This Really Happened: Kindle countdown deal

I felt like I was seeing it all in slow motion; the car, sleek and black, careening around the corner, the sound of wheels skidding. Headlights illuminating her dazed expression like a spotlight as it made contact. Then I heard screaming, distant and muffled, as if I was underwater. It took me a long time to realise that I was the one screaming.

Erin has never really known who she is or what she wants. That is, until she meets her new University flatmate Allen.

Reckless, eccentric and creative, Allen is everything Erin doesn’t have the courage to be and she’s immediately drawn to him. She’s sure he feels it too, until he starts dating their mutual friend Charlotte.

Then one night changes everything.

When a drunken mistake leaves Charlotte fighting for her life, the victim of a hit-and-run, there’s only one question everyone’s asking: what really happened? Erin has an answer to that, more than one in fact, but running from the truth is far easier than facing up to it…

 

My latest New Adult novel ‘This Really Happened’ will be available at the special reduced price of $0.99 for the next 7 days on the Kindle countdown deal! Get it now while it’s cheap!

 

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In conversation with Rhoda Baxter, romantic comedy writer

Today I’ll be shining the author spotlight on romantic comedy writer, Rhoda Baxter! 

Hi, please can you give a brief introduction of yourself?
Hi. I’m Rhoda. I write romantic comedies which are published by Choc Lit Publishing. I also write short fiction. In real life, I trained as a microbiologist but now work in university technology transfer (which is the most fun way to keep in touch with the science without having to do lab work). I drink far too much tea and am partial to a bit of cake.

When did you first start writing?
I’m not sure. Apparently I wrote a story about parrot when I was about seven. When I was in my early teens, the Sweet Dreams romance novels were incredibly popular. I wasn’t allowed to read them, in case they gave me ‘ideas’ and distracted me from my studies. So I started to write my own. I still have my early typescripts. They’re impossibly naive and cringeworthy, but they’re worth keeping for the scribbled notes from my friends (my early readers!) on the margins.

How would you describe your author brand in 5 words?
Smart, witty heartfelt romantic comedy.

What has your experience been of publishing with Choc Lit?
I love the way Choc Lit choose their books. They have a ‘tasting panel’ who check out the submissions. If enough people on the panel pass the book, they publish it. This means that they don’t have to second guess whether the readers would like a book, they know. They can also edit the book with actual market feedback. Choc Lit publishes a lot of unusual romances – ones that other publishers might turn down because they perceive them as too niche. For example, a romance with a non-white heroine (mine) or one with a hero with cerebral palsy (Jane Lovering) – both of which would be considered ‘risky’ in the normal run of things.
They also do fabulous covers!

What’s your opinion on diversity in the contemporary romance genre?
I’d like to see more of it. By this I mean real diversity – with people of different backgrounds (be it different by ethnicity, sexual orientation or ability) having a place in the genre.

I’ll use ethnicity as an example, because it’s what I’m more familiar with (I’m Sri Lankan by descent). There is a tendency to fetishise difference. You get books with Asian characters, but either the conflict of the book revolves around the Asian-ness of the character or the characters are over-the-top Asian. The day to day lives of most British Asians isn’t hugely different to the day-to-day life of other British people. Religious and cultural differences exist, sure, but on a basic everyday level, we live in the same sort of houses, eat lunch/tea at the same sort of time, watch the same sort of TV shows. But, if you look at romance novels, you’d be hard pressed to see that. The differences in culture are magnified. The familiar elements are ignored. So people see only how ‘they’ are different to ‘us’.

It’s important to change this. We absorb our world view from the books we read and the TV shows we watch. If we’ve only ever seen Asian women as downtrodden slaves to tradition, no wonder we’re surprised by Nadiya Hussein baking a fizzy pop flavoured cheesecake. I’m a big fan of GBBO and of Nadiya. When she won GBBO, the undertone of the commentary that followed was ‘oh my word, she wears a hijab, but… she and her family seem so Normal!’. Which, if you think about it, is just bonkers.

So, I’d like to see more romance novels with diverse characters falling in love – not falling in love in an Asian way, or in a gay way, or in a disabled way – just falling in love in their OWN way.

Describe your ideal fictional love interest
He’d be kind and clever and funny. Preferably, he’d be fit in a slim-built kind of way… and would definitely wear glasses. Most men look sexier in glasses. David Tennant in glasses… ooh…

Sorry, what was I talking about? Oh yes. Men. I much prefer beta males to alphas. I tried to write an alpha male hero once (because people kept telling me they were popular). I hated him so much that I had to stop after a few chapters and start again.

