Thursday, 30 December 2010

The problem of naming characters

I submitted a short story to Electric Spec yesterday (keep your fingers crossed for me!) and one thing I had to do to get it ready was re-name all my characters.

I have such trouble picking names. I've managed to get past it enough to write first drafts, on the basis that I can pick any name and fix it later. But then at some point I have to pick names for the characters that aren't silly, obvious or cheesy. That's where I struggle. I find it really hard to just come up with names, whether they are mainstream, fantasy or science fiction type names.

So what makes it so hard? Partly it's because I think many of my original choices are derivative. I'm easily influenced by what I've been reading lately, especially if it's Iain M Banks or something. And some times they are just naff sounding. I also tend to pick names that begin with R, G, S and T, and have either one or two syllables. There is definitely a lack of variety.

In the end I do get to change them and with the help of a few random name generators I usually end up with names I like. How do you all pick names for your characters?

Friday, 24 December 2010

Thoughts on reading: Selling Out

I have a huge stack of books I've read waiting for blog posts. Some seem like much harder work than others. Selling Out by Justina Robson is one of the easy ones.

This is book two in the Quantum Gravity series, and this time I've actually read the first one. What I love about this is the blend of science fiction and fantasy. It's set in the near-future after a world-changing event, the nature of which is not clear at this point. The protagonist is an experimental cyborg spy who is sent on missions to the new worlds (elf, fairy, demon, etc) that were revealed by the event. I'm all for a bit of genre-bending and Robson is a great writer so it all comes together seamlessly.

When I read the first book I thought it was fun and well-written but lacking the depth and complexity of Living Next Door to the God of Love, which was the first of Robson's novels that I read. After reading Selling Out I think I might be wrong. It's still great fun, and still has a light feel to it, but the character development and foreshadowing in this book make me suspect that by the time I get to the end of the series a grand vision will have been realised.

In this book, I noticed how the dialogue stood out. It worked hard to move the plot along and reveal character. It's snappy, witty and highly engaging.

Justina Robson is one of my favourite authors and I can't wait to read the rest of the series. And everything else she's written.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010


Is anybody else loving Misfits? I think it's the best new sci-fi on the telly for ages. Can't wait for series 3 next year!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Thoughts on reading: Boudica, Dreaming the Eagle

There are some books that have been on Book Mountain for a very long time and Boudica, Dreaming the Eagle by Manda Scott is one of them.

I'm not sure why it has taken me so long to get around to reading this, other than the fact that the copy I have is in hardback. Dreaming the Eagle has got Celts, Ancient Britons, Romans and Druids, its got sword fights, pitched battles and shamanic journeys, all stuff I love. On top of that, it's got strong female characters, sensitive male characters, lots of variation in sexual and intimate relationships and rites of passage.

It's competently told. The characterisation is good for both main and supporting characters. The relationships between them are strong and I could really connect to them. The world of the Druids and the early Roman empire is convincingly brought to life. Dialogue is good, pacing is good. And the story is good. Scott's use of foreshadowing is excellent. Through shamanic journeying and visions a couple of pivotal events are foreshadowed early on and it is not at all obvious how they will play out. I found myself thinking I knew how it would go and finding myself wrong. Yet the final reveal felt natural and unforced. Great stuff.

This is the first in a series of five and I will certainly be reading the rest. I liked this a lot.

Friday, 17 December 2010

Thoughts on reading: Corum

I'm working my way through Michael Moorcock's The Eternal Champion series and recently I read Corum. Elric is one of my favourite characters in literature and I enjoy the self-conscious/aware nature of the multiple worlds cycle that is the Eternal Champion. Although one might argue that Moorcock is simply telling the same story over and over again. Of course, there is an art in that. Multiple interpretations of the same story layer up into a deeper understanding of the themes that are explored.

Corum comprises The Knight of the Swords, The Queen of the Swords and The King of the Swords. The language is amazing; the descriptions are lush and full of depth. Characterisation is not so deep, because the characters are ciphers. They perform the function of metaphor. What is happening here is myth not story.

Moorcock is the literary end of science fiction and I think you either like it or you don't. Or at least, that's true for me. I usually don't have much time for literary fiction because it turns out I'm all about the story. However, Moorcock's worlds are so fantastic and the description so beautiful that I am completely engaged. I find Moorcock much easier to read than most literary fiction.

