Tweet Right

I’m going to tell you something astonishing, that you didn’t know before. Ready?

I love twitter.

What do you mean, was that it? What do you want, blood?

Anyway, I personally think twitter is one of the best reasons for the internet. It’s connected me with so many different people, and given me confidence to do things like keep writing, keep blogging and start my own podcast. BUT I know that not everyone ‘gets’ twitter yet. I had at one stage considered doing my own little ebook guide to twitter. But someone beat me to it.

Nicola Morgan, whose book Wasted I reviewed here a while ago, has just launched Tweet Right; her introduction to twitter for, as she puts it, ‘nice, sensible people’ (yes I know there were a million commas there). It does exactly what it says on the tin (sorry, comma hell followed by cliche hell. Get over it), and cuts through all the rubbish that people say about twitter. People, generally, that don’t use it by the way.

If you know someone who is intrigued by twitter but doesn’t know how to start, or who wants to use it but is struggling, I highly recommend  Tweet Right. Or if you have somehow come to this blog NOT via twitter because you don’t use it and don’t get it (hello mum). Nicola holds your hand through the first steps on the social network from getting registered to using a twitter client. There’s even a list of people you could follow, helpfully broken down into categories. Followers, etiquette, Follow Fridays, DMs, hashtags, games (from a worldwide trendsetter, by the way) are all explained in a clear and accessible style with helpful tips along the way. I would imagine that few people using or thinking of using twitter will not find something helpful and interesting here.

Nicola’s launch blogpost on Help! I need a publisher also mentions the concept of #TwitterAngels – someone to welcome and guide a complete beginner through the first stages of tweeting. I think this is a brilliant idea – wouldn’t the world be a nicer place if everyone offered to be an Angel for someone and hold their hands through something new? – and I’ve volunteered myself.  Check Nicola’s blog for more information on this (I’d also keep a close eye on Nicola’s blog in the near future as I suspect the Crabbit One has grand plans afoot).

In short, if someone needs an introduction to twitter, they couldn’t do better than to read this.

Tweet Right is available from amazon in kindle format (remember you don’t need a kindle to read kindle format books – there are apps for smartphones, pc’s and macs) for £2.74.



Exploding Ebooks

Having just read yet another diatribe about ebooks – along the lines of real books smell lovely and feel lovely and I love secondhand bookshops and is the real book dead? I don’t think so – I went away, had a quick seethe, and have returned to calmly put down a couple of my thoughts on ebooks.

So. Deep breath…

Yes, printed books look and feel lovely. I don’t have much of a sense of smell but it seems to be a general consensus that they smell lovely too. No argument from me so far. Secondhand bookshops? Fabulous. One of my favourite places in the country is Barter Books in Alnwick which is a real treasure trove, and an experience in itself. I was delighted to spend a lovely day there as part of my thirtieth birthday celebration, and found a rare copy of the story of my hometown’s co-operative movement, which I would never even have known about. Plus the shop itself is simply amazing with a mural that any booklover will gaze at for hours.

BUT. But but but. I imagine that at some point in the dim and distant past someone somewhere said “You know, these beautiful parchments that these monks are spending hours illuminating and painstakingly writing out are so beautiful and they smell so lovely and they’re so nice to handle and that secondhand manuscript shop is such fun to browse through, it’s a shame to replace them with that modern new-fangled printing press.” And presumably someone else said “yes, BUT this modern new-fangled printing press will make books cheaper to make and sell and will open up access to reading and writing to thousands more people. That’s got to be a good thing, right?” I say presumably, as otherwise I guess we’d still be writing on parchment.

You know what? Ebooks make books cheaper to write and read and buy and sell and open up reading and writing, or at least make them more reachable, for millions of people. More people will read and write books than might have otherwise happened. Yes, that means there will be a load of rubbish done too, but people are having a go – doesn’t that count for something? I’m reading books that I just couldn’t afford if I had to buy printed ones (and I do still use my library, before people shout at me. A lot). If you ask me, the real death of the book would have been if there WEREN’T ebooks, as prices of printed books, distribution, discounts, etc etc etc would rise so that more and more people would be priced out of the market and books would have returned to being a luxury item. In my very humble and personal opinion with no publishing expertise at all.

And while we’re sort of hovering around the subject, please DON’T use the term ‘real books’ with regard to printed books. It’s the content that makes it a book, not the material. If we’re going to be snobby about it, there’s plenty of books I’d say weren’t real books because, frankly, the content is dire. Printed on paper or screen.

And the gatekeeper thing? I think I do agree that we need gatekeepers to help sort out the really good books and push them forward. I know I do, in the end, want to be published by a publishing house although who knows what will happen in the future, and don’t forget that I’ve done my own short kindle book (hint hint). BUT. Just say you’re browsing the kindle store. Yes, there are probably thousands of books you won’t come across because of the MILLIONS on there and that’s a shame. The thing is, we’re not living in an age where if you make a discovery about a book you really enjoyed you have to handwrite a dozen notes and get the footman to jog around to each of your friends’ houses to tell them about it. The means by which we actually have all of these books swamping the store, the little thing called the INTERNET, is also the means to spread the word about books you enjoy. I have 1300 followers on twitter, some of whom will read this, and retweet it to however many thousand followers they have, or hundreds, or tens, or even three followers. Whatever. The point is, in minutes I can tell people what I think of x book and more people will hear about it than I can shake a stick at.

