App Review: Writer Tools

As I’ve said before, finding a decent app for planning and writing your novel is no mean feat. But I think I may have come pretty close to it with Writer Tools for Android by AJP-Tools. According to the app’s website, this app will allow you to:

  • ‘Track your current progress, and get motivated. Check out your stats and keep going.’
  • ‘Create a chronical [sic] timeline with all the events of your story.’
  • ‘Come up woth [sic] unique characters by filling in our extensive character ID’s [sic].’
  • ‘Write and edit your chapters on the go. Plan each extensively with chapter with scenes.’
  • ‘Explore your story’s setting by clicking through infinite sub-locations.’
  • ‘Set yourself quarterly goals and keep pushing towards this goal.’
  • ‘Immediately jot down you ideas in an organized way when thay [sic] pop-up in your head.’
  • ‘Create your own with custom lists and get 100% freedom.’
  • ‘Use Writer Tools’ on multiple devices across multiple systems.’

You gotta admit, it sounds pretty good. But as ever, the question we really want an answer for is: does it deliver?

Well, this app is certainly easy on the eye. Everything is nice and big and clearly laid out on the main screen, with just a few other minor items in the non-intrusive little side menu. I don’t have time to go through all of the various functions this app is capable of (most of them just do what they say on the tin with no fuss) but I do want to highlight a few things that have jumped out at me.

 

While this app is designed for both planning and writing your novel, it definitely comes into its own most of all at the planning stage. The ‘locations’ feature, for instance allows you to sketch out various key settings for your story, however this app also boasts a sub-location function, allowing you to create an infinite number of locations within locations within locations within locations. This is especially handy if you’re writing a fantasy, for instance, and you want to sketch out everything from an entire empire right down to your protagonist’s bedroom and everything in between.

Another handy planning feature is the ‘custom lists’ feature. Suppose you’re wanting to create a list of all the magic spells, classes of starship or possible murder weapons included in your story? Well, now you can! Simply come up with a name for your list (e.g.: ‘starships’) and what fields you want to include in each list (e.g.: ‘size’, ‘crew complement’, ‘engine model’, ‘maximum speed’, etc.) and hey presto! You’ve got yourself a custom list complete with custom metadata. Best of all, it’s a doddle to do.

 

This app also allows you to sort your story into chapters, scenes and, of course, to write the actual narrative. All very good, but one thing I did find a little bit odd was the fact that the scenes are nothing more than a list of scenes. When you write the actual narrative, it’s completely divorced from the list of scenes you’ve created, so you end up with just a single block of narrative for each chapter. Not a huge problem, just seemed a little strange to me.

There are adverts, as with so many apps these days. Specifically: small banners at the bottom of the screen which don’t really get in the way and full screen ads which appear only occasionally. The free version does also contain a few other niggling limitations, such as only being able to create one project at a time (definitely its biggest let-down!) and the fact you can’t add images (if you’re the sort of person who likes to do that; personally, I’m only inclined to do that with character profiles).

All in all, this app is actually pretty good and the few limitations there are can be easily overturned if you’re willing to spend a bit of money on the pro version, which does everything the free version does but it also allows you to create multiple projects, access all your previous back-ups, download your story as a PDF, add images, remove adverts and includes night-mode.

‘Sounds great!’ I hear you cry. ‘I’ll just grab the pro version and then I’ll have the perfect app!’

Well, that is certainly your prerogative. I was quite tempted to buy it myself until I saw the price: a monthly subscription of £4.99 or an annual subscription of £54.99 (which gives you one month free). Personally, I think that’s a bit steep for the fairly limited benefits the pro version gives you. A one-off payment, sure, that I would go for, but I don’t think those benefits are worth paying a regular subscription for. Heck, you’d be cheaper just buying Scrivener!

All in all, this is a fantastic app. It is both easy to use and is one of the most powerful mobile tools I’ve come across for planning and, to a slightly lesser extent, writing your story. It’s just a shame the pro version is so expensive.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and also follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what roasts your pig.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Blogging and Novel Writing

Well, believe it or not, Penstricken was three years old on Thursday. That’s three years(!) I’ve been knocking out these humble little reviews, writing tips, author interviews and flash fictions.

As is so often the case, this week’s post has come about as a result of something I’m trying to figure out for myself. And so, this week’s post will be rather introspective, specifically focusing on the challenges of running this blog while also trying to write a novel. I do hope, however, that if you’re a novelist yourself, perhaps considering starting a blog of your own, that it might also provide you with food for thought.

I only started this blog as a little exercise to get me used to working to tight self-imposed deadlines. You see, before I started the blog, I often fell into the trap of sitting down at my desk and lamenting the fact I couldn’t think of anything to write about. I had started other blogs in the past, but they never really got anywhere for that very reason. Running Penstricken to such a strict but manageable schedule has helped me to change that attitude. In addition, writing this blog often doubles up as a kind of writing journal where I can keep track of everything I’ve learned as a writer (you’re never too good to stop learning your craft) or through studying other people’s stories so that I can review them. Furthermore, it has given me a bit of added confidence in my own abilities whenever I have received positive feedback and even had certain posts shared on other writers’ websites. In short, running Penstricken has made me a better and more confident writer.

And yet, it’s quite a lot of work, especially when you think that I’ve got a full time job, a one year old daughter (neither of which I had three years ago) and… oh yes, I’m writing a novel.

