Novels Worth Reading

As a novel writer, I’m first and foremost a reader; I love to read, I love to buy books, smell them, feel them, upload them… any form is fine by me.  I want the books I read to be witty, intelligent, and well developed in terms of plots, characters and environments.

Kitchen Sink Realism

Everyone has different tastes – that’s why there are so many different genres; but for me personally, there’s also a list of things I don’t want in a novel:  I don’t want to be confronted with messy lives dealing with self-inflicted problem after problem; I don’t want tragic or sad or bitter endings; I don’t want to be confronted with the grit, grime, blood and gore of dysfunctional lives that end up learning nothing, making no character arcs, and end up in the mud by the end of the tale.   This genre description actually has a name:  Kitchen Sink Realism.  It was a cultural movement in Britain back in the ‘50s and ‘60s that was portrayed in films, books, plays, and art – the grit, grime, anger, disillusionment and harsh realities of realistic social scenarios.  It’s what might also be referred to as postmodernism.  My personal response to this kind of novel is, “If I wanted that kind of realistic tension, I could just go hang out at the nearest bar.”

A Tough Nut

I once had an English student, and our focus was medical English in preparation for their upcoming medical exams (two nurses came together for semi-private tutoring).  As part of the lesson we needed to work on basic conversational skills and sentence structures, and I find that the best way to bring in a wide variety of scenarios is usually to do a type of role play – nothing embarrassing, but each person is given a character to put themselves into a situation that they might not normally deal with:  They may be a chef, or a secretary, or a customer in a hardware store.  This particular student, when asked what kinds of books she read, said, “history and autobiographies or biographies”.  When asked what novels she read, she said she found such things ridiculous and a complete waste of time (this was back before I became an author!); she categorically refused to even try to put herself into someone else’s shoes for the scenarios.  My impression of her as a person was that she was narrow-minded, knew it, and was proud of that fact.  She was a hard character, and all the time I knew her or met her afterwards, I never saw a soft side emerge, either toward herself or toward others; I often found myself wondering why she’d gotten into the nursing profession in the first place – as a patient, I wouldn’t necessarily want her working on my ward…  A line from the novel I’m currently writing (Asunder, the third book in the Northing Trilogy) would have fit her life too:  “he has never had the propensity for engendering compassion; I pray he never needs it, as he never gives it.”  An epic love story might do her a world of good.

What’s Worth Reading

What I want when I read a book is to be transported into another life, whether that’s in the past, present or future, on this earth, or on another planet, or in another dimension; I want to be entertained, made thoughtful, learn something about the world around me, and learn something about myself.  Ideally, I will come away from the experience having been changed, in even a small way.  I want to feel connected; somewhere out there is a person I can relate to – whether it be the author, or the character, or other readers that appreciate the same books.

Aside from places and times that are genre-specific, such as science fiction and alien planets in the future, or London in the 18th century, all of the elements of what I like in novels are universal.  Humans the world over, in every century, want to feel connected; to feel that they can relate to something someone else is going through; even to have parts of their own life’s experiences explained through someone else’s perspectives in similar circumstances.  Above all else, at the heart of every good novel – regardless of the genre – is a story of love; that is the ultimate connection between characters.  It may be a child finding the love of a family after being shoved through the knocks of life too much for their age; it may be the hero or heroine finding love; it may be a widow or widower finding love again, or reuniting with true loves; it may be someone coming to the point in their life that they accept and love themselves just the way they are.

On to You!

When you read novels, what is it you’re looking for?  I would love to hear about it – please comment below, even if it’s just a few key words!




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Wordless Wednesday no. 7




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Odd Jobs #14: Virtual Assistants to Worm Farmers

This is the last of my series of odd jobs; along the way, there have been some amazing, some disgusting, and some downright puzzling ones.  Somewhere out there, beneath the deep blue sky, there’s someone thinking, “Why did I take this job, again?”  Having said that, every job has some kind of perk; it’s just that with some jobs, you have to dig into the muck to find it.


