Category: reading

#27 – Charles Chu – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 27 with Charles Chu – non-fiction writer & Medium top contributor

“You need to do a little guerrilla warfare as a new writer.”

Episode 27 – Charles Chu – Show Notes
  • Starting with an emotion or aesthetic in essays and non-fiction
  • Walking as a ritual and Japanese coffee
  • As a Chinese American growing up in a white culture
  • Psychology first – consistency, then building on improving writing practice
  • Writing for the internet; how digestible is the writing? Trial and error approach
  • John McPhee, On Writing Well by William Zinsser, copywriting
  • Moving into fiction; the Year of 100 Rejections
  • Gene Wolfe, Haruki Murakami, Ken Liu
  • Juggling lots of projects to balance out the failures
  • Ray Bradbury inspiring the year of 100 rejections
  • Tips on how to get stories featured on Medium

“I grew as a child questioning where my place was.”

“Visualising things from the reader’s perspective.”

“Reframing failure as something I should try to do.”

Read More

#24 – Sione Aeschliman – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 24 with Sione Aeschliman – editor, writer & writing coach

“Approaching both praise & constructive criticism with curiosity”

Episode 24 – Sione Aeschliman – Show Notes
  • Pantsing short stories but plotting novels
  • Defining Prose poetry
  • The Beverage Triangle
  • Key theme – being your true self without shame
  • Attitude towards feedback both positive and negative
  • Learning about reader’s expectations and ask questions
  • Giving editing clients at least a week to process their feelings
  • Editing improves ability to read critically. Making notes as you read and going back to analyse why you reacted this way.
  • Learning about structure and storytelling. Working on beginnings
  • Margaret Attwood, Ursula le Guin, Alexander Weinstein, James Tate, Russell Edson
  • #RevPit: annual Twitter contest focused on editing and learning. Starts April 21st 2018
  • Working on four or five projects at the same time, including historical pirate romance novel and an ebook on structure, plot points and pacing.
  • Madeleine’s tip – Grief and change

“It’s hard to know what you’re going to write until you’ve written it.”

“We all need an outlet for our angst.”

Read More

#23 – Dean Mayes – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 23 with Dean Mayes – romance, family saga & thriller writer

“Cherrypick techniques but develop your own style and process.”

Episode 23 – Dean Mayes – Show Notes
  • Balance between structure and disappearing down rabbit holes
  • Writing story notes by his patient’s bedside
  • Writing romance in Star Wars pajamas
  • Spending a lot of constructing characters and people watching, women and men and their responses to challenges
  • Understanding the Aboriginal experience
  • Process of outlining with Scrivener
  • Using pencil to get away from plastic
  • Molly Ringle, Simon Winchester
  • A world exclusive!
  • Madeleine’s tip – Reading Critically

“Outlining has been a positive tool to improve my writing.”

“A love letter to the two towns I’ve lived in.”

Read More

#19 – Karen Rose Smith – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 19 with Karen Rose Smith – Romance & cosy mystery writer

“Writing, along with cats, is my therapy.”

Episode 19 – Karen Rose Smith – Show Notes
  • Writing after back surgery to deal with pain
  • Husband and cats
  • Dictation; more editing involved but writing goes faster
  • Relationships; family, romantic and in small towns
  • Writing every day hones your instincts
  • Writing 13 books before being published
  • Getting manuscripts in early and saying no
  • Daisy Tea Garden mysteries; tea shops, Amish country, family relationships
  • Emilie Loring, Glenna Finley, Kathleen E Woodiwiss, Harlan Corben, Jodi Piccoult, Dan Brown, Lisa Scottoline
  • Madeleine’s tip – dealing with comparisonitis

“When I’m alone in the dark with the tape recorder, I’m good”

“Reading a genre you don’t write sharpens your skills”

Read More

#18 – David Moody – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 18 with David Moody – Horror writer & indie-publishing pioneer

“I’m a torturer at heart.”

Episode 18 – David Moody – Show Notes
  • An extreme plotter
  • Best time for plot development is during running
  • Procrastinating as a full-time writer
  • Hybrid publishing and the dark ages of indie publishing
  • Writing in 45 minute chunks
  • Ordinary people in extreme apocalyptic situations
  • Setting rules and having discipline
  • The cloud – accessible from everywhere for when inspiration strikes
  • Richard Matheson, John Wyndham, and learning from James Herbert; the writing and the man
  • The ‘sidequel’: creating two trilogies to create one big story
  • Madeleine’s tip – the Four Tendencies

“Definitely, irritatingly, a plotter”
“The less time I’ve got, the better my writing is.”
“I always feel dirty when I say this but I’m just a people watcher.”

