The Momentum Blog
Posted November 21, 2014 by Michelle Cameron
When a massive sinkhole opens up and swallows a retired couple from Iowa it seems like a freak occurrence. But it’s not the only one. Similar sinkholes are opening all over the world, even on the sea floor. And they’re getting bigger.
People living near the pits begin reporting strange phenomena—vibrations, sulfurous odors, and odd sounds in the stygian depths. Then the pets begin to go missing.
When people start disappearing as well, the government is forced to act. Professor Matt Kearns and a team of experts are sent in by the military to explore one of the sinkholes, and they discover far more than they bargained for.
From the war zones of the Syrian Desert to the fabled Library of Alexandria, and then to Hades itself, join Professor Matt Kearns as he attempts to unravel an age-old prophecy. The answers Matt seeks are hidden in the fabled Al Azif—known as the Book of the Dead—and he must find it, even if it kills him. Because time is running out, not just for Matt Kearns, but for all life on Earth.
Book of the Dead comes out on December 11 in all good ebook retailers!Tagged: Books, cover reveal, horror
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Posted November 14, 2014 by Michelle Cameron
I’ve been watching the wildly popular new television series Outlander, adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel of the same name. It’s about WW2 army nurse Claire Randall who is visiting Scotland when she’s sent back in time 200 years, leaving her husband behind and needing to marry young and handsome highlander Jamie Fraser for protection. Outlander (the novel) is currently Goodreads #2 top romance of all-time, so this is a popular story that’s still selling strongly 23 years after its original release.
The television series features stunning Scottish landscapes and a regularly bare-chested male lead played by hunky Scot actor Sam Heughan, which might explain its popularity with non-readers as well. But according to blogs and reviews springing up across the Internet, the stranger in a strange land aspect of Claire coping with the primitive day-to-day life of eighteenth century Scotland is one of the most thrilling aspects of the story.
Unlike other historical dramas, this series looks at a time period through the fresh eyes of a twentieth century female character, allowing us to put ourselves in Claire’s shoes as she rebels against their patriarchy, is disgusted by their medical practices, and occasionally delights in the strangeness of it all – exactly as we might.
Of course, this isn’t the first stranger in a strange land story to enchant audiences.
Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole into Wonderland have thrilled generations of children, and Avatar, where cripple Jake Sully saves the beautiful planet of Pandora, is the highest grossing movie of all time. Not to mention Edgar Rice Burrough’s hero John Carter, transported to Barsoom/Mars – a particular favorite of mine that was made into a Disney movie a few years back. I used to devour Edgar Rice Burroughs novels as though they were Mills & Boon when I was a teen, thrilling to the adventure of a ‘clean limbed fighting man from Virginia’ saving the princess and falling in love. Beyond the romance, I was falling in love with a genre that lets audiences see a new world through the eyes of a stranger.
A Princess of Mars was soon followed on my shelf by Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Frank Herbert’s Dune as firm favorites (along with Outlander). Not to mention that my first big crush was on Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise whose mission was to boldly go where no man had gone before…
I couldn’t get enough of characters going from one world into another, so it was also no surprise that I’d settle on stranger in a strange land stories as the theme I wanted to explore as a writer. Across, fantasy, romance and erotica, that theme is a constant, but my absolute favorite is my Shadow Through Time trilogy that begins with twentieth century Catherine falling through a Sacred Pool into Ennae and discovering that in that world she is Princess Khatrene, with a hunky champion of her own and adventures and romance more thrilling than anything I’d ever read.
So in celebration of all things stranger in a strange land, Momentum is offering the first book of my trilogy, Destiny of the Light, for free so you have your own vicarious adventure in an otherworld. And as one book-blogger said, “If you love your fantasy to be slightly gritty but with plenty of swoony romance, Destiny of the Light is for you!”authors, Books, fantasy, fiction, outlander, reading, romance, tv, tv series
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Posted November 13, 2014 by Eve Merrier
I’ve been reading the gorgeous and fantastical Trinity: The Koldun Code by Sophie Masson. Set in Russia, this got me thinking about all the extraordinary things I’ve heard about that vast country: some even more ridiculous than Putin’s manly photo shoots . These facts about Russia are stranger than fiction and read like writing prompts, or a game of Mad Libs that got out of hand.
Right, I’ll stop Putin it off.
There was a television hoax in 1991 that convinced a solid proportion of the Russian population that Lenin had consumed so many psychedelic mushrooms that he had become a mushroom himself. Someone from the Party had to come out with an official statement which said, ‘Lenin could not have been a mushroom as a mammal cannot be a plant.’ More correctly, it’s a fungi – but Lenin wasn’t! Who wouldn’t read the children’s book ‘Lenin the Mushroom’?
Boris Yeltsin in his pants on Pennsylvania Avenue with a pizza: not a winning guess in Soviet Leader Cluedo, but what happened on a state visit to the USA in 1995. Apparently he’d had a bottle of vodka to himself and had gone out in search of a slice. The secret service escorted him back to his room. Feels like a surrealist short story: actually happened. Please someone write a series wherein world leaders get drunk and go for pizza. Netflix original waiting to happen.
Here’s another fact about Russia to Chekhov your list: 22% of all the trees on Earth are in Russia. That makes for a glorious setting; one quarter of the country is forests. Potentially there are nooks of this vast land that no human has ever been to. Just imagine what could be hiding, then write a fantasy novel about it and sent it to me. Thanks.
Speaking of hiding, secret cities were created in Soviet times, mainly to hide nuclear sites and associated industry. Many of these still aren’t mentioned on maps or in official records and are off-limits to foreign visitors: whole cities, full of people, officially don’t exist. I see a tale of espionage adventures and confused postal workers: the eternal struggle to deliver letters to non-existent addresses.
This is a country that in its history had an actual tax on beards, named vodka after ‘water’, and turned up to the 1908 Olympics 12 days late as they hadn’t quite got the swing of the Gregorian calendar. Russia has a rich and multi-faceted past and present, waiting to be Borodin fiction (borrowed in…sorry that one was tenuous).
If anyone can think of a pun for Gorbachev, please Tweet me @EveProofreads. Cheers!Tagged: beards, Books, children's book, fantasy, forest, Historical, Putin, russia, settings, sophie masson, Trinity: The Coldun Code, vodka, writing prompts
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Posted November 12, 2014 by Michelle Cameron
A: Hi Nina! It’s great to be chatting with you today. I’m a big fan of your work and am looking forward to picking your brain. So tell me, you’ve written three SFF books now. Is the process getting any easier for you?
N: In short. No. It’s still the same chronic rewriting and second guessing for me, but I guess in ways that’s not necessarily a bad thing – it makes for a thorough knowledge of the story, from every conceivable angle.
Number 3 for you too! (Congratulations!!) Is it getting any easier for you?
A: I’ve released 3 books, but I had them all written before I got the first one published. So, for those ones, I can only really comment on the editing process – which I do think is getting easier. I’m definitely more attuned to what I need to look for, thanks to what has been picked up in the past (which hopefully makes my editor’s life easier!). I’ve only just recently written a brand new novel, so that was my first experience at writing again – and as it is a completely stand-alone novel not linked to the Aurora series in any way, it was a good test for me. There were days that it was slow going, and others where I seemed to race along, but I think that’s par for the course. I do think my writing has improved though. I’m certainly editing out the mistakes of the past before they’re committed to the page!
So what sparks your inspiration? After you have that first idea, how do you go about turning that into a fully fleshed story?
N: Good question and I think there’s been a whole heap of inspirations for all my books – people, stories, movies, art, poetry, music, animals, places – pretty much everything I come into contact with! I think it’s probably the same for a lot of writers and artists as well. Once the idea for a story pops up then I’ll go into planning mode, so world, characters, storyline – everything goes down in whatever order I’m feeling like.
But tell me more about your Aurora Series – there are 3 books out now and more on the way – did you do an overall plot and planning at the very beginning or have the stories evolved as you wrote?
A: The story evolved as I wrote. It was only supposed to be one story, but as I wrote I seemed to undercover more and more story lying underneath. The good news for readers, though, is that I have now plotted the whole series and it will come to a definite end around book 7/8. I recently received a comment from someone suggesting that I was writing more books (and stretching out the story) for the commercial aspect of it, but this is completely untrue. The story itself dictated how long it would be. I have this (rather major) over-arching plot and several subplots that need to be tied up, and they can’t be tied up in one single book. At least, not if I want it to be realistic! Anyway…
Tell me, what do you find the hardest thing about this writing business?
N: Time, I think…. Just getting the time to sit down and write – it’s been an insanely busy year, but I’m hoping next year will be a bit different. And also I think what you touched on above, it can be difficult to put stories out there and pause for judgement. On the flipside, it’s also a massive privilege and mostly awesome (everything is awesome!) to have people reading our books. That’s living the dream! And speaking of dreams – I think it’s that time. I think we need to talk characters…
Can you tell me a little bit about the leading men in your Aurora series – just a teaser for readers who haven’t started the Aurora series yet?
A: The leading men in the Aurora series are far from perfect, but they each contain elements of the perfect ‘man’. Saul Harris has the maturity, experience and the leadership skills to captain the Aurora team. He’s firm but fair, and because of this he has the team’s respect and trust . . . Daniel ‘Doc’ Walker, is intelligent and caring – two traits required of the medic and ship’s 2IC. He’s easy going, but when required he becomes the soldier he needs to be. Throughout the series his easy-going character is tested, and the ‘perfect’ guy proves that he makes mistakes too . . . James McKinley is hard man, and a courageous one at that – a key trait for Harris’ right-hand man in the field. He pushes people to prove themselves, but he also pushes himself to be the best. As the series unfolds, his hardened external layers are slowly removed, and the man hidden inside comes to light…
Now, I am a big fan of the leading men in your books (Copernicus and Darius to name a couple). So for readers who haven’t started your books as yet, tell us a little bit about them?
