What makes a classic? For me, a classic book is one that penetrates the soul of many readers and stands the test of time … And by that, I mean it continues to sell decades after it was published.
We can all state the usual classic books by amazing authors like Dickens and Shakespeare, yet there are so many classics out there that don’t immediately spring to mind. Here are 10 Sensational Classics to Read Right Now!
1) Battle Royale by Koushun Takami
Kids kidnapped and taken to an island to fight to the death until one is left standing, done in the name of entertainment and to maintain law and order over the unruly youth. Battle Royale may not scream classic, yet, Takami’s YA novel is not just a horror show. It’s a looking glass into the minds of teenagers faced with an impossible situation and their attempts to stay alive. Some give up, some become ruthless killers and some stand up against the government and try to escape. Dystopian as a genre is full of classic tales. This one being one of the best.
For more information on dystopian worlds, read my Top Ten Deplorable Dystopian Worlds HERE.
2) I know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This is the first volume in a series of six autobiographical books. It’s a coming of age story. Quote: “I was going to look like one of those sweet little white girls who were everybody’s dream of what was right with the world.” Two pages in and tears were streaming down my face. What a thing for a child to think. A powerful account of a difficult life, told in an innocent voice and in the style of a fictional novel. Have some tissues handy, you will cry. A non-fiction classic.
3) Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
There was some dispute over this one. People couldn’t believe that a woman, and someone as young as twenty, could have penned this accomplished, dark, gothic story. Mary’s husband (also a writer) must have written the novel. Nope! It was found that her husband had done no more to enhance the story than that of a usual editor. Mary had indeed penned the tale. Frankenstein is whimsically written, lulling the reader into a false sense of security before the frightening truth unfolds. The story of Frankenstein’s monster has been retold using many different mediums. It’s a tragic tale of a manmade creature trying to find his place in the world. The creature ends up killing people and destroying is maker’s life, all because he doesn’t wish to be alone. Doctor Frankenstein is the real monster. A firm classic.
4) The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
When I was the same age as Anne, I wrote a diary. It was unremarkable garbage which involved teenage angst and gossip. I thought it might be publishable and actually wrote to my favourite author at the time to ask her opinion. She told me my diaries would have to be remarkable to be published. Mine might not have been, but Anne Frank’s certainly was! Written from age 13-15, Anne documented her life during the war and sadly died in a concentration camp, never to know her diary would be published. Anne describes people and events as only a teenager can. It is both heart-warming and heart-breaking: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” A forever classic.
5) Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Arthur wrote this book over six years and it was released when he was forty. This is one of my all-time favourite novels, which is surprising because it does not fit with my usual ‘go to’ genres. What makes this classic story amazing is the fact Golden consulted a real Geisha and spent time studying and working in Japan. The novel transports you back to a time period when Geisha were at their peak. It’s a work of fiction but Mineko Iwasaki, who Golden had secret meetings with, was outraged when he named her in the acknowledgements. She received death threats and lost friends over breaking the code of Geisha and then wrote her autobiography: ‘Geisha of Gion’ as counter balance to his story. It makes me wonder how much of a work of fiction it is and that maybe there is more truth in this story than Geisha would like to acknowledge.
6) Animal Farm by George Orwell
George had written ten books before he penned Animal Farm and was about forty-two when he wrote this amazing political tale about farm animals staging a revolution. The animals wanted freedom and a better life, what happens is far from it. This novella highlights how easy it is to manipulate facts to suit an agenda and how easily the mind will accept alt-facts. A clever story and one that stands the test of time, especially in the post Brexit, Trump age!
7) The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Written in entries titled ‘Dear god’ this book is strong from the start. It almost feels like non-fiction. The protagonist’s voice and character pops off the page, Celie’s southern accent coming through as if she sits in the room talking to you. Alice Walker actually narrates the audiobook, it’s haunting. The Color Purple is a tale of sexism, racism, abuse and control. It is also a tale of sisterhood and strength in the face of adversity. A southern girl, in impossible circumstances. There’s no question as to why this won the Pulitzer prize, this book deals in the human condition with unapologetic honesty.
8) Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by JK Rowling
The Harry Potter series is hugely popular and for good reason. I believe it is a classic tale across seven books. I’ve found that some adults have a mental block where HP is concerned and it’s a real shame. I read the books in my 20s and it was a magical experience. My children are now reading, watching and listening to the masterpiece that is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. The story is riddled with messages of morality and touches on so many important issues; right and wrong and the grey area in between. Injustice. Life, loss and death. JK Rowling has sewn her fantasy world into our reality, and that’s the real magic of Harry Potter.
9) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Ray’s writing is unusual. It’s written in prose I’d never seen before. Disjointed and poetic, like the story itself. The book is centred around the life of a man called Guy Montag, who’s a fireman; called not to put out fires but to start them. In this bleak idea of the future, books are outlawed and Montag’s job is to burn them and any personal libraries he happens across. Montag is soon disillusioned with the world he lives in and everything starts to unravel from there. A classic dystopian tale which is every reader’s nightmare.
For more on this title, read the case study HERE.
10) Misery by Stephen King
From a reader’s book-burning nightmare to a writer’s manuscript-burning one! Misery is one of my favourite King books. It’s the ultimate fangirl obsession taken to psychopathic levels. Annie Wilkes is a classic character and the idea of a writer being kept prisoner in order to re-write a book a fangirl was unhappy with is something I don’t think can ever be recreated. King has nailed it.
For more on this title, read the case study HERE.
IN CLOSING: There are thousands of classics and more being penned every day. I’d love to hear from anyone who can recommend classic work by LGBT, poor/uneducated or disabled authors. The person behind the book matters not, we don’t need to know who they are to enjoy their work but I, for one, think all voices should have an equal platform. Storytelling belongs to all of us. If we continue to increase the variety of voices and characters in our stories, the HUMAN race will continue to grow and flourish.
Ah, Valentine’s Day – the one day of the year most of us DREAD. Yep, you read that right. It’s not about love, it’s about companies using our emotions against us in order to cash in!
Perhaps we should celebrate the day of love as was intended? I researched the murky origins of Valentine’s Day and then thought about couples who might prefer the traditional Roman way of celebrating, rather than the card-giving we do these days.
We’ve gone from this …
“From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. The Romans were drunk and naked. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them. They believed this would make them fertile. The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would be together for the duration of the festival —or longer, if the match was right.” YIKES!
… To this:
‘William Shakespeare helped romanticise Valentine’s Day in his work, and thus it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.’
Hmm … what a choice! Do I want a romantic Valentine’s Day of kisses and card-giving, or a good ol’whipping with the hide of an animal???
I think I know what my Top 5 Lunatic Lovers would choose — just watch out, 'cos here there be spoilers …
1) Mickey and Mallory Knox, NATURAL BORN KILLERS
When people first think of crazy lovers they go one of two ways: The Joker and Harlequin or Mickey and Mallory. These two are seriously screwed in the head. Both from abusive backgrounds, they hook up and go on a killing spree. They get off on killing people together. Taking lives brings them closer. They play sadistic games; not like cat and mouse, more like two wolves provoking each other. Deeply in love and deeply disturbed.
Tarantino’s screenplay was heavily revised by writer David Veloz, the producer and the director Oliver Stone. Though I like the film the way it is, I would love to see the original script. MORE: The Secret Of Writing Great Conflict In Scenes – 3 Examples
2) Spike and Drusilla, BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER
It’s no secret I’m a Buffy fan. A female slayer with super strength is a neat concept and the show has a great cast of characters. Two that I love are Spike and Drusilla. A vampire couple who’ve been together since forever. They love to torment their victims and although Dru is utterly insane, Spike worships her. The couple tease each other, plot together and kill for one another. Sadly, it doesn’t last. Though they can live forever, their love for each other dies.
3) Chucky and Tiffany, BRIDE OF CHUCKY
Comedy couple of the bunch. Plastic fantastic, passionate and psychotic. This couple enjoy being abusive to each other. Insults, physical abuse, they even try to kill one another. Dysfunctional and delightful. Once human, their consciousness is now trapped inside two dolls. Chucky was a serial killer and his bride shares his passion for murder and mayhem.
Tiffany: [after Chucky stabs her] My mother always told me love would set me free.
Chucky: [pushes her back] Get off my knife.
MORE: 7 Dark Loves of Cinema
4) Cersei and Jamie Lannister, GAME OF THRONES
These two are uber-sick puppies. Not only brother and sister but twins!
Cersei: Jaime and I are more than brother and sister. We shared a womb. We came into this world together, we belong together.
Cersei is a power-hungry tyrant who will stop at nothing to get what she wants. Jamie pushes a ten-year-old boy out of a window in order to keep their dirty secret and preserve their love. The boy doesn’t die. Naturally, Cersei then tries to kill him. Jamie rapes Cersei in a room with their dead son, but still they remain together.
5) Pauline and Juliet – HEAVENLY CREATURES
This movie is based on a true story and filmed in my home from home, Christchurch, New Zealand. I moved from London to New Zealand when I was sixteen years old and that’s when I met my own lunatic lover. (Well, minus the lunatic part!)
