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Checking Wardrobes for Narnia: Why Fantasy Should be Ordinary

Posted January 23, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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This week I read Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane. It’s very special. One of its best qualities is the blend of ordinariness with the fantastical. This is epitomised by the eponymous ocean, which looks like a duck pond. It struck me that all the best means of travel through space, time, and various other dimensions, are ordinary. Or at least they look it. That’s the joy of it: bringing the magic into the real world, making it feel like you just have to find the right wardrobe…the_ocean_at_the_end_of_the_lane

Narnia is a good place to start. The wardrobe is, of course, the most iconic means of reaching Aslan’s realm, but you can also get there via train platforms, with magical rings given to you by a sinister uncle, or through a picture in your aunt and uncle’s spare bedroom.wardrobe

Fireplaces work well too. Not to take you to a different world, but to travel around Harry Potter’s version of our own. The traveller also needs to be in possession of Floo powder and to speak the name of the place they want to go to. Apparently, it’s also important to keep your elbows in. I think I might start telling children that Santa Claus is Dumbledore’s brother, travelling by Floo.harry

The TARDIS may be iconic these days, but the UK used to be covered in police boxes, so it was a subtle way to travel. The interiors of the boxes used to be used as mini police stations, so you could, quite easily, plop it down anywhere and step out without anyone batting an eyelid.police_box_inline1

Powered by the fire, the innocuous wooden door of Howl’s Moving Castle has a dial to turn, depending on where you’d like to step out. This works no matter where the castle is. The flower meadow, which Howl is showing Sophie for the first time below, is my happy place.meadow

In Yonderland, the funniest TV series in existence, the pantry functions as a portal. Debbie is a suburban English mum, and a bit bored, until and elf appears from her cupboard, insisting that she is The Chosen One and must save Yonderland. Though they’ve lost the scroll that says how she’s supposed to do it. Each episode, they venture through her pantry to a magical realm, ensuring she’s home in time to pick up the kids. Watch a clip.

Fiction is also full of swirling wormholes, rips in time and high tech teleporters. They’re cool too. But I think there’s something truly excellent in using the ordinary as the basis for the extraordinary. The more closely it resembles our world, the easier it is to believe in magic.

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Review a book – live FOREVER!

Posted January 21, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Do you get a thrill when you see a character with the same name as you? And then dream that you are them and make everyone refer to you only by their rank/kitsch nickname? And only really find people of the opposite sex attractive if they share the name of your fictional counterparts SO? …no? huh.

Well, in any case, it would be super awesome if a character was actually named after you, right? Right. Lucky for you then, that our author Duncan Lay is currently holding a review competition where the prize is exactly this! Details below.

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The Last Quarrrel Episode 1 is out on January 22, with each of the four subsequent episodes released a fortnight after the first. And Duncan has almost finished the first draft of book two of the series, The Bloody Quarrel. There are five characters who are currently nameless in this book.

Now, he could go online and grab some random names for them – or you could have your name given to one of them. All you have to do is review one or more episodes of The Last Quarrel on one of the many sites available – or review it on all of them!

Send Duncan the link, either through his website www.duncanlay.com or via the email address on his blog and let us know which of the following characters you might be interested in having named after yourself.


NOTE: We’re not looking for the most suck-worthy review but instead the more intelligent ones. So, if you like the idea of playing a pivotal part in the next book in the series, get reading, get reviewing and let Duncan know!

Characters in need of an awesome name:

1) Secret agent of the crown (female/male)
2) A Boluk-bashi (captain) of the Kotterman army (male)
3) A Courbaci (Colonel) of the Kottermna army (male)
4) A harbour lookout (male/female)
5) An angry mother (female)

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Cover Reveal – Blood Oath: The Janna Chronicles Book 1 by Felicity Pulman

Posted January 20, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Love, revenge, secrets – and murder – in a medieval kingdom at war.

A young woman, left alone and destitute after the mysterious death of her mother, plants a sprig of rosemary on her grave and vows, somehow, to bring the murderer to justice. But who can Janna trust with the truth? Even the villein Godric, who wants to marry her, and Hugh, the dashing nobleman, have secrets that threaten her heart and her safety.

In a country torn apart by the vicious civil war between King Stephen and the Empress Matilda, Janna needs all her wits and courage to stay alive as she comes closer to those who are determined to silence her forever.

Blood Oath is available for pre-order now, and will be released on the 22nd of January.

 

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Could Infinite Monkeys Actually Create the Works of Shakespeare?

