Month: March 2015

#RBRT ‘The Relationship Shoppe’ by Susan Paulson Clark

Relationship Shoppe

Marian and Belle run a business selling self-help/relationship books through a website that also offers advice to those going through relationship difficulties. They have their own problems – both having recently divorced. Belle comes from a dysfunctional family, and Marian has too young children to care for. The book focuses mostly on Marian and her journey form struggling single mom to potentially finding fulfilment in both her business and personal lives.

It’s a good idea for a contemporary novel and is full of characters and events that lots of women will no doubt identify with. However, I found it hard to really like the characters. Marian seemed rather judgemental, of herself as well as of others and her ‘turning the other cheek’ philosophy annoyed me. She allowed herself to be treated badly, ignoring her ex’s rude comments and jibes from Belle, supposedly because it made her a better person and was a way of dealing with conflict. I wanted her to lose her temper once in a while, to bite back and say what she was really feeling – to be human. I found her very hard to identify with, which made it difficult to care about what happened to her, which is a shame because she has real potential as a character.

I also felt that the book wasn’t quite ready. There are elements that need work. There is a lot of unnecessary back and forth. There were also issues with the timeline of the novel and events being mentioned out of the blue (Belle going away on holiday with Stefan for example). There were also too many convenient aspects; Marian just seemed to meet people who could help her – something that doesn’t happen all that often in reality.

Susan Paulson Clark can write and there are some very good aspects to this – a cast of characters that have the potential to be extremely entertaining and a great idea for a storyline. But unfortunately, it’s just not quite there yet.

3-stars-out-of-5

Find a copy here

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 12: What now?

the end

If you’ve been following my writing and editing tips from the beginning and have been working hard on your manuscript you may well be pretty much ready to publish – or are you?

How will you know when your manuscript is ready?

Many of the comments I get when writers send me their work to edit are along the lines of:

‘I’m sending it now because I can’t stop fiddling with it,’ and

‘I’m absolutely sick to death of the @#*! thing!’

or they simply feel like this:

head keyboard

So is this the point when it’s time to stop fiddling and start publishing?

Well, that depends. If you’re thinking of self-publishing or if you’re submitting to agents then your manuscript really has to be the best that it can be. And often we are far too close to our own work to know when it’s ready. Now, this isn’t an advert or a sales pitch. I’m not saying ‘send it to me, send it to me!’ but at some point in the process you need someone else to read your work. You need to stop tinkering and you have to be brave and pass it to someone else. BEFORE you self-publish or email it to that agent.

Now it’s up to you who you choose to share it with. And that first person shouldn’t be an editor (told you it wasn’t a sales pitch!). Later on down the line you should hire an editor – after all, the best person to read your work impartially and honestly is someone who does it for a living, and whose ability and reliability directly impacts on their livelihood. But I know that writing is an expensive business and one that isn’t going to make you rich (it really, really isn’t – unless you’re the next Hilary Mantel or someone). So you should gather as much feedback as possible before you go to the expense of professional editing.There are plenty of people out there who can help you, and the wonderous world wide web has made it easy to find them.

Why do you need to look on the internet? You have friends, don’t you? Family members who’d love to help? I would definitely use strangers to read your work rather than friends or family. Friends and family are too nice, too proud of you and too impressed that you’ve actually managed to write a whole book to be ‘mean’ about it (unless you’re my son – who has no qualms about telling me exactly what I’ve done wrong, for which I’m extremely grateful). These people think they’re doing you a favour but they’re not. I know it’s difficult, but you don’t want to self-publish and then get criticised on Amazon or Goodreads, and have loads of bad reviews. If there are issues with the book, they need sorting out first, even if that means accepting that your masterpiece isn’t one.

writer cat

Goodreads is a really good option.There are lots of people there who will beta read for you, usually in exchange for you doing the same for them. The key to this process though is honesty – your reader needs to be honest with you about what she loves and hates about your work and in return you need to be honest too. No one’s interests are served if you pussy-foot around being nice. Believe me, people who might eventually buy your book won’t always pull punches, so you need to know if there are issues with your book now.

