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This is your daily reminder to stay home, wash your hands, and don’t vote Conservative. Oh, and if you’re going to panic-buy, don’t hoard the loo roll – there are far superior tree-based products up for grabs. If there was ever a Perfect Time™ to support authors, it’s during a pandemic, a time when their primary income may have dried up. Oh, and bonus – books can be enjoyed for hours upon hour in an indoor setting! So, if you can afford it, treat yourself to a book or two you’ve been meaning to read. You’ve been so brave. You deserve this. Buy the books.

So, what did I buy?

Sea of Rust by C. Robert Cargill

Was it, in hindsight, a great idea in the current climate to purchase a post-apocalyptic novel where humans are extinct and the robot race who destroyed them are following in the footsteps?

Yes. Yes, it was.

Sea of Rust packed a punch – with a likeable, ballsy robot protag and a very unique setting. I was drawn in by the world and the social commentary. I stayed for the bants. More lighthearted than anticipated. Recommend!

The Perilous Life of Jade Yeo by Zen Cho

I have not read Zen Cho before, but her upcoming release is my most highly anticipated books of 2020. What better to wet my whistle than delving into an earlier work by Cho? Especially *cough* since it was on Kindle sale. And with it being the season of impulse-buys, well, it would have been rude not to.

This novella was a lovely, lighthearted rom-com romp – bringing a witty heroine and Bridget Jones vibes. Stellar afternoon read, one of those ‘good for taking your mind off the state of the world’ reads. Recommend!

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Oldie but goldie, Alice is a strong favourite of mine. What can I say? I vibe with surrealism.
I’m not planning a re-read during this pandemic (though a pandemic would be a great time to crack open some surrealist lit); this was purely a ‘treat yoself’ purchase because I love this collection. It is part of the MinaLima collector’s editions of beloved classics and they are so beautiful. I plan to own them all. They are on the pricer end of things, but well worth it for collectors. Welcome to the family, Alice!


Among Others by Jo Walton

Jo Walton is a household name (ish). For my first Jo Walton I was drawn to Among Others as it sounded whimsical and more plot-oriented than other books of hers I’d read up on. Boarding school-based fantasy about a girl who talks to fairies and her mother is trying to kill her? Uh, yes please, colour me interested. In the end though, I found it a bit lukewarm. Nothing wrong with the book at all, it just didn’t end up being my cup of tea. After a good 100 pages I still wasn’t feeling that same interest I had felt from the premise, so I had to move on. One for the charity shop pile, I think. If I ever get out of lockdown!


The Mindfulness Puzzle Book by Dr Gareth Moore

I have missed my puzzles! I used to be the puzzle queen – what happened?! I’m so happy I picked up a new puzzle book – what a time to do so! This puzzle book has an excellent variety of puzzles, some easy and some hard but all designed to not take too long to solve. I like doing a puzzle or two during work hours, like when I’m waiting for a particularly large file to transfer or if I’m sitting quietly in yet another 45 minute Teams conference call that I do not need to be in.
Highly recommend. Great little puzzles. Great for focusing the mind on something else for a short period, helping to refresh!



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Every day, my brain tells me that my stories are rubbish. Every damn day, my brain tells me that everyone thinks my work is awful, but no one has the nerve to tell me to my face. And every day, my brain tells me I am so utterly stupid that I can’t even see how talentless I am.
I don’t know why my brain does this. Something to do with vulnerability and the brain not quite fancying putting itself out there for judgement in the literary world. Maybe? I don’t know. But I do know that I’m not alone. I’d be hard pressed to find a fellow writer, or indeed any creative, who doesn’t have similar feelings on the regular. Some days are easier. Some days are harder. Unpredictable. The only constant is the cycle you’re stuck in.
And no, it doesn’t help that the industry is riddled with rejection! Of course it’s going to breed these feelings – how can we not internalise that? But bless us, we try to keep out chins up and press on. This community does everything in its power to lift each other with love and support, offering tips and advice on how to deal:

“Don’t compare your journey to someone else’s.”
“The industry is sooooo subjective!”
“You’ve just got to stay strong and have faith!”

