Today I am not just tired. I am dog-tired-bone-weary-asleep-on-my-feet exhausted. But report cards are written. The ski trip to New Zealand is just about planned (cross fingers and hope that Mt Hutt gets some snow in the next few days) and holidays begin in just two more days. I would like to think that I might get a chance to do some reading and writing - but with 12 adults and 31 students going, that is probably just wishful thinking. The seven hour bus trip might be useful as long as I take a set of ear plugs or two.
Thank goodness to whichever wonderful person invented kindles!
Alyssa McCarthy is a young girl who has tragically lost both parents. She is living with her cousin and Uncle when she discovers that an evil magician from Fiji wants to kidnap her so that he can rule France? The premise was certainly imaginative, but not very believable.
From this point on, the reader is taken on an adventure that, at times, is strange and a little illogical. Numerous obstacles are thrown in Alyssa’s path only to be overcome with yet another ‘magical rule’. And this is perhaps my biggest issue with this novel.
Magic doesn’t have to be plausible, but it must be consistent. Magic needs to follow firm rules – and an author is better off keeping these simple. There are too many times when Alyssa is saved, or hindered, by yet another magical rule – and it becomes so complicated that there is no way the reader can keep up. Creating magical surprises out of the blue to save or harm the characters is the fictional equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. The rules of magic need to be established at the beginning of the novel. Then, the characters must stick by those rules, even if it is difficult.
And, unfortunately, because of the use of magic in the novel, the narrative is not believable. Great fantasy asks us to accept the fiction. In this novel, I just couldn’t do that. No matter how hard I tried.
The description and use of language in this novel are also difficult. I also didn’t believe the reactions of the characters – in particular the adults. Most of the adults, when confronted with the proof of magic, took it in their stride. I’m not sure I would have been so calm.
I thought I'd start doing some regular posts on authors that I admire. It is because of great authors like these that I decided to write.
One of my favourite authors is Rafael Sabatini. Now, don't panic if you've never heard of him - not many people have. Sabatini is an English/Italian author who was born in 1875. He was a contemporary of writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island). By the time he was seventeen, he spoke six languages but chose to write in English because he said 'all the best stories are written in English'.
His most famous works are 'The Sea Hawk', 'Captain Blood' and 'Scaramouche'. One of my favourite quotes is the opening line to his novel 'Scaramouche' - He was born with the gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad. This was the same quote that Sabatini had written on his tombstone.
The first novel I read of his was Captain Blood. It is an adventure story of slaves, pirates and love. (And who doesn't love a good pirate book?) Peter Blood is an Irish physician who becomes embroiled in the rebellion of the Duke of Monmouth. He is convicted of treason after he treats one of the rebels. From here, he is sent as an indentured slave to the Caribbean colonies. Of course, it is here that he meets the beautiful Arabella - the obligatory love interest. The town is attacked by Spaniards and, while they are celebrating their victory, he steals their ship and embarks on the life of a pirate.
So what is it about the writing of Sabatini that I love so much? The story is good - it is fast paced and includes a number of great descriptions of battles at sea. The writing is descriptive and poetic. There are clever insights and commentary on human nature all the way through. My favourite takes place at Peter Blood's trial with the dreadful Judge Jeffery. Jeffery is described as 'a tall, slight man on the young side of forty, with an oval face that was delicately beautiful.' Peter Blood, as a physician notices the 'dark stains of suffering' on his face and the 'pale face' and can tell that the Judge suffers from an 'agonizing malady'. The Judge shows little sympathy in convicting Peter Blood to death, even though his only crime was to help an injured man. Peter replies with what is one of my favourite speeches in literature:
"Faith, it's in better case I am for mirth than your lordship. For I have this to say before you deliver judgment. Your lordship sees me—an innocent man whose only offence is that I practised charity—with a halter round my neck. Your lordship, being the justiciar, speaks with knowledge of what is to come to me. I, being a physician, may speak with knowledge of what is to come to your lordship. And I tell you that I would not now change places with you—that I would not exchange this halter that you fling about my neck for the stone that you carry in your body. The death to which you may doom me is a light pleasantry by contrast with the death to which your lordship has been doomed by that Great Judge with whose name your lordship makes so free."
Hi to everyone out there in internet land. This post is part of a travelling blog that appears every Monday that gives authors (like yours truly) a chance to answer four questions and then hand the baton off to a few other authors.
