Hi and welcome!
I’ve started this blog partly to share my young adult fantasy novel “The Arrow and the Sun” with a wider audience, and partly to explore my own ideas about literature, YA, Fantasy, and the writing process. I’ll regularly post excerpts and chapters from the novel, my own random thoughts on books and literature, and updates on my progress as I work through this beautiful, crazy, process called writing a book.
Any and all comments are very welcome, and I will read and try to respond to them all.
Big Love to all you fellow book reading humans,
What I liked:
I quite enjoyed the setting for this. I know there have been a few western themed YA offerings lately, but I haven’t personally read them. What I liked about this one was the way it blended a desert setting with the Western/Arabian theme. I do love books set in a fantasy Imperial Russia, but this did make a nice change.
I also likes some of the characters. Amani was an interesting heroine. Clearly she’s supposed to fit into the bad ass heroine class, which being a feminist, I approve of. However, sometimes writers can take that to extremes. When the girl isn’t so much a bad ass as she is an epic tantrum thrower, who’s incapable of seeing other people’s point of view, or bowing to the logic of the situation (yes Katniss, I am looking at you), it can get annoying. Head’s up, you don’t have to be a total screaming pain in the ass to be strong. There is a middle ground between total dick and Bella Swan.
I think Alwyn Hamilton found it. Brimming with funny one liners, Amani can shoot the eyes out if a snake at a hundred paces. With a steely sense of self-preservation and a fiery determination to escape a crappy future, she’s a girl it’s easy to root for. However, while often fiesty and argumentative, Amani knows when someone else is right about a situation. Even when lied to by a person she trusted, her understandable anger eventually calms, and she can listen to their side of the story. Even forgive them.
Jin, the charismatic, funny, gun toting stranger she takes up with is easy to like too. I love a hero with a dry sense of humour. The two have great chemistry.
What I didn’t like.
Not too much about this book bothered me. However, three things I would say are …
1) It did take a while to get the good parts of the plot. This was a bit of a road trip novel, and that’s fine, but I think we could’ve got to the main action of the rebellion a bit sooner.
2) Although the world Hamilton has built is pretty convincing, it took a while for most of the magical elements to come through. I’d like, in the sequel, to see her do more with the Nightmares, the evil magical creatures who haunt the desert. They were awesomely chilling, but didn’t show up in person until quite late in the book.
3) I did see a few of the plot twists coming. Not necessarily a bad thing, and maybe it’s just me being picky, but I’d prefer if some things had been less clearly sign posted.
So there you have it. My review, I hope you enjoyed it, let me know in the comments if you agree/disagree.
Rating: ☕️☕️☕️☕️ out of five.
If this book were my caffeine intake, I’d be able to make it through Monday morning without crying.
Everyone seems to hate a love triangle. I know people who will actually toss an otherwise perfectly good book across the room the moment the slightest hint of one rears its ugly head. Just google the love triangle and you’ll find about three hundred billion bloggers and critics willing to pen whole articles devoted to why they suck as a literary device.
But why is the love triangle so universally despised?
The main, although far from the only argument, is that it’s so completely overdone. There’s totally a case for that. They’re everywhere, from the generally excellent Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo (although that could technically be called a love square) to the generally less excellent (in my opinion) Vampire Diaries. The Infernal Devices, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and now the Crown’s Game too! It’s no wonder readers are sick of them.
But really, are they more over used than the “Will they, won’t they?” I mean think about it. The examples of this device are endless too; Lizzie and Mr Darcy, Jane and Mr Rochester, Karou and Akiva, Ron and Hermione, Ross and Rachel! These couples are almost as prevalent in literature and pop culture as their three-wheeled counterparts.
But people don’t hate them anywhere near so much. Why? Well IMHO the most convincing argument many use against love triangles is the issue of quality. People don’t mind the “Will they, won’t they?” device, not because it’s less over done, but because it’s usually much better done. People don’t hate love triangles because they’re everywhere, people hate them because they’re usually terribly written.