What are your writing goals for 2017?
I’m trying my hand at writing novellas at the moment. I’m hoping to write three novellas set in a fictional village in West Yorkshire. I’ve done one. Two more to do.

My next book Girl In Trouble – the sequel to Girl Having A Ball – should be coming out with Choc Lit later in the year. I’ll be editing that in the next few months.

What authors would you recommend for fans of contemporary romance?
There’s too many to mention. I like books with great dialogue (sharp, realistic and funny). I’m currently reading a lot of Courtney Milan, Jane Lovering, Jenny Holliday, Alison May, Kate Johnson, Mhairi McFarlane, Janet Gover, Julie Cohen. All of whom write great dialogue. Those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head, there are many, many more.

What’s your opinion on self-publishing?
I have always kept an eye on self publishing. I was too insecure in my abilities to self publish (I have chronic impostor syndrome), so I needed the validation provided by having a traditional publisher, but I’ve always thought that Indies were the ones who knew how to market books. I follow a lot of Indie blogs because they are so clever in what they do. I think I’d like to end up with a combination of both. When I’ve finished my West Yorkshire novellas, I’d like to self publish those. [If you want a preview, you can get a short story set in that world for free by signing up for my reader group].

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to new writers?
Don’t give up. Write, submit, get feedback, edit, repeat. Eventually, good things will happen.

I started writing in my early teens. I’ve been writing in earnest since I was in my twenties. I wasn’t published until I was in my mid thirties. It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it.

Rhoda Baxter writes cheerful romantic comedies starring smart heroines and charming beta male heroes. She likes to write about people who make her laugh. Her books have been nominated for awards, so she must be doing something right. In real life, she’s a former scientist who works in technology transfer and a mum of two. Her latest book is Girl Having A Ball.

Website: http://www.rhodabaxter.com
Twitter: @rhodabaxter
Latest book: Girl Having A Ball 

Book review: ‘We were liars’ by E. Lockhart

“The island is ours. Here, in some way, we are young forever.”

I’ve read a lot of books in the last few months. Spending nearly 3 hours a day on a train commuting to work and back has made reading the highlight of my day. But despite all of the classics I’ve read ‘We were liars’ is the book that has stuck with me. I know that many will claim that it’s not in the same league because it’s ‘YA’ and therefore of lesser value somehow. But frankly I feel like there’s not enough space in the world of literature for newness, that literature is very much a closed off category of the past.

‘We were liars’ is a work of the present. Through her depiction of the Sinclair family, Lockhart paints a surprisingly authentic metaphor of modern day American society, touching on relevant issues such as insidious racism and power struggles within the family dynamic. Though the Sinclairs may be beautiful, rich and powerful on the outside, they are riddled with corruption and tragedy underneath.

Cadence Eastman Sinclair is the American golden girl; she’s rich, pretty, loved, however beneath the facade she is struggling with chronic, debilitating migraines, which doctors believe to be a symptom of a post-traumatic brain injury. She believes this was caused by an accident she had swimming in the sea, while holidaying on her family’s island two summers ago. However she’s not really sure, since the accident also caused amnesia.

From there Cadence takes us on a trip down memory lane, back to when she first went to the island with the rest of her family, including her cousins Johnny and Mirren and Johnny’s best friend Gat.

The four of them quickly become close friends, calling themselves the ‘liars’. Cadence falls in love with Gat and they start a summer fling, one that Cadence’s grandfather, the patriarch of the family, disproves of since Gat is ethnically Indian. While the grandfather never says this outright and speaks more in veiled threats than clear statements, the situation becomes tense and Gat mysteriously breaks off the budding romance.

Heartbroken, Cadence tries to move on, however when she finally returns to the island 2 summers later everything has changed and it’s clear that something isn’t right. What really happened on the night of the accident? To discover the truth, Cadence is forced to dig up old memories that are probably better left buried.

Lockhart’s prose flows effortlessly as she describes lazy days on the beach of a paradise island cut off from reality. Everything about this book has a dreamy, semi-lucid quality to it, evoking emotion and imagery with every paragraph. It’s truly a masterpiece to read, and even better when you find out what the twist is at the end. Though I had my suspicions, it still took me by surprise and I thought it was very masterfully constructed. I was satisfied with the ending and, though I was sad it was over, it felt like the story had come to a natural close.

I would strongly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys mysteries, suspense, psychological thrillers and general YA. It really is an excellent read and definitely worth the time investment.

My Top Ten Books in 2016

2016 may have been a terrible year for politics, Remain voters, minorities, women and fans  of pop culture celebrities, but at least it’s been a good book year. Here’s a little gallery of my top 10 reads for 2016. If you haven’t read these brilliant books, might be worth putting on your reading list for the new year!