I also enjoy the links with the other works and in the last volume of Corum, Elric makes an appearance, so that's good. I enjoy the layer where the story is inviting the reader to compare it with its other versions in the Eternal Champion multiverse.

I enjoyed it. Corum's not as good as Elric though.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Thoughts on reading: Royal Flash

Royal Flash by George MacDonald Fraser is the second in a series of books following Flashman, the bully from Tom Brown's Schooldays (which I never read). Naturally, I haven't read the first in the series.

Well, this is a pretty entertaining romp that doesn't take itself seriously at any point. Actual history is tweaked to give Flashman a role in world changing events. The characterisation of Flashman is excellent and it's told in first person from his viewpoint. Characterisation of supporting characters is quite shallow, but this rather suits Flashman's character so it works.

It's competently written, dialogue is good, pacing is great, and the story is just fun. It was written in the 1970s and the language does reflect that, but that was the only thing that niggled.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Thoughts on reading: Slights

Slights is the debut novel of Kaaron Warren, published by Angry Robot, that came as part of my welcome pack from joining the British Fantasy Society.

The protagonist is a serial killer and the blurb implies that the story will be a gruesome serial killer horror. Instead it's somewhat of a hybrid. It's part psychological horror, part ghost story and part mystery. I enjoy some genre-bending and I was pleasantly surprised that the novel was more complex than the blurb gave it credit for.

It is written in a really engaging voice and over the course of the story the truth about the protagonist's father is revealed. One of the stand-out features of the book is the way the protag comes to awareness about herself and her relationships. At the end, nothing is what it seemed to be at the beginning and the changes are handled very skillfully.

It's worth reading, especially if you're on the lookout for something a bit unusual, and I shall look out for more of Warren's work.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Thoughts on reading: some non-fiction books

I'm a bit behind on my book posts. I have a tallish pile of books sitting on the desk waiting for me to say something interesting about them. We can only hope...

Several of the books are non-fiction so I thought I'd bundle them all together.

Bad Samaritans: The guilty secrets of rich nations and the threat to global prosperity by Ha-Joon Chang. A good discussion of the real strategies the rich nations used to grow rich and dissection of the myth that free trade encourages econominc development.

The New Rulers of the World by John Pilger. This is a bit old now, having been written in 2002 in the aftermath of 9/11, but it's interesting to see how many of Pilger's analyses still hold true.

The Pig that Wants to be Eaten: And 99 other thought experiments by Julian Baggini. This was a freebie with a magazine ages ago. It's very short essays on philosophical questions applied to everyday life. Very thought-provoking - and potentially full of ideas for speculative fiction stories.

Pilgrims by Paul McDermott. Another freebie, given away by the author on the South Bank. This is the 'true' story of a young man who volunteers to spend time with a terminally ill elderly woman. It's quite moving, but perhaps not as transformational as the author would have us believe.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Some questions....

Martin said I could steal this, so I did. I needed to ease myself back into blogging regularly, so what could be more lightweight than a getting-to-know-you-questions meme.

1. What do you consider your hometown to be?
Stevenage, I guess. I'm not sure I really feel the concept of hometown though. I wasn't born here, and I spent my formative years in lots of places, but I've lived here for most of my life now and I'm pretty happy here.

2. What’s the hardest part of your average day?
I don't really think anything about my average day is hard. I have an underactive thyroid and sometimes I get depressed, so when I'm feeling ill it can be hard to get out of bed. Occasionally, I don't manage it. Sometimes I have things to do at work that I find challenging. I don't see those things as average though.

3. The easiest? Why?
Lunch? Sitting on the sofa watching TV? Reading? Snuggles with my cats and rabbit? Things that are not overly demanding of my energy and make me feel good, I guess.

4. What beverage do you reach for to quench your thirst?
Sparkling water.

5. What is one not-so-secret goal you have for your life? I’ll let you keep your secret ones to yourself.
To publish novels and drink some very fine wines.

6. What physical pain do you fear most? For example, I’m trying to decide how bad my jaw pain needs to get before I risk a potential needle from my dentist. So, for me, throbbing is preferable to jabbing.

7. Where do you find solace?
In books; in music; in the smell of incense; in a warm fire in a dark, cosy room; in solitude.

