Book Review: Cruise Ship SOS, The Life-Saving Adventures of a Doctor at Sea By MacFarlane

I promised myself I would stop reading non-fiction/medical memoir style books but I have wanted to read this for a long time. Saw it in the library and it called to me. I couldn’t help it. I am kicking myself for it.

After a year doing repatriation, Dr Ben MacFarlane is getting on board a ship and heading around the world. Dealing with everything from old ladies who just need some companionship to elderly terminally ill men making one final journey to honour his fallen comrades, Ben deals with everything. Mental health issues to broken bones, drunks ripping chunks out of each other to falls from bar stools, Ben’s life is never boring and there always seems to be something for him to do, along with a fellow doctor and three nurses, on board and on shore.

Written with the help of a ghost writer, Neil Simpson, this is a very entertaining read, split into different sections of a world voyage, starting and ending in Southampton. The book reads more like a novel than a memoir (Ben’s intention according to his author’s note at the end) and presents a fascinating inside view of what happens in the crew part of the ship which most people will never see. Ben presents a wide range of passengers, medical problems and incidents. Some parts are touching, others are laugh out loud funny and it is always holding the readers attention.

Despite the narrative being excellent, its technical elements that have let it down I feel. MacFarlane and Simpson seem fond of breaking incidents into different sections, as though moving from one point in time to another and it confused me. The section breaks were unneeded and a little rewriting would have eliminated these issues I feel. There were also issues where small amounts of time and ports were skipped over and the story moved on to another place. Whilst this might be a tad picky and there were no stories to tell for those ports, it seemed a little odd and I just felt like I was missing something. Might sound daft but I did feel this way.

I did like this book, very much enjoyed it, as evidence by the fact that I read it in just a couple of days. There is not an over abundance of medical terminology which would make the story easily read for someone who is not medically inclined. Despite the slight issues with skipping and funny section breaks, it is easily read and I would recommend it for summer reading, either on holiday or at home.

Book Review: HIVE: Deadlock by Mark Walden

Completely forgot about this book coming out until I saw it recently in a book shop. This is book 8 in the series.

Otto Malpense had been expelled from HIVE after the disastrous events of the Hunt. He isn’t being idle though as he hunts down the mysterious Anastasia Furan, leader of the evil Disciples organisation. With Raven’s help, he is searching for his captured classmates to rescue them and bring down the Disciples. Otto is being tracked though by CIA, who determined to track him down and take him for their own purposes.

This book is very enjoyable and has a couple of shocks and some revelatory material that certainly would make long time fans gasp and laugh out loud. The usual wit, explosions, devious ploys and amazing technology are all present in this one and it also shows a few darker sides to some characters which would be very interesting to explore if Walden ever does so in later books. The fight scenes are bloody and well choreographed but compared to Ranger’s Apprentice, not as grounded.

However, despite being enjoyable, it is not as good as the earlier 7 I feel.

I will say now that some of my comments might be down to the fact that I am now older, with a deeper understanding of how books are written and I also have not read any of the HIVE books for a few years.

The writing in this book seems very rushed as I spotted one or two mistakes and maybe points where some rewriting was required to tighten up the prose. It also seemed very over the top and Walden’s determination to ramp up the stakes with each book has made this one seem very laughable. I had to check a few times that I was not reading an old James Bond book as some of the villainy and dialogue seemed very clichéd and laughable. Unfortunately, this broke the suspension of disbelief and I really struggled to keep engaged with it at the end.

Also the assault on the Glasshouse at the end had a feeling of déjà vu about it as I am sure Walden has reused some ideas from previous books. I respect that it might be a case of if it’s not broken, don’t fix it but I have a feeling this is connected with the failure of the prose and need for rewriting that I have already mentioned.

Deadlock is a good book but the breaking of the suspension of disbelief can make it a hard reader for older readers like myself. The series is aimed at 8-12 year olds and is enjoyable to members of the real age group. Certainly, it provides some great escapism for them and the series in general I feel would be great for young readers who are just becoming confident enough to read on their own.

Camp NaNoWriMo

Since Camp starts a week today, I figured I would post about it, explain what it is for anyone not familiar with it and talk about my personal experiences with the events.

Camp NaNoWriMo, for the uninitiated, is the summer version of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in November. Consisting of two sessions every year since 2011, the aim is to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. Since it started, the sessions have moved often.

In 2011, the first ever Camp started. The sessions that year were July then August back to back. Some people, including myself, did both sessions. I decided to do the event because I had heard about it before whilst in high school and college (that’s UK college, 16-18) but had been too intimidated. After finishing my first year of my writing degree, I decided to give it a go, feeling more confident and wanting to test my skills and see how far I had come.

