Tag Archives: Reading

21st Century Authors

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Well, I did it.  I joined the 21st century.  I realise that probably happened when my books appeared as ebooks on Amazon.  It might also have happened when I started being allowed to submit queries by email.  Or, I might have considered myself ‘modern’ the first time I Skyped.  But no, today outstripped all my other technological advances.  Today I signed a Kindlegraph!

I love signing my books at any time.  It’s such a compliment for someone to buy, read and keep a book for an autograph.  It’s true, I worry over what to write and whether my handwriting is good enough, but ultimately, I really just love that someone wants my autograph.
For this reason, I’ve always felt a little ‘detached’ from my ebooks.  I never really considered them the kind of thing that people might keep, pore over and get signed as a keepsake.  I don’t know why I felt that way, I just did.
As you can imagine, signing myself up to Kindlegraph, was an eye opening experience.  I had thought it would involve me scanning my signature etc, etc.  But no.  For the sake of convenience, they let you choose your signature.  Serioiusly, the Kindlegraph program takes your author name and offers up a dozen different ‘written’ signatures from which to choose.  The one I selected is almost identical to my handwritten signature.  It was so exciting to see, I can’t even tell you.
The image below is the entry to the Kindlegraph site.  The front page is Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants’ (great book btw).  You can see how the dedications and signatures come out looking.  They’re great!

Don't know how much this cost Ms Fey's publishers, but I bet it was worth it!

So the summary of my day.  Finished ghost-writing a GINORMOUS book, but got excited about my Kindlegraph.  I guess there’s just no helping a technogeek, right?
Oh yes, if you’d like me to sign a Kindlegraph for you, you can click on this link, request my Kindlegraph, your request will appear in my email inbox.  I’ll sign and then BAM it’ll be magically transported to your Kindle.  **sigh** life is just full of little miracles, is it not?

Writing, an Upside Down Cake.

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Why is writing a book like baking an upside down cake?  Well let me tell you, this comparison only occurred to me while I was peering through my oven door at an upside down plum cake tartin.

Writing any book or story is very like baking.  First we get all the ingredients together.  When writing, this involves characters, settings, themes, timelines, researched information.  Anything at all that we think might make for a tasty story is gathered up and kept close by.  Then we need a way to put it all together.  That’s the plot.

Just as with baking, things have to go together in the right order.  Step by step, with appropriate timing, care and attention.  If you mess with the method, you end up with a whole mess of quality ingredients that don’t come together as a complete, whole, product.  Same with writing.  You can have great characters, brilliant setting, even good dialogue but if you can’t combine them in a way that’s purposeful and easily digested, then none of those fab ingredients mean squat.

Lastly comes the baking process.  Proofing, editing, redrafting and so forth.  Anybody who’s ever baked knows that the oven must be at the right temperature when we submit our cake.  Too much proofing and editing, and the story becomes generic, overly careful and tough to chew.  Not enough attention to this final process, and the end result is sloppy.  Those fine ingredients that are perfectly mixed and blended, need just the right heat (generally from an editor) to bring them to their ultimate perfection.

But that could be any cake, right?  It’s not only upside down cakes that require all this tender loving care.  You’re correct.  However, this is why upside down cakes are unique and so similar to the writing process.

.  With normal, right-way-up cakes, you can watch them through the oven door, even poke them with skewers to be sure they’re done.  The end result with those babies is generally pretty certain.  With an upside down cake, Even after the ingredients and plot are perfectly and cleverly baked, you still can’t be entirely sure.  Will the fruit/toffee combo stick to the pan?  Will it be soggy in the middle.  Will the topping actually taste good post bake?  With every upside down cake, the moment of ‘turning out’ has been, for me,  a moment of prayer.  “Please god let it be good.  Pleeeeease let it work.  Let them like it. ”  That’s the bit that always makes me think of writing.  As passionate and inspired as I feel while I’m writing, as helpful as my critique partners and editors are, in the end I always find myself praying. “Pleeease, let it  work.”  Because you never know until it’s turned out and eaten, pardon me, read!

Authors and reviews

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Today I received a fabulous new review for Foley Russel and That Poor Girl, and naturally I cried while trying to read it out aloud to my hubby.  That’s right, didn’t cry while reading on my own, I had to cry in front of others.  Anyway, it got me to thinking about the relationship between writers and reviewers.

It’s a tenuous relationship.  Less obvious than that between writers and editors or writers and publishers, but a relationship nonetheless.  Still, I’m yet to figure out exactly how it all works.  After all, I’ve read a lot of books that got great reviews and even won awards, but which I thought were nigh on unreadable.  Too wordy, pretentious or abstract for me to actually care about either the story or its characters.  By the same token, I’ve read books which were absolutely bagged by the reviewers but that I truly loved.

