The Shack by Wm Paul Young

I read this book after a friend lent it to me, urging me to give it a go. To be honest, I wasn’t that interested and it took me months to get round to picking it up. One morning, I just saw it on the book shelf and thought, it’s time.
I read it over the weekend and honestly, I have never cried so much over any book. I can’t really explain what it was that made me so emotional but I see from other reviews that it had the same effect on many other people.
The Shack is a story of family, loss, and devastating grief…but more than that, it’s about hope, forgiveness and above all, love.
If you can read it with an open mind and an open heart and not get too bogged down in the theological questions it really does uplift and move you in ways you wouldn’t believe possible. I have read so many reviews which focus on whether or not this book is heretic or blasphemous, debating The Shack’s message and comparing it with Biblical passages to see how it stands up. The fact that God appeared to Mack as an African-American woman seems to distress some, and some are angered by the assertion that each member of The Holy Trinity is equal – three parts of the whole, with no hierarchy.

I’m not an expert on the Bible but I do know that I have grown weary and disillusioned with religion – tired of the “only my church is right” attitude and the arguments and anger and bitterness that seems to be the one sure way to put anyone off believing in God. People may rant against this book, stating that it is “un-Christian” or against God, that it goes against the teachings of the Bible, whatever. What I do know is that it made me feel closer to God than I have in a long time. It made me look at Him/Her/It with fresh eyes and it made me feel as if I might actually matter to whatever God is. I woke up the following morning (after an evening sobbing over this book!) and I sat up in bed and what popped into my head? The question: “What did you learn from this?” and my answer: “I am loved.”
So really, argue all you like about the theological issues, but if you read this book and let yourself really feel what is happening within its pages you may just be amazed to find that the other stuff doesn’t matter at all, because whatever religion, race or sex you are, God is especially fond of you…5/5

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The Shack

Second Time Around

When I was expecting my second baby, the midwife told me that I couldn’t be sure what to expect because all births are different. She said that, quite often, second babies arrived quicker and the birth was often easier than the first. In the event, it wasn’t quicker but it was different. She was right about that. Don’t worry, I’m not going to give you any gory details. This isn’t really about babies at all but about books, and how “giving birth” to a second book is very different to producing the first. In my experience anyway. You, on the other hand,  may be scratching your head, having produced forty books in an identical fashion, in which case congratulations and hats off to you, and how do you have time to read other people’s blogs anyway?

Since I am a relative newbie, I thought that I would have learned how to go about writing Book 2 through the process of writing Book 1. Ah, Book 1. How long ago the conception of that seems…Cue music and wibbly-wobbly visual effects as we head back to 2011…

I wanted to do things “properly”. Well, it was my first “baby”, after all. I duly read all the “how-to” books and magazine articles that I could and signed up for a creative writing class and made copious notes. I had a full scene-by-scene plan and I had signed up to NaNoWriMo to ensure that I didn’t flag or lose motivation. November the first dawned and there was I, fingers hovering over the keyboard of my laptop, about to embark on a whole new adventure. How naive I was, because as any parent will tell you, giving birth is a struggle – unless you’re Sticky Vicky or some other dubious Benidorm entertainer in which case you probably don’t even notice. Where on earth did that thought pop up from? (Excuse the pun).

Anyway, to get back to the subject. I followed my plan religiously. I wrote furiously and stuck to the scenes I had outlined and if other thoughts occurred to me I pushed them firmly out of the way because, well, I already had my novel plotted so what on earth use were these rogue ideas? Fast forward two-and-a-half years later, and I am making final edits to Book One, a novel which bears very little resemblance to the first draft which I sweated over and fought so hard to bring into the world. Because, when I left Book One, Draft One, alone for a while and then went back to it with fresh eyes, I started to see that it was, well, dull. And the love story between the two main protagonists barely featured because I had buried it among so many other characters’ stories and so many clever but irrelevant scenes that, really, they could have been two minor characters for all the notice I’d taken of them.

I think it was the terror of going “off-plan” that made me stick so rigidly to my outline. I am a control freak and like to know what I’m doing, but I think I went a bit too far with it. The story just wilted under my rigid hold and the characters weren’t allowed to grow and develop at all. It took me a long time to relax enough to let them change and allow the story to follow its own path.

So, I sat down to start Book Two while Book One was off with my lovely Beta-readers and this time, it was a bit more scary. Firstly, because having read through Book One, all I could think was, ‘How the hell did I do this? And what if I can’t do it again?’   Secondly, I hadn’t really made a thorough outline. All I had were a few ideas for key scenes, where I wanted the two main characters to start, and how I wanted it all to finish. The rest was just a vague idea and I really hoped it would all come to me as I wrote.

The first couple of weeks were terrifying because, no, nothing much was coming to me. As I told you in my last post, my hero was difficult to get to know and it took me a while to figure out what his problem was. My heroine was easier because she was quite a strong character and a couple of my Beta-readers had singled her out for praise, which rather pleased her. Actually, she wasn’t supposed to be the heroine of Book Two. I had earmarked her a long time ago as a minor subplot for Book Three, but she wasn’t having any of that and bit by bit she took over and the book became about her. It soon became obvious who she wanted as her hero and he was duly summoned, and having had a chat to him we realised there was more to him than we’d initially thought and so I set to work on their story.

