2018 was a very good year for books. Now, I’m not one for stats or counts, so I won’t bang on about the exact number of books I was fortunate enough to read in 2018. But I will say that as a lover of biographies and a history buff I was kept busy with lots of new and fascinating novels on offer by some of my favorite authors. I also enjoyed reading a host of truly magical middle-grade books, some contemporary and some classics, which I hadn’t had the pleasure of reading until last year.
If you stopped reading children’s book when you hit puberty and haven’t revisited one since, I urge you to remedy this tragic oversight with immediate effect. There are so many touching and delightful stories to read, and I cannot recommend them enough as a way to de-stress after a long, rotten day being kicked about in the adult world. Total escapism. Perhaps you might find your next read nestled amongst my Top Five listed below? Wouldn’t that be lovely.
#5 The Adventures of the Christmas Pudding – Agatha Christie
This was a wonderful short story I discovered on Amazon whilst perusing through its virtual bookshelves in November. I was already a big fan of Agatha Christie’s super sleuth Hercule Poirot, so to discover this delightful and quintessentially British tale, set in a spectacular country house deep in the English countryside, was like bumping into an old friend (one you’re happy to see, that is). Poirot is invited to join a group of friends in the country to celebrate a traditional English Christmas, complete with crackers, mince pies, parlor games, and of course the piece de resistance, the Christmas pudding. But, as this is an Agatha Christie novel, things are never quite what they seem, and it us up to our here Poirot to solve the many mysteries at large and the adventure of the Christmas pudding. A thoroughly enjoyable read with a wonderful cast of delightful and dastardly characters.
#4 War of the Windsors – Lynn Picknett
One of my favorite book genres to read is biographies. Love them! And this fascinating book on the house of Windsor did not disappoint. I get bored very easily with puffy, fluffy biographies that attempt to rewrite history and paint the subject(s) in the most positive and glowing light possible. No thanks, not the biography for me at all. I wanted a raw, truthful, unbiased, expertly researched biography on Lord Mountbatten, the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, and the House of Windsor in general and this marvelous tome delivered in every way possible and answered all the questions I ever had. It is filled with interesting facts and information that I have never seen in print before. Fascinating read for any biography or history buff.
#3 Pax – Sara Pennypacker
Oh, how I adored this beautifully written, heartrending story. Utterly sublime. I was hooked from the first few sentences, and it gripped me within its compelling pages right to the very last word (which left me crying floods of tears when I finished it). Truly emotional. Pax is the story of the touching friendship between a young boy and his pet fox, who the poor lad is forced to suddenly abandon one day by his father. This heartbreaking decision takes the young boy on a terrifying journey across a war-torn landscape on a desperate quest to find and rescue his fox. A captivating, instant classic of a story. Gorgeous penmanship with an important message woven within its stunning pages.
#2 Jackie, Janet and Lee – J. Randy Taraborrelli
Loved, loved, loved this fascinating biography by one of my favorite biographers. I’ve read and devoured almost every book on Jackie Kennedy over the years and I thought I knew all there was to know – not so. This marvelously entertaining and page-turning read by Randy Taraborrelli was filled with stories, information, photos, and facts I had never heard or read about before, and I simply couldn’t get enough of it. If you are a Jackie Kennedy-Onasiss follower, this is most defiantly the book for you. It offered me a completely new insight into to the First Lady and her fascinating life, and was an eyeopener when it came to the complex relationship she shared with her gorgeous sister Lee Radizwell. An excellent, vastly entertaining read.
#1 The Girl who drank the Moon – Kelly Barnhill
This magical, middle-grade novel by Newbery Medal winner Kelly Barnhill was one of those books that I simply couldn’t put down and whose characters I was deeply invested in and cared about from the first few expertly-crafted pages. The magical story of Luna and her eclectic, but fiercely loyal group of friends, which includes a kindly, old witch, a spunky, wee dragon, and a wise, comforting bog monster is a must-read fantasy adventure for any age. From it’s gorgeously inviting front cover to its last, gloriously written prose, this book was utterly captivating. I cannot recommend this spellbinding tale with its powerful message of love and friendship enough. Five stars, and my absolute favorite read of 2018.
B.A. Keating’s MG novels are available from Amazon Worldwide. Visit www.bakeating.com for details.
Just like most authors around the globe, I have my own specially-crafted routine that I like to employ before I get down to the real nitty-gritty and graft: the task of actually putting meaningful words down on paper, or writing.
