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#WriterLife Update: Goodreads and my many emotions

#TYVOT has officially landed. Well, on Goodreads at least! It’s finally listed, in all of its semi-finished glory, a beautiful statement in the Goodreads database. It all feels so real. After so many years of working, of dreaming, my novel is coming to life. Publication is coming (on Nov 1st 2018, if I can afford everything in time!)

When I saw my book up there, and by extension my swanky new Goodreads author profile, I did have myself quite the moment. Not only did I feel the excitement but I felt validated for the first time. I have always felt more comfortable calling myself a writer, as opposed to an author. But now I’m feeling like I should be owning that title, because hell yeah I’m an author and I worked damn hard to be able to call myself that.
It was also so fun to the writing community on Twitter about everything, with many stopping to tell me congrats. Writers get this kind of excitement – none of my real life friends really understood why this was such a big deal to me. I’m grateful for the writer buddies I have out there, though I’ve never properly met them, they’re a warm and soft cushion for the author side of Tess.
Do you know what has been the most fun, though? Watching people add my book to their TBR shelves. It has only been 24 hours since #TYVOT has gone live but five people have already added it to their shelves. Not gonna lie, it has become a little bit of a compulsion, checking on my heart-project. But I’m sure I’ll calm down in time.

So now, it’s time for me to ask you guys. If you’re a fan of YA Fantasy and you think you might give THE YOUNG VOLCANOES OF TENEMERE a try, you can add it to your TBR shelf on Goodreads. It’ll serve as an occasional reminder that you’ve got your eye on it ahead of publication, and you’ll make this blogger a very happy gal.

Looky! I’ve got a little button now!



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The ads below help to pay for this website. If you can see them, thank you for not using an ad-blocker. If you’re a fan of my content and you would like to support a self-employed writer further, please feel free to share the love and buy your girl a coffee. The caffeine jolt may just get me through my final edits!
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Review: White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

“I am a haenyeo. Like my mother, and her mother before her, like my sister will be one day, her daughters too – I was never anything but a woman of the sea. Neither you nor any man can make me less than that.”

This novel captivated me in a way I really wasn’t expecting. I had been looking for some more Korean-based WWII lit since I my disappointing affair with Pachinko left me gasping for a story I could connect with more easily. If you had similar feelings towards Pachinko, read on my friend, because White Chrysanthemum could end up being the story you’ve been searching for.

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It’s 1943 on Jeju island. The occupying forces of the Japanese imperial army do not stop sisters Hana and Emi from joining their mother at the beach every single morning. She is a haenyeo, one of many generations of Korean women who dive down to the depths of the sea each day to gather mussels, seaweed, octopuses and anything else they can get their hands on. They are fiercely strong and independent women, self-sufficient and bloody inspirational, in my mind.

An elderly haenyeo returning to shore.

Hana and Emi’s mother is to train them to become haenyeo, just as every generation of women was trained before them. It’s an honour for Hana and Emi, and a great tradition to follow in their ancestor’s footsteps. Emi, as the youngest, isn’t yet a strong swimmer, but Hana is quickly learning the skill. Maybe it’s just because I adore the sea and therefore any book passages that are set in it, but I was immediately invested in this book just from the sea diving alone. This ancient tradition fascinated me, and I could so easily imagine myself down in the depths of the ocean with Hana and her mother, each holding their breath steadfast as they hunted for food. I was completely lost in this world of the haenyeo, a literary homage to these brilliant women… and then everything just got worse … but in a really good kinda way…

This book was – and there’s really no other word to describe it – brutal. It offers a stark look at our not-so-distant history and the real-life crimes committed in times of war. Crimes that aren’t spoken about enough. Crimes that some governments are actively trying to sweep under the rug, and pretend never happened.
Hana goes out diving with her mother one day. Emi stays on the shore, waiting. When Hana returns to the surface to breathe, she looks back to check on Emi, but sees something much more disturbing. Some ways down, there is a Japanese soldier patrolling the beach. Her mother continues hunting below, her sister has not seen the solider. Hana barely has a chance to think about her actions. She frantically swims to shore and grabs her sister, hiding her behind some rocks. And not a moment too soon, as the Japanese solider spots her before she has a chance to conceal herself.
Hana is taken. She has no idea where. But she’s glad it’s her, and not her sister.

