Inspired by the London Marathon? Why running is like writing… (and vice versa)

Congratulations to all the London Marathon runners today! I was watching on television and itching to put my own trainers on. It feels like ages since the Edinburgh marathon and I admire everyone who’s put in all the effort and training.

All this running talk means I think it’s the right time to re-post one of the most popular blogs I’ve written, which was inspired by my Marathon training!

Why running is like writing… (and vice versa)
January 13th, 2012

As I stepped out of the front door of my apartment block this morning, the air was frosty but the sky was bright and clear. The perfect kind of morning to run the four miles in to work rather than cram myself onto a sardine-like train from the UK’s busiest train station. I’ve learned to love running now, but at the moment it’s classified as ‘training’ until May 27, 2012, when I complete the Edinburgh Marathon.

Me running in the Royal Parks 1/2 Marathon in 2009 – my first proper race

In fact, in a lot of ways training for a marathon is a lot like writing a novel. Here are my reasons why…

1. You need the right gear… but gear won’t do the work for you!
Yes, you need the right gear to run. Properly fitted trainers, clothes that wick away sweat, maybe a heart-rate monitor so you can judge the improvements in your fitness… they will all help to better your training. But you can get carried away with gear – Nike+ or a GPS running watch? Barefoot running shoes or comfortable, sturdy Asics? You can get carried away with writing gadgets too. Plain Microsoft Word or Scrivener? Fountain pen or ball-point? Laptop? iPad? Spiral notebook? To start running you really just need a pair of running shoes, some clothes you can sweat in, and the road. Just like all you really need to write is good old pen and paper. You can’t let the pursuit of perfect gear prevent you from starting.

2. There are no shortcuts
When training for a marathon, you gotta put in the miles. There’s just no getting around it. Yes, when I’m running to work I’m sometimes tempted to detour toward the bus stop I know will take me straight to the office. But I know that that’s not going to help me on marathon day. Same with writing a novel – you have to put the words down on paper, or else you’re never going to end up with a finished product.

3. Sometimes you feel you’re not getting anywhere
I’m now running anywhere between 20-30 miles/week but when it comes to getting fitter, sometimes I feel like I’m not getting anywhere. Some runs are just plain hard, and I don’t understand why my body will scream against a 4-mile run when it ran 8 miles the week before. Writing feels like that sometimes. There are times when I feel like my writing is not getting any better (it might even be getting worse!), and the finish line feels further away than it ever did before. The only solution to this, I find, is to switch it up. Instead of a run, I jump on the cross-trainer at the gym, or go to the climbing wall with a work friend. Instead of forcing myself to write another paragraph on Oathbreaker 2, I’ll do a freeform writing exercise, or update the blog, or read a book to get inspired.

4. You need to have the proper fuel
In order to run, you have to fuel your body properly. My pre-run breakfast consists of porridge and a banana – boring, but it works! And for any run longer than about 6 miles, I take a bottle of orange-flavour Lucozade Sport. For this month’s Lucky 13s 13th day post, all the 13ers (including moi) are discussing what they eat and drink to get them through their writing days.

5. There will be pain
I’ve actually been fairly lucky when it comes to running injuries and (touch wood) I’ve never experienced anything that has been completely debilitating. That doesn’t mean there hasn’t been pain, however! Pain in muscles I didn’t even know I had. Soreness that won’t disappear for days, blisters in between my toes, twinges in my knees and beside my shin bone. In writing, there is pain too. The pain of rejection – injuring the pride you didn’t even really know you had – the agony of not being able to solve a plot point in a storyline that you created, the reviews that cut to the bone… oh yes, and the most common of writing ailments: the dreaded papercut! Sometimes those sting really bad, man…

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I haven’t completed the marathon yet, but I have completed a novel and I can imagine those experiences will have some similarities too. Friends, family and complete strangers will marvel, and say that they could never do a thing like that… they couldn’t run a mile, or they couldn’t dream of putting down that many words. But what they don’t realize is that to achieve those goals you just have to put in the miles, put in the sweat, put in the tears.

Or at the very least, give it a go. And if it’s not a marathon or a whole novel yet, start with a 10K race or a short story.

For every writing or running journey, you gotta start somewhere.

Find me on @Wattpad and a #UKYA chat to come!

Are you on Wattpad?

I’ve been a huge fan of the site for a while now, ever since (with my editor hat on) I was privileged enough to publish the amazing Abigail Gibbs (The Dark Heroine & Autumn Rose), who developed her writing skills and got her big break from the site. Last year, as part of my The Oathbreaker’s Shadow Canadian tour, I had the opportunity to visit the uber-cool Wattpad offices in Toronto, and I’ve been wanting to work with them ever since.