 

And, here’s a little snapshot of the first book I’ll be reading in 2017:

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Book Review: Radio Silence by Alice Oseman

“Hello? I hope somebody is listening.”

‘Radio Silence’ is one of those powerful, powerful novels that sticks with you long after you’ve finished it. It’s striking, rebellious, startlingly funny and incredibly honest at the same time. Most of all though, it’s a beautiful story about two people finding love and solace in each other. And when I say that, I mean in a completely platonic sense. Yes that’s right, the main relationship in this novel is a boy-girl friendship that DOESN’T turn into a romance. And frankly I think that’s what makes this book great.

There’s so much pressure in society nowadays to find a romantic partner – romance is portrayed as being the only way to love and be loved. Anything else is useless and a waste of time. But I really hate that idea, that love is basically worthless unless it’s a certain kind of love. I believe that you can find soulmates in platonic relationships too. And I don’t think a platonic relationship is less strong or less valuable than a romantic one. They’re just different kinds of love. Both good, both beautiful in their own ways.

Anyway, rant aside, I don’t see enough good friendship stories around, and ‘Radio Silence’ satisfies my need for one. It’s quirky, fun and the main character is a nerdy fangirl so I think most of us bookworms out there can probably relate. The story is written in first person from the point of view of Frances who feels alone, misunderstood, and basically pours all of her energy into her studies to distract herself from it. Her secret obsession is a sci-fi podcast called ‘University City’ which she draws fan art for and puts on tumblr. Then the maker of the podcast asks her to become the official artist for the show. Around the same time, she also meets and befriends the maker in real life – Aled Last, a shy boy who’s hiding more than one secret, including a missing sister who Frances used to be friends with.

Frances and Aled quickly bond over the podcast and become best friends, however when Aled’s secret identity as the maker of the podcast is revealed, the trust between them is broken and things start to go downhill.

Alice Oseman’s writing style in ‘Radio Silence’ is very grounded and authentic – she’s only 21 herself which is absolutely incredible, and in my opinion makes her very relatable to this generation of young readers. Tumblr and online culture play a big part in the book, much more so than in any other YA I’ve read, which again is all down to the author drawing from her own personal experiences. Also there’s a lot of diversity – non-white characters, LGBT characters, asexual characters, characters with mental health issues. I think this is an incredibly brave move, as I get the feeling that despite the demand for diversity YA publishers still tend to stick more to ‘conventional’ books as they believe there’s less risk attached.

Anyway, in conclusion, GO AND READ THIS BOOK. It’s a book about so many things – identity, sexuality, goals, friendship. Frances and Aled were more than just main characters, they were people I was rooting for and wanted to be friends with. And I think that’s how you know when a book’s good. When you’re so invested that it stops being fiction and becomes real to you.

What’s ‘new’ about New Adult?

So, this time 3 years ago, I was a cute little fresher going off to Warwick University for the first time, totally amazed by the idea that I could stay up all night if I wanted to and subsist off of chocolate for weeks on end. Independence sounded really, really awesome. So I thought ‘hey let’s write a novel about this.’ I figured it was a universal experience – the excitement of leaving home for the first time, feeling nervous about living with new people, the pressure of adult responsibilities.

3 years on, I’ve finished the novel and though it turned out very differently to what I’d originally planned, I’m pretty happy with it. So I decide to start querying agents with it. I write the query letter, get some feedback on writer forums, all the while assuming that it’s a simple YA. After all, it seems to fit the criteria. My characters are all 18, still teenagers dealing with issues that are basically hallmarks of YA: relationships, drama, academic pressure, family issues etc.. I’m certain that there’s no question what genre it’s part of.

But then someone says ‘wait a minute isn’t this a new adult?’ and I’m not so sure anymore.

Ever since then, I’ve done a lot of research on what this whole ‘new adult’ genre thing is about. I’ve trailed through countless websites, book blogs, agent interviews and I’ve made some interesting findings.

From what I’ve gathered a general definition of the ‘new adult’ genre is ‘novels with protagonists in the 18-25 age range, fiction similar to YA but which can be marketed as adult as well’. Most say that the cut off point for YA is the summer after secondary/high school: any protagonists older than that count as new adult.

However I don’t think it’s just about ages. It’s about where the characters are in life. In New Adult fiction the characters have far more independence; they’re thinking about future careers, figuring out who they are outside of the family dynamic, learning to mature and basically transition into responsible adults. For all these reasons, I think the ‘New adult’ genre is a great idea. The themes NA fiction deals with are different to YA and I’m glad someone decided to coin it. The problem is hardly anyone seems to know about it, much less understand what it is. As someone currently trying to get an NA book published, I’ve realised that it’s still not widely accepted as an established genre category and because of this is very often overlooked, even by people working in the industry.

