"In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at fi...

"In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another."

You might not have heard of Stoner. I hadn't, about two years ago. But when you do hear of it (one day!), you suddenly see it everywhere. Everyone has read it and loved it. They're all posting it on Instagram and putting it in their top ten lists. They've rated it 5 stars on Goodreads. It has passed you by all these years, and you never even knew about it.

The publishers are aware of this phenomenon, too. There's a quote on the front of my copy that calls it "The greatest novel you've never read."

So, opening it up and knowing all this, I was sceptical. It can't be that good, can it? I mean, the first chapter is just like any other well-written opening. As is the second. When am I supposed to feel this magic? When does this book force itself into my list of Best Books Ever?

I don't know the answer to that, really. I guess it's at some point in the middle. Once you're familiar with the characters and the little world that they inhabit, and you're emotionally invested in their lives. But it does happen eventually. I did fall in love with this book.

William Stoner is a normal boy from a family of farmers, who gets an opportunity to go to the University of Missouri to do a degree in Agriculture, which he takes. While he's there, he makes lifelong friends and discovers that he has a passion for literature, so he switches courses and tells his parents he'll never be coming home to the farm, because his whole life will be spent in education. He becomes a doctor, and begins to teach.

From there, he lives a pretty straightforward life. He falls in love, gets married, has a child, falls in love again, quarrels with friends, gets stressed out at work, et cetera. No great catastrophe happens, there isn't some complex twist, it's just a big fat chunk of a fictional life.

But it's never boring. Though the story told is of a fairly ordinary life, there is nothing ordinary about the writing. Williams paints a picture so real that you feel like Stoner could be a friend or a teacher you've known in your own life. You feel what he feels: indignation when he's being treated badly, happiness when he's with his daughter, anger when he is the victim of injustice.

And this feeling all comes from incredible subtlety. What makes the writing so good is that it never has to resort to exaggeration or hyperbole to make a point, and it never, ever tells you when it can show you instead. I've been thinking a bit about this recently, and the simplest way I can think of it is that if you're trying to tell a story in which, for example, something is unfair, as soon as you use the word "unfair" in that story, you've lost. To really succeed as a writer, you have to let the reader think of that word themselves, after you've given them all the evidence they need to come to their own conclusion. That's what is meant by show, don't tell, and that's what Williams did here, flawlessly. You feel it all so acutely because he led you there slowly, without ever letting you know he had your hand in his.

It's a story about growing up. Then it's a story about loving education. Then it's about marrying the wrong person, and then it's about overcoming adversity, and then it's a love story. It is all of these things and none of them, or it's whatever you make of it. It's beautiful and complex and I absolutely love it.

But wait, I'm not done yet. I haven't told you a pointless story about my life. So here goes.

Only one book has made me cry. It was Touching From A Distance, the biography of Ian Curtis written by his widow, Deborah. I was about 19, and cultivating a depression that I thought was a very romantic symptom of my artistic brilliance and which would make me interesting and attractive, just like Curtis's depression was, and did. But really, a lot like Curtis's issues, all that my own did was make me act like an arsehole to a woman who didn't deserve it. Anyway, thinking I was a brilliant but doomed rock star, I reached the bit where Curtis dies, and sobbed on the number 13 bus all the way to uni. I grew out of that phase, my emotions levelled out, and I haven't shed a tear over a paperback since.

But Stoner… Stoner nearly made me cry. It was so close. As close as a book can come, these days.

And that's what great books do. Make you feel things, right in your guts and your pants and your tear ducts.


The second post in the Writing IRL series. My name is Aaron, and I'm a recovering Windows Phone fanboy. There, I said it. ...

The second post in the Writing IRL series.

My name is Aaron, and I'm a recovering Windows Phone fanboy.

There, I said it.

And now that I've seen the light and jumped from that sinking ship, I've bought an iPhone 6S Plus (not at full price, obviously). The first thing I wanted to do with all that screen space, of course, was use it to write, just like all those hipsters claim they already do. But there are like, a million apps on the App Store that claim to free your creativity, and many of them free too. So which of those free apps are any good?