But, I thought, if that’s the case, does that mean that love triangles always have to suck, or would it be totally possible to write one that worked for both the plot and the reader? Short answer? Yes, with an “if”. IF, you were a good writer, and IF you actually tried to be original.
But how would you write an unorthodox love triangle?? Well, I’ve come up with some suggestions below.
1) NO OBVIOUS CHOICES, PLEASE!!!
Ok, sorry for the caps lock “shouting”, but these really suck. I mean, the whole point of the love triangle is to create dramatic tension, right? But how can you do that if the whole way along you make it one hundred percent clear that your MC will wind up with the guy she immediately fell for in the beginning? (Damn insta-love too, damn it to book hell!)
Twilight was a terrible offender for this. Did anyone really expect that Bella might suddenly change her mind and end up with Jacob? No? Yeah, me neither. And even in the Grisha trilogy we all kind of knew Alina was never going to run off with the Darkling. He was more than a bit evil after all.
A good love triangle would be one where the MC could and might genuinely end up with either of the wannabe boyfriends. A great triangle would leave us guessing her final choice, right up until the end, and perhaps even beyond. After all, if art is supposed to mimic life, why would a conflict end at the final page?
Example? Maybe our MC chooses one, but continues seeing the other too, on the sly. Maybe it’s ok for our main character to do something kind of mean like that. Not everything in this world has a tidy resolution, and not everyone is nice all the time. Even basically good people can act like jerks. And it’d be interesting, even though not perfectly romantic.
2) You Don’t Have To Have Two Good Options.
In a love triangle, there is so often a bad boy, vs good boy dynamic. This could actually be fine, if the bad boy was actually, you know, bad. Take Jace, in the Mortal Instruments, for example. He’s sassy, he’s arrogant, and he’s had a troubled life. Seems like a bad guy? But no, because ultimately he’s a good guy at heart, as is made all too clear throughout.
The problem with this is actually, there’s no real danger for our MC. Her true choice here is actually between “safe, responsible, boy next door, good guy” and “snarky, arrogant, edgy good guy”. Where are the stakes? Either way, she gets a basically good guy who LOVES HER VERY MUCH.
Even when we do get a genuinely dangerous guy in our triangle (or square), it’s always made all too obvious that our protagonist would never really choose them in the end! (Yes, Grisha Trilogy again. I really did like those books, honest!)
So why can’t we have a real a**hole in our triangle, one who we truly fear our character may actually fall for?
I think writers fear that we won’t like an MC who could make such a mistake. But I don’t think that’s fair to the audience or to women. The assumption is that, what…? We think that all women who fall for narcissists are weak or stupid? That we’ll then hate our MC for being so dumb? Not so! The whole thing about manipulative narcissists is that they can be terrifyingly convincing. Some of the very smartest women I know have fallen for a total d**k at one time or another. Wouldn’t it create some real drama if we saw a character we liked gradually being drawn into a relationship by a charming, convincing, secret jerk, and losing out on someone truly good?
I think it would, at least, and we get that kind of dynamic too rarely, in my opinion.
3) Our MC Doesn’t Have To Be Entirely Preoccupied With Romance!
Ok, in point one I argued for no resolution at all. But if you do have one, why does it have to be so predictable? Why is it that in almost every series that includes the dreaded triangle element, the girl ultimately ends up choosing one of the guys to be with FOREVER? Except Tessa obviously who got them both!
Our MCs in YA are young, almost always under 20. How many of you fell madly in love and got married before you were 20? Some people do of course, but most people don’t. Most people at least like to finish school before committing to one person for ever and ever and ever.
And why should the girl have to pick a guy at all? Call me a crazy feminist, but wouldn’t it be an interesting outcome if she turned them both down? What if she told them both to stop fighting over her like a couple of territorial gorillas, because she was off elsewhere to do something more important? It would certainly turn that boring feeling of inevitability on its head.
