt like being a kid again, sitting in the cinema, laughing out loud and not caring whether anyone was judging me. It was upbeat, hilarious, and released a soundtrack that I still listen to to this day. (I even ended up watching old Muppet movies afterwards, and getting two mugs from the Disney Store in Dublin.)

Seven

Ending on a darker note, we have Seven, the crime-thriller with a series of murders, each based on one of the seven deadly sins. It was disturbing when I first watched it, and it stuck with me. Years later, then, when I was writing my undergrad. research paper, I had something I could use as part of my research, as a primary text I could study. It was one of several saving graces that made the paper more enjoyable to write overall.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Top Ten Favourite Books

Today, I want to do something different - I want to look at my ten favourite books. It's a list subject to change, it's what I think of when I look at my shelf, and it doesn't do nearly enough justice to books that I read a long time ago. In fact, the list is of books I've read in the last 6 years, give or take, and comes with a caveat or two: I refused to include two books by the same author, and I don't have a particular order of preference to them. They are what they are.

The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman

It's simple, but smart, and it digs down to the core of how we place meaning on things. It's also short, which - for a college student - is perfect. I was able to read it guilt-free, and did so in one weekend while working. I couldn't put it down.

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

Challenging my ability to feel, it carries a certain weight over Green's other titles simply because it's the most recent one I've read. I think, if I'd read it before Paper Towns or Looking for Alaska, I would have preferred them. To put it clearly, I love his writing style, his wit, and the characters he creates. Deeply insightful, and the sort of book I wish I'd discovered when I was younger.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

In a desperate need to find something like John Green's books, I found Chbosky. I found Charlie, who was weird and hurt and who found friends who were just that little bit older than him to make a difference, and a lot of how he felt about life and a lot of what he was experiencing - though not the Thing That Shall Not Be Spoiled - were identifiable in myself, when I read it. (And, yes, definitely one for fans of John Green.)

Gone by Michael Grant

When Gone was being advertised, it was with a comparison to Heroes. This boded well with me. For the weeks and months before its release - a release to which I was savvy thanks to working in a bookshop - I allowed myself to build up a degree of excitement. I was not let down. I fell in love with the book, and the series, and aside from a couple of the more gruesome scenes, it's one I recommend wholeheartedly to a lot of parents looking for books for their young-teen kids.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

One evening, on Twitter, John Green and Maureen Johnson were talking about a book - We Were Liars. I looked it up. I liked the sound of it. I bought it. I struggled, on a tired day, to read it. Then I forced myself to try again, when I was a little more refreshed, and I loved it. I couldn't put it down. It was full of mystery and charm and it said a lot about the world in a very beautiful way.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Did you ever notice everything always seems to come back to one person? In the book, that's Gatsby himself. But my reading of it? That was John Green. I had tried to read it for college, only a few months before John announced it for the Nerdfighter book club, but I couldn't. Then I tried again, and I looked more closely, without the pressure of exams, and I fell into its charm. Plus, John Green agreed with a point I made about it in the comments on YouTube, and that made everything really awesome for a while.

Screenplay by Syd Field

Syd Field changed how I look at stories, and how I looked at Hollywood. While I've always had a burgeoning interest in screenwriting, one which I never truly followed up on, I didn't know much about it. Even that aside, I was granted an insight into cinema in a way I never would have imagined. It's a remarkable book, and very easy to understand.

The Curve by Nicholas Lovell

The future is digital, and people need to understand that more. I didn't, not for a long time, not in the way Lovell talks about, and it was this book that helped me realise what it was that I wanted to study at a Post-Graduate level. I owe him a lot, with that in mind - though the repeated mentions of his book on my blog will have to do for now!

The Millionaire Messenger by Brendon Burchard

This book shaped my online activity for a time. Simple, direct, and filled with powerful lessons to be learned, it was one I loved when I really made myself read it. I forced myself to do every exercise, to give myself the time - no matter what else I wanted to do - to complete them fully, and I came out feeling like I had a better sense of what I wanted to do with my life and with my writing. I'm not a millionaire, but I know I've learned some valuable lessons on how to address my life in the future.

The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss

I never thought I could do so much with my life, realistically, until I read this book. I didn't think travelling and working at the same time was really a possibility. I didn't think other people did it. I'm at a point in my life where I'm just getting ready to take on life fully, and while it's still early days, I'm allowing myself the dream. I'm allowing myself to think about it, as a reality, and while it's not entirely Irish-based, it's an excellent push in the right direction that I don't just need to dream.