Posted January 16, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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You’ve heard that enough monkeys with enough typewriters would eventually create the complete works of Shakespeare? Well some people with access to monkeys got a grant, and a computer. Then Hamlet happened. Sorry, that’s not true. Here’s what really occurred:

They put the computer in the monkey enclosure to see what literary masterpiece they might type. It turns out that monkeys really like the letter ‘S’.  The six Sulawesi crested macaques, called Elmo, Gum, Heather, Holly, Mistletoe and Rowan, typed little else on the five pages they produced. They also mostly destroyed the machine and used it ‘as a lavatory’. Monkeys, we expected more of you.

monkeyTo look at it from one aspect, the point is not actually to discover if monkeys can do it, but to find out if randomly punched keys, ad infinitum, will create Shakespeare. In fact the origin of the phrase held no mention of monkeys. It’s probably a variation of Aristotle’s example of a book whose text was formed by letters randomly scattered on the ground. Eighteenth and Nineteenth century French mathematicians often discussed the idea of a book which was created by a random splurge of letters from a printing press. It was one of these French number-chiefs, Émile Borel, who brought monkeys into it: he said they could eventually come up with every tome in the Bibliothèque nationale de France.

tumblr_ni64vnpRaX1u80812o1_400So real life monkeys are no good – they will just pee over everything – and the capacity for monkey concentration is kind of not the point, but how about hypothetical virtual monkeys? A computer generation was set up, in which virtual monkeys typed at random. Each day they created an eighteen or nineteen character string of real words that happen in Shakespeare.

Pretty early on a twenty-one character string, recognisably from Love’s Labour’s Lost appeared:

KING. Let fame, that [wtIA”yh!…

Which looks remarkably like:

KING. Let fame, that all hunt after in their lives,
Live regist’red upon our brazen tombs,
And then grace us in the disgrace of death.

The record was this from Henry IV, Part 2:

RUMOUR: Open your ears; [9r’5j5…

Which matches the first part of:

RUMOUR: Open your ears; for which of you will not stop
The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks?

tumblr_n6b65jkMKT1qd8w33o1_500On average, one character was added to the string each year, so truly infinite (virtual) monkeys, with infinite time and/or greater speed might just pull it off.

Shakespeare’s fab, but we’ve already got Shakespeare. What use is monkey plagiarism? If I had infinite monkeys, I think I’d try and coax them into writing something new. I would like to see infinite monkeys trying to get an agent, securing a publishing deal, and eventually collecting the Booker Prize and making their awards speech. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen, so for the moment I’ll stick to reading books written by humans. Reality, you disappoint me sometimes.

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Book Bingo – The Reading Game You Need to Play

Posted January 9, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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A new year comes with it pressure to make resolutions, and in the reading world, it’s usually, “How many books are you going to read this year?” Personally, I’d rather not set a numerical goal: What if I choose to read Ulysses, then War and Peace? Or one unending tome? I’d rather not race through it to arbitrarily win against myself. I think all reading time is time well spent. Many book bloggers do the number thing beautifully- 50ayear.com, for example – but personally, I’d be terrible at keeping to a target. I’m sure I can’t be the only one.

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That’s not to say I don’t like a challenge.

When not writing, editing, or generally spending time on the interweb, I work for the library service. I’d like to introduce you to the brilliant game that we’re all playing in the libraries at the moment. It’s called ‘Book Bingo’.

Here are the rules:

1. You pick a line of six squares. The line can be vertical, horizontal or diagonal.
2. For each square, match the description with a book of your choice.
3. Read the six books (not necessarily in row order). Tick them off as you go.
4. Glory in your reading achievements.

Book Bingo Surrey Libraries

This is the Surrey Libraries version of the Book Bingo card. If you happen to be reading this in Surrey, England, I strongly suggest you find yourself a participating local branch. If you’re not, do it just for fun with the shelves of your local bookshops, library, charity shops and the contents of your ereader (perhaps with a few shiny new Momentum titles). You just need to read six books, of your own choosing, in your own sweet time. That’s my kind of challenge.

peanutslibrarycardBook Bingo could inspire you to discover books that you’d never think to try. It’s also a bit of an intellectual challenge: While covering at a charming village library we tried to come up with books set in schools that were suitable for adults (and weren’t Harry Potter). Another brilliant attribute of Book Bingo, and specifically this card, is that it encourages you to ask for recommendations (especially from people who work in libraries – they know their books!). In my opinion, this is the absolute best way to discover new favourites. It also encourages you to chat to other book lovers, which is always a life-affirming treat.

While I’m on the subject, enjoy the sneak peek of my bookshelves in the above picture. I unreservedly recommend 100 Facts About Pandas.

Join me in a game of Book Bingo! Do you want to play? Tweet me @EveProofreads.

UPDATE: We loved this idea at Momentum so goddamn much that we made our own game! If you want to play Momentum Book Bingo share your results with us on Facebook and Twitter! 