I read a criticism of the Hunger Games that totally resonated with me. Katniss is a badass. She’s a warrior, catapulted into the van guard of a revolution, determined to protect the people she loves and find a way to survive. Why would she care so much about trying to pick between two guys? Katniss has more important things to worry about! Katniss is better than that! Bella might not be, but Katniss totally is!
Personally I’d love it if the protagonist ended a love triangle by telling them both to shove it. Hey, or she could even pick another woman! Go off with the too often under-written, underappreciated best girlfriend! I’d read that!
Well there they are, my rules for building better, less clichéd, more interesting love triangles. I could actually go on for twenty more, but this post is already twice as long as I planned.
What do you think? Do you think a love triangle can ever work, or do you think every last one of them is doomed to corniness?
Mental health has become more visible in recent years than ever before. It seems at times that everyone from Will, Kate and Harry, to top flight actors and athletes to the Obamas are either speaking out in favour of more awareness of mental health issues, or opening up about their own struggles.
However more work needs to be done, not least because so many of the people affected by mental health conditions are children, adolescents and young adults. According to mentalhealth.org.uk 50% of mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75% have taken hold by the time a person reaches 24. Tragically, however, 70% of all of the children and adolescents who suffer from a mental health condition will not receive appropriate treatment at a sufficiently early age.
Part of the solution has to be that those who struggle with their mental health are able to feel comfortable in asking for help. The more people who talk about mental health openly now, the easier it will be for future generations to do the same. Obviously, this is most effective if the people in question, like the young royals or Kristen Bell, have a large public following. However, every voice, even a small one, is helpful. So, with this in mind, I have decided to talk about my challenges with OCD and Anxiety.
However, I didn’t just want to talk about it in a general way. I wanted to talk about what helped me. It reminds me of a moment from The West Wing, where Leo is explaining to Josh about the man who fell down a hole, and who’s buddy jumped down into it after him.
“What did you do that for?” cried the first man. “Now we’re both stuck down here!”
“Yeah”, replies his friend, “but I’ve been down here before, and I know the way out.”
I guess I want to talk about my way out, in the hope it helps someone else find theirs.
Now, when it comes to mental health, we’re all different. There’s no one condition, and no one way to cope with it. Of course, having said that, there will be some remedies that will work for more than one person. Usually the road to recovery includes either therapy, medication or both, and please do explore those options with your doctor. I had 12 weeks of therapy, and was on medication for a time, and found them both to be greatly helpful, as have many others.
However, therapy and medication, while often of great benefit, are not the whole story. We all find other coping mechanisms, other things we can build into our lives and return to as often as we need to. Exercise can be great, as can meditation, it’s good to lean on friends and family, spend time with our pets, use support groups … there are many avenues to help yourself, all of which are valid.
I used a number of these, at various times. However, perhaps the thing, other than my treatment, that helped me the most, was writing.
Initially, I began writing my first novel in my mid-twenties. I’d just been diagnosed with OCD and Anxiety, as well as related depression. I have talked, in another post, about the writers who inspire me to write, and of course, their influence has been of huge importance. However, at first, I sat down and put fingers to keyboard because I was looking for a way to cope.
Thankfully, I had a very understanding manager, who could not have been more supportive of the fact that my doctor had signed me off work for several weeks. Not all people are so lucky. However, I was still feeling exhausted, depleted, lonely and scared. In addition to the symptoms of my illnesses, I was coping with a massive drop in self-esteem as a result of not being at work, and huge fear about where my life was heading now. I started writing, not even with intention of finishing a novel, but just for something to do.
But, little by little, it began to help. As those who have and continue to endure OCD know, intrusive thoughts can be a huge issue. The weird, inexplicable little thoughts that we all get from time to time, and which most people dismiss, are blown out of proportion in the mind of the OCD sufferer. We focus on them obsessively, fearing that they may mean something significant, and awful about us. That we secretly want to run other people over in our cars, or to hurt ourselves, for example. And of course, the more we focus, the more scared we become, the worse it gets. Writing gave me a channel that I could drive my thoughts into, and helped me not to follow my irrational fears down the rabbit hole. It gave me a place to direct my negative emotions, when they threatened to become overwhelming.
