Tag Archives: Books

Why I will fight tooth and claw for my local library

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The HiveAt the weekend, Children’s laureate, Malorie Blackman pointed out that 105 libraries have been closed or privatised over the past seventeen months, bringing the total to 347 under the care of the current UK Coalition Government. The continued influence of austerity measures are putting an estimated 400 more libraries at risk.

When I was about 15 or 16 my friend and I would spend hours perusing the shelves of the local library. Usually searching for ‘factual’ books about the occult and supernatural (we were into Ouija boards and horror movies in a big way then).

I loved the library. You could walk in, find a book on a seemingly endless array of subjects, get it stamped by a friendly librarian (avoiding the concerned gaze) and off you went. It was entirely free and you had reading material a plenty! Read the rest of this entry

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Review – The Female Man

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Take a moment and ask yourself would you hide a secret army of women to fight in the battle against men in a distant alternative future?

The Female Man by Joanna Russ asks just that question. I picked up the book after seeing an article following her death in April this year.  I feel ashamed to admit I’d never heard of Ms Russ prior to that, especially given that she is hailed as the forerunner of feminist science fiction writing and cited as a significant influence on modern authors such as William Gibson. The Female Man was written in 1969/70 and published five years later in a literary genre dominated by men. It received a mixed response, but has since become an extremely well respected novel, nominated for the 1975 Nebula Award for Best Novel and then winning one of the three Retrospective Tiptree Awards in 1996.

I understand why it elicited strong responses, released as it was at the height of the second-wave feminist movement. In many ways it is more a study in feminism than a science fiction story, yet I’m not sure where else it might be fit if not as Sci-Fi.

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Room – Review

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I didn’t expect this to be a cheery read and it wasn’t. But it wasn’t bleak either. The story is told through the eyes of Jack, beginning on his fifth birthday. Jack’s mother was abducted by ‘Old Nick’ and held captive in ‘Room’. Jack sleeps in ‘Wardrobe’, plays on ‘Rug’, eats at ‘Table’ and his mother tells him that there is nothing outside of Room, only ‘Outer Space’, everything he sees on the small amount of television she lets him watch is fictional. Jack is safe, Jack is happy, Jack is a prisoner.

Telling such a heart wrenching tale through the eyes and in the words of a child, is inspired. Simply inspired. It allowed Emma Donoghue to explore a very uncomfortable and horrifying scenario without having to go into the gory details. We, as the adult viewer of Jack’s words and experiences, can read between the lines, fill in the gaps, understand the truth behind the creative explanations given to him by a mother doing her best to raise her child despite such awful circumstances.  I think it’s rare for the reader in a first person story to know more than the main character, but that is exactly what goes on here. We never hear or see anyone else’s perspectives on the situation (other than through Jack’s eyes of course), but we can see the reality that Jack is unable to grasp.

As a character, Jack is entirely believable, Ms Donoghue does a fantastic job of staying true to the language and thought processes of a five-year old child, never once did it waver, not once did I feel I was reading the words of a woman.  Read the rest of this entry

World Consistency – Magic

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On a long drive recently I listened to the audio book of A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness. It’s good so far, but it got me thinking about world consistency and certain choices that need to be made before beginning to write.

My reading preference is Fantasy/Sci-Fi or Horror fiction, and it’s what I tend towards in my writing.  The scope and freedom afforded a writer by a fantasy world come with the burden of creating a believable and consistent environment in which to set the story.

I have a great book called “How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy” by Orson Scott Card. He devotes around 21 pages to “Make rules for your world” in his chapter on World Creation. He perhaps goes a little over the top on his advice about space travel or language, but the point is valid and the information useful, and shockingly neither of the two other ‘Creative Writing’ books I pulled off my shelf talked about this at all.

I think I’ll write a few entries on this subject, as otherwise it’s going to be a long read and will probably never make it online! I do, however, think it will be useful for me to get my head around some of these issues and of course, feedback is always welcome!

So I’m going to start with “Magic

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End of books?

