At the end of December, I blogged about 7 books which influenced me growing up.
That got me thinking – which books have I read since then which have had an impact on me as both a writer and reader? Which books, to this day, do I recommend to friends telling them ‘You HAVE to read this!’ Which books remain on my bookshelf, to be re-read every couple of years?
And which ones wouldn’t I lend to you, because I’d be scared you wouldn’t give them back?
Well, there were a lot more than I thought. I started this exercise by going through my ‘Read’ list on Goodreads.
Afterwards, I went through the books in our collection. Sadly, they’re still in boxes, waiting for one of the spare rooms to be converted into a library, but delving through the piles of paperbacks brought back some happy memories of hours spent reading these.
If you click on the book cover, I’ve linked through to the book’s page on Goodreads so you can add it to your own list if you like.
Without further ado then, here’s the first in a series of blog posts which I’ll spread out over the rest of the coming year:-
Richard Adams - Watership Down
I first read the book when I was about 12, then blubbed my way through the animated film three years later when it was shown on TV one weekend!
There’s something about the way the story is told from the rabbits’ point of view – the loss of their home, the trials they face trying to find somewhere new to live – that really captured my imagination. The story was always extra special for me because I grew up near to the real Watership Down which influenced Richard Adams' writing so much.
I had a bit of a shock researching this blog post as I found out the book is as old as me (yes, that old!) but to this day, it’s a poignant reminder of the damage we are doing to our wildlife with our continued urban sprawl.
There’s a great clip from the film which is on the Goodreads page I’ve linked the cover artwork to. Remember, there’s a dog loose in the woods...
Michael Crichton - Timeline
For me, this is the best book Michael Crichton ever wrote, and I know a lot of “Jurassic Park” fans are going to have my guts for garters for that comment.
In my mind, this novel perfectly blends science, history and a thriller in a tightly bound storyline which never lets up – from the mysterious stranger appearing on a road out of nowhere, through to the protagonists’ journey back in time, everything is written in such a way that it’s believable. The film wasn’t too bad either. Helped that it had Gerard Butler in of course.
Stephen King/Peter Straub -
I am now onto my third copy of this book, the previous two having been loaned out over the years and never returned, hence why it now appears on this list.
The Talisman is astounding in its remit. A young boy, Jack, whose mother is dying, must travel through a parallel world (the “Territories”) in order to fulfil a quest that will ultimately save her.
Except that’s too simplistic an explanation – this is the sort of book where you have to take a weekend off. Start it on a Friday and don’t stop. Take the phone off the hook, unplug the computer and the TV and ignore the doorbell.
For two authors of King and Straub’s calibre to come together and produce such a story is just jaw-dropping.
The choices Jack makes in the other world have unimaginable consequences back in the real world – the scene with the apple core is one which I’ll never forget, and the monsters and terrible people he’s exposed to are incredibly well-drawn.
This is one of the few fantasy books I’ve read, but I’ll read it every 4-5 years just to get another fix. It’s that good. I’ve lost count how many people I’ve recommended this book to, only to have them say to me afterwards that it left them speechless. That’s what it does to you.
Can’t say the same for The Black House though, which is the sequel to The Talisman.
You can have that.
Justin Cronin - The Passage
Okay, confession time.
This is the first book I’ve read where I’ve been so engrossed in the story, I missed my bus stop. Twice. While it was raining. So I had to walk back to the house and get soaking wet.
It was worth it.
The Passage takes the vampire myth and turns it on its head. A full three hundred and sixty degrees.
The only vampire books I’d ever read before The Passage was Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire and after successfully dodging all the hype surrounding Twilight, I approached this novel with a bit of trepidation, not really knowing what to expect. However, I’m a sucker for stories which involve a journey or a fight for survival, so that’s what hooked me from the start.
It is a little confusing at first, the way the book jumps several years (hundreds in some instances) into the future, but once you get over that, you realise that’s a necessary part of the story because that’s how long the “virals” have been around, terrorising the population.
However, it’s how the main characters in that population survive which makes this story special. Each has their own reason for wanting to know more about what happened in the past, whether there are other survivors, and their journey begins as soon as they start to question the “norms” which are thrust upon them from an early age. Introduce the mysterious “Amy”, who survived the original viral attack and is almost ethereal in presence, and you’ve got a powerful concoction of a story.