In the opening credits of Heavenly Creatures, Peter Jackson depicts a safe, conservative Christchurch and then a sinister story unfolds. The two girls are aspiring writers, and they create their own fantasy world to live in. When the couple are faced with being split up (society was not accepting of homosexuality back in 1950s) they plot to kill Pauline’s mother in order to stay together.
I’ve actually walked the path Pauline and Juliet took before committing the murder. It’s creepy. The girls tried to convince the authorities that the mother’s death was a terrible accident, but Pauline’s diaries were found and the lover’s worst fears realised. They were split up forever. MORE: Top 7 Killer Couples of Cinema
Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!
Stephen King is the master of horror. The king of grim, the heir of scare, the duke of puke, the prince of mince… well, maybe not that last one! But this means he also has some fantastic book to film adaptions out there.
I’m a huge King fan. Not quite as infatuated as Annie Wilkes is with Paul Sheldon, but not far off! For those who are not familiar with Misery, here is a summary of the plot.
Paul Sheldon is the writer of a popular romance series called Misery. He has a car accident in the middle of nowhere and Annie Wilkes (his number one fan) comes to his aid. Instead of taking him to the hospital this psychotic ex-nurse takes him to her home and holds him captive.
While he’s ‘recovering’ from his injuries she reads his latest Misery book and is livid when she finds out he’s killed off the protagonist (Misery), thus ending the series. Annie keeps Paul locked in a room and forces him to write a new novel, ‘Misery’s Return.’ Paul does as she bids, all the while trying to think of a way to escape before the crazed Annie kills him.
Before we get started – there aren’t huge spoilers in here but there are some. I don’t mind spoilers because I’m a writer and it comes with the territory, but I’d hate to spoil the story for others. Ready? Let’s go …
The Book (released 1987)
1) Paul’s Misery is Threefold
So, we know Misery is the protagonist in a series of romance novels written by Paul Sheldon. The title is a nice play on words but it could have more than one meaning. For me, it’s also about the misery Paul feels in having to continue writing the popular romance series long after his passion for it fizzled out, writing to please readers and fulfil his obligation to the publisher (a fictional gun to his head). Then Paul crosses paths with his number one fan, Annie Wilkes, and this concept is taken to a whole new level, piling on more psychological misery and adding physical misery to the mix.
2) Paul’s Inner Crazy
Misery comes under the header psychological horror and the book lives up to this label. What the reader gains from the book is Paul’s thought pattern and not just what he is thinking about doing, but also an inner monologue from a third voice who is rather aggressive towards him. Paul seems to have two voices in his head. They are both his own, but one is an alter-ego, part of his self-loathing, which makes it seem like a separate entity jabbering away inside his head, slowly driving him crazy.
3) Annie Wilkes
As King says, ‘The best stories always end up being about the people, rather than the event.’ Annie is etched into my mind. She is the star of this book, her dialogue shaping her. On the surface, Annie doesn’t look like a traditional monster, even though Paul makes it seem like she’s gruesome, with her cracked lips and stinky breath. Yet that’s precisely what makes her terrifying.
What makes Annie dangerous is that she doesn’t look/seem dangerous … at first. This narcissistic maniac is the lynchpin; if she’d been less colourful and layered the story would have lost its magic. Paul, on the other hand, could have been anyone. He’s just a regular guy and maybe that contrasts to how crazy Annie is.
The pace of the book was not fast enough for me. I don’t know if this is because I read it in the information age and not when it was released in 1987. I would have been seven-years-old and although already writing my own horror stories at that age, I was obviously not reading King yet. I expect to read fast-paced stories and I do struggle when they plod, no matter how rich the prose … but maybe that’s just me?
5) Too Much Information
I could have easily enjoyed the book had King left some less important strands of information out. The Misery’s Return parts for example. I was uninterested in reading about Misery’s adventures. No wonder Paul hated writing about her. I imagine King did this for several reasons: to show how annoying Annie is for liking such trash; to show Paul’s struggle having to write with the letter ‘n’ missing off his typewriter and later the letter ‘t’; or to show another part of Paul’s torture, forced to sit and write something he’s come to hate. I almost skipped over and only read on out of fear of missing something important later in the book. It’s a minor gripe though and I’m being extremely picky because it’s hard to find weaknesses in SK’s work.
The Film (released 1990)
As mentioned above, I was bored by point 5 in this list, so I think the movie draws strength from us NOT having to read about Misery’s adventures! Instead, we only see an excited Annie asking Paul questions. Kathy Bates was perfect for this role. Not only does she look like the type of woman who would enjoy Misery stories but her body language and the way she delivers her lines is exactly like I imagined the deranged ex-nurse Annie Wilkes. King brought her to life on the pages and Bates did her justice on the screen.