How often do we hear the same phrases? How often do we regurgitate them back, to another agonising friend? All the damn time, in my case. And these phrases aren’t wrong. They’re helpful reminders. But there’s certain phrases I haven’t heard that I think ought to be part of that repertoire. Starting with: it is okay to crave external validation.

I don’t understand much about the brain, but I absolutely know that the need for external validation is basic human nature. There’s probably a word for it, my therapist would know — should’ve asked — but that’s not the point. The point is: how we view ourselves is, by design, in part a reflection of how others see us. The same can be said of our work. It is normal and totally not shameful or weak to want others to say “oh hey, I like that writer’s work”. I don’t think we acknowledge this enough, when we’re stuck in our own heads and depressed with our writing. Sometimes it really does feel like the overwhelming rhetoric is to just take our rejections and criticisms, find value in them, and generally just buck up and keep going. Like…no. Hang on a minute. I see why you’d be confused, but I’m not actually Wonder Woman.

Positive reinforcement is crucial. It doesn’t have to be there all the time, but it needs to be there *sometimes*. But sadly it can be very hard to come by in a writer’s world, especially if they are pursuing publication. And when we do get feedback it’s the constructive sort, which is not without value, but when that’s most of what you’re getting, the message your subconscious absorbs is “you’re not good enough”. That has been a huge part of my experience as a writer, and it’s a streak I’m trying hard to break.

I do not believe it is possible to constantly believe in oneself 100% of the time. Sometimes we’re going to feel a bit knocked down because no one has an unbreakable ego. No one’s faith in themselves is unshakeable. Fake news. But oddly enough, perhaps that’s the key to everything. By acknowledging our humanity, by understanding what kind of thoughts your brain tends to concoct and allowing for them, that is how you learn how to deal with them in a healthier way.

I have learned that my self-belief is not moulded by mastery of the human condition, but by seeing it for what it is. My (semi-frequent) feelings of inadequacy come from a lack of external validation – that’s it. They don’t come from fact or reason, they are a product of me not getting enough positive reinforcement.

And once I understood that, I knew that I had to make a habit of refilling that well. Too long had I taken my rejections ‘on the chin’ without balancing them out with a bit of positivity. I had remained too focused on critiques, forcing myself to improve, without taking the time to seek out a positive answer from my readers: ‘hey, what did you really like about my chapter?’
This is why I’m so glad that more and more people in writing communities are offering ‘positivity passes’, which is exactly what it sounds like: a reader offering entirely positive feedback on a sample of a writer’s work. I’m not suggesting this should be the only form of critique you submit your manuscript to, but I definitely think it is an essential part of a writer’s diet!

This is perhaps just my extended way of saying: be kinder to yourself. We, as creatives and as humans, are so damn self-critical while simultaneously expecting so much of ourselves. And I am certainly trying to remember to take that step back when I need to, and goddamn if I need a little bit of a confidence boost in the form of a compliment, that’s okay!
Be kind, go get yourself a positivity pass, offer one to a friend. You need love too, you deserve love too, and I know you’ll get it. Don’t be afraid to ask.


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: The Binding by Bridget Collins

If you enjoyed that 2001 blockbuster Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind … then maybe consider watching that again, it’s ever so good. What’s not good, however, is this book. Its plot is literally exactly the same (*ahem* spoiler alert), except, somehow, shittier. Way shittier. And also includes a very brutal dog murder on page 286. And that’s not even the half of it.
Welcome to: This Book Was Not For Me and Now You Have to Hear About It!

Emmett Farmer is … a farmer. Yes, that just about sums up the amount of creativity this author put into the character, for Emmett Farmer the farmer is duller than a lump of mud. He’s the type of guy who, as a friend of mine brilliantly quipped, is utterly flummoxed by the world he lives in, every day of his life. He didn’t start off well in my eyes, having fainted twice in the same chapter. And as the story progressed, so did his tendency to do a really fun thing where half of his dialogue literally involves just … stating the obvious.