I began writing seriously with the intention of being published around 15 years ago now, and at that time I didn’t set out to invent a process or routine to assist me in learning my craft. I just blindly went at it with vigor and an intense passion to succeed; the routine, quirks, and specifics presented themselves like good friends along the way. It’s really all about the individual and what works for you. So, try not to pay too much attention to fellow writers who insist it must be done their way or that what you’re doing is “wrong”. There really is no right or wrong “way”. What might work for one author might be the absolute death knell of creativity to another.
Now, there is nothing I enjoy seeing more on my Instagram feed than the quintessential image of the earnest writer sitting in a quaint café somewhere utterly gorgeous with his/her trusty laptop and Burberry notebook perched next to a delightfully frothy latté served in a pristine white cup. Heavenly image, isn’t it? But sadly, that’s not the writers process for me.
I am more of the Roald Dahl (old) school of writing. The master Dahl used to lock himself away in his purpose built shed located at the bottom of his charming country garden, armed only with a thermos of hot tea, a holder full of pencils, a blanket, and his trusty notebooks (although I would have had to insist on a heater being installed inside that rickety, old shed; English winters are certainly not for the faint of heart).
When I am ready to sit down and write, the first thing that’s important for me is the time of day. I am a creature of habit, and I like to write either very early in the morning (#5amwritersclub member here) or early evening, around 7:30pm. I rarely ever write in the middle of the day. I prefer to set that time aside for reading (a pursuit that is absolutely essential for any writer, novice or otherwise).
The second thing that’s vitally important for me before I begin the writing process is absolute peace and quiet. Absolute. I simply cannot have any noise interference whatsoever, and I can’t listen to music of any kind when writing, either (you can see why that isolated shed idea is appealing now for me, eh?). Bose noise-reducing earbuds come in especially useful indeed in my house. And don’t underestimate the gentle hum of a fan to block out the sound of the T.V travelling up the hallway from the living room, or the cats howling like crazed banshees outside the bedroom door (for no good bloody reason other than to bother me, I might add).
So, now that I’m settled in my writing nook, it’s actually time to write something. And the utensils I use to write with again differ from many of today’s 21st century scribes. I find it absolutely impossible to write or create the story on my laptop. Simply cannot do it. I have to let the actual story itself flow through my sharpened pencil onto a real, tangible piece of paper in front of me. I use notebooks, and lots of them. Notebooks for the plotting and planning of my story (which is always completed in detail before I begin writing any novel – more on that in future posts) and notebooks for the story creation itself. Then, once the characters and their chapters are all safely transported inside my notebook, I transcribe them onto my computer. My trusty laptop is the tool I always use for the editing process (a process I thoroughly enjoy, btw – more on that later, too) and the actual publication of my novels.
Location? Well, my writing sessions usually always take place either in bed or snuggled up in the most comfortable spot on the sofa. Soft lighting is a must (think Himalayan salt lamps, fairy lights, and candles), and I use a small book light attached to my notebook to help guide the way. And then, with sharpened pencil in one hand and a cup of tea in the other, it begins.
And that’s my writing process in a nutshell. Not forgetting of course, the large pot of tea I always insist on brewing before any early morning or evening writing session. I usually only write for around 2 hours per session, and then it’s time to either crack on with my day and its many responsibilities or curl up with my current read and fall asleep.
I’m not one for page counts or setting deadlines for myself when I’m writing a book. I just try (and don’t always succeed) to write at least once a day. And by using this method I have managed to produce four middle-grade novels. I see a lot of folks out there in the writer’s community talking about the thousands of words they’ve written that day or forcing themselves to churn out work to meet a self-imposed deadline. That’s not for me, I’m afraid. I find it kills my creativity dead, and in a world where I experience enough stress as it is, I have absolutely no desire to inflict any more of the stuff on myself if it’s not necessary.
If, one day, I’m fortunate enough to be traditionally published and have deadlines imposed upon me by a large publishing house and/or agent, then word-count city it is. But until such time I’ll take quality over quantity any day of the week. This isn’t a race or a competition to see who can write the most or who can break their back writing for hours upon hours each day, neglecting their life and themselves along the way. Don’t compare yourself to others on this journey or try to match their sprint-like pace. If word counts and deadlines work for you, then more power to you. It’s just not the process for me. And that’s exactly what it’s all about. If we were all identical in our process and storytelling technique, what a tremendously vanilla literary landscape it would be for us all. So be you - wonderful, individual you - write your way, and above all strive for quality, originality, and your own clear voice in your storytelling.