Thursday, 14 December 2017

Book Review: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamont

Review by Jeanette O'Hagan

Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is considered a classic writing craft book and has inspired a generation of writers. Like most popular books, it gets mixed reviews on Goodreads (though an over all positive rating). It is, perhaps, one of those books you love - or hate.

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he'd had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, "Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”  Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

The Book:

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and LifeAnne Lamott
Anchor Books: 1995
Available at Amazon

The Author:

Anne Lamott is an American novelist and non-fiction writer.  She writes about love and loss in her novels and explores parenthood, flaws, faith, and the craft of writing in her non-fiction with a self-effacing and gritty humour.

My thoughts:

I was a little unsure when I first started reading Bird by Bird. Lamott starts with an autobiographical recounting of growing up with her writer father and his bohemian writer friends, of her own first attempts at writing a hopelessly flawed short story titled Arnold - and her search for publication, which only came after writing about her father's death.  Like Stephen King's On Writing, the writing tips or instruction in Bird by Bird are woven with a strong autobiographical thread - which is perhaps its strength and also its weakness.

Lamott's tone is conversational. She addresses a range of issues that writers face, in part as a report of what she teaches her students and how they react to her teachings (often with horror), in part a direct conversation with the reader, in part flights of creative writing and almost stream of consciousness flourishes that can be wickedly humorous or deeply moving or even at times mildly annoying (perhaps depending on one's mood and experience). 

If you are looking for a paint-by-numbers or follow-the-formula approach to writing - you won't find it here. Lamott's process is deeply intuitive and largely 'pantsting' and highly creative. And the book is as much, or more, about what it means to be a writer, the writing life, as it about nutting out a perfectly structured plot or tracing a compelling character arc. As important as plot structure and character arcs, internal wounds and mirror moments may be - I found myself resonating to Bird by Bird in a deeper way than more 'how-to' writing books (which often detail the 'one' way to do things that only the writer has discovered). 

There are definitely gems of advice and insight in Lamott's musings - some of which may have become truisms over time. She deals with issues of perfectionism, insecurities, shitty first drafts, writers block, the need to fill the creative well and to be kind to our writerly selves, as well how to discover our characters (like an image emerging from Polaroid photo), go deep into the pain, discovering one's voice, and the proper weight of publication. Above all, she reminds us that the reward of writing is not outward accolades, but the joys (and pains) of writing itself. And through it all, she is brutally honest and bitingly funny. And here and there, she gives us poignant glimpses of faith and grace.

I found Anne Lamott and Bird by Bird  a refreshing and inspiring read.


Jeanette started spinning tales in the world of Nardva at the age of eight or nine. She enjoys writing secondary world fiction, poetry, blogging and editing. Her Nardvan stories span continents, time and cultures. They involve a mixture of courtly intrigue, adventure, romance and/or shapeshifters and magic users. She has published numerous short stories, poems, two novellas and her debut novel, Akrad's Children. Find her on Facebook or at her webpages Jeanette O'Hagan Writes or Jenny's Thread.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

My Top Ten (Extremely Eclectic) Reads 2017

By Andrea Grigg

Talk about a variety, but why not? Make sure you read right down to the last one because it may change your life like it did mine! So, here we go, in no particular order.

1.     Story Genius – Lisa Cron (Non-fiction)
Okay, so this was in my last year’s Top Ten. And guess what? It’ll be in next year’s too. I don’t think a writing craft book has impacted me more. I asked a friend recently if she’d heard of this book. She said of course she had because I hadn’t shut up about it. Guess who’s not shutting up about it now either? Yes, it’s time-consuming, but oh-so-worth-it. The strategies Lisa Cron introduces brings an incredible depth to fictional characters, and a fiercely-sought-after connection with readers. Definitely number one on my writing craft list. (By the way, I’ve made a Facebook page for us Story Geniuses – feel free to join if you’d like to)