Me and Amanda at Wattpad
Me and awesome Canadian YA author Amanda Sun at Wattpad

Well, now’s my chance! If you’re on Wattpad, follow me @amymccullochbooks and every Tuesday & Friday (starting with this Friday), I’ll be posting a sample of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow FREE to read on my profile.

As another kick-off for The Oathbreaker’s Shadow paperback launch, I’m also going to be hosting the #UKYA chat on Twitter this Friday, starting at 5.30pm! Follow me: @amymcculloch. Last week there was some great discussion with SF Said, and the week following will be the lovely Emma Pass! Please do come along for a great discussion on publishing, writing and reading in the UK YA world.

Pre-order The Oathbreaker’s Shadow (Knots 1/2) pb – out May 22nd (UK)

Pre-order The Shadow’s Curse (Knots 2/2) pb – out July 3rd 2014 (UK)

Wit, Skill and the Read

Have you seen? HarperVoyager (my former place of employ) have updated the covers for Robin Hobb’s amazing Farseer trilogy:

Photo from Dom Forbes, link: http://instagram.com/p/lPo9BhpJ1z/
Photo from Dom Forbes, link: http://instagram.com/p/lPo9BhpJ1z/

They look absolutely fantastic, thanks to beautiful new artwork from Jackie Morris and art direction by Dom Forbes. And this seems like the perfect time to talk about these books, especially as this post has been sitting, half-written, in my draft folder on the blog for almost three months.

Thanks to a cracking Kindle deal, I had downloaded the first three Robin Hobb books (Assassin’s Apprentice, Royal Assassin and Assassin’s Quest) onto my iPad to read over Christmas. I first read this series back in high school, when I was devouring as much epic fantasy as was humanly possible. In a way, it has diminished my memory of individual series. So, having worked on (and loved) some of Robin’s more recent books (The Rain Wild Chronicles, to be specific), and knowing that a return to Fitz & the Fool is coming next year, I decided to revisit this wonderful trilogy…

…what I did not expect, however, was to lose myself so utterly and completely to those words, all over again.

This is not a review. These books are classics of the genre now, pinnacles by which other works are judged – rightly so, and to ‘review’ them feels almost pointless. But I feel compelled to write about how a re-read of these works made me feel, and maybe just to marvel at Robin Hobb’s skill, the like of which I haven’t read in a long time.

Anyone familiar with these books will know of the two seemingly opposing forces of magic Hobb creates: the Skill and the Wit. The Skill is the magic of the royal family, enabling certain people to communicate and/or influence people across the miles. As it is mostly used by the royals, those who possessed The Skill are often respected and, somewhat, revered. The Wit, by contrast, connects certain people to animals – and is feared and misunderstood. Hobb’s protagonist, Fitz, is blessed/cursed with both.

From the moment I stepped back into Hobb’s world and into Fitz’s head, I was lost. Those who know the story know that while this is an incredibly immersive tale,  it’s not always a happy one. Far from it. As the reader travels with Fitz, every blow to him feels like a blow to the reader, and by the end of it I felt beaten black and blue with the bruises. Occasionally it moves with agonising slowness; this isn’t a story of non-stop action and adventure. Instead, it shows the real, human, personal, hard-hitting, sometimes magical, sometimes incredibly depressing impact of living in her world. Her magic doesn’t only give power – it takes. And, just like in real life, those dark lows Robin isn’t afraid to depict on the page make the moments of height and wonder even better. And there are plenty of those too.

Yet my connection to these books went beyond the words on the pages. In certain moments, I felt Fitz’s dark moods possess my own. How does she do it? I’ve decided it is because Robin Hobb possesses her own form of magic, that I’m going to call The Read. Somehow, she is able to reach out through the pages and imprint her characters deep in my mind. During that time, whenever I broke for air – only for necessities like eating, “being sociable at Christmas”, sleeping (occasionally), etc. – I found myself constantly tethered back to the story, with Fitz a constant presence in the back of my mind. I had to find out what happened to him. Real life struggled to compete with book life. I was right there alongside Fitz, experiencing everything he did, and no one could understand why my emotions seemed all over the place. I just needed to press the book into their hands for them to understand – that is, once I’d finished (no one could tear it from my protective clutches before that time).

Robin isn’t the only author blessed with the Read, but she’s one of its master practioners. Rarely do I find characters taking up residence in my mind in quite the same way as Fitz. My anticipation for the new book is incredibly high now, and I know it’s going to take the publishing world by storm.

And why wouldn’t it? After all, Robin has the Read and she isn’t afraid to wield it.