What follows is Hana’s story, one that echoes many thousands of real-life women’s, as she is abducted, and taken to serve as a ‘comfort woman’. Told through alternating POVs, we follow Hana’s excruciating story of torture and abuse, and her little sister’s devastation over losing her and determination to solve the mystery of where she went. Both girls’ stories were touching, compelling, emotional and important. Sure, the author’s writing style may have veered to the side of “tell” rather than “show”. And yes, perhaps the characters were not as well-rounded as they could have been. But they were enough. All of it was more than enough. To make me feel for them. Make me feel for the 200,000 supposed women who were taken from their homes and ripped of their innocence by this regime. Their stories were seldom told, most didn’t survive, so many families never even knew what became of their daughters.

White Chrysanthemum is harsh. Its cold and unforgiving, but it’s real and important. And it’s also well-written, compelling and wrought with emotion. As dark as the subject matter is, it’s still enjoyable. For the truth of it all, for the bravery of the characters, for the feelings that we can relate to, and those we hope never to have to.

Read it for the intensity. Read it for your feelings. Read it to honour the women who lost their dignity, their sanity and their lives, whose families never found them, whose stories were never told. Read it for them.



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The ads below help to pay for this website. If you can see them, thank you for not using an ad-blocker. If you’re a fan of my content and you would like to support a self-employed writer further, please feel free to share the love and buy your girl a coffee. The caffeine jolt may just get me through my final edits!
_____________________________________________________Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com


Author Photographs, a not-so-evil necessity

Just as we have a tendency to literally judge a book by its cover, we humans subconsciously judge an author, and their work, by their photo. This knowledge is primarily what made me avoid getting head shots taken. Ever.
You can’t use Snapchat filters on a professional photograph, I told myself. Anyway, I’m self-publishing, I just won’t include an author photo and bio in my book.

Then I remembered marketing is a thing. If I want to post blurry #writerlife selfies on Twitter that’s my business, but if ever want to be considered for a book signing event at Waterstones, I’d likely be needing something a little less casual for their promotional material.

So when I started thinking about arranging a professional photo shoot for the first time, I began to consider the benefits of author photos as opposed to the negatives. At the end of the day, it’s 2018 and authors are not as disconnected from the public eye as they used to be. As artists, we are rarely considered “famous” the way that actors and musicians usually are, but our audience is still aware of us as people. If I am going to be using social media and other online platforms to market my work (which I am because obviously), I’m not just promoting my work, I’m promoting my brand. I’m promoting me. I am as much a part of my novel as my words are, and I’m completely happy with that. It’s something I enjoy about the literary world, that authors are no longer these mysterious beings huddled at their desks 24/7, never seeing the light of day. We may still do that a lot, but now we have access to Twitter. And we love to connect.

Sharing that part of myself – my physical appearance and not just my ideas – makes me more real to my readers. I am not just a book, I am a the person who wrote it, and it was important for me to look to a professional photographer to achieve what I wanted from an author photo: an author of YA fantasy, a geeky and bookish girl, and by the looks of it, maybe one you’d enjoy taking out to coffee for a chat about life and books and everything in between.

Alex Hemus sums up my thoughts well here:

“Potential readers perceive being an author as an absolute state; either you are a complete professional or just pretending. Your author photo needs to suggest you are the ideal type of person to be writing about a specific subject. This is your persona, a representation of yourself centered around advertising your work. It is not a complete reflection of you as a person but only those facets that fit with your work.
All writers of grisly horror novels have home lives, they make cakes and read magazines in the bath, but when it comes to advertising themselves as authors, they represent themselves as threatening figures who exude the menacing aura readers want in their books.”
(source)

I think my personality is largely reflected in the stories I write. And maybe if someone were to see my photos, they would get an idea of what to expect from my work. So without further ado, I’ll invite you to see for yourself…



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Honestly, there’s nothing like an HD photograph to really introduce you to your appearance. When I first looked through the photos I definitely had to come to terms with the lines under my eyes, the extra weight I still haven’t shifted, the family of chins that live under my face. We live in a selfie world of face-smoothing filters and controlled angles, I shouldn’t be surprised that it took me a moment to get used to my appearance from a more true-to-life perspective. But after a moment, I began to fall in love with the artistry.