I think these discrepancies are proof positive that assessment of writing, like assessment of most art, is almost entirely subjective.  Different people like different things.  Some people adore Picasso’s ‘Blue period’ for example, me…not so much.  It doesn’t mean the art is no good, it just means it’s not for me.  Obviously, the more people who love something, the more likely it is that you will too, the creation has something about it that is generally appealing.

General appeal, or universal popularity, requires a large number of people to actually participate in assessing the work.  That makes reviewers like treasure hunters.  They find things that are as yet undiscovered, and start appraising it, which is a tricky job if you think about it; and I’m well aware that a reviewer’s opinion is not always right.

All that said, reviewers are readers and that’s why their opinion affects me.  I want my readers to love my stories.  I want to feel like I’ve created a little something special for them…and it thrills me when they say I’ve succeeded.

42

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I learned from Danielle Ferries recently, that according to the BBC, ‘most people’ will only have read about six books from the list I’ll post below.  I counted.  I’ve read seventy of them from cover to cover (I think…as I scroll I lose count.  So I can read but can’t count), some of them multiple times.  It occurs to me now, that this is why nobody computes when, if asked a deep and meaningful question to which nobody can possibly know the answer, I often shrug and reply “forty-two”.

Aside from the obvious problem of having a sense of humour only I can appreciate, I’m glad I’ve read these books.  There’s not one on the list I’ve read that I would consider a waste of time.  Some, I would consider my all time favourites.How about you?  How many have you read?  Which were your favourites?

1 Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen

2 The Lord of the Rings – JRR Tolkien

3 Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte

4 Harry Potter series – JK Rowling

5 To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

6 The Bible

7 Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte

8 Nineteen Eighty Four – George Orwell

9 His Dark Materials – Philip Pullman

10 Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

11 Little Women – Louisa M Alcott

12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy

13 Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

14 Complete Works of Shakespeare

15 Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier

16 The Hobbit – JRR Tolkien

17 Birdsong – Sebastian Faulk

18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger

19 The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

20 Middlemarch – George Eliot

21 Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

22 The Great Gatsby – F Scott Fitzgerald

24 War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

27 Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

29 Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

30 The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

31 Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy

32 David Copperfield – Charles Dickens

33 Chronicles of Narnia – CS Lewis

34 Emma -Jane Austen

35 Persuasion – Jane Austen

36 The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe – CS Lewis

37 The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis De Bernieres

39 Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden

40 Winnie the Pooh – A.A. Milne

41 Animal Farm – George Orwell

42 The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown

43 One Hundred Years of Solitude – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney – John Irving

45 The Woman in White – Wilkie Collins

46 Anne of Green Gables – LM Montgomery

47  Far From The Madding Crowd – Thomas Hardy

48 The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

49 Lord of the Flies – William Golding

50 Atonement – Ian McEwan

51 Life of Pi – Yann Martel

52 Dune – Frank Herbert

53 Cold Comfort Farm – Stella Gibbons

54  Sense and Sensibility – Jane Austen

55  A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

56 The Shadow of the Wind – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

57 A Tale Of Two Cities – Charles Dickens

58 Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

60 Love In The Time Of Cholera – Gabriel Garcia Marquez

61 Of Mice and Men – John Steinbeck
62 Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History – Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo – Alexandre Dumas

66 On The Road – Jack Kerouac

67 Jude the Obscure – Thomas Hardy

68 Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding

69 Midnight’s Children – Salman Rushdie

70 Moby Dick – Herman Melville

71 Oliver Twist – Charles Dickens

72 Dracula – Bram Stoker

73 The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

74 Notes From A Small Island – Bill Bryson

75 Ulysses – James Joyce (Couldn’t get through this one)

76 The Inferno – Dante

77 Swallows and Amazons – Arthur Ransome

78 Germinal – Emile Zola

79 Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray

80 Possession – AS Byatt

81 A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

82 Cloud Atlas – David Mitchell

83 The Color Purple – Alice Walker

84 The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

85 Madame Bovary – Gustave Flaubert

86 A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry

87 Charlotte’s Web – E.B. White

88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven – Mitch Albom

89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

90 The Faraway Tree Collection – Enid Blyton

91 Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad

92 The Little Prince – Antoine De Saint-Exupery

93 The Wasp Factory – Iain Banks

94 Watership Down – Richard Adams

95 A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole

96 A Town Like Alice – Nevil Shute

97 The Three Musketeers – Alexandre Dumas

98 Hamlet – William Shakespeare

 

99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl

100 Les Miserables – Victor Hugo

EWF Shows Off What It’s Got

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As children, my brothers and I were raised to believe that two of the worst social crimes we could commit, were showing-off and dobbing.  When we became adolescents these crimes morphed to become sarcasm/condescension and gossip.  I believe it’s this upbringing that has lead to my distaste for post-modernist navel gazing and jargon.

