Tuesday, 23 February 2016

My eighth writing-related blog post in which I look at my writing strengths (and see if I have any)

I thought that after I made a post about my biggest weaknesses as a writer I should write about some of my strengths. But my current mood is such that I hardly think I have any strengths at all. It seems to me that if I had them, I would have something to show for by now. But all I have is a bunch of books that failed. Utterly. I've been writing my whole life. You'd think I'd've figured out by now how to write something worth publishing. But years go by and I'm still where I was when I started thinking about getting my books published and building my writing career. 

In all fairness, my non-writing life has not changed much since then either. Maybe it's just me. Maybe I'm just not the kind of person who wins lottery or gets a book deal of a lifetime or whose dreams are destined to come true. I feel like I'm reaching that level of lowliness where I succumb to apathy and despair. My January euphoria has evaporated by now and with each passing day I write less and less. I know I should stop whining and pull myself together, because there are so much more people whose luck is even worse than mine and whose opportunities are even less. So let's see... my strengths... Hmm... 

I love telling a story, just narrating some bit of history or other. I always know a lot more backstory than I need and sometimes I'm interested in the backstory more than in the actual story. I think it can be said that I have a certain mastery of the language and my prose is smooth and flowing, once it's polished, of course. I love writing dialogues. I always have fun constructing them. I think I'm quite good at it too as I've had lots of practice and I think I manage to make them sound natural and lively most of the time. I love describing people and nature and I think I manage to do a good job with both. 

Of course, I may just be totally delusional, but I doubt that anyone will be bothered to stop by and tell me that, so I'll continue with my delusion, thank you very much.


I feel I should explain myself, because I feel kind of bad that this is such a pathetic and uninspired post. But like I said before: I'm in a very low place right now and this is the reason why. I'm taking part in a literary competition organised by one of our TV channels in collaboration with one of the publishing houses - "Looking for a new childhood hero". The winner will receive 15,000 hrivnas in prize money, the winning story will be illustrated and published by the publishing house in the edition of 15,000 copies, and there is a possibility that it will be turned into a cartoon and a computer game. I submitted a story idea for my fairy-tale about "Stella, the star that returned".

Yesterday, the submission window closed and online voting began. So far I managed to get only 20 votes and I'm currently in the 148 spot, though I keep losing my position whenever another story gets another vote. The organisers encouraged us to involve our friends in the voting. I don't have a lot of friends in real life but I thought that I could try using Facebook and Twitter to spread the word and get some votes from those people I actually know or those I've been in touch with. Judging by the number of votes I managed to get, you can easily imagine how that worked out.

Naturally, I feel bitter and sorry for myself. Social networking failed me again. But worse than that, I've once again saw how very few people I can actually count on.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

REVIEW: Uprooted by Naomi Novik


Agnieszka loves her valley home, her quiet village, the forests and the bright shining river. But the corrupted Wood stands on the border, full of malevolent power, and its shadow lies over her life. Her people rely on the cold, driven wizard known only as the Dragon to keep its powers at bay. But he demands a terrible price for his help: one young woman handed over to serve him for ten years, a fate almost as terrible as falling to the Wood. The next choosing is fast approaching, and Agnieszka is afraid. She knows—everyone knows—that the Dragon will take Kasia: beautiful, graceful, brave Kasia, all the things Agnieszka isn’t, and her dearest friend in the world. And there is no way to save her. But Agnieszka fears the wrong things. For when the Dragon comes, it is not Kasia he will choose. 

My thoughts:

I must confess that I have mixed feelings about this book. I've heard a lot of great things about it. Everyone seemed to be enraptured and enamoured by the story and I can understand why. In fact, I don't think I have ever heard anything but praise. I was intrigued by the premises. I loved the cover. I decided to read it too. I don't really have any criticism per se. I think the author has done a marvellous job creating her world, its history, its traditions, its magic, etc, rooted deeply into Slavic folklore. It's been almost a week since I've finished reading the book and I still can't think about woods and forests without recalling the Wood in the novel. The description of corruption within it was visceral and so real I sometimes thought I could feel it leaving the pages of the book and tainting me. Maybe that's why it didn't seat well with me. From the very beginning I couldn't get rid of some strange feeling, as though of something indecent or unclean crawling all around me. I can't explain it and I don't know why the book made me feel that way. Though, I suppose, I could put it down to the author's talent of creating a powerful, vivid, disturbing, magically-enhanced picture.