The publishing ebb and flow… & a paperback cover!

Being a published author is funny business. Sometimes it feels like there are some big lulls where not much is going on book-wise (except the writing bit of it… that bit goes on all the time!), and then things step up a few gears and it’s go go go all the time! March has definitely revved into high gear, so here’s to keeping that momentum going right the way through paperback publication of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow (May 22, 2014) and the brand new release of The Shadow’s Curse (3 July, 2014 which you can pre-order now, hint hint)! 

Those who follow me on Twitter (hello! I’m over at @amymcculloch) or on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/amymccullochbooks/) will know that there’ve been some pretty exciting developments recently. One of the best was receiving this brilliant endorsement from Jonathan Stroud, author of The Bartimaeus Sequence and Lockwood & Co.:

“Exotic lands, cool magic and high adventure – The Oathbreaker’s Shadow has it all. Set in a stunningly realized world where broken promises literally come to life, it’s the most compelling new fantasy I’ve read in years.” – Jonathan Stroud

I‘m so blown away by his kind words, to say the least.

Next came the news that I’ve been nominated for the Canadian Library Association‘s YA Book Award! I’m on the list with the amazing Governor General Award-winning Teresa Toten, so it’s great company. I did my volunteering hours in high school at the Sunnyside branch of the Ottawa Public Library system, and I’m so appreciative of all the work librarians do to keep people reading. 

And finally… I have the final version of The Oathbreaker’s Shadow UK paperback! 

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I love the new border – I hope it will really jump off the shelves! 

Gong Hei Fat Choi! and my first recipe

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The McCullochs take Beijing

Happy Chinese New Year everyone! Happy Year of the Horse (my dad’s year) and what a very special one it will be indeed.

It’s been almost four years since my trip to China with my family. It still remains one of the best trips I’ve ever done – not least because I was able to visit Shanghai (where my grandparents were from). What an amazing city – I’d love to go back there one day.

Shanghai sunset
Shanghai sunset

In honour of Chinese New Year, I made spring rolls and steamed some char sui pork buns (pork buns not from scratch, mind!). I thought I’d share the spring roll recipe for anyone wanting to make their own… it’s very easy and I thoroughly recommend giving it a go yourself! That way you can stuff them with as much delicious filling as you want (clearly the way forward). This is my first stab at a recipe posting, so any comments/tips would be greatly appreciated. My food photography also greatly needs work – probably need to move on from the iPhone – but I can promise that the finished product gets a big thumbs up :)

Homemade spring rolls and not-so-homemade char sui boa for Chinese New Year!
Homemade spring rolls and not-so-homemade char sui boa for Chinese New Year!

Recipe after the jump…

Continue reading

The Oathbreaker’s Shadow… in Publisher’s Marketplace!

So I announced this news on Twitter at the end of last year, but not to the blog yet! But the big news that The Oathbreaker’s Shadow is finally coming to America is finally out on Publisher’s Marketplace!

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‘Amy McCulloch’s THE OATHBREAKER’S SHADOW, in which a fifteen-year-old lives in a world where you tie a knot for every promise that you make; break that promise and you are scarred for life, and cast out into the desert; the boy has worn a simple knot around his wrist for as long as he can remember, and when it bursts into flame one day he has two options: run, or be killed, and THE SHADOW’S CURSE, to Brian Farrey-Latz at Flux, for publication in Winter 2015, by Juliet Mushens at The Agency Group (NA).’

I’m so excited to work with Flux – they’re great publishers and so in tune with the YA market. I can’t wait to see what they do with The Oathbreaker’s Shadow and The Shadow’s Curse in Winter 2015 – it feels like such a long way but I know it’s going to come around quicker than I know. Debuting all over again, this time in the USA! Woohoo!

2013 in 13 pictures

2013 has been a bumper year, without a doubt. Despite all the words I’ve written this year (and there have been many!) I can’t seem to find a way to summarize the year with them… and so, here’s my 2013, in 13 pictures.
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This moment. The first time holding the hardcover of my first published book. That, I will never forget. Finding out at the very end of this year that I will be bringing the book to the US with Flux is just the perfect round-off.

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Travelling to beautiful Sharm el Sheikh for much needed birthday fun and relaxation!

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This was the year I met so many  of my literary heroes, including Philip Pullman, Robin Hobb, Patrick Rothfuss, Tad Williams and Raymond Feist.

This is what 400 students look like!
This is what 400 students look like!

In 2013, I did my first proper book-related event, for the Hay Scribblers in front of 400 students at Cardiff University. That kicked off the first of many – including the Random House UK bloggers brunch, a Random House Canada blogger meet-up, speaking in front of my alma mater Immaculata and reading at WFC.

