Friday, December 30, 2011

My Top 13 Books of 2011

Stealing an idea from Pinkies Blog I have My Top 13 Books of 2011. Most were published before 2011, but having only read them this year, my experiences with them can be considered fairly new. Why thirteen and not ten? Take a look at book one on the list (which is, otherwise, in no particular order.)

Thirteen Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson. She was one of those authors I was following on Twitter before ever having read her work. Funny, insightful and responding to tweets from her fans, I had to give her a read. And I loved it. This is one for the YA fans, full of adventure, a bit of romance, an awkward teenager (weren't we all one?) and lots of travelling.

Will Grayson Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan. I'll admit, I was a little bit worried about this one, given I had never read anything by the latter, but that didn't stop me giving it a read and falling in love with it. I love the ideas around friendship, the acceptance of people who are different, the excitement of the idea of the Tiny Cooper's musical and the sense that I wanted things to go well for everyone, if Will Grayson would just stop being an idiot. Again, one of the YA fans.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. Can I pronounce his surname? No, but I can try! Did I love the book? Indeed I did. I was in dire need of something that might remind me of John Green's books, remembering his other three books too well, still, to read them again. So I Amazoned them, found what other people were buying, and found this one. It's a little bit weird, and the character can be a little bit annoying, but then I realised something: I can also be a little bit annoying. (Understatement?) A good book, though not as similar to John Green's books as I thought it might be.

All My Friends Are Superheroes, by Andrew Kaufman. I think I found this book in the same way as Chbosky's novel, though I can't be sure. It's a short book about a man who has a lot of friends, all of whom are - you guessed it - superheroes. Except, you know, they're not. Not really. You'll understand when you read the book, and I highly suggest you pick it up ASAP.

, by Philip Roth. A lecturer of mine, and head of the English Department in my college, recommend Roth to me as an author, just generally. I had seen his latest novel, Nemesis, in the shop where I work, but as much as I loved the look and the idea of the big yellow hardback, I was not willing to spend the money I didn't have on it. So I went looking for another book, and found this. A fairly short read, kind of depressing, but highly enjoyable.

Raggy Maggie
, by Barry Hutchison. While he released a couple of books this year (one of which I still haven't even bought! Shame!), this one still stands out for me as his book of the year. Yes, it came out in 2010. No, I didn't get it until February. It was freaky in all the right places, and really made me look at toys in a different light! A fantastic children's horror that will scare the adults in the house! Don't miss out on the fun!

The Warlock, by Michael Scott. Definitely one of the best books in the series. With everything coming to a finish, I was drawn in to the building climax. I love his system of magic, his mix of myth and history, the realism of the settings (since he describes real-world settings as exact as he can). I just really love this series! Plus, I got to interview him about it later and find out his little secrets!

Sh*t My Dad Says
, by Justin Halpern. I'm not one for biographies, really, but I saw this book and had to give it a shot. Easily one of the funniest books I've ever read, without losing the warmth and comfort of the father-son relationship that becomes more evident as the book goes on. You really get a sense of what his dad is like from his little quips about everything in life. I read it in one sitting, which I'd previously only done with Harry Potter books when I was obsessed with them!

, by Michael Grant. With this series getting creepier by the instalment, the FAYZ is falling apart. Well, not literally. But you get the point. Dystopia is just about all it's cracked up to be, when hunger, power-outages and bad politicians are the least of your problems! This is a series to watch, as society is pulled apart piece by piece.

One Red Paperclip
, by Kyle MacDonald. Again, a biography. I saw this one when it first came into my shop, way back when, and did't buy it. It went off the radar, I could never find it, and then my brother got it for me online. It's a fantastic little book, full of enthusiasm and excitement, adventure and Canada. God I love Canada! This one's worth checking out just to see how someone goes from a paperclip to a house in a year!

Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life, by Bryan Lee O'Malley. Yep, a graphic novel! I loved the film, and then I found the book, so I had to get it. Had to. Literally. I couldn't stop myself picking it up and paying for it. Some dark, nerdy force had taken over and made me buy this book, then made me laugh with all the humour of the film in book form, with hilarious looking characters and a whole load of crazy. And chords to the songs. Oh yes. It's that cool. Definitely read it and watch the film. It will change your life.*

The Great Gatsby
, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This was on my reading list in first year in college (and I'm old now - third year!) but I couldn't get into it. Then John Green (yes, that guy who wrote the book mentioned above) encouraged all of Nerdfighteria to read it. And I did. And I loved it. And I John agreed with the points I made about the American Dream in the comments section of the video on YouTube. And I am aware that there are far too many conjunctions in this paragraph. But that's enthusiasm for you. Loved this book, and even though the ending can be a little bit odd, it's worth the read (even if you just want to read about the worst case of drunk driving in literature.)

Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Unlike Pinkie, I have no problems mentioning a book I read for college. It was on our Gothic module, and while it took me a long time to read (because of the plethora of assignments popping up throughout the year... and a trip to France) I loved every bit of it. I made a point of reading it every morning with a cup of tea on the bench outside the college as a way of starting the day, until it got too cold and wet to continue doing that. Once you get used to the way it's written (there's a narrated story, within a narrated story, within a letter), it's a very enjoyable book, and it's no wonder it's lasted this long. What surprised me most was the way in which Hollywood has distorted the idea of Frankenstein over the years, making him out to be a blood thirsty monster from the off-set. To really understand the monster, and to get an insight on humanity that's as true now as it was when Shelley wrote the novel, you have to read this book.

Next year, I'll have lots of books to read that I've been really looking forward to. Expect a lot of excitement online when John Green's latest book, The Fault in Our Stars arrives at my house, as well as a look at Michael Scott's adult horror, Barry Hutchison's Doc Mortis, Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Maureen John's The Name of the Star, just to name a few. 2012 is going to be a big year!

*May not actually change your life.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

2012 Calender Portfolio

My parents broke one tradition this Christmas: they didn't get us a calender. Every year for as long as I can remember, we have received some form of calender from our parents; usually this means we get a Simpsons, Futurama, Family Guy or Doctor Who calender. This year: nadda.

So, I'm compensating for the lack of on-the-wall calender by doing something different with 2012: I'm making a portfolio. I will be purchasing a large a4 binder (one of the thick ones that hold more pages than you usually need to include...) and putting in it the basic calender pages. That file is almost ready: I just need to choose 12 awesome pictures to put on it, to make it special for myself.

But it doesn't end there. Every time I get an assignment, or assign something to myself, the brief will be printed and added to the Calender Portfolio. Why do I call it that? Because everything I write or do in the year will end up in this folder. Every short story, every poem, every essay, possibly even the first chapters of every novel I work on. The full scripts for the play and mini-series I will be writing will find their way into the portfolio, mixed in with photographs from nights out with friends.

Why all of this? Because I want to be able to say to myself that I did something worthwhile in 2012. I want to be able to show that something significant happened at some stage, because I will probably forget what happened when. Events have a way of blurring from one year to another, particularly if they happen in the winter months (since the academic year isn't over). I want to record my work, just for myself.

Also, I'm insanely weird.

I like a good project, and anyone who wants to join me in this is more than welcome. I have the file saved in .doc format. I have a contact page on my website. If you want to avoid the trouble of putting together the calender file yourself, just ask me for it. Simple as that.

Whatever happens, I know that if I stick with this I'll have something to show for myself at the end of the year. Or rather, something to show to myself. I have an awful habit of not giving myself enough credit for what I do during the year, because of the lack of things to show for it all creatively (since I always forget about assignments in college...)

I'll be back with more on this in January, when I can see if it's actually going anywhere. Sure, I know I'll be busy then!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

In 2012...

Look after yourself. You deserve more than heart ache and struggles. You deserve to smile more than "once in a while". You're better than that.