“You can’t set fire to the house while she’s in it. That’s murder.”

The boy would not even emote. And when he finally did start, it felt so very forced – and the author seemed to want to refuse to focus on his feelings, but would settle with describing in detail the reactions in his body. And she did this all the time, it was weird.

“At first it was an involuntary as being sick: great paroxysms like retching, each spasm driven by an unpitying reflex that made me gasp and sob for air. But slowly the urgency eased, and I had the time to catch a lungful of air between sobs; and then at last I wiped the wetness and snot off my face, and opened my eyes. The sense of loss was still sharp enough to make the tears rise again, but I blinked them away and this time I managed to master my breath.”

Three very long lines and I still have no idea what this guy is actually feeling. Other than sad.

You may be wondering, at this point in the review, what the hell the plot of this novel is and, honestly SAME. The premise was actually very intriguing: Emmett is chosen to become a Binder’s apprentice, someone who creates books – special books – which are considered immoral by all. Naturally, there is an unhealthy amount of “let’s not tell the protagonist what these books are, even though he is literally learning to make them right now, he still mustn’t know until the halfway point of this novel”. So it was wonderful and not at all annoying as hell to watch Emmett blunder around, stating the obvious yet still missing it at the same time. Another spoiler for you: these books contain people’s memories.

So at this point, the only thing keeping me going was the promise of a good reveal, at this point. The MC infuriated me, the setup was cringe, the world-building was non-existent (the synopsis calls it “a place vaguely reminiscent of 19th-century England” – see, even the synopsis doesn’t know!) and the only thing that did not annoy me was the perfectly adequate style of prose, which was very easy to slip into. I had learned from the synopsis that the twist in this story is that Emmett one day discovers a book that has his name on it and, yes, I wanted to see what all that was about. I had a theory that his entire personality would come flooding back to him if he opened the book, and he would remember his exciting former escapades as a Highwayman, and the reason he had chosen to hide his memories in a book was to outrun the law! Or, you know, something groovy like that.

Can you see where I’m going with this?

It becomes clear, after 100+ pages of preamble and nothing more, that actually what he had been forced to forget was … his love affair with a man.

Now. Let’s unpack this.

Seems like I stumbled upon a Romance novel disguised as a mystery pseudo-fantasy. Bit rude, considering I never sign up to read Romance, but since this book wasn’t marketed as one, I’m not going to review it as one. Who knows, to some it may be a very fulfilling love story. Me, I wanted a plot. Spoiler alert: there was none – all that followed was the a highly toxic relationship between two young men and a fight to remember each other. Why were they fighting to remember each other? I shall tell you.

Turns out, in whatever world this story takes place (“a place vaguely reminiscent of bla bla bla”) homosexuality is awful, and all that jazz. That’s right, when author Bridget Collins was faced with the prospect of, you know, building her world, she sat down and thought “well, there’ll be an inkling of magic that I’ll never bother to really explain, and I will rely on deeply ingrained prejudices in our world to help move my little love story along.”

Do we get any sort of explanation as to why two men loving each other is so wrong? Do we get any form of social commentary that focuses on dismantling this terrible relief? Does the story have a satisfying conclusion wherein the protagonist confronts the homophobes and, well, does something?

I know you can see where I’m going with this.

What we do get is a nice little passage that implies sexuality is a choice and being gay is worse than rape.

“Whatever I did, I chose to get rid of it. I chose. All the things my father does – it must be worse than that, worse than anything I can imagine … So don’t you dare tell me that I should want it back.”

Yes, this character (the lover, Lucian) forgot about his love affair and claims that whatever he forgot must be worse than the shit his father pulls, which at the moment we know is: woohoo – rape!

Do we get a bit of commentary about internalised homophobia?? Do we get a plot that involves addressing inner trauma, confronting the bigoted pillars of this ‘world’, and emerging victorious? Nooooooooooooo!