It was as though I was walking in the flower garden surrounded by the sweetest of aromas, but under all that sweetness I could feel an unmistakable scent of something rotten and decaying. I think that alone speaks volumes about the author's skill in making the corruption of the Wood so real. I'm from Ukraine and it was a bit bizarre for me to read about Polnya and Rosya being at war, because they obviously refer to Poland and Russia and their tumultuous past. I also found the names both familiar and strange to the eye when spelled in English. I don't know how I feel about Baba Jaga, because in my country she is considered a nightmare for young children and as a child I was often sent to bed under the threat of her coming and taking me away, because that's what happened to naughty children who didn't go to bed on time. Another thing that wouldn't leave me from the very beginning and till the very end of the book was the depiction of the Dragon aka Sarkan. Call me crazy but he strongly reminded me of Professor Severus Snape: unpleasant, sarcastic, scathing, unapologetic, skillful, powerful, distant, etc.. I just saw him all through the story.

All in all, I can't say that it was a pleasurable read for me but I can definitely say that the book makes a profound impression on you and is without a doubt excellently written.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

My seventh writing-related blog post in which I'm looking at my greatest weakness as a writer and at my attempt to overcome it

Ah... weaknesses! I'm sure I have more than a few when it comes to writing but the most crippling one is that I seem to be incapable of writing action and adventure, which is most unfortunate for someone who lives in the 21st century. I mean, it is not a problem when I'm working on one of my regencies, but it does seem to become an insurmountable obstacle when I'm trying to write a fantasy novel for young adults. I guess a lot of it is connected with the fact that my reading preferences are deeply rooted into the 19th century literature and that I've subconsciously made it my job to emulate it when working on my books. It is also, I believe, conditioned by the fact that I'm not an adventurous person and I've always preferred slow walks and quiet evenings at home to going out and having fun. In fact, I sometimes think that I've somehow managed to trap myself in the mindset and life circumstances of a 19th century woman. I'm weird that way. It's a huge problem in real life and it definitely effects my writing. 

I love slow openings and beginnings. If you want to know just how slow I can be I can give you a hint: I'm 40K into my current regency WIP and my main characters haven't even met yet! I love using adverbs, exclamations, passive constructions, convoluted sentences, stilted speech and way more telling than showing. I think that they make writing more poetic and — yes — old-fashioned. Basically, if you make a list of writing don'ts, I'll have them all. In my defence, I do believe that such rules cannot be considered general and absolute and depending on the genre of your book can either benefit or suffer from them. All these things definitely work with regencies, making them more natural and authentic for that time period. However, they don't work with modern fantasies for young adults and that's why it's such a huge weakness and the one that has to be rooted out if I want to have a chance at succeeding in publishing it. I've finally stopped resisting and started implementing some of these rules in my writing. I also started reading a lot more modern books written in this genre.

I have several ideas for stories set in different times (one about fifty years in the future, one in Victorian era and one a bit of steampunk) that will require a lot of action and adventure and fast pacing, so I'm going to challenge myself and see if I can make it if I put my mind to it and use all the resources that I have. I'm quite excited about plotting them out and not a little scared to see what will come out of it. And now I'd like to share with you my previous and current attempts at writing the beginning of my long-suffering fantasy novel that has gone through countless drafts and versions. I'd also love to hear your feedback. Which do you prefer? Which makes a better impression? Which is more appealing and hooking? Should I continue with the second version? Or should I stick with the first? Should I drop writing altogether? No way! - to that, by the way :D


Almendra opened her eyes on the seventh chime of the clock. She quickly sat up, stretched and smiled. Just then the door to her room opened and in entered a large, grey wolf with a tray on his back.

“Good morning, Woo,” said Almendra, her face splitting into a grin. She pecked the wolf on the nose and took a large mug of hot tea from the tray. Breathing in the familiar scent of mint, she clutched the cup in her hands and raised it into the air like one would a goblet at a feast, her hazel eyes bright with humour. 

“Cheers!” she said loudly and “May today be the day!” before bringing the cup to her lips, an expression of bliss on her face. Woo walked towards the window and drew back the curtains with his teeth – the sky outside was murky grey. 