There are also lots of good critique groups online – just Google and see what you can find.

Authonomy, run by Harper Collins, can also be useful – but only if you put aside the fairly unrealistic target of getting to the editor’s desk. The site works on the basis that you post your work, people read it and offer feedback and if they like it they shelve it on their virtual ‘bookshelf. This, along with other secret calculations that Authonomy won’t reveal in order to prevent people playing the system, helps your book rise to the top and get to the editor’s desk. Someone from Harper Collins will read your work. Getting there takes an inordinate amount of time and effort and, in my opinion, isn’t worth it. But the site is great for building up a network of fellow writers and getting some helpful (and some not so helpful) feedback.

One word of caution though – some people on these sites are very cliquey and some are downright nasty. They seem to attract some fairly egotistical types who think they’re tortured geniuses. I had a very nasty experience on one site when I asked a simple question in a forum and was bombarded with spiteful critiques of my writing. I honestly don’t mind people criticising me but I do mind when that is done in a space reserved for general questions. So be warned and be careful. But on the whole, there are lots and lots of lovely, generous writers and readers out there who will give up their time to offer you advice – so it’s worth the risk.

So, be brave, entrust your manuscript to someone else, listen to their feedback, don’t take offence and use what they say. And when that process is over, and you’re used to receiving honest criticism, then do consider hiring a professional editor. Good luck!

Blogging from A-Z Challenge

atoz-theme-reveal-2015-125

This year for the first time I’ve signed up for the A-Z blogging challenge (thank you Rosie Amber for suggesting it – I think!). So in April I will be posting on my blog every day except Sunday – and not only that – I’ll be blogging thematically from A-Z.

So, twenty-six letters in the alphabet and twenty-six days of posting. But what can I blog about? Well – here’s the big reveal:

tada

I’m going to blog about about writing and editing! Doesn’t sound that interesting? There are so many people out there who write, who want to write, who love to write, who are scared to write and many turn to the internet to find help and advice. I’ve been blogging writing and editing tips for a while now and I’m always struck by how helpful fellow writers and editors find them. And it’s certainly a topic with plenty of scope – which helps when you’re planning all those posts and desperately trying to think of something relevant that begins with ‘x’.

I’m also looking forward to visiting other blogs during the challenge and hopefully learning some new things myself and discovering some interesting blogs along the way.

So wish me luck and do stop by every day in April to see what I’ve come up with – I think I’ll be OK, just got to think of something for Q. And U, and Z….

post-36969-challenge-accepted-gif-bill-th-P9st

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 11: Adverbs and Adjectives

adject

The use of adverbs and adjectives is an issue for many writers. Many overuse them in the hope of making their writing seem more interesting, more descriptive. And while I’m not at all advocating that you cut all adverbs and adjectives out of your writing, what I have seen over and over again in the work that I edit, is that both are often added for no discernible reason. This is often, it seems to me, because a writer is trying really hard to set a scene, to draw a reader in. They can see the scene, the characters in their head and they want to convey everything that’s there. And they want to show that they can write, that they have a wide vocabulary. But unfortunately, these adverbs and adjectives often add nothing to the scenes in which they appear.

So how do you know what adjectives and adverbs to cut?

Let’s look at adverbs first.

Adverbs modify verbs. If you’re using an adverb to modify a verb, ask yourself why you need to. Is the verb not doing its job? If the verb alone can’t tell your reader how someone or something is doing something, then is it the right one to use?

For example:

John walked quickly down the street.

man walking quickly

You want your reader to know how John walked, so if he’s walking quickly, then say so – right? Well, no.

John hurried down the street.

One word instead of two – tells us exactly how John is moving.

How about:

She totally, completely accepted that her work needed editing.

Neither of those two adverbs is needed. Just say:

She accepted that her work needed editing.

(Actually get rid of ‘that’ too!)

There are also adverbs that are totally redundant – like ‘totally in this sentence!

The fire alarm rang loudly.

