Saturday, December 31, 2011

Snuff by Terry Pratchett

John's birthday present this year was a rather extraordinary dinner party and his surprise present was a copy of Pratchett's latest book "Snuff".

It's a Vimes book, which is always a good thing, and features Sybil and Young Sam quite a lot too. I am pleased that Young Sam and Sybil were quite intrinsic to the story - too often, I think families get shelved while the main protagonist goes on their adventure, only returning home when everything is safe and they never know anything of import ever happened. Pratchett is always careful to try and portray the key people in his novels as best he can, and there was a lot about the book I really enjoyed.

But there were also some things I didn't enjoy. I really felt like Pratchett had a Message, and he was going to beat me to death with it as often as he could. I also felt that the narrative was overly complex, derailing me constantly by many short mini-stories which were not necessary to the over-all arch of the book, and because they happened so often, they weakened any relationship that might have been drawn.

Also, there was a key scene I found terribly confusing; I just had to accept that I either missed a step, or the step had not been well illuminated, and moved on.

So my end summary is that I enjoyed it but it wasn't as strong as some of his other Vimes stuff. I found myself tearing up once or twice as I remembered there won't be many more of these books to come.

Sarah P

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Writing Books: Formatting Text, manuscript format, indenting first paragraph

To indent or not to indent... here's a link passed around during a recent batch of discussions by my writing group. Maybe this could be as contentious as the double space between sentences issues! Ha ha!


Writing Books: Formatting Text, manuscript format, indenting first paragraph

Saturday, December 24, 2011

'The Tinker's Girl' by Catherine Cookson

Catherine Cookson's 'The Tinker's Girl' was written in 1994, and is a really good read. It's been reprinted heaps of times, and I can see why!

The story follows a 14 year old girl who is bright, intuitive and intelligent, and she goes to live on a poverty stricken farm to help the Shaleman while their mother is dying. It's a fascinating 'historical fiction' (the word romance is not used anywhere on the cover) novel, that is richly detailed and incredibly in depth look at the hard life these people led.

As well as being an historical novel, it is also a sign to me that there has always been a call for strong female characters. Taking an in depth look at the lives and loves of these people of different classes and viewpoints, Cookson also deconstructs the constraints placed on the women of the time, and breaks them down with love and compassion.

I genuinely had no idea what to expect. Certain memes and expectations were derailed and lead astray. The evil older brother who becomes a sailor - I was completely expecting him to be in any final showdowns as the hero or heroine struggles to protect those they love - yet it was not to be. I was genuinely hooked into this novel because it subverts so many things about romances and women's fiction that I just wanted to know what happens next!

Our heroine grows, and Cookson's writing is delicious as she keeps out attention focused on her, and we see the development in the voice of the novel as Jinnie develops. She is outspoken yet obedient, a responsible maid living in abject poverty with some contentment. She learns a lot about life, but she never takes a back seat to the events that unfold around her. I loved seeing the inner workings of the family she lives with, and I loved seeing the way Jinnie defines the woman she becomes.

This is a great read. I'll be looking out for more Cookson as I'm fascinated that it still felt fresh even after almost 30 years and it also made me look back at the way I construct my novels. Cookson's novel felt rough and wild by design, and it was a feeling I really found caught me, and kept me tugged along until finally I finished the book and could go to bed! Yay!

This book kept me up late to see how it ended, and I enjoyed every minute of it. My copy is falling apart - I may have to try and fine a new one yet. I can easily see myself building a collection of them, ready to go next to my Viking romances!

Sarah P

Friday, December 23, 2011

Penumbra Speculative Fiction E-Magazine

An interesting in-depth interview with Celina Summers, Editor-in-Chief of Musa Publishing, about Penumbra, a speculative fiction e-magazine released monthly with themed stories from 500-3000 words, paying pro rates.
Take a look at the 2012 calendar for themes and get writing!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

I did it! I joined the Australian Women Writers Challenge

... and I bet none of you are surprised. I expect that a good percentage of the reviews next year will be of Australian authors, so buckle in and look for the tag AWWC to track my progress! I'm buying my Twelve Planets subscription soon, plus I have books lying around the place from heaps of Australian women. Watch out 2012, here I come!