You see, I am the sole editor and writer for the Penstricken blog (though please, drop me a line if you’ve got a burning desire to contribute a post or two). I post approximately 1,000 words per week, every week without fail*. I also manage the tedious but very necessary Facebook page, Twitter profile and e-mail inbox associated with it, which helps to drum up readership and encourages feedback. It’s also how I get in touch with authors for interviews (like this one! [2]) and reviews etc.

If it wasn’t for the novel, running this blog would be a piece of cake. My time may be limited by other non-writing responsibilities, but I have managed to organise my week in such a way that I can squeeze in a couple of hours of writing time every day, more so on a Saturday. That’s more than enough to get the blog done on time. The trouble is, these weekly deadlines mean I have no choice but to prioritise the blog over my novel, which has not got the same deadlines attached to it. As a result, progress on my novel has ground to a snail’s pace. No, it’s worse than that: progress isn’t just slow, it’s irregular. There are sometimes whole days where I don’t do any work on my novel because I’m too busy trying to get my blog sorted in the poxy few hours I have available. Other times, I actually have two or three weeks worth of blog posts ready all at once and that gives me loads of time to work on my novel.

Slow is fine. Not ideal, perhaps, but the tortoise always beats the hare if the hare keeps stopping for coffee along the way. But having my novel slaved to my blog in this way is not good. There’s nothing quite like routine to keep the creative juices flowing and this blog is a great big thorn in the side of my novel writing routine, despite all the other ways it has benefited me as a writer.

I don’t know what you think about Penstricken as a whole, but I’m quite proud of what I’ve built up over the last three years. I hope it will carry on for another three years or more. But I can’t help thinking it’s time to make some pretty big changes so that my novel can get a bit more action week by week.

Should I reduce the maximum length of my posts? In theory that will save time, but often the most time consuming part of the writing process is editing out unnecessary material. These posts you see each week are often much longer than 1,000 words to begin with and need to be shaved before I can publish them so I’m not quite sure how much time I will really be saving by having a reduced word count. It will just mean more editing!

I have also considered posting less often: say, every two weeks instead of every week. The thing is, I do find the tight deadline quite helpful and it’s hard to maintain readership on a blog that isn’t updated regularly. My research has suggested most blogs like Penstricken are updated far more often than once a week.

I could do more short posts, such as ‘Useful Posts on Fiction and Writing’ or ‘6 Six Word Stories’. But that feels like a waste of time doing these too often. Some of the posts I’ve had the best feedback on have been meaty writing tips posts such as the series on Non-Human Characters [2] [3] [4] and I want to keep these going.

I don’t quite know what I’m going to do yet but I’m open to suggestions.

To those of you who are working on a novel and thinking about starting a blog, especially if you’re not yet a published author, I say this: be realistic with your time. Blogging is a great way to practice your craft, to network with other writers and publishers and to drum up readership but it’s also a lot of work, almost like trying to juggle two novels at once. I don’t want to discourage you from blogging (far from it!) but I would encourage you to assess your time, your abilities and your priorities realistically before you begin.
*Fun fact: since Penstricken’s last birthday, I’ve published exactly 50,515 words on this website, not including unpublished, incomplete, or rejected posts, nor does it include comments, pages (such as ‘about’ or ‘contact’) or anything I’ve tweeted or posted to Facebook. That’s almost a novel’s worth of words; meanwhile, my poor actual novel is still languishing at 27,485 words of the second draft.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve any more suggestions for good time-wasting websites, I’m sure there’s many a bored or frustrated writer out there would love to hear about it, so why not post some of your favourites in the comments below? And don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what roasts your pig.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

7 Useful Posts on Fiction and Writing

Some weeks you just can’t think of anything clever or interesting to blog about the internet is just teeming with so many useful blog posts about fiction and writing that I just have to share some of them with you.

Well, this has been one of those weeks, so it’s time for another exciting instalment of ‘Useful Posts on Fiction and Writing’ [2] [3] [4] [5] [6]. I have scoured WordPress for the last few days, searching out some of the most useful, entertaining or insightful posts on the subject of story writing and have compiled them here for your enjoyment.

And so, without further ado and in no particular order– here they are:

‘NaNo or Nah?’ by TGM.admin

‘How I Conquered Writer’s Block: A Return to Writing, Fiction, and Fun’ by Cococatani

‘Fast Fiction by Mason Hawker

‘Unlock the Muse – October 24, 2018’ by TAwrites

‘5 More Outlining Methods for Your Novel’ by Rachel Poli

‘Captain’s Log – Personal Update’ by Robin Sarty

‘#NaNoWriMo Prep: Setting Up Your Story Bible | #amwriting #NaNo2018’ by Kaye Dacus


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve any more suggestions for good time-wasting websites, I’m sure there’s many a bored or frustrated writer out there would love to hear about it, so why not post some of your favourites in the comments below? And don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what roasts your pig.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

7 Websites To Help You Procrastinate

There’s a reason writers are often advised to completely disconnect themselves from the internet whenever they sit down to write: the internet is simply teeming with a million different things to distract you from what you’re supposed to be doing. It only takes one single moment of weakness and the next thing you know, you’re sucked into a swirling online vortex of time wasting.

Of course, these young whipper-snapper writers with their Facebooks and their Instagrams wouldn’t know a good time-wasting website if it came along and bit them on the nose; but if you want to waste time online without having to listen to all your acquaintances broadcasting their opinions that nobody cares about then you’ve come to the right place. I have scoured the internet looking for websites that you can waste your entire writing session on without having to interact with another human being anywhere else on the internet. Some of these are overtly useless (mostly free and silly games); others create the illusion of productivity by convincing you that you’re researching your story or tracking your progress when, in fact, you’re just procrastinating.