I knew what I wanted from the pictures. I knew I wanted friendly vibes, a welcoming aura, something that says ‘hey, I’m a professional, and I’m personable’. Justin Winkler really achieved this for me. He is a professional photographer in the London/Surrey area of the UK and he was just the ticket! He has an eye for set-up, and he has a commanding yet calm photographer manner. He knows how to work with his clients, how to make them feel comfortable and secure in his hands, and he can really bring out the best in you. He also really went out of his way to get the most out of our little photo-shoot and I cannot recommend him highly enough.

These are just a few examples of my now heavy arsenal of professional pics for my professional self. I shall be proud to plaster them all over my social media, my website, my books! I’d like to thank Justin one more time, and encourage anyone shying away from taking author photos to have another think about it. I used to be firmly against the idea, but ended up changing my mind, and much to my delight I ended up with a fabulous result.



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The ads below help to pay for this website. If you can see them, thank you for not using an ad-blocker. If you’re a fan of my content and you would like to support a self-employed writer further, please feel free to share the love and buy your girl a coffee. The caffeine jolt may just get me through my final edits!
_____________________________________________________Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com


Review: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

“When I was twelve, my parents had two talks with me.
One was the usual birds and bees. […] The other talk was about what to do if a cop stopped me.”

This book should be required reading. Not for schools, for everyone. The premise is simple but powerful, the characters are every day people but they are excellently written. The message is one we’ve heard a million times before but we still haven’t heard it enough.

The story follows sixteen-year-old Starr, a private-school student who has always felt out of place. At school, she is one of the few black students. Back in her neighbourhood, she is mocked for going to school outside the area – with white people nonetheless. Although she feels like she lives in two different worlds, she’s determined to prove to herself that both of her lives can co-exist.

One night, Starr gets a lift home from her childhood friend Khalil. They get pulled over by a policeman. The whole encounter is over in barely a minute, and it ends with Khalil shot dead on the side of the road.
What follows is an incredibly well-written story of family, community, race and coming-of-age. It’s raw, powerful and true. And in between the lines, it’s soft, wholesome and meaningful. It’s the kind of story that you don’t want to put down; it sucks you in so easily, and makes you care about each and every character. It was well and truly excellent.

“I’ve seen it happen over and over again: a black person gets killed just for being back, and all hell breaks loose. I’ve tweeted RIP hashtags, reblogged pictures on Tumblr, and signed every petition out there. I always said that if I saw it happen to somebody, I would have the loudest vice, making sure the world knew what went down.
Now I am that person, and I’m too afraid to speak.”

I feel like The Hate U Give is like a flagship novel for the YA genre. Angie Thomas gives us characters we can love, who feel real and that we care about. It talks about important and relevant topics but not harshly; it’s done with emotions, with tears. It’s done slowly, making you fall for Starr and her family, presenting the themes with a side of love and compassion. It explores racism in a way we can all understand, or we all should understand, whether we are old or young, black or white. The police brutality against innocent black people and the horrors and injustice that ensues, but also casual day-to-day racism, the kind that so many people just don’t understand is harmful. It’s not only the big things we need to talk about, we need to be showing our kids about every facet and form of racism, and why our perspectives can differ due to our experiences in our own skin, whatever colour it is.

I say again, The Hate U Give is one of the most important novels in the YA genre. It’s a story that I so many people need to hear. And that’s the best part of YA for me: the messages and lessons we impart to our younger readers. And there are few more important than #BlackLivesMatter.

“Are you serious right now?” Hailey asks. “What’s wrong with saying his life matters too?”
“His life always matters more!” My voice is gruff, and my throat is tight. “That’s the problem!”