Read More

#11 – Steve Turnbull – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 11 with Steve Turnbull – Fantasy, steampunk & erotica writer

“The thing that improves your writing is writing.”

Episode 11 – Steve Turnbull – Show Notes
  • Don’t feel guilty for not writing
  • Themes include ‘all your favourite prejudices’
  • Changing and developing as an artist. Inspired by Bowie
  • Not necessarily trying new things but rather telling a story the way it needs to be told
  • Kymiera from screenplay to novel and back to screenplay
  • Cider with Rosie
  • Don’t write too many series at once, your fans will be demanding sequels
  • Madeleine’s tip – Reading Widely

“Don’t you pity our protagonists and what we put them through.”

Read More

#09 – Garth Nix – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 09 with Garth Nix – uber best selling YA & children’s fantasy writer

“The foundation of my writing is reading, and broad reading.

Episode 09 – Garth Nix – Show Notes
  • Having multiple stories on the go all at once
  • Momentum in writing – spending 80% of his time to write first half, 20% to complete the second half
  • Writing stories for yourself, which make you curious to find out what happens
  • Reading widely equips you with instincts for your writing and gives you the broadest set of tools to draw on
  • The role of a good editor to make you a better writer
  • Experimenting with form and points of view but the story dictates how it should be told
  • Madeleine’s tip – Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages

“As you add more energy into it, it (the story) takes on a life of its own”

“I don’t think ‘how am I going to challenge myself?’, I think what is the best way to tell this story.”

Read More

#08 – Dave Hutchinson – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode 08 with Dave Hutchinson – award winning sci-fi writer & prophet

“You know in your head what a good book is. Try and be that good book.”

Episode 8 – Dave Hutchinson – Show Notes
  • A natural short story writer and more comfortable in 1st person but currently writing novels in 3rd
  • Winging it
  • Europe books: prophetic by accident
  • Write something that satisfies you as a reader. Read widely – it’s all writing
  • Discovering ordinary people in sci-fi
  • Struggling with the fourth Europe book
  • Madeleine’s tip – no internet before writing

“I’m a better writer than I am a plumber.”

“John Le Carre is the guv’nor.”

Read More

#04 – Kristy Acevedo – Write Through The Roof

Welcome to Write Through The Roof, the podcast for writers who want to improve their craft.

Episode o4 with Kristy Acevedo – YA Sci-fi author & writing community leader

In and Out, Diverse Voices and Dried Mango

“It’s getting harder to be in survival mode and also produce art.”

Episode 04 – Kristy Acevedo – Show Notes
  • The 100 page discovery draft
  • Dried mango as a writing aid
  • Getting in and out of a scene as soon as possible
  • JK Rowling and Stephen King as inspirations but not for the reasons you might think
  • Championing working class and disadvantaged voices
  • Madeleine’s segment: The Monthly Twitter Writing Challenge
Links
Episode 04 – Interview transcript coming soon…

Hand-me-down superstitions: magpies, silver coins and calendars

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

Here’s a summary of the responses…

Read More

Superstitions, Steampunk and Speculative Fiction Reviews

I’m back in the swing of this writing thing after a brilliant holiday and so what’s next for me?

Origins of Common Superstitions monthly series
I’m writing a monthly series for the fabulous Folklore Thursday exploring the origins of common superstitions.
So far, I’ve written about;
· Bad Luck comes in Threes: Matches, Murderers or Mathematics
· The Origins of ‘Touch Wood’: Tree Spirits, The True Cross, or Tag?

And there’s another eight more to come….

Read More

Good scary versus bad scary – drawing the line in horror

I’ve got horror all around me at the moment. My current work-in-progress is a gothic horror novel, I’m watching a lot of Twin Peaks, enjoying Devil’s Candy and The Stone Tape, anticipating Raw and working my way through the back catalogue of Shirley Jackson.

My question today is why do I like some dark, spooky, scary stuff but not others.

Firstly, I’m curious. Why do we like to be scared?

