Today I’m sharing a little poetry and a guest blog post I wrote for Debbie Young on my love for Enid Blyton boarding school stories.
I’m a recent poetry convert. In the last weeks and months, I’ve been drawn to reading and writing poetry (Kathleen Raine, Yeats, Robin Robertson, Marissa Davis). Poetry writing has been a welcome and liberating change from my usual novella/novel writing. I’m also pairing my words with images and here is my latest dabbling ‘Shelter Feather’, inspired by Robert Macfarlane‘s Word of the Day tweets.
On to school stories…I was a bookish child – yes I know, hard to believe – and I especially loved boarding school stories. Debbie Young asked me to review (as an adult) one of my favourite boarding school books and consider how these stories have influenced my writing. My Favourite School Stories.
Today I’m featuring a guest post from Desiree Villena, filling us in on all the up-coming Paranormal Romance (PNR) trends. I know some of you love your saucy shapeshifter stories…so, over to Desiree…
Trends in Paranormal Romance – Desiree Villena
werewolves, raunchy love triangles — is there anything more to paranormal
romance than this? If you haven’t kept up with this intriguing genre, you might
be justified in thinking there’s not. And to be fair, plenty of new releases
continue to perpetuate the same old tropes and ideas. But that’s not to say
that there aren’t new trends cropping up in paranormal romance all the time!
Today, I’ll be taking you through some of these developments so you’ll know
what to expect the next time you browse the shelves.
will surely come as good news to jaded readers of the genre: the lengthy reign
of vampires and werewolves is finally being counterbalanced by the worlds of
fae, mermaids, and mages. And while these certainly aren’t uncharted territory,
there has never been so much enthusiasm for fantasy
world-building in PNR
as there is now.
Bella Forrest’s Harley Merlin series,
for instance, which follows a 19-year-old orphan who discovers a community of
people who share the same strange psychic abilities as her — among whom she
might just find her true love. While the first volume was published in just
2018, its continual success (and the wonders of self-publishing
have led to 20 more books detailing
the adventures of Harley Merlin. It goes to show how much traction this sort of
good measure, here’s another example of a uniquely mystical world: the Fireblood Dragon series by Ruby Dixon.
Set in a post-apocalyptic realm where humans live in enclaves away from beastly
dragons, these books follow different female protagonists as they are punished
for their deviance by being made “dragon baits.” If you’re wondering where the
romance comes in — well, these dragons are shapeshifters looking for lifelong
partners (and fiery passion, no pun intended). Now on its eighth installment,
it seems this enchanting universe is only becoming more popular, setting the
trend in PNR for years to come.
Love in the academies
PNR is largely targeted at young adults, this trend should come as no surprise.
Academies are a very popular setting in fantasy and sci-fi books, from A Wizard of Earthsea to the aptly named Vampire Academy — and since these genres
have significant overlaps with paranormal romance, it’s about time boarding
schools and spell-binding institutions made their mark on the genre.
don’t have to go any further than the Harley
Merlin series to see this in action. Just from the Amazon book description, which compares Harley Merlin to Harry Potter, readers immediately know that Harley will find
herself having many adventures in a magical school. Even though she goes out
into the world to hunt monsters and face her dark past, her starting point, her
home, and the place where she develops a bond with her significant other is the
academy that welcomes her at the beginning of the series.
authors go even deeper into this trope, setting almost their entire series in
an academy, as Serena Akeroyd did with her Caelum
Academy trilogy. Eve, the protagonist, has been raised in an emotionless
cult and cut off from outside the world — until she is mysteriously smuggled
out of “the compound” and taken to Caelum Academy, a school for those with who
aren’t really humans, but paranormal creatures. Here, she’ll not only learn
about the world she’d been kept from in the past, but also meet people who
truly love her.
Subverting PNR gender norms
tandem with the rise in academy settings, which provide love interests galore,
is the increasing popularity of the “reverse harem” in paranormal romance. This
has its roots in recent developments in Japanese animation, and involves a
female protagonist encountering many love interests throughout her journey, but
being unable to decide on her “one true love.” Sounds dramatic, I know — but
isn’t that the whole point of these supernatural love affairs?
return to Caelum Academy, where our female lead is initially bullied and made
fun of at her new school because of her ignorance of the modern world. Soon
enough, however, some of the guys who made fun of Eve take a liking to her (in
a typical enemies-to-lovers turn of events) and start trying to help her out.