N: I’m going to say for Copernicus, tall, dark and dangerous and Darius – he has a hard exterior but there’s love there – somewhere on the inside – (and I have to say McKinley is my fav Aurora boy, but they’re all great). But I’m thinking we shouldn’t forget about the girls either – your leading lady, Corporal Carrie Welles, sharp shooter and elite soldier. She’s just starting out but she’s already been to hell and back.
When you write female characters do you find yourself naturally writing tougher ladies, is it something you wanted to do purposely. And if so, why do you think that is? (for either)
A: I like to write tough women, but I also like them to have their weak moments. That is what makes them human and I think what makes them appeal to readers. I come from a line of strong women – my mother and my grandmothers – whom I dedicated Aurora: Darwin (and the whole Aurora series) to, so I suppose it’s bred into me in a way. They are women who have just picked themselves up and carried on when faced with hardships. Sometimes strong women make the mistake of being too strong and not allowing themselves to be weak or ask for help, and it is at this point that they seem to fall apart, because they can’t cope with not being perfect. This I think, is a big driver for Carrie Welles in my Aurora series. She is a woman who has to look deep inside herself to pull the courage out that she needs to survive, and she is also a woman who has to lower her defensive shield to admit when she is wrong or needs help, and to allow love to enter her life…
You also write strong women, and they seem a little damaged in a way due to the secrets they keep, but because of this they’re fighters – and survivors. What drives that in your writing?
N: Good question… I think I’ve always been attracted to the idea of the survivor – the person who can take every hit, psychologically and physically, and still keep going. For me that really defines a hero – not because they’re incredibly brave, or gifted, or perfect people, but because they never stop, despite the scars and damage.
Now I understand you’re working on a book that is outside of the Aurora Series, can you tell me a little bit about it and what it’s been like venturing out of your universe?
A: Yes, the new book is called The Time of The Stripes and it’s another sci-fi, but set on Earth, current day. It’s told from multiple perspectives and follows the immediate events surrounding a worldwide phenomenon. It’s a pretty tense drama, so readers of the Aurora series will hopefully enjoy it. It’s been a very interesting process to write! In some ways it’s been difficult in that I’m having to build characters up from scratch again – especially after spending so long with my Aurora characters, who I know like the back of my hand. It had also been a while since I’d written anything new so that harsh reminder of just how long it takes to write a novel was a wake up call! On the plus side, it’s been great to try my hand at building another world, in part to prove I could, but also just for having an opportunity to try something new and take that breath of fresh air was wonderful. But now I’m ready to crack on with more of the Aurora series!
So how did you find the experience of going from the The Last City/The Forgotten City to The White List?
N: It was pretty cool – I’ve always got a few writing projects going at once so it wasn’t too much of a leap, but there’s always those readjustments, where you have to find the right voice for the character, but overall it was great.
So thank you very much for chatting with me AB – any final advice for aspiring writers looking to get their work out there?
A: Study the market as best you can, be prepared to work hard, and learn patience! Writing and getting published is a marathon, not a sprint.
And what advice would give them?
N: I completely agree with you and I’ll just add in – don’t give up!
A: Yes! Good point. Well thanks for chatting with me today, Nina! It’s been great getting an insight into your wonderful books!
N: Thanks AB! It’s been great chatting with you too!Tagged: authors, Books, genre, reading, science fiction, writers, writing
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Posted November 10, 2014 by Michelle Cameron
1. What inspired you to write the Trinity series?
I could say that what inspired me was my lifelong fascination with Russia, and that’s true. I could also say that it was inspired by my long-held desire of writing a big urban fantasy series, one that blends the everyday and the magical worlds, the natural and the supernatural, against a modern setting which makes the whole thing even more striking. That would also be true. And I wanted it to have other elements I love too, such as a good spice of romance and a sharp tingle of mystery. But Trinity might just have stayed as an idea in the back of my mind, if it hadn’t been for a chance glimpse on the Moscow Metro: a young man in modern jeans and leather jacket, but with the timeless, striking face of a prince or a legendary warrior, such as I’d seen that very day in paintings in the Tretiakov Art Gallery.
In that instant, just before the young man got off the train, Trinity really came alive. For there was Alexey Makarov taking shape in my mind, and there was Helen’s voice describing him. And I knew I could not rest until I had told their story.
2. Russia is such an evocative setting, how did you come to choose it?
As I mentioned, I’ve been fascinated by Russia since I was a child, when I read Russian fairytales, and later, Russian novels. My father (who comes from France) loves Russian music and art, so we were exposed to a lot of that at home. Much later, I visited Russia (I’ve been there twice now) and loved it—it was just as interesting as I had imagined it, in fact even more so! It’s such a mix of so many different influences—hugely diverse, enormously paradoxical, and extremely addictive.
3. Speaking of Russia, magic is such an ingrained part of their culture, how did this influence you?
Heaps! Russia is the absolutely perfect urban fantasy setting—you hardly even have to make anything up! From the Parliament trying to regulate witchcraft to the businesses who employ wizards to the scientists studying DNA for evidence of psychic talents to the ‘energy vampires’ who people firmly believe in, this is a place where the supernatural and paranormal are taken for granted by many, many people. And yet it’s also totally modern, with very high literacy and education levels.
4. What was your favourite scene to write, and why?
My favorite scene is the one where Helen and Alexey meet for the first time, in the woods. Everything changes in that moment for Helen, and it is truly magical, in all kinds of ways. Writing it gave me goose bumps!
5. What can we expect in the second book The False Prince?
A new threat on the horizon as a figure from the past resurfaces and causes havoc both natural and supernatural at Trinity. Watch this space!
Trinity: The Koldun Code is released on the 13th of November.
Tagged: authors, Books, fantasy, fiction, genre, paranormal, reading, romance, russia, sophie masson, suspense, the koldun code, thriller, trinity, Urban Fantasy, writing
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Posted October 20, 2014 by Patrick Lenton
Momentum is the digital-only imprint of Pan Macmillan Australia. Established in February 2012, we publish high quality ebooks globally. Our website and blog is the hub of our operation, and we’d like to include as many diverse voices as possible. Our blog currently hosts opinions from Momentum employees, authors and other contributors, and now we’d like you to have the chance to have your say about the world of books, writing and reading on the Momentum blog.
We are looking for someone who is interested in books, specifically with an interest in genre fiction (predominantly thrillers, horror, YA/NA and science fiction/fantasy).
What we want from you:
– 4-8 blog posts a month, with a minimum word count of 300 words each
– The posts can cover any topic that you think is relevant to reading, writing, book and storytelling culture and can be in the form of reviews, interviews, author profiles, recaps, catch-ups, re-reads and reader polls – creativity and audience engagement is the main aim
– Preference will be given to a blogger with a relevant social media presence (Twitter, Facebook, etc)
– Genre bloggers step to the front of the line. If you love romance, science fiction, fantasy and thrillers show us your passion for your genre(s)
What we are offering in return:
– An audience of readers and writers
– $20 per post (minimum of 4 and maximum of 8 posts per month)
– free Momentum ebooks
To apply, send a sample blog post, covering letter and brief resume to email@example.com by October 27th 2014 with the subject line ‘Momentum Blogger’ and be sure to include your name, city, country of residence and occupation. We welcome applicants from all over the world, but the posts must be in English.
Your sample blog post should be the type of thing you’d be posting on a regular basis (not a hokey introductory post). And of course, if we select you as our resident blogger then you will be compensated accordingly if you decide to use your sample blog post as your first post.
If you have any questions, feel free to email or ask in the comments below.
Terms & Conditions
- The winning applicant will be subject to a trial period of one month.
- Posts will be vetted by staff before going live.
- Posts will remain the copyright of the author, however, Momentum will retain an exclusive right to first posting for a period of no less than six months.
- The successful blogger will invoice Momentum monthly for posts within the previous four week period.
- The successful blogger’s contract can be terminated with two week’s notice.
- These conditions are subject to change.
Posted October 17, 2014 by Michelle Cameron
One of the greatest compliments that I ever received from a reader was the news that, the evening after finishing the book, she was idly contemplating hosting a barbecue for the weekend and began mentally listing those she would invite. Halfway through, she realised that she’d included several of the characters from the book itself. The fictional characters. In the short amount of time that it had taken her to read the story, they had become her friends. And I know exactly what she means (I even developed a sort of crush on a male character I wrote once, and the ending – especially pairing him up with someone else – was a little like being dumped). But every time I finish writing a book, I experience an oddly nauseous mix of elation and regret. It’s impossible to even contemplate a new project until I go through a period of recovery, of separation. I mope around the house, eat copious amounts of chocolate, and make complicated calculations regarding the sun and the yardarm and a glass of wine. Although experience tells me that turning my book hangover into a real one doesn’t help. At all.
But that’s also why I’ve enjoyed writing the Nell Forrest series so much. Starting each new book has been like re-visiting old friends, catching up with what’s been going on in their lives, accompanying them as they move forward. It’s a reunion of sorts. Sure, there’s always a few characters that are best avoided (and if they turned up at the door, you’d be better advised to ring the police than let them in), but what’s a murder mystery without some colour? Nell Forrest though – well, she’s the sort of person that I’d invite to a barbecue. And I knew I’d have to write her that way if she was going to stay around (Hercule Poirot is not the type of protagonist I’d be able to have in a series). As both a reader and a writer, I like to connect. But Nell is more than a connection – she’s a friend. I might not have her phone number but I know where she lives. She’d know when to give me space if she knew I was moping, or drop in with buckets of chocolate (we’d probably even go retro and have a fondue, with strawberries and bananas and marshmallows), or help me with the sun/yardarm calculations and then say ‘what the hell, let’s open the bottle regardless – in fact make it champagne!’ Damn, I miss her.Tagged: authors, Books, cozy crime, ebooks, thriller
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Posted September 12, 2014 by Patrick Lenton
At Momentum, the only thing we like more than the working week, is having a weekend off to get excited about the next working week. So in our infinite largesse, we’ve given you some AMAZING free and cheap-as-free books, available at their current prices for limited times only, to read over the weekend.
