Tag: reading

#41 – Nin Harris – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 41 with Nin Harris – author, poet & Gothic scholar

“I really love to dig into the guts of a novel to see how it works.”

Episode 41 – Nin Harris – Show Notes

  • Inspired to write short stories by Angela Carter
  • Both a plotter and a pantser
  • Water or rooibos tea
  • SFF and gothic but writing about the human experience
  • Identity, memory and difficult connections between people
  • Gothic in space
  • Reading carefully – go outside your fishbowl
  • Throwing books across the room – like a book poltergeist
  • Beat sheets: major beats and minor beats; cause and effect
  • Frances Hardinge, Graham Joyce
  • Different writing depending on mood. Academic v fiction writing

“The first draft does have a bit of vomit in it.”

“For me, space is very gothic.”

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#36 – Michelle Worthington – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 36 with Michelle Worthington – award-winning picture book author

“Kids are so bombarded with visuals these days, they love verbal storytelling.”

Episode 36 – Michelle Worthington – Show Notes
  • Picture books can be scribbled on the back of napkin or receipt
  • Learning the industry & the craft after getting the first book published
  • Coffee and Mum chocolate
  • Writing a story for one person in particular. Empowering kids who are not represented in other books.
  • Reading and ask your audience what they’re reading and why they like it.
  • Talking with teachers about child development and the stages.
  • Be a lifelong learner
  • Authors are small businesses. The best businesses are the best storytellers.
    The story you create around yourself as an author. Creating your author brand.
  • Publishers are looking for people to work with, not stories
  • 80s picture books with Australian voice; Mem Fox, Mulga Bill, Man From Snowy River, YA, Stephen King, Jackie French, Nevermore
  • Pugs Don’t Wear Pyjamas based on a real person with a real pug.
  • Worries about creativity after publishing fifteen books. Stop and listen to your creative voice.
  • Coming up  – Beards and Middle Grade fiction

“Lovely words that not only look good but sound good too.”

“Authors are small businesses.”

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#34 – Fiona Ross – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 34 with Fiona Ross – songwriter, singer & jazz journalist

“I get more creative and crazy as the day goes on.”

Episode 34 – Fiona Ross – Show Notes
  • Go with the flow – music and lyrics go together
  • A late night writer – daytime writing doesn’t feel right
  • Piano, pencil, notebook and cup of tea
  • Songwriting is always inspired by a personal experience.
  • Journalism and interviews – the purpose is to reveal the person being interviewed
  • Discovering journalism voice – it’s about the artist
  • Interviewing legends, jazz history and research. Women in jazz and bringing jazz up to date
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, F Scott Fitzgerald, Upton Sinclair, Ricki Lee Jones, Billy Joel
  • Family history of writers
  • Didn’t set out to write a concept album but ‘Black, White and a Little Bit of Grey’ has an intertwining story
  • Marketing and genre

“I won the reading cup when I was at primary school.”

“If I’m not jazz and I’m not pop, what am I?”

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#33 – Kim Newman – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 33 with Kim Newman – novelist & film critic

“My novels are my purest me.”

Episode 33 – Kim Newman – Show Notes
  • Novels as favourite medium, loose outlines and historical research
  • Takeout coffee and working in the dressing gown
  • As a critic putting people into boxes but as a writer refusing to be put in a box
  • Reading, time and never having had a real job
  • The way writing as a career has changed since 1980s
  • Buying first computer with money from writing for porn magazines with Neil Gaiman
  • Editors used to have more time to deal with and develop new writers
  • Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Patrick Hamilton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Ramsay Campbell, Peter Straub, David Thomson, Greil Marcus
  • Criticism and deadlines
  • The need for a continuity person during novel writing
  • Big file full of random film quotes

“Some people don’t realise I’m the same person.”

“My critical range is not good or bad but interesting or dull.”

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#30 – Angela Savage – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 30 with Angela Savage – award winning writer & Director of Writers Victoria

“Good strong writing comes from using simple words in a compelling way”

Episode 30 – Angela Savage – Show Notes
  • Writing on the train and “the work of the couch”
  • Inspired by songwriters like Springsteen, Waits and Earl
  • Wine for writing like drinking when playing pool
  • South East Asia, reproductive health, kinship, culture and human nature
  • “Just get the story down”
  • Reading, study the craft, learning, playing with verbs, mentoring
  • Critical reading – underlining and making notes in books
  • Why crime fiction is so pleasurable for some readers
  • Overdoing the research in historical fiction
  • Inspired by Emma Viskic, Julie Koh, Barbara Kingsolver, Christos Tsiolkas
  • Deadlier – 100 of the best crime stories written by women
  • Daughter as sensitivity reader

“My writing was inspired by the fact no one wanted to hear my travel stories.”

“You need to know how it ends to know how it begins.”

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#29 – Lara Meone Savine – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 29 with Lara Meone Savine – writer & editor of Musae Mosiac

“I have to be creatively engaged everyday or I’d go insane.”

Episode 29 – Lara Meone Savine – Show Notes
  • Getting into a mindset and committing to a project
  • Friday Phrases #FP flash fiction. A mini release of creativity
  • The rewards as a host of word game prompts
  • Safety jacket, tea and K-Pop
  • The journey of the mind and the soul. Symbology of dreams
  • Hypnotherapy and Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) to focus energies
  • Tolkien, King, Chris Mahan, Keats, Coleridge
  • Developing “Neuro Creative Reinforcement” techniques
  • Musae Mosiac magazine, 200 Word Tuesday #200WT and community

“K-Pop is super important to my writing.”