As the trilogy progresses, Eve develops strong relationships with these guys,
some of which excitingly escalate beyond the friendzone — but she never admits
to loving any of them in more than a platonic way, at least not until the final
than making these books purely raunchy, Akeroyd shows readers that
relationships are complicated, and finding “the one” isn’t so easy, or even
necessarily imperative. It’s also a great way to throw a wrench into the common
trope of a dominant male stringing along a female lead. If you’re interested in
these types of gender role-subverting stories, consider checking out Meg Xuemei
X’s War of the Gods series, and The Dark Side series by Kristy Cunning.
Crossing over to urban fantasy
it’s thrilling to be pulled into bizarre landscapes with fantastical heroes,
but isn’t it even more enthralling to
discover the world you thought you knew in a different light? This is the
premise of urban fantasy: it takes a familiar setting (our own world) and
points out the nooks and crannies in which you can find a whole other, supernatural universe.
trend has been a long time coming, starting in the mid-2000s with some PNR classics such as the Dublin pub-hopping
adventures of Karen Marie Moning’s Darkfever,
and the bounty-hunting chases of Jeaniene Frost’s Halfway to the Grave. Since then, plenty of series have taken
readers down dark alleyways in cities we thought we knew all too well,
suspensefully revealing the underbellies and hidden gateways of concrete
jungles… while spicing things up with some (often star-crossed) romance. Though
many urban fantasy fans aren’t particularly fond of the growing romance segment
of their niche, PNR fans continue to embrace this trend, which should make for
a number of fascinating crossovers in the future.
books do tend to be slower to change — authors often stick to the ideas and
themes that they’ve seen work well, not wanting to mess with a successful
formula. However, that doesn’t mean that there haven’t been shifts in the
paranormal romance landscape over recent years, and very interesting ones at
that! Hopefully, these trends will kickstart a host of other innovations in
this corner of the literary universe, and we’ll be looking at plenty of
exciting new titles soon.
Desiree Villena is a writer with Reedsy, a marketplace that connects authors with the world’s best publishing resources and professionals. In her spare time, Desiree enjoys reading paranormal romance, writing contemporary fiction, and analyzing tropes and trends.
It’s with an element of sadness that I announce the end of Write Through The Roof podcast.
After almost three years and 76 episodes, it’s time to do something new. But I’m really going to miss great conversations with interesting writers and having the opportunity to selfishly ask my writing heroes the questions I want to be answered.
So what I have learned about writing over the 76 interviews?
There is no right way to write
From meticulous spreadsheets of Oscar de Muriel to the pantsing of Rebecca Tope and everything in between, there is no right way to plot your novel.
Some write every day but many more wish they could. However, others see the definite need for rests to replenish their creative well. But discipline is the key and to finish what you start.
Take all writing advice with a pinch of salt.
Trusting yourself. You don’t have to write like other people.
Cherrypick techniques but develop your own style and process.
Do you writeevery day? I wish!
ROSALIE MORALES KEARNS
Don’t bore the reader. Don’t annoy the reader. Don’t confuse the reader.
Writers are generous and lovely people
Coffee runs in our veins
Writers like to read ‘like a fat kid at the
Thanks for the quote, Angela Slatter but all the writers I
spoke to love to read. The most popular inspiring authors were Stephen King,
Jane Austen, Neil Gaiman, Daphne du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, Angela Carter and
Most writers are life-long learners
Aside from the amazing Karen Rose Smith with 100 romance
novels under her belt and a comfortable writing process, most of the writers I
spoke with were trying something new with each book and continually trying to
perfect their process.
So all things come to an end but I’d like to thank all the writers I spoke with!
What superstitions did your Gran or Mum hand down to you?
With my writing and research for Folklore Thursday, books I’m reading and ideas for a new story knocking round my head, I’m in a real folklorish and superstition-filled place at the moment.
My mum passed a few superstitions down to me. No shoes on the table, no open umbrellas inside and cutting crosses in brussel sprouts. So now, I’m curious what superstitions and folklore traditions other people inherited and still follow today.
I put a question out to the Folklore Thursday community
Stephen King described The Haunting of Hill House as one of the most important horror books of the 20th century and inspired The Shining. It has also been the basis for two films. And today, a new ‘reimagining’ via Netflix was announced.
Dr Montague, a paranormal academic researcher, rents a haunted house for a summer to undertake a research project. Hill House has a frightening reputation and history of hauntings after a series of tragic events in the house. The local townspeople won’t come anywhere near the place, and any one who rents the house barely stays a week. Determined to document the phenomenon, Dr Montague seeks out a few research assistants to join him at the house for the summer.
Today I’m talking about Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley, a collection of personal essays by science fiction author Kameron Hurley, published by Tor in 2016.
Hurley is an award winning author and her personal essays covers feminism, geek and internet culture, the perils of being a writer, health and rebellion. Hurley critiques and challenges in a raw and honest way, drawing on her own personal experiences and life story.
Coincidence is a funny thing. I picked up this book right after finishing The Female Man by Joanna Russ (a feminist sci-fi novel I reviewed a few weeks ago). Hurley credits Joanna Russ with lighting her feminist fire. In fact, the book is dedicated to a “Joanna’.
The book is divided up into sections starting off with a section about writing andthe rollercoaster ride of a writers life. As a writer myself, I found this section heart-warming and depressing at the same time. My favourite essay was the first, named Persistence and the Long Con of Being a Successful Writer. The title says it all.
Today I’m going a little darker than usual. It’s time to talk horror with Adam Nevill’s The Ritual, published in 2011 through Pan Macmillan.
Horror is not a genre for everyone, but I like being scared. There is something about horror writing which makes my imagination go wild in a far more vibrant way than horror movies. Probably because I build my own images, creating something uniquely me from all of my fears.
Enough about me, let’s talk about The Ritual. Four middle-aged men get together for a hiking trip in Sweden. They’ve been friends since their university days as they have grown older and taken on responsibilities, their friendships have waned. Everyone has stressful jobs, kids, mortgages, marriages. All except Luke. But this camping trip is a ‘lads weekend’. A chance to renew old friendships and have a laugh. Or so they planned.
Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch (published by Gollancz in 2011) is the first book in an urban fantasy series set in, you guessed it, London. But this book is also known as Midnight Riot in the US.
Peter Grant was a probationary constable in the Metropolitan Police Force (otherwise known as the Met). Peter was dreaming of being a detective but he’s not exactly the best policeman in the world and he’s mainly trying to avoid a transfer to the worst department with a lifetime of paper shuffling.
For something different, I’ve started a short book review radio show/podcast on artdistrict-radio.com, a French digital radio station focused on jazz and the arts. Each week I’ll be sharing a book I love from the speculative fiction genre. (And my show is in English, in case you were wondering.)
See details of my first review on Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler here. Or you can listen to the podcasts here.
I think I’ve established here, I’m a bit of a new age-y personal development type (in amongst the love of horror movies and heartless disdain for anything romantic).
As part of my routine, I keep a gratitude journal beside my bed and at the end of each day, I write down five things I’m grateful for. Sometimes the five things are puerile and short (coffee seems to feature often), other days they are fundamental and deep (being safe and empowered to make my own decisions in life).
I stumbled across a “30 days of gratitude” infographic and I’m using these suggestions as a prompt for new things to remember to be grateful for.
I checked Day 8. – what book are you most grateful for?
Today I’m talking more about the inspiration behind Evangeline and the Alchemist (coming in June 2016).
The book which sparked the whole Evangeline series was Blameless by Gail Carriger. (Yes, I read her series completely out of order.) Aside from being a cracking good read, I was struck by Carriger’s wit and the possibility of silliness within a Victorian world. As soon as I finished the last page, I was hit with an idea for a character, Evangeline.
I’ve tried writing urban fantasy before (vampire chef, anyone?) but it didn’t sit right with me. The humour felt forced and, to be frank, just plain dorky. Somehow in the artificial world of steampunk, I’ve felt the freedom to be silly and funny in an overblown and flowery way. Bring on the adjectives, chums! At first, this was a release from the more serious world of my Monolith series, but it has turned into something larger and Evangeline is now my first release as an independent author.
Beverley is also the moderator of April 2016’s Monthly Writing Challenge. A great way to form habits in your writing. But let’s hear about Beverley’s exciting new release.
How would you describe The Making of Gabriel Davenport?
It’s a dark fantasy, set in the present but with definite ties to the past.
In a house built on truth something lays hidden.
Beth and Stu Davenport moved to the English hillside town of Meadowford Bridge to give their young son, Gabriel, an idyllic, rural childhood. But in a single evening, the Davenports’ dream is shattered by a hidden, ancient darkness– and their lives are forever changed.