How else would it ring? It wouldn’t be much use as a fire alarm if it rang quietly.

fire alarm

A well-placed, strong and evocative adjective can add great detail to a word, phrase or scene. However, too often they come across as contrived and unnecessary.

The beautiful, bubbling river sparkled in the golden sunlight, its silvery ripples reflecting the brilliant, blazing rays that played on the shivering surface.

Too much, far too much. What’s wrong with:

The river sparkled in the sunlight, silvery rays playing on the shivering surface.

(Though, to be honest, that’s still too much).

And be very careful of ‘broad’ adjectives like ‘beautiful’ in the first sentence.  ‘Beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘wonderful’, etc.are broad terms – these words are subjective and mean different things to different people. They add nothing and are best avoided, except in dialogue.

Also be wary of the thesaurus. It is useful and can help you describe things in a fresh, new way. But be careful. Very careful.

joey

The use of adjectives and adverbs is a contentious issue – I’d love to know your thoughts.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

#RBRT ‘Carla’ by Mark Barry

carla

This intriguing novel tells the story of John Dexter, a man with severe mental health issues. John falls in love far too easily and far too quickly, his feelings too intense both for him and for the women who find themselves at the receiving end of his affections. John is a complex character; the glimpses we are given of his past account for his thirst for reciprocated attention and add a real depth to the novel. The first person viewpoint draws you in, and you find yourself alternately rooting for John and then feeling so frustrated by him that you want to reach into the book and shake him – all the while knowing that it isn’t his fault and that he can’t help himself.

John has Borderline Personality Disorder – a disorder that causes sufferers to have difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships, with an extremely heightened fear of abandonment. This aspect was handled very sensitively but realistically. John is well aware of his issues, but this self-awareness doesn’t mean he has control, and part of the skill of the writing is that it conveys so well John’s own frustration at his inability to change how he knows things will end, while putting the reader through those same frustrations. His pursuit of young student and barmaid Carla is alternately touching and terrifying.

The narrative is, on the whole, believable and compelling and Mark Barry can definitely write and write well. However, there were a couple of issues with the book that prevented me from loving it.

It might sound pedantic to some, but the author consistently capitalises the ‘he’ or ‘she’ following a closing speech mark after question marks and exclamation marks as in:

“Who?” She replied.

“Can you have a look at those stats for me?” She asked optimistically.

Trivial? Possibly, but for me this became distracting, detracting from the text and spoiling my enjoyment of the novel.

I also felt that a couple of scenes weren’t  realistic – I won’t go into too much detail for fear of spoiling the plot, but I didn’t really understand John dressing as a woman for the open day. I can understand that his disorder might have driven him to do this, but would he really have got away with it? I also felt the final scenes at Carla’s house were rushed and could have used more detail.

Does this mean the book is bad? No, on the contrary, this is a very good book. Does this prevent me from recommending it? Not at all, I absolutely recommend it. But these things are enough to prevent me giving ‘Carla’ five stars, which is a shame.

4 stars

Find a copy here

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 10: Writing with Clarity

clarity

‘Everything that can be thought at all can be thought clearly. Everything that can be said can be said clearly.’

Ludwig Wittgenstein
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, proposition 4.116

The Oxford dictionary defines clarity as:

 The quality of being clear, in particular:

The quality of being coherent and intelligible

The quality of being easy to see or hearsharpness of image or sound

In fiction writing, as in any other type of writing, you need to be clear – your words, your sentences, the pictures you build, must have clarity. Otherwise, who are you writing for? As an author, you have stories you want to share, so you must bear in mind your audience, your reader and what they will do with the words you choose to give them. This doesn’t mean you can’t be clever, that you can’t be creative, that you can’t build wonderful metaphors, use fabulous imagery and weave complex, intricate plots and storylines. But you must have clarity in all you write. What are those ingenious metaphors for? They are there to help your reader understand – to tell your story. What is that beautiful imagery for, if not to help your reader imagine your worlds, your characters, your visions? And if your plot makes no sense, then why should a reader waste time with your work? You are not writing in a vacuum, you are writing for a reader and your reader must know what you are conveying with those words.

So how do you ensure clarity in your writing?