Most class NA as a branch of adult literature. Amazon categorises it under the broader genre of ‘Women’s fiction’ which I really object to. For one, the whole idea of ‘fiction for women’ seems kind of sexist and automatically excludes a male audience. It reinforces the old stereotype that women only read romances and men read crime/thrillers/historical/basically everything else since there’s no ‘men’s fiction’ genre. Furthermore, New Adult isn’t really geared towards one gender or the other. It’s about the challenges and joys of growing up, something which everyone should be able to relate to equally.

Going on from this though, I am disappointed by what i’ve seen of the NA fiction already out there. Most of it seems to be glorified sex scenes with a little plot on the side. Sure, that stuff sells apparently, if we’re judging by Fifty shades of Grey, but frankly I want books with a little more substance. I want to see books about friendship, about real-life issues like racism, sexism, trauma etc.. I want to see complex characters who have more ambitious goals than getting the guy/girl. I want to see books where romance isn’t the main plot at all.

The thing is, I think all of this will come. I think at the moment it’s still a developing genre, but that with more awareness and recognition in the publishing world New Adult has the potential to become an increasingly diverse and significant category of literature. And if self-publishing is the way to make that happen, then I’m not complaining.

Review: Number 9 Dream by David Mitchell

“Dreams are shores where the ocean of spirit meets the land of matter. Dreams are beaches where the yet-to-be, the once-were, the will-never-be may walk awhile with the still are.” 

Rating: 5/5 stars

I’ve just finished reading the novel ‘number9dream’ by David Mitchell, acclaimed author of ‘Cloud Atlas’ which was recently made into a film. It’s his second book and was shortlisted for a Booker prize (though in my opinion it should’ve won one.) Though it must be clear by the rating I gave it, I was thoroughly impressed with this novel. It’s the sort of book that makes you question your own sanity, as well as the author’s, but that’s what I loved about it. By the time I’d finished reading it I was beginning to wonder if I was in a dream or not as well.

I was given this book as a present from a friend who said it ‘reminded her of Haruki Murakami’ (who I absolutely adore). She couldn’t have been more right: not only is ‘number9dream’ in the same vein as this Japanese cult author, it is actually inspired by it and freely acknowledges ‘Norwegian Woods’ as its inspiration within the text. There are certainly many aspects shared by both books: the writing style, the surreal image of Tokyo and the characterisation of the two female protagonists (Ai Imago and Midori) have clear similarities. It seems the Beatles are a very popular muse in literature nowadays.
‘Number9dream’ is a coming of age story at heart. Much like Norwegian Woods, it’s about coming to terms with identity, finding love and dealing with loss. Eiji Miyake, the protagonist of the novel, travels to Tokyo with the goal of finding the father he’s never met. However along the way he gets side-tracked, falls in love and gets in trouble with the Yakuza. I guess that’s the simple summary of the story. Except the narrative structure is far more complicated, as it contrasts the parallel universes of reality and dreams, to the point where you’re no longer sure what’s real and what isn’t. So basically, it’s a 418 page existential crisis in bound print.
Eiji’s story is the over-arching backbone of the novel, and everything else within is perceived through his point of view, including his fantasies. Each chapter, or ‘dream’, features another of these ‘illusions’ that Eiji uses to escape from reality, sometimes through video games, or books, or film. In fact one of these ‘illusions’ has recently been made into a short film: it’s called ‘The Voorman problem.’ Fun fact: my screenwriting professor this year helped produce it! Another of my favourites was the chapter ‘Kai Ten’ in which Eiji reads the journal of his great uncle, who was a Kai-Ten torpedo pilot during the 2nd world war. Through these illusions, the author manages to showcase a number of different narratives and ways of story-telling, creating a compelling blend of voices.
One of the things I love most about this novel is its blatant pretentiousness. I know that sounds a bit strange, but it takes a lot of skill to pull off something so experimental. Though there are a lot of detailed, banal and very realistic descriptions of Tokyo, it’s clear the author is not confining his writing to the category of ‘believable.’ In fact a lot of the dialogue is precocious, quirky and witty in a way that real people just aren’t. But that’s okay, because it’s good dialogue and even though it’s a bit cheesy, sometimes cheesy can be good when done in the right way. The author doesn’t just make his meaning obvious, he goes a step further and has his characters actually discuss it. Oh, the irony and meta-drama.
One very apparent example of this is the chapter ‘Study of Tales’, which is a collection of children’s stories that Eiji reads. They are more like thinly-veiled allegories for the writing trade and publishing business, each story dealing with a different aspect including the search for originality and the effect of the internet revolution on publishing.
Overall, I love this book because despite the magic realism side, the heart of the narrative contains genuine granules of human truth. Eiji tries to escape from reality to deal with the loss of his sister, but in the end he has to face his past in order to heal. One of my favourite quotes from the book is this: “maybe the meaning of life lies in looking for it”. A valuable piece of advice, it’s the reminder that meanings are not a fixed point to strive for but something that can change and evolve with us.