What am I working on? At the moment, I'm working on two different novels. I know - craziness! The main focus is the sequel to my first novel The Shadow Miner. In this installment, Miri and Sara return to the mines to help free Miri's family. I've done the planning, but it is fairly loose at the moment - there are some plans for a magical Bunyip incident (thanks for the idea Ross!). I've I've also got an idea for an Australian coming of age story called 'The Mystery of Boneyard Lagoon'. It's an idea (and title) that has been floating around in my head for a while now. I've got a few basic concepts, but it is still very much in its infancy.
How does my work differ from others in its genre?Probably the biggest difference in my novel is the setting. I read a lot of fantasy, and most of it is has a very European flavour. The characters travel through woods, confront bears and wolves (and the occasional dragon). While I've travelled in the UK, I know Australia best. I thought it would interesting to have my characters live in a land that was inspired by places that I know. There are kangaroos, rainforests, wombats, desserts and boab trees. It is a little weird - a medieval style Australia, but I think (hope) it works.
Why do I write what I do? First and foremost, I am an English teacher. One of the main reasons I got into teaching was to inspire kids to value and love the written word. For me, my writing is an extension of that. I write for middle grades and young adults because these are the kids I work with each day. I hope that my novels might inspire the next generation of readers - and writers - the way that authors like C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, John Marsden, Rafael Sabatini and a million other authors, inspired me!!
How does my writing process work? I'm fairly organised in my approach to writing. I like to plan my story in quite a bit of detail. I begin by writing my story as a single sentence. Then, I flesh this out into a paragraph. In turn, each sentence is expanded to another paragraph which gives me a quick four paragraph summary of the plot. From there I like to sit down and write the back story for each character. I think that good characters are central to a good narrative so this is a helpful step. From here each plot point is expanded until I have a three or four page summary of my novel.
That’s when I start writing. The detailed plan means I can really work on the details of the novel because the big picture stuff is already done. It doesn't mean that writing is always easy. Sometimes, I’ll get stuck for days trying to figure out the best way to have a character get from where they are to where I want them to go.
While, I have a plan, I have found that I also need to be flexible. Every now and then, when I reach a point in the story, I find that the characters need to take a different path. In my last novel, I had originally only intended Mikel to be a minor character who was killed off early in the book. But when I got there, I liked him too much to do it! It took me a while to decide what to do with him, but in the end he became a central part of the story. I’m so glad he got to stay!
One the other things I like to do when I’m writing is to visit places which are like the setting I am describing. I find this really helps me to create strong imagery.
So that's me done! The last job I have to do is to introduce the two authors who will be posting their answers to these questions next week on their websites. Make sure you check them out!
E.G. Manetti authors the romantic sci-fi series the Twelve Systems Chronicles, the first two volumes are available now and third is due out in early 2015. Click here to find her blog.
Trisha Sugarekis a published author, playwright and poet. Until recently her writing had focused on stage plays that ranged from prison stories to children’s fables. She has expanded her body of work to include two books of poetry, a group of children’s books and her debut novel, “Women Outside the Walls”. Click hereto find her blog.
I hope you enjoyed the read this week. Be sure to tune in next Monday for the next installment. :)
Mash-up novels are an emerging genre that seem to be popping up all over the place. The first one I read was 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' by Seth Grahame-Smith. I read it a over a year ago and absolutely loved the idea. I love reading the original Pride and Prejudice and the idea of plonking vampires into the middle of it made me laugh. Maybe it was the fact that I'd grown up watching 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer', or the fact that most of the female student population at school were obsessed with vampires who "sparkle", but this novel left me wishing that I'd thought of the idea first.
For my birthday a friend bought me 'Emma and the Vampires' by Wayne Josephson. I was never the biggest fan of the original novel and this mash-up has left me a little cold. It just felt like the author had seen the success of other mash-ups and thought they would get on the bandwagon and have a go as well.
And this got me thinking. Is there any such thing as originality in storytelling? Most plots, particularly in popular fiction, are formulaic at best. While, as authors, we do our best to be original, we also know that readers respond best to stories that they know - people like the familiar. My own writing has been inspired by novels I have read as well as television and movies. While I had some definite ideas in mind of things I wanted to do differently, there are lots of elements in my writing which follow the status quo.
I'm working on my second novel and there are elements that will be quite traditional. One of the things I'm going to try to do is to play a little more with the idea of mythical monsters. Keeping in line with the Australian themes, I thought I might reject the traditional dragon and replace it with a Bunyip. For those non-Aussies out there a Bunyip is a large mythical creature from indigenous stories said to lurk in billabongs and waterholes. The other idea I was considering using were the mysterious Min Min lights. I'm not sure how it will work - but it will be fun trying.
I'm teaching the novel 'Frankenstein' by Mary Shelley to my Year 12 English class at the moment. One of the things I love most about it, is its reference to the power of nature to restore. The Romantics called this 'the sublime'. It referenced the power of nature to restore a person's soul. The same ideology is found in lots of poetry from this era. One of my favourites is William Wordsworth's poem 'The Daffodils'. The poet describes how he 'wandered lonely as a cloud' across the 'vales and hills', when he came across the sight of a field of daffodils 'dancing in the breeze'. The final verse is probably the one that resonates most strongly with the notion of the sublime: For oft, when on my couch I lie In vacant or in pensive mood, They flash upon that inward eye Which is the bliss of solitude; And then my heart with pleasure fills, And dances with the daffodils.
This idea is something that I like to use when I am writing. There is nothing better than getting out of town and spending some time just 'being'. A lot of the settings in my novel 'The Shadow Miner' were inspired by a visit to the Carnarvon Gorge. I thought I would share an extract from the novel along with some photos of my time bush walking. This is my sublime.
Sara set a steady pace as she walked down the narrow path that worked its way through the gorge. The path twisted and turned through the forest. On each side of her were distant towering sandstone cliffs that rose majestically towards the blue sky. Trees hung tenaciously to the wind eroded walls; each sheer sandstone cliff painted in broad stripes of colour from white through to deep red. Crossing the boulder strewn creek that ran down the centre of the gorge, Sara headed up towards the back of the eastern bluff. Moving off the path, she began heading up the steep incline. The slope was covered in a variety of foliage from towering twisted trees to shorter palms and low ferns. Springs of water wound their way in narrow streams down the slope, and green light filtered gently through the thick canopy above. Large basalt rocks were dotted throughout the landscape, thrown by some long extinct volcano. While some were insignificant, others towered above, the size of small houses. Each was covered in soft moss and pale green lichen that traced strange patterns across the smooth dark surface.
Relationships are central to the success of a teacher. A teacher soon learns that without a good relationship with their students, they may as well hang up their whiteboard pen and head home. I am starting to learn that relationships are also vital to authors.
The stereotype of an author as a solitary figure who huddles in a dark room pounding away at an ancient typewriter is so far removed from the truth that it makes me laugh. In order to be successful in this industry, the most important thing an author can do (besides writing an original, engaging, kick-arse story) is to build relationships.
Like a teacher, without relationship, authors may as well be talking to an empty room as they tweet ads, post reviews and shamelessly promote their novels. (Yep, we've all been there!) Without relationship, prospective readers have no reason to want to pick up my novel and try it out. I'm getting there slowly. I have made some good connections with other authors on Facebook, twitter and Goodreads. I have found some wonderful people willing to take the risk to buy and read my novel and, to these people, I am eternally grateful.
But while relationships are key, herein lies the next trap for unwary travelers on this journey they call publishing. Relationships are about mutual respect and are a two way street. If you go into these relationships with the sole aim of selling books, those people you do 'friend' will very quickly disappear. Self-serving relationships are just as damaging for authors as none.
So, I am trying to keep this in perspective. I'm trying to remember that if I want people to read my novel, that I in turn must be willing to read other indie authors. I'm trying to remind myself that if I need reviews, I should make sure that I take the time to read other people's novels and review them.
I am a great believer in the principle of sowing and reaping. Hopefully by sowing into others, I will find others who are willing to sow into me.
Yep, that's right people - two reviews in two days. I'm really enjoying reading and reviewing a range of indie novels at the moment!
Review - Bloodline by Tara Ellis Interesting Twists and Turns Star Rating: 3.5 Stars I enjoyed reading Bloodlines. The novel is a creative take on the usual Sci Fi invasion story. It was full of interesting twists and turns, and the plot moved quickly. It didn’t take me long to be drawn in, and I read it quite quickly. Ellis uses the tension of mystery to keep the reader engaged. Be prepared for a few surprises!
The characters were well drawn, and the strong sense of family established a solid foundation. Alex and her brother Jacob were well-developed and likeable. Unfortunately, I found many of the other characters a little flat and simplistic. This wasn’t really a problem, except for the character of Chris. It would have been nice to see him develop more. At times, he felt more like a handy plot device than a character. Hopefully this will be addressed in the next installment.
I like Ellis’s writing style. ‘Bloodline’ is an enjoyable example of a first person narrative that allows the reader insight into the feelings and thoughts of the main protagonist. I’m not usually a fan of authors who write their stories in present tense. But, in this case, it was well controlled and helped to build excitement by creating a sense of immediacy.
My only real complaint: the constant, frequent misuse of apostrophes! If, like me, you are something of a grammar nerd, be warned! I’m afraid there were moments when I wanted to get my red pen out and put a few big circles on the page.