Years later, Gabriel Davenport, now a capable, curious young man, makes the ill-fated decision to go looking for answers about his mysterious past. As soon as he begins his quest, his life becomes a place of shadows. The people he loves and trusts are acting abnormally. The strange woman who lives upstairs is even more haunted than usual. Even his most trusted friend seems to be hiding something.
As one fateful night deepens, and the line blurs between darkness and light, Gabriel must confront the terrible events that destroyed his family all those years ago. He is faced with a choice: continue living the life that was never his to begin with, or give himself over to a terrifying new reality more sinister than anything he’s ever known.
Adrian is a painful teenager with delusions of intellectual grandeur living through Thatcher’s Britain with his dysfunctional and disappointing parents. Adrian copes with his first pimples, his parents’ marital problems and his own crushes with an amazing lack of self-awareness. It is laugh out funny and I knew most of the jokes already.
The book is a spy thriller set slightly in the future, in a time when the countries of Europe is dissolving. Every man and his dog is seceding, setting up their own principality. Borders are a bureaucratic nightmare and black marketeers are taking advantage of the chaos.
The hero is Rudi, an Estonian chef turned courier, who gets deeper and deeper into the murky world of espionage.
The book is in four parts following Rudi from his first gig until the point when it all goes wrong. It is almost like four novellas, pieced together eventually. The middle section with Rudi’s family in Estonia seems out of step at first until more details are revealed. I adored the excerpt from the map-making of Whitton-Whyte and the twist delighted this little sci-fi fan.
Why did I enjoy this book so much?
Perhaps it was the mix of vivid characters; the burly Hungarians, the obnoxious mentor Fabio, Rudi’s bizarrely robotic English captors, the grumpy crusty Pawel. The characters were well rounded and real.
Perhaps it was the slight weirdness of the world. Quite similar to our own, yet with minor technological and geo-political differences.It was familiar and yet intriguing. There was little time spent world building, the story jumps right in and explains the world as we go. Yet there are enough odd little details to remind the reader that this is not your ordinary Tom Clancy thriller.
Perhaps it was the wry English humour. The dialogue was sharp and believable. I chuckled out aloud a number of times.
Plus a cracking plot.
Let’s just say, I really liked this book.
But the topic of genre provoked the most thought for me. This is classified as a science fiction novel – which it is. The world is futuristic, but only looking a few years into a possible future. I was so curious about the genre of this novel, I contacted the author. I had a nice conversation with Dave Hutchinson over Twitter regarding the genre classification of this book. Hutchinson describes it as a “near-future espionage thriller”. This is a very apt description.
I struggle with the “science fiction” label because it brings to mind aliens and spaceships. My own writing is in a similar vein to Hutchinson’s – a different world not too dissimilar to our own. Is speculative fiction a better description or “fantastika” as Hutchinson offered? Yet, your average punter doesn’t use the expression ‘speculative fiction’. When I look at the categories for sci-fi in Amazon, the only vaguely applicable are “dystopian” and “post-apocalyptic” but my own writing and a book like Europe in Autumn does not fit with the other zombie invasion novels.
Anyway less about me and more about Europe in Autumn. If you like a well built near-future world with espionage, great characters and good writing, I recommend you take a look at Europe in Autumn.
I’m off to read the sequel…when I’ve finished The Wise Man’s Fear.
When I’m in full on editing mode, I go cross-eyed. I can’t see “the wood for the trees.”
Putting aside my writing to “marinate” is important. Like marinating meat, putting your writing aside makes the flavours richer.
I’ve got a bad memory and when I put something away in the drawer, I completely forget the details. After a period of a month or so, I regain some objectivity about my work. I can see flaws and where to focus next.
And on occasion, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my own work. Hoorah!
Your favourite author is going to call you for a once in a lifetime chance to talk. You can only ask them one question. Who is the author and what is the question? Why?
I can’t narrow it down to one writer.
The more I grow as a writer, I realise we all share the same self-doubt and struggles with wrangling our stories. So the one question I’d like to ask all writers I admire is…
When did you feel like a “real” writer?
Which fictional character would you want as a friend, and why?
Which fictional character would you want as a friend, and why?
Nightingale from the Rivers Of London series. I want my own immortal magical mentor with impeccable pre-war dress sense. I imagine him being like Bill Nighy.
List three books you’ve read more than three times.
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.
How’s that for a weird combo.
Who would you say is your greatest writing influence in terms of your own style?