Pronouns

pronouns

One common issue I deal with all the time when editing is confusion resulting from  the use of pronouns such as ‘he’, ‘she’, ‘it’, ‘his’, ‘her’ etc. It’s crucial that the noun the pronoun is referring to is clear. For example:

The car hit the barrier but it wasn’t damaged.

What wasn’t damaged? What does ‘it’ refer to – the car or the barrier? In this sentence it could be either.

Similarly:

John gave Adam his money.

Whose money? Adam’s? Or John’s? Make sure it’s clear who the pronoun is referring to.

Passive voice

active passive

Passive voice can make your writing seem wordy and unnatural. Using active voice makes your words more immediate and gives them energy. Find out more about active vs. passive voice here.

Ditch the clichés

cliche

Clichés don’t work in fiction because they are stale and overused. They are phrases other people have made – your story and your characters deserve fresh, new words and phrases that are all their own. Again, think of your reader. If you fill your work with stale old clichés, you give the impression that you can’t be bothered; you can’t be bothered to think of exactly the right words to use, you can’t be bothered to think of something fresh and new, you can’t be bothered to create new phrases and sentences. So why should a reader be bothered with you?

Cut, cut and cut again

cutting words

One of the most common comments I use when I’m editing is ‘do you need?’ Writers should apply this to every word they write. Do you really, really, really need it? And if not, then cut it. For example:

When she went to the shops that morning, there were crowds of people thronging the streets.

Now if every word matters, what can be got rid of here?

It might be important that she went to the shops that morning, so we’ll leave that in, but you can cut ‘there were’. These two words are hardly ever needed.

When she went to the shops that morning, crowds of people thronged the streets.

So it’s only two words – but it’s two words you don’t need.

The same goes for ‘she felt’, ‘she saw’, ‘she knew’

As she walked to the shops, she saw two cyclists coming towards her.

Why not simply –

As she walked to the shops, two cyclists came towards her.

Another particular pet hate of mine is ‘she began’ or ‘she started’. Why write ‘she began to cough’ instead of ‘she coughed’? Or ‘she began to speak’ instead of ‘she spoke’?

and what about ‘Off’ or ‘off of’?

The short answer is ‘off’.

The long answer is:

You don’t need to say:

She pushed him off of the bridge.

Just

She pushed him off the bridge.

Other words that can often be cut are ‘seemed to’ or ‘appeared to’. Be firm and clear in your writing and your meaning.

She seemed to quiver at the sight of him.

is much better as:

She quivered at the sight of him.

These are just some examples of how you can bring clarity to your work. I’d love to hear other tips and advice.

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

What If We . . .

Lovely post 🙂

Kindness Blog

Infinity Circles in Blue and Pink Photo Credit: http://www.darcypattison.com

Ever since I began working with Mike on The Kindness Blog, I find myself constantly on the lookout for kindness everywhere I go.  Some days, I am overwhelmed by the love and kindness in the world, and other days, I wonder where all the love and kindness have gone.  One theme that I have noticed is how, quite often, the smallest acts of kindness can mean the most to the recipient.  Today, I found myself surrounded by examples of this theme that left me asking myself what if we. . .

  • smiled at, and made eye contact with, people we encounter, instead of looking down at our tablets, shutting out the world with our headphones, talking on our cell phones, etc.?
  • took time to thank people, instead of taking them for granted?
  • used social media to promote others in a positive manner, rather than shaming or humiliating them?
  • doled…

View original post 151 more words

Fifty Shades of Feminism: Lisa Appignanesi (Editor), Susie Orbach (Editor), Rachel Holmes (Editor)

50 feminism

My son bought this book for me – knowing how annoyed a certain book and film with a similar title have made me recently! It sometimes feels these days that people don’t like to admit to being feminists, that it’s somehow overly political and radical, but I am a feminist and I’m proud to be one and proud that my son has the feminist symbol tattooed on his arm (brought him up right!). And I’m angry, very angry, at the way feminism is currently portrayed and diminished, with terms like feminazis and bleating ‘whatabouttery’ every time someone mentions that domestic violence is wrong and that there is still a pay gap in 2015! 2015!