Sarah P

Twelfth Planet Press Supports Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012

Twelfth Planet Press | Twelfth Planet Press Supports Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012: Twelfth Planet Press is getting behind the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. We are offering a 10% discount on all of our books which fit the challenge – ie written by women – for the whole of 2012.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sandra Hill's "A Very Virile Viking"

I picked up a cheap copy of Sandra Hill's 'The Very Virile Viking' on my last book buying jag. Spotting it in the pile made me squeal with delight. This is my eighth? Ninth? Something... Viking book by Sandra Hill, and I do enjoy them so much!

I was very curious about how this one would go, since we had come across Magnus and all of his children in other books in the series. He starts off this novel with nine children in tow, an automatically unusual preposition on which to base a romance novel.

I do enjoy Sandra Hill's work. She manages to convey a masculinity which is sexy and yet also is very much his own person. Our hero Viking is also a time traveller, and one of the first people he meets is his destiny, Angela. She, being the modern woman, refuses to believe he could really have come from the past, and refuses to be sweet talked into his bed.

Also, Hill's Viking books are rich with depth and detail. I remember reading a Goodreads review that said the book "Dark Of The Moon" had been richly detailed 1920s book. Yet that was the book that I didn't even realise was set in the 20s until page 117. How could that possibly be richly detailed? And yet in all of Hill's Viking books, you know instantly, in voice, personality and dialogue exactly where you are and who you are, and I love it. These are very silly books, a lot of fun to read, and I'm pleased Hill still seems to be writing them.

I find all of these to be a great romp. Not the most feminist friendly, sometimes, but at the same time the women give back as well as the men do, and the power struggles add to the story rather than distract. The sex (and almost-sex) scenes were really hot, and I do enjoy Hill's sense of humour. I'm really glad to add another Viking novel to my collection.

Sarah P

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

kateelliott: Do Females Write Epic Fantasy Differently Than Males Do?

Women writing fantasy has been a huge discussion in many places. Here's Kate Elliott's original post, asking some interesting questions and getting a lot of very interesting replies.

kateelliott: Do Females Write Epic Fantasy Differently Than Males Do?: "Do Females Write Epic Fantasy Differently Than Males Do?

This is more in the nature of a drive by post to note for the record that I'm on massive deadline doing revisions for COLD FIRE (Spiritwalker #2). Writing, as always, in my girly way.

I have literally not had time to refer to or discuss the various internet things about fantasy, nihilism, morals or lack thereof, beauty and truth, and so on and so forth except mostly to note that as so often, these conversations mostly seem to revolve around men and male writers. My god, people, were there not enough battle scenes in Crown of Stars? And yet, somehow this remains also a stereotype, that a sword fight, say, reflects masculinity and not femininity."

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Australian Women Writers Challenge

From the AWWC2012 webpage:

Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge

Keen on romance, fantasy, crime, YA, literary, mainstream women's fiction? Contemporary or historical? Memoir, other nonfiction or poetry? 

Whatever your preference, whether you're a fan of one genre or a devoted eclectic, the 2012 Australian Women Writers Book Reading & Reviewing Challenge invites you to celebrate a year encountering the best of Australian women's writing.

This challenge hopes to help counteract the gender bias in reviewing and social media newsfeeds that has continued throughout 2011 by actively promoting the reading and reviewing of a wide range of contemporary Australian women's writing. (See the page on gender bias for recent discussions.)

Readers should approach this challenge with a spirit of willingness. There are no failures, just personal goals. Reviews can be long or short, favourable or "this book is not for me". Hopefully, along the way, we'll all discover some future classics and perhaps a few surprises among genres we're not familiar with. The main aim is to have fun.

Challenge period:  1 January 2012 -  31 December 2012

 For more information, click here! 

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Reading Like A Writer by Francine Prose

Francine does not believe that any one can learn creative writing, but she does believe we can all learn to appreciate text in a deep and very satisfying way.