I never hear the striking of the tower clock. But I always wake up on the seventh chime. I open my eyes as soon as its nagging echo stops bouncing back and forth in my brain and sit up in bed, clutching the blankets around myself against the morning chill as it penetrates through my thin nightgown, setting my teeth chattering. The fire in the grate is fast asleep. The room is shrouded in darkness with the curtains drawn but I can just make out thick grey light outside, like a wall of mist, through two spots on either side of the slit where the material has been worn down to a thread by constant tugging. I sigh and as soon as I force myself to smile, feeling my face twist unpleasantly, and murmur a quiet supplication to forces unknown that today may finally be the day our fate will change for good, the door to my room opens and my faithful wolf friend and guardian enters with a tray on his back. 

“Good-morning, Woo!” My smile is genuine this time. It feels natural too and it doesn't hurt. Woo is like a bright beam of sunlight I have only ever seen on the pages of a book. He is like a warm shawl and a cup of hot tea. He greets me through the bond that we share and though he doesn't use human speech I understand his meaning as perfectly as if he did. He has been by my side ever since that horrible night. The night my mother was dethroned, my people slaughtered or driven away and my kingdom plunged into ruin, surrounded by a curse. Woo is my animal companion. But sometimes I think that he is so much more than that. My grandmother says that it's loneliness and wishful thinking talking. Maybe she's right. She's almost always is. Woo comes up to the bed and I heave an ornate tray with a large cup of tea onto my lap. 

So... what do you think? *bites her lower lip and runs for cover*

My biggest writing weakness and my attempt to overcome it. bit.ly/1oFZeZE via @faridamestek (Click to tweet)

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

My sixth writing-related blog post in which I look at three key elements I absolutely need to know about a new story in order to start writing one

Though I have not been even remotely successful in my writing career and, to be honest, I can hardly call it one, I've been writing long enough to know what I can't start writing a new story without. Today, I'm going to look at three main elements that enable me to proceed with the new project: the plot, the names of characters and places, and the first sentence or paragraph. These are the three crucial keys that I need in order to unlock the content of a blank notebook page or a computer document that is concealed there. Let's look at each one of them in turn. 

I: THE PLOT. I learned a long time ago that vague ideas, however great and numerous, are not sufficient as a foundation for me to build my new story upon. I need to have something more substantial than that. I need a plot. I'm a plotter. I must know, even roughly, the beginning, the middle and the ending of the story. I'm not saying, of course, that I plot every little thing and detail that is going to happen throughout the story — writing, after all, is a journey and an adventure and there's nothing more exciting than to come across some unexpected revelation, to be surprised by the characters or the story itself — but I must have a solid idea of where the story is going, otherwise it has little to no chance of moving forward. Sometimes, I write a chaptered outline with an estimated number of chapters that can and will vary during the process. Sometimes, I just write an outline, dividing it into parts or segments if chapters don't work. Sometimes, I simply sit down and write a summary of the story without breaks but with lots of ellipses and question marks in place of the information I don't know yet. Naturally, these first outlines never stay unchallenged or unchanged and I usually have piles and piles of notes to wade through once I decide upon a definitive outline. 

II. THE NAMES OF CHARACTERS AND PLACES. I can't start writing a story without knowing the names and surnames of its major characters as well as those of important secondary ones. I spend hours and days looking through lists of names and surnames. I use websites, my notes, and books. Sometimes I forget myself and look through them for the fun of it. A DICTIONARY OF ENGLISH SURNAMES has been of great help to me in particular and, when you come to think of it, it is a bit of a surprising find in my family library, considering that before I started learning English, no one in my family really knew it or had any use for such a book. But it is an excellent source of inspiration and I often pore over its pages when I'm looking for some. I open it at random or with a particular letter in mind and start writing out all the surnames that I find promising or appealing. Then I start working my way through them, discarding some, contemplating the others. I need to feel the names doing their job. I need to know that they fit. I try them out. I play with them. I see how they look both written in longhand or typed. I speak them aloud. It can take a long time... The problem is that if I don't know the names, I can't write the story. I don't see the characters. I don't feel them. They are vapour. They need a name — and not just any name, but their rightful name — to start to take shape. The same goes for the names of the places I am going to use within the story. That's often something of a problem because I almost always need fictional names for kingdoms, towns, villages, estates and houses and I can spend ages coming up with them. They also must fit just right and they must hold within them some hint or clue or just roll off your tongue. I sometimes use words from different languages, mashing them together. I like scribbling down something that struck my fancy and play with words. In fact, I'm a certified word maniac.

