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Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

A tumultuous relationship. A murder. And a travel log.

That’s the gist of Annie Ward’s new book Beautiful Bad. The story starts with a 911 call, and you are led to believe that a murder just occurred. That is in present day. The story then weaves back and forth in time, while the timelines also keep shifting. It’s hard to explain, but Annie Ward has attempted quite a feat in figuring out how to make that work, in the confines of a story.

Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward, has a lot going on. The narrative alternates from the main character’s story (Maddie), to Ian’s (her husband). The locations also alternate. As if that wasn’t enough. There are stories told from different decades. What makes it fun is piecing it all together; and it feels seamless, without a feeling of confusion. For the most part it is fairly straightforward to follow, despite it having a bit of a spastic quality to the storytelling. Travel is a big part of the storytelling, something that’s derived from the authors own experiences. In fact, most of her writing draws from her personal life. She originally wrote the story as a sort of memoir.

As I continued to read, I was troubled by something…and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. The story was interesting, but was it interesting enough. Some parts of the dialogue fell a bit flat for me. The lack of cohesiveness and tendency to overindulge in scenes, was a deterrent for me. I wanted the story to get to the juicy bits earlier. Friends who came across me reading the book, asked if it was a romance book (based on the cover)? That got me thinking.

Was it a book about romance? It didn’t feel like it to me. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I began to question the validity of the romantic relationship itself. I didn’t get the love story. I questioned the believability of falling hopeless in love for this guy (who didn’t particularly feel like someone you’ll fall head over heels for). Maybe this is not the kind of genre I generally read. Although, I just finished reading The Winters. Could the two books be classified under the same umbrella, or was I comparing apples to oranges?

I had the pleasure of meeting Annie Ward recently at Harper Collins Toronto headquarters, where I also received this advanced copy of Beautiful Bad. Her back story on the book was intriguing. In her novel, there’s a character called Joanna, who also happens to be her best friend in real life. But that’s not the only coincidence. The character Ian (Maddie’s husband in the book) is also based on her own husband, who incidentally was also the sounding board while she was writing Beautiful Bad.

I gathered a lot of writing insights from Annie Ward at the Harper Collins event. One, is that she writes from her own experiences. I’ve heard a lot of writers give that advise. And, although for the most part I agree with that, I also wonder if it can be a bit of a roadblock. In Beautiful Bad, I found it too be too much. Too much of travel references, too much of personal insights into the characters and their personality, too much backstory. All this external fluff, got into It’s hard to explain, and I welcome any feedback on readers who have also read this book. I have to caution that I also read an arc of this book, and there may be a fair bit of editing involved that may tighten the storytelling and mystery.

What I loved about Annie Ward’s writing process, is that her first draft is very basic. It’s full of “he said”  and  “she said”, without a lot of fluff. Annie Ward first outlines the basic story without thinking about the sentence structure. This is usually her routine in the morning. She finds it hard to get into the meat and potatoes of style and structure during the day. But, later on she comes back to it (usually late at night with a glass of wine) and decorates the story with words and prose, the bringing it to life. Great advice! So, to aspiring writers out there, there are just two words of advice: just write!