Thursday, 24 May 2012

On Cheese Rolling And Other Adventures: Review of Ian Usher's A LIFE SOLD

A Life Sold - Ian Usher
Wider Vision Publishing, November 4, 2010

Recently I wrote about giving up everything to chase your dreams, and about finding happiness despite the obstacles those dreams can throw at you ( This reminded me of a book that’s been on my TBR pile for two years now – a book about giving up everything and in return achieving so much more – and I knew it had to be the subject of my next review. A Life Sold follows the fascinating journey of a man who sold his life on ebay and lived – really lived – to tell the tale.
That journey began when, spurred on by the end of his marriage and the thought of an uncertain future, Ian Usher decided he needed a new start. He listed his house, possessions, an internship at his workplace and an introduction to his friends as one big package in an online auction, and walked away from the sale with nothing but a passport, some cash, and a list of 100 goals to achieve in 100 weeks.
The result is an impossible, inspiring, intriguing adventure.
Whatever’s on your bucket list, you can bet Ian’s achieved or at least tried something along those lines. Whether it’s taking a zero gravity flight, visiting the Seven Wonders of the World, swimming with whales or chasing a big cheese down a hill, he’s been there. And because the story is partially told through the blog posts he wrote at the time of completing each goal, you get the very real sense that you’re there too (although for the tasks like nude skydiving, I’m glad I’m only reading!).
The blog posts also break up the flow of narration nicely, and it’s very exciting to see the font change and know that another goal is about to tumble. There is a rawness to the editing in these posts that at times had me longing to grab a red pen to tackle an extra comma or bit of passive voice, but it is that down-to-earth-ness which makes the story feel so accessible and achievable, and before long you’ll be forming your own list of goals to tackle. (Mine so far? Getting my novel on the higher school certificate curriculum list and playing clarinet at the ancient amphitheatre in Athens. Never mind that I don’t play clarinet but hey, ‘what’s life without a challenge?’ as Ian might say).
My only real criticism is that at around 140 000 words, the story is long. I found myself skipping some of the in-between narration as I felt that it returned a little too often to the themes of loneliness and despair over the future, while I was just anxious to get back to the excitement of achieving another goal. Despite therefore missing some of the emotional subplot I still got enough of the build-up to enjoy a great ending, made all the more special by the fact that the story is so very real. The writing is funny, personal, heart-felt and descriptive, allowing you to climb onto the rollercoaster that was two years of Ian’s life and enjoy the ups and downs with him. Some readers won’t agree with the decisions he took while on that ride, but that just makes more food for thought. And that, in itself, is just another strength of what is overall a thoroughly enjoyable read.

P.S. This is a new blog. Anything you could do to spread the word would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Telsales Tips to Hook Readers - 2. Pitch it before you post it.

Last post I discussed the danger of having too many open questions in your first pages, because customers haven’t signed up for a survey and they don’t owe you their time to complete one. (For more on what on earth I’m talking about, see the post here:  ( This post I’m talking about one of my favorite catch-phrases: pitch it before you post it. Despite frequent eye-rolls from the sales rep’s I teach it to, this one’s important. (And for my next trick, I shall attempt to segue into how it’s relevant in a book)...

Just because the customer hasn’t seen the information pack and has no idea what the call is about, doesn’t excuse stalling the call flow to confirm their address and re-send the brochure. People don’t expect you to grab their interest and they’re not going to wait around hoping, so whack ‘em with a few tantalizing features (aka pitch it), then get to the nitty-gritty later (aka post it! See?). In story terms this means not explaining your character’s entire life story and all their particular emotional traits within the first page. It means not stalling the writing to intricately describe the way something works in the fantastical world you’ve created. Instead, it means giving them little snippets of what’s to come, without going over the top.

The reason I say don’t go over the top is because in the same way that too many questions can take a story from intriguing to just confusing, too many answers can do the same thing.