A friend of mine had a grandfather who was a rubbish collector back in the 1950s here in Switzerland; times were slim for the family, and he used to bring home things he thought were interesting, useful, or perhaps valuable that he’d found in the rubbish.  One of those things he’d brought home was a large tome, with gilt embossing and brass knobs on the pictorial cover board (these “feet” are at the four corners, and were used to support the book cover and protect it from wearing on the gold leaf when it sat on the wooden pulpit), and deep, plain embossing on the back board.  That someone would throw it away rather than giving it to a charity is beyond me.  Be that as it may, it was discovered to be Dr. Martin Luther’s Haus-Postille (sermons), with illustrated lithograph engravings throughout, by W. Walther, from Dresden, dated from 1890.  It was passed down through the family to my friend, and she had no use for it; she knows I collect books (including antique books) and have a library, and thus it has now come to me.  It is in excellent condition, and is being well looked after now, despite its close call in the rubbish!  [The image does not do justice to the brilliant golden gilt that still shines clearly on my copy, even after all these years…]

So, on with the final lineup of odd jobs!  The first and last links take you to another list of odd jobs, which includes the two here.  A couple of the jobs seem a bit dangerous to me – either flying off the side of a water slide that doesn’t quite meet safety standards yet, or dangling by a rope off of a glass building… if I had to choose I’d take the water rather than London pavement as a place to land.  Safer, but not necessarily easier, is the job of a voice-over artist; dubbing languages for films, or filling in the voices for rough tracks in animated films, or even – and I find this particularly unethical, as a singer myself – to be paid to replace a recording artist’s voice, such as the scandal involving Milli Vanilli, which destroyed their careers.  Enjoy browsing the final list; perhaps in the future at some point I’ll bring along another addition or two.

  • Virtual Assistant
  • Virtual Head Hunter
  • Voice-Over Artists
  • Water Slide Tester
  • Wax Figure Sculptor: Mold wax to create figures, often for, but not limited to, the human form. Figures are often made in the likeness of people who have achieved historical or celebrity recognition.
  • Wig Maker: Put simply, they make wigs, but the process is anything but simple. First, wig makers create a plastic model of the wearer’s head and hairline, and then they transfer the mold onto a padded canvas similar to the client’s general head size, covering it with wig lace. Using a needle, they knot and pull thousands of hairs, one by one, through the mesh cap. Once all the hairs are in place, the wig is styled to the wearer’s preference.
  • Window cleaner for the Gherkin (London): It takes a team of 9 cleaners 10 days to complete the task, as the building stands 180 metres tall and consists of 7,429 panes of glass.
  • Worm Farmer


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Wordless Wednesday no. 6




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Just Smile

smileHave you ever stared at a word for days on end?  I have, and coming to the end of the tunnel is bliss.  When writing, I tend to use “place-markers” – anywhere from a single word to a rough-sketch of a scene that I know will need to be fleshed out, moved, replaced or “cannibalized” for a concept.  Some people like to use special writing programs, and I’ve tried a few over the years, but I tend to do all of my writing in Word; it’s got review “post-its” I can type into the side margins, and I’m usually more organized than programs like Scrivener anyway.  When I go back over such sections, I take off my writer’s hat and put on my editor’s cap, and dive in.

I’ve been editing a manuscript, and at the moment I’m focusing on repetitions; the most recent word was smile.  Each time I came across the word, I needed to read the context, think about whether it should be removed, replaced, the sentence reworded, or left as-is.  I’ve discovered that there are not actually that many synonyms for “smile” in the English language; smirk, sneer, grimace, simper, scowl, grin… they each have their own connotations, and are not simply interchangeable – each choice will effect the overall meaning in distinct ways.   as William Blake once said, “There is a smile of Love, And there is a smile of Deceit, And there is a smile of smiles In which these two smiles meet.”  Sometimes it can simply be left out – the context informs the reader about which emotions are being displayed by the characters.  Characters in love have a different smile for each other than for frenemies, or antagonists, or superiors, or subordinates, and each situation in which various characters are combined might result in a different word for smile.  And does one smile warmly, or coldly?  Broadly or tight-lipped?

theoden-king-of-rohan-lord-of-the-ringsSometimes I wonder if I think far too much about such details; but I’d rather think about it once too often and get it right than not.  It might have seemed a tad extravagant for Weta Workshop to emboss the inside of King Théoden’s breastplate armour for the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, and Return of the King (in which the character appears), knowing it would never actually be seen in the films; but Bernard Hill, who played the king, said that such details helped him easily slip into the role, even feeling the nobility of a king, and it thus enhanced and influenced his performance.  As visuals matter in epic films such as LoR, words matter in writing a novel, drawing the reader into the imaginary landscape of the world the author creates. ever-after

They also matter in script-writing:  In Ever After, starring Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott, some of the dialogue lines are just downright embarrassing – especially those of Anjelica Huston:  They go to the trouble of being opulent and period-accurate in costumes, locations and scene dressings, and then throw in lines like Relax, child and I’m management!  The editor in me cringes.

One man’s smile is another man’s smirk; one woman’s grin is another woman’s sneer.  Now, on to the next item on my list of editing revisions!




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Wordless Wednesday no. 5


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Odd Jobs #13: Sommeliers to Video Game Testers

Here’s our next lineup of odd jobs. While each job is on the list for a reason, the most humorous is probably the traffic zebra of Bolivia – there are dozens of them, and they direct traffic, help people cross safely, and undoubtedly keep drivers more alert.  The job most teenagers would kill for is that of the video game tester; imagine getting paid to play computer games all day!  For me it would very much depend on the game – I love games like the Riven series, but games that have free-roaming views (smoothly following the mouse movements) give me a migraine after an hour…

Of all the jobs in this list, I think the one that captures my imagination the most is the Sommelier; not as a job, but because I like wine!  Recently my husband and I drank a bottle together, and we decided that it wasn’t complete without watching one of our favourite films, “A Good Year” – it did make it taste better.  I also like tea, but I would prefer to stick to Earl Grey, curl up in my favourite chair and read a good book – what I’ll be doing next.  So enjoy the lineup, and then go and read a good book with your favourite cuppa!

  • Sommelier (Wine Steward)
  • Swan Uppers (England) This ceremony dates back to the 12th
  • Tampon Tester: Check all sizes of tampons for absorbency and cord strength in accordance with FDA standards. Most testers check up to 125 pieces per day.
  • Tea Taster
  • Teddy Bear Repair Technician
  • Traffic Zebras (Bolivia)
  • Trend Hunter: Closely related to marketing, it’s a profession to find out what’s going to be cool next, and predicting it accurately for fashion and tech companies as well as manufacturing businesses.
  • Veterinary Acupuncturist
  • Vibration Consultant: Works with architects and engineers to advise and correct noise and vibration issues in construction projects and in the manufacturing of products.
  • Video Game Tester: For eight hours a day, five days a week, a group of males and females of all ages play video games. They repeat levels, games and characters, looking for any bugs and/or glitches in the software.



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Wordless Wednesday no. 4




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Say It Well

Let’s face it:  When writing dialogues between characters, repetition can tend to sneak up on us:  He said, she said, he whispered, she whispered, and so on.  There are a few tricks I’d like to share with you that I’ve learned along the way; one is regarding grammar, and the other is my own twist on dealing with the issue.

Regarding grammar, action verbs can often take the place of the more passive verbs (such as said):  “He said, ‘I’d like that.’” can be spiced up by giving him an action to do (“He picked up the travel brochure and flipped through it:  ‘I’d like that.’”)  The second sentence gives more context, and is more visually engaging for the reader.  Keep in mind that every word should count; don’t pad out the sentence just for word count, or make each exchange in the conversation a prop advertisement; but punctuating a dialogue with such moments can bring it to life.

My own twist is a literal one – a CD:  I took an old one, covered both sides with blank CD labels, and wrote all of the synonyms (listed below) for say and said in a spiral, starting in the centre, changing colours for each new letter of the alphabet.  To use it, I just put it on my finger and spin it around as I read through the spiral until I find the word that best fits my sentence.  I have several such CDs within reach of my computer (another CD, for instance, is for walk synonyms, and another for lie/lay); if you make enough of them, you could keep them in a CD pouch.  Here’s my list of the words around Say (click on the image to enlarge):


A word of advice to those of you for whom English is not mother-tongue:  Depending on the word, the sentence structure may need to be adapted.  If you’re unsure how to use a word, I would recommend looking it up on Wordnik, and reading the examples on the right-hand side of the page; then choose the sentence structure, prepositions, etc. that are more frequent than not.

I hope that this list helps you say what you want with the variety and precision you’re aiming for!  Feel free to reblog!  Feel free to print this list out and use it; if you pass it on online please put a hyperlink back to this blog, or recommend my blog if you pass it on by word of mouth… thank you!

If you can think of any words or phrases to replace say or said that I missed in the list above, please put them in the comments below!  Keep writing!





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Wordless Wednesday no.3



September 21, 2016 · 12:14 AM