Nicola Morgan did a blog post this morning about a fantastic-sounding book called Florence and Giles. Within minutes not only had I bought it but at least three other people that I saw in my twitter stream. The books are out there, Scully. You just have to know where to look.

Now, I’ve got to say that not all books work as ebooks. Coffee-table books, those beautiful tomes with gorgeous glossy photos and artwork just aren’t the same on screen, as technology stands at the minute. Some books relying on typography or texture. Some reflective or devotional books, arty books, books that use layout creatively. Not to say they never will be, just not yet. And I do still prefer to sit down and read a picture book with my toddlers.

But who actually decided that it was one or the other? This isn’t VHS and Betamax. Print books and ebooks can co-exist, as long as we don’t descend to silly, can’t-be-bothered so-called arguments that end in a very dismissive and snooty Is the real book dead? I don’t think so. 

Is the real book dead? Give me a break.


Old Friends

So, in case  by some chance you missed it, my first interview on In the Wishing Chair went live at the weekend, and I’ve recorded a few more interviews since. I’ve had some lovely feedback, so many thanks to anyone who’s listened so far and given me such a boost!

There’s one particular question I’m asking everyone, which I’m told is very mean but I don’t care (cue evil laugh). It is: which ONE children’s book (any age/format/genre) would you recommend? Luckily, I’m the one asking not being asked!

It has got me thinking back though to some of the books I loved when I was growing up. I think the book I’d choose would be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe but there are so many that I read over and over, and from that thought I passed about half an hour musing on some of them, some that until now I’d forgotten but read repeatedly. And now I feel an urge to track them down, via libraries or ebay or amazon or whatever, to try and pin down what it was that made me revisit them so often (and if anyone’s got a battered old copy languishing in their loft, do let me know!).

Here’s a few to start with:

  • The Chalet School series. I loved these. I don’t think I read them all, but a great many. Joey seemed like a great role model at the time and I think, if I remember rightly, she went on to marry the most lovely doctor. Sigh.
  • St Clare’s. Responsible for a highly romanticised view of boarding school which seemed so much better than my boring comprehensive. And Claudine rocked. Probably, though, I’ll re-reread these and find them very old-fashioned! Funnily enough I never ever fancied trying Mallory Towers.
  • The Children of Green Knowe. I actually remember very very little about the stories or characters, but the mood of them stays surprisingly vivid. I remember them being creepy and mystical and chilling – I simply have to find out if this is a fair reflection.
  • Charlotte Sometimes. This was one of my favourites and I read it so many times I can remember scenes so clearly even 20 years on. Time travel that made sense.
  • Tom’s Midnight Garden. Again, time travel that made sense, and I remember it being very tightly plotted and little details turning out to be important and relevant later on.
  • The Worst Witch. The best misfit ever. And the tv version had  Diana Rigg fancying the pants off Tim Curry as the superstar wizard. Nuff said.
  • Rebecca’s World. I wouldn’t like to commit myself too much here, but there’s the tiniest chance I first read this simply because it had my name on it. I do know that I borrowed it time and again from my primary school library. The memories I have of it are so surreal and odd that I need to read it just to make sure I didn’t spend my last three years of primary school hallucinating.
So there are some of my old friends that I want to reacquaint myself with as soon as possible. Anyone like to share their old friends?
Oh, and if anyone fancies discussing their old friends with me for a podcast episode, let me know! We could even attempt a multi-person discussion… (maybe getting a little adventurous here!)

Miss Saigon and the Unreliable Narrator

I’ve listened to and loved Miss Saigon for about twenty years. I know every word and I identify with the characters – well, as much as I can without actually being an American GI or a Vietnamese prostitute forty years ago – so much that my pulse still races building up to the finale or when Kim and Chris sing out all their hopes and fears in The Last Night of the World. 

Despite that, it still took me until only a couple of years ago to realise something quite important. Kim isn’t a reliable narrator. Actually, she doesn’t do most of the narrating. If you ask me, The Engineer keeps the story moving along and to be honest he’s far more reliable. If you overlook the fact that he’s a self-serving, greasy pimp. He is pretty much upfront with his motives and he gives us an eye into what’s happening both in Kim’s story and in the wider setting. Plus he has his own humour and charm which make him a likeable and sympathetic character without the tormented heroism of Chris or the tragedy of Kim.

Anyway, the narration. One of the most crucial parts of Kim’s story is what happens at the Fall of Saigon in 1975, and we get to see this in Act 2. The thing is, for years I listened to this and watched this as if it was a flashback. But it’s not – it’s a dream (and hey Sherlock, it’s there in the song title – Kim’s Nightmare. D’oh). That changes things – it’s not what actually happened, it’s what Kim remembers as happening. She was on the other side of the gates from Chris, and has had no contact with him for three years at this point; she has no way of knowing what he was thinking or doing and she fills in the gaps with her imagination in the guise of a nightmare.