Can't wait to see what Ridley Scott does with the film version.
Stephen Leather -
The Solitary Man
A classic thriller, this is one of Stephen Leather’s standalone novels from the 1990s and in my mind, still one of his best.
From the prison break-out through to the action in Hong Kong, Stephen Leather introduced a great character in the form of Chris Hutchinson. This is a thriller which is well-crafted, the protagonist having many layers which you discover as the plot unfolds, and the pace is electrifying.
Falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit, Chris goes on the run, hiding in Asia and posing as a dog trainer, only to be blackmailed into undertaking another breakout – this time helping to release a known terrorist from a notorious Hong Kong jail.
And no, I’m not going to try to teach my dog, Floyd, to attack you using the word “trousers”. He’d probably just roll over and demand another belly scratch knowing my luck...
Well, there’s the start of my list of books you can’t have. What do you think?
Are there books on your shelf you wouldn’t let me borrow?
Even if I asked nicely?
The new year is usually a time for reflection for a lot of people and I’m no different. Working over the break on my current WIP and drafting a plan for what I wanted to achieve this year made me realise that I’ve learned a lot over the past 12 months about my creative and marketing habits.
I identified three things which held me back last year, and I’m going to try to eliminate them this year so I can become more productive.
1. Having a goal, not forming a habit
Jeff Goins recently posted a tweet which, in a nutshell, stated that if you have a goal in mind, that’s not good enough. You have to form new habits in order to achieve that goal – you can’t have one without the other.
Last year I had a goal to release my thriller Under Fire by August 2013. We were planning to be in the UK visiting family in September and I wanted to get it out before we left so that I could relax and enjoy the break. I did it, but it was very haphazard and I nearly failed. The reason? At the beginning of 2013 I didn’t form a writing habit and so as the deadline approached, I put myself (and others) under an increasing amount of stress in order to meet that goal.
Luckily I’ve learnt from the experience and Under Fire didn’t suffer for my poor planning – reviews are good, and readers are enthusiastic about Dan Taylor’s latest exploits.
During the latter part of 2013, I formed a new writing habit to avoid any future last-minute panics. I now use the time it takes me to commute to and from work on the train to write every day. I often exceed the word count I set myself each day.
From forming this habit, I’ve got a good feeling that I’ll meet my goal of writing two romantic suspense novels this year – possibly publishing both if the editing process goes as well as the writing phase.
Without the habit, the goal would be impossible.
2. Ineffective use of social media
Most of my readers live in the UK and the United States, so that last year when tweeting or posting to Facebook, I was sending out updates at different times in the hope that I’d catch someone who was still awake.
I spent a lot of time over the Christmas break reading blog posts about effective use of social media and realised I’d been guilty of many of the mistakes highlighted in these articles.
It took me some time to cotton onto the fact that I wasn’t getting retweets and the like as much as I’d hoped because I was using social media during the wrong time zones for my UK and US followers. I’m a bit of a social butterfly and enjoy interacting and joking around with people on Twitter and Facebook so it was a shame to be missing out on all the fun.
During the Christmas break, I reviewed my Twitter and Facebook activity over 2013 to see where the best ‘busy times’ were, and from that analysis, when the best time would be to use this social media.
I’ve been implementing this for the past week, and I’m already seeing a marked increase in interactions so I’m looking forward to this continuing through 2014.
3. Being a pantser, not a planner
I’ve made no secret of my experience writing Under Fire in interviews these past few months. I’d reached the halfway mark and because I hadn’t sat down and properly mapped out the whole story, I ended up ditching about 15,000-20,000 words which didn’t sit well with the rest of the novel.
For my current WIP, and for another project I have on the boil, I used a screenwriting technique called a “treatment”. This means you write out the whole story along the lines of ‘this happens, then this happens” etc. Once you’ve done that, you can split out the story into chapters and identify key scenes which can then be written with the comfort of knowing that I’m not going to be throwing work away.
By addressing each of the problems I identified from 2013, I reckon this year’s going to go from strength to strength for me.
What will you do differently in 2014?
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