“With a destructive mindset, I can’t be creative.”

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#26 – Burhan Wazir – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 26 with Burhan Wazir – award winning journalist & editor

“Why is this happening? And why now?”

Episode 26 – Burhan Wazir – Show Notes
  • Career progression from reporter to editor and back to writing
  • Morning person and productivity
  • Proper Scottish writing fuel
  • Middle East, immigration, Brexit
  • The personal in journalism; adding yourself into the story
  • Constant refining: 20% writing and 80% rewriting
  • Reading other good writers: William Finnegan’s Cold New World
  • More historical context; the world has always been complex
  • History of British mosques and the Rotimatic
  • WikiTribune model: news stories as living documents
  • Madeleine’s tip – strange writing rituals

“20% writing and 80% rewriting.”

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#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.”

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#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.”

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#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”

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#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.”

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#16 – George Mann – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 16 with George Mann – Paranormal mystery & Dr Who comic writer

“You’re chasing ghosts if you’re chasing trends.”

Episode 16 – George Mann – Show Notes
  • Dreaded Chapter 7
  • Inspiration from music – songs associated with every book
  • Theme of Identity
  • Mystery and fantastical, the bizarre and the weird. More Peake than Tolkien.
  • Trying to be Peter F Hamilton, Alastair Reynolds and Stephen Baxter, and failing.
  • Wychwood was a switch into a modern day setting.
  • Getting police procedures right
  • Initial premise for Wychwood – a BBC Sunday night crime drama with dark spooky elements
  • M. John Harrison, Steven Eriksen, Susan Cooper, Peter Robinson
  • Madeleine’s tip – Artist’s Date

“Write something for yourself.”
“It’s part of the writer’s job to read widely.”

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#14 – Gareth L. Powell – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 14 with Gareth L. Powell – near-future thriller & space opera writer

“The more I read, the better I write”

Episode 14 – Gareth L. Powell – Show Notes
  • Losing the knack of the short story
  • Writing relics – Tiki, rune & painted pebble
  • Always character focused – the story is a learning experience for the characters
  • ‘William Gibson’s short story collection kicked me in the head’; writing real people into scifi
  • You don’t know if you’re measuring yourself against the right people
  • Write 100 words every day
  • Balancing two different novels in different genres at the same time
  • Space opera inspired by technology available for the Titanic; the call for help
  • Madeleine’s tip – The Heroine’s Journey

“Ack Ack Macaque is the bastard child of Biggles and John Belushi in the film 1941”

“I wanted to get back to sarcastic self-aware spaceships.”

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#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.”

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#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.”

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#07 Dominic Dulley – Write Through The Roof

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

Episode 07 with Dominic Dulley – writer of rollicking space adventures

Critiques Groups, Spreadsheets and Con Women in space

“When I didn’t get picked up, the next book I’d write I’d try something different, another tangent, to give myself the best chance to get a deal”

Episode 07 – Interview with Dominic Dulley – Show Notes
  • Great fan of spreadsheets
  • Plotting only a few chapters ahead
  • Hunting down chocolate hobnobs
  • Exploring friendship, loss, wealth and privilege in space
  • Critiquing others is equally important as receiving feedback in your improving writing
  • Debut novel ‘Shattermoon’ inspired by True Grit but in space
  • Madeleine’s tip (or is it a fail?)

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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….

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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?

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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.

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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.

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Recent reads – The Female Man by Joanna Russ

The Female Man by Joanna Russ, first published in 1975 by Bantam Books.

 One of the main reasons why I like speculative fiction is how the genre allows the exploration of different ideas about science or culture or in the case today’s book, gender, by using made-up worlds.

While people might think it’s not about reality with all the aliens, spaceships, dragons and demons, but the truth is speculative fiction is a different way of examining our world by using these allegories.

This is definitely the case with The Female Man. This is a book has been hailed as a landmark feminist science fiction novel.

www.urbanhonking.com

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Recent reads: Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee

Today I’m talking horror (or sometimes known as dark fantasy) with The Making of Gabriel Davenport by Beverley Lee, published in 2016. (I have previously interviewed Beverley here on the blog.)

Beth and her husband Stu have moved to a new house in the idyllic English countryside to raise their baby, Gabriel. But one night, during a snowstorm, everything goes horribly wrong for the family and in the picture perfect setting, something ancient and evil emerges and changes all their lives and not for the better.

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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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Recent reads – To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

Today, it’s all about time travel with To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. First published in 1997 by Bantam Spectra and won two of Science Fiction’s major awards, the Hugo and Locus Awards in 1999.

As part of my speculative fiction reviews I am aiming to discuss as many female speculative fiction writers as possible. But of course, whether I like the book or not, comes first. No fear with To Say Nothing of the Dog.

Ned Henry is knackered and is on the verge of getting ‘time lag’, the time traveller’s version of jet lag. He’s been travelling backward and forward through a portal from the 21st century to the 1940s trying to locate a weird Victorian object called the “bishop’s bird stump.”

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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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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!’

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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.

 

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).

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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?

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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.

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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

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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.
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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.

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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.

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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?

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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?

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 – 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?

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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.

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