But be warned, gentle reader: when you visit these websites you might not leave and you’ll accomplish nothing.

The Secret of Monkey Island Insult Sword-fighting – Free Browser Game

Gamers of a certain vintage will remember Ron Gilbert’s masterpiece, The Secret of Monkey Island; the classic point-and-click adventure game following the adventures of the goofy, mild-mannered pirate-wannabe, Guybrush Threepwood.

Well our good friends at Karza have knocked together this free-to-play online version of the insult sword-fighting mini-game from The Secret of Monkey Island, including three difficulty levels: Normal (Monkey Island 1 insults only), Hard (Monkey Island 3 insults only) and Very hard (all the insults!).

It’s a thing of beauty.

Enjoy.

Click here to play!

Letters of Note

This fascinating little website is jam-packed with a collection of ‘fascinating letters, postcards, telegrams, faxes, and memos’. Most of them are from or to famous people, or else are just plain interesting. Some are really old. Some are really new.

Procrastinating writer, beware: once you start reading these letters, you might not be able to stop.

Anyway, you’re struggling for a story idea aren’t you? And reading all these letters is bound to help stimulate the imagination, or some other lame excuse like that.

Click here to read mail more interesting than your own.

Level Up Life

If you love old fashioned role-playing computer games with their experience points based systems, and if you’re looking for a means of er… tracking your progress as a writer (😉), you’ll love Level Up Life. Once you make up an account (for free), you can then begin earning experience points and levelling up for completing all your real life achievements.

As you progress through life, you will also earn skill points. The skill points you earn are dependant on the particular things you achieve, allowing you ‘to see where your strengths and weaknesses lie’.

Faffing around with this is a great way to pretend you’re getting your life and writing organised when in fact you’re just faffing around.

Click here to ‘play’

Find the Invisible Cow

I spent way too long ‘researching’ this website when I decided to write about good procrastination websites, so this one definitely had to make the cut. You are presented with a blank screen and invited to move your cursor across the screen, listening out for a voice repeatedly shouting ‘cow, cow, cow, cow, cow, cow…’. The louder the voice gets, the closer to the invisible cow you are. Click on it once you’ve found it and boom, you score one point.

Five points allows you to unlock goats.

Fifty points allows you to unlock another animal, which I am sure to unlock soon and then I’ll let you know…

Click here to go cow-hunting

The Moth

This is another good ‘I’m not wasting time, I’m researching’ website. In it you will find a collection of true stories told by a diverse collection of people, unscripted and in their own words.

Moth shows are renowned for the great range of human experience they showcase. Each show starts with a theme, and the storytellers explore it, often in unexpected ways. Since each story is true and every voice authentic, the shows dance between documentary and theater, creating a unique, intimate, and often enlightening experience for the audience.

~ ‘About the Moth’

It’s not really my cup of tea personally, but like Letters Of Note, it’s another great source of real life material that can ‘inspire your next story’ (or as I prefer to call it, ‘distract you from your current story’).

Here’s the link!

Dinosaur Game (Chrome Users Only)

You’re hard at work on your story. You’ve got a deadline looming and the clock is ticking. You mean business, so you’ve physically disconnected everything in your house that vaguely resembles an internet connection.

By sheer force of habit, you open Google Chrome, intending to peruse Letters of Note for a little inspiration, or perhaps to have one quick game of Find the Invisible Cow, but are rudely stopped in your tracks by this:

s

Don’t worry, there’s no need to rebuild your router. Just press the space bar and enjoy the free game which you play simply using your space bar to make the dinosaur jump and your ‘down’ key to make him crouch down.

I don’t have a link for this one. If you want to play it, you’ll need to disconnect your internet then try to use your Chrome browser.

Sell Me Something Weird or Confusing

Fancy a bit of retail therapy to take your mind off your story? This website features one great big pink button which will link you to some of the most random and bizarre products money can buy. Whether it’s a an inflatable unicorn horn for your cat, a nose aerobics game, or the ever-popular pants for your hands this website will give you hours minutes a minute or two’s worth of fun marvelling at the things people will spend their money on.

Click here to be disturbed and appalled by what people will spend their money on.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve any more suggestions for good time-wasting websites, I’m sure there’s many a bored or frustrated writer out there would love to hear about it, so why not post some of your favourites in the comments below? And don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what tickles your fancy.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Review: Doctor Who, ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’

SPOILER ALERT:

Anyone who has not seen the Doctor Who episode ‘The Woman Who Fell to Earth’ (reboot series 11, ep. 1), is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I don’t normally like to post about the same thing two weeks in a row and I do realise I’m a little late for the party (it can’t be helped, I only post on Sunday afternoons) but I don’t care. Jodie Whittaker’s first outing as the titular character in Doctor Who is just begging to be reviewed; and so, here I am, to add my voice to the chorus of reviews that have flooded the internet since last Sunday night.

Let me begin by saying I love Doctor Who. I always have, from Hartnell to Whittaker, but the last few series have been increasingly disappointing from a writing point-of-view, so this new series, with its new cast, new production team, new time slot and of course, the all new first ever female Doctor is a bit of a make-or-break series for me, as I suspect it is for many of us. I want Doctor Who to endure but I don’t want it to die a slow and painful death. Fortunately, if the first episode was anything to go by, all this newness is just what the Doctor ordered will be just the shot in the arm the shows needs to endure for another fifty years.