So how do you stop a stop-action explanation in its tracks?
  • Read through your opening pages and note every new piece of information you deliver.
  • For each piece ask yourself, am I only telling this to the reader because I feel obliged to at this point? If I cut this, will it still make sense? If the answer to either of these is yes, you might wish to consider weaving the information in more naturally somewhere else.
  • If one of the new pieces of information in your list is a description, can you cut it down so the reader gets a thumbnail image that doesn’t interrupt the flow? (Don’t mourn the details you’ve cut – a good way to bring reality to your writing is to scatter those details throughout it later on. For example you could spend your opening paragraphs explaining that your protagonist has long, unkempt blonde hair, riddled with split ends because she plays with it constantly whenever she’s nervous - and see how that stops the action. Or you could create a thumbnail by showing that she’s blonde, and then halfway through the chapter you could show her picking apart her split ends, to build tension as well as a stronger mental image). 
  • If the new information on your list is delivered through dialogue, read it aloud. Does it match the character’s personality for them to say that, or are they just saying it to tell the reader?

The idea is that unless a piece of information is important to the story right then and there, you might want to consider getting rid of it or working it in another way. But again, keep an open mind as you do so. Don’t just say ‘nope, that has to go in the first page and I’m not changing it.’ Say ‘ok, so I definitely need this information here, but what if this character says it instead… or what if this happens to show it… or what if…?’

Who knows what if? That’s your job. :)

Like this post? Part 3 coming soon...

P.S. This is a new blog. Anything you could do to spread the word would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Review: The Fallen Queen - Jane Kindred

The Fallen Queen by Jane Kindred

The Fallen Queen - Jane Kindred
Entangled Publishing, November 30 2011

I won’t lie, this is the first book review I’ve done since primary school. I’ve been thinking about writing some for a while, but when I finished The Fallen Queen I knew this was it. What can I say? It’s just one of those books you can’t stop talking about.

I want to start with the characters, since they are still resonating so strongly in my head. Two in particular had me regularly cracking up, but they weren’t just there for comic relief. Their struggles were as heart-wrenching as they were heart-warming, and while I thought I had the romantic subplot guessed, I was thrilled to be proven wrong more than once. The main character was neither flamboyantly bad-ass nor a damsel in distress and instead had moments of both, and it was that combination which made her actions ring out as honest, true, and very likeable. The villainess was beautifully portrayed (and by that I mean I can feel the diamonds woven into her silken robes beneath my hands, such was the skill of her description) and I yearned to know more about her. In fact, my only complaint is that I felt she must have had a deeper motivation than she ever let on.

While we’re on the subject of descriptions, a lot must be said for the world building. The story took me from the pure and pristine scenes of Heaven to its fascinating back alleys and gambling dens, and then on to the spectacular European Alps, with such realism that any writer trying to improve their showing instead of telling should really take note. The descriptions are built up organically so that the information feels incidental yet turns out to be incredibly vivid, and the same techniques are used for characterization too. I can’t remember a single instance where description stalled the flow, and I love the use of unique and varying beats to show the characters’ emotions.

Again reading this as a writer, I loved the twisting plot and the constant increase in both internal and external conflict. Chapters often ended with dramatic one-liners but the effect is subtle and modest enough not to irritate. My only disappointment, if you can even call it that, related to a minor subplot. It had me absolutely fascinated from the start, only to be resolved halfway through with a two sentence explanation I neither understood nor wanted to believe. The book is part of a series thought, so with luck my questions will be resolved in the next installment.

There is a lot to applaud in the editing, too. Elegant descriptions clashed beautifully against the dialogue of some of the rougher characters, but the swearing was never gratuitous and only served to increase the emotional tension. There was a hardly a beat used twice, and hardly a clichéd description anywhere. And the fact that words were rarely repeated in close proximity to each other – an intense pet hate of mine – kept the pace fast and smooth.

Finally, the themes of the novel were embedded subtly enough that the message came through without me feeling lectured. I won’t mention my interpretations at the risk of spoiling anyone else’s, because whenever I read I like to mull that sort of thing over for myself afterward. And I’m sure over the next few days I’ll be doing just that.

