Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Haunting of Bodmin Jail

A snap of Bodmin Jail that I took four years ago.

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I have a short story coming out in an anthology this year, and that you would hear more about that soon. So here I am to tell you more. Are you excited? I'm excited.

Early last year I was flicking through an issue of Writing Magazine, even though I still hadn't read the previous month's issue, and even though I normally would have just tucked it under the stack of unread magazines on my desk and read it six months later, when my eyes caught on a call for submissions, for a planned anthology of short stories set in Cornwall, by Cornish writers. Calling it fate would be way too corny but it did seem almost too perfect to be true, and I did think to myself, 'If I don't do this, I'm an idiot.'

After a couple of false starts and far too much procrastinating, I wrote The Haunting of Bodmin Jail, a ghost story set in a building that isn't haunted. I got the idea from an advert I heard on local radio (and I'm not kidding when I say I never listen to local radio) for nighttime ghost tours of Bodmin Jail with their 'resident medium'. I cracked a joke to my parents about pretending to talk to ghosts for a living, and then basically ended up stretching that joke out to an almost 5,000 word short story.

I sent the story in (on the deadline day, of course) and a month later I got a reply. It was a yes. I've been unnecessarily secretive about it ever since because I am forever worried about jinxing good things, but since I have seen the proofs for the book now and my story is definitely still in there, I think I'm safe to finally tell you about this book I'm part of, Cornish Short Stories: A Collection of Contemporary Cornish Writing.

Cornish Short Stories features a wide array of writing from both emerging writers (like me!) and more established writers, covering a range of different subjects. It even has woodcut illustrations, which I'm very excited about. The one thing every piece has in common is that they are all set in Cornwall, a place that is full of great places to set stories in.

And it has a beautiful front cover.

This bold and striking new anthology showcases Cornwall’s finest contemporary writers, combining established and new voices. 
Ghosts walk in the open and infidelities are conducted in plain sight. Two teenagers walk along a perfect beach in the anticipation of a first kiss. Time stops for nothing – not even for death. Sometimes time cracks, disrupting a fragile equilibrium. The stories are peopled with locals and incomers, sailors and land dwellers; a diver searches the deep for what she has lost, and forbidden lovers meet in secret places. Throughout, the writers’ words reveal a love of the incomparable Cornish landscape.
My story, The Haunting of Bodmin Jail, is a ghost story, but with ghosts who are more annoying than they are scary, and that's all I'm telling you! If you want to know more you'll just have to buy the book, which is due out on the 2nd of April 2018. You can pre-order it already, if you want to, and I've included a few links below to help you find it. I'm incredibly proud of The Haunting of Bodmin Jail and beyond excited that it has been included in this collection. I hope you'll like it as much as I do!

Pre-order Cornish Short Stories:

Wednesday, 7 February 2018


You’ve felt the hum of the earth in your toes from the day you were born. Seawater floods your veins, the crackling of fire is barely contained beneath your skin, and the rush of wind settles in your every breath. There is dirt and magic under your fingernails. The world is yours to command. The very things that make life and death are under your power. 
But you are not. 
The above is an extract from a short story I wrote for deardamsels.com, called 'Witch', which was published on the site this weekend. 'Witch' is a story about magic, secrets, and you.

The magic obeys you, it is the one thing that does, even when that means holding it down where it can not breathe, where it struggles against your ribcage and fights to be free. For the sake of your brother, you kept it where it could not see the sun.

I'm incredibly grateful to Dear Damsels for how kind they've been about this strange, dark little story and I sincerely hope this won't be the last time I write for them.

If you've never heard of Dear Damsels, this, from their website, explains it best: 'Dear Damsels is an online platform championing young female voices – a place where women can come together online, to read and write about the things that matter to them.'

I guess the thing that matters to me is witches?

You can read 'Witch' right here. I hope you like it!


Wednesday, 31 January 2018

My Top 10(ish) Books of 2017

I read a total of 63 books in 2017, surpassing my GoodReads Challenge goal by 11 books. I discovered some new favourite books, some new favourite authors, some new favourite worlds. I joined my local library and Netgalley. I read some books that have been on my TBR for years and some that were brand new. I started listening to audiobooks again. I read 7 books in one week for the BookTubeAThon. I reviewed 11 books for Blogger's Bookshelf

In short, it's tough to single out just 10 of the many great books I read last year but for you, dear readers, I've done my best, which in typical Stasia style means I haven't quite managed it. I got close though and I make the rules around here anyway so who cares?

These are my top 10(ish) books of 2017 in order of when I read them because putting them in order of how much I liked them really would be a step too far.