Read More

Recent reads – The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

In the past few months, I’ve fallen in love with Shirley Jackson and her creepy weird normality. Today it’s The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson, a classic haunted house story, first published in 1959.

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.

Read More

Recent reads – Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley

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 and  the 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.

Read More

Recent reads: Anno Dracula by Kim Newman

Today it’s one of my all time favourite books, Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, first published in 1992 by Simon and Schuster. Alternative history with vampires!

In the world of Anno Dracula, Van Helsing lost and Dracula triumphed, killing Jonathan Harker and taking Mina Harker into his harem of vampire brides.

Read More

Recent read – The Ritual by Adam Nevill

The Ritual

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.

Read More

Recent Reads: Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch

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.

Read More

My 2017 writing goals – simple but not easy

Yes, yes, yes. It’s 1st January 2017 and just like everyone else, it’s time for me to declare my 2017 goals.

Here are my official writing goals for 2017.

I’ve decided to keep it simple and focused. But don’t get me wrong, they are big and scary goals too.

  1. Publish two new Evangeline episodes (and a collection – The Antics of Evangeline Volume 1)
  2. Finish and query The Flower and the Serpent (YA horror novel)
  3. Finish and query The Ravens of Ambrovna (light-fantasy feminist novel)

I’ll check on 30 June with my progress so far.

My other non-writing goals are more about keeping up my health and wellbeing routines, prioritising time for friends/family and reading.

What are your 2017 goals?

 

Set the Boy Free – Johnny Marr audiobook review

A few years back, a good friend of mine (Pete!) asked if I’d like to go and see Johnny Marr play at the Corner Hotel in Richmond. I have always been a Smiths fan and said ‘why not!’

Read More

Madeleine’s Speculative Fiction Review on artdistrict-radio.com

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.

 

My favourite books of 2016

Yep, another top 2016 list. But this one is all about me.

Here’s my list of 5 star rated books from my own goodreads list (because I can’t rely on my own memory) filled with vampires, time travel, near future spy thrillers and two present day thrillers.

beach-1852967_640

Read More

What book are you most grateful for?

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).

heart-792179_640

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?

Read More

Great sci-fi holiday reads – High Castle and Temp Job of Doom

I’ve been spending some quality time by a pool with books attached to my face. I started many, finished a few and really enjoyed two.

Here are my highlight holiday reads. Quite different but both sci-fi.

Let’s start with a classic.

Read More

What inspired The Antics of Evangeline – style

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.

Aside from Carriger, I channelled some

  • Wodehouse,
  • with a little Hugh Lawrie as Prince George in Blackadder III,


All these style influences mixed around in my brain to create Evangeline and her Marvellous Melbourne world.
Next time, I’ll continue with my Evangeline inspirations and move onto the story itself.

Interview with Beverley Lee on dark fantasy novel, The Making of Gabriel Davenport

Today I’m speaking with Beverley Lee as she launches her new dark fantasy novel, The Making of Gabriel Davenport.

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.FC

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.

The darkness is watching.

Read More

Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

Finally I’ve finished my series, re-reading my favourite books as a child. The last book in my series is The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend. A British classic of the 1980s.

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.

220px-thesecretdiaryofadrianmole

Read More

Reading habits of a beta reader

Today, an interview with a beloved beta reader of mine, Andrew. Andrew’s a voracious reader and so let’s learn a little more about his reading habits.

Tell me a little about yourself?

OK, single. Love city living. Currently binging on the show Jane the Virgin.

What are you currently reading?

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It’s about what happens when the world’s roatation slows down through the eyes of an 11 year-old girl. Good read.
12401556

How and when did you develop your love of reading?

I’ve always enjoyed reading, but it wasn’t until around 2007 when I started really buying up books by the tonne each year to read.
It kind of got kicked started from a friend I worked with you would mention the books she’d read each morning to and from work on her 1 hr train ride.

Read More

Recent Reads – Europe in Autumn

Why did I love Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson so much?

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.

europe-in-autumn-9781781081945_hr

When did you feel like a “real” writer? Part Four

Another couple of writers answer my question…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

Today

  • Kim Newman – author of the bloody amazing Anno Dracula (go get it now if you haven’t read it) and film critic.
  • Neil Gaiman – .writer of everything.

Screen Shot 2015-12-07 at 5.52.39 PM

neil gaiman

Was it 1982 or 2009 for you?

Tomorrow, another two writers answer my question.

How I “finished” – tip#3 Marinate for 4 weeks

Marinate for 4 weeks

When I’m in full on editing mode, I go cross-eyed. I can’t see “the wood for the trees.”

4

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!

Do you have a rule for resting your work?

Tomorrow – Tip#4 Thwarting Resistance.

 

Siblinghood of the World Blogger Award – my responses

I’ve been nominated by Beverley Lee to answer the following questions as part of the Siblinghood of the World Blogger awards. I answer 10 questions, then I pose 10 more questions to 10 more bloggers. Here we go…

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.

crop380w_istock_000003401233xsmall-question-marks

My Ten Questions

  1. When did you feel like a “real” writer?
  2. How do you overcome resistance?
  3. What advice would you give yourself as a wannabe writer?
  4. Do you prefer writing or editing?
  5. What part of the writing process do you struggle with the most?
  6. Do you Nanowrimo?
  7. What authors do you follow on social media?
  8. What’s more important to you; a good plot or beautiful writing?
  9. Do you take yourself on artist’s dates? What do you do?
  10. When friends and family ask “can I read your book?” What do you say?

My 10 nominated bloggers

Confessions of a writer tag

I’ve been tagged by Aura Eadon to answer the following questions arising from Nicolette Elzie‘s blog.

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?
  1. First drafts are always shit – go Hemingway!
  2. Stop talking about writing and write
  3. 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!

Where else can we find you online?

Twitter

Goodreads

Consider yourselves tagged.

Sara General

Mollie Smith

Annelisa Christensen

Mattias Ahlvin

What you are your thoughts on the questions above?

Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

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.

Recent reads – Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler

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.

Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

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.

www.onehundredonebooks.wordpress.com

Top 5 Influential Childhood books – Anne of Green Gables

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.

Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – Enid Blyton

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!”

What are your memories of Enid Blyton?

Re-reading my top 5 fave childhood books

I was pulling together a series of blog posts on my top 5 most influential books of my childhood and an idea struck me. Why not re-read all five books and review them with adult eyes.

So I’ll be reading and blogging about….

  • The O’Sullivan Twins by Enid Blyton
  • Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend
  • Starring Sally J Freedman as Herself by Judy Blume

All female writers too.

Look out for the posts in the weeks to follow….

Have you re-read your favourite childhood books as an adult?

It’s not you, it’s me – should I feel bad for abandoning books?

I have never been one to commit to books, or movies or TV shows. I can walk away at any time, even just a few moments before the end. If it hasn’t grabbed my attention, I can move on. No qualms. Maybe I’m just a commitment phobe.

But now as I’m spending hours and hours of my time writing and editing, every time I put aside a book for something newer and shinier, I have second thoughts. A little tinge of guilt…should I feel bad when I abandon reading a book?

www.booyorkcity.com

On the guilt inducing side…

I feel for the writer, now that I have some idea of the process. The hours, weeks, months and years poured into crafting every single word. Sometimes I feel bad for skimming over sentences, thinking back to my last writing session, where I laboured for forty five minutes over a single sentence. A sentence some callous reader could just skip over!

Then I think about how the writer made it through the gauntlet of the publishing world (although a lesser consideration these days with the thriving indie market), through the anguish of finding an agent and getting selected by a publisher. If it made it through the publishing gauntlet, it must be good, right?

On the other hand

Life is short. There are so many other books I could be reading. There are so many other fish in the sea. If it isn’t doing it for me, I should move on guilt-free.

This does not mean the book is bad. It just isn’t right for me at this moment. If I’m in the mood for a mystery with a hunchback lawyer from the 15th century, then an urban fantasy with a mixed race London bobby in the magical division is not going to cut it.

Of course, reading anything after a fantastic book is hard. Rebounds are always fleeting.

Other times, I’ve abandoned a book only to pick it up again later and devour it. Sometimes I’ve just got to be in the right mood.

After this conversation with myself, I’ve decided I don’t need to feel guilty about abandoning a book. It’s not you book, it’s me.

Do you abandon books?

Killer cockroaches and ashes – Imagination Fuel Diary

Are there any songs about Thursdays? I can’t think of any.

As an exercise in documenting my imagination fuel, I spent a day noting down interesting sights, sounds and topics for future writing. Inspiration is everywhere and you never know where the next gem might crop up.