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I have quite a few irons in the proverbial fire at the moment… by which I mean I have quite a few half written or half conceived posts. I’ve been looking into how to protect your online content, do you need to copywrite? Also, how to make money writing from home. I’m also hoping to enter a couple of writing contests. I need a little more research and time on all those topics, so will come back to them later. Today I thought I’d talk about the Amazon Kindle. I got one of these for Christmas and I’ll say up front that I’m sold on it. I wasn’t always though.

I’ve been really snooty about electronic books. You can hardly curl up with a flat piece of tech. It’s nice to display your books on shelves, there’s something nice about turning real pages. Yes, I do buy most of my music as mp3’s but I also like to own the cds (how retro of me!). I’m not terribly materialistic, I don’t buy every film I like, I’m happy to pick and choose an artists songs, I don’t have a library of books. Yet I did feel quite strongly that electronic books were a sad sign of the times.

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Apartment 16 – Review

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I finished Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill a few days ago, so thought I’d do a quick review.

The story follows two key characters, Seth a struggling artist who is working nights as a porter in the upmarket apartments, Barrington House in London while trying to find his muse and the young American, Apryl, visiting to dispose of the belongings of her recently deceased great Aunt Lillian.

As Apryl sifts through her estranged aunt’s belongings she becomes increasingly consumed by a need to learn about Lillian’s life, especially when she discovers the strange circumstances of her death and her almost illegible diaries. It appears that something has been keeping the inhabitants of Barrington House from leaving, despite their fear and unhappiness at being there, the question is what and why?

Seth has been receiving complaints about a burning smell and his investigations take him to the door of the permanently empty apartment 16.  It’s not long before, first in his dreams, then his waking life he is dominated by the presence of a mysterious child who leads him through the next few terrifying weeks.

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Pace

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Apartment 16 by Adam Nevill is really fast paced”. That was a tick in the box for me. I like books that flow well and it’s most definitely true in this case. Within just a few pages you’re already experiencing spooky goings on and beginning to bond with the characters.

Today I was musing over what makes a story fast paced so I thought I might try to break it down into “pace” components using this novel as a case study.

1) Timeframe – The story follows two characters and switches almost every chapter. Following two threads makes it feel like more is happening in any given time period when in reality, the story is unfolding quite slowly over the course of multiple days.

2) Sentence Length – A (very) rough average sentence length in this book is around 12.44 words. In the few pages I checked, the longest sentence was 39 words, the shortest 1. Twelve-word sentences are considered short in the fiction world (or so my research tells me). However, Asimov, for example, kept his fiction sentences short, an average of 10.6 words per sentence based on 12 of his books.

Asimov’s choice to use short sentences helps him in both explaining his idea as well as making the reading easy and enjoyable.   Long sentences by comparison leave the risk of losing the reader, especially if the concept or idea is foreign as in his science fiction works.”(quoted from the Asimov Vault)

My feel is that a good balance between long and short sentences is what keeps the pace high. Keeping up a visual and verbal pace that draws the reader in.

3) Paragraphs and chapters – Apartment 16 uses short succinct paragraphs and begins a new chapter at the end of almost every notable event. This combined with the change in character at the same time forces the reader to keep up!

4) Simplicity – Keeping the story simple and clear keeps the pace fast for the reader, they’re not encouraged to pause and consider the latest paragraph they read, instead they’re urged ever onwards, keeping up with the story. This doesn’t mean the images and impressions of a story won’t stay with the reader after the lights are out of course!

5) Scene changes – The story, so far, is set in just a few static locations.  The fictional ‘world’ is relatively small, descriptions are kept to a minimum, outlining the basics and allowing the reader to fill in the gaps.

6) Action – The characters spend more time acting than thinking. Long internal monologues slow the pace of a story down. Although Nevill’s characters think, they spend much more time doing. Even when they’re thinking it’s normally as they are doing something or something is being done to them, which keeps the pace high.

Writing this has been quite interesting as I’ve gone from wondering what creates pace to having something I would use as a checklist in my own writing.