My Year in Books 2014

The following is a list of the books I have read this year. You can see what I thought in more detail on my Goodreads page, or feel free to ask me. Each is a clickable link to where you can buy the book (if available). Each year I challenge myself to read a certain number of books. This year it was forty-five.

2014

The Best of Hammer & Bolter: Volume 1 – Edited by Christian Dunn

The Iron Man – by Ted Hughes

A Study in Scarlet – by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Black Library Anthology 2013/14 – by Graham McNeill et al.

Flowers for Algernon – by Daniel Keyes

Zen in the Art of Writing – by Ray Bradbury

Gone Girl – by Gillian Flynn

Scars – by Chris Wraight

Countdown – by Robert Orci

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 1: Legacy – by Dan Abnett

A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold – by George R.R. Martin

Knights of the Imperium – by Graham McNeil

War Horse – by Michael Morpurgo

Vengeful Spirit – by Graham McNeil

Secret Invasion: The Infiltration – by┬áBrian Michael Bendis

Slaughterhouse Five – by Kurt Vonnegut

The Last Fighting Tommy – by Richard Van Emden

A Feast for Crows – by George R.R. Martin

Ravenlord – by Gav Thorpe

Sedition’s Gate – by Nick Kyme et al.

Before they are Hanged – by Joe Abercrombie

Last Argument of Kings – by Joe Abercrombie

Secret Invasion – by Brian Michael Bendis

War of Kings: Road to the War of Kings – by Dan Abnett

Elantris – by Brandon Sanderson

The Damnation of Pythos – by David Annandale

Save the Cat! – by Blake Synder

The Purge – Anthony Reynolds

Half a King – by Joe Abercrombie

Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 2: War of Kings Book 1 – by Dan Abnett

Deathwatch: Xenos Hunters – Edited by Christian Dunn

Mockingjay – by Suzanne Collins

Writing for Comics and Graphic Novels – by Peter David

Ecko Rising – by Danie Ware

Traitor’s Gorge – by Mike Lee

The Best of Hammer & Bolter: Volume 2 – Edited by Christian Dunn

Death of Integrity – by Guy Haley

Space Marines: Angels of Death – Edited by Graeme Lyon

Death and Defiance – by Nick Kyme et al.

All Quiet of the Western Front – by Erich Maria Remarque

Renegades of the Dark Millennium – by Aaron Dembski-Bowden et al.

The Shadow of War – by Stewart Binns

Legacies of Betrayal – Edited by Laurie Goulding

1914: Poetry Remembers – Edited by Carol Ann Duffy

Homecoming – by Christie Golden

Birdsong – by Sebastian Faulks

The Seventh Serpent – by Graham McNeill

The Handmaid’s Tale – by Margaret Atwood

 

I’m also currently reading Lord of Chaos by Robert Jordan. It’s an epic book and I won’t manage to finish it this year, especially if the previous five in the series are anything to go by. I’m reading it because I’m more curious how the story ends than anything else. A classic example of a better world-builder/story writer than engaging writer, but I hear he gets better…the Brandon Sanderson took over.

Thanks for reading.

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Taking the Scenic Route

It’s mad that this is my first blog post of 2014, but then the year has started off massively busy. My New Year’s resolution was to write every day, which so far I have managed, even if only a few words, or I have done some editing. This worked out pretty well until I realised that I had a week to paint an army for a tournament in Nottingham next weekend. Life is about challenges right?

That’s kind of what this blog is about. I haven’t done any proper writing in the last few days because I’ve been knee deep in paint. I also felt that I needed to type up the writing we did in class this week as, once again, I didn’t feel like reading it out in class. (Turns out someone wrote a similar story to me, but did it better – such is life!) It’s also, partly, what the title is about; taking the scenic route to finishing my tasks for this week.

