Month: March 2015

Awesome Female Characters – my picks for #womeninfiction

Last week (last century in internet terms), the hot trending hashtag was #womeninfiction. Everyone chiming in with their favourite female characters. I jumped on the band wagon and here’s my picks in more than 140 characters.

In no particular order:

Harriet the Spy – Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet M. Welsch, an eleven year old budding writer, who started jotting down everything she saw in a notebook. I’ve just reread the synopsis of the book and I can’t remember any of the rest of the plot! But her inquisitive ways, her bravery and her love of tomato sandwiches stuck with me to this day!

Lisbeth Salander – Steig Larsson

“Salander was the woman who hated men who hated women.”

A powerful messed-up character, who you cheer for, cringe with and cry for. Smart, stupid and stubborn. The only female character here written by a man.

www.thedebutanteball.com

Pippi Longstocking – Astrid Lindgren

“Don’t you worry about me, I’ll always come out on top.”

Free-spirited girl, strong and brave, clever and resourceful. A rocking role model for any girl.

VI Warshawski – Sara Paretsky

I went through ten years of avid crime reading. Then one day I woke up and seemed to have moved on. One of my earliest reads and loves was VI Warshaswki. VI was the original self-sufficient, tough, clever female private investigator.

Super exciting post script – Sara Paretsky tweeted me back to thank me for my nomination. Squeee!

I’m sure I’ve missed a million others, who are your #womeninfiction?

Recent reads – Merivel: A Man of His Time by Rose Tremain

After I finished reading Merivel: A Man of his Time by Rose Tremain, I read a review on The Guardian website. A commenter described Merivel perfectly. He/she described Merivel as “an arse.” And that’s exactly what he is. A bumbling, pompous, foppish buffoon of a man. But also completely hilarious.

I can’t remember the last time I chuckled so much throughout a book. I was not expecting such a funny book. I laughed along with Merivel with his complete lack of self awareness and self-obsession. I’ve not read Tremain’s first Merivel novel, Restoration, I just picked up this book at a sale and thoroughly enjoyed the ride.

Merivel is a 17th century doctor and friend to the King (or perhaps more like the King’s fall guy/idiot friend). Merivel is filled with melancholy and middle aged angst, spending his time moping around his manor house, until he decides to try his luck in Versailles with the French King. By happenstance, he meets a wealthy Swiss aristocratic botanist and follows her back to her mansion in Paris to become her plaything until the husband comes home. Then Merivel’s daughter becomes ill and he rushes home to tend to her. On the way, he saves a bear from death and transports it back to Norwich.

This sounds like a romp and it is but the book is wholly more literary than I’m giving it credit for. And there’s quite a bit of sex.

I was impressed and awed by Tremain’s characterisation of Merivel, a big well-rounded character, raw and embarrassing, yet poignant. A character I will not forget.

If you like literary historical fiction with fools, sex and bears. This is a book for you.

www.theonlywayisreading,files.wordpress.com

Recent Reads – The Dark Monk by Oliver Potzsch

It’s historical mystery time. The Dark Monk by Oliver Potzsch is a cracking fun read, filled with action and fight scenes. Plus I learned some stuff about 17th century hangmen.

The Dark Monk is set during a particularly grim winter in Bavaria. The local foppish medic, Simon, is assisting his father to cure an outbreak of influenza, while the local hangman Jacob is dealing with highwaymen. His feisty daughter, Magdalena, is having a tryst with Simon, although relations with the hangman’s daughter are frowned upon by the local community.

The local church is under renovations and the opening scene finds the death of the parish priest. Did he overindulge on honey cakes or was he poisoned? Prior to his death, he sent a mysterious letter to his sister. He had made a discovery in the renovations. What has he found? Why are there three monks in dark habits roaming around?

The pace of this novel is fast, the characters interesting and rounded with great strong females in Magdalena and the dead priest’s sister, Benedikta. But what I found most compelling was the detail of the background of 17th century rural Germany and the role of the local hangman in the community, as both the executioner and local healer. This was all new fascinating information to me.

