Sunday, 15 September 2019

Review of Chidren of Sinai by Shelley Clarke

What I really enjoyed about this novel was its epic scope, in terms of the character arcs, the geography and the themes. Jen and John and their twin daughters Hannah and Holly suffer a bereavement. The discovery of a secret cache of photos and documents opens up a whole new world where decisions made in the past have dramatic ramifications for the future, not just for Jen, John and their girls but for all humanity.

The uncanny is foregrounded in the twins' use of their own secret language. Thius the quotidian is gradually transformed by John's discovery of his own twin and the significance of all the seemingly ordinary aspects of his life: his best friend's bad relationship with his father; John's origins in the Middle East and the vagaries of research into immunity...

Clarke blends different timelines, biblical allegory and modern-day political tensions to create a world that would not look out of place in the latest Dan Brown blockbuster. I trust this does not displease the author. Highly visual, this seems like a story for the big screen.

I must say that the beginning of the novel, showing us Jen and John and their seemingly perfect lives and careers almost irritated me. I couldn't wait for their call to action! Boasting conspiracy storylines, hissable villains, tested loyalties and betrayals, there's plenty to get your teeth into here. I was worried that the women might be relegated to accessories here but no, they are as active as the men, thankfully. The use of dreams was genius, I thought, and the ending pleasingly bleak with a hint of redemption.

Buy Chidren of Sinai here.

Wednesday, 4 September 2019

REVIEW: More Than a Game by Ralph Robb

I wanted to read this book because it's set in the West Midlands where I grew up. It's set in an era (the 70s) which certainly defined me as a teenager, there the conicidences end for it is the story of a male black football team and I am a female white writer but the power of nostalgia being what it is, I could not resist.

The beautiful game is central to the characters' lives. Based on a realk-life team: the Sabina Park Rangers trained in a Wolverhampton defined by the National Front, racist attacks by skinheads and the police, it is a unifying factor in a black community struggling not to be stereotyped as inherently criminal. Even so, everyone's looking to make a bit of extra money, so when one of the local Asian shopkeepers hatches a brilliant scheme for importing coffins, the word soon spreads and people invest in the plan with the promise of double their money when the coffins actually arrive. With the match approaching, many of the team see that and the promised money as being life-changing events. One, Mark, a once-great football player, naively hopes that he can escape his mapped-out life and run off with his lover, who is in turn planning to scam the local pools winner, who thinks he's God's gift to all women... Like a bizarre 'La Ronde' everyone is connected to each other, the get-rich-quick scheme and of course, the match.

Its fair to say that the scheme doesn't turn out as planned. Neither does the match for that matter but you'll find no spoilers here. Suffice to say that lives do change - not always for the better. There are many flashes of humour throughout the story, thank goodness, else the racism and sexism would be hard to stomach. It has to be said that women are pretty sidelined here: dutiful wives, suffering mothers, drugged-up sisters and scheming whores for the most part. But I guess that's the point - this was the 70s. Feminism took its sweet time reaching the working-class cities. It was a time when women defined themselves by the men they were with. But then, nothing is quite as it seems in this story. As cross and double-cross emerges - including a young Asian man kidnapped as a slave who later dresses as a woman to pursuade his Jamiacan captor to release him, Robb manages to give his homophobic, sexist characters soem humanity, whcich makes them highly relatable.

I think it would make a great film. From the period setting and the universality of a story about sport to the interest and emergence of stories about Britain's immigrant communities and especially the Jamaican diaspora. That's the great thing about living in the era that we do. We can now hear stories that enhance and redefine the history we think we know.

More Than a Game by Ralph Robb

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Review: How NOT To Write Female Characters by Lucy V. Hay

Female characters. When fifty per cent of your potential target audience is female, if you’re not writing them in your screenplay or novel? You’re making a BIG mistake!

But how should you approach your female characters? That’s the million-dollar question … After all, women in real life are complex, varied and flawed. Knowing where to start in creating three dimensional female characters for your story is extremely difficult.

So … perhaps it’s easier to figure out how NOT to write female characters?

Script editor, novelist and owner of the UK’s top screenwriting blog, Lucy V Hay has spent the last fifteen years reading the slush pile. She has learned to spot the patterns, pitfalls and general mistakes writers make when writing female characters – and why.