When sensible schoolteacher Ella Lucas rides into her home town on a Harley and seduces the resident football hero, Jake Prince, she figures she can be forgiven and move on. After all, she’s just buried her mother. Winner of the ARRA 2013 Favourite Contemporary Fiction Award. Finalist in Romance Writers of Australia Ruby (Romantic Book of the Year) Award 2014.
A brutal massacre. A terrifying madman. Get it FREE.
To celebrate the release of AURORA: MERIDIAN, we’ve discounted AURORA: DARWIN to $0.99 and AURORA: PEGASUS to $2.99.
Have a great weekend, everyone!
Tagged: bargain books, Books, cheap books, free books, promotion, weekend reading
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Posted July 23, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
It’s a fair question, given the rate that bookshops both large and small seem to be either closing or suffering from the changing dynamics of book buying and reading.
And given that the large-scale bookshop behemoth model seems to have reached its natural conclusion and collapsed, we can deduce that enormity isn’t really what works. A bookshop doesn’t need to be the size of a small moon, complete with planet-destroying superweapons and tea-towels in the shape of Marcel Proust’s head. It just needs to sell books, and sell them well.
In a recent article, several architect firms were asked to design a bookshop, according to the brief, ‘to save bookshops’. This is a bit silly in one instance, in that it implies bookshops are dying out. Which isn’t true, they’re just changing. But the odd thing was, the proposed designs seemed a bit, well, dull. And trivial. Like when films set in the future come up with concepts that they think are brilliant but ultimately irrelevant and obsolete, like robot bartenders and fridges that talk to you.
The firms designed bookshops that had features like a glass screen façade with QR codes for downloads, vending machines of books, display screens for upcoming events and something called a ‘Harry Potter wonderwall of discovery’, which just sounds like the soundtrack to some weird JK Rowling fanfic. There’s also a design that includes a tree (because trees=paper=books? I don’t know), floating robots, and a stage where authors are literally treated like rock stars.
One of the designers even admits it’s all a bit pointless, as he declares there’s no point trying to save books when they’ll only become digitised, and treats his bookshop proposal as a kind of shrine to the soon-to-be obsolete paper book. A curiosity shop, then.
Hidden in these designs are a few more practical bits of advice: books that face outward so that the cover, rather than the spine, sells the book. They suggest books on long flat tables, rotating displays of featured genres, and the understanding that a bookshop should not just sell books, but become the focal point for events and happenings that surround the book industry.
But is that all? There’s nothing new there, nothing drastically innovative or earth-shattering to how good bookshops run these days.
In one of my highly scientific studies where I canvas the opinion of lovely people, most seemed to suggest the following for a bookshop:
- Good and diverse books
- Approachable and knowledgeable staff
Which does seem kind of obvious as well. But it goes to show just how much simple things translate to good business sense, at least in the customer’s eyes. While some people liked the idea of speciality bookshops, that catered to specific genres or readers, most seemed to agree that it was more difficult financially, and better to offer a diverse range across a range of styles and genres.
But by this point, some seemed to say certain bookshops have merely token nods towards genres. There are shelves that get short shrift, and have only the most obvious or clichéd titles on offer, which naturally drives those readers to alternative methods of procuring their books. It’s almost as if some shops will provide depth and quality in their own interest, but neglect others while pretending to include them. It’s that type of thing that doesn’t work. Better to specialise, or admit only certain readers are catered for, or do it all well.
Most liked the idea of having a good online catalogue, if not for ordering at least for browsing. If staff aren’t available, sometimes it’s easier to find the availability of a book by using the phone in your hand. Particularly if it’s a crowded shop.
Places to sit and read were certainly recommended, which can sometimes be difficult to come by. Especially if larger bookshops are being squeezed out, physical space becomes difficult as shops increasingly pack more in to less. But still, bookshops sell reading, and should – where possible – aim to encourage it.
Probably the most obvious thing from people’s suggestions is how much everyone approved of a more classic model for a bookshop. And yet in the architect designs above they all seemed to go out of their way to pretend that their bookshops weren’t bookshops. As if that would turn people off.
And I don’t want to turn this into a nostalgic lamentation for the loss of an unsustainable model, but a bookshop should be a bookshop, right? If you walk in and don’t see books, you lose your faith in the business. Bookshops should have shelves of books, they should have a range that you can actually sink in to and find not just what you’re looking for, but also discover what you weren’t looking for.
The alternative methods of buying books that have taken hold in the last few years work not because they’re pretending to sell some kind of book-ish experience to buyers that pretends not to sell books (we just buy them by accident!), it’s because they have range and convenience. A bookshop should work the same – and the best ones do.
I was reminded recently of a moment in Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards! where the nature of a bookshop is discussed – the kind of bookshop that draws you in and keeps you there, letting you find what you want (and what you don’t want), and while Pratchett’s idea of a bookshop isn’t a new one, it’s still the model that – to me – works, because it’s about a bookshop that has books.
‘The truth is that even big collections of ordinary books distort space, as can readily be proved by anyone who has been around a really old-fashioned secondhand bookshop, one that looks as though it was designed by M.C. Escher on a bad day and has more stairways than storeys and those rows of shelves which end in little doors that are surely too small for a full-sized human to enter. The relevant equation is: Knowledge = power = energy = matter = mass; a good bookshop is just a genteel Black Hole that knows how to read.’
Sounds like a good bookshop to me, whether it happens to be online or down the road.
Tagged: Books, bookshops, buying books, Terry Pratchett
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Posted July 15, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
So when I’m not writing posts here I’m actually living a whole other secret life full of action, teaching secondary students about books and writing and stuff. Kind of like Batman. Just without the hero status and heaps of money. But otherwise just like Batman.
Anyway, one of the enviable tasks I get is to introduce fifteen year olds to the subject of Literature. Which means a type of explanation needs to occur where what distinguishes Literature from ‘normal’ English is clarified, and why the books read in Literature are different to those read in English.
It’s a strange conversation, and it’s noticeable just how much the students struggle to articulate the difference between something that is literary and something that isn’t. To be honest, I’m not sure if I have yet worked out a way of making this point clear. What is clear is that they quickly discover that they need to divide their reading, between what is serious and worthy of study, and what is enjoyable.
I loathe this moment. The point where teenagers feel they must put away childish reading and grow up, as if that’s what literary means. Yet we see this distinction reflected everywhere.
In her piece for Slate, ‘Against YA’, Ruth Graham argues that adults should be embarrassed for reading a novel targeted for a younger audience. Titles like Divergent and Twilight and The Fault In Our Stars are singled out for being pleasurable yet trivial moments of escapism, and far beneath a mature and ‘adult’ sensibility.
A cursory glance at the book reviews in last weekend’s papers reveals something in the region of seventeen titles that would appear on the literary end of the bookshelf, and three toward the genre end (if one is running with the literary-genre dichotomy). Of the three genre reviews, two are under 200 words long, compared to the 800-plus afforded to the literary reviews. The genre titles are described as ‘taut’, ‘terse’, and ‘well-structured’, whereas the literary are allowed to look at ‘complex and persistently myth-confused questions’, with characters who are ‘witnesses to extraordinary revolutions [yet] resigned to their fate.’
Even more, one of the genre titles is unfavourably held against Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch – which is comparable neither in plot, style or genre – and Charles Willeford, whose entries into the genre have been around long enough to earn literary esteem.
Okay, maybe it was a bad weekend. But I hazard not. We seem unable to escape this idea that one type of book is worthy, and another not. That one type gets all the ink and the awards and the measured reflection, the other is sidelined and measured against redundant standards. One gets festivals, the other conventions.
And when one might stray into the other, there’s short shrift that borders on disdain.
But I think there’s something in this idea that (some) people view genre as childish, and therefore embarrassing to read – as Graham suggested – and that it is a guilty pleasure and we should really be above such indulgences. It’s the moment I see in the classroom, when the students feel like their childhood imagination is being frowned upon.
It’s hard not to see why.
With almost clockwork regularity, the books that top the lists of favourite/best/most acclaimed young fiction are distinctly genre titles. They involve magic, talking animals, imaginary lands made real, wizards and witches and adventures through time and space. There are distinctly dystopian stories, and others that are pure fantasy, others that push magic-realism into childhood imaginations, and collisions between one genre and another, between one real world and one entirely fantastic.
And like that, we ask it all to stop. All these award-winning titles must then be shelved, and we must go and read serious things. And yes I know we don’t, but this is the illusion that is presented. This is the fallacy that is created by calling a subject Literature, by classifying and critiquing one set of stories one way, and others entirely differently.
What is so wrong about the types of stories we read as children that so many are afraid to recognise their worth as adults? Why can we easily view The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe alongside Anne of Green Gables in children’s book lists, yet shudder at Doctor Sleep occupying the same space as The Perfect Scent, as ABC’s The Book Club did recently?
If we consider genre titles to be enjoyable, even necessary for children, there is something in that for us adults. In spite of the limitations of a subject called Literature, the one thing I try to impress on my students is that once upon a time, Romeo and Juliet was popular, genre fiction. As was (and is) Frankenstein. The only reason they can be classified as ‘literary’ now is the good grace of time, and familiarity.
The stories that last are the important ones, and the ones that will last are the ones we read the most. And just like Batman, they may not be the books we feel we need but instead they’re the books we deserve. And keep coming back to.