I think the hobbling in the film was effective. Had they cut the foot off and blowtorched it, I don’t think that level of gore would have had the same impact as the block of wood and sledge hammer. It would have taken something away from the character Bates had created, pushed it too far in the insane direction for the viewers and made her less believable. Less was more in this case. I think this is also true of the scene with the lawnmower, which those dirty birdies left out of the film (but was my favourite part of the book!).
8) Dialogue and Overall ‘Feel’
The script was true to the book. I liked that they kept Annie’s original dialogue. Words like: Cockadoodee, dirty birdy, mister man and oogie, weren’t compromised. The writers were also loyal to the plot. The film was clean, simple and ticked all the boxes. The location and set design were just as I’d imagined. Had they made the film grander than two characters and a room, I think it would have failed.
9) Paul Sheldon
I thought Paul was uninteresting. I didn’t feel the same level of sympathy towards him that I did in the book. I wondered if this was the choice of actor, perhaps I felt James Cann wasn’t the right fit? But I think some of it is to do with the lack of inner voice: it was almost like an extra character in the book and for me, this wasn’t translated to film. I felt Paul’s pain and panic but I’m not sure I cared about him all that much. In the book, I was rooting for Paul to escape, not so much in the film. His descent into madness wasn’t there; he stayed relatively calm in the film. If I think about casting the film today I would cast Heath Ledger (if he were alive) or Idris Elba as Paul … Melissa McCarthy would make a great Annie!
10) Paul’s Inner Voice
Had the inner voice making Paul crazy been added, I think I would have felt more of a connection to Paul. I don’t know how they could have portrayed this better but I feel it was the only thing the movie lacked.
I like the book and film in equal amounts. Sometimes book to film can be disappointing but here we have a subject matter that translates from page to screen extremely well. Is it the simplicity of the story? Possibly. I think it’s also probably King’s genius and the right filmmakers and actors for the job.
By the way, as a writer, the most miserable AND frightening part of both the book and the film was when Annie made Paul burn the only copy of his new manuscript. NO!!!
I think I’d have answered her request to torch my hard work with, ‘I’d rather die, you cockadoodee!’
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but here’s why I think you should …
We’ve all heard bookworms say they don’t care about the cover as long as the story is good but in the next breath they’ll say, ‘I bought it because I liked the cover!’
Truth is, we want to read a good story first and foremost, but readers ARE attracted to cool covers. So, let’s talk about why it’s important to have a great cover for your book:
1) Visual Hook
A good book cover acts as a shop window. After staring at an interesting shop window for a bit, I soon want to go inside and I don’t even need to knock! It’s the same for book covers. Why? Because, like shop windows, you think ‘This cover is so amazing; the book must be the good’ Simple, really!
Of course, we all know a good cover doesn’t necessarily mean a great book, but a good cover helps SEDUCE readers … just like it did with Fifty Shades of Grey. I’ll admit: it had a great cover and I was drawn to it, picking off the shelf even before I’d heard the hype. Then I read the first page and put it back down! But I did pick the book up. That’s what’s important here. You need to get the book into people’s hands before they can begin to read it.
TOP TIP: Hook the reader with a lush cover. If you don’t bait the line, how can you expect to catch any fish?
2) Amateur Book Cover = Amateur Writer
If the book cover is ugly then what does that say about the writing? Well, rightly or wrongly, just as an ‘amazing cover = amazing writing’, the opposite assumption is made. People will think that, if the author didn’t care enough to make sure the cover was amazing, then they probably didn’t take the same care when writing the novel. It’s a real shame when I see a writer has worked hard on their debut, for their book cover to fall down on such an important first impression.
TOP TIP: Show you’re a professional by using the best tools at your disposal, don’t settle for ‘that’ll do’ because it won’t.
The cover sets the tone for a reader. Get it wrong and miss your target audience. Who are you aiming this book at? If you put out a teen romance with a picture of a grandma knitting in a rocking chair on the cover, you will probably miss your target audience or any audience, for that matter. Okay, that’s simplifying the matter, but believe me – it’s easy to get wrong. The cover of Harry Potter was clearly aimed at children, yet I, and many others, read it as adults. By book five Bloomsbury were putting out two covers, one for adults and one for children, with the thought that adults could now read this magical children’s series in public without feeling silly. Great idea!
Here on the left is an example of an effective cover without the huge price tag. So pretty. The name says it all and the colours and minimalist background promises sophisticated and intriguing stories.