I finished July with 50,067. Not bad considering I missed a few days near the end of the month to attend a few local events, including the Great Yorkshire Show. However, I failed August due to various reasons. I felt a lack of planning as well as the turn around being a but too quick contributed greatly. I also had a voluntary job with my local libraries service and couldn’t quite juggle the demands of writing 50K words for the second month going on top of working.

OLL quickly decided that back to back events were probably not the right way to go about it, especially when people around the world in various time zones struggled with validating for July in some parts whilst a new session was starting in other areas of the world.

The following year, 2012, the sessions were June and August. This worked out better and it provided a break for the staff at OLL to sort out the website whilst participants around the world could validate without issues due to time zones, set up their novels and prepare for the next session much easier with a months break.

Again, I did both sessions. I finished June with a respectable total of 50,003 words, having continued the novel I had started in July. Another years study (and planning over the year) seemed to have helped. Whereas I managed to do 3 years worth of story time in 50,067, I only managed 3 months in a similar amount. I took this as a sign that I had improved as writer and I had learned more. Also, trying to avoid the Olympics and having cut down my hours at the library did help and encouraged me to get writing done.

I spent July reading No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty (Review here: https://sleepybookdragon.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/book-review-no-plot-no-problem-a-low-stress-high-velocity-guide-to-writing-a-novel-in-30-days-by-chris-baty/) and planning for August. I had been buoyed by my success in June and decided to go back to the story I had attempted for August the previous year and failed. Planning was essential as the story took place in Winchester, Virginia so, as a Brit who had never gone to the States, I had to talk to some of my friends who lived in Virginia to help me figure out various issues, including immigration.

The planning proved a little too thorough as I had to find 5,000 more words to hit 50,000 words before midnight on August 31st. Still, it was an enjoyable experience and gave me an insight into how I could do the various little bits of research required whilst still writing. I would say it was a learning experience which would help in the next academic year.

This year, 2013, OLL changed the sessions again to April and July. This was probably done to account for the fact that they had wound up Script Frenzy due to declining participation numbers. This is supported by the fact that this year, OLL have created a genre for scripts this year of all kind. short story collections as well as being able to officially rebel (working or editing a pre-existing project) and allows participants to create their own word count goals.

I was not initially going to do April since I was working on my dissertation for university which was due in a couple of days prior to the session starting and preparing and researching for the last two essays I needed to do which had high word counts to match the high level of research required. However, I felt I needed a little something else to do as just a private creative venture as a de-stress. So I set myself a 10,000 word target using the new word count feature, figuring that if I failed to hit it, I failed. I wasn’t exactly trying.

As luck would have it, I did manage, somehow, to do the 10K and get my university work done. It was fun and a nice little distraction for me, especially as I wasn’t trying.

The next session, starting on Monday, 1st July 2013, at 00:00:01 will be the sixth since it’s inception and only the second to include the new content. Whilst the changes are great fun and I can understand why there was a session in April, I feel there was too much of a gap between April and July and it has made some participants, like myself, a bit restless and fed up of waiting for a new session. This is possibly the only thing I would recommend to OLL to change for next year.

So there you have it. The history of both the Camp NaNoWriMo event and my own history.

I am looking forward to this next session, hoping to edit and double the size of my dissertation (which was a novella) and I am aiming to finish on July 25th, when Broken Homes by Ben Aaronovitch comes out. This also means that I may neglect this blog a little, unless I put my word counts up everyday as a way of motivating me. We’ll see but for now, I need to finish writing my new outline… I’ve been meaning to do it since end of May!

Fan fiction: Is it a good thing?

This post I was going to do, not last week but the week before but because I have been waiting for replies on Google Plus (got nothing back) and due to life getting in the way, I have had to delay writing this. But since it is now obvious that I am not about to get anything from Google, I figured I might as well get on with writing it.

Warning: I may ramble!

I write fan fiction. I like to write it. It’s fun and sometimes, when I have writer’s block or I am just generally a bit stuck on another piece of work to get on with it, I turn to fan fiction just to chill out and work on something that doesn’t necessarily require me to think.

Personally, out of all the shows and games and books I read watch and play, I tend to always fall back to Digimon fan fiction, based on the two original Digimon Adventure series’ and the movie. I have written copious amounts of Final Fantasy 7: Advent Children fiction (looking back on that, it is horrible! And my OC is a dreadful Mary-Sue!), my first few stories include an unfinished Flint The Time Detective story over on FanFiction.Net (that is even worse than the Advent Children stuff!) and I have written the odd Doctor Who flash fictions (they were written more recently and are not too bad) but I always seem to return to Digimon.

Why though? Why Digimon? And why write fan fiction at all?

I recently got thinking about these questions when, once again, I found myself writing a bit of Digimon fan fiction during a period of writers block.