I think my influences are from the opposite side. I know what I dislike, so I avoid that type of writing. I have a background in the corporate world and business writing, so my style is simple. I don’t like overly flowery writing because I’m a lazy reader. The style is important to my reading pleasure. Some styles (and writers) do my head in and so I quickly switch to something cleaner.
What are you working on at the minute?
Starting today, I’m writing the next novella in my Evangeline steampunk series. This novella is about seances and spiritualists.
Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?
She is in serious trouble of being typecast, but from the recent Dr Who episodes playing Ashildr/Me, I can absolutely see Maisie Williams as my character Alga from the Monolith series.
How important is a book cover to you? Would it influence you over the back blurb?
A good cover is so bloody important. There are some serious ugly covers out there, especially in the self-publishing world, but I’ll admit, often I don’t read the back blurb. There have been many times when I’ve been wowed by an early plot twist, then later on read the back blurb.
Before I buy or borrow (library love), I have to read a page at random. There are certain flowery styles of writing which I can’t handle (see above answer).
If you could live in one fictional world, where would you live?
China Mieville’s Bas-Lag world from Perdido Street Station. What’s not to like …aliens, steampunk and magic. Mieville’s world building is crazy detailed and luscious. I feel I could step right into the pages and live there.
Do you let other people borrow your books?
Absolutely. Words and books are to be shared. Share the love.
Books have some of the most wonderful quotes among them. Which is one of your favourite quotes, and why does it resonate with you?
Let’s go back to my favourite kooky melodramatic Canadian redhead.
It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.
Thank you Anne Shirley and L.M. Montgomery.
My Ten Questions
When did you feel like a “real” writer?
How do you overcome resistance?
What advice would you give yourself as a wannabe writer?
Do you prefer writing or editing?
What part of the writing process do you struggle with the most?
Do you Nanowrimo?
What authors do you follow on social media?
What’s more important to you; a good plot or beautiful writing?
When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?
Aside from the grey period when law school sucked out all the joy, I’ve always loved books and reading. But I never thought I could be a writer. I wasn’t creative or deep enough. Yet the need to create stories niggled at me for years. I’ve done Nanowrimo, attended a few short courses and produced five or six half-finished novels but never had the confidence to take myself seriously. Then during some maudlin navel gazing, I realised writing a novel was my life’s ambition. So I decided to get serious and come out as a writer.
What genre do you write?
I like to make stuff up so speculative fiction is my genre. A bit sci-fi but no spaceships. A bit fantasy but no ‘chosen ones’. I’ve tried writing in other genres (urban fantasy, crime etc) but the stories did not feel right. It did not feel like me. Speculative fiction is a comfy place to be.
Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?
I’ve got a full production line going with four or five pieces in various stages of drafting, editing and resting. My Monolith trilogy has been my main focus for the past eighteen months but I’m taking a break and currently working on a set of steampunk YA novellas set in 1880s Melbourne. My heroine is a 17 year old ex-pickpocket and acrobat now living in the Colonies with her long-lost father.
What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?
There was the cringe inducing poetry published in the school magazine, featuring thinly veiled phallic imagery. Good times.
What’s the best part about writing?
Reaching the magical flow state, when the story takes over and ideas appear out of nowhere. I am just the implement recording the words on the page. It’s pretty damn cool.
What’s the worst part about writing?
When everything I write is a steaming pile of poo and the vicious voices whisper in my ear, telling I have no talent and I’m wasting my time.
What’s the name of your favourite character and why?
Anne of Green Gables. Manic, kooky and fragile, she leaps from the page. She’s the inspiration for my steampunk heroine, Evangeline. Although in real life, Anne would get on my nerves. Such a drama queen.
How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?
I’m one of those annoying A-type personalities. Since I decided to get serious, I write or edit every day. But writing is my happy place. In an ideal world, I’d spend every morning writing. But in real life, I write whenever and where ever I get a chance.
Did you go to college for writing?
Nope. I’m ambivalent about writing degrees. For me, writing is about discipline and practice. Can those skills be taught in a class at university? I’ve done short courses in the past. Now I read writing reference books and try to read critically.
What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?
Spelling errors. They stand out like a big angry zit.
What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?
“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” – Steven Pressfield
What advice would you give to another writer?
First drafts are always shit – go Hemingway!
Stop talking about writing and write
The real work starts after you’ve finished the first draft
What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?
The Creative Penn, Story Grid, Steven Pressfield, Chuck Wendig. Encouragement comes from the brilliant Monthly Writing Challenge crew on Twitter.
Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?
I spend a lot of time in my head and sitting on my bum, so I try to balance this out with walking, running and weight training. I love to lose myself in books and films.
What’s the best book you’ve read this year?
Three way tie between Perdido Street Station – China Mieville, Parable of the Sower – Octavia E Butler and Sunne in Splendour – Sharon Penman. Speculative fiction in three different ways.
What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?
Cheap Thrills – a twisted movie about what people will do for money.
What is your favourite book or series of all time?
Of all time? Too hard. Currently I’m into Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series. Recently completed Book 5 – Foxglove Summer and anxiously awaiting #6.
Who is your favourite author?
Depends on the direction of the wind and what I’ve had for breakfast. I’ve mentioned a few authors above. Other honourable mentions include Val McDermid, CJ Sansom and Michael Robotham.
What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?
Hopefully to start querying my Monolith trilogy by the end of the year. Exciting times. Wish me luck!
It’s time for part four of my “revisiting childhood favourites” series with The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.
Maria Merryweather is an orphan (of course) and sent to live with her long lost uncle in the West Country at Moonacre Manor. She takes the long journey by carriage through the night with her bilious governess and Wiggins, her grumpy spoiled spaniel. Her new home is mysterious, mythic and magical. Her uncle tells tales of the tragic love story of the Moon Princess and Sir Wrolf, the first Merryweather, and of course the rarely seen little white horse.
Firstly it must be said, this book should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in glorious world-building. The descriptions of Moonacre Manor and its characters are vibrant and rich. From cosy cave houses and circular bedrooms in towers to a curmedgeonly dwarf with a rich vocabulary baking fairy cakes and lavish descriptions of hearty country meals (very reminiscent of Enid Blyton) to a cat that can write and the grumpy spoiled Wiggins, the spaniel.
But the story itself is a little strange. The haughty Maria bullies her family (both immediate and estranged) into complying with her wishes. All the while maintaining a relationship with a shepherd boy which no one questions. And this is supposedly 1842. There is much talk of “wicked men” and yet she converts them to goodness with harsh words and pearls. Reality aside, she is a firebrand who gets what she wants. A feisty female protagonist.
But the pleasure in this book is the imaginative world-building. If you are interested in descriptions or characterisation, I urge you read this book. Especially the first few chapters as Maria explores her new home.
One of the curious things about my writing life is I write sci-fi but I don’t often read it. I’ve recently made an effort to read some “masterworks” to fill my gaps.
Don’t you hate it when you find a brilliant “new” writer, only to find out they are already dead? I’m definitely late to the Octavia Butler party, the trail blazing African American female sci-fi writer. Before reading a word of her work, only her bio, I was filled with deep respect for Butler.
First I read Bloodchild (mainly because it was free and I am cheap). I thoroughly enjoyed the story of the alien host and her human servants. Although reading the end notes, I jumped to the conclusion (like many others) that it was a story about slavery. Apparently not!
Then while on a recent trip to the US, I came across Parable of the Sower in a bookshop. The luxury of holidays gave me time to devour it quickly. If I’d been at home (and not required to be social), I would’ve curled up in a corner until I finished it.
In Parable of the Sower, Lauren is 17 and lives in a neighbourhood compound in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. Her father is the local preacher and community leader where the neighbours band together to keep themselves safe from the dangers outside the walls. The outside world is dangerous, filled with drug addicts who revel in fire.
Lauren listens to her father’s sermons but she has her own ideas about what God is. Over time her thoughts formulate in her mind, she is creating her own religion. It is called Earthseed.
One night, the compound and Lauren’s world is breached. She leaves and must fend for herself on the highways of California, looking for safety and a new life. All the while, building on her ideas for a new faith.
But the Parable of the Sower is much more than a dystopian road story.
As an aspirant writer, this is one of those books that made me want to put my pen down and give it all away. The prose so crisp and precise. The concepts so big and mind-chewing. This is what I want to be when I grow up.
As I said in my review of AYTGIMM, I’m ignorant about religion. The Parable of the Sower passage from the Bible has no meaning to me. I brought no preconceived ideas when I started reading.
With the chaos around her, Lauren sees God as objective. God is change and cares only about survival. There is no moral overlay about right or wrong. It just is. This reminds of the concepts in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile. Another book which wowed me.
