More reading!

Amazon had their 12 Days of Kindle sale recently, during which many books were discounted. I picked up a few more to read:

  • Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell
  • City of Bones – Cassandra Clare
  • Magician – Raymond E. Feist
  • The Final Winter: An Apocalyptic Horror Novel – Iain Rob Wright
  • Crimes Against Magic – Steve McHugh
  • Half a King – Joe Abercrombie
  • Consider Phlebas – Iain M. Banks
  • Alone in Berlin  – Hans Fallada
  • The Testing – Joelle Charbonneau
  • The Lean Startup – Eric Ries (Non-fiction)
  • The $100 Startup – Chris Guillebeau
  • Far Orbit: Speculative Space Adventures – Ed. Bascomb James

(Not all of these were on offer.)

That’s a fair few books, and my digital to read pile is growing (as is the physical one on my bedside table…)


Reading outside the “Zone”

Let’s face it, we all have a reading “zone”. This might be one genre, it might be more. But usually adults don’t read picture books aimed at children (unless they have young kids) and vice versa.

Sometimes it does us good to read outside the “zone” and read something that we don’t usually read. This was suggested to me when I started my A Level in English. I then picked a book at random off of Amazon (it ended up being Bookends by Jane Green).

As a trainee English teacher, it’s important that I have a broad knowledge of literature, as well as being aware of what the students are reading. (It also gives me an excuse to read and watch Diary of a Wimpy Kid).

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell was on offer on Amazon kindle, and the title seemed intriguing. I figured it was worth a shot. I sat and ploughed through it.

It was good fun, with the protagonist’s fanfic placed at the start of every chapter. In some ways it’s just a coming-of-age story from the point of view of a young woman, but it also captures the influence of series such as Harry Potter (Simon Snow seems inspired by Harry Potter) upon people’s lives. Cath is just a normal American teenager who has gone off to college, with the main focus of her life being her Fanfic.

It was definitely worth the money, even though it didn’t really do anything “new”, but I doubt that those who would find Fangirl in their “zone” would mind too much. As for someone who is reading out of their “zone” it seems like a book that teens would read, and does give an insight into how important the world of fanfic is to some people.

Write faster: How I increased my writing speed.

Over the course of NaNoWriMo 2015, my daily word count fluctuated between 0 and approximately 20,000. That’s a huge difference. Over the past two months, I’ve reflected on how I worked throughout NaNoWriMo and have a few of conclusions on why my word count fluctuated so much, and how I can increase my daily word count further. Here’s how I managed to write faster:

1.) Planning is key.

On the days where I had extensively planned what I was going to write, I wrote more. This culminated in my final sprint where I wrote just over 14,000 words. At this point in my NaNoWriMo journey, I had spent a couple of hours planning out each scene. The extent of this planning ranged from a couple of sentences of what was to happen in the scene (sometimes I had a few pieces of dialogue that I wanted to use), to a list of bullet points and various sentences. This made it much easier to write – I was able to have the plan open on one screen and the novel open on the other. Every so often I would look across at the plan and check what I was going to write.

Having the plan also allowed me to write in a non-continuous way. As I had been trying to upload my daily additions on here, I had been writing in a chronological way – IE: From the start of the novel to the end. The extensive plan (and the looming deadline) pushed me to write different sections of the novel – when one scene was getting difficult, I could move to another scene. This did lead to a problem. When the deadline came, I had huge sections of the novel written, but the middle was missing. This has prolonged my uploading of the rest of the novel (N-Day readers… it will return soon!) while I juggle my PGCE, other writing, and the rest of the novel.

I have a number of writing ideas that I am pursuing, and have begun to create extensive outlines so that I can write more, and faster.

2.) Set timers.

On that final day, I kept setting 1 hour timers and seeing how many words I could write in that time. Once the hour was up, I would take a very brief break before trying again. Each time I would try and beat my previous score. A small element of competition – even if it is with yourself – can help to increase your writing speed.

3.) Music. Get some good music.

That final day I searched for, and found, a huge Spotify playlist of Soundtracks. Some of these soundtracks were from films, some from video games, and some were specially made songs for film trailers (look up Two Steps from Hell). The playlist was extremely long and meant that I could click play and forget about it. I chose Soundtracks because they can be fast paced and they can create a really strong atmosphere – I’m sure that some of the songs I was listening to probably influenced the scenes I was writing.

While I like to write to Soundtracks, I think that fast-paced music would work well. Just as there are plenty of running CDs made to make you run faster, I think that fast-paced music – or at least emotive – music will help you write faster.


One of my aims for 2016 was to write 1,000 words a day. I think that I can easily surpass this and write a lot more. Let’s find out.

Any techniques you use to write faster? Let me know in the comments!

For Christmas I got… a warm welcome to my PP2

Christmas is over, the New Year has begun. As has my PP2 placement.

For the next three weeks, I’m spending two days a week on placement and two in Faculty. So what did I get up to this week?

Monday and Tuesday were devoted to studying Macbeth and how to teach Shakespeare. This was good fun, and we had a drama specialist come in on the Tuesday to give us more practical teaching/drama activities to use. These were good fun. Like last time, some of the warm-ups will be useful games to play with my Cub Pack.

My PP2 school is a bit different to my PP1 school – especially their use of exercise books and the fact that all students have iPads. I’m really interested in how tech can be used in education and my PP2 placement offers me an opportunity to see what e-learning apps are available and how tech is currently used in education.

I received my teaching timetable and there is a good mix of classes. I’m in the middle of writing my 1b assignment, for which I picked (from a number of titles) to discuss whether it was a mistake to close so many special schools. By chance, I was timetabled to observe a SEN student across the curriculum today, and this gave me a number of extra observations to add to my argument.

Finally, tomorrow we have a conference on Adolescence and Well-Being. For this we were able to pick three different seminars to attend. From the list I chose:

  • Hard to reach groups/Inclusion: Gypsy Roma and Traveller Culture and Education.
  • SEND: Autistic Adolescents Accessing Mainstream.
  • Sexuality: Challenging Homophobia, biphobia and transphobia.

The first and last are areas in which I have no experience. They will undoubtedly give useful insights which will help me in the future. I do have a bit of experience assisting ASD students and teaching them, but I felt it was worth learning more – the learning journey never ends!

Recent Reading

Thinner – Richard Bachman/Stephen King

While I’ve enjoyed most of King’s books, I don’t rate Thinner as one of his best. This might be because he was writing it under his Bachman alias. I just didn’t really like the “curse” idea.

Holes – Louis Sachar

I actually re-read this a while ago, as I was teaching it to a Year 7 class.  It’s still as good as I remember it, and it was fun to see how the students responded to the novel.

Animal Farm – George Orwell

I read this many years ago. I got a new copy over the Christmas holiday, so that I could re-read it in preparation for teaching it to GCSE students. It’s amazing how much I remembered from my first reading. However, having a greater understanding of the world and of political movements enabled me to develop a far stronger understanding of the novel.

The Dragon Done It – Ed. Eric Flint and Mike Resnick

I’m currently working on a series of fantasy crime novels, and I was interested to see what was already out there – beyond the shelves of urban fantasy a la The Dresden Files. After a bit of searching, I stumbled across this anthology.

While many of the stories feature fantasy elements, many of them seemed to heavily inspired by Raymond Chandler and Co – they were definitely detective fiction. This doesn’t mean that they were bad though – far from it. I enjoyed most of the stories, especially how they carried over tropes from detective fiction and mingled in the fantasy elements. Overall? The anthology adds weight to my idea that there isn’t much crime fiction set in a fantasy world.

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl – Jesse Andrews

An excellent book that was recently made into a film – I haven’t seen that yet. The book itself is great and manages to capture elements of being a teenager while covering pretty similar ground to The Fault in Our Stars… Except I think Me and Earl and the Dying Girl did it better.

SNAFU: An Anthology of Military Horror

The second anthology of short stories on this update. While the stories were of varying quality (from good to great), they were all good fun and had a few slightly disturbing ideas as well as a lot of monster-killing violence. Probably not suitable for the kids, but a good read nonetheless.

Well hello there, 2016!

So it’s 2016. I’ve decided to kick the year off with my New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. To write 1,000 words of fiction a day.
  2. Update PGCE blog fortnightly. This will turn into an NQT/MEd blog in September 2016.
  3. Self-publish my first novel.
  4. I will have 1,000 blog followers by 31st December 2015.
  5. Publish 5 short stories in paying markets, the majority of which will be at semi-pro level or higher.
  6. Update blog with weekly flash fiction. (This was irregular last year.)
  7. Complete NaNoWriMo.
  8. Read one non-fiction book a month.
  9. Read a collection of poetry a month.
  10. Keep a poetry diary.

I have two fitness goals as well:

  1. Run 5k in 20 minutes.
  2. Run 10k.

Hope you all had a super Christmas and let’s all have a great 2016!