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BITTER GREENS: THE NEXT BIG THING!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


There’s a new (so-called) meme making the rounds of the internet called THE NEXT BIG THING! 

A meme is an idea, belief, story or style that spreads from brain to brain like a virus, surviving when other ideas or beliefs are abandoned or lost, and replicating itself in constantly changing forms and functions.
As a pattern of cultural information, a meme will survive because it is relevant to the culture through which it passes and because it is memorable in some way. In the olden days, a meme would be a fable or a motto or a joke, passed on by word of mouth, changing with each telling.

Nowadays, a meme is usually a stupid Youtube video, viewed and shared by millions. It’s a silly dance, a parody of a popular song, a mash-up of politicians being politicians.

This particular ‘meme’ is essentially a way for writers on the web to connect with each other, shout out about their own work, and help each other make books relevant and memorable. And I’m all for that!
I was tagged for THE NEXT BIG THING! meme by Tania McCartney, author of 'Beijing Tai Tai: Life, Laughter and Motherhood in China's Capital', who was tagged by Ingrid Jonach, author of the YA novel, 'When the World was Flat (and we were in love)', who was tagged by Laura Lam, author of Pantomime, who was tagged by …. But you can follow the trail yourself if you’re interested. 


The idea is I interview myself about my book, Bitter Greens, which is, of course, absolutely, positively without a doubt, going to be THE NEXT BIG THING!



What is the title of your book?
Bitter Greens

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I started by being both enthralled and troubled by the Rapunzel fairy tale and wondering how I would rewrite it to try and make sense of some of the mysteries at the heart of the tale. I wanted to write it as a historical novel, as if it had really happened, as if it was true … and so I began to research the origins of the story. In this way, I stumbled upon the dramatic life story of the woman who first wrote the story (at least in the form in which most of us know it). Her name was Charlotte-Rose de la Force and she was amazing. Once I read that she had dressed up as a dancing bear to help rescue her lover, I just knew I had to write about her. 

What genre does your book fall under?
Historical fiction.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I’d love Molly Quinn, the red-haired actress in ‘Castle’  to play Margherita (my Rapunzel) – she would be so perfect!
I’d like Julianne Moore, or Julia Roberts, to play my witch, Selena – she too has red hair so the films et would be like a redhead convention!
Charlotte-Rose could be played by Marie-Louise Parker. 
Any gorgeous hunk of a man would do for my male characters.




What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
A historical novel for adults that interweaves a retelling of Rapunzel set in Renaissance Venice, with the dramatic true life of the woman who first told the tale, the 17th century French writer Charlotte-Rose de la Force, BITTER GREENS is a story of desire, obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
About two years, though I was researching for another two years before that. 

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I’d compare it to books by Philippa Gregory, Kate Mosse, Tracy Chevalier, Sarah Dunant … historical novels with a twist of the  uncanny about them.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?
The story itself inspires me. I get an idea, it sinks its talons into my imagination, and will not let go until I have given it life. I get utterly obsessed when I’m writing a book!

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
You will learn how to curse your enemy with no more than a black candle, a blackberry vine, and a handful of grave dirt …
You will learn why courtiers at the French court always ate their soup cold …
You will discover why witches in Venice were always buried with a brick jammed between their jaws …
You will find out why eating your own hair is a very bad idea … 
  
Right - tagging time! The idea is that I tag 5 other authors to be part of this meme. So I choose five of my favourite Australian authors – I hope they pass the meme along!

Anne Gracie

REMEMBER, I'M A GEMINI SO I LOVE TO CHAT - PLEASE FEEL FREE TO LEAVE ME A COMMENT

BOOK REVIEW: 'The Extinction Gambit', Book 1 of The Extraordinaires, by Michael Pryor

Monday, October 22, 2012




Take one young man, raised by wolves and trying to break into showbiz as a magician.

Take one young woman, white-haired and pink-eyed, with a passion for creating gadgets.

Add Rudyard Kipling, writer and creator of Mowgli, the wolf-raised boy of The Jungle Book.

Add an assortment of angry Neanderthals, a profit-obsessed businessman in a bowler hat, and creepy immortal creatures who inhabit the bodies of stolen children. 

Throw in a gruesomely murdered housekeeper and a collection of robotic rats.

Set it in the foggy streets of London in 1908, with a quick dash back to the Great Fire of 1666.

Mix together violently.


The result: a fantastical, surprising, adventure-packed steampunk novel, The Extinction Gambit, Book 1 The Extraordinaires, by Michael Pryor. 


I loved this book! It was funny, fast-paced, packed full of twists and turns and stomach-dropping lurches sideways and downwards. The dialogue is witty, the clothes rather dashing.  And I loved the albino heroine with her ever-changing array of spectacles. I also loved the unexpected time travel back to the Great Fire of 1666. There was an awful lot crammed into this one book – it could easily have been three! 