Well, if you're in a similar situation, or you've read my first Writing IRL post and want to start writing on your phone too, then I've got your back. I've downloaded a handful of the biggest free writing apps, and have been using them in real life to write real stories and articles, all for the sake of letting you know if they're any good. Many of them are available on Android too, so even if your allegiances lie elsewhere, you'll still be covered. Enjoy.

Simple in its interface and with built-in Dropbox support, PlainText provides a clean page on which you can simply write, with no frills or distractions. Just get the job done. I like that - half the time I spend creating a new document in Word is aligning the margins and indents just how I like, and setting the font and line spacing. But that's all just time wasted, shameless procrastination, when what I'm supposed to be doing there is writing.

One thing I love about it is that it gives you some extra keyboard buttons to move the cursor left and right in the text, and also something that iOS is sorely missing: a dedicated comma button (why on earth is it not to the left of the space bar? Apple always miss the finer details). It also syncs with iCloud. I've been using this to start a series you might see soon on destroyedordamaged, and I'm going to keep on using it.

The app comes with ads, but you can remove those for a fee if they really bother you. I don’t even notice them. My only complaint is that the app opens onto a strange "No Document Selected" page, as if you were supposed to have opened a document before you'd opened the app. It should just open onto a Recently Opened page or something. But it doesn't take long to get over that.

This is a nicely made app which claims to put a writing studio in your pocket, but really just lets you sort your work into Novels and Chapters and all sorts of stuff like that, with a pretty interface and nice formatting. Unfortunately, while it's colourful and fancy, the free version is actually just a glorified note-taking app, allowing you to do nothing more than create text files that look a bit nicer than those made in something like PlainText.

The rest of the features, which I suppose must take it beyond that point, seem to be available only once you start paying a monthly subscription to use the app. Yes, monthly! No thanks.

They say this subscription joins you to a community of 300,000 writers, and you can get all sorts of benefits from joining. I'm just not sure what they are, so I uninstalled the app instead.

A nice novelty app to give you that feeling of writing on an old-fashioned typewriter, sound effects and all. I've heard that typing out stories on a typewriter is good practice for writers, that the difficulty of deleting what you've written will lead to better first drafts; so the fact that you can set it to not allow deletion might work that way here too. Plus, it's made by Tom Hanks (probably not personally, unless he's better at programming than I'd imagine), so that's nice, isn't it.

However, just like the makers of Werdsmith, Forrest tries to charge you for every little extra he can possibly think of. New typewriters, new font colours, new background colours, even the right to open a new document… he wants you to pay for all of it. I never thought Woody would try to stiff me like that.

A cute idea, but this was another cheeky uninstall.

I'm lumping the three offerings from the three biggest tech companies in the world (probably) together here because they're all so similar. Pages by Apple, Google Docs and Microsoft Word all deal with the same file types and have mostly the same sort of features. The features that matter most for writing on the go - being able to write, save and send to another device to redraft later - are there on all three.

Docs is web-based, so you can access your files from anywhere, anytime. Rather than downloading a program on your PC or Mac, you just go to a browser and hit up the site to pick up where you left off on your phone and carry on. You need a Google account so they can mine your data, but who isn't mining your data, these days?

Word is my weapon of choice. I write all my stories in Word. However, I've broken the rules a little bit here, because it's not technically free to use. It is for me - I have a free Office 365 subscription that came with a tablet I bought a couple of years ago - but unless you have one of those (or pay yearly for one), you'll only be able to read files for free, as far as I know. Once my subscription expires, I'll probably move on to something else…

…Like Pages. When this first came out, I paid something like £7 for it, and it was dogshit; and Apple had the cheek to make you sift through a few slides telling you how beautiful and powerful it was before you could even use it. But since then, they've made it free, and they've made it better. It can even open files from OneDrive, so I'm happy.

So, which one of these you choose might depend on your allegiance to a certain software company, or which cloud services it supports, or just how pretty the interface is; but in the end, they're all nearly the same. Close your eyes and point at one, if you're having trouble.