I read a lot, mostly fiction, and have a TBR list that I doubt will ever be finished, so I haven’t read any political/cultural/social books in a long time. Of course, when I was younger I read lots of feminist works – Naomi Wolf, Germaine Greer, Gloria Steinman, I even struggled through Simone de Beauvoir’s ‘The Second Sex’. But the world has changed and feminism has changed too.

‘Fifty Shades of Feminism’, is a timely collection of essays that provides a small window on feminist thoughts and ideas today. The format meant that I could dip in and out of it, reading when I had the time – a real bonus for me. The compilation comprises of essays written by many different women from different cultures, with different experiences and different opinions about feminism and what it means to be a feminist. With contributions from women working  as novelists, barristers, politicians, comedians, and doctors, among others, and featuring such well-known women as  Joan Bakewell, Diana Quick, Meera Syal, Kathy Lette and Sandi Toksvig (her description of the young girl in high heels at the graduation ceremony is brilliant) there are definitely fifty shades of feminism here. Some of it I agreed with whole-heartedly, nodding along as I read, glad to see that other women feel the same way as I do. There were other contributions that made me cross and that I really didn’t enjoy – but I’m glad that the editors gave space to such a diversity of opinion and experience.

I have a sixteen-year-old daughter and the world she’s about to set out into is a scary place. It seems unimaginable to me that women are still treated like second class citizens (and they really are, and too many of us are far too complacent about it) and it frightens me that some young women think that they no longer need feminism. This book shows that they do – and is a fantastic way to introduce young women (and men) to the ideas behind feminism.

Read it, enjoy it and pass it on to your daughters and your sons.

And as for that other book – all I have to say is this:

50 grey

My rating:

gold star

Find a copy here

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.
Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

Writing and Editing Tips – Part 9: Active vs. Passive

active passive

When developing your writing craft, one of the ‘rules’ you will often hear is that you should avoid the passive voice. Using the active voice makes your writing simple, clear, concise and immediate, drawing your reader into the action of the piece and giving your writing energy. Using passive voice, on the other hand, can make your writing seem too formal, dull and wordy and can create a distance between the reader and the words. But many writers don’t really understand the difference between active and passive, and so are unsure how to write actively and how to avoid passive voice.

Passive

In passive sentences, the person/thing acted upon is the subject of the sentence, and the person/thing doing the action is usually included at the end of the sentence, for example:

The book was read by Sam.

The book is the subject receiving the action, ‘was read’ is the passive verb and Sam is ‘doing’ the action.

boy reading book

Active

In active sentences, the thing or person doing the action is the subject of the sentence, and the thing or person receiving the action is the object. So:

Sam read the book.

Sam is the subject ‘doing’ the action,’ read’ is the verb and the book is the object receiving the action.

What’s the problem?

The problem with passive is that the thing or person receiving the action becomes the subject of the sentence, but he, she or it isn’t actually doing anything. They are having something done to them. The first sentence isn’t grammatically wrong – it makes complete sense, but it sounds unnatural and forced. Another issue with passive voice is that it can be wordy. For example:

Passive

It was thought by most people that I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

husband passive

Contrast the active:

Most people thought I killed my husband because he cheated on me.

or

Passive

That evening, a delicious meal was eaten by Sarah and James.

Contrast the active:

That evening, Sarah and James ate a delicious meal.

When to use passive sentences

There are certain instances when using the passive voice is necessary, even in creative writing. For example, if you are writing a mystery, then you might want to highlight the subject that is the receiver of the action. That sounds confusing, so an example is probably the best way to explain:

The money was stolen.

This sentence is passive. The money is the subject that is the receiver of the action. If the sentence was active we would have to write:

Somebody had stolen the money.

The focus has switched here away from the money and on to the person who has stolen it. So here the passive sentence, with the focus on the money, is the best form to use.

Making sure you’re getting it right

One of the simplest things we can do to improve our writing is to get rid of unnecessary words, keeping our sentences clear, concise and to the point, getting rid of unnecessary words. Changing passive sentences to active sentences can be a good starting point.