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It was the year of weddings, which were all so different – and yet all filled with so much love. Especially special was getting to be maid of honour to my gorgeous best friend Sarah (above) and bridesmaid to the stunning Natasha – it was an honour. This also meant that I both attended and planned my first ever hen parties! Now those were a blast.

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I visited New York City on business but still found time to ‘say yes to the dress’.

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In June, I came home to Canada, not just to launch the book but also to visit some of my Canadian loves. Watching my main man growing up from afar has been a pleasure, but none pleasure so great as being able to give him (and his parents) a cuddle.

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I left HarperVoyager – what an incredible experience working there has been! I’m going to miss all my colleagues and friends and authors there so much, but I’m so excited for my new challenge.

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In August, I finished the first draft of The Shadow’s Curse and sent it off to be edited! Bringing the sequel to readers in 2014 is something I just cannot wait for.

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The best place I visited in 2013 has to be Myanmar – one of the most beautiful places on this earth – and sharing that experience with the greatest of friends. Can’t wait to be Tania’s maid of honour next year!

An Oathbreaker-filled window!
An Oathbreaker-filled window!

I launched The Oathbreaker’s Shadow in the UK and Canada. Yeah, that was pretty big. I cannot thank everyone who came out to both the launch parties enough – you made this entire experience more wonderful than I could have ever imagined. Since the launch, it’s been amazing and terrifying to see the reaction to the book – some reactions so brilliant they’ve blown me away, some so vitriolic they’ve brought me to tears – but all experiences (both good and bad) have made me love this process more.

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The saddest event of my year… saying goodbye to my wonderful and talented sister Sophie as she moved across the world to Sydney, Australia. Thank you for sharing some HP magic with me before you left!

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On 13 September 2013, I became engaged to the love of my life! Wedding planning has rather dominated the latter quarter of the year and I can’t wait for the best day of my life next year. It’s going to have to be pretty great to beat all these moments, and yet somehow I have no doubt it will succeed.

Happy New Year everyone… and may 2014 be full of love, happiness and success.

Some say Ngwe Saung… I say paradise

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I’m writing this from a swanky airport lounge in Doha; somehow Tania’s misadventures at the beginning of the holiday turning into an unexpected boon as we wile away 6 hours in relative comfort (or at least, with free food and unlimited Nespresso!) It’s a welcome place to reflect on what’s been a great break, and one that’s come to an end far too quickly. Don’t they always, though?

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Our last few nights in Burma were spent in Ngwe Saung, a sleepy but beautiful beachside resort for wealthy Yangonites (and the site of the sailing event at the much-advertised SEA games later this month). We arrived to the most perfect sunset yet, and raced to the sea to take photos before our bags had even been unloaded from the car. There are some moments you just can’t miss.

We had chosen Ngwe Saung after some last minute trouble near Ngapali Beach put us off, but it is a laborious 6 hour drive from Yangon. Still, the sea was blissfully warm, the seafood fresh and delicious, and we wished we had more than just two nights.

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Myanmar, Burma, has been a dream. It’s a world away still from Western life – no McDonalds or Starbucks, no sign of Western celebrity culture (except for one young girl in Bagan who was singing Justin Bieber – there is no escape!), men eschewing trousers for longyis, women painting their faces in pale patterns of thanaka and – probably most striking of all – everywhere pockets of monks going about their daily business… Some collecting alms, yes, but some playing on their iPads, straddling motorbikes through town or sitting in teashops. It’s hard to think of another place in the world where men and women of faith are so ubiquitous – except for at the Vatican, I’ve rarely seen a Catholic priest or nun mingling casually with the public.

Yet unlike in other places of extreme culture shock (in Dehli or Nairobi), I never felt uncomfortable in Burma, and rarely hassled. As always, making an effort to fit in with local customs helped, but the people were so friendly despite any fumbles we might have made along the way.

If I had basic tips to offer for travel in Burma, it’s:

1) Bring toilet paper and hand sanitiser with you everywhere, but if there’s a basket for the paper, use it!

2) Try local style of dress (longyis for men and women) at least once – they’re lightweight and comfortable and it’s much easier to chat with locals that way!

3) Follow all the trusted advice, but know that Burma is a country that is rapidly changing – they exchanged a rumpled and folded up US note of Lofty’s without question, ATMs were everywhere and basically all the Lonely Planet’s advice was out of date… But still worth bringing for the history.

4) Try to go with at least some idea of the context of the country’s history and people. The events are so recent – in the last 20 years and still ongoing, especially if you listen to the Moustache Brothers – and the scars are fresh just beneath the surface.