Love yourself. (But not too much: that's a sin, so they say.) Remember, though, that other people love you, too. Even if they don't say it.

Look after others. It's hard, I know. They might not want to let you. You might not realise who needs you. You might feel overwhelmed by them. None of that matters.

Be happy. Not just for yourself ("Your health is your wealth") but for other people. Smile. It's infectious.

Talk to people. Talk to friends about everything happening in your life, the good and the bad. Talk about nothing in particular. Talk to strangers. But:

Listen. Everyone has something to say. Keep talking and they won't get a chance.

And always remember what's important to you. When you say "I love you", mean it. When you care about someone or something, show it. When you believe in something, do something about it.

Never forget that you matter.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Life and the World to Come

Way back in July, I made a few decisions that would, inevitably, change the way I lived my life. Almost five months have passed since I made the choice to do a massive writing challenge to finish Bliss's Camp NaNo 50K. That, in itself, wasn't massively life-changing, except that it made me realise how much I could do if I stopped messing about, and if I put aside whatever was happening in my life that might distract me from my work.

In that same week, I made the decision to set up a website - which I worked on from then until the middle of September, when I launched the site. That involved a lot of planning, of course, and a lot of mulling over what would eventually end up on my site on Day 1. Over the next month and a half, I edited Stepping Forward, fixing up a novella I was already pretty happy with to give away for free.

That's been the first big change in my life: I now have a book out in the public domain.

The website has, since, been host to a number of articles, poems and short stories. While these haven't exactly changed my life, they have gotten me thinking about the different ways I live my life, and the way in which I write. I also decided to use the website to play host to a couple of projects in the New Year, one of which is an X-Men story I've been planning for some time. (I've checked, and given the fact that Marvel pick up writers and stories from self-published works - and that's the only way they will now consider someone new - I am perfectly within my rights to release this story as I see fit.) That one doesn't have any immediate effects on my life, though it will at least encourage me to stick to creative deadlines.

The other project is an adaptations ezine, which will help me (a) hone my critical writing and (b) review books, films and the adaptation process. Again, no immediate effect, but it will involve, once again, sticking to deadlines.

Aside from my website, I also decided to apply for a writing position at The Phantom Zone. While the rush of college work has stopped me writing for the site in some time, I still have this job. More than that, I still have my first ever writing job. It was something for me to be proud of.

In the two months that followed, I wrote and edited a play, The Rest is Silence. This is where things took another big turn: as a result of this play, I'm going to have something performed on-stage. More than that, it will, hopefully, raise some money for a worthwhile cause.

At the same time, I've set up an ezine in college, which has gotten someone else writing. He's a good friend of mine, and he's decided to put his quirkiness to good use. The immediate benefit for me? I can have a good laugh reading his blog when I'm stressed; he has all of these really funny observations and stories that aren't as noticeable in a group of ten (yes, there are ten of us... we're a bit of a mob.) It's also fun to be able to talk about writing with someone who's only just started to think of it as having potential to be more than a hobby.

The driving force behind a lot of this work was an old friend of mine. Whether I was trying to make him proud or merely using that as an excuse to make myself do something with my life, I mustered up the courage to finally put my name out there. As I said in my dedication in Stepping Forward, he taught me there's more to life than just existing. No matter what happens between us, I will always remember that I was too scared to do any of this on my own. Having a reason to get going has made the past few months some of the best of my life.

That's the immediate effect of knowing him; after so many years writing, and so many years living the same mundane life, I ceased to just exist. As a result of that friendship, I started to live.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stepping Forward and Smashing Words

It's the release day for Stepping Forward (as if you didn't know, with the amount of times I've mentioned it), and I can officially report back that I love the e-publishing site I'm working with. is definitely a recommended site: easy to use, brilliant guide and, best of all, human workers.

For their Premium Catalog (is that how Americans spell "catalogue"?), an author needs to have everything perfect. Everything. A computer could do a quick scan of a document to make sure it's correct, but there's only one way to guarantee it: there's a whole team of people hired to check that the books sent for inclusion in the catalog are formatted correctly.