Tagged: Books, children's books, genre, literary fiction, reading
Posted July 11, 2014 by Mark
We’ve done specials on Star Trek and Doctor Who, now we bring you a special episode all about Game of Thrones! We discuss the TV series and the books with special guests, including former Podmentum host Anne Treasure. This is also Mark Harding’s final episode as host. Oh, and massive spoiler warning for Game of Thrones.
Tagged: audio, Books, Game of Thrones, podcast, podmentum, reading, tv
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Posted July 4, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
If there was one fascinating thing to take away from Season 4 of Game of Thrones, it was how much the show was beginning to deviate from the books.
With George R.R. Martin giving showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss inside knowledge on the fates of all the major characters (not on the overall storyline, mind you), it’s become an interesting game in itself to take note of how certain moments from the books are kept and others jettisoned. Similarly, particular themes in this latest season have been amplified more, providing perhaps a clearer indication of where the show is heading.
When you combine this with the fact that next season should cover most of the remaining published material, the show is quickly heading into territory that neither the readers nor the TV viewers know anything about. Exciting indeed.
So, in light of that, I decided to survey a bunch of people to see how they thought next season and the rest of the series would pan out.
Of those surveyed, two thirds hadn’t read the books. This is interesting just on its own, showing how much farther the reach of a TV show can be when it captures critical and popular opinion.
Which character won’t survive next season?
Obviously the book readers know what’s up here, but the two characters most expected to be killed off next season were Hodor and Jaime Lannister. Given Hodor’s popularity for a minor role, I can only assume everyone feels GRRM is in the mood to kick a few more puppies, and that might leave Hodor on the chopping block.
Jaime, on the other hand, has run a rather interesting trajectory as a character, and at the moment nobody is entirely sure how to view him. This is not so different from his portrayal in the books, but I think there’s perhaps a touch more sympathy for him there than in the show, and maybe that’s leaving everyone feeling like his time may be up.
Whose storyline are you most interested in next sesaon?
Three standouts here: Arya, Tyrion and Jon Snow.
Jon I think ends up there by default given that his storyline – along with Daenerys – seems the one most closely aligned with the major arc of the series. He is the closest to the white walkers, and that gives his storyline immediacy and validity over, say, whatever Brienne is up to.
Tyrion will always be of interest to viewers of the show, thanks largely to both the writing of the character and Peter Dinklage’s performance. But now that he’s abandoned the cloak and (relative) comfort of his family, and is paired up with Varys, there’s a new dynamic added to his character’s destination which I’m looking forward to.
Arya’s storyline with the Hound was probably the most favoured by the viewers this season, again down to the performances and the writing. The quality of both stands out as well given how little time they actually spent on screen, and how little they had to do. Knowing as well where Arya goes in the books from this point on also leaves me very keen to see how that’s realised in the show next year.
On the other end of the scale, nobody is interested in seeing more of the Boltons and Theon. Can’t imagine why.
Now to the big crystal ball predictions.
Who will end up on the Iron Throne?
Over two thirds seem to think it’ll be Jon or Daenerys. And really, that’s likely as the series does set them up to be predestined for some royal conclusion, one way or the other.
But, the question to ask is whether the relevance of the Throne will still be around come the end of the series, or if the game will become insignificant and the prize meaningless.
Someone also suggested that a different Targaryen might end up on the Throne, but unless the show goes anywhere near that part of the plot from the books next season, I doubt we’ll see it included at all.
Who will the final battle be between?
Half seem to think it’ll be between the white walkers and the dragons.
Considering the series title is A Song of Ice and Fire, this would seem to be a logical guess. Considering that the white walkers are on one side of the map, and the dragons the other, an eventual meeting would also seem to be logical. Considering that Daenerys realises she can’t ride all three dragons and needs others to aid her cause, and that Bran was told in the finale that he will one day fly, this again seems logical. Additionally, this part of the show has seen some interesting deviations that has inevitably prompted much speculation around the internet.
What’s interesting in this is we can see how irrelevant certain plots become. The Greyjoys and Boltons don’t really factor in this equation, nor does Stannis, despite being the current top pick for taking over any available throne. Additionally, Littlefinger’s manipulations don’t seem to extend to controlling dragons. And there’s no love at all for the Lannisters – except Tyrion.
All this points to the possibility of GRRM offering us a story that vanquishes old and corrupt powers, and offers up newer, more morally sound replacements. (If by morally sound we mean people riding dragons and burning undead ice people in all-consuming fire.) And this isn’t that unusual or revolutionary. But as we’ve seen with the story so far, there will surely be many more twists in the tale before we get to the end.
Tagged: Books, Game of Thrones, george rr martin, predictions, tv series, tv show
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Posted July 2, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
I remember the first time I saw The Usual Suspects. The film had been recommended to my parents and they allowed me to watch it with them, despite it being a school night.
I had no context for the film whatsoever, so that the ending completely floored me. I had to tell everyone I knew to watch it, and still now feel excited when I know somebody is about to watch it for the first time. It is a story that relies so much on not knowing about it in advance, relies so completely on ignorance to the twist, that having seen it once means you can never actually experience the story that way again.
So we preserve the innocent, and try as hard as possible not to let twists out. The importance is on that first watch, or that first read, so that the integrity of the story (and its reliance on a twist) is maintained. Alfred Hitchcock knew this, famously having cutouts of himself positioned near the exits of cinemas, imploring audiences not to ruin the ending of Psycho for the incoming crowd.
But are we so concerned at not revealing twists, that we have become oversensitive to any information about the plot of a story?
Everywhere you look, people are either declaring spoiler alerts, or calling out others for revealing spoilers. The problem is, most of the time what’s labelled a spoiler isn’t actually a spoiler.
If we’re being honest, there are two types of spoilers: those that are about the journey, and those that are about the ending. The journey spoilers reveal some unexpected plot point that takes place between where the story begins and where it ends. It challenges our expectations over how we get from A to B. The ending spoilers are more to do with how things turn out. Some crucial piece of information that again challenges our expectations over where we thought this story was going.
The nature of a spoiler is that it is a piece of information revealing an element of central importance to a story. To reveal the twist in The Usual Suspects would uncover the central element of its entire narrative. To do so would, quite clearly, be spoiling the story. Even to mention that there is a twist is to prepare the audience for the moment when the twist occurs.
But, it is not a spoiler to reveal that on Lost, John Locke was in a wheelchair before crashing on the island, and that the island miraculously restored his ability to walk. While it is a twist, in the course of one episode, it has little to do with the overall arc of Locke’s character, and even less to do with the plot of the show. It is not a central element to the story.
Revealing that information did not ruin the story. Not even a little bit. But how do we determine what’s important and what isn’t? In this time of recaps and commentaries, of unprecedented open dialogue about stories across mediums, it has become an increasingly fraught thing. Whose concern are we protecting, by withholding plot elements from public discussion?
By witholding, we are highlighting something: this thing that is not mentioned is the most important thing about the story.
The fear over revealing information about Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad and other such shows isn’t really to do with twists. The Red Wedding is not a twist, it’s just a shock. There are surprisingly few twisting turns in Walt’s story of Breaking Bad, given that it’s largely a study of a character in decline.
When people implore others not to give away spoilers on these shows, it’s out of some misguided notion that discussing endings or major plot points will ruin the story. Those who have read A Storm of Swords knew that Oberyn died at the hands of the Mountain, so that they were prepared for the shock viewers felt when it occurred in Game of Thrones. Yet to have revealed this in advance would not really have spoiled much. It was signposted from the beginning – particularly in the adaptation – and while shocking, doesn’t really affect any major change on the story. In fact, it really just reconfirms the plot’s already established direction.
To discuss the ending of Lost or The Sopranos or Breaking Bad isn’t to spoil the experience for anybody who hasn’t seen the shows. And yet it seems to be all everybody wants to discuss, so we end up doing so in this bizarrely veiled and hesitant fashions, under the illusion that discussing what happens in the end to Tony Soprano or Walter White will then render the story meaningless.
To mention that Dumbledore dies or that Darth Vader is Luke’s father or that Tyler Durden doesn’t actually exist isn’t going to ruin anything. But to siphon off these points, and countless others, from our open discussion of a story is to limit our ability to engage with how that story works.
A consideration about spoilers ends up being a consideration about our role as consumers of stories. Whether Walter White dies at the end of Breaking Bad is important only if we see that as the defining aspect of his story, as the answer to the question the story was asking. And if we do, then we’re merely passive recipients of plots and see the story as merely a vehicle.
This is a nonsense way to engage with stories, and yet treating spoilers, shocks and twists as precious elements that must be protected from public discourse shows how our priorities are out of whack: we are focused on what happens, rather than how it happens. We become the students who sit at the back and demand the answer because we can’t be bothered working out how to get there ourselves.
And the how is everything. The how is immeasurable. It often can’t be contained to one moment, or one scene, rather it’s the accumulation of elements that include plot, character, setting and tone. It’s the reason why Hitchcock’s Psycho works and Gus Van Sant’s Psycho doesn’t. It’s the reason why Quentin Tarantino decided not to abandon The Hateful Eight despite the leaking of the script to the public. It’s the reason why audiences were outraged at The Sopranos not giving us an ending to Tony Soprano, as if the ending would define the character and the story, rather than all the parts of the story that came before. It’s also the reason why audiences were far more prepared for True Detective’s ending, which revealed the journey to be of far greater consequence.
In his foreword to the revised edition of The Stand, Stephen King says that ‘in really good stories, the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts.’ And so it is with spoilers. I’m not saying we need to just get over spoilers and talk about everything openly. Not at all. But I think we need to consider why we’re so outraged when we find out one small part of a story in advance. We need to question why that’s important to us, what it is we’ve been robbed of, if anything.
Tagged: Books, breaking bad, endings, films, lost, Sopranos, spoilers, true detective, tv shows
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Posted June 16, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
The fact is not all books that are adapted for film should be adapated for film. In this golden era of long-form narratives on TV screens and praise for ‘literary’ television, we are increasingly debating about whether a film can do justice to a book as it once could.
In a sense, we are witnessing the living out of Marshall McLuhan’s prediction that television will become the dominant art form – even if it has taken a little longer than originally anticipated.
As as more and more actors and directors are seeing television as the medium to deliver stories that last longer than an opening weekend, I think we may be on the verge of seeing an increase in book adaptations travelling to serialised television, rather than condensing into two hours on film. The long-ago success of adaptations like Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Brideshead Revisited show that in comparions to their more recent versions in film, some stories just do work better on TV.
In light of this, I thought I’d look at some films that should not have been adapated for film, and instead would have been better served piped to us through our television, with a dedicated cast, crew and team of writers serving the story, rather than the box office.
1. World War Z - Max Brooks
In a highly scientific study conducted by myself and involving asking whoever happened to be on Facebook and Twitter two nights ago, this was unanimously the title we wanted to see made for television, rather than the abomination that was served up by Marc Forster in 2013.
Despite the fact that the film of World War Z made enough to put a sequel into development, it was so far removed from the source material it might as well have been titled Generic Zombie Apocalypse Movie. The book, translated appropriately, would be perfect for episodic TV, and removed enough from The Walking Dead to still be fresh.
Seriously. That film was stupid.
2. His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
Yet another utterly disappointing film adaptation. It is such a shame that the full scope and vision of Pullman’s story didn’t make it onto screen, given where the story goes come The Amber Spyglass, I am frequently saddened that this may never come to pass.
Hopefully, given that The Book of Dust is soon to be completed, some adventurous souls may feel compelled to bring this to fruition. Since Game of Thrones has shown how to do epic fantasy on a TV budget, and the complications of Pullman’s story that would necessite heavy SFX work, this may be possible sooner rather than later. Actually, it is possible, now. Do it. Please.
3. Watchmen - Alan Moore
While the film was an ambitious attempt, it was also terrifically sterile, in a way that only Zack Snyder can achieve. The film got so many things right (certainly the casting, and the visual tapestry of the era), but yet got it entirely wrong, sucking all possible energy and emotion out of the original.
And look, nobody has to worry about pleasing Alan Moore, as he’ll just hate it all anyway. But the episodic nature of the original would translate seamlessly, and it’d be the perfect antidote to this Avengers-saturated world.
4. Harry Potter - J.K. Rowling
Look I honestly believe we will see a TV series adaptation of Harry Potter in our lifetime. It’s just a matter of when.
Despite the box office and fanaticism, enough time has passed for us all to acknowledge that all the films were pretty poor adaptations, excising enormous swathes of material from increasingly large books and leaving a bit of a narrative mess on the cinema screen. (Really, watch Goblet of Fire and imagine you don’t know the plot from the book. It makes no sense. No goddamn sense.) The richness of the world in the books is infinitely lacking, and would be far better rendered in TV land.
5. The Name of the Rose - Umberto Eco
Okay this is really just for me, but it would be perfect.
The film with Sean Connery and Christian Slater is so laughably bad, so completely uninterested in understanding the novel that it essentially tries to turn Umberto Eco into Dan Brown. And I know this will never be made into a TV series (medieval monks, no female roles, antiquated literary references, did I mention the monks?), but the book is so capitvatingly visual and dramatically suspenseful, it would be the easiest adaptation to write. Especially in the era of True Detective, and morally inconclusive detective stories, this is the morally inconclusive detective story.
And perfect for all those character-actors who litter our TV screens like affectionate gargoyles.
6. Interview with the Vampire - Anne Rice
The film actually isn’t bad, though it is downright hysterical in parts, but Anne Rice on TV? So good.
And the fact that it would then pave the way for The Vampire Chronicles to be adpated wholesale, erasing all the bad memories of a. Tom Cruise, and b. Queen of the Damned.
Now that I’m writing this down, I’m actually surprised this isn’t happening, seems like a perfect fit.
7. Tomorrow, When the War Began - John Marsden
Again, for much of the same reasons as above, there is so much material here that a TV series would be rolling in plots and characters.
Given the success of this series in Australia, and the lacklustre performance of the film, it’s actually surprising nobody is doing anything about getting this onto TV. Those working in television should really move heaven and earth to get it done, firstly because we never get any locally produced content of this type on our screens, and secondly because it would work as an ongoing series.
(How terrible is that poster design, by the way?)
8. The Karla Trilogy - John le Carre
I mentioned Tinker, Tailor earlier, and as much as I loved the casting and direction of the recent film, I missed the depth of the story that is present in the book, and the original ITV adaptation with Alec Guinness.
Back then, it was deemed too expensive to film the sequel – The Honourable Schoolboy – despite it being the best in the trilogy, as it’s largely set in Vientiane. Production rushed into Smiley’s People, the third book, and while the TV series is okay, it lacks the feeling of resolution that would come from having an intact trilogy.
Since the film did well, and reignited the interest in faithful spy stories, a modern-day version of le Carre’s Karla trilogy would be unbelievably excellent to see. The Honourable Schoolboy in particular is, to me, one of the premier spy stories, presenting that to a wider audience would be a wonderful thing.
Tagged: adaptations, anne rice, Books, films, Harry Potter, John le Carre, Philip Pullman, tv series, World War Z
Posted May 27, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
It occurred to me the other day – not for the first time – that I was reading too many books at once. For multiple purposes, some legitimate, others more indulgent, the reading pile is not so much reflecting those yet to be read, but rather those that are in a current stage of being read. And this would be okay, if I didn’t keep adding to it.
It works like this: first, read a book because you want to.
Then, read a book because you have some other obligation (in this case, I need to teach the book to a classs, which must happen in a timely manner to fit the curriculum).
Then, join a book club so that you have another time-determined book to read.
Then, join another book club with different people because misery loves company, and obsessive book readers need a different crowd to share their obsessions with.
Then, pick up a book that you have already read but just have to dip back into because you love it so much and can’t resist. Or the book loves you, it practically knows what you like from a read. But you have an open relationship. It lets you read other books so long as you come back to it. Anyway.
How do you read multiple books at once?
1. Invest in audiobooks
This is the best way to do it, especially if you have a regular, clockwork-type schedule that involves commuting. Additionally, with digital downloads replacing CDs, they’re infinitely easier to manage now. (I feel old saying that, but come on, the Stephen Fry-narrated Harry Potter audiobooks were something like 100 discs. That’s a lot of inserting in and out of the car stereo.)
As someone who was prone to re-reading a lot, I decided a while ago to save all the books I had already read for audiobooks, to read them in an entirely different fashion. It’s great.
Essentially, I get a half hour in on the drive to work, half an hour back, and with books varying from ten to forty hours in listening, you can cover a read in a couple of weeks. Added bonus: switching your brain out of work-mode on the way home.
2. Alternate days
One book one day, one the other. Oddly enough, this can create more excitement in sitting down to read a book, knowing that you’ve got to wait just a bit more before you get back to it. And then the disappointment at having to wait another day to pick up the next chapter is quickly erased when you get to return to the other book your’re reading.
For advanced players of this game: have a different book for each day of the week. You have your Monday book, your Tuesday book, and so on. I’m not even kidding.
3. Limit your time
Half an hour on one book, then switch. Almost like a Pomodoro technique for reading. This does have the unweidly effect of blurring plots and characters into one big congealed narrative mess, but sometimes that’s not so bad. When someone tries to pitch a book as American Psycho-meets-The Lord of the Rings, you could actually achieve that just by going from Bateman to Baggins in one sitting. Think of the possibilities.
4. Mix your mediums
You’ve got the book by your bed, and the audiobook in the car. Now just add one on your phone, stick another one on your iPad by the couch and you’re set. Each place becomes a specific read, so that not only do you vary when you read your multiple books, but also where you read them.
5. Relish the differences
Ensure that each book you’re reading – at different times, in different places, in different ways – is wholly different to the rest. Keep your genres and your styles distinct, to minimise cross-pollination of your imagination, and keep each story vibrant and resonant.
For the ultimate book nerd, keep notes as you go, allowing yourself time to reflect and ingest before switching onto the next book. Then again, if you’ve got time to make notes, you’ve got time to squeeze another book in.
Occasionally I do preference one book over another, and it gets a bit more of a go, but I’ve yet to feel like I’m not reading anything properly, or doing any of the books a disservice. In the end, I don’t think it’s a byproduct of the hyperactive state society seems to exist in these days (though perhaps it does have something to do with that post I read a while back on calculating how many books you can read before you die), but I don’t seem to be able to get out of this multiple-book state.
But why would you want to, when there are so many books to read?
Tagged: audiobooks, Books, ebooks, reading
Posted May 5, 2014 by Mark
As avid readers, we’re often faced with the dilemma of what to do when life attempts to crash our reading time. Sometimes there are practical reasons to stop reading. Sometimes there are ethical reasons. And sometimes you should just keep reading.
1. Someone asks, “What are you reading?”
KEEP READING My significant other asked me this the other night. I tilted my book slightly so she could see the title on the cover but didn’t engage in conversation.
2. Someone sustains an injury
DEPENDS Look up, see if they’re ok. If they are, keep reading. If not, gauge the level of injury before putting your book down. Bruises = keep reading. Any blood = sigh and make a show of putting your book down, so they are aware of what an idiot they are. Broken bones = ok, stop.
3. Your phone rings
KEEP READING The sooner the caller learns to send a text like a normal person, the better. You’re giving them a valuable life lesson.
4. Someone offers you food
PUT THE BOOK DOWN Always go with the food. Bonus points if it’s free food.