Let’s get the negatives out the way first. My only major criticism of this episode was the pacing. It felt rushed at points, constantly jumping from scene to scene at a disorienting pace before suddenly hitting the brakes in the last fifteen minutes or so for a really slow bit where we have a funeral scene and Ryan does his heartfelt Youtube thing. This made for an ending which felt a little drawn out, almost as if the story was over and the writers were just filling in time with a load of talk. Don’t misunderstand me though, these were good scenes and quite necessary to create a solid foundation upon which to build the series’ main characters. I just felt like the episode as a whole was paced in a very yin-yang fashion, with all the excitement and running happening at once in the first half and all the talking and reflecting being crammed into the second half. In an ideal world, fast and slow scenes should be blended together to create something that feels a bit more natural.

Now let’s talk characters. After Capaldi (whom I loved, just to be clear), the Thirteenth Doctor is a breath of fresh air. She’s got a likable, everywoman quality to her, despite retaining the genius for which the Doctor is known. I expect her to just ask me to pop the kettle on and we can all sit down and have a nice cuppa and a chat about how we’re going to save the world. And yet this in no way diminishes her role as a woman of decisive action nor does it water down the intellectual brilliance tempered by eccentricity that we’ve come to associate with the character. She balances all these qualities in a way which seems perfectly natural and instantly likeable.

As for the three companions, I feel like they all have lots of potential still to be realised. I’ll cut them some slack since it was only their first episode. I especially hope we see further development in Graham and Ryan’s relationship, since it was vaguely implied that Ryan struggles to accept him as his step-grandfather and that Graham perhaps harbours a little impatience towards Ryan on account of his dyspraxia– but this was lost in the dizzily fast paced adventure. Yasmin was somewhat less inspiring. Don’t get me wrong, she was likeable enough (give me Yasmin over Clara ‘I’m-So-Special’ Oswald any day of the week) but there was nothing much to her besides. The story would’ve probably worked just fine without her.

The bad guy (Tim Shaw! I just loved that…) kind of reminded me of the Klingons from Star Trek: Discovery, but with one major difference: I don’t like the Klingons from Star Trek: Discovery. I do like Tim Shaw. He’s everything a Doctor Who villain should be: scary, but not so scary you can’t poke fun at him; physically imposing but no match for the Doctor’s easy wit and razor sharp intelligence.

Now, as I’ve already pointed out, there’s a lot of stuff that’s new about this series; nowhere more so than in the decision to cast a female Doctor. Now I personally loved Whittaker’s Doctor, but more than that, I loved the careful approach this episode takes in presenting this all new Doctor to us. They don’t just have her popping out her TARDIS saying ‘I’m the Doctor!’ and expect us to accept her; no, they were very careful to make us believe in Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor through sheer characterisation, rather than familiar gimmicks. It’s difficult to put into words exactly how this was accomplished because it was done with such skill and subtlety. All I can say is that this episode shows us that Jodie Whittaker is the Doctor by what she does and by the sort of person she is, only using the name of the Doctor towards the very end by which point we already know and believe that that is who she is (heck, we’ve still not seen the TARDIS. Maybe tonight).

One more thing. I’ve said that there is a lot of stuff that’s new in this series, but there’s also quite a lot of it which feels very old. I mean, how about that theme music and those visuals during the closing credits? That took me right back to the Hartnell/Troughton/Pertwee era, as did the whole ‘Doctor-Without-a-TARDIS’ motif and the fact the Doctor has a group of companions, rather than an individual, invariably pretty young girl. That’s good. I’m all over that like a rash.

All in all, a really strong beginning to the new series. The last few series of Doctor Who have been disappointing and with so many changes in terms of cast, production crew and scheduling, this series was always going to be a gamble, regardless of the gender of the Doctor. But they’ve pulled it off. Bravo. I loved it.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what sonics your screwdriver.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Doctor Who Edition

Well, he’s she’s back! Doctor Who returns to our screens this very evening, and so, to celebrate, I decided it was time for Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Doctor Who Edition.

Of course, with over fifty years of material to work with in an approximate 1000 word limit, reviewing all of Doctor Who history is no mean feat. And so, today I’ll be reviewing all twelve incarnations of the Doctor character thus far, from Hartnell to Capaldi, rather than individual episodes or series (I thought about doing that but it was too hard!). As ever, these reviews only reflect my own personal opinions and impressions, exterminated, soniced and bigger-on-the-insided into just two or three sentences. So without further ado…

William Hartnell: The First Doctor

The First Doctor was something of an enigmatic character. He was probably an alien but this was barely mentioned apart from once or twice. In some ways he was lovably bumbling but with a grouchy and at times even immoral streak that made it difficult to know just how far he could be trusted. In general this gives him the makings of a great character, however he was let down by story-writing which often focused more heavily on the companions than on the Doctor himself.