I have a pretty troubled relationship to the classics. I've always been pretty leery of Austen, never managed to enjoy the Russian masters, and in general I managed to skip a lot of the Classics with a Capital C. This is despite doing English and Comparative Literature at university! I was much more comfortable with modern novels than the old stuff, and I never quite understood why people enjoyed them so much when I often found them turgid and kind of boring.

Now, I'm not about to say I've had a full 180 change of heart... but may 120 degree change. My eyes glazed and my brain grew resistant during the chapter about reading the English classics like the Bronte sisters and Austen, but I did learn a lot about words, sentences, and paragraphs. I learnt enough to consider tackling the rest of the Chekhov collection I have stashed somewhere; and I am consider reading some of Shakespeare as well. (Someone told me it helps to know the story before you read it, apparently!)

So despite me being an uneducated lout, I do read quite widely, and with Francine's book it was a lot like re-training me to read more thoughtfully and with greater chance to chew upon the words in the text. I read fast. I always have. And while reading Kant and Strauss at uni slowed me down, I don't think I have ever learnt to read quite like this before. It's not changed my way of inhaling the current Harlequin and Teen Harlequin novels I am reviewing, but I think it's opened me up to the possibilities of read *gasp* Literature.

Thanks to this book, I have now purchased The Picture of Dorian Gray and Lolita. But the Austen is staying firmly at the back of my shelves.

Sarah Lee Parker

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writers and Depression

The wonderful Allie (who blogs at Hyperbole and a Half) has recently updated her blog with an account of her battle with depression. She tackles the subject in her own special fashion illustrating the experience with a unique drawing style.

We have - fortunately - advanced in our acknowledgement of depression. It's regarded less as a stigma to be hidden and more as it should be - an illness that can be treated.

Given how common depression is among writers (I googled the topic and was quite shocked at just how many well known authors have suffered from this debilitating illness) perhaps this is something we should all think about. We might not be sufferers ourselves but the chances are we know someone who is so it pays to be aware.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Is editing for me? � Donna Maree Hanson

Having recently finished a course on Editing, Donna Maree Hanson ponders what skills she has learnt, the value of the course and her editing experience, and what she wants to do next.

Is editing for me? � Donna Maree Hanson

Saturday, December 3, 2011

On Writing by Stephen King

I finished Stephen King's On Writing, one of a series of books I purchased on the advice of Adrian Bedford.Once again, this book has been a Win. It's a wonderful read, entrancing and engaging, and it really does seem to get across the feel of Stephen King's personality.

It's at once a warm memoir and an excellent book on writing. King takes the time to talk about his family and his home life, and for each of those sections I want to go through with a highlighter and untangle some of the techniques he uses to make me feel exactly as I am sure he wants me to feel in each vignette. I found the later discussion of his car accident so harrowing I had to put the book down and take a breather, needing to re-establish that distance between me and the book.

I also liked the fact he talks about his unexpected successes, never really imagining the level of fame he would eventually arrive at. On Writing paints King as someone we'd all love to go to the pub with, and the snippets he puts into the book are almost like a how to in developing likable, human characters. King's advice on writing is invaluable, and I love the maxims and advice people have given him over the years.

Things I want to remember: in times of trauma, it's all in the details. Second draft = First draft minus 10%. Write for yourself (with the door closed) and only open it when YOU are ready. A lot of this is advice I have already been told, but King puts his own spin on things, turning each story into his own and every anecdote a tale worth telling.

Very good book to have around.

Sarah P

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Award Winning Australian Women Writers

As part of the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, the industrious Tansy Rayner Roberts has compiled a list of Australian women who have won awards in science fiction, fantasy and horror. You can find it here. So far the list consists of novels - adult, YA and children, collections, anthologies and non-fiction but she intends to expand it to include short stories later.

I had not heard about the challenge before I came across this post but it seems an interesting concept. The aim is to read and, if so inclined, to review books written by Australian women. There are a number of options open to participants ranging from simply reading to taking on set challenges. It can be genre related or not as you choose. Sounds like a good way to widen the scope of your reading.