Shameless plug: my short story, London’s Crawling, is in this book. I love the cover. It does the job for all the stories included in the charity collection. I’m grateful to Bloodhound Books for choosing such a fab cover design.
TOP TIP: Remember who your target audience is. The Dark Minds cover sets the tone perfectly; readers instantly know what kind of stories they’re going to find inside.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie, mid-range writer or a famous bestseller like King and Rowling. You MUST put out the best cover possible! No matter what, famous authors always put out the most amazing book covers. Why do they bother? They could put out a blank book – white cover with their name on the front in black courier font – their fans would still buy it, right? So why don’t they put books out like that?
Because a) their brand helps people find their books quickly and b) people expect a swanky cover from them, if the cover quality drops they might think there’s something wrong with their favourite author and perhaps the writing quality has also dropped. Plus, don’t forget – authors should be always looking to hook new readers.
TOP TIP: Don’t let the quality of your book covers drop, ever! I’ve followed many writers’ careers and found consistency to be the key to longevity.
5) Branding and Titles
Branding is important. This is not just about genre, authors can swap and change, but branding your books in line with yourself as an author is part of the magic. Irrespective of genre, Stephen King stands out on the shelf, as does Dr. Seuss. You can clearly pick out these authors in a sea of books.
Stamp your book cover with your name and style, be bold but be careful about naming your masterpiece as well as yourself. JK Rowling branded her name as well as her books. I’m still wondering whether it’s a good idea to separate my darker novels from my lighter ones. Should I use Emma Pullar for my picture books and lighter YA novels and then E Pullar for my darker YA/NA stuff? I’m still not sure, but I do know that having a name like Gertrude Picklebottom might be a plus as a pseudonym for my children’s books and fantasy novels but probably not so for my sci-fi, horror and dystopian novels, one of which has been described as “Beckett-esque in its nihilism.”
TOP TIP: Think hard about what you want to put across to readers. Self. Style. Story. Make sure your brand stands out.
You book’s cover is your shop window. An imaginative window display can mean the difference between customers walking straight by or walking onto the shop and even posting photos online of the gorgeous shop window for all their friends to see. It should be the same when presenting your books to potential readers.
PUT YOUR BEST COVER FORWARD!
I often read blogs where people have insisted ‘dystopia is dead’ or the dystopian trend has passed. This simply isn’t true. Dystopian stories have always been popular and The Hunger Games wasn’t the FIRST popular dystopian story and it won’t be the LAST.
I love dystopian tales because they’re a dirty mirror, and even when the dust is removed and the glass is polished, the mirror remains cracked and broken. These mirrors show us our most unattractive self. Beneath the makeup and the filters and the Botox (or whatever it is people use to make their appearance more appealing) are the spots and discolorations and unwanted hair sticking out from your chin and dark circles under your eyes and wrinkles and … Read dystopian stories and be confronted with the ugly truth. If you dare!
This is my own dystopian/Sci-fi novel’s LOGLINE:
In a dark, futuristic city, a young anti-heroin goes on a perilous mission to prevent herself from becoming a human incubator for her hover-chair bound masters.
Like many dystopian stories, my Sci-fi is about control and being forced to live a lie. It tackles a repressive, authoritarian government, a disgraceful class-system, injustice, racism, and interracial relationships and more. All the things that drive me crazy about our society… and then I made it much, much worse! It’s part of a duology and my agent is currently working on finding the right home for it.
In the meantime, here’s a rundown of some of my favourite dystopian stories so far. These authors inspired me to want to write similar tales. Are any of these your favourites?
1) DUNE by Frank Herbert: Dystopian Sci-fi with a splash or horror
Dune is the story of a futuristic interplanetary or interstellar society of noble houses who rule over different planets. The protagonist, Paul Atreides, is sent to the desert planet of Arrakis to manage the dangerous mining of “spice” melange, which is the most important substance in the universe. The story follows Paul as he navigates his way through the politics and religious aspects of the fighting houses, all of them wanting control. This dystopian universe is riddled with deceit, each house trying to out manoeuvre the other using all sorts of manipulation and trickery. Who do you trust? Not the Harkonens, that’s for sure! The atmosphere Herbert has created is like no other. I felt as if I was there, entangled in it all.
2) The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins: Dystopian apocalyptic
Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen volunteers for the 74th Hunger Games in place of her little sister, twelve-year-old Primrose. The girls live in district twelve, part of thirteen impoverished districts who are bound to serve the wealthy Capitol which make up the post-apocalyptic nation of Panem, North America. As a punishment for the rebellion against the Capitol, in which district thirteen was destroyed, the names of one boy and one girl from each of the remaining districts are put into a lottery and once reaped (name drawn) the ‘tributes’ are forced to take part in The Hunger Games – a battle to the death in a booby-trapped area where there can only be one victor. The games are televised and used as a means to control the districts so they don’t try to rise up against the Capitol again. The Hunger Games is a lottery no one wants to enter.
3) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Phillip K Dick: Dystopian Sci-fi
Set in a post-apocalyptic San Francisco. The Earth is in ruins, damaged by a global nuclear war. Animals are endangered or extinct from radiation poisoning and so owning an animal is a sign of status. Most people can’t afford a real animal and so some buy electric ones and pretend they are real. The protagonist, Rick Dekard is a county hunter who retires (kills) escaped Nexus-6 androids to fund his animal collecting obsession. Using a series of tests, Rick must first determine if the target subject is in an android or human. He must not make the mistake of killing a human. Androids shouldn’t feel empathy but some of them don’t know they’re androids. Can the test be wrong? The story asks us what it is to be human and if a machine can be mistaken for one of us, should it be exterminated? This book leaves you with more questions than it gives answers.
4) Lord of the Flies by William Golding: Dystopian Spec-fic
LOTF is considered Spec-fic but I’ve included it because, for me, it is truly a dystopian nightmare! A group of boys marooned on an uninhabited island try to govern themselves with disastrous results. Ralph is the voice of reason while the bully, Jack, wants to do things his way. The boys become separated into two groups, trying to figure out how to survive until they’re rescued, one group become predators, while the others are the prey. Poor, sweet, diplomat ‘piggy’ never stood a chance. He had the conch (it was agreed that whoever held the couch was allowed to speak) but the others still wouldn’t listen. This is such a simple premise and the way the characters react in their new environment encourages us to question our own drives and instincts
5) Divergent by Veronica Roth: Dystopian apocalyptic
Beatrice “Tris” Prior lives with her family in a post-apocalyptic Chicago. In this society citizens have been split into five factions and a person’s strongest personality trait will determine whether they are Abnegation (The Selfless); Dauntless (The Brave); Erudite (The Intelligent); Amity (The Peaceful); Candor (The Honest) and also Factionless, which are the homeless. Unfortunately, when Tris is old enough to be tested she is found to be Divergent which means she has more than one dominant trait. She conceals this as it is undesirable and instead chooses Dauntless as her faction. While settling into her new home (or rather being put through rigorous tests to make sure she is in fact worthy to be Dauntless) Tris uncovers a plot, a bid for control of the masses. I love the idea of being sorted into your strongest personality trait and living with other like-minded people but as Tris finds out, humans cannot be boxed and labelled and that’s one of the biggest issues we face as a society.
6) Battle Royale by Koushun Takami: Dystopian futuristic
Battle Royale was created after an uprising of the people, much the same as The Hunger Games yet BR was written before it. What’s different is an entire class is chosen at random and the teenagers are pitched against their friends until only one remains. The battle is televised and to make sure the teens fight to the death, the metal collar around their neck (attached while the teens were unconscious after being gassed on the school bus) will explode after three days. The collars also pinpoint their position and the teens are given a map so they can keep out of danger zones which change daily. If caught in one, the collar explodes. If they try to take the collar off… you guessed it. BANG! My favourite thing about this story is the ‘pot luck’ backpacks. If you’re lucky you get an axe, not so lucky, a dustbin lid!
7) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury: Dystopian futuristic
Ray Bradbury presents a future America where books are outlawed. The protagonist, Guy Montag, is a fireman and his job is not to put out fires but to start them. Firemen burn any books or personal libraries they find. Guy meets a young girl in his neighbourhood who seems different, she doesn’t see the world like everyone else does; he soon starts to question society and steals books instead of burning them. Suddenly he’s awake, eyes wide open; he can see things as they really are and he doesn’t like what he sees. Fahrenheit 451 is a masterpiece. I devoured it in one sitting.
8) Matched by Ally Condie: Dystopian futuristic
Seventeen-year-old Cassia Reyes lives in a strictly controlled society where life-partners are chosen for you. Usually the ‘match’ lives in another town but strangely Cassia is matched with her best friend, Xander. When she insets the information card she’s been given about her match a different boy’s face flashes up on the screen – an outcast at her school. Cassia’s world starts to unravel as she discovers her society isn’t all it seems. Personally, I find the extent of the control in Cassia’s world extremely scary and being matched with a stranger even scarier!