What has astonished me is the way my heroine has changed, too. She has developed a storyline that I had no intention of writing. It hadn’t even occurred to me, but then as I was reading through I realised where she was heading and was quite surprised to find that I had actually been laying the foundations for that, albeit gently, even in Book One. How did that happen? I have now made a very unexpected discovery about her and we are dealing with this together. We haven’t broken it to the hero yet. It’s a girl thing. Really, I can’t believe how different it is when you just relax and let the characters lead the way. They really do, you know. It’s not in my head. Well, it is in my head actually, but you know what I mean.

So yes, having your second baby is definitely different to having your first, if you ask me. Both are very hard work, though. Nothing much changes about that. But, as they keep on telling you (and you never believe it!) all that pain and struggle will be forgotten when you hold that child in your arms for the first time. The hard work is definitely worth it!

Have a great week xx

Falling In Love Again

I have a new man in my life. It’s early days and I’m not sure how it’s all going to pan out with him, but I’m committed to this relationship and determined to make it work. If only I could shake off the terrible guilt I feel about leaving my old love behind and put all my efforts into developing my passion for the new one.

Before you think that I’m having way too much fun and should really be behaving with more dignity as befits a woman of more mature years, I should point out that the new man (and the old one, come to that) is a fictional character. My new hero.

Yes, I have been busy writing the first draft of Book Two, and almost thirty thousand words in I am finally getting to grips with who this enigmatic man really is. We haven’t had an easy start to our relationship. Oh no. The problem was, I was still far too absorbed in the hero of Book One. I quite fell for him. Honestly. I felt I knew him so well and he was quite adorable. Often, sitting at my desk at work, I would find myself thinking of him and smile to myself. I really do hope this is normal. If not I must sound like a complete lunatic.

I didn’t expect to fall in love with him but, really, I should have. After all, when I read other writers’ books I quite often fall for the hero. I think it’s essential actually. If the reader can’t love him how can she believe the heroine will? And I do have form. I mean, I have had to grudgingly accept that maybe, just maybe, there is a remote possibility that The Doctor isn’t real and there’s no such thing as a Tardis and it might actually be pure fiction, but that hasn’t stopped me falling for David Tennant and Matt Smith. And Sherlock is definitely fictional but…no, I’d better not get started on Benedict Cumberbatch or I will forget what it was I was supposed to be talking about entirely.

Ah yes, falling for fictional heroes! Well, as Book One winged its way through the ether to my five generous and kind-hearted beta-readers, I settled down to Book Two and my new hero and heroine. It should have been easy. Both characters appear in the first novel, albeit in minor roles, (one more minor than the other!) and therefore I did kind of know them already. The heroine was quite easy. I grew to know and love her as I was writing the first book, but the hero… let’s just say he didn’t reveal much about himself and it was almost like starting from scratch with him.

After weeks of trying to figure him out and growing increasingly desperate because – well – he just didn’t make my heart pound – I decided I had to take drastic action. I Googled “gorgeous actors in their thirties” and spent a delightful hour or so looking at the results. Yes, I really did do this. It’s amazing what I have Googled in the last year or two! Anyway, I made a shortlist and picked one I really liked from a  couple of programmes I had seen him in.  Then I watched them again. It was the tone of his voice, the look in his eyes, the way he could flick from seemingly uncaring and cold to gentle and concerned that did it. Yep, I had my man. Picture in my head, I had a little chat with him and asked him, quite politely, why he wasn’t floating my boat and what was he keeping from me. Turns out, he was keeping quite a lot from me, and by the end of our brainstorming session I found that my interest in him was growing and there may even have been the first tentative shoots of attraction appearing, like the first daffodils of spring pushing their way out into a weary world.

So, we’re taking our first tentative steps in this new romance. I do find myself comparing him sometimes to my other hero, which is very unfair as I was in that relationship for nearly two-and-a-half years and this is still early days, so I banish all my disloyal thoughts and concentrate on my new love. And yes, we’re getting there. I found myself thinking about him at work one day this week and realised I was smiling. A sure sign that we’re on our way.

Better finish here. I think the men in white coats are coming up the path carrying what looks suspiciously like a strait-jacket.

Have a great week! xx

The Hollow Heart by Adrienne Vaughan

I really loved this novel. The story of Marianne Coltrane, a campaigning journalist, is gripping from the start. The author really puts her heroine through the mill and the story is action-packed, full of twists and turns, tugging at the emotions from the beginning to the end.
The plot is rich and eventful but the characters are what makes this novel stand out. Marianne, whose life is filled with drama from the day she is born, is a very worthy heroine. Courageous, strong and compassionate, she is a lovely character who makes the reader root for her from the start.
Such a great heroine deserves a very special hero, and Ryan O’Gorman is such a man. At first, I was wary of him, wondering if he was really worthy of our girl, but gradually he won me over when it became very obvious that his overwhelming love for Marianne was indeed genuine.
The couple are surrounded by an amazing assortment of secondary characters, endearing, annoying, amusing and eccentric. In turn they made me laugh, they made me cross, and they made me cry. Monty, the adorable Westie, is a major character and I fell in love with him from the moment he appeared.
The island itself is a major character, and the author is brilliant at describing this magical setting and igniting a desire to visit Ireland and take in the beautiful scenery.
This novel will tug at every heartstring, evoke every emotion and fill your thoughts when you have to put it aside to do other things (trust me, I know!) so that you can’t wait to get home and escape back to Innishmahon to find out what’s happening next – and believe me, there is always something happening. I won’t go into any more detail because I don’t want to spoil the story for others, but there is a moment of genuine shock and heartbreak quickly followed by a twist and a truly satisfying conclusion.

I am so pleased I bought this novel and am very much looking forward to reading the sequel. I can’t wait to find out what happens next! 5/5

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