5. You approach your destination
PUT THE BOOK DOWN I cannot tell you how many times I’ve missed my stop when I’ve been reading on public transport.
6. Someone invites you out to do something ‘fun’
KEEP READING Ok first of all, I’m reading and reading is delightful. And second, all the fun stuff happens indoors, everyone knows that.
7. Someone offers you a drink
DEPENDS Assess the caffeine/alcohol content first. If someone is interrupting your reading time to offer you water or juice or some other lame drink, don’t even look up.
8. There is something good on TV
KEEP READING That’s not a good reason to put your book down. Unless it’s Star Trek, then it depends. Keep reading if it’s the original series, Voyager or Enterprise. Put the book down for The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine.
9. Your significant other/parent/roommate will get angry if you don’t put your book down
KEEP READING Everyone knows the secret to successfully living with another person is to find something you do that annoys them and do it as often as you can.
10. You’re about to be arrested
KEEP READING A dose of escapism is probably what you need right now.
Tagged: Books, list, reading
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Posted May 1, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
‘The good end happily, the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means.’
So says Oscar Wilde, but is that always the case? What happens when the good end unhappily?
Recently, in conversation about The Mist – Frank Darabont’s adaptation of the Stephen King short story – it was discussed how the film not only changed the ending, but constructed one so powerfully negative that it almost overshadowed all the rest of the story. It wasn’t just a negative ending, but one that really shocked the audience and brought home the brutality of the storyteller.
Had it just been a tragic ending, the film might’ve remained shocking but still watchable. As it stands, the ending is not only tragic, we discover minutes later that it was needlessly tragic. And this is awful to endure, illustrating just how much we have been manipulated by the storyteller.
When do unhappy endings work?
Firstly, the tragic narrative needs to be acknowledged. In this case, the tragedy is usually the fact that everybody dies. Or at least, everybody who might have a central part in the narrative, the minor characters are allowed to survive, as witnesses to the tragedy. So that it doesn’t happen again. Hamlet dies avenging his father’s death, by killing his uncle, while his mother is poisoned, so is his rival, some other guy who is standing nearby, and his friends who betrayed him are killed offstage. Romeo and Juliet die as testament to the feud between their families.
In a more modern version of this, Never Let Me Go, the tragedy is that we all die. The journey of the character to this discovery, that it happens to us all, is upsetting to watch, as all tragedy is. This is because we know the ending, on some fundamental level. But we don’t want to know what it is, we want to believe that somehow the magic of the story will intervene and we can live happily ever after. The audience watching Romeo and Juliet is told from the beginning that they will die, we are just distracted from this by the art of the narrative, until the realisation all comes crashing down at the end.
Much of this rests of dramatic irony, and skilled foreshadowing. It relies on the skill of the writer to acknowledge there will be an unhappy ending, but simultaneously create a desire in the audience for it not to be the case. All the way along, we need to believe right up until the end that Hamlet will succeed, that Tommy and Kathy will get a deferral and live a little longer, that Juliet will escape to Mantua with Romeo.
The other unhappy ending, the one more prominent in film, is the surprise. The swift and upsetting moment when we realise that there’s no way out of this, that this is one of those stories. But similarly, there needs to be something there for the audience. We can’t just feel bad. There needs to be something we can takeaway, some element of hope (no matter how small) that one can hang on to in the darkness.
Spoilers follow, naturally.
At the end of Atonement, we discover that not only wasn’t there a great epic romance between Robbie and Cecilia, much of what we’ve witnessed has been part of a creative purgatory the central character Briony created as punishment for her long ago sin. The glimmer of optimism here though is that she can continue to create a happy ending for them in her mind. Perhaps.
In The Vanishing, Rex discovers exactly what happened to his wife – she was buried alive. He discovers this by having the same fate befall him. However, what drove him to this point was his desire to know, a desire that overthrew the rest of his life. Now he knows.
Rosemary’s Baby concludes with the shock that Rosemary’s newborn is actually the spawn of Satan, and yet she can still be his mother, having feared all throughout the plot that this would be taken away from her.
And in Seven, in what is cinematically close to a classical tragedy, and arguably one of the greatest – unhappiest? – of down endings, John Doe the serial killer is able to execute his design perfectly, trapping the hero Mills into becoming a murderer himself. But, Mills’ partner Somerset – the witness to the tragedy – is able to continue on, working to conceivably fight for what little good he can see in the world.
(Oddly enough, I think that final voiceover of Somerset’s was added at the studio’s behest, and the director hates it, thinking it incongruous with the rest of the story.)
It’s depressing just writing those, actually.
Unhappy endings are hard to execute, as it’s all too easy for the story to focus on the unhappiness, rather than letting the audience feel as if it is a natural, albeit tragic, conclusion to the plot.
There needs to be a reason to witness the story, to experience something that doesn’t go the way we’d hope, otherwise it’s exploitation. This is where I feel The Mist went wrong, in that it showed its hand too much, revealed too far how much the narrative was working to upset the audience, and we can’t recover from that.
It’s a sliding scale I think, from happy to bittersweet, to ambiguous, to unhappy, to exploitative. All stories exist somewhere along that scale, but I think I need a dose of the happier ones, just for now.Tagged: Books, endings, films, story, tragedy, writing
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Posted April 24, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
In the middle of the debate about whether one can actively teach writing, or whether it’s an autodidactic process gleaned from years of practice, reading and osmosis, I got to wondering about books writers read to help their writing.
Not necessarily the books about writing, per se, but rather the books we read for examples, and inspiration, and indefinable reasons that relate to putting us in the right mindset to sit down and write. And I imagine it’s different for everybody, there’s a set of books for each of us depending on need and demand. But at the same time, the reasons why we need these tokens of inspiration should be the same for all of us, we just exercise them differently.
Then I came across Flavorwire’s ‘25 Books Every Writer Should Read’, the latest in lists of these kind that seek to define truly where the wellspring of knowledge lies, by reducing it down to dot points. And normally these lists are all fine, in an instantly enjoyable and immediately disposable kind of way, but this one bothered me a bit. A lot, actually (as much as one can be bothered by a list).
I had read nothing on this list. Not one book. Several I hadn’t heard of. Was I deficient in some way? Would I never truly be a writer because Flavorwire determined I didn’t read the right books? Of course not, it’s just one person’s opinion. The oddity was in how divergent their opinion was to mine, when it comes to the source of inspiration.
So, here’s my list. The books I think every writer should read.
1. A book that is captivating from start to finish.
Bonus points if you read this in one night. But essentially, it’s a story that just hooks you from the first sentence, a story that keeps you churning through the pages yet hanging on every word, desperate to reach the end and know it all. Lately, for me, that was Floundering, by Romy Ash.
2. A book that is great with dialogue.
I hate writing dialogue, I find it difficult and I either underwrite it or overwrite it, and find it infinitely helpful to have good examples at hand. And for that I find Cormac McCarthy enormously helpful, if only because his dialogue works perfectly (for me) – it gives you the voice of the character, their rhythm and pitch, their humour and their emotion. And it does it so sparsely, that you never feel as if the dialogue is working too hard to get your attention, particularly in No Country for Old Men.
3. A book that is great with plot.
One that shows how to weave the threads of the narrative together, how to combine characters and scenes and elements of the plot and drop them into situations so plausible and natural that it’s impossible to see where the artifice ends and the naturally occurring lives of the characters take over. I inevitably have a Stephen King book close by, but mostly I refer to IT, because it does everything, and is so enormous as a narrative that there are countless examples throughout.
4. A book that is a classic of the genre.
If only to know where you’ve come from, and what you’re working on top of. If we’re all dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants, it’s worth becoming familiar with the giants so that we can have a sure footing. Has to be Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
5. A book that is short and efficient.
Even if you don’t want to be when you’re writing, it helps to know how to do it. And when it’s necessary. Less is more and all that. And it’s not just about being obscure, but about using words to the maximum of their ability. For this I like Steven Amsterdam’s latest, What the Family Needed.
6. A book that is enormous and complex.
And if you want to attempt something that isn’t short and sparse, how do you do it without burdening the reader with too much plot? How do you write 600-plus pages and still make sense of the narrative on the page? In your head? And how do you tie it all together? I like big books and I cannot lie, but writing that much terrifies me. But I look to Umberto Eco, and Foucault’s Pendulum.
7. A book that is great with setting.
Particularly if the setting is crucial to the story (when isn’t it?), and you don’t want to feel like you’re artificially inserting description and location just to make the place a character in the story, and other clichés. I love writing about place, and how it works within a narrative, and there’s any number of books I draw on to help with this, but for now I’ll go with Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino.
8. A book that is great with characters.
Just to round it out, particularly for me who always worries that the characters I write aren’t interesting enough, or don’t translate from my head into someone else’s head the way I want them to, I always need to go and see how others do it. Easiest solution for me is to go read someone who has written more characters than I can imagine: Terry Pratchett and Night Watch.
9. A book.
Any book. Whatever book you like. The book you’re currently reading, because all writers should be readers. Or the book you’re terrified of because it’s so good and you’ll never write anything close to it, so you just sit it next to your computer, taunting you with its brilliance. Or the book with a great cover that you just love to look at because it reminds you of the story inside, and how that reminds you of the story you’re trying to write. It doesn’t matter. Just read books, and use them, they can only help your writing.Tagged: Books, reading, stephen king, writers, writing
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Posted April 7, 2014 by Mark
A dauntless young hero.
An army of brutal monsters.
An impossible quest.
Journey to the mountain …
In an isolated valley, a small tribe of humans is dying from a terrible illness.
There are rumors, however, that the trolls of Troll Mountain, the valley’s fearsome overlords, have found a cure for the illness: a fabulous elixir.