You can imagine then, how tense I become when I contemplate writers festivals.  A room full of people who are used to being the cleverest in the room and who all have the words to prove it.  Sometimes, I have trouble just deconstructing the schedule of events and I have even less chance of figuring out, from the (supposedly) descriptive blurb, what might be taking place within select workshops.

The Emerging Writers Festival (EWF) event that took place in Sydney on the 7th of November, was not an example of one of those events.  The timetable was sharp, clear, easily read and eminently comprehensible. The location was easy to get to and provided lots of parking (What can I say?  I’m a simple person and I appreciate the little things).   The presenters were generally funny, smart, self-deprecating people who appreciated the invitation to present.

When it came to talking about what they do, these writers were honest and thoughtful.  Chris Pash talked about how he wrote The Last Whale out of a sense of guilt. Bianca Nogrady gushed with enthusiasm for the environmental themes within The Sixth Wave.  I could have hugged Gabby Stroud (Measuring Up)when she shrugged and said “I just write the story”.  Later the story was tailored to a niche but mostly, the only thing she’ll take credit for, is writing the story.  P.M. Newton (The Old School) was a proud crime writer, happy to talk about the facets of her field.  James Bradley (The Resurrectionist – which I didn’t realise until after the festival, I have both read and enjoyed…)happily explained that no-one should ever take book business advice from him, while the Harlequin publisher was equally happy to explain why writing romance made perfect business sense.

I guess what I’m trying to tell you, is that not all writers festivals are full of psuedo-intellectual show-offs.   Of course, over lunch and a glass of wine there was a lot of chatter about the process of writing, some metacognitive questioning and a little bit of navel gazing, but if you can’t talk about the process of writing while at a writers festival, then when?

Other people’s voices, questions, observations and thoughts have been buzzing in my head since I got back to my apartment last night.  The buzz has survived a train trip, the flight home that saw me surrounded (I kid you not, SURROUNDED) by screaming children, my small child’s homework and the process of cooking dinner.  That’s a good sign; it means the festival provided food for thought and I’m back feeling enthusiastic about what I do.

Of course, as with all things in life you must choose to take what you want and leave what you don’t.  As such, the panelist, who at the very beginning session of the festival suggested “don’t go to writers festivals” shall be summarily ‘left’.  I will be attending the next EWF because they have a lot to show-off!

Book Week

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Book Week isn’t until August but I’m already excited.

The Logan City Library has asked me if I’ll be their Young Adult author during book week.  Presumably this means I get to talk to kids about books.  How wonderful.  Being that I love books, kids and talking, I think this is going to be a marvelous experience.

Book Week was always one of my favourite things when I was a kid.  A whole week devoted to my favourite thing and the chance for that one week, to be an expert on something.  Everyone has a specialty.  Mine was never really Math and it was only sometimes English, but books, books and I were a match made in heaven.  I was never without my head in one and there was always a spare ‘support’ book in my bag, just in case I should finish one more quickly than expected and then find myself bereft.  Imagine, alone at a bus stop with nothing to read (gasp!).

Hopefully now, I’ll get the chance to pass on some of this passion to other kids, if not via my books, at least through my enthusiasm for other people’s work.  And for those kids who already love books, maybe I’ll be a sign for them, that books can lead to great things, fun things and life full of wonder.

Yes, I’m excited.  Now I just hope, I haven’t peaked too early!

Food for thought…

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No, I’m not talking about the delicious stir-fry I had for dinner last night.  I’m talking about my proposal to the Auslib people.  Auslib are a group of Australian library related people who specifically deal with young people.  I rang them with the idea that I might be able to do a presentation at the upcoming conference on ‘re-engaging disenfranchised teens with books’.  That sounds really boring, so it became “With A Bit Of A Mind Slip, You’re Into a Paradigm Shift”.  Rocky Horror buffs like me will get a chuckle.

Anyway, the crux of the idea is that young people take up information and ideas differently than ‘us oldies’.  Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and a myriad of other social networking sites now enable people to review products and books easily and quickly.  Teens have become especially good at finding out what new technologies are great and what are not.  ‘Viral’ images etc  are a direct result of these social networking systems.  ‘Viral’ footage is representative of what kids like and where kids are spending their time/money.

What does this mean for people in the book trade?  It means we have to change the way we present our product to teens.  These are my ideas so far:

  1. It’s not only about presentation and promotion: a dodgy product won’t go viral, so first, write a GREAT book.
  2. Present yourself to kids.  Real people doing real things and being honest about it, is something kids can appreciate.
  3. Have an online presence.  That’s where most kids spend lots of time nowadays, if you want to interact with them, you should be there too.
  4. Be happy to talk about what you do.  In fact, just be happy, nobody’s interested in a sad-sack!
  5. Book networks are actually not networks, in fact they’re usually very linear, the writer->agent->publisher->bookseller.  Kids work in networks, great big webs of interconnections, what does that say about the design of our process?

Any young ‘uns out there want to have a say?  What should librarians and booksellers be doing in order to encourage you back to books?