If you’re not sure whether you’ve written a sentence in the active or passive voice, look out for the use of ‘was’ or ‘by’. Although not all sentences that include these words are necessarily passive, they can be a good clue. For example;

The dog was walked by Sam. 

When you spot a passive sentence, try rewriting it as an active sentence. You might be surprised at the difference it makes to your writing.

And though as a vegetarian it pains me to use this picture – it really does sum it up well:

mac passive

I am a UK-based writer, editor and independent novelist. I love reading and I love to write. These are the two great passions of my life. Find out more about my editing services here. I am currently offering discounts to new clients – do get in touch to discuss how I can help you to make your book the best it can be.

Find out about my historical novels ‘Blackwater’ and ‘The Black Hours’ here.

#RBRT Author Interview and Review: Hilary Custance Green

hilary            rosie3

I recently had the pleasure of reading and reviewing ‘Border Line’ for Rosie Amber’s book review team. It’s an unusual and thought provoking book and I’m delighted to welcome Hilary to the blog today to find out a little more about her and her writing.

Tell me a little about your writing history/background. What inspired you to write?

As a child, I saw myself as a poet (like my grandmother), but reading the best poets, made me disenchanted with my efforts. I became a sculptor and many years later a research scientist. Then there was a moment in my forties, when my back was bad from my sculpture days, and I thought, what can I go on doing until I fall off the twig? Writing. Novels don’t have to be brilliantly written to give people pleasure. I’ll learn.

How did you come up with the title of your novel? 

Aaargh! Titles are serious angst territory. I had a working title of Across the Border, but when it came to submitting to agents, I changed the title many times. I tried surveys and no one agreed. I would have loved to title it Before I Sleep (from the Frost poem… but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep), but everyone else has used this title many times. Border Line is my husband’s suggestion and incorporates the Slovenian trek with the mental instability, but there are too many other books with the same title.

Who is your favourite/least favourite character in your novel?

I grew fond of them all in the end. Perhaps Imogen was most comfortable for me to inhabit. Ben was horribly slippery, so I let him become slippery on the page, if that makes sense.

What was the hardest part of writing for you? Were there any particular issues or hiccups when writing your novel?’

The hardest part was deciding to write in the first person, which I had not tried before. It seemed to be the only way to give the story immediacy without revealing the outcomes. I also had ethical issues over the subject matter. I did not want to write something that a vulnerable person would interpret as an encouragement to suicide, yet I believe passionately in choice over the issue of dying. When I have had feedback, I notice that people’s life experience has a direct effect on their reaction to the book.

What are you working on now? 

I have two projects. The one nearing completion is a non-fiction account of the experiences of Far Eastern POWs and their families back in Britain. I have hundreds of letters between my parents and between my mother and the wives, mothers and grandparents of the families left in silence when their men were captured. I also have my father’s memoirs of being a prisoner and building the Burma-Siam Railroad. My second project is fiction. It is about Jeannie, a successful middle-aged woman in the classical music business, with a confusing past and a tendency to land in trouble-spots and her biographer, a young man with spinal injuries.

Do you have any advice for other writers? 

Don’t stop.

Which writer would you choose as a mentor (alive or dead)? 

George Eliot. All the things I struggle with, she does so well.

Who is your favourite author and what is it that you love about their work?

Mary Renault, Jospehine Tey, Michael Frayn, Richards Powers. They all move me by writing about what it feels like to be human and they tell us of people bravely facing what the world throws at them.

Tell me something unusual about yourself.

I used to be a dab hand at welding. Since Christmas I have concluded that a onesie is ideal sleepwear.

You can find Hilary on her blog

on her website

on Twitter

and on Facebook

border line ebook

Border Line – extract

I am in my right mind.

It seems important to mention this because I sense my right mind slipping away – a sea-change over which I have little control. Before this goes too far, I need to record a transformation of a different kind; one as joyful as the distant sail to a castaway. Somewhere, no doubt, a butterfly flapped its wings to kick-start events. For me, the beginning is a freezing April night when the enchantment to come is way beyond the horizon.