Also, it offered an escape. Life was hard before and after I was first diagnosed. Many days I struggled to get off the sofa. I didn’t want to see my friends. I had little energy. My attention span was so drastically shortened that I could hardly concentrate on reading or even watching TV. However, for some reason, writing transcended that. I found that I could lose myself. I could enter an entirely different world, where OCD wasn’t in control of my life, and stay there until I felt safe to come out again. It was a necessary respite.
But perhaps most importantly of all, writing gave me back some of my self-worth. My sense of my identity, so undermined by what had happened to me, was in part rebuilt by the knowledge that I was doing something. Something creative, something that not everybody does. It help me start to value myself again. I began, slowly, very slowly, to believe that I wasn’t pathetic or useless, as I had told myself I was, and that furthermore, I never had been. That being ill did not make me weak but that working to overcome it did make me strong.
Naturally I also leant on my family, my best friend, my grumpy cat, and in time, when I was ready, turned to meditation and running. But, other than the amazing therapy I received, writing was my best lifeline. Maybe it will work for you, maybe it won’t. But trust me, something is out there for you. Something that will help you off your knees. You will find it, and it will get better.
If you are struggling with a mental health condition, please seek help. Book an appointment with your doctor, or alternatively, if you’re in the UK you can contact the NHS mental health helpline on 08444 775 774, or contact the Samaritans on 116123 (UK and ROI) or 1 (800) 273-TALK (in the US). Alternatively, you can go to www.mentalhealth.org.uk for some helpful information.
It’s a massive commitment, writing a novel. You dedicate years upon years of your young life to people who never even existed before you dreamed them up. You stress over their fate, agonise over their decisions, lose sleep over their problems, and at times, their lives become more real to you than your own.
And with a fantasy novel comes extra challenges. You don’t just have to create these people, make them real, and write their story, you have to build a world for them to live in, too. It doesn’t have to be a beautiful world, but it does have to be varied, rich, plausible, and full. It’s hard, though of course, wonderful too. After all, when you build your own world, you get to pick the colour of the sky.
So what made me do it, this difficult thing? I guess I did it for many reasons, but today I’m just going to talk about one of them.
When I was a little brat, my mum would read to my kid brother and I every night, teaching us to love great books by great people. Later, as I grew up, I went out and found great writers for myself. These authors shaped my ideas, my taste and my imagination. My dream of making something as good as the works I admire has encouraged me to try to be as fearless and creative as I can.
Below are a few of my favourite writers in the whole widest world. Most of them I discovered when I was a kid, though some I found as an adult. All of them are insanely amazing, all of them have shaped me in some way. None of them are in any particular order.
Author of: The Daughter of Smoke and Bone Trilogy among many others.
Why I love her: So many reasons. I love Karou and her blue hair, and I love the seeming limitlessness of Taylor’s imagination. But if I had to pick just one thing, one thing in particular, I would say her use of language. She writes some of the most crazily beautiful, otherworldly, love it to the moon and back prose I have ever read. Every other sentence I read, I think “I wish I’d written that.” She writes books about magical, wondrous things… angels, chimaera, fairies…and the strangeness, the unexpected beauty of her writing weaves a spell around the reader. An enchantment that pulls us out of our world, and into her prettier one. I could give a million examples. I’d make you read them all too, and you’d be grateful for it in the end. But, oh so sadly, I have to do other things eventually. So I will show you three.
“She was lonely, and she feared the missingness within her as if it might expand and…cancel her.”
“She moved like a poem, and smiled like a sphinx”
“Happiness, it was the place where passion, with all its dazzle and drumbeat, met something softer: homecoming and safety, and pure sunbeam comfort.”