My rating: 🌟🌟

Patrick Troughton: The Second Doctor

This era of Doctor Who introduces us to a Doctor who is somewhat more lively and spirited than his previous incarnation. Despite the removal of some of the darker aspects of the Doctor’s character, the Second Doctor remains a firm favourite of mine and also boasts one of the most important and enjoyable regeneration episodes in Doctor Who history.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Jon Pertwee: The Third Doctor

A large chunk of this era involves a surprising, if temporary, shift in the show’s premise. Suddenly the Doctor is restricted to earth and to one period of history. This Doctor is far more hands-on than the first two, often seen bombing around in his car and getting into fights. Furthermore, now that the Doctor has officially become an exile (an exile with a brand new archenemy in the form of The Master), the story finally focuses more heavily on the Doctor himself, rather than on the companions.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Tom Baker: The Fourth Doctor

This younger incarnation of the Doctor balanced gravitas and silliness in a way which has become almost synonymous with the character ever since. He is certainly the first of the truly gimmicky Doctors, with his floppy hat, ridiculously long scarf and his fondness for jelly-babies. Even so, I can’t help but love this Doctor. Probably my all time favourite next to Troughton.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Peter Davison: The Fifth Doctor

Ho-hum. Number Five was my least favourite of all the Doctors by far. He came across as a little too pathetic for my liking, with that squeaky little indignant voice of his. He also lacked depths. The guy had no demons, no issues, nothing. Also any dim-witted fool could see that Turlough wasn’t to be trusted; any dim-witted fool that is, except the Doctor!

My rating: 🌟

Colin Baker: The Sixth Doctor

Ah, the sixth Doctor: arrogant, ridiculous, bombastic and yet strangely compelling. I actually kind of liked this darker incarnation of the Doctor. He had issues. His personality bordered on the deranged and downright cruel at times. Few other incarnations of the Doctor have been so well-written. Shame about his companions.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Sylvester McCoy: The Seventh Doctor

This era got off to a shaky start. Watching Sylvester McCoy running around repeatedly mixing metaphors for four episodes in Time and the Rani drove me right up the wrong garden path. I warmed to him as the series wore on, however. Alas, he was a little too unremarkable to follow Colin Baker’s Doctor, but he was likeable enough. When it comes to characters, it was really Ace who made this era worth watching, not the Doctor.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Paul McGann: The Eighth Doctor

Poor Paul McGann. With only one appallingly written movie and an all-too-brief mini-episode (‘Night of the Doctor’), he didn’t get much of a chance to show us all just what a blooming wonderful Doctor he was. In fact, he’s pretty much the only thing that makes the movie worth watching, but he was especially good in ‘Night of the Doctor’. Do yourself a favour and watch it, it’s not even ten minutes long.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Christopher Eccleston: The Ninth Doctor

This broody and sarcastic incarnation of the Doctor didn’t last long, which is a real pity because he was fantastic (sorry). But really, he was. I mentioned earlier that I like my Doctors to have a few demons and well… how about just having returned from annihilating your own people and being barely able to acknowledge it to yourself? How’s THAT for demons? Actually, this whole series was packing good characters all round. Just a shame about the rather anticlimactic final episode.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

David Tennant: The Tenth Doctor
10thdoc.gif
Source: http://gph.is/Z0E2Kh

Whenever I think about the Tenth Doctor, the one word that springs to mind is: ‘intense’. That Doctor did an awful lot of struggling to contain his rage by hissing angrily through clenched teeth, whining about how tough his life is and intensely staring into the distance while the other characters pleaded with him to tell them he would save them. And yet there was something lovable about him. He was funny, moral and with a twinkle in his eye that made him instantly likeable. Slightly overrated in my opinion, but only slightly.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Matt Smith: The Eleventh Doctor

I loved Matt Smith as the Doctor; arguably the first of the rebooted series to capture the classic eccentricity of the Doctor. Finally he stops getting all kissy with his companions and develops a real group of friends. In fact, friendship is a real theme for this whole era of Doctor Who. Unfortunately, he was let down by writing which was often inventive enough but made no sense, even by Doctor Who standards.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Peter Capaldi: The Twelfth Doctor

An excellent portrayal of the Doctor who unfortunately suffered from writing which ranged from average to appalling. Finally, the Doctor has come face to face with the atrocity he committed in the Time War and travels through time and space desperately seeking vindication– and not getting it. In spite of this, humour and sentiment abounds. Also, although I’m slightly moving out of my realm of expertise here, can I just say: Peter Capaldi’s acting was simply the best of the lot.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what reverses your polarity.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

App Review: Storywriter

It’s the holy grail of writers app: a perfect palm-sized place where you can both plan and write your entire novel from beginning to end. All the fun of Scrivener on your phone. If you’re an Android user, you’re probably beginning to despair of the hope you’ll ever find an app like it, especially if you’re looking for one that won’t break the bank*.

Well, dear writer, here’s the good news: you’re not strange. I, too, despair of the hope of ever finding such an app. It was in this context that I downloaded Storywriter by Raindrop for Android but the question is: did it deliver? 

Anyone who has ever tried to write a novel with a mobile app knows that many apps boast functionality but are fiddly to use, especially on a phone. There’s often just too much stuff crammed in and it makes the app untidy and complicated. Not so with Storywriter. This app is so neat and tidy that you can jump straight in to using it without a moment’s fuss. That alone makes it worth paying attention to in my book. Even an idiot can open it and intuitively know exactly how to use it in about ten seconds flat. I simply haven’t got the words to describe how ridiculously intuitive this app is. You just make a new project by giving it a name and then boom! A nice, easy way to write chapters, storylines, character bios and general ideas all in one place. I can’t fault it for it’s layout or ease of use.