5) Don’t be put off by said aforementioned events – go! And independent travel is possible and even easy in most places.

Normal life and the run up to Christmas awaits… But what a journey it’s been. Goodbye Burma! I wonder what changes will have been wrought, next time I see you…

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Inle Lake, stilts and cool water

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Drifting across the inky black water in an oversized canoe, it’s all too easy to feel the real world is oh so far away. Inle Lake in Shan province is a world of its own, a community built on stilts and floating gardens, where kids get picked up from school in long paddle boats and traders sell their wares while simultaneously bailing water from their canoe.

We’ve got a stunning view of life on Inle lake from the Golden Island cottages, a slice of luxury on this otherwise budget trip. The best moments come from just observing the people – once out on a boat ourselves, I found Inle lost some of its charms.

As one of the most visited spots in Myanmar (and probably on every tourists’ itinerary!), Inle is something of a floating shopping mall, and our boat driver took us from lotus silk shop to cigar shop to boat-making shop to umbrella making shop to basket-weaving shop… You get the picture. Some of it is very interesting, but it gets less so when you realize that the same (lovely) silver knot bracelets they’re selling as ‘local’ are the same you bought to promote your book with. Hmm. Also, we’d done most of our souvenir shopping in Yangon, which is still the place to get the best quality and prices, it seems.

Still, once I’d firmly conveyed the words ‘no thank you’, there were many delights to be found. The village of Inthein was gorgeous, with its ancient ruined stupas and over 1000 new ones. The Jumping Cat monastery (can’t quite recall the Burmese name!) was also very cool, and different to anything else we’ve seen.

We stopped at a market (not the right day for the floating market, unfortunately) and while we weren’t tempted by any of the goods, we WERE tempted by the hot fresh doughnuts being cooked up by the entrance. At only 7p a pop, they were an awesome mid-morning snack! Plus, there was delicious Shan noodle soup, simple and comforting.

Retreating from the balcony of our little cottage-on-stilts to avoid the mosquitos, the sky opened out to a blanket of thousands of stars. Out here, there’s very little electricity or light pollution to mar the sky, and for that sight, it might be worth visiting all the lotus silk shops in the world.

(Pictures to come – Inle internet too slow!)

Temples, temples and more temples… Bagan, Myanmar

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The Road to Mandalay isn’t a road at all… It’s the Ayeyarwaddy river. (Line stolen from a Myanmar infomercial we watched on repeat!) In total, we spent 9.5 hours on the Ayeyarwaddy, travelling from Mandalay to Bagan. We sailed on the Malikha 2, which was actually quite relaxing, and I managed to fit in all my required reading for the holiday.

Bagan is probably the most anticipated part of this trip for me, the most photogenic collection of temples anywhere in the world. More than 2,000 temples dot the plain, which is lush and green after the summer rains. We stopped off for sunset photographs straight away on a lonely stupa (see previous blog photos!), avoiding the overcrowded Shwesandaw Paya. What a magical way to start!

We lucked out with an English-speaking taxi driver, so we wasted no time signing him up for a day trip. We picked Mt Popa, known as the ‘Mt Olympus of Burma’, and once I heard it was he home of ancient Burmese alchemists, I couldn’t resist! About an hour’s drive from Bagan, Mt Popa springs up out of the ground, an extinct volcano topped by a glittering gold pagoda and said to be the spiritual home of the ‘nats’, or Buddhist spirits. The volcano itself is also overrun by macaques – the pesky monkeys – some of which tried to steal Lofty’s lychee juice in quite a violent manner! A local fended the monkey off with a well placed slingshot.

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Our taxi driver then gave us a tour of some of the major Bagan highlights, including the stunning Ananda Pagoda. He, of course, found us another amazing abandoned pagoda for sunset – you just can’t beat it.

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As if sunsets weren’t enough, we got up this morning for sunrise! Adam and Tania sprung for the hot air balloon, while Lofty and I climbed the aforementioned Shwesandaw pagoda, which was still extremely busy, even at 5am! Still, it’s popular for a reason… The view was absolutely amazing.

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For the rest of the day, we rented bicycles and cycled the temples ourselves. Luckily, it wasn’t too hot, although the bikes were far from in the best nick. We had to stop for repairs, but luckily the locals are used to rescuing flat-tire ridden tourists. It was amazing just being able to cycle around at our own pace, finding hidden temples away from hawkers and other tourists. Some of it felt very Indiana Jones!

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The subject of food is never far from my mind, and so far, we’re still not disappointed. The vegetarian food in particular has been amazing, and we indulged in amazing guacamole and poppadoms at Be Kind to Animals the Moon restaurant in Old Bagan.