As a writer, you don't just need software that gives you a big blank page to write your stories or your poems or your articles or whatever it is you're writing. You need somewhere to jot down notes too, to record your ideas for future reference, to keep track of characters and their ages and names and backstories. You need a notepad to keep everything safe.

That's where Evernote comes in. Notes you make in Evernote, and the notebooks in which you organise them, are synced with your Evernote account, so you can write them on your phone, then read them later on your PC without having to do anything to manually synchronise the two. It's very pretty, and I bloody love the font. I'd love to recommend the app, I really would.

But I can't. Just like all those other bastards, they want you to pay a subscription if you want to use it on more than two devices, which is a problem for me, since I like to work across a tablet, PC and phone. These small companies need to make money, I get it; but I'd rather have to look at an advert every now and then than add another subscription to my list of outgoings. Especially when I can get much the same experience elsewhere…

…Like in OneNote. This is THE note taking app. I live my life in OneNote. Not only does it store all my writing ideas and characters and locations and everything else, it also stores all the information I need to be me. It's available in one way or another on every OS you can think of, it has a load of cool features and constant updates, and there's no device limit. I thoroughly recommend it. And that's saying a lot, considering what I think of Microsoft these days.

The problem with the iOS app is that if you have a third party keyboard, the font changes to Times New Roman without asking you. Stupid. But not really a big deal, in the long run.

This one's actually quite nice. Like OneNote, it's an app in which you can organise yourself, store your notes and ideas; however, unlike OneNote, it doesn't provide freeform note pages, instead providing set forms for Characters, Scenes, Locations, and more, so that you can create these objects and keep track of them and refer back to them in a structured, methodical way.

I really like the idea, but the app badly needs an update. It's still built for tiny screens which implies that no one has touched its code since a few iOS versions ago, so it might have been abandoned; but I hope not. I'm keeping it on my phone and maybe I'll use it one day, but just because it looks nicer, I'll probably keep my notes in OneNote for now.

There are a few sort-of-social-networks out there for writers and readers, and this seems to be one of them. The first time I heard of it was when, a few years ago, some teenage member of Wattpad got a deal with a major publisher and became the Next Big Thing for a week or two. I don't remember her name and a couple of Google searches haven't brought it back either, so maybe it didn't work out. Anyway, from that point on, I thought that Wattpad must be the place to go for getting your stories out there, carving an audience out for yourself. So, of course, I thought that you just had to have the app on your iPhone if you want to be a writer.

Well, since downloading it, I've realised that that's bollocks. Or, more accurately, if that's true, and Wattpad is the best place to gain myself a readership, then maybe what I write isn't what readers are looking for these days. And if Wattpad is the best place to go to find some stories by other amateur writers so I can broaden my horizons and gain inspiration, then I don't want a horizon or any inspiration. Thanks for the offer.

On Wattpad, you can publish stories of any length, and readers can follow you, comment on your pieces, favourite them, all kinds of stuff like that. And you can do the same to other writers. It should be great. Unfortunately, all I found on there is Harry Styles fanfiction and some of the most poorly written - and I mean, English as a third language poorly written - erotica ever published. Seriously, so much Harry Styles. So much skin tingling. And so many fans, lapping it up, begging for more.

No, Wattpad isn't my kind of place. I couldn't do it. I had to get out of there.

But I'll keep it on my phone, for now.

Summary: My Recommendations

You will, no doubt, have worked out by now which apps were my favourites and which I didn't like so much. But just in case you missed it, or you wanted the TL;DR summary, I'd say you need at least one of each of the following:

An app in which you can just write - PlainText, Word, Pages or Docs
An app in which you can keep your notes, catalogue your ideas - OneNote or Evernote

You might be disappointed that after all that, the recommendations are so obvious and boring. But really, if you just want to write on your phone, that's all you need. It's easy to forget, when we have all these apps and features and technologies that look so shiny and cool, that all we set out to do was write some stories, and all you really need for that is a keyboard and some whitespace on the screen. Everything else is just noise.

Good luck guys, hope you find something in here you like. If not, and you have your own recommendations, feel free to let me know. I'd love to hear about them.

Bonus: Name Dice

Okay, one more. Download Name Dice to get a nice random name generator, for whenever you're struggling to think of what to call that new character of yours. I struggle with that all the time; wading through my mind is like trying to swim through custard sometimes.

"A weird time in which we are alive. We can travel anywhere we want, even to other planets. And for what? To sit day after day, de...

"A weird time in which we are alive. We can travel anywhere we want, even to other planets. And for what? To sit day after day, declining in morale and hope."

It's only when you cancel your Prime membership, because you don't think the quality of content on Amazon Video justifies the fee, that you realise just how evil Amazon have become. They now seem to charge for all deliveries to non-Prime members (or, at least, to me), and there are products that you can't buy at all if you're not on Prime. It'll say: This product is only available at this price for Prime members; but there's no non-Prime price. It doesn't exist. So they want you to pay to join their silly little club or go elsewhere.

Well, I'm fine with going elsewhere. I'm tired of receiving my paid-for "next day" deliveries two days later, just like I was tired of watching their cheap-looking shows on their awful apps.


What was I talking about again? Oh yeah. The Man in the High Castle. As a result of the above, I haven't watched any of the TV adaptation of this book, which is just about the only Amazon original that anyone is going to recommend to you.  And it's probably a good thing I haven't, because none of it was ruined for me in advance, aside from the basic premise.

Which is this: Germany and Japan won WW2, and now rule the east and west coasts of America, respectively, with a stripe of neutral territory down the middle. We follow the lives of several people living in this alternate history - an antiques dealer; a Japanese trade official; a secret Jew starting up a jewellery manufacturing company; his wife Juliana, who has run off with a moody young man whom she seems to find scary and sexy in equal measure; aaaaand a Swede visiting San Francisco on business.

There are two books that run through the story. The first is the I Ching, an ancient real-world text that I hadn't heard of before this. When an author introduces you to something cool, and seems to know what they're talking about, it's impressive. If, as an author, you can introduce something well-researched and well thought out into your writing without making a big deal of it, without really hammering home to the reader that you really know your stuff and they should be impressed with your efforts, then it's even more impressive. I like that. The trouble is, I'm often too lazy to research things enough. But if it's the difference between good and bad writing, I suppose I'll have to.

The second book is a novel written in this fictional world in which the allies won the war, and which has caused much controversy and sparked much interest. The novel-within-a-novel concept is great, imaginative and well used. The book is mostly only alluded to or quoted briefly, obviously; but we learn enough to know that Dick must have thought long and hard about it, come up with a full plot just to flesh out his fiction. Another cool point.

The characters were rarely dull. Tagomi, the trade official, is entertaining and convincing, Juliana is intriguing and deep, and the Swede has an interesting twist. The metalworking Frink is probably the most boring, and even he isn't a drag. They're all well balanced, too, none of them getting too much or too little time in the spotlight. Something you have to keep an eye on, if you're trying to split the story among four or five stars.

The only criticism I have, in fact, is that it takes a bit too long to get going. When I got to about a hundred pages from the end, I was still wondering when it was going to come to a head, when the Man in the High Castle was going to turn up and change everything. It does ramp up at about that point, but by then you've had two thirds of the book go by already, so there isn't much time for any great upheaval to happen, or whatever else you imagine might have gone on. But on the other hand, that might be a good thing, because protagonists that single-handedly turn whole societies upside down are ten a penny, and would have cheapened a book like this.

And the ending, when it does come, is a bit of a mindfuck. I think I've grasped it, but I imagine if you ask two different people they'll tell you two different things about what it meant. Which, again, might just be a compliment to the book, if it does indeed mean different things to different people. I have a certain fondness for ambiguous endings anyway.

So, all in all, I enjoyed the book so much that I felt the need to write a rather messy review telling you why I liked it. But not enough to redraft that review, so it was more readable and less shit.