Ender’s Game – Best of Sci-Fi

So, it took me three whole days to finish reading the novel ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card, and then move quickly onto the film. I’m not exaggerating when I say that it’s one of those books that you can’t put down, that makes you forget your body’s annoying need for things like sleep, that makes all other tasks in life seem dreary and completely unnecessary because, dammit, you could be reading instead.

I digress, but my point is that it was very hard to tear myself away from this particular book and it became a bit of an addiction. Let’s face it, beautiful prose is basically a Literature student’s version of substance abuse.

I’ll be focusing only on the novel today, though I may blog in the future about the film adaptation also. I’m going to choose the top 5 things I love about the novel. 

The Originality – I have to admit, there has been a LOT of sci-fi ‘stop the alien invasion’ fiction around lately, but Ender’s Game has got to be one of the most creative and original concepts I’ve seen in a long time. For one, the aliens aren’t actually the main focus. Yes, they’re the driving force of the plot, but that’s all they ever are: a mysterious ‘enemy’ that must be defeated, except no one really knows why until the very end, leaving us to question the morality of it throughout most of the book.

The Detail: Card’s writing style is very easy to read and get into. He delves right into the story and constantly moves the plot along at a pretty fast pace. No time to stop and dawdle on the majesty of the universe, or waste a few pages describing the artful space chair (cough Charles Dickens cough take a hint). There’s a nice balance between dialogue, description and emotion. Enough so that we as the reader have the chance to connect with Ender and feel sympathy for him, but not so much that we start to hate him for being a whiney brat. Though I did find some of the action scenes in the battle room hard to visualise because of the whole ‘null gravity’ thing, I liked that Card didn’t try and patronise readers by over-explaining everything and instead trusted us to use our own imaginations. He’s fantastic at the whole ‘show but don’t tell’ thing, a skill which has been drilled into my head by every creative writing guide I’ve ever read.

The side-plots: I liked how the author wasn’t afraid to shift perspective from Ender to some of the other protagonists, making the plot that much more complex. General Graff, for instance, provides an interesting insight into how the bureaucracy has chosen to justify using children as military weapons. His relationship with Ender, too, can be seen as almost paternal. The other big plot line is that of Valentine and Peter: Ender’s siblings. After all, if a 10 year old military space commander is believable, then why not a 14 year old megalomaniac intent on world domination? Peter and Valentine’s little political stint makes a nice real-world contrast to all of the intergalactic conflict happening in Ender’s life, and in a way reminds us that the futuristic society that the novel is set in may not be all that different from our own.

The supporting characters: I found that every one of the supporting characters had their own distinct personality traits, and there was something to either love or hate about all of them. Sometimes, especially with the bullies like Bernard and Bonzo, it’s how they react to situations and how they are provoked. Sometimes it’s the language they use: certain slang words, a way of speaking. A lot of the time it’s through Ender’s relationship with them, most notably Alai and Bean.

Ender himself – ah. How do I even begin? Of course you have a soft spot for him. Everyone does. Even the people training him to commit genocide. Admittedly, I do have a soft spot for misunderstood clever boys (cough Sherlock cough) but Ender is a special case. Maybe because he’s always getting bullied and everyone loves an underdog. Maybe because he actually defends himself. But I think the main reason is that despite being a child prodigy, he still retains his innocence and compassion. ‘Ender’s Game’ is just as much about Ender’s humanity as it is about him being a badass military commander. He feels guilt for hurting others, but does it anyway because he knows he has to. It seems like the reluctant hero is always the most loved.

Overall, it’s a brilliant book that deals with a lot of dark themes. Honestly, it doesn’t seem like YA at all, even though it would technically be in that genre as the protagonist is only 10 years old for most of it. Somehow, Card made the entire concept of a kid in the military very believable, and while telling Ender’s story simultaneously questions the morality and ethics of warfare. Though it may be set centuries into the future, Ender’s Game relates to timeless issues affecting all of us – what makes us human? How far can we go while retaining our humanity? To destroy monsters, you must become one. I have no idea who came up with that quote, but it seems very applicable to Ender Wiggin.