Category: world building

Recent Reads: The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

Today I’m going to talk space opera with The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, first self-published in 2014 but now available through Hodder and Stoughton.

It’s time to talk spaceships.

The Wayfarer is a tunnelling ship, creating wormholes between planets, captained by a pacifist and crewed by a diverse group of characters from across the galaxy. In this ‘world’ (using the term loosely because there are many worlds), humanity is only one of a number of species all grouped together under the Galactic Council.

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“She’s dead. Wrapped in plastic”: rewatching Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks Season 3 is coming out in May 2017 and I’ve been meaning to look back at Twin Peaks for a long time. I was sixteen when it was first on television in Tasmania, and it was a strong influence on me. So in anticipation of the new season,  I’m committed to rewatching all 30 episodes, I’m doing it and I’m going to share my thoughts here.

There will be ***SPOILERS*** but come on, it’s been over 25 years since it was shown.

Let’s start with “Pilot” or “Northwest Passage”. Today I’m focusing on my initial feelings and reactions to the whole premise, rather than delving into the plot. More analysis of the plot will probably come later. But this is the episode where it all begins, Laura Palmer is found, Agent Cooper arrives and the crime investigation is underway.

As soon as the titles came up, the sparks of the saw mill, the waterfall, the Douglas firs and the deep slow bass of the theme tune, I was thrust back into 1991. Now, the opening titles font has really dated (day-glo green) but the rest of the design, clothing and setting is timeless, aside from one or two stray mullets.

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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.

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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.

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Birching, medieval peasant life & Norse names: random writing research

I’m in the midst of Nanowrimo and closing in on 50k. Hoorah! I dip into research as I write and so I thought I’d share a few random links for interesting things I’ve researched during the past few days. My Nanowrimo manuscript is fantasy, so I’m going all medieval on your arse.

Birching

The use of birch rods for punishment and birches were always my favourite tree. I now look at them in a different way.

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Interview with Annelisa Christensen – the Popish Midwife

I do love a bit of historical fiction and today, I’m talking with UK author, Annelisa Christensen. Some might know her from the weekly writers’ game, #1linewed, and some might know her from her blog, Script Alchemy, but she’s hoping that we’ll get to know her as the author of her debut novel The Popish Midwife: A tale of high treason, prejudice and betrayal.

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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.

What inspired Evangeline and the Alchemist – Place

Evangeline and the Alchemist, the first novella in my Mystery and Mayhem in steampunk Melbourne series, is almost ready to be launched upon the world.

Stay tuned for updates, but get ready to meet Evangeline in June 2016.

Today I’m focusing on what inspired Evangeline and the Alchemist and in this post, I’m focusing on place. The place is Melbourne and Melbourne is where I live.

The Antics of Evangeline are all set in Melbourne in 1882-83. In that period, Melbourne was the second largest city in the British Empire outside London.

After the Gold Rush of the 1850s, there was a flood of cash in Melbourne. The Government invested heavily in construction and infrastructure, and there was an ill-fated property boom. During the Victorian era, many beautiful and decorative buildings were constructed. Many of these buildings still exist today and I’m lucky enough to walk past them daily. A constant reminder of our Victorian past.

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What is steampunk? My pithy definition

When I tell people I’m writing a series of steampunk novellas (The Antics of Evangeline), the first question is often ‘what is steampunk?’ Not everyone appears to be familiar with the world of steampunk.

Here’s my pithy definition of steampunk.

Steampunk is a science-fiction genre based in the Victorian era but with anachronistic technology, generally steam-powered.

Steampunk is an alternate world where Victorian innovations are taken to new heights and fun inventions are inserted alongside the Victorian clichés of parasols, whiskers and London pea-soup fogs.

I hope this helps. Next up, I’ll post about “why I write steampunk?”

Further reading (with considerable more detail) on ‘what is steampunk’ including the history, the community, the elements of a steampunk story and of course, the fabulous fashion.

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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.

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When did you feel like a “real” writer round-up?

In early December, I ran a series of posts asking writers…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

I was lucky enough to get responses from Gail Carriger, Val McDermid, Joanne Harris, Ben Aaronovitch, Victoria Schwab, John Scalzi, Kim Newman, Neil Gaiman, Joanna Penn, Mark Dawson, Barbara Freethy and Kate Elliott.

There were a few themes running through the responses

  • Doubt and the imposter system persists (regardless whether you’ve sold millions)
  • Sometimes it’s your first big deal or success
  • Sometimes it’s not until you reach magic book no. 5

But mainly, you are a real writer when you write….

Now it’s your turn, when did you feel like a “real” writer?

 

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.

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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

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.

Bird calls, barrels and Navy SEALs – random research

I’m terrible at book monogamy. I got distracted from my reading of Anne of Green Gables (the new shiny thing is Kim Newman’s The Quorum) for my blog series revisiting my favourite children’s book, so no review today. Although I am enjoying spending time with that feisty nutty Anne Shirley again.

Today’s blog post is about research. Or three random research topics for my current manuscript. I needed to describe the call of a hawk, find out what was inside an elite soldier’s survival pack and the different parts of a barrel. My writing is educational too!

  • Bird calls

This site has written descriptions of bird calls, as well as audio clips to listen for yourself. Perfect for describing the screech of a hawk overhead, which is kee-eeeee-arr, if you were wondering. Those twitchers are cool people.

