Saturday, 21 April 2018

Where I've been lately...

Departure

Isle of Pines

Mare

Lifou

Noumea

Middle of Nowhere

Arrival

Sunday, 31 December 2017

2017 Reading Summary

This year I read 83 books. The majority were published this century, with only 10 published prior to the year 2000 and, unusually for me, I didn’t read any published in the 19th century or earlier.

Thirty-six were by Australian authors. Followed by US authors 28, UK authors 13, NZ 2, and Canadian 1. Would love to read more translations, or authors from non-western countries. Any recommendations?

Out of the 83 books, 10 were non-fiction, leaving 73 fiction books. There were 11 picture books, 20 middle-grade, 35 YA, and 16 adult (quite an achievement for me as I generally avoid adult literature, but audio books make it easier). I listened to 8 audio books in total.

Of the fiction books 30 were fantasy, 22 contemporary, 9 historical, 3 crime, 3 humour, 3 sci-fi, 1 dystopia, 2 survival.  One of the non-fiction books was in graphic novel form. 

Here’s an interesting breakdown I recorded this year:

Female Author/Female Main Character
30
Female Author/Male Main Character
16
Female Author/Neutral Main Character
17
Male Author/Female Main Character
5
Male Author/Male Main Character
9
Male Author/Neutral Main Character
6

Neutral main character could mean the story followed both male and female characters (such as The Guy, The Girl, The Artist and His Ex), or as in the case of many picture books, genderless characters. I also recorded most non-fiction under neutral unless it clearly followed one particular person or gender (such as Warrior Women).

What were my reading highlights of 2017? 
Reading Fiona Wood’s fabulous and funny YA books.
The Ghost Bride by Yangze Choo.
Discovering the Warriors books with my son (by Erin Hunter).
Northern Lights Phillip Pullman (La Belle Sauvage will be my first read of 2018).
Finishing Andrew McGahan’s Ship Kings series.
Yes, I’m behind the times but Girl with a Pearl Earring has been on my wish list for years. I was not disappointed.
Illuminae and Gemina by Amie Kaufman/Jay Kristoff - mind blowing.

There are so many more highlights I could add to this but I will stop here and wish everyone many happy hours of great reading in 2018.


Thursday, 29 June 2017

Who, What, When, Where, How and Why? Making sense of it all.

So, the other day I was explaining some of the plot of my WIP to the folks at writers’ group.  This is the WIP I’ve been working on for seven years (on and off).  The one I was planning to finish this year.  The one I was hoping I would be able to send off to publishers very soon.  One more draft will do it, I thought.

But…It’s complicated. 

Now lots of novels have complicated plots.  Lots of books ask you to “suspend disbelief”, especially spec fic of which my WIP is one.  However, it’s important that any story adheres to its own internal logic.  It’s all very well for everything to make sense inside an author’s own head, but is that coming through on the page?

To sort out all the various strands of my plot, I mind mapped these questions:

Who? – This was an easy one to answer.  I wrote all the names of the main players, then linked all the secondary characters to them.  This gave me a clear idea of which characters have the greatest impact on the plot.

What? – For this question, I listed the main thing going on for the different groups of characters. Now I can see the main themes and conflicts at a glance.

When? – Although set in the present, my story dips into several different time periods (that’s why I love ghost stories), so here I listed who is present in which era.

Where? – The story is mostly set in Melbourne, but there are a few different places within Melbourne that the protagonist visits.  Here I can mind map the different “feel” of each place.

How? – Now we get more complicated.  Under “How?” I have listed cause and effect, which basically gives me a time line – this happened, because this happened, and that happened, because that happened, which leads me in a logical sequence of how seemingly unrelated things from history have impacted on the present day.  This is looking like a whole bunch of roots which come together to form the seed of the story.

Why? – I haven’t started this mind map yet, but I think this question boils down to motive.  Why do all the character’s do the things they do?  I know most of the motives already, but some are a little hazy.  I can’t wait to see what this mind map reveals.


The process of answering these questions helps me see what makes sense and where the manuscript requires more work to make it cohesive.

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
—George Orwell

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Jane Austen's Bad Boys

Spoiler Alert! – This post assumes prior knowledge of Jane Austen’s works – if you haven’t read them, take note of Ms Austen’s own words: The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”

I began this post last year after a Jane Austen binge when I was unwell (a Jane Austen binge every couple of years is essential for good health and happiness). It’s high time I finished it (the blog post that is) – so here is a countdown of my favourite Austen bad boys.

6.         John Thorpe, Northanger Abbey – John Thorpe is probably one of Jane Austen’s most unlikeable characters. In contrast to her other bad boys, he has no redeeming features. He is uncouth, arrogant and spreads damaging lies about our heroine, Catherine. He doesn’t have the elegance or gentleman-like manner of any other Austen cad. Catherine “cannot like him” and nor can I.

“There is not the hundredth part of the wine consumed in this kingdom that there ought to be.” – John Thorpe

5.         Frank Churchill, Emma – Emma is an anomaly in Jane Austen’s canon in that none of the characters are really contemptible. Granted, Mr Churchill is not particularly well behaved, flirting with Emma and dissing the one he loves, all to hide his secret engagement to Jane Fairfax. But in the end, his aunt conveniently dies, all is revealed and Mr Churchill marries Jane as he always intended. Emma is not the least heartbroken as she wasn’t really in love with him anyway.  Besides, riding all the way to London to secretly purchase a piano for Jane means Franky-babe doesn’t cut it with the truly contemptible lads.

“Our companions are excessively stupid.  What shall we do to rouse them?  Any nonsense will serve. They shall talk.” – Frank Churchill

4.         William Elliot, Persuasion – Anne’s cousin Mr Elliot became estranged from the Elliot family when he spurned Anne’s sister Elizabeth in favour of marrying for money. When the family move to Bath, Mr Elliot – now a rich widower and heir to the baronetcy – renews his acquaintance with Sir Walter’s family and shows impeccable taste by turning his attentions towards Anne. Anne however is irrevocably in love with Captain Wentworth and is not at all convinced of Mr Elliot’s sincerity. Her doubts appear justified when she spies Mr Elliot with Mrs Clay when he was supposed to be out of town.

Mr Elliot was too generally agreeable. Various as were the tempers in her father’s house, he pleased them all. He endured too well, – stood too well with everybody.

3.         John Willoughby, Sense and Sensibility – Willoughby’s a real rotter and by far the worst of the worst charmers in Austen’s novels. He sweeps Marianne off her feet (or at least carries her home when she sprains her ankle), fools everyone into thinking he will propose to her, then cruelly forsakes her for another. The Dashwoods later learn he disgraced then abandoned Colonel Brandon’s ward, which caused Willoughby to be disinherited by his wealthy Aunt and forced him to marry for money instead of love. When Marianne falls ill and her life is in balance, Willoughby has the audacity to come begging for forgiveness and declaring his unhappiness with the choices he made.

“Brandon is just the kind of man,” said Willoughby one day when they were talking of him together, “whom everybody speaks well of, and nobody cares about; whom all are delighted to see, and nobody remembers to talk to.” – John Willoughby

2.       George Wickham, Pride and Prejudice – What a wicked old boy is Wickham!  Running up gambling debts, charming all the women of Meryton (but finding them decidedly lacking in the essential quality of fortune), making everyone believe he is an officer and a gentleman, spreading lies and half-truths about Darcy, and topping it all off by whisking poor, foolish Lydia away from the safety of her family and friends without any intention of marrying her. In the end, he is caught, forced into matrimony (with the inducement of large sums of money from Mr Darcy) and banished to a regiment as far away as possible. Yet, despite all this, Austen manages to imbue in the reader a modicum of sympathy for Wickham – just another example of the brilliance of her writing.

“He is as fine a fellow,” said Mr Bennet, as soon as they were out of the house, “as ever I saw. He simpers, and smirks, and makes love to us all. I am prodigiously proud of him. I defy even Sir William Lucas himself, to produce a more valuable son-in-law.” – Mr Bennet after a visit from Mr and Mrs Wickham. (Mr Bennet btw is one of my all-time favourite characters in literature.)

1.         Henry Crawford, Mansfield Park – Unlike other Austen bad boys, Crawford may be charming but he makes no pretence of being good. He’s rich and conceited enough to always have some rakish scheme in the works, including inducing Fanny Price to fall in love with him. This backfires on him however, when he finds himself truly in love with Fanny. Mr Crawford genuinely believes that he could change his wicked ways if Fanny married him, and he does make a gallant attempt to be good for her sake. Fanny though “…was quiet, but …was not blind.”  She’s never fooled by Mr Crawford, and when he is rejected, he confirms Fanny’s misgivings by running off with Maria.

[He] went off with [Maria] at last, because he could not help it, regretting Fanny, even at the moment, but regretting her infinitely more when all the bustle of the intrigue was over.

Mansfield Park is the novel, more than any other Austen work, that stays with me long after a reading (or viewing).  It's in no small measure because of the complexity of Henry Crawford's character, and I always like to imagine what might have happened had Fanny become Mrs Crawford instead of Mrs Bertram.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Ghost stories

So, it’s been a while.

The last half of last year was a bit of a write-off, which put me right off writing. But I’ve had a lovely holiday, and now I’m refreshed and in a better frame of mind.  I’ve dived back into my writing, which I’m happy to say is going swimmingly (okay, enough with the puns already!)  I think it helps that I’ve come back with a plan, a schedule and concrete goals, which has made it slightly easier to just DO, instead of thinking about doing.

What I’m able to do, whether times are good or not so good, is read.  Sometimes trends creep into my reading.  Occasionally they arise from deliberate choices, but often they just happen.  Lately, it seems to be ghosts, whether literal spooks or just the haunting memory of a loved one.  I’m taking this as a positive sign that my little ol’ ghost story will be picked up this year.

So, here’s the rundown on the ghostly stories I’ve read this year:

What the Raven Saw – Samantha-Ellen Bound
I’ve riffed on this little gem before.  This time I read it for my book club’s theme of music.  I still love the crabby old raven who, despite not wanting to get involved, ends up helping the living and the dead who constantly disrupt his solitude.    

The Sky is Everywhere – Jandy Nelson
Lennie, named after John Lennon, is struggling to come to terms with the death of her sister.  She’s also falling in love.  No ghosts in this sweet story, just an ever-present memory.  I love how the intermittent poetry ties in beautifully at the end.  Read the gorgeous full-colour version if you can get your hands on it.

The Ghost Bride – Yangsze Choo
By far my favourite ghost book read this year.  This story is based on a rare Chinese tradition of marrying the dead (sometimes to other dead, occasionally to the living).  When the Lim family request Li Lan to marry their dead son, she has an opportunity to lead a rich and comfortable life.  But before that dreaded event happens, Li Lan finds herself hovering between life and death and must travel to the Plains of the Dead to search for a way back into her body.  Dotted with characters from Chinese folklore, The Ghost Bride is unique and fascinating.

Crandall’s Castle – Betty Ren Wright
When Charli’s uncle buys a rundown old mansion with the intention of turning it into a B&B, Charli is excited about helping with the project.  Her excitement soon turns to horror when she sees the shadow of a cradle rocking and hears singing in a room upstairs.  But how will she get the adults to believe her when her cousin and the psychic girl his family has taken in refuse to back up her story.  A spooky book for middle-grade readers.

And then, one day, her earthbound sister finally realized
she could hear music up there in heaven,
so after that, everything her sister needed to tell her

she did through her clarinet… Jandy Nelson ‘The Sky is Everywhere’

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club by Alison Goodman

It’s been a long time since I’ve finished a book and felt the need to read it again immediately, but with this Regency-romance-meets-supernatural-thriller, I was in do-not-disturb heaven from the first page. 

When Lady Helen meets Lord Carlston, a distant relative of dubious character, she is drawn to his dark and disturbing world.  In a society where every propriety must be observed, will Helen risk her tenuous reputation to join Lord Carlston in the battle against evil, or will she deny her calling and turn her back on The Dark Days Club?

This book is chock full of delicious conflict, and not just the good vs evil variety.  I simply cannot wait a full four months until the Dark Days Pact comes out in January to enter such an exciting and vividly detailed historical world again.  Hence the reason I feel the need – the need to re-read.

‘I had not thought to find a fellow rationalist in you, Lady Helen.’

Perhaps it was the pulse that still whispered through her blood, or the unexpected warmth in his manner, but she found herself saying, ‘I rather think, Lord Carlston, that you had not thought to find any thought in me at all.’ – Alison Goodman, Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club

Monday, 8 August 2016

A little something I prepared earlier...

Oh, dear.  It's been a while since I posted anything here.  Unfortunately, I've had some health issues these last few weeks and don't feel up to writing anything new right now.  So please pop over to www.thingsmadefromletters.com to see a post I wrote for Allen & Unwin's blog.  I've had some great feedback on this which has been really heartening (my poor little belaboured heart needs that right now).