I was struck by a single line. “Some people see nature as God.” Pow. There’s my worldview in a nutshell in a way I’d never considered it before. The way some people see God is the way I see nature/the universe. Awe inspiring and all powerful. But like Lauren, I never placed the moral overlay on nature. She doesn’t care about you and me as individuals. She only wants to continue on.
This book has stayed with me for months now. What more can you ask for in a book? Entertainment plus a soul searching challenge on your view of the universe.
Blog posts have been a little tardy. I’ve been distracted by the main game, my fiction. But let’s return to my favourite childhood books.
The next book in my series revisiting childhood classics is from Judy Blume. A classic children’s writer, I remember her books fondly. But funny how your memory plays tricks on you.
Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire – John Dewey (1859-1952)
As an 80s child, my reading life was chock full of Judy Blume. I owned a copy of Starring Sally J Friedman As Herself. (This could explain why a kid in Tasmania in the late 1980s was reading biographies of old film stars like Lana Turner. Although as a voracious reader, I did work my way through most of the books in my small local library.)
Blubber. Super Fudge. Forever was the taboo book when I was in Grade 6, to be hidden from the parents under the mattress because it had s.e.x in it.
Then of course Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (AYTGIMM). The quintessential book on growing up. So today, I’m revisiting my old friend, Margaret.
Margaret has just moved to Jersey from NYC and she’s eleven. The child of a Jewish father and a Christian mother, she has grown up without religion, yet she talks to God every night. Margaret has a new school, new friends and new womanly body to manage.
Before I started to read this book, my memories of AYTGIMM were all about bras and periods. I expected it to be full of female body stuff. A fiction version of Everygirl. But on re-reading, I was surprised to discover that puberty is only one part of the story. The more important storyline is Margaret’s spiritual search. Is she Jewish or is she Christian? Who is this God she speaks to?
Looking at the title of this book, the religious element is completely obvious. Like Margaret, I grew up without religion, but I never went through a religious curiosity phase like she does. Margaret chooses to explore religion as the topic of her year long school project. As a child, this part of the story must not have resonated with me. Perhaps the difference is the overt religious tension in Margaret’s family. Or I blocked it out and focused on the juicy stuff.
AYTGIMM was probably the first time I read about someone like me, dealing with their newly adult bits, bras and periods, secret clubs and talking on the phone for hours about (very important) nothing. The “Two Minutes in a Closet” brought back cringe worthy memories of my own Grade 6 parties. Did we get the idea from this book? Although we used an ensuite bathroom. It brought back memories of my own experiences of being eleven.
The stand-out characters were Sylvia, Margaret’s grandmother and Laura Danker. Interfering and vibrant, Sylvia sounds like a super fun grandma but incredibly infuriating for Margaret’s mother. Laura Danker is a tragic innocent character. An early developer, the world makes assumptions about her morals just because she has boobs.
I didn’t enjoy AYTGIMM as much as I thought I would. The puberty stuff is of no interest anymore and neither is the religious angle. But I hope this book still resonates with eleven year old girls wondering what’s going on with their bodies and making sense of religious tension in their family. Just not for me.
Next book in line is The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. Apparently I’m in good company as this is also a favourite of JK Rowling.
The next book in my series of revisiting childhood favourites is Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery.
Ah the memories…when I opened the first few pages of Anne of Green Gables, I was transported back to Grade 5 and my small primary school library in Launceston, Tasmania where I first borrowed this book. All the iconic phrases made me smile; the puffed sleeves, the alabaster brow, kindred spirits, bosom friends. I can see why people travel to Prince Edward Island today to see where Anne lived.
If you haven’t read or seen Anne of Green Gables, basically it’s the story of an eleven year old orphan* who is mistakenly sent to live with a gruff brother and sister in Avonlea on Prince Edward Island. The brother and sister really wanted a boy to help with the farm work but instead Anne arrives, filled with wild imaginative romantic notions and who cannot stop talking.
Reading Anne of Green Gables again was an absolute joy. I had forgotten what a wonderful character she is, so quirky and irrepressible. Despite her terrible childhood prior to moving to Avonlea, Anne is optimistic. An uneducated orphan, she built a fertile imagination to cope. But Anne is not all sunshine and lollipops, she’s feisty and stubborn. She stands up for herself and others if she feels she is being mistreated. There is no doubting why this is an absolute classic, Anne is such an endearing character who leaps off the page.