  • Navy SEAL Survival Packs

My current manuscript includes a secret military operation to bring back a fugitive. So I needed to know what is in a standard issue survival kit for a Navy SEAL. This article in Time shows the current contents as well as the contents in the packs from 1960s.

https://timemilitary.files.wordpress.com

  • Parts of a barrel

Did you know that the wooden planks forming the main body of a barrel were called “staves”? I do now.

https://salutwineco.files.wordpress.com

What random internet research have you done this week?

Inspiration – indigenous people and the power of storytelling

My novel in progress, Return to the Monolith, has a plot line about indigenous people being forced off their tribal lands and ostracised. It also raises how colonials have ignored and discredited the wisdom of indigenous people. Their wisdom and knowledge of the land honed through thousands of years of living in the landscape

This week I saw this news story from ABC about scientists verifying the myths of the Aboriginal people explaining how palm trees got to Central Australia. This story has been handed down through generations for possibly 30,000 years. The power of storytelling?

The researcher mentions how science can learn from the knowledge of indigenous people. The researcher goes further to suggest that more Aboriginal myths, including those about mega fauna (and how I love my mega fauna!) should be analysed further for factual information.

Let’s hope there is more of this collaboration between indigenous people and scientists to share their knowledge. Science does not always know best.

Top 5 dystopian movie influences

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

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

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

In no particular order….

Children of Men

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

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

Dead End Drive In

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

www.fangirlmag.com

Alphaville

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

www.thefilmstage.com

Metropolis

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

www.uow.edu.au

The Omega Man

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

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

What other dystopian movies have influenced you?

Recent Reads – Perdido Street Station by China Mieville

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

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

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

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

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

www.sfreviews.net

How 70s Dr Who still inspires me – Leela

I’m a child of Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker era Dr Who. I had the whole “hide behind the couch” childhood experience and the stories still resonate with me today. I see past the low production values and my imagination still runs wild inside the stories.

Now when it comes to my current writing, one of my characters is inspired by my 70s Dr Who experiences. I have an indigenous character, who is “wild” and “savage”. Who else to inspire this character but Leela….

www.kooltvblog.blogspot.com

Leela is a hunter, a warrior, a survivor, she acts on her instincts and she has a big cool knife. She is a “fish out of water” in the modern space world with the Doctor, willing to use violence in worlds where violence is not the first response. Her costume also inspired the clothing for my “savage” character, although my character is only in her mid-teens, so there’s a bit more fabric in her dresses. She’s not quite the “dad’s wet dream” that Leela is, but my character is clad similarly in leather and boots.

It’s no coincidence that Leela also appears in my all time favourite Dr Who episode; Talons of Weng Chiang.

Any Leela love out there?

How to find your way home without breadcrumbs or GPS

Another world building inspiration post today, but quite different to my last post on city living. This week, I’m intrigued by natural navigation, how to read the landscape, whether using trees or animals or the more obvious sun and stars, to find your way home without maps or GPS or breadcrumbs (if you’re Hansel and Gretel).

This is information we’ve (city dwellers) lost and the people who’ve retained this ancient wisdom are now shrouded in mystery and awe – Aboriginal trackers from my side of the globe or Inuits reading ice formations or Bedouins understanding the direction of the wind from dune shapes. An interesting side note, the last official Aboriginal police tracker retired from the Queensland police force in 2014. The skills, whilst rare, are still vitally important when people go missing in the “wild”.

I stumbled across Tristan Gooley‘s work on a podcast. Gooley teaches natural navigation in his native UK but his website covers small tips even for the city dweller. For examples birds sitting on a rooftop will face away from the wind, trees grow thicker on the sunny side and spider webs are woven out of the wind.

www.wallpaperhi.comHe even has tips on navigating in a city – if it’s 8.30am and you’re looking for a train station, go against the flow of people and you’ll most likely find a station. Common sense, yes?

I’m currently writing about a fictitious native people who live closely associated with the land. This information inspires me when developing how they read their landscape and navigate through thick forests. But in my real life, I’m now watching the clouds whenever I walk outside, trying to understand where weather fronts are coming from, especially if I’ve forgotten my umbrella.

The Tower of David

I’m introducing a different segment of posts – inspiration. Interesting stuff sparking my imagination.

A central theme of my writing is how we humans are adapting to our changing world. Whether we like it or not, we are animals, but we are living in an alien world of the built environment. A world changing so fast, can we keep up?

I came across the story of the Tower of David (Centro Financiero Confinanzas) in Caracas, Venezuela, a half-finished abandoned skyscraper taken over by squatters. The squatters building their own homes with bricks, bringing in electricity, setting up businesses and growing a community. It appeared in an episode of the TV show Homeland.

www.hereisthecity.com

www.meridithkohut.photoshelter.com

www.we-heart.com

Known as the tallest slum in the world, the government moved the squatters out in July 2014 into new homes as part of their rehousing scheme.

I am interested in the way people scrape together shelter in a modern built environment, exactly as if they were living in nature, building a home out of whatever they can find. These skills still exist in the modern world.

The Tower of David is an interesting example of people “making do” when the economy and the government fails them. People falling back on their own resourcefulness.

More stunning pictures in The Atlantic.

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