In How Not To Write Female Characters, Lucy outlines:

•WHO your character is & how to avoid “classic” traps and pitfalls
•WHAT mistakes writers typically make with female characters
•WHERE you can find great female characters in produced and published content
•WHEN to let go of gender politics and agendas
•WHY female characters are more important than ever

Lucy is on a mission to improve your writing, as well as enable diverse voices and characters to rise to the top of the spec pile.


'A timely guide to creating original characters and reinvigorating tired storylines. '
- Debbie Moon, creator and showrunner, Wolfblood (BBC)

'Lucy V. Hay nails it'
- Stephen Volk, BAFTA-winning screenwriter: Ghostwatch, Afterlife, The Awakening

'Packed with practical and inspirational insights'
- Karol Griffiths, development consultant and script editor, clients include ITV, BBC, Warner Brothers

'A top-notch, cutting-edge guide to writing and selling, not just practical but inspirational. Lucy's distinctive voice infuses the entire journey. Quite brilliant. Here's the woman who'll help you make things happen.'
- Barbara Machin, award-winning writer & creator of Waking the Dead

'Delivers the stirring call to arms that writers must not only write, but take their work to the next level themselves, making sacrifices and taking risks if they want to see their stories on screen.'
- Chris Jones, Filmmaker, Screenwriter & Creative Director at the London Screenwriters Festival

‘Writing and Selling Thriller Screenplays is a must-read for any writer, producer or director looking to create (or in the process of creating) a thriller production. It could also be immensely useful for those generally curious about the genre or looking to learn more.’ - Film Doctor

‘Lucy V Hay explains what a script reader and editor's role in filmmaking, tells you to work on your concepts and that dialogue is the last thing to work on in her new book.’ - Brit Flicks

Author Bio –
Lucy V. Hay is an author, script editor and blogger who helps writers via her Bang2write consultancy. Lucy is the producer of two Brit Thrillers, DEVIATION (2012) and ASSASSIN (2015), as well as the script editor and advisor on numerous other features and shorts. Lucy's also the author of WRITING AND SELLING THRILLER SCREENPLAYS for Kamera Books' "Creative Essentials" range, as well as its follow ups on DRAMA SCREENPLAYS and DIVERSE CHARACTERS.

Check out her site here: Bang2Write

My Review

Let me declare an interest here – Lucy is an old and dear friend, so it is my absolute pleasure to champion her no-nonsense approach to the delicate art of how NOT to write female characters. This book is perfect for the writer (of any gender) who, like me, is tired of the same-old, same-old characterisation when it comes to females in film - or even their marked absence. You know how it goes: the men get all the action while the women, more often than not, sit by the phone and wait for news of husbands/sons/lovers/brothers etc. YAWN.

As shows like Killing Eve and Fleabag show, there is a hunger from EVERYONE to see interesting and diverse female characters on screen. The key, as Lucy so rightly says, is COMPLEXITY. Forget the Bechdel Test, it’s the Mako Mori test we want to be embracing in our watching and our writing from now on.

The odd thing is that the way women are described in film is almost unconscious – inevitably they’re ‘beautiful’, but most female actors are, so why bother mentioning it unless you’re going to do the same for the male actors? You can see some real howlers on the internet: ‘sexy but doesn’t know it’, for example.

The book is well-paced and practical – with a refreshing lack of jargon and over-intellectualising. It’s also very well contextualised, taking in femcrit and the resistance to the idea of diversity in female characters. It not only highlights the pitfalls of clichéd female characterisation but also gives the writer plenty of fresh new ways to look at the way they write and come up with exciting different characters that everyone wants to watch. Lucy’s famous for smack talk about structure. I have a feeling she’s going to ruffle a few feathers with how not to write about female characters as well, and a good thing too.

Monday, 14 January 2019

Review of Toxic by Lucy V Hay

What I love about the Intersections series is the clever way that the central device (a sort of Sliding Doors scenario) means that the topic at hand is thoroughly explored in new and thoughtful ways. Just as in the last book Proof Positive where the choices facing a pregnant teenager are enumerated, Toxic wades into the volatile world of teenage friendships. County athlete Jasmine is besties with Olivia in the seaside town of Winby. One summer, Ellie and her glamorous London family move in, grockles from the big bad city. Jasmine finds her loyalties tested to breaking point as she is invited to Ellie's party but Olivia is excluded. As the iterations build up so do the secrets that everybody seems to be hiding, as does Jasmine's understanding of the true nature of friendship and her growing maturity.

