Sunday, 22 August 2010

Lauren Kate - Fallen

Once upon a time, a woman called Stephanie Meyer wrote a series of books about a girl who fell in love with a vampire. It was a wildly successful venture which led to her and her stories becoming a worldwide phenomenon. Four years later, Lauren Kate decided to write the same book.

Fallen is the first book I’ve read where I can use the description, ‘like Twilight, but....’ In this case, like Twilight, but angels instead of vampires. I will state now that this is the only difference between the two books. There are opposite characters for most of the main players in the Twilght books and Fallen even goes as far as ripping off a few set pieces. Daniel saves Luce from a falling statue from an impossible distance: Edward saves Bella from a car from an impossible distance. I wouldn’t know if it’s shameless copying, I would have to ask Lauren if she has read the books, but I expect she has at least a little knowledge of them.

So I’ve picked on the content, now for the writing. Not a lot happens over the 452 pages that’s worth mentioning. Luce goes to a school full of kids who’ve basically broken the law in horrible ways, yet the only bad thing that happens to her is having food put over her head on her first day. She immediately finds a friend who comes to her aid and after that, nothing bad happens to her at all. Except for not being able to decide which one of our superhuman boys is fittest. If I knew reform school was such a breeze, I would have broken the law a long time ago.

The place probably is a living hell, but the way Kate writes about it, you wouldn’t think it was. The writing is so uninvolved in the surroundings, it’s almost like she as an author only cares about Luce’s teenage drama issues and is prepared to have atmosphere and setting have no importance in order to have her main character drool over boys.

Now, how to get across the passage of time in a book is something I have studied and according to Fallen is something that Lauren Kate has no idea about. At one point it says that Luce had missed two months of classes. This is probably the worst use of hyperbole in published literature I have ever seen, especially when, later on, it says that two weeks had passed since Luce started at the school. Somewhere in the middle of this time warp, one of the main characters goes completely missing and when she reappears, there is no sign of a previous relationship between her and Luce. And missing classes at reform school, something that Luce does more than brushing her teeth, apparently carries no punishment.

The ending is the only interesting bit where stuff actually happens, unless you can count drooling as an activity, and she introduces about four new plot points which had not even been hinted at before. It’s confusing more than clever and it doesn’t keep the reader guessing, but more has them asking, ‘What the hell just happened?’

Lauren Kate has tried to do too much in the last 50 pages and spent the other 400 trying to be like Stephanie Meyer. She has another book scheduled for release next month where all will become clear. Or just get even more twisted and confusing.

I would recommend this book to... no one. The only people who would enjoy it are Twilight fans but they would more than likely be pissed off that someone had made cheap knock-offs out of their beloved Edward and Jacob.

Fallen by Lauren Kate was published by Tinderbox Books in 2009. RRP £6.99 (Paperback)

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Anne Lamott - Bird by Bird

Books about writing have always seemed strange to me and I wouldn’t have read this one if it wasn’t recommended to help with my own work. I will say now that the book did help me in terms of building my confidence as a writer, but that doesn’t mean I’m not going to attempt to tear it to shreds.

I’m going to start with the introduction. There is a mistake on the second page which led me to believe that Anne Lamott and Clive Cussler had the same writing tutor. Lamott makes up for Cussler’s missing words by repeating ‘at life.’ Making a mistake on the second page of a book about how to write is not a good start especially if Anne is trying to lead by example. After this, she then goes on to say she chooses to write because she’s good at it which means I get to use the word oxymoron for the first time on This is My Face.

Despite the early lapse, there are several useful bits on the very basics of writing. There is a section on just sitting down and doing some writing, instead of spending hours thinking about what to write, which is helpful to new writers and is quite effective at teaching. There are other good beginner’s tips, such as writing ‘shitty first drafts’ to get them out of your system and ‘short assignments’ as another way of just doing some writing.

However, all this earlier stuff leads up to one big assumption about the readers: that no one who wants to be a writer knows what kind of writing they want to do. She is assuming that all other writers are just like her. I’m not writing because I’m good at it. I do it because I’ve got a story I want to tell. There is no point in writing for the sake of it. Where is the enjoyment in that?

However, she goes on to question writers who have a message they want to convey. She writes, ‘If you have a message, as Samuel Goldwyn used to say, send a telegram.’ This put a smile on my otherwise angry face.

Despite my criticisms I have a lot of other nice things to say about the book. Out of the 237 pages, none of them feel wasted. There are some cuts that could be made, but that’s true of any book. Lamott uses humour very well. Her sentences are memorable and this alone makes Bird by Bird a strong piece of non-fiction.

I would recommend this book as essential reading to all creative writing students, especially those struggling with self-belief. It’s also handy to have around for new and experienced writers alike. Pages 110 to 130, I think, are the most helpful pages about writing I’ve ever read and on the whole, Bird by Bird is one of the best help books for writing and life.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott was published by Anchor Books in 1995. RRP £13.95 (This regular retail price appears on, where they are selling the book for £6.41. Somehow, I think the RRP is a wee bit exaggerated....)