A fun fact from Smashwords... they have 80,000 books on the site and around 60,000 of them are in the Premium Catalog. 60,000! That's how many books people have had to look through since they set up for business in March 2009. Yes, 2009. They're fairly young and they've already had 60,000 books put through for examination.

Wow. Just wow.

And the best part of all of this? They write a little note saying what needs to be changed and end it with "thanks". Thanks! Not "thank you" or some robotic, impersonal way of expressing gratitude, but a very simple and human "thanks". Love it!

Yes, this whole post about how much I love the service at Smashwords. I suppose it helps to mention where you can get the book! It can be downloaded for free here:

Even better, it can be read on your computer or on your e-reader (I believe there are file formats suitable for all the major ones!). I hope you like the book, and I look forward to hearing what you think of it!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Free Book Out Tomorrow!

We're literally hours away from Stepping Forward going live on the Internet. Hours. I plan on staying up to sort out getting it available as early as possible on December 15th (local time, of course...). The best part, of course, is that the book is free to download. This has a number of advantages:

  1. It means that you, the reader, do not have to pay to read a longer work of fiction that I have written.
  2. It means that there is literally no point in anyone pirating this e-book: all someone has to do is go to the Smashwords page and download themselves in whatever format they want.
  3. And yes, I did say in whatever format. This is keeping in mind the available formats from Smashwords, but what it boils down to is that most, if not all, e-readers will be able to support the file.
One thing people haven't asked me is why I'm releasing the book for free. For a start, it helps me get my name out there. I plan on editing Meet Sam a lot over the next few weeks to get it ready for submission to a publisher, and this will be something I hope people can enjoy in the meantime.

There's also the fact that I've wanted to give a Christmas present out for a very long time: this is that present. Free for me and free for you. Simple.

I enjoyed writing the book, and the few people who have read it have enjoyed it, so with any luck it will appeal to the wider audience of the whole of the Internet. (I jest, of course...).

And why Smashwords? Aside from hearing a lot of good things about them, I wanted to get the book away from the little corner on the Internet I call my website. While I love my website, and while I loved the idea of having the free chapters there to download, it wasn't practical. While the server would have been able to deal with the traffic, I had no way of knowing how many people were actually downloading the book. Smashwords should fix that problem, while also putting the book in the market.

Mostly, though, I just want to have fun with this, and I want to have a book available for people to read. So many people in college have heard me say I'm a writer and aside from the website, there's nothing there for them to really base that on.

I do have a request, however: I want people to read this book. I want honest feedback on the book. What did people like? What did they not like? Would they recommend it to a friend? Is there a glaringly obvious typing error I missed in my edits? (That one's a joke... I've done everything I can to make this as perfect as possible in terms of spelling and grammar!) Mostly, I want to know if people enjoyed the book. Reading should be fun.

Remember, though, that this isn't the last book I'll be releasing. I have a project in mind that I have told people on various social networking sites, and I aim to publish things to do with that in the same way, while aiming towards the traditional publishing route with other books. I don't believe authors should restrict themselves to one or the other, especially not today.

Readers who still buy paper books should be given the option to read something extra by an author if they really want to. At the same time, readers who have only read the e-books might be encouraged to go for a paper book if they liked the author enough. This isn't just me I'm talking about. This is how I believe the publishing industry might survive in an age when e-books are getting stronger. Readers need more options, but not authors shouldn't be restricted to one market or the other in order to give a reader these options.

With that said, this is my first step into the publishing world. This is the first, but not the last, free book I publish. I can't say for sure what's coming next or when, but I will do my utmost best to ensure that there will always be new material out there by myself for people to read. This is a lot for myself as it is for people who genuinely love to read, and given the economic climate, I'd like to offer something for free to make sure that, so long as people have Internet access, people always have options of books to read.