See what I mean? Gorgeous, no? If you haven’t read her, and you want to (and you should want to) the link for her amazon page is below.
Author of: The Anne of Green Gables Series (among others)
Why I love her: Because of Anne, because of Gilbert, because of Charlotta the Fourth. Anne was the first character I ever read who I truly identified with. An idealistic dreamer, who wanted so badly to be great at something, to find transforming love, and inspire the generations that followed her through teaching. She wanted these things, and sometimes she got them, but she fell down a lot along the way. She mistook infatuation for real love, and ignored real love for years when it was right under her nose. She got carried away, she over reached herself, she wrote bad prose, she messed up. In Anne, L.M Montgomery created a character that teenage girls everywhere, in any time, could relate to. Kind but sometimes a bit too direct, clever but naïve, a dream weaver with feet of clay. Really, how could you not fall in love with her? Or Gilbert, who grew up to be perfect. Perfect I say.
If you haven’t read the Anne of Green Gables series yet, do. You won’t regret, you have my word. Click here and bask in the Anne-y goodness.
Author of: The Lord of the Rings
Why I love Him: Because his world building makes me feel like an amateur, which is good for me, since I still am one. Because he wrote actual languages, with a grammatical structure, and vocabulary, that people can actually learn. Because Frodo and Sam have possibly the best friend-love story in the history of literature. Because of Gandalf. I love Gandalf.
But mostly because of the naming. I have always had trouble naming things. When I was four I had a goldfish. It took me a month to name him. I finally settled on Dogtanian (see British children’s TV of the 90s).Two days later the cat ate him. I never named a pet again. When I sat down to write my novel, I realised my world, my characters, my seas and rivers, my mountains and countries were all going to need names. I returned to Tolkien for inspiration again, because I knew that if ever a man knew how to throw down a noun it was he. Consider the Brandywine River for a moment. I mean, doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know about the shire?! Just that one name! And the bridge at Khazad Dum! You just know something massive is gonna happen at the Bridge of Khazad Dum!
I have never yet been able to name things that well, probably I never will. But I can still take joy in returning to Lord of the Rings and saying the name Lothlorien out loud a gazillion times, just to hear the pretty sound.
I couldn’t suggest better use of your time, if you were to go and do the same.
Author of: All things Harry Potter. If you don’t know that you need to get out more.
Why I Love Her: I love Rowling for peppering her books with important and beautiful lessons. She taught us that loyalty and courage are more important than popularity. And she reminded children and adults everywhere that the slogan “you have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide” is the most heinous of all lies that were ever told.
But mostly, I love her best for Severus Snape. I love an author with the courage to make one of her most seemingly unsympathetic characters into one of her greatest heroes. Snape doesn’t look heroic. He doesn’t act it either. He can be unjust, embittered and unkind, especially to Harry.
And yet, in spite of this, Snape becomes one of the very best, bravest and most poignant characters of the series. He remains enduringly faithful to his one love. It is revealed that he has endured great loss and great remorse. Finally, of all the characters in the book, he is the one who, besides Harry himself, shows the most selfless courage. He does the job he is asked to do, even though it’s the hardest and the most dangerous, even though he knows it will win him hatred instead of glory. He does it without asking for help or pity. And he does it well.
And in the end, Snape gets his due. Through Harry, Rowling acknowledges him to be one of the bravest men in all seven novels. Harry even names his son after him. And hooray for Rowling, for teaching us the best lesson of all. Never write off a human being … even if he has terrible hair.
And also, I love Hermione, book wielding warrior that she is. Without her, the boys would have been dead by the end of the first book.
Can I just assume you’ve read Harry Potter? If you haven’t…where’ve you been? Dude, go read it now!
Author Of: The Eagle of the Ninth Trilogy
Why I Love Her: Maybe the least well-known writer on this list, but among the most important to me. Sutcliffe was an invalid most of her life. She was wheelchair bound for decades, often able to explore the world only through her own imagination. I love her because her compassion for all those who struggle, either physically or mentally, is clear through all her books. I love that. I don’t think you should even try to wrie in full sentences, let alone a novel, if you don’t have compassion.
But, again, if I pick one reason, and, since this is a blog post, not a thesis, I kind of have to, it would be her scene setting. Sutcliffe made me fall in love not only with her characters, but with Roman Britain. She made me homesick for a place that stopped existing two thousand years before I was born. She makes that world seem beautifully real, and achingly not real all at once. I hope to do that. I hope to make people long to go back to a place they’ve never been.
If you haven’t read her, do. Here’s the link. Go feel sad you’re not a Roman.
Well, there they are, the writers who made me want to write a book. Of course, that’s not actually all of them. I could name another hundred easily; Phillip Pullman and Kazuo Ishiguro, Charlotte Bronte and Charles Dickens, Steinbeck and Hemingway, F. Scott, Fitzgerald and Naguib Mahfouz, George R.R. Martin and P.G Wodehouse. Even that’s not all of them. I probably will write about all of these great men and women at some point, because I’ll want to. Maybe I’ll next I’ll write about Jane Eyre. God, I love Jayne Eyre.
But today I wanted to write about the man and women who had the most direct influence on me as I wrote my own book. I think it’s important to think about your influences. It helps you to remember what kind of author you wanted to be in the first place. It’s easy to forget sometimes, when you’re struggling to re-name a goddam fictional city for the ninetieth time. Thanks for indulging me while I reminded myself.
Now, I’m off to read Lord of the Rings, see if I can steal a name for a city.
The dying man’s tortured screams reverberated off the walls of the shadowy dungeon, as the rack wound ever tighter. In extremis, his pain was his only reality. All around him, the indistinct forms of his torturers moved to work their will upon his suffering body, but he no longer recognised them, could no longer distinguish one from the other.
From above a voice, cold, clear, somehow familiar, floated to him from the gloom. He knew the words were addressed to him, but he couldn’t understand them, and had no more will to speak a word in reply. He tried to close his eyes, in the hope of spending his last moments in the comforting solitude of darkness, but they were forced open immediately by hard, cruel hands.
Again the icy voice came to him. Questions, always questions. He remembered…there was something he wasn’t supposed to say. A secret. Mustn’t talk. Weakly, he shook his head. There was a command, and pain spread through his body like fire. Vaguely he was aware of someone screaming, but no longer knew if the screams were his own or another’s.
His breath was coming in slow, agonised gasps now, he could feel himself edging away, slipping downward towards forever oblivion. He no longer fought it. What value had life now, in this place?
With his last ounce of strength, he turned to his persecutors, and spoke, an almost dreamy smile on his chapped and broken lips. He never knew what he said, only that the words seemed important. Then eternity closed in, and all that he was, had been, and might have become, was lost forever.
Above him, his torturer watched the light die out of the once clear brown eyes and cursed. Then he knelt and severed a sliver of skin at the dead man’s shoulder, which bore the crudely tattooed number seven.
“Take this to Lord Resax. Tell him it’s over, he didn’t talk. Then come back here and see to the burning of the body!” He fired at an underling, who went scurrying off to do his bidding, obedient to the command in the steely grey eyes.
From out of the shadows, another servant appeared.
“What did ’e say, in the end?” He asked.
”Nothing,” replied the torture master “Something cryptic. It seems to be their motto.”
“The seventh child was never found.”
I was born and brought up in Kent, (UK) and moved to London to go to Uni. I've lived in quite a few places since, I can't seem to make up my mind.
The Arrow and the Sun is my first novel. It took me two years to write, and another year to edit. If there are still typos, and I bet there are, I will cry. Damn typos.
Ever since I was a child I wanted to be the first ever woman captain of an inter-galactic pirate ship. However, I settled for my second dream of being an author, because it's actually a real job that people can do, and I like it almost as much as the space pirate thing.
Oh yeah, and please follow me on twitter.