Then why. the fuck. would you put. a line like that. in your story?
What was the point of the whole thing?! What is this story attempting to achieve? What do these characters actually do apart from dance around their very gay feelings for each other? Well, they act like proper dicks for the entire 400+ pages and then can’t be bothered to stop rapes and murders and then aww in the end they do love each other.

This story is nothing more than a thinly veiled Paranormal Romance. Except that Paranormal writers put far more effort into their world-building. And LGBTQIA+ creators are far more responsible with their representation. Come on Collins, I appreciate that you wanted to throw a little diversity into the mainstream, but this is irresponsible and damaging! You lure absolutely anyone to your story, which is supposed to just be some sort of magical mystery, and you ambush us all with a very tragic gay love story in a world full of homophobes – which no one signed up for. And I’m not even going to mention the rest of the disturbing content which, in 2020, have we not all agreed to do trigger warnings for??

In short: this book can 100% do one.

I don’t do zero-star reviews as I save those for the books I DNF (a.k.a not finished, not rated). So here’s one obligatory star for you, Collins. Maybe you can spend it on a sensitivity reader.


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


17th December 2015: the fateful day I decided to begin my querying journey. Why did I chose to start in December, the month all agents are closed? Well, that’s not the subject of this blog post. No, what we’re talking about today is: all of my other mistakes. Come on down! We are taking a horrifically painful look at my very first query letter, the one I wrote with the trusty help of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2015 edition and nothing else. This letter may have failed to secure me an agent (obviously, look at it, it’s awful), but it will live on in glory as a lesson to future querying writers: here’s what not to do.

All right campers, let’s take a look:

Look closely: the greeting is perfection. Formal address, comma at the end. No “Dear Agent” around here, no ma’am. Couldn’t have crafted a more amazing greeting. 10 points to Ravenclaw.
The opener is where this letter starts to derail, though. It is not (currently) best practice to begin your query letter with your intro and bio. Most industry professionals agree it is far better to begin with your pitch, saving your intro section until the end. No one needs to know your name straight off the bat. No one cares about your name straight off the bat. All an agent is looking for is the hook.
Content-wise, the bio is a little sparse but … its not 100% cringe, I’ll give myself that. It’s good to mention your age and profession – check. I’d suggest adding where you’re from as well, and show a little personality! This is also the best place to add any writing credentials you may have. As you may have guessed, I did not add any of those because at the time I did not have *checks notes* a single one.

Okay this is getting painful. “I am querying you today with information about my novel” – Jesus Christ, girl, sit down. O B V I O U S L Y you are. You do not need to spell this out. OBVIOUSLY YOU ARE QUERYING THIS AGENT WITH INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR NOVEL. Go to jail. Do not pass Go. Do not collect £200. NO. NO. NO.

Okay, let’s just move on from that. We have some technical information, namely the name of the novel which should just be in CAPS, none of this italic quotation mark nonsense. We’ve got the genre and word count (slim number for a YA Fantasy but okay) which is all very important info but again in the wrong place. We need the pitch first. What is your story about?! And no, before you point them out, no one wants your buzz words. “Ooh, my story is about gemstones oooh!” – go home, you are embarrassing yourself, past me. Christ alive.

Finally, we have some actual relevant information. But of course, I’ve stared it all wrong, haven’t I? One humongous sentence of backstory that no one needs. No one wants this, past me. Where, in anyone’s submission guidelines, did anyone specify “Oh be sure to give us all the tiny details about how your story is based on your beloved grandparents, and how three characters are named after the moles that granddaddy murdered with a spade and scarred your infant psyche so you had to write a 7-part YA F series about it”?

Uh. Disclaimer: I am exaggerating.

Anywhozles. My point is: don’t start with backstory. Start with the crux of your story. Who is your protagonist? What to they want? What is getting in their way? What will happen if they don’t get what they want? It needs to be snappy, no more than 250 words, and it needs to be enticing. Make your story sound like nothing anyone has ever been pitched before. Make ’em care.

My limp description is doing absolutely none of that. I called one of my MCs ‘hard-boiled’, who on earth was 25-year-old me?