Each project is divided into four sections: Chapters, storylines, characters and ideas. These all work in exactly the same way. You add a new chapter or character by tapping the button at the bottom and you’re given a blank document to write on. There’s no meta-data or anything like that (for example, if you create a new character, you won’t be prompted to type in names, DOBs, genders, etc). In fact the only differences I’ve been able to find between the four different document types is that smart enter only seems to work on chapters. Apart from that, you could just as easily write your chapters in the character screen or write your characters in the ideas screen. They’re pretty much exactly the same in every way that matters.

So far, I’ve made much of the simplicity of this app. Of course, if we dig a little deeper we will discover that this app does boast a few additional features, such as night-mode; the ability to alter the font and line spacing; ‘smart enter’, which automatically provides you with inverted commas** for a line of dialogue and a similar feature which automatically closes any parentheses you might use (for example, if you type an open bracket ‘(‘, Storywriter will automatically provide the closed ‘)’ one).

Most of these functions are obviously cosmetic and can be toggled on or off from the app’s settings menu. Like most things in this app, the menu is clear and simple to use. I have only got one problem with it: you have to return to the home screen to access the menu. That means if you’re halfway through writing a chapter and decide you would really like to turn off smart enter or change the font size, you have to save your chapter, press ‘back’ to come out of your chapter, press ‘back’ again to come out of your list of chapters and then press ‘back’ a third time to come out of your story altogether. Only then can you access the menu. And then, once you’ve done whatever you wanted to do, you have to re-open your story, re-open the ‘chapters’ list and re-open the chapter you were working on. It’s needlessly time-consuming. 

There is an ‘upload’ function, which I’m guessing is for backing up your work(?) but it’s honestly not clear to me where my work has been uploaded to or why. You need to log in with your Google account to use it and then to sit through an advert so I don’t know how much it’s worth wasting time with this function but it exists and apparently works.

This app does have ads, though they sit unobtrusively down at the bottom of the screen for the most part. There are a few infrequent full-screen ads but you can skip these (unless you try to ‘upload’ a chapter; then you’ll be forced to sit through a full screen video-ad before it will let you upload anything). And of course, if you really can’t bear to look at a little advert at the bottom of your screen, you can always use this app offline and save your work to your device.

All in all, a decidedly okay app but with buckets of unrealised potential. As it stands, it’s pretty decent for a freebie but not quite the miracle I was hoping for. I hope the developers will continue to work on it because with just a few improvements here and there, this could be really a wonderful app.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

*The yWriter Android app looks alright but I ain’t spending £4.19 on app I can get for free on my PC.

**British English writers take note: smart enter automatically provides the double inverted-commas (“”) more commonly used in American English.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what peels your tatties.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

How To Write When Time Is Short

Dear writer, you know that writing takes a long time. There are some who claim to be able to knock out a novel in a couple of hours, and perhaps they can, but I’m pretty cynical that the average writer would be able to do that without cutting some major corners and coming away with a substandard novel as a result. Good writing takes time. That’s why it’s so important to write frequently and regularly.

‘Ah but you don’t understand!’ I hear you cry. I simply don’t have the time to write for hours on end, day after day!’

‘Really?’ Some writing-guru glibly cries back before I get a chance to answer. ‘Don’t you have the same twenty-four hour days; the same seven day weeks and the same fifty-two week years as Tolkien, Dickens, Twain and–‘

‘No, that’s not what I mean!’ I hear you cry back, somewhat irked by Mr. Writing-Guru’s superior attitude. ‘I mean, I’ve got so much other stuff that demands my attention! I’ve got a job, a spouse, a mortgage, a budgie, six kids and one more on the way! I can’t just renounce them for the sake of a few extra hours of writing time!’

‘Well then!’ Mr. Writing-Guru replies. ‘Maybe writing just isn’t for you if you care more about your family and–‘

But before Mr. Writing-Guru can finish this latest patronising utterance, you lunge across the table and begin attacking him with his own ceramic coffee flask while he tries to defend himself behind his trilby.

Leave him alone, friend. I understand your situation. There are some things (not many, but some) that simply matter more than writing; other things you simply have no choice but to prioritise, such as a day-job to pay the mortgage. That’s okay. All that matters is you make the best use of the time you do have for writing, no matter how little it is.

First, sit down with a planner (whether physical or mental). Start by working out those times you absolutely cannot write. For instance, I work a day-job from 9-5, Monday-Friday. This makes it absolutely impossible for me to write in those hours (though could you squeeze some juice out of your lunch break?). However, that does leave me evenings and weekends. Surely that’s plenty of time?

‘You don’t understand,’ I hear you cry, warily eyeing Mr. Writing-Guru to make sure he’s still unconscious. ‘I use that time to socialise with my family, to feed my baby, to play a little bit of that new Spider-Man PS4 game…’ 

Oh but I do understand. Some of these things are essential. Others are optional. Ask yourself honestly what things you can and should give up to make time for writing. You might still find that only leaves you a couple of hours every evening to write, but friend…  that’s all you need. You can easily knock out 500 words in an hour or two. I, myself (who am by no means the greatest of writers), wrote the first draft of this blog in just over an hour. Do a little bit of arithmetic with me (I know it’s hard) and you’ll soon see why the ‘little and often’ approach is so useful.

A bog-standard novel tends to be around about 80,000 words, give or take 10,000.

