Tuesday, 27 November 2012

My Top Writing Apps and Tools

There are a lot of 'Best Apps' posts out there, and a lot of those posts are devoted to the best apps and digital tools for writers, specifically, but I thought I'd have a go at making one of my own anyway. Partly because a few of my best-loved apps never seem to feature on any of these other lists, partly because I get a silly giddy feeling when I download a cool new writing/bookish app and I want to share, share, share!

I won't make an exhaustive list here, because I'll just run on forever, but here are some of my favourite apps and tools for writing and/or bookish people.

1. iA Writer

App. I love, love, love this app. I wrote virtually the entire first draft of my most recent synopsis using this. This seems to be Apple/iOS only. Its beauty is in its simplicity. There's no messing about with fonts or settings or formatting. There are no options. You open it and you write. That's it. For someone as obsessive-compulsive about fonts and how things look as I am, it's remarkably restful to be forced to just get on with it.

2. Scrivener

Tool. There is, alas, no iOS or Android version of this yet. 

I tried this out for the first time only recently. And promptly wondered how I'd ever done without it. You can use this to write, but I use it to outline. Much as I love notebooks and pens, I'm also a sucker for Post Its, corkboards, pinning things to corkboards, and visual representations of my notes, and Scrivener gives me all those things (minus the tactile pleasure, of course, but honestly I hardly miss it!). I can make character sketches, create little corkboard notes for places and chapters, move things around and have my actual content move around too, and probably a whole host of other things that I haven't quite gotten to grips with yet! It's amazing. 

Note: you do have to pay for it, but you can try it out for free for 30 days and, if you don't like it, can export all your content before the trial expires.

3. Dropbox

App and tool. This is like having a suitcase hovering above you, weightless, unnoticeable and unobtrusive, but it's there when you need it and you can dip into anywhere. It's a handy-dandy way to store and back up all your important files and, most importantly, to be able to open them on any other device on which you've downloaded and installed the Dropbox app. You have an account, you can access it from virtually any computer as long as you're connected to the internet, and all the content stored in your account syncs across all your computers, phones, iPads, iBrains (I'm pretty sure we'll have those instead of real brains one day...)

4. Evernote

App and tool. It took me a while to get Evernote, mostly because I had a bunch of other apps and notepads that did separate, individual things like allow me to make voice notes, checklists, take photos and label them, etc. Evernote kind of makes those other apps redundant. It does it all. Record ideas like a voice memo, take photos, tag locations, make checklists, write notes, file everything in themed digital notebooks - it's all there. And, like Dropbox, you can use and sync your content across all kinds of platforms and devices. 

5. ColorNote
App. I don't use this anymore, because there doesn't seem to be an iOS version of this (at least not last I checked), but I loved this app when I had an Android phone. It's a little like Scrivener and, while it doesn't have most of the tool's cool features, you can use this app on your phone. If you love sticky notes, as I do, you'll love this. It arranges all your notes via color-coded Post Its. You can create notes with plain writing or have checklists. And - my favourite bit of all - you can add one of your notes or lists to your phone's home screen (I used to do this with my To Do list) and it looks just like a little sticky note stuck to a surface!

Do you use or love any of these tools? Do you have any favourites to share? Tell me about them!

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Me, Elswhere. And Cats...

Life and writing have once again got on top of me, so just a quick one today. I'm very excited to be part of Michelle Sedeño's blog feature celebrating debut authors of 2012 (that's me! Yes! I'm one of them!). Her interview with me is up here, so go check it and the other author interviews out - we're giving stuff away!

(Side note: I'm alone at home right now. At least, I think I am. But I'm hearing mysterious noises. Creaks. And scrapes. It's most peculiar. If I were imaginative I'd say a half-destroyed zombie was dragging itself across the floorboards in the hallway...

...lucky I don't have an imagination, eh?)

And books! On the one hand I feel like I have tons of books in my reading queue. On the other I feel like there's nothing I feel like reading right now. Anyone have any great recommendations to share?

(PS. So, the noises. Not a zombie. A cat got in. I rescued it and sent it home.)

(PPS. OH MY GOD. Speaking of cats! Have you seen this live stream of a family of kittens? GO! GO SEE!)

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Five Random Things for November

1. Is anyone else watching The Mentalist this season? And is anyone else growing extremely weary of the fact that in four and something seasons they still haven't got hold of Red flippin' John? Just get rid of the loony, please. There's only so many melodramatic twists and dead daughters and we-killed-him-whoops-it-wasn't-him-oh-noes moments I can put myself through.