For the Digimon question, my brain quickly decided that it was because the world of Digimon is enormous, with just the first two series (and the movie) alone. It is wide open and that there must be many more digi-destined and digital stories still to tell. There are so many possibilities that the world almost leaves itself open for fans to come up with their own stories and imagine themselves in that world. Who would be my Digimon partner? And what could the world teach me and my partner?

I believe that other shows and books (mostly!) also offer these opportunities, like Pokémon, Hogwarts from J.K. Rowling‘s Harry Potter series and even maybe Miss Cackle‘s Academy for Young Witches from Jill Murphy‘s Worst Witch series. (Doctor Who and Flint probably doesn’t fit in with this but hey! These shows are about time travel and Time is a big ball of wibbley, wobbley, time-y whimey…STUFF!)

These worlds are large, the locations lend themselves to these sorts of ideas and allow fans of the shows to insert themselves or an OC (Original Character) of their making into the world and create their own stories.

For a new writer, this sort of set up, a set world, set characters, etc. is excellent and allows the writer to get right into story without having to worry about explaining much. Friends of mine who I spoke to whilst researching this noted that there is a lot of bad writing out there, set characters going out of character (sometimes simply because the writer is unable to write that type of character and some terrible abuses of the original owners work. This is always going to happen unfortunately.

I have seen others discuss this and I know others say that fan fiction is not good, it’s cheating, it’s not respecting the owners, etc. but I feel these reasons are complete utter rubbish. So long as there is respect and attempts at least keeping characters intact then I don’t think there is an issue. For new writers, who are just starting to learn their craft, I think fan fiction is great. Because it is new writers, there can be allowance for bad writing and some justification for the characters going awry from their original intent.

I also agree with something a friend said about writers bringing their own ideas to fan fiction. The friend said that writers often write the stuff the show/book/game writers never thought of and writing the things that they think should or should have happened. The example the friend gave was of the show Supernatural. I do not watch this show so I am just going on what the friend said and what I have seen on Tumblr. Apparently, fans just want Sam and Castiel (is that right?) to hug. This is the subject of a few fan fictions.

Despite not watching Supernatural, I do agree, as I said, with the friend’s point. I know in the Digimon fandom, there are some fan fictions of what happened to Wizardmon after his death, particularly as they did not like the idea that his data was not sent back to the digital world and he did not reconfigure there.

So why write fan fiction?

I believe people write it to express their love of the show, give their own opinions what should (or should not!) have happened and to give new writers a platform to begin, learn and develop their skills. One other friend of mine also noted that new writers might not feel confident enough initially to begin writing their own new, original material and need some where safe to begin.

I agree with all of this. I started writing fan fiction when I started writing. I had only just had it pointed out to me that I had a skill for writing, I had no idea how to develop my skills, where to start, how to come up with ideas or anything. I had not been taught any of that. I was completely and totally new.

Writing fan fiction gave me solid boundaries, set characters, rules, locations, etc. and allowed me to start writing and learning. I was terrible at the start. I rarely completed any stories, mostly because I didn’t understand about at least having an end point and some form of idea of what was going to happen in the middle. As I got older, I learned more, started completing stories, began dipping my toe into the realms of original work (inspired by games and films) and exploring new genres. I also started exploring older themes, with my fan work starting to burgeoning on into young adult audiences, including relationships, sex and infidelity. It is only more recently have I started getting into the middle and deeper end of swimming pool as it were and working on my own completely original work but even now, I still go back and I still write fan fiction.

Why?

Because it is FUN!

I write Digimon because it was the second or third anime series I really got into (the others being Pokémon and Cardcaptors/Card Captor Sakura) and I still love the idea of being a digidestined with a Wizardmon as my partner. Yes, it sounds ridiculous. Yes, it sounds childish. But you know what? I don’t care.

I love fan fiction. It is a great starting point. An excellent platform for new writers to begin and develop their craft and, for older writers like me, it is nice just to go back and write stories about the shows, films and games I love, especially when it is combating the effects of writers block or being stuck on an original story.

*I would just like to say thank you to everyone who responded when I requested their views about fan fiction and why people write it. Some of their views are included in this article and I am very grateful for them.

 

Book Review: Imagine My Surprise… Unpublished Letters to The Daily Telegraph, Edited by Iain Hollingshead

Yep, sorry, next to no posts because, again, life is getting in the way. I doubt this review will be long.

Not all letters sent to news papers get published naturally. Some are destined to live in the slush pile forever simply because they are not very good or interesting. Others are just unprintable. Then there are gems from the papers readers, ranging from the x-rated to the mad, the bad puns to the offensive. And it’s these letters sent to the British paper, The Daily Telegraph, that Iain Hollingshead has collated and put into the latest of these books.