If, like me, you’ve only got evenings and all day Saturday to write, you might be tempted to think Saturday will be your Big Writing Day. Indeed, you certainly should take advantage of Saturday however:

If you write only 3,000* words one day a week, every week, you’ll have 156,000 words by the end of the year. Technically adequate, but I can’t recommend this approach for for these three reasons:

  • Your friends and family are more likely to want a piece of you during what they perceive as your ‘free-time’, even if you’ve not got any regular business on those days.
  • Writing only once a week can seriously bust up your rhythm, meaning you constantly have to get back into the flow every Saturday.
  • Large daily word count goals are hard to accomplish even without distractions. It is difficult to guarantee success.

However, if you allow yourself one hour to write only 500 words (half the length of this article) every evening, when the kids are tucked up in bed and your office is shut for the night, you’ll have 182,500 by the end of a year. That’s more words than you would’ve had writing in a single huge weekend burst and it’s a heck of a lot easier to accomplish. And let’s not forget, you can still take advantage of any weekends or holidays that do become available to you.

If you’re still struggling, however, here are a few more simple tips to make sure you make the best use of your precious minutes.

  • Disconnect your internet. No excuses. Every second you spend looking at Instagram, checking your e-mails or ‘researching’ your novel is a second you’re not spending writing.
  • Turn off your phone and put it somewhere you can’t reach it.
  • Make sure your family, friends or anyone else who depends on having a slice of your attention understands that you write between the hours of x and y every day, and that you cannot be disturbed for all but the most life-and-death reasons. No, not even for two minutes. They’ll probably be cool with that if they know you are available during your non-writing hours.
  • Stick to one writing project. You’ve no time to lose as it is, so don’t double or triple your workload with new projects.
  • Establish clear goals for each writing session. Aimless writing wastes time, so have a realistic goal in your mind for each particular session. E.g.: ‘Today I will write 500 words of my first draft’ or ‘today I will complete my chapter outline’. Keep your goals ambitious (after all, you want to accomplish as much as possible in the time available) but most importantly of all, keep them realistic.
  • If you have time, experiment with pre-writing techniques like free writing.
  • Write fast; edit slowly.

You can do this, dear writer. I believe in you.

*3,000 words is about the average output I tend to manage on a single Saturday session. It’s certainly possible to do more but it’s increasingly unlikely you’ll achieve it week after week, especially if you’ve got family and friends etc. clamouring for your attention.


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what organises your calendar.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Book Review: The Pillars of the Earth

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers in this post, anyone who has not read The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

This review reflects only my own personal opinions and impressions.

Well last week it was all about children’s books; this week I’m reviewing a book that is definitely not suitable for children. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is a hefty tome about the building of a cathedral in the fictional town of Kingsbridge in 12th century England. It’s full of lovable and deplorable characters, political intrigue, technical details about medieval construction and just a little bit more sex and sexual violence than was necessary.

One of my favourite things about this story was how well paced it was. Given that this is a story about building a cathedral and is set over a period of several decades, and also bearing in mind that thrillers are Ken Follett’s usual racket, there was a very real danger of this story either being an absolute drag or being inappropriately fast-paced. I needn’t have worried. The blend of fast scenes and slow scenes is beautiful and appropriate, making this lengthy novel a constant page-turner from start to finish.

Now let’s talk characters. I honestly can’t decide if the characters in this story are one of its best qualities or one of its worst. In some ways I liked them. They’re all quite distinctive with clearly defined personality traits and its also pretty clear that each character is driven by firmly established motives and goals. Very good indeed. If we know what drives a character, it’s easy to care about what happens to him, even if the subject matter is foreign or uninteresting to us. This makes The Pillars of the Earth a real page-turner when it could have just as easily been a bore.

When I first began to talk about the idea for Pillars, some people hated the idea. “Nobody cares about building a church in the Middle Ages,” they said. But readers will care about it if the characters care.

Ken Follett, Goodreads Notes and Highlights on The Pillars of the Earth

Having said that, there was also something a little bit tedious about some of the characters (with the major exception of Philip and, to a lesser extent, Jack). The female protagonists are strong and beautiful (oh and Aliena has huge breasts, we’re constantly reminded); the male protagonists are brave and noble and the antagonists are devious and brutal. William Hamleigh, the primary antagonist, is the worst for this. He’s devious, cowardly, violent, greedy and licentious with absolutely no redeeming qualities. But just in case we’re in any doubt that he’s the bad guy, he rapes way more people than is necessary for one story. Seriously, this guy does a lot of raping, pretty much whenever he’s not tormenting the poor or burning villages. The good guys in this story never rape of course, but they do have lots of consensual sex to the point of implausibility. While most of the sex scenes are not explicitly described (though a few are), some of the characters are portrayed as being at it on a several-times-a-day-every-day basis and still find time to build a cathedral, overcome one disaster after another and fight the bad guys. I dunno, maybe they’re just really good at organising their time, but between this and the manifold references to the size of Aliena’s breasts, it sometimes just felt a bit like the authors’ mind was wandering. That’s just my opinion though.

In many respects, this is a story with several different layers to it. There are several protagonists whose stories we follow, each overlapping and interacting with one another while yet remaining distinctive. Tom wants nothing more than to build a cathedral but cares for his family. Jack is a boy who lived in the forest, now growing into a man who is consumed with questions about his deceased father. His very much a coming-of-age type story. Aliena is the daughter of a disgraced earl who has sworn to help her brother reclaim the earldom, and finds herself constantly pulled in all directions by her sense of duty to others. Prior Philip is driven by his zealous faith in God and his sense of righteousness. He tries earnestly to do what is right on earth and to glorify God by the building of the cathedral and yet is in constant conflict with his own sense of pride and self-doubt. These are just a selection of the main players in this story, all of whose individual story-lines overlap and diverge to create an intricate tapestry of skilfully executed fiction. It really is a thing of beauty.