All in all, I can recommend The Dark Monk for people who like fast paced mysteries with some education on the side.

Top 5 dystopian movie influences

I like movies. I’ve seen a lot of movies (so many I can barely remember a lot of them).  Movies inspire me to write, I look back to various scenes, characters and worlds when creating my own little universes. It’s all storytelling in the end.

In the spirit of my favourite film podcast, Filmspotting, here’s five dystopian movies which have influenced me with their world building or premise. Some of these films are great, some are a bit dodgy but their settings or various scenes have influenced me.

Note: before you yell out at your screen, “hey you, where’s …?”, I ruled out anything from a famous book. This means Blade Runner, 1984, Farenheit 451, A Clockwork Orange etc are all out.

In no particular order….

Children of Men

The world where fertility is gone is a frightening premise. A great dystopian world which can be easily imagined from our current world, the familiar London streets, only grubbier, greyer and more violent. A few more things go wrong in our world and we could be facing into this.

Of course, there are the brilliant single shot sequences, the scrummy Clive Owen and a bit of Michael Caine to round it out.

Dead End Drive In

This is a weird Australian film where the dregs of society are locked inside a drive-in. The government is rounding up all the “no hopers” and locking them away. This is another familiar yet creative twist on 1980s Australia, when the economy was struggling and millions were out of work. The acting is dodgy, there are loads of explosions and heaps of 1980s Australian celebrity cameos. But what intrigued me is the premise of taking an everyday activity (like a drive-in) and turning it into a tool for tyranny.

www.fangirlmag.com

Alphaville

I found this film very cold, but love the mixture of hard boiled noir in a dystopian world. There are no out there sci-fi or futuristic sets or costumes. It’s 1960s France with a twist. The gravelly voice of Alpha 60, the sentenient computer system, is chilling and ingrained in my memory.

www.thefilmstage.com

Metropolis

How can you look past the grandmaster of all dystopian movies? The art design, the costumes, the story line. It rocks and it’s almost 80 years old. What else can I say?

www.uow.edu.au

The Omega Man

Controversial? Is this post apocalyptic or dystopian? The opening scenes are the most influential, empty Los Angeles with Charlton Heston driving around, watching the Woodstock doco in the abandoned theatre utterly alone. This was the first time, I felt the eeriness of a city with no people. Reminds me of a time I was in a London tube carriage all on my own. Spooky. Yes, this is based on I Am Legend, so I could be breaking my own rules here. Oops.

As you can see from this list, I’m a bit art-house, but I’m comfortable with that.

What other dystopian movies have influenced you?

Recent Reads – Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

After finishing Sunne in Splendour, I opened and closed three or four other novels before I found something which grabbed my attention. That book was Perdido Street Station by China Mieville.

The difficulty here is how to even describe this amazing novel. Highly imaginative with densely detailed world building, cinematic (although I challenge anyone to adapt to a live action movie!), moving, intellectual and sometimes confusing. The prose is so lush and beautiful, I restricted myself to one chapter per night to wallow in the description (until I got near the end and gobbled the rest up). This is not a book to read with the TV, it demands your attention. Even then I don’t know if I fully understood it, I plan to give it a second read some day.

OK, so what’s it actually about – a fat mad scientist is contracted by an outcast eagle-person without wings to help him to fly again, whilst the scientist’s insect artist lover is commissioned by a mongrel underworld figure to immortalise him in sculpture and the government are experimenting on some kind of top-secret moths, all happening in a multi-cultural, multi-species city of wildly different neighbourhoods and enclaves. It’s about individual freedom and drugs, love and rebirth, art and science.

This is the second Mieville novel I’ve read, his work is complex and odd. He makes me feel a bit dumb sometimes, but I like it. I did get lost in some of the descriptions of high maths and scientific experiments (not my forte), there is where the detail was too dense for me. I am still processing the ending, sad, moving and just.

This is an award winner, so it barely needs my recommendation, but I thoroughly enjoyed Perdido Street Station. If you’re a budding writer and you want a novel to inspire and discourage you, get your hands on this book.

www.sfreviews.net

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