As I said introducing my interview with Michael Pryor last week, ‘it’s the sort of roller-coaster ride where all you can do is hang on to your hat and see what amazing and surprising places the story will take you. This would be a fantastic book to give a teenage boy who loves gadgets, magic tricks, and high adventure - which is most teenage boys I know.’

Other reviews you may enjoy:


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT – I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK.
 

INTERVIEW: Michael Pryor, author of 'The Extraordinaires'

Friday, October 19, 2012


I remember hearing people talk about 'steampunk' novels a few years ago and thinking that they didn't really sound like my kind of books, since I don't like cyber-punk and I don't like books about machines.

However, I also don't like any form of literary snobbishness and so when a steampunk book came my way, I read it with interest. To my delight, I really loved it. The book was 'Laws of Magic Book 1: Blaze of Glory' and the author was Michael Pryor. I ended up reading all six books in the series, and going on to read other steam-punk titles by authors like Richard Harland and Scott Westerfeld. Its a genre of fiction filled with dash and verve, re-imagining life at the turn of the 19th century with magic, machines and lots of mayhem.

I still don't think 'steampunk' is the right way to describe this genre of fiction. I prefer Michael Pryor's term 'gonzo-historical adventure' which he uses in the interview below, while talking about his new steampunk adventure, 'The Extraordinaires'. I've just finished reading it, and its the sort of roller-coaster ride where all you can do is hang on to your hat and see what amazing and surprising places the story will take you. This would be a fantastic book to give a teenage boy who loves gadgets, magic tricks, and high adventure - which is most teenage boys I know. 


Michael Pryor (thanks to Random House Australia website)

Have you always wanted to be an author? 
Yes, but only in a vague way. As a young person, I loved reading and I liked writing and I thought being an author would be a fine thing, but it was really only later, in my twenties, that I knuckled down and truly went about seeing if I could do it. I console myself for my tardiness by telling myself that I was training for the job of writer by reading as many books as I could. Vital stuff, that preparation.
 
Tell me how you first came to be published
One day, I decided that I had to see if I could do what I’d been thinking about doing for some time. That day, I sat down and wrote a short story. I sent it off and it was published. Over the next few years I wrote and published a dozen or so short stories, and then it was time to gird the loins and see if I could write a whole, proper novel. It took me a few years, with lots of fumbling about and mis-steps, and the day I finished it  I received a writers’ newsletter. On the front page was a little note saying that Hodder Headline was looking for YA Spec Fic manuscripts, and that was what I’d just completed. I sent it off and after some discussion and rewriting, it was published. Joy!
 
Can you explain the steampunk genre for  me? 
The term ‘Steampunk’ came about in the 1980s, when three writer friends were playing around with what they called gonzo-historical adventures, stories which took the flavour of Victorian/Edwardian stories and added speculative elements.  Eventually, one of them coined the label ‘Steampunk’, where he was riffing off the hot SF of the time – ‘Cyberpunk’. In a nutshell, I’d say that Steampunk stories are either set in the Victorian/Edwardian era, or they are set in world where these eras effectively didn’t end. They include bizarre and outlandish technologies or magic, most often hidden from the general populace. They often feature cameos by real historical figures or by literary characters. The manners and the morals are usually consistent with the formality and class consciousness of the times. Oh, and they feature some slashingly stylish clothes, too. Think of the stories of Jules Verne or H. G. Wells, but with a modern, knowing sense of irony. Now, from its early days, Steampunk has grown and gone sprawling in all sorts of directions, appropriating and meshing with all sorts of sub-genres, but at its heart it has a sense of the Victorian/Edwardian era not as it was, but as it should have been.
 
What was your very first seed of an idea for 'The Extraordinaires'? 
My first Steampunk series was the six book ‘Laws of Magic’ adventure. This was set in a world remarkably similar to our own, with nations such as Albion, Gallia and Holmland teetering on the brink of war – but it was a make-believe world, nonetheless. When I was finishing the last book (‘Hour of Need’) I was already thinking of nailing my colours to the mast and setting a new Steampunk series in the real, historical world. This immediate pre-Great War period appealed, and in doing my research I found myself intrigued by the first London Olympic Games in 1908 and the great Franco-British Exhibition, of which the games were effectively a part. It was a rich and heady time, and I was drawn to it. But how was I going to have the magical/SF elements I love if I stuck with real history? That’s when I had the idea of the Demimonde, the world that lies side by side and underneath our own, unperceived by ordinary folk. It’s  a world of tunnels and hidden underground warrens, where lost legends and ancient conspiracies dwell, where the outcast gather and the outlandish is commonplace. When I had this side by side structure in place, with the obvious potential for characters going back and forth between these two very different existences, the concept was starting to shape up. The seed was growing.
 


