Review: Our Stop by Laura Jane Williams

From the moment I saw that beautiful bright yellow cover with the pink tube lines crossing, I knew I was going to want to read this book. Not only were my favourite editors, publishing types and other authors yelling about it, but the premise was a right sort:

Two people who start their love story through the Missed Connections bit of the newspaper are destined to be- but will they ever meet?

I love Missed Connections, it was the best bit about having to go into work on the tube. And Nadia, our heroine, feels the same. Nadia is always on a Routine to Her Best Life. She tends to keep failing at it. But when Daniel sees Nadia, he knows it’s meant to be. And not in a creepy stalker way. In a romantic way.

He sends her the message through Missed Connections, and she sends messages back, but they keep missing each other. The universe is sending them every sort of ‘meant to be’ vibe and yet it seems the universe is waiting for the perfect moment.

This was a modern day romance that was woke AF. The men talk about third wave feminism, and expressing their feelings. Toxic masculinity is identified, consent is discussed, there’s all this stuff where I felt like these were the conversations I had with my friends, and it was nice to see people feeling real. Friendships weren’t perfect, relationships were complicated, sometimes there’s no bad guy and sometimes there most certainly is (looking at you, Awful Ben).

The whole story is told with this light wittiness and charm. It’s romantic without being sickening, it’s funny without trying too hard, and I super loved that it had a bunch of badass women working in STEM. So often women in romantic comedies only get a choice of certain jobs, so it was really refreshing to step into a world where the women are top of their game, breaking boundaries and totally killing it.

Our Stop was destined to be a bestseller from the minute that cover started showing up everywhere. I bought it on Kindle for 99p and it’s a total bargain, for a couple of days of reading that I really enjoyed.

Also, loved all the Soho House references – hell yes, Farmhouse is the shit and I hope I have friends who will whisk me away there when I’m sad.

Laura Jane Williams is a total babe too, and I was lucky enough to chat with her at the HarperCollins Summer Party. She’s doing some really interesting talks in the next few weeks at Waterstones with The Flat Share author Beth O’Leary (another amazing book and one of my absolute faves this year) and Rosie Walsh (of The Man Who Didn’t Call fame). Sounds like a blast, so if you’re in Manchester or London, check them out!

Have you read Our Stop? What did you think?

Taking time to celebrate

If you’re following a lot of authors online, or you’re an author yourself, you’ll know yesterday was the HarperCollins Summer Party. It’s the event of the season and yesterday was my first one!

Author meet ups are always a little strange – people you talk to online regularly become real people in real life! The editors and agents you may only recognise from Bookseller news updates, or very kind rejections, are suddenly hanging around and being introduced. There’s so many beautiful people that the famous ones sort of merge in and about because everyone looks sort of famous.

It’s in the garden of the Victoria and Albert Museum, and it was everything I’d thought: opulent, stunning and only slightly terrifying.

If you’re an author, you know there are so many times where movies and TV shows make being a writer look glamorous. In real life, there are not that many opportunities to get all dressed up, hang out with other writers and feel a little bit special for being a creator.

So even though I get a little anxious, and I didn’t really chat to anyone I didn’t already know (networking is not my thing!) I did really enjoy myself. I saw authors I recognised form online. I recognised authors whose work I absolutely love (and may have quietly fangirled before running away at the end of the night!) and I laughed and chatted with my agent, and editor and friends.

Also – BIG DRAW – the museum very kindly opened up the Dior Exhibition (which I failed to get tickets to months ago) and it was so beautiful to see it in the evening without huge crowds.

My lesson from this lovely party is to celebrate whenever you can. Don’t just save celebrations for publication day! Celebrate finishing a first draft, finishing edits, solving a problem, starting something new!

How do you celebrate your writerly achievements?

Debut or not to debut: that is the question…

Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageously being ignored, or to take arms against the indifference, and by saying you’re a debut, end them?

Okay, it was a bad bastardisation, but the question is still the same:

What is the big deal around debuts?

You may be surprised to find that a lot of your very impressive debut authors are experienced writing roses by another name. For some reason, in publishing, debuts are a HUGE deal.

I’m not entirely sure why, because it seems pretty counter-intuitive to how you pick someone for any other job. Even when you do submit as an author, you often have to show that you have clout – you’ve been writing a blog, or reviews, you have a good social following or you’ve written before.

When you’ve been a published writer for years, you have a following to work from, a target market to work towards, measures of success and sales and a relationship with publishers and authors.

But that can also work against you – if your sales were good, but not amazing. If you had a bad book (hey, it happens) or the book that looked like it was going to be phenomenal had a failure to launch…those things have an impact.