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford

Wigs on the Green is not for everyone. It's an extremely satirical look at the rise of fascism in the UK in the early 1930s, something Mitford was familiar with as two of her sisters were supporters of Mosley's Blackshirts and indeed Hitler himself. She later came to regret the release of the book and wouldn't allow it to be reprinted in her lifetime because of the rift it caused between herself and her sisters, who took themselves very seriously and did not appreciate their sister making fun of them in this novel. Personally, I think making fun of fascists is a great idea and Nancy Mitford did it splendidly.

Rebel of the Sands and Traitor to the Throne by Alwyn Hamilton

I picked up Rebel of the Sands early last year when I had injured my back so badly that I could barely move. I was in a lot of pain and needed something magical that would take me away to another world for a day or two and Rebel of the Sands proved to be the perfect thing. I devoured the story of Amani the gunslinging girl on the run the way I used to devour books when I was young, as though I couldn't read the story quick enough, needing to know everything at once. I was completely immersed in the magical desert setting and, as you can see, immediately bought the sequel, which I thought was even better. I can't wait to get my hands on the third and final book in the series soon.

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

I hadn't read any of Leigh Bardugo's other novels before picking up Six of Crows but the story line, about an impossible heist carried out by a gang of plucky convicts and misfits, had me straight away so I bought the sequel, Crooked Kingdom, before I even read the first page of Six of Crows. I'm incredibly glad I did because much as I loved Six of Crows (and I did) I loved Crooked Kingdom even more and Six of Crows ended in such a way that I would have been furious had I not had the next book immediately to hand. The rich world and complex story line are impressive but for me the characters are the real gold in this duology, and they will stay with me for a long time.

Wing Jones by Katherine Webber

Wing Jones knocked me over sideways. I mostly bought it, I'll be honest, because it has super beautiful ombre sprayed edges, but then I started reading it and wow. The inside of this book is every bit as beautiful as the outside. The writing, the story, Wing Jones herself, are all so amazing. Every word is laced with a particular kind of magic, not like the fantasy of Rebel of the Sands or Six of Crows but something ethereal and down to earth all at once, as though it's of our world but just out of reach. It's beautiful, through and through, and immediately joined the ranks of my all time favourite novels.

The Revelation by Saruuh Kelsey

The Revelation is the third in The Lux Guardians series, written by my friend Saruuh Kelsey, and yes I photoshopped that cover onto a picture of the first two books because I don't actually have a paperback copy of this one yet. I'm so proud of everything Saruuh writes but this series in particular is extremely close to my heart. The dystopian world she's created is gripping and horrific and the characters who populate it are full of life and colour. Even if Saruuh wasn't my friend I would love these books and I thoroughly look forward to joining these characters again in the next one.

Pretty Monsters by Kelly Link

I don't read a lot of short story collections and I think it's mostly because 99% of the time I will choose a YA book over anything else so I was thrilled to discover Kelly Link's Pretty Monsters last year, a collection of short stories specifically for YA readers. This is a deliciously weird collection of tales in which everything is always just a little bit off. Each story is a glimpse into a fascinating, unique, and, at times, pretty creepy world. This is definitely a collection I'll come to again, probably around Halloween time.

The Graces by Laure Eve

From deliciously weird to deliciously dark, The Graces was another book that knocked me sideways this year. This is an extremely intense read and another one that I couldn't put down. The entire story of River and her obsession with The Graces, a family of beautiful siblings who may or may not be witches, is told with prose that feels charged with potential for things to go wrong and a burning necessity for them not to. Even the most innocent of scenes made my stomach twist and the real twists made my heart stop. This book so thoroughly absorbed me that I'm surprised I managed to read anything else in the weeks afterwards. I need the sequel asap.

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

I'm a big fan of John Green but it's been a while since his last book, which might be why I wasn't quite prepared for just how much I would love this one. It's difficult to pin down why exactly Turtles All the Way Down immediately became my favourite of John Green's novels but it probably has a lot to do with Aza, the main character, and her best friend, Daisy, whose friendship felt so honest and close that I think I would have loved this book even if it had just been about the two of them hanging out together at Applebee's. It isn't just that though, it's so much more. I can't even talk about it. I love it.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Another book I can't even talk about is Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. This book has been hanging out on my TBR for a long time. I don't know what finally made me pick it up but I am so glad that I did. This is such a beautiful story, so beautifully told, of two boys figuring out how to be themselves, how to be men, whatever that means. It's a story of love, told in a way I can't even describe, a way that feels as though it is being told directly to your soul, or your heart, or whatever part of you it is that aches when you read something so touching. It's a triumph of a book and well deserves all those awards that are so annoyingly covering up the design on the cover.

Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Please ignore The Upside of Unrequited in this picture. I'm sure I'll love that book too but I haven't actually read it yet, I just don't have any pictures of Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda on its own. Sorry. After just one book though, Becky Albertalli is already a new favourite author for me. Simon Vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda was perfect. I loved Simon and I loved the way his story was told. When he was flirting with Blue over email, when he was being blackmailed because of those emails, and when things got even worse than that, I felt along with Simon, everything that he felt. I desperately wanted things to just go well for him! It was like I was reading about my own kid brother. This book is funny, and touching, and kind. Perfect.

And those are my top 10(ish) books of 2017! Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? Obviously, I highly recommend them all.


Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Small Changes

Things are looking a little bit different around here. Just a little. New domain, new header, new photo of my pasty face. I've even updated my 'about' page, although I'm sure I'm the only person who has ever read it. If I've done everything properly these changes shouldn't have been too disruptive. Old links should still work. If you were following me on Bloglovin' before, you should be still.

I'm a little sad to see stasialikescakes go but it feels like time (and it's sticking around on my Instagram because, well, I just don't want to change it there, brand consistency be damned). I have a short story coming out in an anthology this year (more about this soon!) and it feels like time to make things a little more professional around here. Just a little bit. I'm easily freaked out by formality to be honest, so we'll try to keep that at a minimum.

Last year I said I wanted to be fearless in 2017. I don't know if I quite managed that all the time but I did submit a lot of stories last year, some of them good, some of them less so, and I am going to be published because of that. Every time I thought about giving up, chickening out, closing the Pages document and forgetting a deadline ever existed because the story wasn't perfect, I remembered that I had vowed to be fearless and I sent it anyway. So I'm not going to pick a new word of the year for 2018. I'm going to stick with 'fearless'. It's not just some big change I made in 2017 and don't need to worry about anymore, it's a small change I make every time I agree to something I might have been too frightened to before, every time I send an email that terrifies me. And small changes are sometimes the ones that make the biggest differences.


Saturday, 14 October 2017

Writing My Novel: Plotting, Finally

So I wrote the first draft of this novel in November 2015. It's now October two years later and finally, finally, I have an outline. I figured it was time. Way past time.

You may recall that I already have one and a half drafts of this story, and I've been thinking about it for over two years, so it's not like I was starting from scratch without a single idea. But I knew there were things that needed changing and I knew I needed a real outline before I started on the next draft. The last thing I want is another meandering draft with terrible pacing and a flat story arc. So, as I often do, I turned to my books.

I marked pages with sticky tabs and wrote notes like I was back at uni working on an essay. These books did get me thinking more about how plot and structure work within a story but I was still struggling to actually write an outline. I just couldn't figure out the actual events that needed to happen in my story and none of these books could help me with that.

If you read my last writing post you'll know that I ended up spending a while working on other things anyway, leaving these books on the side of my desk for months, intending to get back to them soon and finish that outline. Because, of course, I also had pages and pages of attempted starts to outlines, aborted efforts at figuring out what the heck needed to happen to these characters. I tried the snowflake method, and the one-page method, and any other methods I could find online that promised to help me figure out those story events. None of them worked.

Then, just a couple of weeks ago, I remembered an old youtube video that I had started to use for another story years before. I remembered at the time thinking this method made a lot of sense, but it hadn't quite fit the story I was working on. Maybe it would fit this one?

It worked like a dream. This method breaks down the standard three act structure into 9 blocks and 27 chapters. Or, as I used it, 27 plot points. I wrote a skeletal outline using the 27 points in this video (they didn't all fit perfectly but close enough) then I added some muscle. I wrote a more detailed outline, including those points, but also including every single other thing that needs to happen to link those points together. That outline is currently 2,378 words long and I'm sure it will keep growing. Finally, I wrote a chapter outline: just one sentence summing up the main event of each chapter, to keep me on track while I write.

Using the method in this video, and then embellishing on the results in more detail, helped me come up with so many great new ideas for this story. I've worked out plot holes, tightened things up, wound things together. In short, all the things I wanted to do when I first tried to write that second draft.

Maybe if I had done an outline to begin with my first two drafts wouldn't have been such disasters, but I doubt it. I needed those 100,000 useless words to get to know the story and the characters. The plot I had in mind two years ago and the one I'm about to start writing now are so vastly different and this one is so much better! Now I can write the good stuff.