The novel travels through Anne’s life from aged eleven to over sixteen. Anne doesn’t just flounce about the countryside for 300 pages. We see Anne mature, and to some extent, conform. Towards the end of the book, where Anne buckles down to study hard for her examinations, I missed the quirky, nutty, overly emotive Anne. She makes tough decisions in the end, particularly hard decisions for a sixteen year old. Compared to the Blyton boarding school books where the characters are of similar ages, Anne grows up and makes adult decisions, unlike the protected girls from St.Clare’s.
Side note – Were 17 year olds really teaching school in Canada in the early 20th century?
Like Blyton, there are very few men in Anne of Green Gables too. Only the man-of-few-words Matthew and her number one rival, Gilbert Blythe. Anne is surrounded by strong, opinionated and capable women.
From a structural perspective, I wondered whether this book was originally a serial. The structure is very episodic, with 10 page self-contained chapters, perfect for a quick 15-20 minute read before bed or perhaps designed for reading to children. The structure reminded me of a TV series with the “story of the week” with its beginning, middle and end, plus a thin thread of overarching story. I’m now inspired to try this structure myself… one day. I’ve already got 5 novels in the works at the moment, in various stages from Draft#7 at 100k words to a paragraph of jotted thoughts. Maybe in 2018?
All in all, Anne of Green Gables stands up as a wonderful read and truly worthy of its classic status.
What’s next? Get ready for the real side of blossoming womanhood. It’s time for bras and periods with Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret.
Do you have fond memories of Anne with an e?
*What’s with orphans in childhood literature? I’m sure there’s a million PhD theses on this topic.
Here’s the first instalment of a new blog series where I revisit my favourite children’s books, beginning with Enid Blyton’s The O’Sullivan Twins.
I loved Enid Blyton …
Good old Aunty Enid is the grand dame of influences. A little passe and politically incorrect these days but Blyton was the influence for me. From Noddy to The Enchanted Wood to the Famous Five to the Naughtiest Girl/St.Clares/Mallory Towers series, Blyton was my author.
I owned a large illustrated copy of The Enchanted Wood and dressed up as Silkie for Book Week (another reference to Book Week dress-ups in a future blog post). The Famous Five probably whet my appetite for mysteries and I also remember the 70s telly series fondly. Sing along with me now… “George and Timmy the dog..”
I loved most of Enid’s book but her boarding school books were my absolute favourite. Maybe I need some therapy to understand why. I loved the idea of midnight feasts, “short sheeting”, French prep, being “sent to Coventry” and lacrosse. I longed to go to boarding school and devoured all of these books.
Then I re-read the O’Sullivan twins…
I don’t spend much time in the children’s section of bookshops, so I was shocked at the number of Enid Blyton books still on the shelves. I thought in these days of Harry Potter, YA and MG galore, Aunty Enid would be less popular. Wrong.
From the first few lines of The O’Sullivan Twins, I was transported back. The words and the character were so familiar. How many times had I read this before? I giggled along at the quintessentially British language and the tropes. It was all there; midnight feasts, “bricks” and “old girls”, lacrosse matches, French prep, descriptions of cake and “being sent to Coventry”. The now sensible O’Sullivan Twins return to St.Clare’s for their second term, this time accompanied by their “feather-headed bleating” cousin Alison.
But as I progressed through the book, I was transported back to the feelings of a tweenie. I was shocked by the way the girls treat each other, there’s an awful lot of bullying in this book. Girls ganging up on each other, gossiping and isolating individuals for their “mean and spiteful” behaviour. And this is exactly what I remember about being a tweenie.
This is a moral tale for playing by the rules and conforming. Margery is the sullen outsider who redeems herself and teaches the twins a lesson about assumptions. I was surprised how old the girls were (fourteen to sixteen). The girls at St.Clare’s lead a terribly sheltered life, yet there is tragedy and teen angst, father-daughter relationships, family accidents and poverty. Aside from their fathers and one mention of a gardener, there are no men in the world of St.Clare’s. Is that what Blyton was trying to do? Create a series of books to teach young women the right way to behave in WW2 Britain?
With my writer hat on, I was surprised at the “head-hopping” or point of view changes within the same paragraph. I thought ‘head-hopping’ was a big no-no. But if Aunty Enid can do it…?
When I finished the last page and said goodbye to my old friends, my feelings on boarding school have changed. I couldn’t think of anything worse than going to St.Clare’s with all the bullying and conformity. But I am hankering for an afternoon tea with “Buns and jam! Fruit cake! Meringues! Chocolate eclairs!”