You get ideas from daydreaming. You get ideas from being bored. You get ideas all the time. The only difference between writers and other people is we notice when we’re doing it. ~ Neil Gaiman

  • A burnt out building.

As I walked to work, I caught sight inside a fire damaged building. The news stories said the fire was suspicious. I peeked inside (actually I stopped and had a proper gawk) at the smoke damaged walls, the blackened beams, the smashed skylights, the missing first floor, the piles of debris, the grey, white and black.

  • A ballet costume on a bill poster plastered to a brick wall

A vibrant green male ballet dancer jumping the air with a flowing cape from the Australian Ballet’s production of a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Here’s the image from the poster.

www.artcentremelbourne.com

  • Killer cockroaches preserved in amber found in Myanmar

A “crane giraffe” killer cockroach from 100 million years ago has been found preserved in amber. Sounds like the premise of a horror movie to me.

  • A bumper sticker “Avenge Sevenfold”

This might be some kind of brand or a bikie gang, but my imagination went to a tale of brotherhood and family rivalry.

Note: turns out my memory is faulty and this is a US metal band and their name is Avenged Sevenfold. Good name though.

What you noticed today which fuelled your imagination?

Tips from an author with 300 million books sold – James Patterson

James Patterson is in town this week. Whilst I’m not really a fan, you can’t argue with a guy who’s sold 300 million books. I went along to hear him speak and hoping to catch any snippets any wisdom. Hoping, perhaps some of his success would rub off on the audience. Here’s my take on his story, his process and the importance of self-promotion.

My first impression, what a down to earth guy! Witty, self-deprecating and a little bit cheeky, the talk was very entertaining, with many chuckles. Not at all what I expected…

His story

  • Started reading again for pleasure while working the night shift in a mental hospital
  • Every short story he submitted was rejected
  • His first novel – The Thomas Berryman Number was rejected 31 times before winning the Edgar Award for Best First Novel
  • At his acceptance speech for the Edgar, he said “I guess I’m a writer now.”
  • The highlight of his Hollywood career was appearing the Simpsons, as a fantasy of Marge’s.

His wisdom included…

Writing craft and his own process

  • The best writing is crisp and short, including short chapters. He repeatedly used the word “crisp”.
  • His strength – to turn anything into a story
  • His weakness – patience to truly hone his work, rather than moving on to the next project
  • On co-writing, he sees it as a team effort. Screenwriters/TV writers work in teams. He also uses researchers.
  • On characters, the reader does not need to know everything about a character, only what makes them interesting.

Why people like thrillers (especially his own)

  • Solving puzzles
  • Involvement with both the hero and the villain
  • Satisfactory endings – so lacking in everyday life or true crime

Key takeaway – Self promotion

I was really interested in how he developed his own ad for “Along Came a Spider”. Working in advertising at the time, he pitched an ad to his publishers. They rejected the idea, but he went ahead and did it himself out of his own pocket. This advertisement helped push the book into the best seller lists. A great example of taking control of your own marketing and brand.

He told a great follow-up story, where he watched a woman pick up his book in a shop and was filled with delight, only to see her slip the book in her handbag without paying. Does shoplifting count as a sale?

He also spoke on the need to support independent bookshops (worried about the Amazon monopoly) and building a passion for reading in children. Here here!

An enjoyable evening with a few nuggets of wisdom for this budding writer.

www.jamespatterson.com

Recent reads – The Profession by Steven Pressfield

Since listening to Shawn Coyne on The Creative Penn podcast, I’ve been obsessed with the Story Grid – advice for editing novels.

The Story Grid (book soon to be released) is a story design system and a step-by-step process for analysing and improving your writing. It teaches you to be your own editor. Definitely one for process-minded, plotter, spreadsheet nerds like me.

Shawn Coyne works closely with Steven Pressfield (of War of Art, which I blogged about in my recent post on Kicking Resistance in the nuts) and one of my recent completed reads was Steven Pressfield’s The Profession. While reading, I had one eye firmly on the Story Grid system, looking for the tips and structure outlined by Coyne. Luckily, The Profession is also a cracking read.

The Profession is set in the near future, following the story of Gent, a soldier for hire. The Middle East is a mess of corporations, tribal war lords and nation-states, all vying for supremacy and protecting their interests by hiring mercenaries. Gent, after years of warfare and campaigns, knows no other life.

I am a warrior. What I narrate in these pages is between me and other warriors. I will say things only they will credit and only they understand.

Gent works for a disgraced US General, Salter. His devotion to Salter is absolute. He loves this man and unquestioning, follows this man into anything.

Now, on the face of it, this is a book for blokes. It’s a geo-political thriller with gun fights and machinations, warriors and mercenaries and there’s a lot of gear porn in it. Loads of description about guns and bombs and helicopters. Information I skipped over.

Yet underneath the testosterone, there is something epic about this story, something mythic. I’m no historical scholar and Pressfield’s other works include Roman historical novels,  but there was something familiar about the tale of Gent and his loyalty to Salter. It resonated. Is it based on a myth or is it completely original? I’m not sure and I don’t care. Richer than your average thriller, I was moved by Gent’s anguish as he faces the tests of his love and devotion to Salter and choosing right from wrong. It felt bigger than just blowing stuff up.

Back to the Story Grid, I flicked backwards and forwards between reading this for pleasure and looking for the elements of the Grid in it. One of the key elements of the Story Grid is internal and external value at stake. Although I was looking for the structure through out the book, this was a great example of the battle between the main character’s internal and external values. How the character changes through the story and how inner conflict and external conflict play out.

I recommend The Profession for an intelligent, fast paced read (and for writers, I recommend the Story Grid.)

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.

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

Recent Reads – The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman

I’m on a real historical fiction jaunt and my most recently finished novel is The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman. Originally published in 1982, this was re-released in 2013 with additional author notes.

This is the re-telling of the story of Richard III, a large monstrous figure, who Penman feels was wrongly treated by history and this is her version of the events. I’m no history buff (which makes my sudden penchant for historical event even stranger, more on that later) and had little more than a passing knowledge of Richard III and his story – his caricature as a deformed Machiavellian king. I came to this story with an open mind and went along for the ride. And it was a rollicking ride over 1,200 pages, keeping my interest along the whole way. Others with pre-conceived ideas about the “real” Richard III may not have as much fun as I did. With her excellent storytelling, I could suspend my disbelief and go along with Penman’s tale of a man betrayed by his friends and history.

The novel starts in 1459 and is split into four books; Edward, Anne, Lord of the North, Richard by the Grace of God.

I was surprised how two-thirds of the novel was devoted to the reign of his brother, Edward. Perhaps this build-up was what kept my interest, I was waiting to find out what happened when Richard actually became King. The battle scenes are lively and colourful, providing great insight into the battle strategy and the bloodiness of medieval wars. The politics and alliances are wild and tempestuous, outstripping any of the political shenanigans in modern day.

I struggled occasionally with the names of the characters but this is where the facts constrain the author. There were far too many Edwards, Georges, Johns and Richards. Then titles were awarded, then stripped. Who is Earl of Warwick now? Those medieval people needed more variety in their names.

The female characters were strong, from the equally evil Marguerite d’Anjou to Elizabeth Woodville and Richard’s own mother, Cecily Neville. The book highlighting the influence of strong women in the shadows and mainly left out of history. My interest waned a little with the love stories, but I do have a heart of stone.

The book concludes with Penman’s author notes and a 2013 update following the discovery of Richard’s remains under a carpark in Leicester.

I highly recommend this book for great storytelling, pace and character. But I will leave the believability of Penman’s version of events up to you.

www.amazon.com

Now, why am I obsessed with historical fiction at the moment? My current theory is I enjoy exploring how well formed and believable characters respond to great moments in history. Seeing from a personal perspective makes the bigger historical events more real. As a reader, I have the benefit of dramatic irony and knowledge of what’s to come, I am better informed than the characters and I’m curious to see the effect on their lives and how they’ll react. In some part relating back to my own life and wondering how would I have responded if my husband was killed in battle and I had to seek sanctuary in a church, or if the Russians came into my town after WW2. I also learn a bit of history along the way.

Do you like historical fiction? Why does it resonate with you?

Recent reads – Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

It’s historical fiction time! I first picked up a Ken Follett book in a secondhand bookshop when travelling through Nicaragua. I was looking for a big thick saga to read by the pool and Pillars of the Earth ticked all the boxes. Follett has been a guilty pleasure ever since.