BOOK BINGO

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‘But What’s My Motivation?’ Maleficent and Creating Believable Backstory

Posted January 8, 2015 by Eve Merrier

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The following post contains spoilers about Maleficent. It’s a pretty good film, though, so if you haven’t seen it go and watch it now, then come back and resume. We’ll wait here. Everybody done yet? Great. Then I’ll begin.

The Stanislavski method of acting encourages the player to ask that now-familiar question, ‘what’s my motivation?’ in order to understand just what the character is thinking and feeling, and how they should react. As you write each scene of a story or novel, each piece of dialogue, imagine your character is asking you the same thing. Actions without motivation seem random and pointless. Readers don’t love that.

evilThe most common thing that some authors do is make evil characters evil just because they’re evil. This is rather uninspiring, and I don’t think it’s very realistic. The 1959 Disney Sleeping Beauty seems to be premised upon the most extraordinary overreaction to not being invited to a party. Maleficent, when not invited to the christening, crashes it, (like Kanye West at someone else’s acceptance speech) and curses the baby. Who even wants to go to a christening? They’re full of mumbling priests, screaming damp babies and inferior snacks.

angAside from Angelina Jolie’s cheekbones, the best thing about Maleficent is that it redresses this lack of motivation rather well by creating a proper back story. King Stefan, whom maleficent had once loved, cut off her wings while she was unconscious. This massively cruel dismemberment warrants her extreme reaction. His motivation was ambition; hers is revenge.

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There are multiple factors that motivate human behaviour. Here’s a list of things to consider in terms of your characters:

Relationships: All significant relationships should be considered, including their family and friends, and romantic relationships. Have these been loving and successful or has some damage been caused?
Fear: Everyone’s afraid of something. What’s your character’s fear? It doesn’t have to be a literal phobia of spiders or some such; perhaps they’re afraid of failure, or of being found out.
Cultural influences: Think about the society they grew up in.
Needs and wants: Are they acting to meet their basic needs for money, food and shelter, or trying to fulfil a more abstract need for approval or a childhood dream?
Obligation: Who are they accountable to?
Past experiences: This can include past wrongs, causing a desire for revenge (or justice), or circumstances that have led to their current situation.
Beliefs and worldview: Whether philosophical or religious, everyone has a way of seeing the world and of understanding human nature. What do they think of others? What do they think the meaning of life is?

Let’s apply these concepts to Maleficent.

Maleficent’s key relationship was with the young Stefan, who let her down badly, leaving her believing that there is no such thing as true love. She rarely shows fear, but seems afraid that she cannot reverse the curse when she tries to, and that it might come true. Before this, she is afraid of becoming attached to the child and tries to keep a distance. Her cultural influences come from the peaceful kingdom she grew up in. It’s essentially an anarcho-communalist state where all the magical creatures work together and there is no one leader. This explains how loathsome and extraordinary she finds Stefan’s ambition and the neighbouring state’s warring ways. What she needs and wants changes throughout the story. She wants peace, to begin with, then revenge, then redemption. She initially has a strong obligation to the people of her land, to protect them from invaders. Later this protective instinct is transferred to Aurora. jolThe key past experience of her relationship with Stefan and his attack clearly influence her actions, but we’re told a few other things about her past too. For example, we learn that her parents died, which perhaps informs her instinct to care for Aurora: a child who is functionally parentless. We’ve also seen the importance of flying to her and how much her wings mattered. Losing them and becoming earthbound figuratively and literally changed her perspective. Maleficent believes that there is no such thing as true love, that she cannot function without wings (hence the adoption of the bird-friend), and she believes in some sort of justice, though the form that this should take varies. She was hurt, badly, physically and psychologically, so she went to the dark place, but over time, she was brought back. However fantastical the story, that arc feels real to me.

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It may not be the most complex of films, or even the best of motivations, but it’s unarguably stronger than ‘I really wanted to come to a christening but no one asked me’ or even ‘I do things just because I’m a villain and therefore arbitrarily ruthless’. Well-developed characters often have multiple motivations and authentic reasons for their actions. Humans can be fallible, impulsive and changeable. Characters should be too.

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Cover Reveal – Avenger (Intrepid 3) by Chris Allen

Posted January 6, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Alex Morgan is back and he isn’t playing by the rules.

Policeman, soldier and spy for INTREPID, black ops agent Alex Morgan is hunting the Night Witch—the head of a shadowy criminal empire spanning the four corners of the globe and connected to Chinese triads, corrupt cops, and the Russian mafia.

When Morgan’s sent to China to shadow INTREPID’s newest agent, Elizabeth Reigns, he soon discovers she’s been sold out and the triads are after their pound of flesh.