And I'm still angry about the fact that the show does not do red herrings well. A good red herring tricks you and when you realize you were wrong, you're like oh, I see. On The Mentalist, a red herring is sly, and slips in, and makes you think aha and when you find out what's really going, it leaves you with no explanation whatsoever. (Yeah. I still want to know why, two seasons ago, Bertram was quoting the same William Blake poem Red John did - and why that potentially OMG moment turned into nothing.)

(If you know nothing about The Mentalist, none of the above will make any sense to you. It's okay. A lot of it makes no sense to me, either, and I've watched pretty much every episode.)

2. On the bus the other day, I overheard this

BOY: You know how girls wear knickers, right?
GIRL: What, you don't wear underwear?
BOY: Yeah, but yours are tight-fitting. You know? So do you think they're supposed to be, like, a bra for your bum?

3. I saw Skyfall at the cinema last night. So, so good. (And just as good was getting a babysitter and getting out of the house, just my husband and me, without the baby for a while! We really don't do that often enough...)

4. The weather is ***t. Really. And much as I get the dismals on a dreary day, in some ways it sometimes feels worse when there's a bright day. It's like you look out of the window and it's all sunny and bright and shiny, and you think hooray, the sun's out and it looks so gloriously warm and I can almost feel it on my skin, and then you go out in a T-shirt, and you practically die on the spot. Because it's effing freezing.

Yeah. The sun lies.

5. And speaking of good red herrings, I really do love Agatha Christie.

Anyone else seen Skyfall recently? Are there other frustrated used-to-be-Mentalist fans out there?

And most importantly of all, do you think underwear is just a bra for your bum?

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Where I Live

It occurred to me a couple of weeks ago that I moved here two and a half years ago and I still haven't written a post about where I live! So here's that post.

I live in Norwich (which is pronounced Norritch and is in the county of Norfolk, for those of you who don't know the UK). It's tucked away into the eastern bumpy part of a map of the England. It's a city, which means almost everything you'd want or need is right here, but it's also a small city, which means it never feels like I'm about to be smothered by crowds or crushed underfoot on public transport. It's old, which means plenty of lovely cobbled alleys, medieval streets, and ancient bridges, and it's only a forty-minute drive to the sea in three different directions. 

Sometimes it does feel like I'm far away from a lot of things (for instance there are only a couple of theatres and it's not often I want to go see whatever is on; and it's two hours on the train any time I want to visit my UK-based agent or editor in London), and that not much happens here, but most of the time I love being here!

And the thing I love best about Norwich is that it's beautiful. Plenty of parks and rivers tiny hills and woods in the city, and gorgeous countryside just outside it.

Our house kind of overlooks this. Envy me.

The city is also due to become England's first UNESCO City of Literature, is home to the University of East Anglia and the reason I mention this is because the university can boast some impressive (literary!) alumni. Tracy Chevalier (Girl with a Pearl Earring), Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go) and Ian McEwan (Atonement) have all been and studied here, which I think is pretty cool and totally justifies me hoping that I'll absorb some bookish talent from the air. (Seriously. I moved here out of convenience. And turns out the city is literary! Freaky, right?) 

(Actors Matt Smith (Doctor Who), John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones, The Lord of the Rings) and Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean, Coupling) also went to UEA, and I love them, so WIN!)

So there you go. This is where I live. And before I leave you, here's one of the best places in the city.

That's the Forum. It has a lovely little cafe, BBC East, a Pizza Express... and my favourite library.

(Note: I was about to post this when my husband, who loves football, somewhat irately reminded me that just because I'm not into sports does not mean they don't exist. Sorry, Steve (and other football fans!). Norwich is also home to Norwich City, a Premier League football club. Which I knew. Obviously. I just... kind of forgot to mention it.)

What do you love most about where you live?

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Go Look at: the United States of YA

Okay, I'm officially terrible. One week into my new schedule and I'm already late! I'm sorry!

To anyone who may be struggling with Sandy, I hope you're all okay.

Today I want to show you this incredibly awesome map made by and posted over at their blog. If you read any YA at all (or write it!) you'll really love this one. It's a map of the US in books! I'm reposting the picture below (and yes, I do know it's virtually indecipherable but consider it a teaser. I couldn't get it any bigger without making it too big for Blogger!), but the original is over at so do pop over and take a proper look - and if you like it, show them your love.

They're also putting together a Planet YA map (and right now EpicGirl's got The Lost Girl earmarked for India, yay!) so head over if you have any suggestions for young adult fiction in any country!

What cool things have you discovered this week?