Overall, a fantastic read with just the right amount of mystery and action. 8/10

P.S. This is a new blog. Anything you could do to spread the word would be much appreciated. Thanks!

Thursday, 3 May 2012

On giving up everything to chase your dream...

Forgive me that this post has turned out a little emotional, and that it might read a little bit rough as a result, but I wanted to leave the same words that spilled out of me when I started it. What began as a simple article to mark my birthday and the milestones it has signified throughout my writing journey has become more of a soul search than I anticipated. But I hope that anyone’s who’s given up everything to follow their dream gets the happy ending I did. And if you haven’t yet – keep trying!


When I first started writing my novel in September 2009, I promised myself I’d have it finished by my next birthday, April 30, 2010. I eventually missed that deadline, thanks to my first semester of university and my inability to write one word where twenty will do. However by June 17 I had my first draft finished. All 125, 423 words of it.

Instead of celebrating, I read it all through for the first time, realised there was more to tell before the events described in that particular story, and scrapped it to write a new one. But pushing myself so hard quickly began to take its toll. My first semester of graphic design had not been the academic haven I had hoped it would be, and the second was worse. I’m a nerd. I love writing essays, but only when they have a point. And so for every second I spent on a useless bit of homework instead of writing, my stress grew. My only solution was to stay up later, socialise less, and write more. Within five months I had a brand new draft, complete at 120, 125 words... as well as a diagnosis of anxiety and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Sometimes, when I skipped food or sleep for writing, I felt certain that coming up with my story idea was the worst thing that could ever have happened to me. But I couldn’t stop, and I never will, because I love it no matter what.

I quit university at the end of the year. Of course I was terrified by the idea of having no degree, while being equally afraid of changing to another course I didn’t like. Seems strange that I didn't change to studying English, but I was terrified that having so much writing homework would put me off my own work, and I'd never get my book finished. The pressure from my family and friends to study anything just to make something of myself was a constant, battering ram against my publishing dreams. I ignored their ‘advice’, staring instead into a future as an unqualified, university drop-out, but I told myself it was worth it for the relief of being able to get a day job and spend every spare second writing.

Then the very next day I got a letter from the university that shattered everything.

The letter said I’d come top in my faculty. Distinction average. My name was already on the list for honours. The academic recognition my insecure self so desperately sought after had been there all along, delayed in the post, and now I had thrown it away for a job in a call centre. I was only a telemarketer, but I felt like the scum of the earth. I would begin my opening spiel and find myself choking on my words, wondering how the straight A’s English student could have ended up there. I would cry myself to sleep, believing that my book was my only ticket out of my hopelessness and yet telling myself that the chances of getting published were nigh impossible. Fuelled by hope or desperation (I could never tell), I kept writing. I wrote through my lunch breaks. I would write from 7am until the time I left for work each morning, and from the time I got home until 1 am each night. 11 hours a day. Writing. Rewriting. Learning to edit. Editing. Go to step one and repeat.

Over a year has passed since then, although my darkest and loneliest days are far more recent. I’m still obsessive compulsive now but I haven’t had time to go back to the counsellor (oh, the irony). I still take plain bread to work for lunch because making a proper sandwich isn’t worth the time it takes away from me. But I’ve transferred my love of marketing from graphic design into sales coaching, and I’m now the coach and team leader for a fantastic bunch of people. And because I’ve got no more homework, I’m playing in a band again and occasionally my fiancée actually gets to see me instead of the closed door to my study. And on Monday, April 30, I submitted a completed, polished entry to Angry Robot’s open door submissions period. Now I’m ready to start querying, and healing, and becoming a person again. Not just any person, but one who’s done something they can actually be proud of.

And I realise that having the idea for my novel was the best thing ever to happen to me, after all.

P.S. This is a new blog. Anything you could do to spread the word would be much appreciated. Thanks!