So, quick recap, back to where this started: Stepping Forward is out tomorrow, December 15th 2011, for free. The first step of the longest journey of my life begins then.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Must Be Christmas Soon

It's that time again: we've had out Christmas party at college, we're off for a month... and we've all got to get lessons prepared for January. God I love December.

But seriously, I've been trying to find ways to make it neither boring nor stressful. I'll settle for it not being boring. With a Gothic Journal due in tomorrow, along with revised plans for lessons, I've got my work cut out for me. However, we've got some plans in place to make sure we don't completely ruin Christmas with work. Basically, dinner plans in Westmeath. Nom nom nom? You betcha!

But that's not all. Oh no, not at all. This coming Thursday, December 15th, will see the release of my novella Stepping Forward. I wrote it last summer in a mad rush, and I'm delighted with the result. I'm still thinking of what to do to celebrate. A free copy of the book to the first X people won't really help: it's going to be free to everyone as an ebook!

It's a fun book, mostly. I mean, it has a lot of elements that might completely confuse some people if they're not used to me, but I hope that doesn't happen. It's a learning experience, anyway. I've never seen a book like this in the shop (you know, that book shop I work in...) so it's either because no one wrote one like it, no one known well enough wrote one, or publishers deemed the idea and format too bad to even consider. We'll see.

I've also got an interview lined up because of the book. That's fun! I mean, I've answered the questions already, but it's not online yet. It was only a short little piece, but it's a fun bit of publicity. I'll be sure to link it just about everywhere I visit on a regular basis (i.e. Facebook, Twitter and Google+), so you can't miss it!

And yes, while I am aware that the holidays will be hectic, I'm really loving the idea of getting a book out. I won't have to worry about costs or anything like that, or about selling enough copies to make end's meet. This is published for fun and to get something out there. I want to share my work, and I really believe in the book.

Now, I need plenty of rest before the madness of tomorrow! God I love college work...

Friday, December 2, 2011

Scheming, the Boring Kind

They don't tell you, before you sign up for teacher training, that the workload is both too high for a social life, and too boring to make you want to stay in college. Over the past few days, I've had to produce four detailed lesson plans and five schemes of work. This isn't the fun kind of scheming like EDGI. This is more like doing a whole lot of work that you then have to get even more specific about later, that doesn't really make much sense by itself.

Consider this a warning for those thinking of being teacher: the paperwork is really boring. Really, really boring. I mean, I think my lessons will actually be fairly enjoyable. Some of them, anyway. Others are the stuff I need to pretend is interesting to stop pupils falling sleep.

But I look at the schemes and I think to myself, I would not like to sit through a lesson like this. Because if all you do is look at the four lines about a lesson on a scheme, you don't get a good idea of what it will be like.

It's like planning a novel, only less creative. When I plan a novel, I get to think about all think fun things that will happen, all the meaningful things, all the in-between parts that have to carry some significance... when I think of schemes, I have to think of the content and how best to teach it so that pupils will remember, only I can't be very specific about it because of character limits.

What this boils down to is making something far too vague to really work with in a month's time. This means that when I do my lesson plans, I'll have to rethink every lesson all over again. That would be more difficult, but at least more fun. I would get to think of the different ways to show the same info so that the listeners and the observers both learned, and give tasks that would allow the active learners to still be included. And none of that is possible when doing so many schemes of work in one go, because with all the other work we're expected to do, we literally do not have the time to get all of this done.

This is the flaw with my college's Education department. They gave us a lot of work to do over a three week period, ignoring the fact that some modules required us to have work during this three weeks, too. I had to make a video for last Monday, and while it only took a couple of hours, it meant I wasn't able to work on my lesson for Tuesday. I have to do a project for Monday, which has been messed up by having to do nine assignments for the Education department. I will have gotten everything out of the way by Wednesday with the Education department... only to have a massive journal due in on Friday. Worth 50% of a module.

So, if I die and/or remove someone's limbs over the next week, you know why. It'll be boredom, stress or both. Best leave me to my shame corner in college and approach slowly with tea and chocolate if you really want to talk to me.