I’m starting a new 6 week online novel writing course this Saturday 24th March. The course is aimed at complete beginners so don’t worry if you like the sound of it but think you won’t be experienced enough – all you need is some enthusiasm and your imagination! We look at how to get started, where writers get their ideas from, how to develop characters, how to build a compelling story, how to edit your work, and all sorts of other things along the way. Students come from all walks of life and are interested in writing all kinds of different things – from fantasy to women’s fiction, novels based on true stories, epic historical adventures, dark Gothic tales and frothy romantic comedies – all are welcome! It’s the perfect way to get that novel you’ve been wanting to write kick-started, and it’s the last course that I’ll be teaching for a few months as after this one I’m going on maternity leave to focus on the new project that I’ve been working on recently… (I’ll be back in the Autumn). Do drop me a line if you have any questions about how the course works or would like more info.
You can book the course online here: http://bookwhen.com/writersworkshop
Four couples, a wedding and a funeral – there is as much heartache, hopelessness and dastardly behaviour in this breathless rollercoaster of a novel as in any Hollywood blockbuster.
The Darker Side Of Love, Jessica Ruston’s third novel, explores the sanctity of love, marriage, friendship and family ties through the prism of its underbelly: betrayal, deceit and self-delusion.
As the recession bites, and disappointment turns to desperation, we see the lives of eight gilded thirty-somethings implode. Of course, someone, or something else is to blame – the children, or lack of, the mistress, money.
The women are as bad as the men: they lie, to themselves, and to each other until they have only one lifeline left: honesty. But telling the truth can be as hard as turning the clock back on your past.
This story is about four friends who seem to have everything they could possibly dream of; Caroline is about to get married to the man of her dreams; Harriet is happy with her dependable partner Will; Izzy, her husband, James, and two children live in a beautiful home where she can indulge in her creative cooking and Stella is in an unconventional marriage with her rock star husband and beautiful son.
But then the recession begins and life suddenly seems fall apart. How do you hold on to everything you took for granted when it all seems now to be slipping away and controlled by the lives of others?
Shame brings secrets and, what at first is a small lie, suddenly becomes a much bigger part of life and what was only a few months ago a beautiful existence, can suddenly become a worst nightmare.
Jessica Ruston has written an enthralling novel that explores the many sides of friendship and marriage. While we become emotionally sympathetic to all the characters, the author brings suspense into the actions of everyday life that we all identify with.
What starts as a comfortable piece of ‘chick lit’ suddenly becomes a tense drama that will have you staying up reading until you reach the final page.
They say that love makes the world go round – and maybe it does.
But it can also bring pain, disappointment, heartbreak … and danger.
Jessica Ruston departs from standard chick-lit here in a gripping tale of love in its many guises, a fascinating slant on the age-old concept of ‘romance.’
She takes four seemingly ordinary couples – all friends, all very modern and successful, all seemingly happy with their lives and loves – but beneath their shiny exteriors lurk dark shadows, frustrations, secrets and lies.
And it’s this hint of foiled ambitions, broken dreams and a burgeoning sub-plot of growing menace that makes The Darker Side of Love so refreshingly different and rewarding.
It’s the late ‘noughties’ and a global recession is looming. The four thirty-something friends – Stella, Izzy, Caroline and Harriet – are bound together through school, marriage and a tightly woven web of memories.
Caroline and her new husband Bart are a ‘grown-up’ sort of couple. They like exhibitions, smart shops and talks by eminent speakers.
It took Caroline a long time to find Mr Right and now she’s desperate for a baby before her body clock starts its countdown. But there’s no sign of pregnancy and she’s getting desperate…
Harriet and Will have been dating for seven years so why won’t he pop the question? His lack of enthusiasm for marriage is becoming an embarrassment for poor Harriet.
Izzy and James are married with two beautiful children but such perfection makes glamorous, ambitious Izzy feel bored and trapped. She’s even looked into flights that would whisk her far away from home.
And then there’s party girl Stella who has a very bohemian marriage to wild musician Johnny and is mother of their baby son Viking. Recently Johnny has changed the ‘rules’ and suddenly they are like strangers to each other.
They are all telling lies to those closest to them and they are all about to discover that the truth won’t stay buried forever…
Ruston carefully crafts her characters and then allows their present and past to unfold. Hidden worries, jealousies and desires rise to the surface as each of the women is forced to face her demons and, ultimately, a violent showdown.
A clever and thoughtful story from an author with her eyes fixed firmly on the game of life.
(Headline Review, paperback, £6.99)
By Pam Norfolk for the Lancashire Evening Post
Here’s the opening chapter of The Darker Side of Love – I hope it whets your appetite!
To celebrate the publication of The Darker Side of Love I did a little competition on twitter, asking people to suggest dark love stories for one of my lists. Here’s the list – winners at the bottom – please drop me an email through here with my address and I’ll send you your prize!
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt
The Monk by Matthew Lewis
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte (by far the most suggested book)
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Hunted and Tempted by Kristin Cast
The Storyteller by Antonia Michaelis
Sleep With Me by Joanna Briscoe
Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
Damage by Josephine Hart
Asylum by Patrick McGrath
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
The Black Prince by Iris Murdoch
The End of The Affair by Graham Greene
That Mad Ache by Francois Sagan
Heart Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne
South of the Border, West of the Sun by Haruki Murakami
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Killing Me Softly by Nicci French
Therese Raquin by Emile Zola
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan
Thanks so much to everyone who took part – the winners are @Readingwriters and @IssyFlamel – please email me your addresses!
Just a reminder that my Novel Writing course is starting again on 28th January. There are still places available, but lots have already been booked, which is great as it means there should be plenty of scope for lively conversation and debate as the course runs. You don’t have to have written anything before, it really is designed to be suitable for writers of all levels of experience and confidence. Quite alot of students have either an idea for a novel, or something partially written when they start the course; sometimes the idea they started off with changes beyond all recognition over the six weeks that we work together and as their ideas develop and as they spark off other students.
There’s lots of scope to discuss the course and writing in general, both with me and with your fellow students. The course is run via a private forum as part of the Writers’ Workshop discussion forum, The Word Cloud (it’s well worth signing up to join this, regardless of whether you decide to do the course or not – it’s a great community, and it’s totally free). Only course members can access the discussion, so you don’t have to be concerned about putting your work up in public. Each week I post a new set of course notes, which follow this order:
Week One: Ideas. Week Two: Character. Week Three: Story, plot and narrative. Week Four: Structure. Week Five: Style. Week Six:Editing and the business of publishing.
Each contains a homework exercise, related to the week’s topic, which you send to me and which I then post in the forum with comments. It’s not compulsory to have your work posted for the rest of the group to read – if you really don’t want me to then I won’t – but I strongly encourage it. Students often find that they learn as much from reading their peers work, and my comments on it, as they do from the feedback on their own work; it also gets you into the habit of reading other writers work critically and assessing its strengths and weaknesses for yourself, a skill that you’ll find invaluable in your future writing.
Do contact me via the website if you have any questions about the course. I’ll be running another one in the Spring. You can book a place on the January course here: http://bookwhen.com/writersworkshop
I started reading The Marriage Plot, by Jeffrey Eugenides over the weekend, but abandoned it after about 120 pages. I just couldn’t connect with the characters, who felt two-dimensional, their dialogue unrealistic and forced. And the story felt slow and leaden. I was disappointed, as I’ve loved Eugenides’ previous novels. But it did get me thinking about novels about marriage, so here’s a book list full of suggestions from twitter of fiction on the subject.
Brick Lane by Monica Ali
Mr and Mrs Bridge by Evan S Connell
One Fine Day by Mollie Panter Downs
The Woman Who Walked into Doors by Roddy Doyle
Middlemarch by George Eliot
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Notes From an Exhibition by Patrick Gale
We Had It So Good by Linda S Grant
The Story of a Marriage by Andrew Sean Greer
The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
The Tortoise and the Hare by Elizabeth Jenkins
The Tiny Wife by Andrew Kaufman
Diary of a Mad Housewife by Sue Kaufman
Comfort & Joy by India Knight
War Between the Tates by Alison Lurie
Greenery Street by Dennis Mackail
Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
American Pastoral by Phillip Roth
Happenstance by Carol Shields
Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee by Meera Syal
The Adultery Club by Tess Stimson
Anna Karenina by L.N. Tolstoy
The Amateur Marriage by Anne Tyler
The Wife by Meg Wolitzer
To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates
Another twitter book listed, this time of novels written in the second person. It’s probably the least commonly used viewpoint and can be difficult to read, but here are some novels that use it that seem to make it work…
Rashomon by Ryunosuke Akutagawa
Complicity by Iain Banks
The Sound of My Voice by Ron Butlin
We, the Drowned, by Carsten Jensen
The Way to Paradise by Mario Vargas Llosa
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
A Pagan Place by Edna O’Brien
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Ablutions by Patrick de Witt
I asked on twitter what people’s favourite novels written in the first person were (in particular, but not exclusively, ones with unreliable narrators) as part of my research for my work-in-progress, and got a huge number of brilliant suggestions back. So I thought I’d collate them all into a post here, in case any of you are planning your New Year’s reading lists or just looking for some great new and classic fiction. Do let me know of any other favourites and I can add them to the list. (As an aside, it’s interesting to note, as pointed out by Dorian Lynskey on twitter, how many of the unreliable narrators turn out to be psychopathic killers…)
Money by Martin Amis
A Kind of Intimacy by Jenn Ashworth
The Wasp Factory, Espedair Street, The Crow Road, by Iain Banks
The Book of Evidence by John Banville
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
The Curious Affair at Styles, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Endless Night, by Agatha Christie
The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Diary of a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield
David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House by Charles Dickens
To the White Sea by James Dickey
The Woman Who Walked Into Doors by Roddy Doyle
Submarine by Joe Dunthorne
The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Collector by John Fowles
The Fantora Family Files by Adele Geras
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Something Happened by Joseph Heller
Notes on a Scandal by Zoe Heller
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
When We Were Orphans, The Remains of the Day and Floating World by Kashuo Ishiguro
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
Ulysses by James Joyce
A Disaffection by James Kelman
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
The Debt to Pleasure by John Lanchester
The Horned Man by James Lasdun
If This is a Man by Primo Levi
The Treasure Seekers by Edith Nesbit
The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe
As Meat Loves Salt by Maria McCann
Enduring Love by Ian McEwan
Asylum, Spider, Trauma, Martha Peake, Port Mungo, by Patrick McGrath
Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The Last Weekend by Blake Morrison
The Story of You by Julie Myerson
Pale Fire, Lolita and Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk
An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears
Life: An Exploded Diagram, by Mal Peet
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
The Catcher in the Rye, by J. D. Salinger
We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S Thompson
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters
Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson
The Book Thief by Markus Zusak