Book Review: How To Be Brave by Louise Beech

When Natalie’s daughter faints following a month-long spell of unquenchable thirst, she’s rushed to the hospital with Natalie fearing the worst. Tests reveal both good and bad news. Her condition is treatable, but it’s still very serious. Type 1 diabetes requires endless finger prick tests and insulin injections and, understandably, young Rose does not warm well to them. But it’s Natalie’s job to care for her daughter and the visit of a ghost, a strangely familiar presence, might be just what she needs to help her through the ordeal.

The ghost is the key to unlocking the novel’s second narrative, the true story of a man adrift in a lifeboat during WW2. Natalie and Rose both share in his tale, an amazing story of bravery and the desire to survive.

Part autobiography, part fiction, How To Be Brave essentially defies conventional categorisation. The two narratives are split by time, gender, circumstance and a hundred other things, but first time author, Louise Beech blends them effortlessly. Despite logic dictating the outcome of one story strand, it is delightfully easy to be drawn in and become heavily invested in everything going on.

The standout aspect of this book, however, is the relationship between Natalie and Rose. It is sometimes fractious, sometimes tender, but always believable. You find yourself on a real journey with the characters and, by the end of the book, you will doubtless learn something new about bravery too.

How To Be Brave is available via Amazon UK now.

September 4, 2015Leave a comment

Wanna read my diary?

A diary is an immensely personal thing. People pour their innermost thoughts and emotions into the pages of a diary, often because they think it’s their special, secret place. But have you ever found someone’s diary? The temptation to read is strong, made even stronger by the fact that you’re not supposed to, you’re not allowed to.

With the world transformed in a matter of days, my eponymous heroine, Wye, chooses to record her life in the pages of an old notebook. But, as the author, it was obviously my choice, not hers. And I like to think it was a good one. After all that’s happened to her it’s only natural that Wye would look for some sort of outlet. Having her use a diary as that release gave me scope to tell her story in an incredibly intimate way.

It also allowed me to play with the conventions of diary writing. Wye is having trouble deciphering real from not real, truth from fiction. That meant I could toy with the reader: is reality skewed here? Is Wye trying to trick you?

But a book based solely on that concept would be little more than a gimmick. When it comes down to it, it’s the story that matters, and, more specifically, the character or characters driving that story. To me, Wye is a story of loss, and how loss can affect us. It’s the story of one girl’s journey towards a place she hopes will save her. Even though that journey is through a strange dystopian world, I do hope readers can relate to her plight.

Wye is available through Amazon UK now.

September 3, 2015Leave a comment

Die, humans, die!

What do I do with England once I’ve killed all the humans? That was the (admittedly evil) premise I began work on Wye with. A lot of dystopian books envisage the end of humanity accompanied by a kind of squalor and decay. It makes sense, we humans are a destructive bunch, if it was extreme climate change or nuclear war which saw us off the world would probably be left in a dire state.

But being a contrary sort, I wanted to go completely the opposite way with Wye. Humanity is all but finished and the England that remains is peaceful, beautiful.

‘We call the countryside The Wasteland now. Not because it’s some toxic, uninhabitable slum. Far from it. It’s actually a tapestry of leaf-greens and the pleasant, pastel shades of wildflowers. We call it The Wasteland because every sign of humanity’s dominion over the land is rapidly wasting away.’

The book is told through the diary entries of a girl who calls herself Wye, and I wanted to contrast the horrors of her life with the exquisite scenery of a natural England. Of course, nature taking over means that there are no shops or supermarkets, so scavenging and hunter-gathering takes up a significant part of Wye’s time. Luckily, I grew up in rural England and I soon realised that a lot of my boyhood activities (catching fish, cooking crayfish, collecting watercress etc) would provide someone trying to survive with a means of survival. I could make Wye outdoorsy too!

And more than that, the urge to find food allowed me to explore Wye’s survival instinct, and how that instinct was in direct conflict with all she knew from the civilised ‘old world’. But survival is about more than finding sustenance, it’s about staying alive and evading danger. And that’s where the monster comes in …

Wye is available through Amazon UK now.

September 3, 2015Leave a comment

Losing my (blog tour) virginity

Here’s a little article I wrote about the Wye blog tour. It originally appeared on the Writing East Midlands website, here.

Momentum. I read lots of articles about book promotion and marketing, and I see that word used all the time. But what does momentum actually mean? And, if it’s so important, do I need to get some? Or is it my writing that’s supposed to have momentum? Isn’t momentum something to do with trains and cars? Or those equations my physics teacher used to give me kisses instead of ticks for?

The truth is, the articles don’t mean momentum in any of those ways, not really. They mean it in terms of a marketing campaign; the ability of your promotional activities to reach more and more people as the campaign goes on. Now, I spend a LOT of time marketing my books. Probably just as much time marketing them as I do writing them. It’s entirely necessary if you want to make any headway in the overcrowded book world. But until very recently my marketing had been sporadic, a blog here, an interview there. A video one month, a speaking engagement the next.

That all changed when my editor (Liz from Liz Loves Books) offered to arrange a blog tour for my latest release, Wye. I’d seen other blog tours running of course, tweets and Facebook posts about them crop up all the time, but I’d never had one of my own. I said yes immediately. I know experimenting with different forms of marketing is incredibly important. Even if your experiment proves unsuccessful in terms of boosting sales you will always learn something useful. Plus, my editor is a great friend and she offered to arrange a tour for free so win-win!

The first thing to do, I was told, was to write three completely different guest blogs related to the book I was trying to plug. The blog tour would run for a week, a different post on a different site every day, and these posts would include reviews, interviews, spotlights and guest blogs. I would have to do a lot of work and provide free copies of my book, and that was totally fine. After all, influential book bloggers are letting me on their sites and shouting about my release, the least I could do was dish out some content and a free copy of the book they were helping me with!

But it wasn’t until the tour started that I twigged it. Momentum. It’s the entire point of a blog tour. Reviews, interviews, spotlights and guest posts; I’ve done them all a hundred times before. But never for seven days in a row, never in a big orchestrated push. About three posts in to the tour I saw that chatter about my book was on the up, and that sales (helped by a tour-aligned price slash) were much healthier too. People were talking about my book every day. More and more people in more and more online communities were getting involved and frankly I was struggling to keep up! My book finally had some momentum behind it and I finally understood what the term meant.

Of course if you want your own blog tour, you don’t need a well-connected editor to arrange it for you (although it does help!). It’s entirely possible to arrange one for yourself using the connections you’ve made through social media and bookish events. As long as you remember to say your thank yous to the bloggers involved, to get your posts and interviews done in good time and to your best ability, there’s very little that can go wrong. And, as I’ve just described, the results can be astounding. So, what are you waiting for?

September 3, 2015Leave a comment