2.     The Emotional Wound Thesaurus – Angela Ackermann and Becca Puglisi (Non-fiction)
These two ladies have written a bunch of brilliant craft books eg. The Emotional Thesaurus, The Positive Trait Thesaurus, The Negative Trait Thesaurus etc. But this one? This one fits in perfectly with Story Genius. Each wound, eg. being the victim of a vicious rumour, living in an emotionally repressed household, is explained, and the consequences and behaviours which could occur are described. The things my poor characters are being put through …

      3.     The Secret Life of Sarah Hollenbeck – Bethany Turner (romance, Christian fiction)
A steamy romance writer becomes a Christian and then falls for her pastor? I had to read this book. (Thanks for the alert, Iola!) The bits I liked the best? The emotional connections, the raw honesty, the realness of Sarah’s journey.

4.     All This Time – Melissa Tagg (romance, Christian fiction)
I’ve read all Melissa Tagg’s books and not one of them has disappointed me. I love a good series, and this one is the last in the Walker Family series. Like all of them it’s also a stand-alone novel. Brilliant summer reading.

5.     The Catching Kind – Bria Quinlan (romance, general market)
Amazon recommended this one to me, and when I saw the cover I got quite a shock - it’s the same image as the one used on Kara Isaac’s ‘Close to You’. (Another discussion for another time) There are lots of things I loved about this book. It’s a romance, it’s quirky and funny, it’s full of great lines. Best of all, Bria Quinlan has written a bunch more books. But best best of all, it’s a sweet romance, and devoid of swear words. A rare find in today’s general market 

6.     The Nightingale – Kristin Hannah – (Women’s fiction, general market)
This one sat on my TBR pile for ages, but I wish I’d read it sooner. Kristin Hannah is a gritty, emotionally hard-hitting writer, which is essential as far as I’m concerned. The Nightingale is a dual timeline novel set in World War Two and the 1990s. If you enjoy stories of bravery, endurance, and relationships, this is a must read. It’s also being made into a movie. I can’t wait!

     7.     One More Song – Nicki Edwards (romance, general market)
Ok, so I might be a bit biased here because I’m Nicki’s critique partner, but believe me, if it wasn’t a great story, One More Song wouldn’t be in my Top Ten. Nicki is a consummate storyteller, and her latest release is just fabulous. I love the country setting, the musical aspect, the family dynamics, the medical dramas, and of course, the romance. And as for the cover … oh boy! Highly recommended.

8.     Poison Bay – Belinda Pollard (suspense, general market)
Again, a fantastic suspense novel by one of our own. Apart from the story itself, I loved the ensemble cast, the often short chapters, and, naturally enough, the New Zealand scenery. My 90-year-old dad has been a lifelong reader of suspense novels, and he thoroughly enjoyed Poison Bay – a great recommendation. Personally, I think it would make a terrific movie. (Anyone know who to talk to about that?)

     9.     Finding Solace – Catherine J Hudson (romance, general market)
Weird cover, huh? There’s a reason for that. Finding Solace isn’t published yet. But when it hits the e-book shelves, make sure you grab it! Feel free to call me biased, because Catherine is another of my critique partners, but I know brilliant writing when I read it, and this ticks all the boxes. Deep emotional connection? Tick. Excellent word imagery? Tick. Sigh-worthy romance? Double tick! (No pressure to get it out there Cat, nope, none at all …;) )

10.     Slow Cooker Central 2 – Paulene Christie
Yup, this is the book that changed my life. My culinary life, that is. I stumbled across it back in May, I think it’s fair to say my husband has had more dinner varieties in the last six months than in the last thirty-three years! (Steak Diane is slow-cooking as we speak … mmm …) Seriously, why hasn’t someone told me about these books before? Perfect for readers and writers and busy people and foodies-who-don’t-really-like-to-cook. Maybe I should put in a word to Santa for the first book :) 

Thanks for reading all the way down to the bottom. Hopefully you’ve found something to pique your interest over the summer holidays. See you in 2018!

Andrea Grigg lives on the Gold Coast, Queensland, and is the author of two contemporary Christian romance novels, and a novella. She would love to connect with you via: