Jessica Bell

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Book & Author details:

The Book by Jessica Bell
Publication date: January 18th 2013
Genre: Adult Contemporary (Novella)



I knew nothing at all about The Book going in – hadn’t even read the synopsis.  So imagine my eyebrows arching when I opened it to find it begins with the syrupy –sweet, tired awe of new parents writing to their infant daughter in a diary.  It is the most wonderful thing that has ever happened to me—to see you being born…” the father rhapsodizes in the first entry.  Later, Mummy confides, Being your mother is the most rewarding occupation. When I feel those tears coming on, I just look at your face, and it helps me keep them hidden until I go to bed at night…”

I remember those feelings.  I remember wanting to chronicle every little spectacular and mundane detail of my child’s existence – and my utter failure to keep up once the reality of parenting kicked in.  I smiled at the time gaps between the entries, how Bonnie leaps from newborn to her first Christmas to toddlerhood in just a few pages.  We have the best of intentions when we start out as parents, don’t we?

So I could relate,  but I was skeptical about what I was reading, and why. Epistolary fiction – a story in letters – is a challenge.  A little risky, not easy to do well.  Where was the author going with this? More importantly, would it work?  

I’m happy to say that, yes, The Book worked for me.  I found the structure interesting: I like how we gain insight into the characters through a variety of narrative techniques and points-of-view.  Bonnie’s parents use The Book – a shared diary – not just as a record of Bonnie’s early life, but as a means to communicate with their future daughter (and, sometimes, with each other). Later, five-year-old Bonnie speaks for herself in first-person narrative, with a strong, precocious voice.  Aware of The Book but not its purpose, Bonnie wonders why it seems to make her mother cry or her stepfather angry, and develops some surprising ideas – a neat twist.  And through transcripts of Bonnie’s taped sessions with a therapist, we see her from an outside, more clinical perspective.  The Book is complex, intelligently crafted and, so far as I know, quite unique.

Because it is heavy on narration and dialog, the actual story within The Book isn’t made explicit.  We aren’t given a blow by blow of how Bonnie’s parent’s marriage dissolves, for example, or the circumstances and relationships that arise between the characters afterwards, since the characters are writing to each other or narrating to themselves.  They have little need to spell things out in exposition.  Thus the story sneaks up on you bit by bit; as often you figure out what’s happened through what isn’t said, or what’s between the lines. 

I like that.  I’m a fan of subtle.  I’m a fan of stories that get under your skin without you realizing it until you’re hooked.  I read The Book in bits in pieces, usually over coffee while my son was eating breakfast.  I remember one scene in particular took me by surprise, and I had to keep reading in that peeking-through-your-fingers kind of way to find out what would happen. We ended up late to school that day.  I guess that’s when I figured out for sure that, yup, The Book is good.

There were a couple of things that I didn’t love.  Bonnie’s mother was weak in character in a way that chafed my feminine sensibilities.  I kept wanting her to get a backbone and stop being so dependent on men.  It is what it is and didn’t hurt the story, per se, but I don’t know how central it was either. I would have liked to have at least seen her weakness rooted in something, explained or justified, resolved and maybe overcome in the end.  I’m not sure that it was.

And though I admire the way the character of Bonnie just explodes off the page (somewhere I saw the author mention it was more like channeling than writing, and that definitely shows), there were times that I couldn’t quite get comfortable with Bonnie.  She is uncannily precocious for her age (it is eventually stated that she’s something of a prodigy).  Yet, at the same time, her narrative is riddled with a typical five-year-old’s corrupted spelling/pronunciation and contextual misunderstanding, to the point of redundancy.  Plus Bonnie is also an Australian five-year-old, and I’m NOT, so I think some things were lost in translation. (What, exactly, is “making doll’s eyes”? An unblinking stare? Batting your lashes??” I googled it, but I still can’t tell.)

As a result, Bonnie’s narrative often called attention to itself, which kept me from being as immersed in the story as I might have been.  But I can’t deny that Bonnie is a stand-out character.  I loved her forthrightness, her insights.  I loved her questions about human nature, and I was moved by her father’s attempts to answer them at the end of the book.  This is definitely a kid who sticks with you even after The Book is done.

I’m not going to go into too much more detail, because I think a little bit of mystery makes this an enjoyable read.  I’ll just say, overall, I was pleasantly surprised, and look forward to more from Jessica Bell in the future.

I would definitely recommend The Book to anyone who relishes smart and innovative literary fiction.


This book is not The Book. The Book is in this book. And The Book in this book is both the goodie and the baddie.

Bonnie is five. She wants to bury The Book because it is a demon that should go to hell. Penny, Bonnie’s mother, does bury The Book, but every day she digs it up and writes in it. John, Bonnie’s father, doesn’t live with them anymore. But he still likes to write in it from time to time. Ted, Bonnie’s stepfather, would like to write in The Book, but Penny won’t allow it.

To Bonnie, The Book is sadness.
To Penny, The Book is liberation.
To John, The Book is forgiveness.
To Ted, The Book is envy.
But The Book in this book isn’t what it seems at all.

If there was one thing in this world you wished you could hold in your hand, what would it be? The world bets it would be The Book.