When his sister is struck down by the disease and his tribal leaders refuse to help him, an intrepid youth named Raf decides to defy his tribe and do the unthinkable: he will journey alone to Troll Mountain and steal the elixir from the dreaded trolls.
But to get to Troll Mountain, Raf will have to pass through dangerous swamps and haunting forests filled with wolves, hobgoblins and, worst of all, the ever-present danger of rogue trolls …
The journey to the mountain has begun.
IN THIS, THE FIRST OF THREE SERIALIZED EPISODES, MATTHEW REILLY TAKES YOU ON HIS WILDEST RIDE YET: A HEADLONG QUEST TO THE DARK HEART OF THE KINGDOM OF THE TROLLS.
Later that evening, long after the last fires in the camp had winked out, by the light of the full moon, Raf slipped away from the small collection of shanties that formed the village of the Northmen.
As he crested one of the higher hills, he looked behind him and saw a glow on the distant southern horizon, far beyond his village: the settlement of the Southmen tribe.
For many generations the Northmen had fought with the Southmen, but few remembered what had actually caused the rivalry. Perhaps it was their base physical differences: the Northmen were fair of skin and hair, while the Southmen had a darker complexion, with long beards, hairy forearms, and bushy eyebrows.
As a child, Raf had been instructed to raise the alarm should he ever see a Southman anywhere near their lands. Sure, Southmen did not steal children in the night, but they were scum, untrustworthy dogs who would steal your crops the moment you turned your back.
It was similar with hobgoblins. Smaller than a man but more cunning and sly, a lone hobgoblin could slip into your hut in the night and steal all of your allocated food from beside your bed. Acting alone, a hobgoblin was a troublesome thief and while its cackling in the night might give a child nightmares, on its own a hobgoblin was of little danger to a human—it would be quick to flight. Larger groups of hobgoblins, however, could be lethal: if a gang of them caught a man and pinned him down, they would eat his flesh while he was still alive. Hobgoblins did not build or make anything. They lived in caves in the mountains or in abandoned places built by others.
Trolls, however, were another matter entirely.
They did steal children in the night.
And even a single troll was deadly.
Any news of a rogue troll in the valley triggered great fear and panic. Fires would be lit and a night watch instigated if a rogue troll was known to be about.
If Raf ever saw a troll he’d been told to run away as fast as he could.
The trolls lived to the north of the river valley amid some forbidding mountains that, by an accident of geography, sealed off the peninsula on which the valley tribes lived.
The Black Mountains, they were called.
The mountains dominated the landscape, jagged, dark and tall, and always within sight of the valley: a constant reminder to the Northmen, the Southmen and the other minor tribes of the strange foreign culture that held ruthless sway over their lives.
For it was within those mountains that the trolls had blocked the river that flowed into the valley. And by controlling the flow of water to the peoples of the valley, the trolls exacted tribute from them: food and, occasionally, human sacrifices.
Apart from the trolls, the Black Mountains held within them other dangers: isolated clans of hobgoblins and roving packs of mountain wolves.
Between the river valley and those fearful mountains was a ribbon of barren land known as the Badlands.
Once, it had been a healthy forest fed by the same river that continued on into the valley, but now the Badlands was little more than a stinking waste of swamps, marshes, and bracken. It was a dead land that conveniently separated the creatures of the mountains and the humans in the valley.
Dawn came as Raf crested the northernmost hill of the river valley and beheld the Black Mountains and the Badlands. A chill wind rushed down from the mountains, bitingly cold.
A tribal elder had once told Raf that the trolls liked the cold, needed it, that they couldn’t survive in warmer climes—which was why they stayed in the mountains and sourced tribute from the human tribes.
For a long moment Raf stood on the summit of that last hill, caught between two worlds: the familiar world of his valley and the unknown world before him.
Sure, he had practiced with his weapons at the edge of the Badlands, but he had never dared to venture any kind of substantial distance into them.
But today is different, he thought. Today I must.
He looked behind him and beheld his own valley again, with the scar of the dead river running down its length, and for a moment he doubted his mission and considered going back—
No. He was going to do this.
He was going to do this for his sister.
And so, with a deep breath, Raf turned toward the Badlands and stepped out of his old world.
Tagged: adventure, Books, fantasy, matthew reilly, reading, troll mountain, young adult
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Posted April 4, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
With reports of yet more bookshops closing around Australia, the ongoing decline of physical bookstores seem to be increasingly accurate and foreboding. It is unfortunate, and especially saddening, to see longstanding stores close due to the realities of current market.
If there’s one thing that’s certain it’s that we buy books very differently these days. One of the interesting points that came out of the Digital Writers’ Festival panel in February was how we interact with book buying wholly differently now. The trawling of pages and suggestions through Amazon and other online retailers seems to be replicated in our actual presence in book stores.
Customers still scan the shelves, getting lost in the array of new titles and old familiars, disappearing into an endless breadcrumb trail from one author to the next, one interest to the next. And yet now we come with backup. Armed with a phone, we can check reviews, check Goodreads, check whether it is actually the book we were thinking of. I have found that I’ve become more discerning, less likely to walk out with armfuls of books than I used to be, but more likely to actually get what I want. And while this does initially appear to remove some of the thrill of surprising discoveries, perhaps we’re now gravitating towards the position where book-buying is more easily analysed.
Instead of solely relying on the handful of print reviews and general word-of-mouth from what little is advertised, and what generally is shared and recommended by trustworthy reader friends, we can now actually draw on a vast array of resources carefully suited for our tastes and inclinations, to arrive at purchasing the book we want.
In short, we’re not relying on judging the book by its cover anymore.
Buying books digitally relies on our knowledge of the material, of the author, or of the quality behind the recommendations and suggestions, as well as the marketing facilitating this process. Less rests on the immeasurable qualities, so it makes sense for us to carry this process of purchasing into traditional bricks-and-mortar bookstores.
The stores that enable this will surely benefit. It’s not a question of diversifying the products – trying to turn a bookstore into a store that also has books – but enabling the customers to find and enjoy the products they want.
Additionally, with community libraries also struggling to retain viability and legitimacy, perhaps we’re reaching the point where the difference between a library and a bookstore needs to be eradicated. One offers access through loans and programs and education, the other through sales and possession. But essentially both deal in the same product, and can exist along the same spectrum of customer involvement.
As models such as iTunes show, it isn’t necessarily the physical item we’re wanting to own. We place convenience and ease of purchase at a premium, and have happily transitioned from VHS to DVD and Blu-ray, and now to downloading and streaming the content we want. Ownership isn’t as important, not even as a status symbol. We’re more focused on ensuring we have watched what we wanted, we have listened to the music we like, and that we have access to the information we need.
For books, we’re never reading more than we are now. We’re just reading differently. We’re buying differently. And we’re buying for different reasons, reasons that are perhaps truer to our actual wants and needs. We can spot advertising at ten paces, and run screaming from cynical attempts to coerce money out of us, but we enjoy the ease of getting what we want.
Buying books, loaning books, reading them on paper or digitally, discovering them in a store or online, it matters not in the end what our specific choices are, so long as we can get to them. I want to walk into a store and be able to find what I want, or at least discover what I want. By the same token, I want to know when I don’t want it. I want to be informed if this is the right book for me or not.
We want less barriers between us and the world. Among all the drastic changes to the way society and commerce interact in recent years, the removal of borders, boundaries, gatekeepers and red tape between a person and their goal has become the most distinct. Bookstores, both physical and digital, are there to get books to people. We’re perhaps in a position to witness that happening more clearly and more effectively than before.
Hopefully we will be in a position where nobody, not the customers or the books, will be judged on superficial qualities, but instead with understanding and merit.Tagged: Books, bookshops, ebooks, future of books
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Posted March 27, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
In a recent article published in the New York Times, authors Mohsin Hamid and Adam Kirsch were asked if the new ‘golden age’ of TV shows were becoming the new novels of the 21st century. Both answered in depth, providing clarifications on either form and how they see them working as mediums and as vehicles for narrative. Interestingly, neither actually answered the question with a yes.
Not to stop there, a follow up in the Houston Chronicle by Maggie Galehouse – reprinted by Fairfax in the weekend papers across Australia – decided to take this manufactured argument and run with it, as a means of laying a boot into TV shows and audiences. Clearly books are better than TV, to Galehouse, so let’s all sit around and pat ourselves on the back for our ability to read.
In her article ‘The Book Is Mightier Than The Box’, due credit is given to shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and True Detective, mainly for their ‘complexity’, and their ability to maintain an audience over several years. Galehouse continues comparing what she watches against favourite books, and admits that while she’s happy to commit time to watching the odd TV show here and there, she’d much rather read, making special mention of Middlemarch and Russian classics. The reader is left with Galehouse’s claim that she has yet to be floored by a film or TV show as she has been by a book, and uses her experience of reading As I Lay Dying as a prime example of the superior experience of reading.
Let’s put a stop to this ridiculousness now.
As Kirsch says, ‘to liken TV shows to novels suggests an odd ambivalence to both genres.’ If we continue to compare TV shows with books, or suggest that – much like films were rumoured to do in the 20th century – television will kill off reading, is facile. To do so is to suggest that audiences, readers, people, can only take their stories in one particular way. And that a story is a universal thing that needs a perfect-fit vehicle to deliver it to the audience.
It is impossible to declare Breaking Bad will render Harry Potter obsolete, and I can’t think of anyone who would promote the argument. There is no debate here, except among the grumbling few, among the cantankerous receivers, who feel the need to rank and rate and decry that the book is dead, the pen is mightier than the sword, the idiot box reigns supreme and we are all slaves to the latest thing.