As a debut, you don’t have a backlog of work, you have nothing but the talent of that one manuscript, and a heap of potential. And that, as in most stories, is more appealing. It makes a better narrative, to hit it out of the park with an amazing debut. It makes those debut authors seem so sparkly and talented, and lucky! They build momentum more easily, because they automatically seem more successful.

And we buy into it as authors too. We think ‘oh crap, I missed my chance’ because our first books weren’t bestsellers. And yet, every book I’ve written has been better than the last. Every time I write another, I learn something new, and I get another chance to tell a story.

So why wouldn’t we use that experience? Why isn’t it valued?

Well, it is.

That’s why a bunch of those debut authors are actually experienced authors with new names!

Some people find that annoying, or misleading. And in many ways it’s super dumb. But as an author, I find it so comforting. Because these are authors who have been slogging away, working hard, improving their writing and possibly creating in other genres before they try something new.

A new direction, the chance for growth and a do over: a fresh start. That’s exciting no matter what industry you work in!

So I’m joining the ranks of the ‘new-name-start-over’ society – no one’s pretending I’m a debut, and I’m certainly not hiding my experience, but maybe with a new name, a new direction and a little luck, new people can find my books and be excited to discover something.

What do you think about debuts, as a writer, reader, publisher or anything else? Do you take a chance on a debut, or are you more likely to read your existing favourite author’s new books?

Writerly resilience and self care

This writing stuff isn’t easy. Not least because we only see the positives on social media.

We see the launch parties, the publication day flowers, the signed copies and the print book unboxings. All the things we dream of as authors. And then as we reach these points ourselves, of course we want to share them – they’re what we’ve been working for all this time! So the cycle continues.

No one talks about the hard times. You certainly don’t talk about them during the process, because you worry you’ll be seen as a failure. That your readers will sense the ‘loser’ stench. That other authors will know. That agents and publishers will know.

We only feel safe talking about this stuff after the fact. And that’s fair too. It’s easy to fall into a hole when you’re writing, when you’re seeing everyone else doing well, and you worry you aren’t. You can be so happy for deserving authors and friends, but still be jealous and worried that finally this wonderful career you had hope for is ending.

Well I’m here to tell you – it IS hard. It is lonely and scary sometimes. It’s pure torture when you write something you’re so proud of and it doesn’t get the attention you expected. Sometimes it’s worse when you write something you weren’t as passionate about and it takes off. There can be days when a bad review you wouldn’t have noticed suddenly gets you down.

This past year I have both written the story I am most proud of, and then when it was out on submission I restarted two different novels five times. I stopped. I panicked. I tried again, differently. I switched genre. I switched structure and tense, and voice. I bugged my agent every day for a week because I could not trust my writing instincts and needed to be told what to do.

So I thought I’d share a few tips for resilience, so that if you’re an author sitting in that self-confidence hole at the moment, you know it’s normal:

  • Write the story that makes you smile, makes you feel alive, feels important. Ignore concerns about how commercial it is, what it’s saying, how it’s not different from anything else. Write the story you want to read.
  • Switch off socials – sometimes you just don’t need to see everyone else’s great news. If you want to make sure you’re supporting your friends, programme some tweets ahead of time. But it’s okay to disappear for a while to get your head right.
  • Don’t read the reviews! Don’t do it.
  • Find at least 3 things in your writing that you’re proud of. It might just be 3 sentences. You can find something, you can!
  • Remember that it is never too late to start over! I don’t know how many of those ‘debut superstar authors’ are rebranded authors under a new name, but it’s a thing. Some of those authors have been plugging away for years, with other books you never heard of before they got a break. Luck and timing and hard work. Keep going.
  • Don’t try to explain writing to people who don’t get it, dismiss it or make you feel small.
  • Do things that make you feel good! That inspire you! Go for walks, read books, watch movies. Learn things, explore and let it go. You never know, you might find an inspirational boost that pushes you onwards!

Want to write more? Get yourself a writer squad

I am not a fan of differentiating between writing professionally and writing as a hobby in most cases. Because, to me, if you love writing, you’re a writer. End of story.

However, if you are writing professionally, or working your way on a journey to publication, having a group of writer friends can make a huge difference. To your attitude, your positivity, your decision making and your tenacity in an industry that can sometimes be a little hard to deal with.

I think it comes down to 3 types of writer friends.

Ones who write too:

I really enjoyed studying creative writing as part of my degree at university, and in so doing I found a group of like-minded people. People who wanted to explore their craft, who saw the world a certain way and wanted to dedicate their lives to creativity. Even as our lives have changed, our jobs have moved in different directions, I still have friends who are happy to chat about their fictional worlds and pretend people.

Ones who encourage you to write:

With both friends and colleagues, I’ve always enjoyed having ‘writing dates’. These aren’t so much about the talking about the writing, but just being around others who do it too. Facilitating your own writing whilst encouraging others to do it too is the most fun. It’s like a mini-retreat, where you can focus on your writing without the guilt of ignoring others, or the loneliness of locking yourself away!

Ones who are also professionals:

The professional writing world can be really hard. Submitting to publishers or agents, waiting to hear, rewriting and dealing with difficult edits, disappointing reviews or publication days that didn’t go as planned. It can be a world of crazy highs and lows and not everyone gets it.

There are loads of people out there who would dismiss someone ‘writing another little book’, or who think it’s crap, or pointless or that you’re wasting your time.

My author friends are the ones I talk to when I’m not sure if contract terms are normal, or if I’m pulling my hair out over edits. They’re the ones I tell when I get a new deal, or I’ve finished a rewrite, or when there’s exciting news on the horizon.

Someone who gets how difficult and amazing it is to write a book is the person you want to share your news with. They give it gravitas, they won’t dismiss it and they’ll understand exactly what you’re going through and what it means.

Writing can be hard enough, without coming up against negativity, doubt or that distinct look that just says ‘I don’t get it’. If you don’t know writers, hop on Twitter or into Facebook groups! They’re so full of useful information, comradery and support.

Also, don’t miss out on your agent or publisher parties – as an introvert I sometimes find them a bit overwhelming (and then I drink too much to feel confident and that is not a good idea!) but it’s so worth it to have friendships that nourish and support your creativity.

Do you have writer friends? What types? And what do they mean to you?

Review: Love, Unscripted by Owen Nicholls

Love, Unscripted by Owen Nicholls

As a movie buff and big fan of foppish romantic men falling in love with realistic, ambitious women I was super eager to read this. So I grabbed it at a bargain 99p this week.

Love, Unscripted is a fresh take on boy-meets-girl where Nick and Ellie, who met on the eve of the Presidential election in 2008, try to figure out where their relationship is headed and if it’s really over.

Told from Nick’s perspective, it’s easy to see where the Nick Hornby comparisons come in. But actually, I think it’s a lot warmer than Hornby’s books. The male narrator is self aware, and even though he’s flawed (as I hope all narrators are!) he doesn’t fall into the typical character voice. Nick is a sensitive soul looking for the real thing, a big, perfect sort of love.

He finds it in Ellie, but when they break up, he’s left trying to figure out what went wrong and whether it’s fixable.

This book really reminded me of the movie 100 Days of Summer – there’s a bittersweet element to it, with an introverted and romantic lead and his beautiful, smart, magical girlfriend. And yet, even through the almost naive gaze of the narrator, Ellie remains a real character, completely whole and normal. She was the sort of person I’d want to be friends with.

The book switches both in timeline and style, which was an interesting choice. I really enjoyed it (and did briefly think from an author perspective how hard it is to get the go-ahead on a structure like that!) as it switched between 2008 when the couple met, years later when they break up (both from Nick’s perspective) and then into a third person retelling of the times in between as Nick practices his screen writing.

Nothing much happens, I suppose, but those are actually my favourite kind of books! There’s warmth and friendship and growth and family moments. It’s a love story and a story of growth and it’s not overly saccharine or easily tied up – it’s about how life and love are complicated, and imperfect.

So, in summary, I loved it, and it’s 99p and you should absolutely read it! Excited to read more from this debut author!

The quickest way to write for gratitude

In need of a serious change of perspective? A boost of energy, a way to shake off the cobwebs and start seeing clearly again? A quick writing task can help with that!

When we talk about therapeutic writing, we often talk about writing in a workshop environment, facilitated by someone who knows how to hold the room and give structure and space to the activities. We talk about writing that releases creativity and allows for story, narrative and realisations of things you might not have acknowledged before.

And it can be a bit magic.

But what if you don’t have time for that? What if you just want to do something to shut up that anxious, listless voice in your head?

What you want is a little gratitude.

I find gratitude tends to solve almost all my problems…

So here’s the writing task:

  1. Get a lovely blank piece of paper, ripe with possibility.

2. Get yourself something to keep time, a stopwatch on your phone or an egg timer if you’re particularly old fashioned.

3. Put a glorious 60 seconds on the stopwatch.

4. You are going to write, non stop, for 60 seconds. You’re not going to give yourself enough time to think. You hand with your pen or pencil is going to completely bypass your brain. It’s you and the paper, that’s it.

5. Ready? You’re going to write a list. A list of every single thing you can think of to be grateful for in your life. Go!

So, how did it go? Did you find your list started with all the big and important stuff, but you ended up with smaller, detailed things you barely notice day to day? Did you find it easy or difficult? Was there anything unexpected?

How do you feel now, knowing you have this great honking list of things to be grateful for? Do you feel blessed? Calm? Loved? Or do you feel like you need to treat yourself and enjoy those things, surrounding yourself in even more gratitude?

Let me know in the comments how you found it!