All in all, The Pillars of the Earth is a great story. It’s got plenty of excitement, plenty of sentiment and Aliena has big breasts all of the characters are driven by goals and motives that we really care about. The many threads that comprise the plot are magnificently woven together to form a novel which is well constructed and handles potentially dry subject matter in a way which is enjoyable and entertaining. Worth a look, even if it’s not your usual preferred genre. Just don’t read it to your kids.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟


Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what builds your church.

ATTENTION AUTHORS:

I’m hoping to do author interviews here on Penstricken over the coming year, especially with new fiction authors. If you’re interested in having your work featured on Penstricken, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.

You can check out our previous interviews here:
Sharleen Nelson, Author of The Time Tourists [2]

Super Snappy Speed Reviews: Children’s Books Edition

SPOILER ALERT

While every effort has been made to avoid spoilers, anyone who has not read Fish by Fiona Watt, Elmer by David McKee, A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson, The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle or When I Am Big by Penny Johnson is hereby advised that this post may contain a few unavoidable spoilers.

I might have mentioned once or twice before that I have a little daughter. She’s only a toddler, but she loves playing with books (not always reading from start to finish, but carefully examining them at any rate) and she loves it when we read to her (read to your kids, guys). As a result, we’ve amassed quite a collection of childrens’ books in her short lifetime.

‘And so,’ my wife suggested, ‘why not write a Super Snappy Speed Reviews post about books for children?’

‘Good idea!’ I thought. After all, I’ve already speed-reviewed books [2] [3], TV shows [2], filmscomputer gameswriters’ apps and even the Star Trek movies, so this time it’s going to be all about books for small children. I’ve picked 5 of my daughter’s favourites and reviewed them all in only a few short sentences.

As ever, these reviews reflect nothing but my own personal opinion. The books I have selected have nothing in common, save the fact that they are all fictional stories for young children. They are not books I particularly liked or disliked, nor are they sorted into any particular order. These reviews reflect nothing but my own impressions and opinions, shrank, squished and flattened into a few short sentences. So without further ado…

Fish by Fiona Watt

It’s difficult to summarise this story without plagiarising it, since the whole story is only a couple of sentences long. Suffice it to say it’s a perfectly simple little story about a fish looking for his friend and finding him without any real difficulty. The book itself is also soft, like a pillow, though my daughter has shown no interest in this aspect of it. She just hands it to me and says ‘Again!’ before waiting expectantly for me to read it again… and again… and again. Ideal for children aged one year and under.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Elmer by David McKee

If you like your childrens’ books to be fun but still carry a message about diversity, you can’t go wrong with Elmer. It’s a little dated (I remember it from when I was little) but I enjoyed it then and I still like it now. The story takes a fairly heavy subject and makes it reasonably accessible and enjoyable for slightly older children, owing to its length and relatively complex narrative style.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

A Squash and a Squeeze by Julia Donaldson

Another story with a lesson, this time about appreciating what you’ve got. The story is written in a simple rhyme with lots of repetition making it highly accessible and enjoyable for small children. Even as an adult, I can’t help but appreciate the humour in this story as the protagonist, following the advice of the slightly puckish wise man, tries to make more room in her house by filling it up with various farm animals, before her final glorious epiphany in the end. A great story to read to your toddler.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

My daughter, like every other toddler I’ve ever come across, loves this book. Like A Squash and a Squeeze, there is a repetitive pattern to most of the story which makes it highly accessible for a child of her age and a goodly dash of humour. It also provides her with a sly introduction to numbers and days of the week. She tends to lose interest at the part where the caterpillar makes a cocoon, and I suspect this is due to the way the narrative suddenly loses its sense of rhythm and repetition. Frankly, even I find the narrative drags a bit there, but apart from that, this book is a must-have for any toddlers bookshelf.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
When I Am Big by Penny Johnson

This is a sweet, if not terribly exciting, little story about a rabbit wistfully looking forward to all the fun things she’ll be able to do when she’s older. It is written with a simple ‘AABBCC’ rhyming system, though it perhaps lacks that repetitive quality which would make it even more accessible to a one year old. It’s a nice enough story although it doesn’t hold always manage to hold my daughter’s attention all the way through.

My rating: 🌟🌟🌟

Thanks for taking the time to read this post. Be sure to leave us a wee comment if you enjoyed it and don’t forget to ‘like’ this post and follow us so you never miss another post. You can also follow Penstricken on Twitter and like Penstricken on Facebook, if that’s what beams you up.

Until next time!

ARE YOU AN AUTHOR?

I’m looking for authors (especially, but not limited to, new and/or indie authors) whose work I can feature here on Penstricken over the coming year. It will simply take the form of a quick Q&A about yourself and your work via private message or e-mail and, of course, a link to where we can all get a copy of your work.

I’m open to interviewing authors of almost any kind of story, provided your work is complete, original and of course, fictional. I will not consider individual short stories/micro-fictions, however I am happy to feature published anthologies or entire blog-sites of micro-fiction, provided you are the sole author.

If you’re interested, or want to know more, be to sure to drop us an e-mail or message us on Facebook/Twitter.