This week we had the external examiner, Carol Clewlow (I had to research that spelling!) who is a novelist in her own right, come in and talk to us. At first it seemed as if she would just talk us through the assignment, but that was only a brief introduction. What followed from that was a very interesting workshop about editing and scenes. We discussed the importance of bridging scenes – just getting a character where they need to be without boring the reader – and crucial scenes – where the detail is included – and their differences. Carol also talked about how it was quite often a shame that a scene was used as a bridging scene when it had the potential for some much more.

I just realised I’ve been typing this in silence without music. Sometimes when you get in the flow that just happens, other times I need music to help me concentrate. If you’re a writer, what do you write to? I tend to favour soundtracks as I find I often end up following lyrics if I listen to anything else. They also help me imagine the drama. I think today’s choice is Game of Thrones season 2, though it’s now making me want to watch it.

Carol gave us a bridging scene:

We left home at 6.30. Not long after turning on to the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed. Despite this we managed to reach dover by late afternoon and by evening we were in France.

We discussed that this scene has so much potential for detail which could add to the story. So, Carol gave us a task, turn this scene into a crucial scene. What follows is what I wrote in that task and also a later edit where she asked us to find that one part that needed more. Rather than splitting it in to two of what is essentially the same thing, I give you the finished version (I may also have cheated and added more as I typed it up – oops!):

We left home at 6.30 in a hurry to put everything into the car. The car screeched as the wheels spun off the driveway under the heavy way and we were away. Not long after hitting the motorway we hit an accident with a long tailback. It wasn’t uncommon given the circumstances. Everyone was in a rush to get away and rushing made people careless. A wrecked car was still on its roof as we passed, glass smashed across the carriageway. The poor people were still trapped inside the crumpled mess of the vehicle. The incessant cacophony of beeping horns wasn’t helping and there was no sign of the emergency services. They had enough to do right now. they would have a job getting through this crowd in time. The victims weren’t worth worrying about. No one could help them now, it was every man for himself.

Despite the crush we still managed to travel the 60 miles from Bromley to Dover by late afternoon. It’s amazing that even in an emergency most Brits wouldn’t drive on the hard shoulder. Its against the rules! But who needed rules now? The port got pretty desperate and fights were breaking out everywhere as we snuck our small car onto the ferry. By evening we were in France, a bit of money changing hands could get you anywhere. The badge didn’t hurt, but showing that around everywhere would raise too many questions. It’s a shame the ferry wasn’t going further, but I didn’t have that much money.

The crossing went relatively calmly, once people were onboard the hysteria had died down.

Driving down the ramp into the yellow ramps lights of Calais, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought about those trapped at home. Poor old Britain. For now though, we were safe.

 

Some of the group decided to completely change the original scene we were given, but I saw this more of an editing exercise. So what you can see here is a typical example of how I might edit. I’ll take a piece I have written and see if I can embellish the sentences that are already there. Sometimes I may need to take out a superfluous word and others I may need to alter the tense slightly, but as the scene we were given was already quite tight I didn’t feel any need to.

My scene could probably be edited further, but then isn’t that true of everything?

On another note, as anyone noticed that no one really talks on Facebook anymore? All that appears on my news feed is people sharing links to videos and various surveys that tell you which character from that poor remake of ┬áthat dodgy sci-fi film you are most like. What happened to people typing and having conversations, you know, social networking? Maybe it’s just my Facebook, but I was curious if anyone else had noticed a similar trend?

On that perfectly 1000 word count note, I shall leave you.

Once again, thanks for reading and any suggestions, comments or thoughts are welcome.

 

Lest We Forget…

I haven’t made a blog post in a couple of weeks, for two reasons. I haven’t had a writing workshop on my course. We have been looking at other things. Also, I have been quite busy writing stuff that I can’t post on here. One of which was a submission to Black Library.

So, I thought, given the importance of the date, that I would post a flash fiction piece I wrote for a magazine which never saw the light of day. I don’t believe it needs any introduction or any comment on setting from me.

The Day

by Michael J. Hollows

The noise grew to a cacophony as it had done each time before, wailing like sirens before finishing in a calamitous bang. British artillery shells fell in the distance, throwing up great clods of dirt that could be seen from the British army’s position. Each shell whined overhead, causing the assembled men to flinch and duck instinctively each time, despite the distance. It was always the same, the noise. Each time the commanders decided to try and pummel the Bosch into the ground, the boys at the back would aim their cannons and the shells would fly. The sound of massed artillery was not easily forgotten. But they had been through it before, countless times, to get to where they were today. It didn’t make it any less uncomfortable though.

Private Gerald Harlow ducked again as he heard the wash of another shell go overhead. He cursed as his foot slipped off the boarding and threw mud up his fatigues. The mud added to the wetness around his ankles as he placed his sodden boot back on the boarding with a squelch. He looked at the men lined up either side of him, they were all soaked through. Gerald had run out of fresh socks weeks ago, he had even forgotten what dry feet felt like. His comrades likened this place to hell, but at least hell is supposed to be warm, he thought bitterly.

The dull crump of the artillery added to the misery as Gerald surveyed his surroundings once more, trying to warm himself up. The equally miserable men around him were all of similar age. Young men gone from their homes to fight in the British Expeditionary Force. Many of them had had no other choice, no prospects. Some had chosen it. But Gerry, as the others called him, had enlisted underage to get away from his home; to get away from a difficult life. His family were poor and aging, few were left. Only his sister had managed to make any money for herself by marrying in to a somewhat wealthy family. If he had stayed at home, he would have been living in poverty now, the army had given him a way out. Looking around, it didn’t seem like such a good idea now.

The captain was moving along the line of men, swagger stick under his arm, whistle held lightly in the other hand. He was a good man, as he passed each soldier he offered words of encouragement and a brief smile. As Gerald knew from experience this was a rarity in the army. The man also reminded him of home, whether it was the comforting Hampshire accent, or the body language that reminded him so much of his late father, he couldn’t quite tell. A note in his diary that morning, that had also been transcribed as a letter waiting to head home, said as much.

Today was the first of July, 1916 and the letter had told his elderly mother about his experiences in the army at great length and about the men he had met. He had ended it with the line, “Today is the day, today I become a man.” After writing it he had thrown up into a latrine and headed out on duty. Several hours later he found himself standing where he stood now, with his sodden boots and the deafening sounds of artillery.

The squelch of footfalls preceded the Captain reaching his position. As with all the others, he stopped briefly, putting a hand to Gerald’s arm and with a commanding tone so easy to him he said, “Are you ready, son?”

Naturally, Gerald swallowed nervously and deeply, before raising his head to look his Captain in the eyes. He struggled to control his nerves and his hands were shaking gently by his sides, but he managed a curt nod. The Captain smiled knowingly and moved on, removing his hand from the Private’s arm. An odd sense of relief flashed through Gerald, before he remembered the oncoming battle and his stomach fell again.

He hadn’t noticed the absence of sound, but it seemed strange now. He had grown almost familiar with the noise of the artillery barrage and had somehow phased it out of conscious thought. Now it was gone however, its absence was far more obvious and somehow disturbing. The cessation of the bombardment meant only one thing and Gerald swallowed deeply again while he shuffled his feet.

The Captain turned on his heel and looked along the line of his men. Breathing deeply he bellowed, “This is it, lads. The big push, get rea-“

His call was interrupted by a series of dull explosions nearby, which made Gerald’s stomach lurch and almost tipped him forward where he stood.

Unperturbed the Captain continued his speech, “That’s the mines, men. Now when you go over the top Fritz will be reeling so much you can walk all the way without seeing a single one alive! See you there! Ready?”

Gerald heard his Captain’s words and felt reassured by them, surely a man of his experience knew exactly what he was talking about and as the Captain put the whistle to his mouth the Private felt an immense sense of pride. He was finally a man.

The sound of whistles broke out all along the trench as the officers signalled their men to battle and they were soon joined by the shouts of the soldiers, roaring at the top of their voices.

Gerald added his own voice to the chorus, screaming until his lungs burnt with the exertion. Without another thought he followed his comrades up the ladder, placing his foot on the bottom rung and propelling himself into no man’s land.

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