With Reigns in his corner, Morgan must find a way through a complex labyrinth of scattered connections and corporate takeovers to find the real Night Witch, and crush an empire built on trading in human life. But there’s only one problem. To achieve his objective Morgan must confront an enemy he thought was already dead and buried. Will Morgan have what it takes to survive?

Avenger is available for pre-order now, and will be released on the 22nd of January.

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The Best Christmas Films Based on Books

Posted December 24, 2014 by Eve Merrier

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The film isn’t as good as the book: that’s what we bibliophile purists are supposed to say, and sometimes it’s true. But it’s Christmas; and, here in merry England, when we’ve eaten too much, the crackers have been cracked, and the Queen’s speech is over, there’s little else to do except settle in and watch some proper Christmas telly. Some of the best are based on books.

KermitThere are many adaptations of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, though none so entertaining and close to its source material as the Muppet version. Dickens was a committed Christmas revivalist. Because of him it is legally obligated to snow in London on Christmas day. This blog post has collated every filmed version of A Christmas Carol they could find. Particularly novel is the 1901 silent film: the earliest adaptation in existence, made just 30 years after the death of Mr Dickens.

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Polar Express is based on the book of the same name by Chris Van Allsburg. He’s the genius who wrote Jumanji. In the book, the train doesn’t stop or slow down on its way to the North Pole, and apparently the kids get nougat to eat, instead of just drinking hot chocolate. There’s a delightfully pedantic website called thatwasnotinthebook.com that nicely summarises the differences for us.

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Die Hard begins at a Christmas party on Christmas Eve, his wife’s name is Holly, and John McClane brings us the gift of fighting terrorists who want to ruin Christmas parties with their nonsense. Ergo Christmas film.

johnIt’s based on the 1979 novel Nothing Lasts Forever by Roderick Thorp. Also worth a mention is the Community Die Hard Christmas spoof, which is many levels of special.

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We cannot talk about Christmas films without mentioning Raymond Briggs for both The Snowman and Father Christmas. Briggs himself is not a fan of Christmas and feels The Snowman has been hijacked by sentimentalists. The Snowman melts (sorry – spoiler!) to teach children about mortality. The visit to Santa isn’t in the book, and I’m not sure Bowie’s in it either.

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Briggs said, “I thought, ‘It’s a bit corny and twee, dragging in Christmas’, as The Snowman had nothing to do with that, but it worked extremely well.” It did indeed.

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What are your favourite Christmas films?

Merry Christmas to you all and have a jolly time, as Dickens put it, “There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”

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Cover Reveal! Greig Beck’s Book of the Dead

Posted November 21, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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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!

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A stranger in a strange land: guest post by Louise Cusack

Posted November 14, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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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.

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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!

 Louise Cusack‘s Destiny of the Light is currently FREE!

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Why your next novel should be set in Russia

Posted November 13, 2014 by Eve Merrier

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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’?

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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. yeltsin

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.

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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.

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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!

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In conversation – with Amanda Bridgeman and Nina D’Aleo

Posted November 12, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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Two of our authors, Amanda Bridgeman and Nina D’Aleo sat down to have a chat about their books and their approaches to writing.

Bridgeman_Amanda    D'Aleo_Nina

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!

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Q&A with Sophie Masson

Posted November 10, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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We asked our wonderful author Sophie Masson some questions about her upcoming release Trinity: The Koldun Code.

 

 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.

 

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Who wants money to write about books? BOOK BLOGGER WANTED!

Posted October 20, 2014 by Patrick Lenton

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UPDATE: 3/11/2014

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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 info@momentumbooks.com.au 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.
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Guess who’s coming to dinner?

Posted October 17, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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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.

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Weekend Bargain Reads

Posted September 12, 2014 by Patrick Lenton

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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.

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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.

GET IT FOR FREE!

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A brutal massacre. A terrifying madman. Get it FREE.

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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!

 

 

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What makes a good bookshop?

Posted July 23, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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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.

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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.

 

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The genre kids are all right

Posted July 15, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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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.

 

 

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Podmentum: Thronementum

Posted July 11, 2014 by Mark

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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.

 

Recommendations:

Anne 

Death, Sex & Money podcast

Patrick

Words of Radiance: The Stormlight Archive Book 2 by Brandon Sanderson

Joel

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Mark

Orphan Black

 

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 and beyond

Posted July 4, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Spoilers and stories

Posted July 2, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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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.

 

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8 film adaptations that should have been TV series

Posted June 16, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?)

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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.

 

 

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How to read more than one book at a time

Posted May 27, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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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?

 

 

 

 

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Should I keep reading?

Posted May 5, 2014 by Mark

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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.

 

 

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