Refreshingly free of the usual clichés concerning teenagers, the novel vividly captures the crippling insecurities that girls suffer over their friends, their appearances and crucially, their behaviour, or their perceived behaviour. The author draws on her own Devon-based upbringing evoking what it is to be stuck in a seasonal seaside town that seems dreary compared to the exciting lives of the out-of-town city folk who descend on such places every summer. I'm looking forward to the next story in this series.

Toxic on Amazon

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Review of Proof Positive by Lucy V Hay

The great and refreshing thing about this first person account is the originality of Lizzie's voice. Part of a large chaotic family in the south west, Lizzie's life is by no means perfect but this girl has ambitions for herself. Proof Positive details the options she has when she falls pregnant. The ringing of the ubiquitous mobile phone heralds another possible path she could take: abortion? Adoption? Have the baby? Early miscarriage is one possibility, quite rightly inspiring conflicting feelings in Lizzie. Lucy Hay speaks with the the voice of authority here, being at one time a single mother herself. Lucy's own experience with her baby son fuelled her desire for success and she is now a successful blogger, author, producer and speaker in the UK and abroad.

Lizzie is, above all, someone who is intelligent, full of potential, a million miles away from the clichéd 'pram-face' so reviled by the Tories many years ago - responsible for all of society's ills. She is no Jeremy Kyle style stereotype, thank goodness. We have the Daily Mail for that version of the young single mother. No, Liziie is human: strong, bolshy, frail and anxious about what others will think of her and what's the right thing to do. Each decision is prefaced by a name of a friend, sibling, lover and parent, and finally and most crucially Lizzie herself. This book makes you want to cheer for her, because in the end, no one can tell a young woman what to do with her body. This is a story told with wince-inducing honesty and forthrightness, eschewing sanctimonious moralising and outdated piety. It's a baby for heaven's sake - not a nuclear bomb. No one's life is over. This is not only a cracking story, it will doubtless also function as a self-help manual for any young woman in the same situation as Lizzie. It deserves every success.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Review of ‘Everybody Works in Sales’ by Niraj Kapur

Two things stand out about this book: one, the excellent advice on the noble art of selling, and two, the unique journey that the author has been on to bring us this book. I do enjoy a book that not only expounds knowledgeably on its subject but also gives us a flavour of the world and experience of the writer.

Niraj Kapur
occupies a very interesting position in the modern world. Of Indian extraction, he was raised in Northern Ireland and schooled in an atmosphere of bigotry. He moved to London to pursue his career, so the tips on selling are interspersed with observations about his particular experiences in school and work. But lest you worry that this is going to be a relentlessly positive 'how I overcame adversity to be who I am today' sort of tome, take comfort from the section of the book where Niraj examines bad business practice and ruthlessly dissects the sometimes poisonous dynamic that can infiltrate the upper echelons of management, resulting in those who are 'managed' being overlooked, demoted and leaving from frustration. Niraj sensibly gives vent to his experience of this but draws a positive from it for us, the readers.

This book then, serves as a 'what I wish I knew when I was younger' manual. Niraj draws on his extensive work in publishing, advertising and shipping and boils it down to this: we are all in sales, whether we sell our wares, services or even propose what's for tea for the kids. Niraj wants us to tap into this often-unacknowledged talent that may be quite sublimated in many of us. What is it about the idea of 'sales' that puts us Brits off exactly? The Americans have no problem with it as a perfectly respectable occupation. Look at who's in the White House right now. Hasn't Trump sold the American electorate an idea of themselves and the changes that might be possible under his leadership? Of course, politicians do that here too, but we don't call it salesmanship.

Containing 27 valuable lessons, plus 17 interviews with experts, Everybody Works in Sales combines unique storytelling and personal development to ensure you have the tools you need to do better in your career.

I think we're going to have to up our game in a post-industrial world where we in the West are such huge consumers. With everyone on Social Media, entrepreneurs, Mumpreneurs, Specialpreneurs would benefit from the approach laid out by Niraj in this excellent book. Not only that, those who are not in sales might also gain from reading it: teachers, parents etc. The one thing that resounded for me is that so much of selling your service is about managing people's expectations and about fostering good relationships, as well as the product or service that you're trying to generate income with.

Available to purchase from Amazon here.

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Everybody Works in Sales by Niraj Kapur: BLOG TOUR

I am jazzed to report that I will be posting a review of this book on Saturday!
Stay tuned...