If Jessica Bell could choose only one creative mentor, she’d give the role to Euterpe, the Greek muse of music and lyrics. This is not only because she currently resides in Athens, Greece, but because of her life as a thirty-something Australian-native contemporary fiction author, poet and singer/songwriter/guitarist, whose literary inspiration often stems from songs she’s written. Jessica is the Co-Publishing Editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal and annually runs the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca. For more information, please visit her website:

Writerly friends: if you don’t already follow Jessica Bell, you should.

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An Australian-native fiction author and poet, Jessica Bell also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning. Her poetry collection, FABRIC, was a semi-finalist in the GOODREADS CHOICE AWARDS 2012 for BEST POETRY. Sellers like offer a selection of her fiction, poetry and non-fiction, including her pocket guide WRITING IN A NUTSHELL series, which offers user-friendly “how to” demonstrations to help writers hone their craft.

Jessica has a warm and witty online presence on social media sites like Facebook and Goodreads. She’s also part of the team that brings us Vine Leaves Literary Journal – a high-quality (and visually stunning – seriously, have a gander) online journal. Taken from the original meaning of the word, “vignette” (“something that may be written on a vine leaf”), Vine Leaves celebrates the kind of short, emotive writing that is too often overlooked in a literary culture fixated on the plot, the plot, the plot. By recognizing that there is also artistry to be found in a moment, a feeling, an array of words – and creating a venue for it – Jessica Bell became a hero of mine. So when she announced that she was launching a virtual tour for her upcoming projects, I happily volunteered.

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Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Subversions of Adverbs & Clichés into Gourmet Imagery is the second installment in Bell’s WRITING IN A NUTSHELL series. In this NUTSHELL, Bell tackles those insidious, tricky little linguistic buggers that tend to slip into our writing because they’re familiar, easy, and ready-at-hand. We all do it: unconsciously, habitually, we rely on adverbs to tell (not show!) how something is done. Like a rat on a wheel, we use clichés to get our point across – and thus we keep our writing mediocre, rather than great.

But how, HOW, do we avoid the pitfalls of adverbs and clichés? By subverting them, Jessica says. Identify them, drop them from your repertoire, and replace them with something original. Give details in your prose to show that your character is mad, rather than having her say it angrily. Plumb the treasure trove of your imagination for metaphors to convey his love – don’t rely on his racing heartbeat or the truth welling up from the windows of his soul.

With Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell, Bell gives us thirty-four specific examples how to turn adverbs and clichés into vivid and unique imagery. This in itself is unique, so far as I’m aware – tons of writing books and blogs tell you what not to do, but with this guide you can actually see how it can be done – over and over again. Plus, it comes with prompts to practice writing subversions of your own.

Now, I don’t believe adverbs and clichés are always, universally evil. I raise a literary eyebrow when the media buzz tells us what is in, what is out, what defines good writing, and (even more fun) what makes writing bad. (Ten things you should NEVER do! Twelve things every agent HATES! Eleven ways to ensure you’ll never see your work in print EVER!) The pundits say it, it gets circulated and internalized and taken for gospel when, really, what’s good has a lot to do with context. SOMETIMES, clichés work. (They are clichés for a reason, after all). SOMETIMES, adverbs work (saying it quickly can be better than taking up a paragraph with original purple prose to demonstrate how it’s said).

AND, I shall be quick to point out, Jessica Bell says this too, right up front. She gives a very good argument for the whys and why nots of adverb and cliché use in the introduction – the best argument I’ve seen. The danger in my mind is that writers, especially new writers, may accept that these writing rules are (cliché alert) written in stone, and may learn not trust their own instincts, their own voice. But I use the word “danger” loosely – it’s not like writers are going to be blowing things up with adverbs. And there’s nothing wrong with learning the rules well – if nothing else, it may teach you how and when to break them.

The biggest critique I have of Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell is that I wish the sample adverbs and clichés (of which there are over a hundred, I believe) were treated individually, rather than clumped together in thirty-four sample passages. Some of the passages are short, but many are quite dense, encompassing twenty or more “problem phrases” in one scenario. This clumping can make it hard to remember which phrases we’re subverting – I had to keep scrolling back and forth to figure out what Bell had changed from the “adverb” and “cliché” examples to the new, original writing. I even thought, in a (very) few cases, that the original “bad” writing was better, if only because the “better” samples tried to encompass so much.

For my purposes, I would have preferred one, maybe two adverbs and/or clichés per example. It would have been cleaner, focusing the reader’s attention on each problem phrase and an example of how to rewrite it, rather than making a dozen or more phrases depend on one another within a scene. It would have made the book longer (hence not a “pocket guide”) but way easier to use.

Still, Bell suggests that the book is meant to be read and then reread, several times over, and I can see how that would help the reader begin to pick out the nuances. And, indeed, that is how a writing book is meant to be used – often, and repeatedly. It is a reference, after all.

And for that, Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell is a great resource, and a great buy. At a mere $1.99, I don’t see why any writer wouldn’t want to snatch it up. So go do that.

Here’s how:

Click one of the following links to purchase:
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Ca | Kobo

For more information about Jessica please visit:
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