Many offer amusing conversations between readers via the medium of the paper, some are the amusing views on recent stories from within the last couple of years and others are just weird and wonderful thoughts and ideas that seem to wander into readers minds and makes them send those thoughts and ideas to the Telegraph!

This book is very amusing and has some wonderful laugh out loud moments. Printed as small letters all starting with SIR, you could essentially dip in and out of it as and when you want and provides an interesting view on the British public. Internationally, I think it would appeal to anyone who would be interested in the British sense of humour.

Not all are funny in my mind and I think it’s because some of the jokes and comments are just going over my head (the Telegraph seems to have a very middle class readership!) but really this is nit picking over an otherwise very good book.

This book amused me and made giggle and laugh out loud at times. I will definitely be trying to find the other three books that goes before this one.

Book Review: No Plot? No Problem! A Low Stress, High Velocity Guide to Writing a Novel in 30 Days by Chris Baty

Long title, I know. With the July session of Camp NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) just around the corner, I thought I would review this. Also, I need to post something on here this week and I was meaning to review this last week. Sorry!

No Plot? No Problem is your guide through the preparation, the process and the aftermath of doing NaNoWriMo (commonly known as NaNo), written by founder Chris Baty.

Including an introduction to the month and a history of how NaNo started, the book helps potential participants to work out what to write, planning and plotting, how to find time to write and getting the right equipment for the event before moving on to other issues connected to the event: telling (or not telling) friends, family and work colleagues about your endeavour, ensuring you complete the challenge plus eating and drinking right during the event.

The book also includes pep talks for each week of the event, which are recommended to be read at the start of each week along with the pep talks sent to your NaNo Mail on the website(s), a letter of congratulations, regardless of how well you have done, and a chapter on editing and getting published.

This book is well written, easy to read and very informative. Whilst US and November-focused, all the information applies to everyone and works just as well for Camp sessions (April and July this year). The writing is fun and exciting and Baty is very encouraging and engaging in the event. I really enjoyed this book and since buying it. I have used this book for several sections and have found it invaluable each time. The pep talks are especially helpful and have been great for picking me up when I felt down in the second and third weeks. I have also taken Baty’s advice for healthy snack food.

The only criticisms I have are two-fold. The introduction is slow and somewhat boring, making it difficult to read and the last chapter on editing and submitting to agents is short but since it is aimed at guiding people through the event and not the actual process of editing, rewriting and submissions to agents and publishers, it is forgivable and there are other books out there that can help on this (see my review on Road to Somewhere by Robert Graham).

This book is good fun, well written and excellent companion any month-long novelling venture (not just in NaNo sessions). I have turned to this book for help and advice when needed and would highly recommend it.

 

Book Review: Wedding Babylon, Confessions of a Wedding Planner by Imogen Edwards-Jones & Anonymous

Yep, another Babylon.

Going behind the scenes of yet another industry, Imogen this time sneaks behind the scenes of Weddings with the help of industry insiders to take a look at a week in the life of a wedding planner. From the high maintenance brides, the celebrities and WAG’s to the class divide marriages, Anonymous sees it all and tells of the planning, the extraordinary costs behind weddings in Britain today and the potential of things to go wrong before and on the day. It’s just yet another week in the hospitality sector…

This book is enjoyable and very readable, reading very similar to earlier books. It is obvious this time that it is written from a male point of view (unlike Air Babylon) and provides some good laughs and some insights into the industry, as well as providing some (slightly) shocking stories. It also does an excellent job of creating a full circle with anonymous waking up from having bedded a bridesmaid at the start and ending on him waking up again from having bedded a bridesmaid.

Unfortunately, this book seems very pedestrian compared to Air and Hotel. The stories are run of the mill, the expected types, no serious shocks (most are expected) and despite being engaging, not as interesting and rather boring. I did enjoy it but I would not read it again and probably could find better and funnier stories online. It also at times reads more as a set of facts and there seems to be a lot of facts and figures quoted. Interesting and perhaps necessary but it does slow the writing and makes it boring. It only got going and became good nearer the end when the bridezilla and mumzilla character types starting coming into play, the father with his new girlfriend, the battle between the mum’s and the bride having second thoughts on her marriage.

The only real shock stories that were unexpected but very funny were the fact that drugs are used at weddings by members of the family and the best man possibly coming out in his speech and admitting he is in love with the groom was excellent and made me really laugh.

This book is good but I don’t believe it is as good as the other books and would not actually recommend this book to the casual reader. Maybe if you are getting married then perhaps but it does have its moments and the wedding at the end is great fun. If this sense of fun and more shocks had been included then it would have been better however this is the sort of book I would not read again unless I really wanted to.