In pitting books against TV, Galehouse and others are doing a disservice to creativity. The commonality between the two – story – is irrelevant. It would be like suggesting that cakes will kill off omelettes because they both use eggs as an ingredient. Nobody’s competing here. TV executives are not plotting grand schemes to overthrow the bestseller list, just as authors aren’t crying over lost readers due to boxset binging.
The parallel existence of The Walking Dead comics and TV series are evidence of our ability to maintain two distinct narratives in our heads in two distinct mediums. Increasingly, Game of Thrones is doing the same. Both the film and original book of The Shining is just as appropriate, both being classical forms of their genres and mediums, but wholly different stories and experiences. There is no competition.
We’re all in this together. Books, films, TV, everything creative. Everything that tells a story. These are aspects of humanity that we have all craved, we have all created, we have all experienced for as long as humanity has existed. I’m sure our Stone Age ancestors didn’t sit around and debate whether cave painting was better than the latest fireside singalong.
Currently, when we are busy trying to hold on to every bookstore, trying to save every arts prize from obsolescence, and trying to find enough relevance for local content on our TV screens, it makes no sense to pit the creatives against one another. Creativity needs to exist within our culture, our society, not fight for the scraps of attention it is afforded through meagre funding, political threats and cultural warfare.
The most galling thing about Galehouse’s article isn’t the manufactured argument, or the inanity of comparing Dostoyevsky to Mad Men, it’s that this is a shipped-in reprint. Could we not find a local writer to make up ridiculous things? Could we not, perhaps, find a local writer to comment on the hesitation and occasional reluctance of Australia to accept local stories when we are drowning in American, British and even Scandinavian imports?
Could we not find anything meaningful to say about the relevance and importance of all stories, all creativity in a country that regularly battles to see art as anything but a waste of time and money?
We need stories. We need books and films and TV shows. We need our creative expressions to be shared and enjoyed and argued and forgotten and then found again. We need them in all shapes and sizes, in all mediums and genres and styles and fashions. Creativity should be the ultimate democracy, a mirror that shows us how all voices can sound in their infinite ways, as an act of humanity talking to each other, and to itself.
Tagged: Books, reading, television, tv
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Posted March 18, 2014 by Mark
The Forever War
Optioned many years ago by Ridley Scott, this is one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Humans and aliens engage in a war that, due to the time dilation that occurs when travelling close to the speed of light, takes centuries to fight. The soldiers are increasingly removed from the society they’re fighting for as massive technological and social changes sweep away everything they know.
Why should it be a TV series? The story literally takes centuries to tell. It would be like a more realistic version of Battlestar Galactica or a better version of Space: Above and Beyond. There’s room to explore the complex relationships that develop between the soldiers and the pain of those bonds breaking when re-assignment means your friends will be centuries away.
Optioned by, of course, Ridley Scott, The Passage is a post-apocalyptic quest novel set in a world where a plague has turned most of the population of the United States into vampiric zombies. The original twelve infected patients hold a psychic influence over those who were infected via their actions, and a group of survivors decides to seek them out with the help of a seemingly immortal child.
Why should it be a TV series? It’s a massive novel that is just the first part of a trilogy that’s due to be completed at the end of this year, The Passage is a huge work, with many characters, sub-plots and backstory, with multiple narrative arcs that take place in different locations and different periods of time.
Ridley Scott *also* bought the rights to Wool, another post-apocalyptic epic from self-publishing sensation Hugh Howey. After an environmental catastrophe, a handful of survivors live in underground silos, awaiting the day when the surface is safe once again. Wool takes place several generations after the catastrophe, where the inhabitants of the silo aren’t exactly sure what happened or what they’re waiting for, and are struggling against an oppressive regime that operates out of the silo’s IT department.
Why should it be a TV series? Wool is actually the middle story in a trilogy, with a prequel, Shift, and a sequel, Dust. There’s a lot of world-building that goes into making the silo societies seem believable and there are many supporting characters and groups that could stand to be explored in more depth in a series.
The Girl Who Played With Fire/The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest
After the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo underperformed at the box office, the two sequels were put in limbo. The first one made enough that these films are still in development, but not enough to fast track them. The shame is that while the successful Swedish adaptations did a great job with the first film, the sequels left a lot to be desired.
Why should they be a TV series? The original Swedish films were intended for release as TV seasons, and after seeing True Detective, it’s clear that a 6-8 episode run for each of these stories could yield some spectacular results. With more and more film actors turning to TV, it’s not even that unrealistic to imagine Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig reprising their roles from the film.
Ready Player One
This is a brilliant novel that takes 80s nostalgia and creates a thrilling and riveting narrative. In the not-too distant future, most people spend their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality system developed by an enigmatic billionaire. When the billionaire dies, a contest begins. Whoever can decipher the clues and defeat the challenges hidden in the OASIS will win control of it. It’s a race against the clock for a loose fellowship of individual players to defeat a highly organised and ruthless corporation that wants to win control and remake the OASIS as they see fit.
Why should it be a TV series? Again, there’s a lot of world building that needs to be done, and the references to 1980s popular culture are so dense that they’d probably need a little more room to breathe in a filmed adaptation. The episodic nature of the events as they unfold would also lend it towards a longer adaptation.
This novel about the survivors of a robot uprising is currently on Steven Spielberg’s to-do list. Robopocalypse is the World War Z of robot novels, a history of the individuals who made it, many of them from different parts of the world, facing very different threats. There are some spectacular set pieces, and some very cool stories.
Why should it be a TV series? The fact that the narrative is episodic, with each part about different characters in different locations, means that it would hang together better. And there’s room for even more stories to be told in this world, as all the varieties of robot could be explored in-depth.
Tagged: adaptation, Books, list, movies, reading, Sci-Fi, tv
Posted March 17, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke
After looking back last week at the tools and teaching on writing that I received at university, I was struck at how much of the following years has been a process of undoing. Having to spend the good part of a decade taking an autodidactic approach to writing is not necessarily unusual, but an approach that in hindsight would have been better served by better education.
Too much time was spent ignoring or resisting natural inclinations because they had been ingrained in to me that there was a particular way to write, a particular voice and quality to the words and the story, and that every effort I made was measured against this standard. So, in the spirit of offering hope and guidance, here’s the way I don’t approach writing anymore.
Disclaimer: I am guilty of all of these.
1. Pretend to be a different writer
This is crucial. As mentioned, we often spend too long trying to write ‘good’ writing. And we measure that against notions of what is ‘good’, as promoted by critical acclaim, reviews, sales and – of course – by those we learn from.
By trying to be what somebody else thinks is good is case of putting the cart before the horse. We end up trying to emulate a particular style or story that has already worked, and ignore impulses to deviate. What we’re doing is ignoring ourselves.
Read a lot, and write a lot. If you find out what you like to read, chances are they’re the type of stories you like. Chances are, they’re the kind of stories you might like to tell. Follow your impulses.
2. Finish before starting
This can manifest itself in two ways. Firstly, by excessively planning. Planning and planning and planning. It’s the ultimate procrastination, because it feels like work, and it feels like writing. But at some point it becomes overblown, and overdone, and there’s nothing left to write anymore. There are ten thousand ways to write a story, and over-planning can leave you trying all of them before actually making a start.
Secondly, explaining everything about your story to everyone else. This happens when the enthusiasm for the planned story is so great that we just have to tell someone. Everyone. And then we lose it, because all the energy and excitement goes into the telling, and it never seems as great when we start to put it on the page.
3. The art of reorganising a desk
In other words, deprioritising the writing. Everything else is irrelevant, unless we’re writing. But somehow we find a way to make up every available excuse to prevent us actually starting, because that it the most terrifying thing in this whole process.
We become irresponsible school kids, explaining that the reason why we haven’t started the novel yet is because the dog ate the desk, and now you need a new one from Ikea, but that’ll take a while to put together because Allen keys are frustrating things, and there was a piece missing, and now you’re not sure if that’s the room you want the desk in anyway, perhaps a minimalist aesthetic would increase the clarity of your writing, and guess what? Not a word was written. Not one.
4. Edit first, write later
What we do when we finally start the damn novel, is write a great first chapter, but then start to edit it. Because it could be better. It can always be better.
And guess what? We end up rewriting that forever, for all eternity, because in editing it we’re not just calling into question our writing choices in that chapter, but all the choices we were going to make about the entire novel. We’re chopping trees down when they’re still saplings.
But say we start to write, and we write that first chapter and we resist editing because we’re good writers. Easy, right?
Nope. What we’ve ended up doing is putting every great idea we ever had into the first chapter, as if we’re trying to write The Bible, Das Kapital, Ulysses and A Brief History of Time all at once. But I get why we do this. We’re so enthralled at our ability to finally put words down on a page, we become worried we won’t get to do this again. So we put everything in.
The solution is: write more. This one thing that we’re writing is not the only thing we write, so long as we keep writing. There’ll be more time later to explain the universe.
By this I mean: we lie about the word count, about our progress to our friends/spouses/waiters/strange men at the train station. We lie about how great it is, how bad it is, how we’re nearly finished, we’re just tinkering, about what kind of story it is, what kind of story it isn’t, and when it’s going to be done.
This isn’t complex psychology. We’re lying to ourselves. And we need to stop it. Because it means we’re lying on the page, and we need to write truthfully.
8. Do anything but write the damn novel
So we stop pretending, we stop with the distractions and the procrastinating, we stop questioning ourselves as we go, and we start actually writing the book. Because that’s the only thing that will work.
There are a million ways to not write a novel, there’s only one way to write it.
Tagged: Books, list, novels, reading, technique, writers, writing
Posted March 7, 2014 by Mark
The latest episode of Podmentum is our Oscars special! We discuss our predictions, the major winners, what we thought deserved to win and lots more. We’re also joined by special guest Sam Sainsbury, senior editor from Pan Macmillan.
Tagged: awards, Books, films, movies, oscars, podcast, podmentum, publishing
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