Monday, 9 October 2017

Writing My Novel: Not Writing My Novel

My last post was all about my Abandoned Second Draft but today, as hinted at last time, I'm going to talk about what I've been doing since then. Namely, not writing my novel.

NaNoWriMo finished last year and December disappeared in a glittering puff of gingerbread scented smoke. When January came around I decided to spend the first two months of the year writing, editing, and submitting short stories to competitions, websites, and literary magazines. I worked solidly, sent off my submissions, and thought I would get straight back to the real second draft of my novel. But it turns out I'm not great at waiting for responses, and submitting so many stories so close together? That just meant I was stressing out about the responses to all of them all at once. Then the rejections started to come and the shortlists I wasn't on started to be announced. 

I tried to work on my novel outline but I was too distracted. I tried to start a new draft but got barely 2,000 words in before the last of the stories I had sent out in those first two months was officially turned down. I briefly decided to quit writing forever. It didn't stick but it did cause me to take a break from writing for a few weeks.

Eventually I got up the courage to submit more stories. Finally, it paid off.

I won't say much, mostly because I'm not sure how much I'm allowed to say but also because I don't want to jinx it, but one of my short stories was accepted. One of my short stories is going to be published.

The thing I probably shouldn't admit but will anyway is that I spent less time on this story than any of the others I wrote this year. Oh, I spent about two months thinking about it, making a start and then deleting everything, over and over, but I wrote and edited the actual thing in less than a week. I wrote the way I used to write my university assignments: in a flurry of stress and excitement and 'why did I do this to myself??'

Maybe it's not the best way of working but the result is a story that feels more 'me' than anything I've written in a long time. Unlike the stories I wrote at the beginning of the year, I still like this one when I read it back. That was a stressful week but it made me realise that I had been trying too hard before, to write the kind of stories I thought editors wanted, to make the stories more like the ones I'd seen from other writers, to make my writing sound more "literary". This story, unlike the others, sounds like me, because I didn't have time for anything else, and that's the story someone wanted.

Knowing that, now I'm ready to get back to writing my novel.


Friday, 11 August 2017

Writing My Novel: The Abandoned Second Draft

In my last Writing My Novel post (which went up almost five months ago. What the hell???) I talked about writing my first draft during NaNoWriMo in 2015. Today we're moving onto my second draft. Or, what was supposed to be my second draft anyway. Let me explain.

I somehow managed to let a whole year slip past after the first draft (I'm very good at this. Hence it being five freaking months since my last Writing post!) before finally tackling a second draft during NaNoWriMo 2016. It would be fine, I thought. I already had my, admittedly lack-luster, first draft and I just needed to add things in, tighten things up, tie everything together. Make it better. If I could win NaNoWriMo with the same story a year before with nothing to start from, I could win it again with that first draft behind me.

And I did! Just. I mean, I hit 50,000 words. Just. Remember my graph from last time? How I was often a little bit behind the daily word target but still managed to write at least a little bit every day?

Not quite so this time round.

I turned 25 on the 4th November and spent a few days celebrating so that's why that first week was such a disaster but after that? I have no excuses. Through sheer, frenzied determination on those last three days I hit my 50,000 word goal but that only took me to about half way through the story. I thought that I would keep going over December and January, probably get to about 100,000 words and then spend a few months cutting 20,000 of those in the next draft.

Except I started to realise that something wasn't right with the story. Well, there were a lot of things that weren't right, but I was in the shower one day, thinking about the ending and how I would get there, when it hit me. A pretty major plot point needed to be changed. I knew, from the second I thought of it that it would require starting again. I knew if I changed this one thing then it would change everything else. Events, characters, relationships, and not just in this novel but in the sequels I've half thought of too! So much of this story would have to be started over again. God, it was going to be a lot of work. Too much work! But I also knew that it was the right call and that it would make the story so much better. It would also make finishing this draft absolutely pointless.

I emailed a friend about it. I told her what I already had and what I would need to change. I told her how changing this one thing would have a ripple effect on everything else. I asked her what she thought I should do. She agreed with me. Change it. It'll be stronger.

At least I realised it needed to be changed now and not half way through Book 2.

So I never finished this draft. There are certain things in it that I'll use in the next draft but this one is getting demoted. No longer Draft 2.0, now Draft 1.5. Nothing is wasted, everything is material, blah blah blah. It stings a little to know that I have to start over again. Again. But sometimes you have to know when to cut your losses. This draft? A necessary loss.

Of course, now it's August 2017 and I still haven't started the New and Improved Second Draft, but I'll tell you more about that next time.