Read it for the very lovable and very real characters. Read it for the heart-wrenching social commentary. Read it no matter who you are, even if it doesn’t look like your usual cup of tea. This truly is a book for each and every one of us.



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The ads below help to pay for this website. If you can see them, thank you for not using an ad-blocker. If you’re a fan of my content and you would like to support a self-employed writer further, please feel free to share the love and buy your girl a coffee. The caffeine jolt may just get me through my final edits!
_____________________________________________________Buy Me a Coffee at ko-fi.com


#WriterLife Update: I’m Exhausted

Years. Actual years of editing. So many drafts I’ve forgotten to celebrate when I finish one. But this week something special happened. This week I finished draft eight of The Young Volcanoes of Tenemere. And I’m not going to do what I usually do, that is, take a couple days off then get cracking with the next draft. This time, I’m going to take the time to be proud of myself, because it draft eight has turned out to be quite a special one.

Of my eight drafts, three have been major. What do I mean by major? I mean I’ve basically re-written the entire thing. If I opened up my first draft, the one I started in November 2014 after two years of part-time planning, I don’t know if I would recognise it. I’ve put a lot of work into this novel, only the first in a whole series I am still building. But as slow, and painful, and hard and sometimes full-on depressing as it has been, it’s also been pretty damn great. I’ve developed this craft of mine so much over the years. Writing this novel has taught me more about the skill and how I personally like to use it than any of my other novels have. And I think that’s because this is my heart-project. This is a story I feel so strongly about; the one I truly believe is my best work. The first I believe is publishable.

The idea that would grow to become The Young Volcanoes of Tenemere first came to me over Christmas of 2012. I was still working on another project at the time: a little sci-fi/fantasy called The Piccadilly Effect that I ended up abandoning. But I saved the best parts of it and transferred them over to my heart-project. I didn’t start properly writing TYVOT until November 2014. From conception until now, it has been just over five years. Two years of part-time planning, and just over three years of writing. And of course, further planning.It has been a long time. But this week, I finished draft eight. And you know what draft eight it? It’s the penultimate draft before I send off to my editor. No it’s not the exciting final draft, not even the one I’m sending to my editor, but it’s very special. Because it’s the first full draft that properly reflects the book it is going to end up becoming.
Draft eight hasn’t been a major draft, but it hasn’t been minor either. It was a middle draft if you will. Some chapters were perfect, only needed a few spelling corrections. Others I wrote entirely from scratch. But now, looking back, I see the shape now. This is no longer a skeleton manuscript. I have sculpted away for more than three years, and this story is completely fleshed out. It’s not final, but it is very, very close to it. Draft nine, if all goes to plan, will be the most minor of all my drafts. Honestly, it’ll be more like a proof. And I am so excited.

I’ve been editing for so long, I’ve often worried I’d never be able to stop. Like most writers I’m a complete poncy perfectionist, and sometimes I’ve sank so deep into revision hell it has felt easier to just swim down. I have feared this would never be done, that it would never be good enough, that the finished product would never see the light. But draft eight has finally given me hope. I can see it clearly now: it’s nearly finished. And I am so proud.

It’s hard sometimes to remember to celebrate our milestones. It can be especially hard when the people in our lives aren’t writer or readers, and don’t quite understand the work we put in (‘what exactly is a draft, Tess?’)
But today I’m celebrating and I want you to, too. Whatever draft you’re on, whether you’re near the end or you’re deep into the quicksand of revision, take my virtual high-five of congrats. You have worked so hard, and I encourage you to continue. Just take a little dance break first and remind yourself how great you are.

The Young Volcanoes of Tenemere is available to read on Wattpad for free for a limited time only. And yes, it has now been updated to draft eight! Thank you for all the love it has been shown so far; thank you for all the comments and votes! It recently hit 1,000 views, and I’m still reeling from how incredible that it. Thanks again for all your support, and if you haven’t read it yet, I know you must have been waiting for the infamous draft eight. I don’t blame you, go read it now.