The reason this is important is that it provides her whole motivation for getting through what happens to her after the American evacuation. She hides herself and her son, murders her cousin and flees from Vietnam because she’s clinging onto a certainty that Chris loves her, promised himself to her and will return for her as soon as he can. Now if you take her point of view, which for years I did, this makes more sense; a Love-in-Adversity sort of theme. And you are full of sympathy for her and less so for Chris, who went off and married someone else, the cad.

When the penny finally dropped with me and I realised how unreliable Kim is as a narrator – basically she is deluded for most of the story’s action – it changed my perspective on their characters. Kim is no less sympathetic but for different reasons, and I can no longer rely on her view of Chris. Instead of being a hero who changes into a cold-hearted scallywag who abandons Kim to her fate to go off and marry someone else, he’s a flawed man who had unexpectedly deep feelings for Kim but basically got on with his life. I’m not saying he wasn’t in love with her – he shows how much he was in love with her by the snatches that are revealed of him after he left Saigon, the way he had nightmares and what John says when he meets Kim (He [Chris] went crazy when he lost you, Spoke to no-one for a year) – but in the end He [Chris] finally said ‘I’m home now, My life has to go on here.’ For all we know, he regrets his impulsive offer to take her away to America and by the time the helicopters are leaving, maybe he’s ready to leave with them instead of the struggle that Kim imagines him having with John. And you couldn’t totally blame him. He’s obviously been messed up by the war, Why God Why reveals some of his struggles, but it does change how you view him.

Re-listening to Miss Saigon with this in mind adds a sense of tragedy to earlier scenes that wasn’t there before. When Kim explains her reasons for surviving before you realise how deluded she is, you have hope for her happy ending. Listening to her again knowing the truth adds poignancy (not to mention a certain amount of wanting to shake some sense into her). It also changes how rational her final choices are. If she’d not held this idealistic view of Chris fighting all odds to come back for her and play happy families, she might have been able to accept the provision for her and Tam that Chris and Ellen were offering. Instead, I think she loses what little reason she had left and it has devastating consequences.

All of these things are a great example of how the reliability of a story’s narrator can have  huge impact, both on how the story goes and how it affects the reader/audience.


Bloodstone is the sequel to the acclaimed Firebrand by Gillian Philip, which I reviewed here last year alongside an interview with its simply fantastic hero, Seth MacGregor. Firebrand has shot up to become one of my favourite books, and being an impatient sort I kept nagging Gillian to find out when Bloodstone was coming out.

Imagine my delight when I received a proof copy of Bloodstone from the publishers, Strident! So here’s my completely honest review to give you an idea of what to expect when it’s released on 19th August.

Firebrand set a really high bar. The story of two Sithe (faeries, but not as Disney know ’em) half-brothers gripped me and it was always going to be hard to live up to that. Bloodstone more than meets the challenge. Seth and Conal’s story continues, 400 years on from the end of Firebrand, and new characters are introduced alongside familiar ones. In particular Finn MacAngus and the mortal Jed really make their mark here, and I clicked with them straightaway with all their flaws and strengths. Kate NicNiven, of course, is back as the charmingly deadly faerie queen and she in particular, I thought, came across even more strongly than in the first book. It took real effort for me as a reader to not be taken in by her again and again and I still don’t know if she’s as black as she’s painted…

Seth is the real star, obviously. If you read the first book you know him as a wild, damaged and passionate young man. Well, take that and imagine him with all those traits distilled and honed for 400 years. Yep. He’s mad, bad and dangerous to know in a way Byron could only dream of. Liable to go off like a crazy rocket at any time, you still can’t help falling in love with him all over again right to the end. Conal is as noble as ever although 400 years have taken their toll.

I say it again and again, but Gillian has a real knack of making a character jump off the page. Everyone is brilliantly drawn, but I can’t overlook the beautiful, crisp language and the plot, which cracks along with the occasional pause for breath and left me, literally, shaking for about an hour after I finished reading. I have to put in a personal note here – when I was at school I would read solidly for hours and a book like Bloodstone would have been finished in a couple of days. Maybe the same day if it was a weekend. I just don’t have that luxury anymore with children and husbands and such (pesky things) and a book has to be exceptionally gripping to let me switch off entirely from my surroundings. Bloodstone is one of those books.

Bloodstone will undoubtedly appeal to adults as much as teens although I think teens will identify strongly with Seth, Finn and Jed. I’d say it is much better to have read Firebrand first but I’m sure it could stand alone. I’d also like to point you to Lucy Coats’ blog at Scribble City Central where she interviews Conal.

Two questions remain: when oh when will a film production company steal the rights to this series? And is there any way Gillian can get the third book out in, ooh, say the next couple of weeks so I don’t have to wait another whole year to find out what happens?

Pre-order Bloodstone from amazon UK here.

Follow Gillian on twitter here or become a fan on Facebook here.

Visit Gillian’s website here.

And Seth MacGregor is on twitter here: be warned though, he’s mine…