III. THE FIRST SENTENCE OR PARAGRAPH. Finally, I won't be able to start writing the story if I don't have that first sentence or paragraph that feels just right. I usually take my time thinking about how I want to begin. I mull the sentences over in my head, say them aloud, savour them, then rush to write them down. I write different versions one after another in the same document and if none of those work I usually change the angle and try it over and over again until I know — feel — that I've got it at last. Here are some of the first sentences from my books that I really love: 

James Westfield was not an idle man and was never known to neglect his duty, unless it concerned his sister-in-law, in which case, like any man facing an unpleasant task at hand he was in no hurry to fulfill it. 

Almendra opened her eyes on the seventh chime of the clock. She quickly sat up, stretched and smiled. Just then the door to her room opened and in entered a large, grey wolf with a tray on his back. 

Mr McBride and his lady were at breakfast when a letter was brought in. Mr. McBride, a big man of five and forty, took the letter from the tray and upon seeing that it was from his uncle's solicitor exclaimed “Ha!” and tore off the seal. “So!” he muttered a moment later, clearing his throat. “The old coot is dead. Well, well!” 

So... once I have all these elements together, I am ready to embark upon another writing journey. What about you? What elements are crucial for you in order to begin writing a new story? 

Three key elements I can't start writing a new story without. What are yours? bit.ly/1Ldifr1 via @faridamestek (Click to tweet)

Sunday, 7 February 2016

REVIEW: Miss Ellerby and the Ferryman by Charlotte E. English

Miss Ellerby and the Ferryman 

Tilby, Lincolnshire, 1812. Miss Isabel Ellerby is a dutiful daughter to her loving parents, and more than happy to go along with the marriage they have planned for her. But the revelation of a long-held secret turns her neatly-arranged life upside down. When an unwise promise to the mysterious Ferryman of Aylfenhame lands her in the midst of an adventure, Isabel is forced to choose: Will she pursue a safe, conventional life as Miss Ellerby of Ferndeane, or will she follow her heart and her destiny to Aylfenhame? 

My thoughts:

It is the most charming and most delightful read! I swear. It has magic. It has magical creatures galore. It has a flying boat! It has a mysterious Ferryman. It has fine ladies and gentlemen as well as rogues that will naturally cause trouble for our heroine. It is set in Regency England but with an added bonus of the magical realm of Aylfenhame. The main heroine, Miss Ellerby, is a proper English lady – sweet, earnest, obedient, dutiful – but what she doesn't know is that she is also a witch. When she learns the shocking truth about herself, she finds it difficult to reconcile herself to lies and disguises associated with her secret heritage and for the best part of the novel struggles with her two different identities. However, despite her inner struggles, which are severe indeed, there are also lots of adventures in the magical realm, some flying, running, sneaking out at night, facing trouble, and the cutest magical companions and creatures imaginable. I swear I literally felt them jumping off the pages! The fashions are bewitching. I sound quite enraptured, don't I? But the story does have such an effect on you)) Also, the book is interspersed with the most enchanting illustrations. You can find some of them HERE. (You must totally have a look!) So, if you like sweet regencies and magic then I would definitely recommend to your attention this excellent story. However, you should probably start with the first one in the Tales of Aylfenhame series – Miss Landon and Aubranael.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

My fifth writing-related blog post in which I look back on my progress during the previous month

I'm sorry to say that unlike my previous writing-related blog posts this one is a bit of cheating on my part. However, at this point this is the only way in which I can follow through with my decision to be a committed blogger. I was actually planning to take part in one of those weekly memos but it didn't work out for me and I really didn't want to skip even one week, because I knew that if I did it once, I would find excuses to do it every time. So, in the spirit of my newly-found determination to post weekly writing-related entries I decided to dedicate this week's post to the progress that I've made in writing, reading and blogging.

I must say that January turned out to be a very productive months for me, largely due to the fact that I had more free time than usual on my hands. But I was also bolstered by my ardent desire to actually do something and make some progress. So far I've posted four writing-related posts, four book reviews and three Harry Potter Moments of the Week - thus making them my permanent weekly features. In actual writing I finally completed my Ukrainian-language fairy-tale and even entered it into a contest. I don't know what will come of it but we'll know soon enough. I also finished reading two old reads and started and finished two new ones. And that's what I call progress!

I think that with enough determination and some extra incentive in the form of comments I can make it work and keep my blog active and running all year long. All I need is to have four writing-related topics for each month's discussion. I still have a bunch of them ready to be explored and I hope that once I run out of those, I'll come up with some new ones. There's always something out there, right? Of course, if I don't, I still intend to take part in some memo or other, provided that I don't leave it till the last minute, but in this case there's always a progress report to write at the beginning of each month!