I loved your characters - the wild boy Kingsley and the poised and confident albino girl Evadne. Tell me how you came to invent them.
I knew I wanted my main character to be a young would-be stage magician, as I’ve long been fascinated by stage magic, its practice and its history – so much so that I undertook a course in stage magic. It was enough to tech me the basics, and to teach me that I’d never be a professional sleight of hand artist, but it did send me off in many useful research directions. I needed more, though. I was tossing around possibilities, thinking of ways to make him even more interesting, when I heard a radio presenter mentioning that sometimes his teenage son behaves as if he’d been raised by wolves. It hit me between the eyes. A thousand possibilities assaulted me, as I immediately thought of Mowgli, and India and the duality of nature. Kingsley was falling into place.

As for Evadne, our albino genius inventor, she was fun to create, too. One of the challenges of writing in this mode is that the role of women in society, though changing, was still subservient to men. How, then, to have a feisty, outspoken female character who is still true to the times? I overcame this by making her as unconventional as possible. She lives in the Demimonde, which allows her freedoms that ordinary society wouldn’t. She does, however, have a career on the stage, as a juggler and entertainer. Again, the theatre world allows a certain unconventionality that the ordinary world doesn’t. She is also fearsomely intelligent and staggeringly rich, thanks to her inventing devices and holding valuable patents on them. Oh, and she’s an albino, something of which she’s proud rather than ashamed. When I put all these things together – as well as a dark secret in her past – I had the sort of female character who could use a sabre while juggling five balls and offering a witty observation about our hero’s clothes sense. A lot of fun.
 
I also loved the cameo by Rudyard Kipling! Have you always been a fan of his writing? 
Kipling is a deeply unfashionable writer, mostly because he’s seen as an apologist for Empire and colonialism. Like many observations, it does oversimplify things, but it’s true that Kipling was a man of his time and a great supporter of Britain.  I first came across him when I was young, through the Cubs. The Cub movement used Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ as a basis, with the fables of the wise animals and the headstrong boy Mowgli (raised by wolves!) as the backbone for the entire outlook of the organisation. I read the stories and loved the exotic landscapes, the adventures and the sense of the other that Kipling captures so well. I read more of Kipling’s vast output as I grew up, and I was distantly interested in the way his views changed as he lived through extraordinary times, but it was really only when I wanted to make more of Kingsley, my main character, having a background that was remarkably like that of Kipling’s most famous character, that I re-engaged with Kipling’s work. He was a fine, fine storyteller, with a superb narrative sense.
 
How many books do you imagine will be in this series? 
Three books in this series. I’m just putting the finishing touches to Book 2, which is due for an April release.
 
Why Neanderthals? 
I’ve always been fascinated by Neanderthals, with the whole idea that humanity had close cousins  - as close as bonobos are to chimpanzees – living side by side with us as recently as 25,000 years ago. I’d been reading about the recent work done by scientist looking at Neanderthals, and some of the startling conclusions about their intelligence, tool-making abilities, social structures and language, and I thought they might be interesting to work into a story. I wondered if it was possible to take a character who was planning to exterminate humanity as an act of revenge for the way humanity had reduced her people to a dying few – and to make her sympathetic.
I love setting myself writing challenges like that!

More about Steampunk: 



If you liked this interview, you may enjoy my Interview with Nick Earls

PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT, I LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU

BOOK REVIEW: 'Clementine-Rose and the Surprise Visitor' by Jacqueline Harvey

Monday, October 15, 2012

Title: Clementine Rose & the Surprise Visitor
Author: Jacqueline Harvey
Publisher: Random House Australia
Age Group & Genre: Children’s book (girls aged 5+)

Reviewed by Eleanor Forsyth (aged 8)



The Blurb:
Clementine Rose was delivered not in the usual way, at a hospital, but in the back of a mini-van, in a basket of dinner rolls.

So begins the story of a lovely little girl who lives in Penberthy Floss in a large ramshackle house with her mother, Lady Clarissa, Digby Pertwhistle the butler and a very sweet teacup pig called Lavender.

When her scary Aunt Violet arrives unexpectedly, the household is thrown into disarray. What is it that Aunt Violet really wants and what is she carrying in her mysterious black bag?

From the author of the best-selling Alice-Miranda series, for readers aged 5+.

Jacqueline Harvey

What I Liked About This Book: 
I liked this book because it had a sweet little girl in it that always told the truth. But sometimes telling the truth got her into a bit of trouble. But everything worked out in the end, because Clementine Rose always meant well and tried hard to be good.

Other things I liked: Clementine Rose had a very cute and cuddly pet pig called Lavender and she wore pretty dresses. I also thought it was funny that she had been found in a bread basket.

I’d like to read the next one in the series.


What I Didn’t Like About This Book:
Some of the words were hard to read because they said ‘’em’ instead of ‘them’ and I didn’t know why. But my Mummy said it was to show the man spoke with an accent. I’ll know next time. 

To watch the Clementine Rose book trailer, and find out lost more about the author, visit Jacqueline Harvey's website


PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I LOVE TO KNOW WHAT YOU THINK

BOOK REVIEW: Best Books on the Craft of Writing

Monday, October 08, 2012

I was recently asked for my recommendations on the best books for an aspiring writer to read on the craft of writing. Here are my own personal favourites:


The Seven Basic Plots
, Christopher Booker


The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Writers, Christopher Volger

On Writing, Stephen King



Steering the Craft, Ursula le Guin

Writing the Breakout Novel, Donald Maas

Story, Robert McKee

The Elements of Style,  Strunk & White



Spunk & Bite: A Writer’s Guide to Bold, Contemporary Style, Arthur Plotnik

Take Joy: A Writer’s Guide to Loving the Craft, Jane Yolen 

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott




A Novel In A Year, Louise Doughty

Writing Magic – Creating Stories That Fly, Gail Carson Levine

Sometimes The Magic Works: Lessons From A Writing Life, Terry Brooks

The Writing Book, Kate Grenville

Making Stories, Sue Woolfe and Kate Grenville


SOME OTHER BLOGS YOU MAY ENJOY:






PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT - I'D LOVE TO HEAR YOUR THOUGHTS


INTERVIEW: Christopher Gortner, author of 'The Queen's Vow'

Tuesday, October 02, 2012





I first met Christopher Gortner at the Historical Novel Society conference in Chicago in 2010.  He was funny, clever, and passionate, and spoke so engagingly about his research for his novel, The Last Queen, that I bought it there and then. 
One of the questions he was asked was how he – a man – was able to get inside the heart and mind of his female protagonist, the Spanish Queen Juana, known as the Mad. 

He told a very funny story how he dressed up in a 16th century gown and went galloping about on a horse with pillows stuffed inside his corset, to research a scene when a pregnant Juana escapes captivity. After the laughter had died away, he went on to say that he felt so much sympathy with his heroine who was tormented by love, desire, fear and ambition, just like any of us, regardless of whether we are male or female. 

 We are all human, we all have the same longings and fears, and we are all constrained by society’s rules and expectations. What he tried to do was simply imagine himself in Juana’s situation and try and think what she must have felt.

I loved this comment. It is what we do as writers – we imagine ourselves into other people’s shoes (or corsets) for a while, and try to be as truthful to what they must think and feel as possible.

I also really loved The Last Queen. The story of Juana the Mad – daughter of Ferdinand of Aragorn and Isabella of Castile – has always interested me, although I knew very little about her. 



At the time, I wrote a review of the book which said: 
“The back of the book says ‘Married at sixteen. A queen at twenty-five. Declared insane and betrayed by the men she adored.’ Who wouldn’t want to read this novel? Luckily it was just as good as I hoped it would be. It really is a fascinating story about a passionate and cruelly wronged woman – God, it makes me glad I wasn’t a woman in the 16th century! I’d probably have been locked up too!”

Now Christopher has written a novel based on the life of Juana the Mad’s mother, the imperious and strong-willed Isabella of Castile. For those of you who don’t know your 15th century history, she and her husband Ferdinand united the many disparate kingdoms of Spain, conquered the Moors, instigated the Spanish Inquisition which saw the Jews banished, and funded Christopher Columbus’s expedition to discover a new way to the Indies, but finding America instead.  

To help put her reign into perspective, it helps to know she was also was the mother of Catherine of Aragon, the first wife of Henry VIII. 

The Queen’s Vow brings this powerful, passionate woman to life, illuminates the forces that drove her, and paints a vivid picture of late 15th century Spain, one of the most fascinating of countries.  I absolutely loved this book, and loved this place and time in history – I hope C.W. Gortner writes a lot more books, fast!


Are you a daydreamer too?
Absolutely. I imagine every writer must be. 

Have you always wanted to be a writer?
I must have, yes, only when I was younger, I didn't think that I could "be" a writer, though I'd been writing stories since childhood. I used to write them in spiral bound notebooks and create illustrations for the covers. My mom still has one of those notebooks; she says that once I was old enough to understand what books were, I was fascinated by them. I never stopped writing while growing up and experimented with lots of genres. But I didn't seriously consider publishing until I was in my early thirties, after my father read my first historical manuscript and suggested I try to publish it. I had no idea of how to go about doing that but took to the challenge; little did I know how long it would take! I persisted through tremendous obstacles because writing is something I've always done, simply because I must. I do think that retaining the joy of writing for writing's sake, rather than as a means to put food on the table, is something every published writer must strive to protect. 

How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
Isabella of Castile was part of my formative years spent in Spain. A ruined castle just a short distance from where I lived had once belonged to her. Growing up, I learned about her exploits and was fascinated by this forbidding queen who ruled Castile and went to war, who united Spain and sent Columbus to America, yet also was held responsible for the establishment of the Inquisition. I visited her tomb and that of her daughter, Juana, the subject of my first novel, The Last Queen, in Granada during school trips. I also saw her crown and scepter in Granada. But I truly became entranced by Isabella while writing The Last Queen. In that book, Isabella is the triumphant, middle-aged monarch of legend; she has just conquered Granada and set the stage for Spain’s emergence as a modern Renaissance state. To depict her accurately, I researched her, but my focus was more on the woman she became after she’d won the throne and united her country. When my book was published, I got many e-mails from readers telling me they’d first learned about Isabella in school because of her connection to Columbus, just like me, and had fallen in love with her in my book. I realized that hundreds of years after her death, she still exerts a powerful influence. So, for The Queen's Vow I decided to explore the younger Isabella and how she transformed herself into the queen she became. 



How extensively do you plan your novels? 
For all my books, I research intensively. I usually read everything I can find about my characters, the era in which they lived, and the world they knew. I also take trips to see extant sites associated with them. However, I am mindful that research can, in and of itself, become an obsession, and at some point the actual writing has to start. Usually, I write once I feel I've a strong enough sense not only of the time and events surrounding my character, but more importantly, who she was. Developing an emotional blueprint for my characters is key for me; I don't necessarily need to agree with the people I write about but I must understand them. I have to know them intimately in order to inhabit them. I also develop a brief outline of major events I want to cover, though I tend to refer to it loosely. I like to have an idea of where I want to start and where I want to end up, yet let the writing itself guide me on the journey. I'm superstitious about too much planning; I fear it will drain the joy of discovering the story, of letting it unfold in its own way. 

 Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
Yes and no. Dreams of course do inspire me, in that I find myself recreating imagery and scenery from my book and can sometimes overcome blocks I encounter while writing by, literally, "sleeping on it." But I don't keep a formal dream journal or anything like that. I think my dream life informs my waking state like a faint dye permeates cloth.

 Where do you write, and when?
I write in my study at home, usually from mid-morning to mid-afternoon. I used to be quite the night-owl, staying up till the wee hours to write, but I had a full-time day job and writing was a luxury that I was willing to forsake sleep for. I was also younger and could thrive on fewer hours of sleep. Now, I'm older and finally, after many years, writing full time, so I try to stick to a schedule. I do find that scheduling writing every day is important for me. Nowadays, writers face so many distractions, as well as obligations: engaging on social media and the Internet has become a must for marketing yet presents a challenge in terms of time management. I've discovered that I can easily spend an entire day online and not write a single word of my current work-in-progress. If I'm not disciplined, my writing suffers.

 What is your favourite part of writing?
When I reach that magical midway point in the work: my research is over for the most part; I've developed a keen understanding of who my characters are, and all of a sudden, everything aligns. It ceases to feel like writing. The story takes over. I love that apparent loss of overt control; the way time ceases to exist. It's truly a marvelous gift.

 What do you do when you get blocked? 
Get frustrated. Get anxious. Reach out to my other writer friends. Pace. Fret. No matter how often it happens, it always feels as though I may never overcome it. I also turn back to my research, re-read those books that inspired me and seek to recapture that sense of illusion and adventure I had before I hit the wall. When I get blocked, it's often a sign that I've veered away from my story, gone off on some tangent. I try use blocks creatively, but they're rarely fun. 

 How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
I read constantly. Reading always inspires me; I'm enchanted by the way other writers use words, the way they tell their particular stories. I read my own genre and outside of it, too, to mix things up. I also visit museums. I find that seeing actual paintings and objects from the eras I love always inspire me, as do film and music, to a lesser extent. I also have learned the hard way that my well must be replenished. I can't jump from one book to the next. It takes time for me to ease out of the world of the book I have just finished, to let the characters fade and re-discover that neutral space I require to start the process again.

 Do you have any rituals that help you to write? 
Lots of hot, sweet tea. My corgi in the well under my desk, with her head on my foot. And the wireless switch on my computer turned to off.

 Who are ten of your favourite writers?
I have more than ten, but here goes: Daphne Du Maurier, Nikos Kazantakis, Isabel Allende, Pauline Gedge, Robin Maxwell, Colin Falconer, Patricia Finney, Francoise Sagan, Judith Merkle Riley, and Cecelia Holland.

Daphne du Maurier

What do you consider to be good writing? 
When you cease to "see" it. Good writing disappears, so that all the reader hears is the voice of the story.

What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
Write every day. Be persistent. Never imitate. Accept criticism and let it teach you. Always remember that of all the art forms, writing is the most fluid. It can always be improved.

What are you working on now? 
A novel about Lucrezia Borgia, tracing her so-called Vatican years, from her youth as the illegitimate child of an ambitious Spanish churchman to her sudden thrust into notoriety as the pope’s daughter and her brutal, dangerous struggle to define herself as a woman even as she battles the lethal ambitions of her family. 

 ‘I have to know them intimately in order to inhabit them.’ Well said, I say!

INTERVIEW: Nick Earls, author of 'Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary'

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

I really loved Nick's most recent book - his first for children - which is called 'Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary', and is the first in an action-packed, timeslip adventure about twins who whirled back in tiem in order to save certain key words from extinction. My review of 'The Curious Dictionary' can be read here, while below Nick answers a few questions about the writing of this book:

 

Are you a daydreamer too?
Yes. It’s sometimes sounded like a romantic term to me, like someone gazing at clouds and thinking in elegant couplets, but my mind is often away somewhere, so that’s a yes. I can’t help picking up small ideas and following their drift, but I guess that’s one of the things that lets me do this job. It’s a wandering mind that finds things it otherwise wouldn’t. It can be irritating for the people around me who, if they didn’t know me better, might think I’m not paying attention to real life.
 
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Yes. I’ve told stories since I was four and wanted to be a writer since I worked out that the person whose name was on the book got money for it.
 
How did you get the first flash of inspiration for this book?
I’d been interested in etymology for a long time, but didn’t think I’d have a way in to writing about it. Every ABC radio station has its etymology pro, and I wasn’t planning to turn pro. The idea of using stages in the evolution of a word as stepping stones for an adventure story occurred to me one day in a park with my son in late 2010. We were on our way back to the car. I went home, made some notes, got online and hunted down the histories of some words. That made the idea look even better, though I knew it’d surprise people if I said I was going to write something like that. For weeks I told no one, and then I accepted that the idea wasn’t going away. I talked to Terry Whidborne and, with him on board, I put the idea to my agent.
 
How extensively do you plan your novels?
Extensively. Each pile of ideas grows over a couple of years or more before I give it serious attention and put together my outline. The outline tends to be around 1/4 of the length of the novel, with fragments of conversations, a lot of detail and quite an understanding of the characters already in place before I’m ready to write. I realise some people do it very differently ...
 
Do you ever use dreams as a source of inspiration?
I’ll use anything that won’t cause anyone any harm. I’d be happy if more of my dreams turned out to be useful. Unfortunately they usually don’t.
 
Where do you write, and when?
I write in a purpose-built shed in my backyard, 10m from my house. It’s the ideal arrangement for keeping work and life separate but minimising the commute.
 
What is your favourite part of writing?
I love a new idea and I love playing with ideas and working out what I might get out of them. I also love finishing. It’s that big slab of toil in between the ideas and the finishing that seems to make up most of the job though. The other part I particularly like is when someone reads a book of mine and gets it. They’re written to be read, after all, so it’s great to hear when one of them’s worked.
 
What do you do when you get blocked?
Because of all that planning, that doesn’t seem to happen often (now I’ve said that I’m afraid I’ve jinxed it). I always have ideas waiting ahead of me in the outline, and any new ones that come along once I’ve started are a bonus. That doesn’t mean every day’s a breeze – far from it. I often used to hit a sludgy patch maybe 20,000 words in and think that particular book would be the one that would bring me down, but each time I got through and the final version of the book didn’t have a sludgy patch there after all. Maybe, as well as loading my outline with detail, I’m also better now at giving myself permission to make a first draft a first draft.
 
How do you keep your well of inspiration full?
In the early 90s I worked out how to drill it a bit deeper. I got better at noticing and not losing small ideas, and I worked out that sitting around waiting for novel-sized ideas didn’t have to be what novel writing was about. My problem tends to be that I have more ideas than I can manage to write.
 
Do you have any rituals that help you to write?
The main thing I do is try to block distractions – no music, a blank wall in front of me and I try to persuade myself to stop checking email, tweeting, etc. The last one of those has become the hardest.
 
Who are ten of your favourite writers?
Richard Ford, Wells Tower, Michael Redhill, Tara June Winch, Melissa Bank, Michael Chabon, Andrew Bovell, Aaron Sorkin, Alice Munro. I’m going to stop there. I know I’ve missed plenty of people I’d like to include, but this way I can convince myself each of them might have ended up with the last spot.
 


What do you consider to be good writing? 
Writing that does its job without ever looking like writing.
 
What is your advice for someone dreaming of being a writer too?
It’s not a rational career choice. I’ve made one of those before, when I did a medical degree, so I know what they look like – the odds of long-term employment are much better. Writing is a job for people who can’t stop themselves. Who have a compulsion to do it – to take the next idea and turn it into something.

If people can’t stop themselves, they should read and think and work on their craft. Work our what works and make more of it. Work out what doesn’t and find something that does. Find the voice the story needs and use it. Show restraint. Show, don’t tell. Try to write without leaving any fingerprints.

There’s nothing revolutionary there, but it took me years to learn it rather than just hearing it.
 
What are you working on now?
 Word Hunters 3. Nearly at the end of draft one.

What began your own personal fascination with words and their history?
I can’t say that one thing did it. I’ve always been into stories, and fascinated by history and the way things work. Etymology feels like the place where all of that overlaps. But I’ve kept quiet about it because other people have actually studied in the area and made themselves experts.
 
What was the most difficult challenge for you, writing a novel for this age group for the first time?
Getting out of my head the idea that it was a radically different thing and one that I wasn’t equipped to do, and getting back into my head some of the things I’ve learned over the previous 15 books. It is different writing for this age group, but sometimes I freaked myself out by over-emphasising the differences. It worked better when I told myself to create and connect with my characters and tell their story. That at least got me started. I also wanted to make sure I worked with editors who really knew this area and who I trusted (Kristina Schulz and Mark Mcleod). I’ve tried to learn a lot from them, and there’s been quite a lot to learn. This is just about the only time I’ve sold a book (in fact a series) based on a pitch, and that’s the reason – I wanted editorial input from the start, to get me on the right track and keep me on it.
 
I love time travel stories! Did you love them when you were a kid? If so, what are some of your favourites?
I did. I loved stories that took characters not a million miles from me into an alternative reality, whether it was through the back or a wardrobe or into a different time. I’d secretly harbour the hope that my turn would come. Alan Garner’s The Weirdstone of Brisingamen was definitely one of those books. Wikipedia tells me it was volume one of a trilogy and came out in 1960. Volume three is due out soon. I don’t think UQP will be prepared to wait 52 years, so Terry and l will be aiming to keep the Word Hunters momentum going until we cross the line.
 

Will you keep on writing for this age group?
If the right idea comes along I probably won’t be able to stop it.

 

BOOK REVIEW: 'Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary' by Nick Earls

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Title: Word Hunters: The Curious Dictionary

Author: Nick Earls

Publisher: UQP

Genre: Children’s Fantasy

 

The Blurb:

Lexi and Al Hunter are twins with almost nothing in common – except their parents and their birthday! At school Lexi hangs with her friends, while Al hides in the library reading about history, battles and faraway places.

When the twins stumble upon an old dictionary, the world as they know it changes. They are blasted into history to hunt down words that threaten to vanish from our past and our present. Their lives and the future of the world are at stake. Can they find a way back home? Or will they be trapped in the past? For once, they’ll need to depend on each other if they want to survive

 

What I Liked About This Book:

I really loved this book. It’s fresh, funny, a little quirky, and is bound together by a true passion for words and their importance. Nick Earls is best known for writing humorous popular fiction for adults, many of them set in his home town of Brisbane. He has also written for young adults, winning a Children’s Book Council Award in 2000 for 48 Shades of Brown, which was made into a movie called 48 Shades.

This is, however, his first foray into children’s literature. Since 'The Curious Dictionary' is the first in the Word Hunters series, it’s obviously not going to be his last. I’m very glad, because the genre really suits Nick’s writing. 'The Curious Dictionary' is quick-paced, and the characters are sharply drawn and very likeable. And you all know how much I love a good time travel story! This book really reminded me of a few old, old favourites – Rudyard Kipling’s Pook of Puck Hill, E. Nesbit’s The House of Arden, and Nicholas Stuart Grey’s The Apple-Stone. In each of those books, ‘modern-day’ children are taken back in time to various different historical eras, where they experience a short vignette that illuminates a momentous event in history, without once veering into preachiness.

What I most loved about this book, though, is that it is full of big ideas. Fantasy needs big ideas if it’s going to work at its optimum best. So many people think they can toss off a quick fantasy adventure to tap into the genre’s massive fan base, but a good fantasy novel is one that is heartfelt and full of deep thinking. Nick Earls has managed this brilliantly. Here’s a quote to show what I mean:

“(Caractatus) explained that, while some words fade out of use naturally, living words might be lost from the language if not pinned down by word hunters … ‘That mightn’t seem like much’ he said, ‘but you haven’t lived through the 5th century. I’ve seen languages lost. I know it can happen, and I know what’s at stake when it does … Writing, reading – they can be crucial  ...think about your country … think about your time. If only a thousand people could read and you weren’t two of them … what would you know? … which of your fancy machines would help you? Which of them could you work out how to use? … Language is fragile … if too many words are lost, the Dark Ages will come back. And look at it … mud inside, mud outside, and I live with pigs.’

 

What I Didn’t Like About This Book:

I would have liked a little longer spent in each different historical period, too get to know it just a little better. For example, the twins Lexi and Al go back in time to the moment in which Thomas Edison decides to use the word ‘hello’ when answering the new invention of the telephone, rather than ‘ahoy’ as Alexander Bell wished. So fascinating to learn this - something I didn’t know! But Al and Lexi are whisked away to their next adventure before they got to meet Mr Edison. I’d have so liked to have seen him as a character in a children’s book, and to know just a little more about him and his invention!

Saying that, however, the book’s hectic pace is part of the book’s charm and is probably perfectly matched to its readership – and a novel should never be az history lesson.

INTERVIEW: Joanne Harris, author of 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure'

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My third and final blog post to celebate Joanne Harris being in Australia (as you all know by now, she's one of my all-time favourite writers. And I get to hang out with her in Brisbane! Life is good).

Reviewing her most recent book, 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure', I said: 'The book is a pleasure to read, vivid, compelling and surprising, with lots of beautiful descriptions of food and cooking and eating, which was one of my favourite aspects of Chocolat.'

The rest of my review can be found here, but for now enjoy the interview:

How long did the book take you to write?
About 18 months. I started writing it in mid-2010, just before Ramadan.

What was the most difficult challenge you needed to overcome?
Persuading my publishers that a story featuring Muslim characters and abuse of women could be treated sensitively...

Do you ever struggle with self-doubt or fear about your writing?
Always. It comes with the territory.

Did you get to go to France for research? (if so, I'm jealous)
I go to France all the time, although all my research (if you can call it that) was done as I was growing up, on long holidays at my grandfather's house.

Did you ever have an imaginary friend yourself?
No, but my daughter did - an imaginary rabbit called Pantoufle, whom I adopted in CHOCOLAT.

Do you cook food as beautifully as you write about it?
No. I imagine things far better than I actually do them...

Do you believe in magic?
Yes, although not necessarily by its traditional definition.

 

BOOK REVIEW: 'Peaches for Monsieur le Curé' by Joanne Harris

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Title: Peaches for Monsieur le Curé
Author: Joanne Harris
Publisher: Doubleday
Age Group & Genre: contemporary magic realism for adults

The Blurb:
‘It isn’t often you receive a letter from the dead’

When Vianne Rocher receives a letter from beyond the grave, she has no choice but to follow the wind that blows her back to Lansquenet, the village in south-west France where, eight year ago, she opened a chocolate shop.

But Vianne is completely unprepared for what she finds there. Women veiled in black, the scent of spices and peppermint tea, and there, on the bank of the river Tannes, facing the square little tower of the church of Saint-Jérôme like a piece on a chessboard – slender, bone-white and crowned with a silver crescent moon – a minaret.

Nor is it only the incomers from North Africa who have brought big changes to the community. Father Reynaud, Vianne’s erstwhile adversary, is now disgraced and under threat. Could it be that Vianne is the only one who can save him?

What I Liked About This Book:
'Chocolat' is one of my favourite books and Joanne Harris is one of my favourite authors. Her novel 'Five Quarters of the Orange' will always be listed in my top 5 favourite adult books.

However, when I heard that she had written another sequel to Chocolat, I didn’t squeal with excitement and rush out to the bookshop straightaway, as I usually do when one of my favourite writers publishes a new book.

I did go to the bookshop and look at the book, wondering, weighing it in my hands. The gorgeous cover swayed me, the blurb on the back cover enticed me (a return to the little French village of Lansquenet, which had so charmed me in Chocolat … I did like the sound of that).

So I opened the book and read the first chapter. It reads, in its entirety:

‘Someone once told me that, in France alone, a quarter of a million letters are delivered every year to the dead.
What she didn’t tell me is that sometimes the dead write back.’

That’s it. The whole first chapter.

I love writers who have the courage to write such short and simple chapters.  Somehow they are always powerful.

With a growing sense of excitement and joy, I turned the page and read the next page and then the next. I was hooked. I wanted to read more. And so I bought 'Peaches for Monsieur le Curé' and took it home with me.

Before I go on and tell you what I feel about the rest of the book, perhaps I should explain why I hadn’t squealed with excitement at the news that Joanne Harris was writing another book about Vianne Rocher.
The fault lies with 'The Lollipop Shoes', which sits between 'Chocolat' and 'Peaches'. I had squealed in excitement and rushed out to but that one, but, for me, it just didn’t have the same charm and magic as 'Chocolat'. I think it may be because the story alternated between the points of view of Vianne and the antagonist of the story, Zozie de l’Alba, which not only made the story much longer but also took out the element of surprise since we were privy to her thoughts and feelings right from the very beginning and so were never left to wonder whether she was friend or foe. I was also disappointed to find Vianne not working her own particular brand of magic anymore.

I am very happy to say, though, that 'Peaches for Monsieur le Cure' has restored all my faith in Joanne Harris as a novelist. The book is a pleasure to read, vivid, compelling and surprising, with lots of beautiful descriptions of food and cooking and eating, which was one of my favourite aspects of Chocolat.

It’s a pleasure to be back in the small French village that we know and love, with its cast of eccentric characters. It’s a clever twist to have Vianne’s former antagonist now one of the primary points of view, and Reynard’s character – stiff-necked, prickly, stubborn yet wanting to do good – is one of the delights of the novel.

What I Didn’t Like About This Book:
There may have been just one or two too many references to the wind changing …

 

 


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