9) The Man in the High Castle by Phillip K Dick: Dystopian alternative history
Germany and Japan won the war and took over the U.S. This world is set up so carefully that it almost feels real. Like in some parallel universe this actually happened and Phillip K Dick went there and wrote down his findings! The plot is centralized around antique dealer who exposes a corporation supplying counterfeit antiques and blackmails them into giving him money to start his jewellery business. It’s thought provoking because I’m not sure the world Phillip K Dick painted is much different to the U.S. of today.
10) The Running Man by Stephen King: Dystopian futuristic
Another story in the same vein as The Hunger Games but also written before it. In the year 2025, the economy is in ruins, America has become a totalitarian dystopia and violence around the world is increasing. Ben Richards can’t find work and is impoverish with a sick daughter and a wife turning tricks to make ends meet. Desperate, he enlists in a violent gameshow called The Running Man. Ben, along with other contestants, are chased down by hunters (hitmen) trained to kill. Ben earns money the longer he stays alive and even more if he kills a hunter, with a grand prize of a billion dollars for anyone who lasts thirty days. Desperate times call for desperate measures and with reality TV on the rise I wonder how long it will be before we see this type of brutal entertainment!
In closing, I would have to say … the statement above taken from The Running Man movie is pretty messed up! It’s almost 2017 and all of these things ARE happening. Eek!
So ... it's been over four years since I started learning how to write novels and although I have one novel finished to a high standard and an agent getting it under as many publishers noses as humanly possible, there's still no book deal in sight. Sigh.
I join the ranks of many frustrated writers, I know. But here's the thing. I can't sit around and wait. Waiting never helps so I'm going to make some changes to the way I do things in 2016. I'm going to get my stuff out to readers any way I can.
Beta readers tell me they love my stories. My agent loves them. I love them. I need to get my stories into the hands of more people who will enjoy them too. I can no longer sit around hoping a traditional publisher will give me a nice shiny book deal. If nothing has arrived by the end of this year, then I will bring it to you myself.
Watch this space!
Disclaimer: I am a natural storyteller not an English teacher.
You've heard of method actors, right? So is there such a thing as a method author?
I think there might be.
Writers need to be able to put themselves in their protagonist's shoes and most do this successfully. We are all human and all know how it feels to be happy, sad, angry etc but unlike actors who sometimes have to pretend the backdrop is there when it isn't, we have to set the scene and really feel our surroundings. Smell, taste, touch, sound ... sight. I could not remember the last of the five senses! Embarrassing. Shh… don't tell anyone.
That just shows how much emphasis I put on sight. My mind is able to conjure up the most magnificent visions, better than anything I can see in the real world. That's why I love books! Every reader will read my books differently and that is pure magic to me.
Whilst writing magic realism, I wanted my protagonist’s experiences to feel real, especially because it's fantasy. I want the reader (you) to imagine what magic rushing through your body feels like, how a magic addict might suffer and what it would be like to use magical instruments. I want you to feel the power, the fear, the anxiety of having dangerous magics at your fingertips. Like The Never Ending Story, I want you to feel like you're part of the story.
Here is why I think I might be a bit of a method author.
Parts of my stories I can experience, I psychically do. I went to Eastwell Manor (a source of inspiration) and investigated. I even spent the night there - it is spooky at night.
I also did smaller things. In one scene, my protagonist slams into the ground from a height. No, I didn't jump off a cliff. I'm crazy but not that crazy! I went into the garden and allowed my body to drop onto the grass. I smelt the dirt, saw the ants scurrying around and felt the prickly blades press into my cheek. I then went back to my desk and wrote the sentence. That is what I think a 'method author' would do.
Another time I wanted her to feel cold, like ice running down her back. So I did that. I noted the change in my skin, my heart rate and generally my body's reaction to the cold. It helped me to write what she was experiencing with a bit more depth.
As long as it isn't dangerous or going to hurt someone else in any way, I try to experience as much as I can to make my stories breathe.
Let me ask you this: Have you ever read a work of fiction where you felt sure the person who wrote it had actually experienced what the protagonist was going through? Maybe you can see the difference in the writing between those who have experienced and those who are faking it?
What about you? Are you a method author? Do you sit around for weeks not washing and stinking up the place because you are writing about someone trapped in the wilderness? Maybe you went to work with someone to get a feel for their job so you can write your story about an accountant turned psychopath? Maybe you are writing about a little dog and go around eating off people's dinner plates and pooping on your neighbour’s lawn. Note: I did not do this when I wrote Curly from Shirley. Eating someone else's dinner is rude.
I'd love your thoughts.
Disclaimer: I am a natural storyteller, not an English teacher.
Go get a fan base before anyone has even read your book.
I know what you are thinking. That is crazy! You're right, it doesn't really make sense. How can you build a fan base without a product to sell?
Well this is what might be expected of you if you want to land a contract with any of the big publishers.
Blog, tweet, Facebook, WattPad, fan pages, website, juggle life, my kids, (not literally of course for all you mad people who now have a picture in your head of me throwing around my three small children!) relationship with my husband, supporting him at work, cleaning the house, bills/school stuff etc etc and oh yeah, don't forget to write the book! Then re-write, edit and polish it. Phew! I feel tired just writing that.
Writers are having to be sales people, personalities, admins on fan pages, marketing experts and the list goes on. This seems to be because the industry is in a bit of a mess for lack of a better word. People are self-publishing some really great books but many are publishing poorly executed, badly edited and just plain boring stories. With this wide range to choose from and a lot of it free you can see why agents and publishers are finding it difficult to take a chance on any new author. A couple of underperforming titles and that could be the end of their business!
When asked by a major publisher to put my work up on Wattpad I politely declined. After almost three years of practise, (mostly teaching myself what I did not learn at school) I was reluctant to put work up that wasn't edited, even though I knew readers would understand. I love WattPad, it's a great place for young writers to get feedback on their work and I would have loved to share a few chapters but at this stage, I want to try and do things traditionally. I haven't given up hope.
Writing was never and will never be about money, for me. I need money so I can feed my family. I've never had much of it and I don't mind if I never do. When people enjoy reading and are excited about a book that you have written and they love your writing, it is the most magical feeling in the world. I live to make people happy, including myself and I really hope my novels will give people joy as they have done for me.
Thank you to all those that have already supported me. You are amazing. I support new authors wherever I can. There are so many wonderful writers out there just waiting for their chance to fly and take their readers soaring through the clouds with them.
Disclaimer: I am a natural storyteller not an English teacher.
Why write a completely original or unique novel because the ideas you are really passionate about have already been developed?
Well, you shouldn't. You should write whatever you want.
I have original ideas but I also like to draw from mythology and my experiences. My stories come from my thoughts and my thoughts can only be mine, and so you will always find things about my stories that you might not have read before but I say 'might not' because (sadly) we can't read every book in the world and so it is entirely possible for another writer to have had similar ideas to mine and this means you will find familiar themes/characters/plots in every book you read, that doesn't mean I shouldn't write about them though, right?
My favourite authors have a huge impact on what I like to write. I read their books because I love their ideas and writing style and so my stories will naturally take a similar tone. I love fantasy, dystopian, horror and sci-fi and that is reflected in what I write. Should I not write what I want because others have written about these themes before me?
I hear things like "not ground-breakingly original" Well, is anything that original these days? Most bestsellers aren't totally original. How could they be? Should Suzanne Collins not have written 'The Hunger Games' because it was almost identical to Battle Royale? No way! How about Harry Potter? 'The Worst Witch' was the same theme, what if someone had told J K Rowling, 'Nah, we already have books like that out there, we don't need this one as well.
The idea that Harry Potter might not have existed is just ...
Having said that, writers must always be mindful about plagiarism. It's clear when a story has been copied almost word for word and that's not cool. What also isn't cool, is writers being afraid to write what they love for fear of the critics. YA and children's book critics often annoy me because they say things like "It's been done before." Yes, it might have but the children and young adults reading it haven't been that age before and they may not have read books created in 1965! They want something new, something written by a writer who isn't dead, something written for their generation and their generation only! Why should they have to put up with our cast offs? They should be given a choice of classics and new reading material. Language and technology and morality is ever changing and with new readers comes new challenges and new ideas or the best old ideas with a new twist.
Readers call the shots and I just hope they will fall in love with my worlds and enjoy wandering through them and being a part of them as much as I do. So, writers, write what you love and readers, read what you love. Don't settle for anything less.
A vanity publisher is someone you pay to publish your book.
Don't use them. That is all.
Emma Pullar is a bestselling and award-winning writer of dark fiction and children's books. Her picture book, Curly from Shirley, was a national bestseller and named best opening lines by NZ Post. Emma has one writing competition and awards for her short stories and short scripts. Emma's debut novel, Skeletal, was published by Bloodhound Books in autumn 2017, the sequel, Avian, was published summer 2018.
Emma's crime debut, Paper Dolls, was released March 2019. The audiobook is out Aug 15th and Czech Republic edition will be published in 2020.
Emma also writes articles for Bang2write and Into the Script.
Follow Emma on Twitter @EmmaStoryteller or Instagram @emmapullar_storyteller or fb Emma Pullar.
Follow Emma on Goodreads.