Edge of Eternity is the latest Ken Follett novel, the third in his Century series, continuing to follow families in Russia, Germany, the UK and the US from 1961 to 1989. This is another doorstopper of a book, running over 1,000 pages (yay Christmas holidays, otherwise this would have taken me months to read) but there’s an awful lot of history crammed inside.

I was entertained right to the end, keen to see how the characters reacted to the events of 1989, considering a significant amount of the book was set in Eastern Europe. These sections were particularly interesting to me. However Edge of Eternity is weaker than Follett’s previous novels. Many characters were thin with the focus more on the historical details. Tania, the Russian journalist, was one of the exceptions and Maria Summers, the African-American bureaucrat. Although at the end, Maria’s regrets had my feminist alarm bell ringing. I was also surprised there was no mention of Chernobyl, although I guess Follett could not have included everything, otherwise it would be a 2,000 page book.

All in all, not as good as Pillars of the Earth or Falls of Giants, but still entertaining enough to keep me gripped for 1,000 plus pages.

edge of eternity

Recent reads – Csardas by Diane Pearson

When I’m writing my speculative fiction, I try to read from another contrasting genre to cut down on the influence. So during Nanowrimo 2014, I read historical fiction instead and the novel “Csardas” by Diane Pearson.

Csardas, a family saga set in Hungary, traces the lives of three privileged families from the simple days prior to WW1 right through the establishment of the Communist regime post WW2. The novel begins following the “enchanting Ferenc sisters” Eva and Malie as they enter society and as the world collapses into WW1. It follows the losses and uncertainty of war and the impact on their suitors and their families as everyone tries to make sense of the new world. This story continues following their brothers and eventually their children.

With a large number of character, only three really captured my interest. The two sisters, the sensible and strong Malie, the frivolous and silly Eva and later in the novel, the son of a peasant on the neighbouring Kaldy estate, Janos. We follow Janos from his abject poverty to his blossoming career in the new communist world, a man who cannot connect with his own feelings.

This book had a little too much romance for my liking (yes, I am a bitter old prune), however the struggle for the old guard to come to terms with the new world captured my interest, especially shown through Eva who bitterly complains about not receiving roses, when they barely have enough bread to eat.

Interesting, yet saggy in the middle.

csardas

Recent reads – The Rook by Daniel O’Malley

I’m a bit late to this party but The Rook is a highly awarded book which I thoroughly enjoyed. The travesty is I picked it up from a local second hand book shop in the $2 bin. Bargain for me, but such a shame. Worth every cent!

The Rook is an urban fantasy set in modern day London. Myfanwy Thomas, a high ranking official in a secret paranormal government agency, has regained consciousness, she has two black eyes and no memory of who she is. Luckily she has letters in her pocket from herself, explaining what to do next.

In a similar vein to Ben Aaronovitch (but can I suggest maybe better?!), The Rook is funny, weird and richly imaginative speeding along with gripping action and bizarre monstrous characters.The world of Myfanwy and The Chequy is so vivid and well detailed, I can almost picture the television series.
Hunt this one down and immerse yourself in Myfanwy’s world. When’s No.2 coming out?

wpid-DanielOMalleyTheRook-2014-03-10-14-20

Recent reads – My Notorious Life by Kate Manning

My Notorious Life by Kate Manning is the tale of Axie/Ann Muldoon, an Irish immigrant child from the slums of New York.

Opening in 1880 with Ann using a tragedy as an opportunity, we follow Axie back to her humble beginnings , starving and cold, begging with her younger brother, Joe and sister, Dutchie as her mum lies ill in bed.

The story follows Axie/Ann throughout her life as she taken to an orphanage, is moved out West to find new families and eventually finding her own occupation.

Ann begins to help women with their fertility, in a time when men had begun to usurp the role of midwifes. She eventually becomes the Notorious Madame DeBeausacq, controversial and wildly successful purveyor of remedies for women’s health.

Axie is lively and spirited, inspirational and tragic, a successful woman never forgetting the streets where she came from with a dogged devotion to her family.

I found this novel compelling and heart breaking, particularly the backdrop of the world of women’s health during this period. The men who sought to demonise the ancient craft of midwifery and the women who helped others, assisting with births and providing remedies to prevent/promote pregnancy.

An interesting historical read about a controversial business woman. Recommended.

manning

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén