Tag Archives: Fiction

Oooh look something shiny

Just stop it – focus for crying out loud! I know I hate to plan, everyone knows it. But it’s November on Sunday, today is Wednesday, this story wont get written unless there’s some sort of plan.

I am brilliant at procrastination, how good is Adele’s new song? listening to it now, awesome. See what I did there? That was actually what was happening in my brain as I typed – I am far too easily distracted when faced with a task I don’t really want to do. Last night I spent far too long looking up name generators…

But I do want to write the story, I really do. And I know deep down if I do this planning before I write it the process will be easier. I know I can ignore some of the details of the plan, I won’t feel bound by the outline. But what I will have already embedded in the draft will be a kind of three act structure, characters with internal and external conflict, character development arcs, basically all the stuff I am trying to include in my rewrites of other manuscripts.

So quit it Bel, quit procrastinating. No this post does NOT need a picture, you don’t need to spend 20 minutes searching for creative commons pics. Spend 20 mins on the Snowflake method and get that plan going – you don’t have many days left! Okay, finding and getting the widget working only took 6 minutes – I’m going now, really I am….

 

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Book review – The People Smuggler

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The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny was a book club read back earlier this year.  It was the first book everyone in the group actually finished,  which is telling in itself. While it doesn’t seem quite right to use the word ‘enjoy’ about such serious and at times disturbing subject matter,  I did enjoy this read.
Ali Al Jenabi is a regular guy from a regular family who happens to live in Iraq. His father is a passionate man who questions the regime of Saddam Hussein and raises his sons to question and make their own judgements. This lands them in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison where all are tortured horribly and held for years, one brother never emerging.

What follows is the story of how an ordinary man in a violent and unjust country tries to smuggle himself and his family out to safety.

The story covers years and many attempts and travels to many countries, betrayals, sacrifice and heartbreak and enduring hope.

Ali loves his country, and you get the overwhelming sense that if he could live anywhere in the world in safety,  he would choose Iraq, even now.  But the Iraq of his childhood no longer exists and return to that country is impossible for him.

He is taken advantage of repeatedly by people smugglers and eventually, in despair of the ruthless and heartless smugglers he has encountered, begins to arrange his own boats and smuggling people to Australia himself.

The story of betrayal continues when eventually he lands in Australia himself only to be arrested, have his application for refugee status (possibly) deliberately sabotaged by the government and be the first person charged with people smuggling in Australia.

This book was an eye opener into a complex issue,  one with a great deal of misinformation and irrational and unnecessary fear.

The intention of this blog is to talk about writing and books, not politics, so I won’t get into the rights wrongs and wherefores on this issue, just to say we are a massive country with many resources and this is an issue we as a nation handle appallingly, with that said I am here to talk about the book.

There’s no doubt this book is written from one point of view and is very sympathetic to Ali’s plight and cause, the Australian government comes off very poorly, not as bad as Saddam Hussein sure, but I am sure the book does no harm in positive publicity for Ali’s asylum claim.

But it is a worthy read, particularly in this county where we hear the fear mongering every day in our media. An emotional and sympathetic telling of the people smuggler’s side serves as a counterpoint.

As a book club we also read I am Malala, another story of atrocity and injustice, but a tough and annoying read. I felt it natural to compare the two and The People Smuggler certainly came out on top. I would recommend this, and I have.

Read it, consider the issues, as one sided as this version is, it’s a worthy addition to the debate. For more info you can visit the web page set up around the book.

Apologies for typos and errors, this post was written on my phone 🙂

Book Review – The raw shark texts

20150420_140721I almost don’t want to review this book here as when I picked it up from the library I really had no idea what I was in for, and discovering it along the way was a heck of a ride. But I also want people to read it. Tough one!

The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall was his debut, published in 2007, he hasn’t published anything since.

It is literary fiction, speculative fiction, kinda science fiction – it’s a complicate, unique and rich read.

It starts with the protagonist awakening – yes I know you should never start a story with waking or the weather but this is fantastic, you truly believe he has surfaced from a near drowning and is gasping for breath on his living room floor. He has absolutely no memory of who he is and finds a note.

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Intriguing right? What follows is an amazingly complex dive into an alternate view of the world we live in, or is it into the psyche of a disturbed mind?

I found this novel through a recommendation in comments on a blog post suggesting novels to introduce people to science fiction reading, so picked it up not really knowing much about it. Flicking through the pages though you find pages like these:

20150420_14113820150420_140947and it’s not a gimmick, it’s an intrinsic part of the story. While I found the technology of the story a little hard to understand at times, the story itself was fantastic.

This is a novel that will stay with me for quite some time. I don’t immediately want to pick it up and reread it but I found it difficult to part with and return to the library.

My writing tutor, the fantastic Toni Jordan, told me that she had huge bookshelves installed in her loft conversion, so huge she thought she’d never fill them. Two years later she is going through her books and choosing what she really has to keep – this, she said, is unequivocally on her keep pile.

I’d recommend this book, yes, I don’t want to tell you much more about what it is about, I want you to discover it as I did.

Has anyone read it? Love to hear your thoughts – I think if I ever do reread it I’ll get a much greater appreciation of some of the explanations but I appreciated reading it with some confusion as Eric Sanderson (the protagonist) had.

Book Review – State of Wonder

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett

As you know this was my selection for wine, I mean book club. I had wanted to choose something that was a good yarn but also contained enough interesting issues to generate discussion. I wanted to choose something I hadn’t read before and also something that was easy for people to access, whether at the library or to buy.

Phew! On top of that it couldn’t really be too long a book, all the book club members have young children and most struggle to finish the book in the month allotted, so when I read The Circle by Dave Eggers, while I loved it and it would have been a fantastic book club book, there was no way many would have finished it (oh, another one I need to add to the book review list!)

So, I found it tough to choose!

I haven’t read anything else by Anne Patchett I know her novel Bel Canto won both the Orange Prize for Fiction and PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and it looks great – it’s on the ever growing list.

state of wonderSo State of Wonder is about Dr Marina Singh who works in the lab at a major pharmaceutical company. Her lab partner is sent to the Amazon to convince the obstinate but brilliant Annick Swenson to return with her research or to avaluate how close she is to producing something they can test. There has been no communication at all from her for 2 years and she is deeply resentful of any level of ‘interference’ from her sponsors. Unfortunately the first letter in two years from Dr Swenson informs Marina and the drug company CEO, her older lover, Mr Fox of the death of her lab partner.

Marina is then dispatched to find out what happened and also to finish the mission. They are in the jungle investigating what it is that allows the women of the ncredibly remote Lakashi tribe to continue to bear children into their 70s – with implications for western IVF and fertility.

I really enjoyed the novel, I read it at Christmas time to make sure it wasn’t a dog’s breakfast before recommending it to the book club, and then quickly a second time in the week before the meeting. It’s funny that the middle section that I felt dragged the first time I read it, didn’t bother me on the second reading, and others felt that while this section did drag, it needed to, to convey the emotions of Marina being made to wait by her former mentor with no knowledge of when she may be granted an audience. This nicely mirrors another evening from years before when Marina, a medical resident, was on obgyn rotation with Dr Swenson as the Dr in charge. In an emergency, Dr Swenson made Marina wait to an ultimately devastating end, resulting in the end of Marina’s medical studies and shift into pharmacology.

The novel is full of clever little writing tricks of this type. The childless Marina and Dr Swenson investigating a fertility drug, Dr Swenson’s clinical approach to reproduction but extreme attachment to a remarkable native boy.

We all felt that the ending felt rushed, that another chapter was called for, not for the neat bow-tying to satisfy a happily ever after, it just felt such a rush from the jungle, that there were consequences to be addressed if not resolved and relationships that would be changed that needed a spotlight.

However it is a wonderful book, with evocative language painting a vivid picture of the oppressive and cloying nature of the wildness in the Amazon – well worth the read.

What’s in a name? Quite a lot actually

Titles – I struggle with titles, for short stories, blog posts, manuscripts. There’s an art to it. I was a journo for a whole bunch of years, on small newspapers with correspondingly small staff. This meant that I was journo, editor, subby, proofreader, chief cook and bottle washer. The most difficult task I had (other than trying to take down classified ads when that fab staff member was at lunch) was headline writing and photo captions!

I have found that unless I come up with a title in the early days of the manuscript, I will struggle to find one and be ultimately unhappy with the one I have. My 2009 nanowrimo project (which I have decided to workshop at the writing course starting soon) I am happy with ‘This is no holiday’ works really well for the story that unfolds and also the initial predicament of the protagonist. My project from this year – not so much. I have a working title ‘Under the carpet’ which I really don’t like, it only reflects the very first hook of the story, it doesn’t mirror the ensuing story in any way shape or form.

My other manuscript that needs a major rewrite is called ‘Chapters’ – this works beautifully and I love it, I just need to finish the flippin story!

I just read a blog post by Joanne Harris (Author of ‘Chocolat‘ and many more) and she lists the 10 book title cliches that wax and wane in popularity – check it out and let me know what you think.

The two titles of mine that I like fall into two of these cliches – is that a good or a bad thing? I don’t really know. Chapters is cliche #1 The One-Word, Multi-Syllable Punch although she suggests its more common in your action and horror genres (not really what my story is about.

This is no holiday falls into cliche #4 The Whimsical, Rather Over-Long Title That Tells Most of the Plot. The best example of this that I have recently read was The 100 year old man who climbed out the window by Jonas Jonasson – now there’s a lot of characters to fit on a spine!

The secret to your most productive writing year ever…

secretQuick post as I start my first draft reread and initial edit – read a fantastic post over at The Write Practice today – The Secret to Having the Most Productive Writing Year Ever.

This blog is the master of enticing headlines – a fantastic skill in its own write. Today’s post has a number of writing tips about getting your but in the chair and doing the work. There’s nothing earth shatteringly new in there but its so well written it is motivating.

So pop on over and have a read – I have to do some editing!!

 

Harper Lee – a tough act to follow

As would have been the case for many other booklovers, I awoke to the news that Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, is set to publish her second novel this year, 55 years after her iconic debut.

Initially I greeted this with surprise and excitement. I knew Harper Lee had never published again and was something of a recluse, I knew she must have been past 80 (she’s 88). When I read the article and discovered this wasn’t a new work, but rather a rediscovered manuscript, Go Set a Watchman, from the late 1950s my enthusiasm dimmed a little.

While I think it is wonderful that literature is front page news today, what will this book actually be like? There is no doubt that writing styles have changed significantly since 1960 when To Kill a Mockingbird was published, while that novel is undoubtedly a classic and stands up, to publish a novel in the same style and flow today runs the very real risk of seeming old fashioned.

Also the complexities of the social issues it addresses are compounded by the intervening years and all that has happened to society in that time. We view racial and ethical issues in a different light now.

But of more concern was the fact that this manuscript wasn’t considered for publishing when it was written, Harper Lee took two and half years of revision on To Kill a Mockingbird. She is now 88, profoundly deaf and partially blind, living in an assisted care facility. You have to wonder how much work this manuscript needs to whip it into shape, and whether Harper Lee is realistically up to the task.

It will sell, of course it will, I’ll certainly read it, she won’t need to do library readings and bookshop signings.

But you have to wonder. I don’t want to be a wet blanket however, so, despite some reservations, today I am happy for Harper Lee, and for readers everywhere.