Devon – Day nought

The smoothness of the mouse under my hand is comforting. When I turn it over, its crimson underside glows like a living organism – an illusion of heat. I look up at the screen again and there’s a pop-up message blinking at me. It says:

<Before you make any final decisions, please contact Daniel, I may be able to help you.>

My hand jerks away in case I respond by mistake. There’s an address, an email and a phone number. No purple flashing banners or suggestive graphics and the wording quite restrained; yet I feel exposed, watched from inside the screen. I hit the close button and breathe more easily.

The whole village is asleep. I’m sitting in Dad’s old wicker chair looking up Dignitas on the internet. If I have a choice, then dying in a dignified manner with someone at least within earshot would be better than vomiting alone in my bedroom. Having no visible illness or injury I don’t qualify for Dignitas, but I have to start somewhere. The founder has written an essay on why we should be able to choose when we die. Many people make failed attempts and end up injured or in mental homes. I worry about that.

The heating went off hours ago; my nightwear is poor cover and the weave of the chair is printing on my skin. I should go to bed.

I’m not as alone as I thought in wanting to opt out, though apparently seventy per cent of people who get a green light from the Dignitas clinic never actually take it up. Some who get as far as Switzerland change their minds at the last minute and come home.

I wish I owned slippers. I could fetch a pair of socks, but I daren’t stop now. There’s a Pied Piper drawing me on from website to website. I can’t help believing there is help or an answer somewhere out there.

<Before you make any final decisions, please contact Daniel, I may be able to help you.>

Again? I scrunch myself in the chair so I can hold my feet in my hands and rest my chin on my knees. This way the cold has fewer entry points as I watch the screen. The message blinks, but doesn’t move. Who is Daniel? Is he offering a quicker route? Is he hoping to cure me of my foolish intentions? Perhaps he’s religious. Most likely he wants to relieve me of my money and leave me washed up and still alive.

Of course he could be – no, he’s likely to be – something rather more sinister. I dream up a sadist with a taste for human flesh. I’ve given him my home address and here he is on my doorstep. I’m several minutes into this scenario before I stop myself. Feeling shaky and foolish, I’m a finger click away from the close button. Yet this Daniel is the only person in the world who knows that I want out, and he sounds… well his words are not unkind or unbelieving.

My Review

This book starts with a really intriguing and almost shocking opener – Grace is searching the internet for ways to kill herself. So we begin our journey with her and several other like-minded souls as they travel through Slovenia on one of the strangest ‘holidays’ I’ve ever encountered.

During her internet search, Grace, who at thirty-five certainly has a lot of years left to her, finds Daniel – a tour operator with a difference. Every year, Daniel takes a select few on a last trip, through the beautiful towns and countryside of Slovenia, until they reach the border – where they must decide whether to live or die.

Grace’s fellow travellers are an appealing and intriguing bunch, each extremely well-crafted and believable. At various points they give their reasons for wanting to die, some heart-breaking, some frustrating. I won’t give details here as these stories are a poignant part of the book that the reader needs to discover for themselves; suffice to say though that I wanted to shake Anita, hug Vicky and scream at Adam.

The subject matter is incredibly unusual and the book could be maudlin and depressing. However, the writer paints such a beautiful picture of Slovenia, with lovely descriptions that seem built on either experience or extremely thorough research, and most of her characters are so warm and real that rather than sadness, this book left me feeling uplifted. It was a really sympathetic look at why people despair of life, and how events and circumstances affect people in different ways.

My only criticism is that some of the stories weren’t developed quite enough to give solid reasons for some of the characters’ decisions to end it all – I’m thinking of Lyndsay in particular. I would also have liked Ben’s character and to have been developed further – I wasn’t quite sure what the brought to the story. I also wasn’t convinced that the epilogue was needed.

Don’t be put off by the subject matter – do give this thoughtful, though-provoking book a read. I thoroughly recommend it and will be reading more of the author’s work.

4 stars

Find a copy here (UK) and here (US)