I’m not sure what this penultimate section is trying to achieve. We’ve got more buzzwords (woo) and more highly obvious statements. Oh, shoot me now. “I really wanted to write the kind of novel I would like to read” – I just … words fail me.

The only good thing about this section is that I’ve managed to pull some comps out my bum and actually format them correctly (still, get rid of the quotation marks, though). For the life of me, I cannot imagine why I chose to list Divergent as a comp, but … let’s just end this, shall we?

Bit of a shit sign off, but it could be worse. I’m surprised I got my name right, if I’m honest; everything else is wrong. It’s good to see I have followed to submissions guidelines and included a synopsis and five page sample pasted into the body of the email, but I literally did not have to reference this. The agent knows where they are. It’s her submission guidelines. I do not need to direct her to the goddamn materials. She asked for me to put them where I put them. Go to jail again, me. Do not even think about passing Go, you absolute cotton-brain.

I like that I thanked the agent for reading. Gotta be polite. Would have been more polite to add a personalised section and actually tell the agent why I was querying her, but shrug.

And that’s the end. Sign off. Name. Should have added my contact details. Didn’t. Not needed really, I doubt this agent even made it to my synopsis, let alone wanted to get in touch with me!

And that concludes my very first query letter. Positives: not long, tries to include relevant details, no typos/grammar mistakes, followed query guidelines. Negatives: everything else.

Have you got an awful first query? Do you have a successful one? What’s that like? Share your woes and frustrations below – and I’ll grab the red pen!


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: The Call by Peadar Ó Guilín

Marketed as “genre-changing blend of fantasy, horror, and folkore” (and no that typo is not mine, it’s from the blurb), The Call 100% grabbed my attention from the concept alone. In this version of semi-dystopian Ireland, the Sidhe are targeting teenagers; “calling” them to their world for three minutes before sending them back. Almost none return home alive. And protagonist Nessa may be disabled, but she is determined to train, determined to win, and to be one of the few to survive The Call.

I was simultaneously impressed and disappointed by this novel. What I loved was the concept; the idea of The Call felt very Hunger Games, very Maze Runner-ish. And it was exciting: who’s going to be called? When are they going to disappear from their world and appear stark naked in the Grey Land, the grotesque world of the Sidhe and have to run/fight/hide for their life?? And the world-building was incredible; such an imaginative world to place us in, inhabited by fantastic villains who genuinely frightened me a little bit! It was so refreshing to read a story about murderous, evil Fae, instead of the romanticised, sparkly Fae that dominate the YA genre these days. This was different, and brilliantly portrayed. I was hooked from page one, and the pacing kept me enraptured, kept me guessing and kept me scared.

But that didn’t hold out forever, unfortunately. I think my biggest issue was that the protagonist, Nessa, didn’t really feel like a protagonist. On paper, she sounds awesome. Badass disabled teen who slaps a guy in the face with her crutch – what’s not to love! But in the end, we barely even passed surface level with her. She felt about as developed as the rest of the characters around her, which isn’t saying much truth be told. She didn’t really have any influence over the story or even accomplish that much throughout – and there was no character arc, no progression of her personal story. I feel like the author ticked all the boxes but then sort of forgot to follow through, which is a real shame because it did end up affecting my enjoyment of the story. By the end, I just wanted her to participate in the story more and I was just waiting and waiting and … then I did some more waiting until finally … she sort of did a thing. And then that was it. Utterly anticlimactic and actually quite frustrating.

At the end of the day, I think this book was written for the mass-market: readers who want a fast pace, some high stakes and a little bit of a shock factor. And that, it does well. But for my tastes, it didn’t quite deliver, and it absolutely did not live up to the rave reviews on the blurb – “perfect for fans of Game of Thrones“!? Buzzfeed, what were you thinking? Nevertheless, it was enjoyable for what it was. It was thrilling and creative, and a little bit of a scare. I just think if the plot had been restructured a bit and more time was spent on the main characters, this one would be a real winner.


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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