8. What makes you the saddest when you read/see the news?
The lies and propaganda make me angry. What makes me sad is knowing how much important news isn't covered because it happens to 'unpeople'.

9. What do you eat for a favorite snack?
Chocolate!! Ha ha.

10. What movie(s) could you/would you watch more than two or three times and still enjoy just as much as the first time?
Loads. Bladerunner, The Company of Wolves, Pirates of the Caribbean, Pitch Black, The Hitcher, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and so on. I can happily watch things over again.

11. What boy/girl first made you cry?
Aside from my family? I don't know. I've always cried easily.

12. What brand of coffee/tea do you drink most often?
Twinings English Breakfast Tea

13. Dig in the dirt with or without garden gloves?
Without, definitely. Don't get me wrong, I don't actually do gardening because it needs doing all the time. If I could garden once a year, that would be fine, but it's like outside housework and needs redoing continuously. But back to the question; if I'm going to plunge my hands into mud and dig around I want to feel it. I like getting my hands dirty.

14. Strictly Come Dancing or The Apprentice?*
How could I choose? I love them both!!

Blog your answers and put the link in the comments!

*I changed this question because the original didn't mean anything to me.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Thoughts on reading: Twelve

This came to my attention at alt.fiction 2010. During a panel it was held up as an example of a perfectly good novel that couldn't sell due to the market. With the upswing of the horror market, it found a publisher after having been with an agent for something like four years. I was keen to see what Twelve by Jasper Kent was like.

This is an historical horror; a vampire story set in Russia during the Napoleonic wars. I found the setting quite convincing, in terms of both time and place. Not that I know much about Russian history, so I'm probably quite easy to convince in that regard. The dialogue felt appropriate although I noticed a few conspicuously modern terms slipping into the narration.

The vampires were the opposite of sparkly. They are returned to subhuman killing machines with superior strength and speed, yet seem quite easily dispatched by the hero once he's convinced of what they are. There are some nice moments of suspicion and betrayal among the hero and his friends.

Unfortunately, I found that the choice of viewpoint flattened the story someone. It is a first person narrator told by the hero, who is a man traumatised by torture in his past and by the choices he has to make in the present. His response is to become shut off from emotion. Which is a realistic response but as he's the narrator it leads to an emotionally flat story. The reader doesn't feel the horror because the narrator can't. It nags at the edge of the consciousness and the narrator acknowledges that he should have more emotional sensation than he does (although this was a bit 'tell' for me) but he can't feel what he should feel because it will overwhelm him. For me, as a reader, this felt distancing. I think it would have benefitted from first person narration by a sidekick or from third person narration.

Having said that, there was an excellent twist at the end, I did enjoy it and I will read the sequel.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Thoughts on reading: For a Few Demons More

Before Charlaine Harris and Stephanie Meyer there was Kim Harrison and the Hallows series. The premise is that a virus wiped out about three-quarters of the human race, thus revealing the supernatural population. For a Few Demons More is the fifth (and so far final) in the series.

All the books in the series have had titles that are plays on Clint Eastwood movies, which I quite like, largely because I liked the movies. But it does set the mood of the books; that is action-orientated, maverick cop (sort of) and not to be taken too seriously. These books are fun and I enjoyed For a Few Demons More.

I don't have much to say about the writing. Harrison is big on details which makes her world very convincing. She does sex scenes well, dialogue well and there's absolutely loads of conflict. This was another first person narrator and I find the language did sometimes bother me. There were loads of cliches and naff metaphors which jolted me out of the story.

The plot in this book seemed to take a really long time to get going. I was a good quarter into the book until there was any development on the plot problem that was introduced at the start of the book. Much of it was spent on developments in the relationships between the main characters, which was engaging as these relationships are full of conflict, but leads me on to another thought. It didn't feel like a final book in the series, but that's what the website implies.

Kim Harrison's books are fun, easy to read and I will read more. Even if they annoy me just a little bit. I like them about the same as Charlaine Harris and more than Stephanie Meyer.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Thoughts on reading: Lords of the North

Lords of the North by Bernard Cornwell has Vikings in it, so it is automatically brilliant. Also, Cornwell is one of my favourite authors.

One thing that characterizes Cornwell's writing is a tendency to end a scene or chapter with a snappy short sentence. For example 'The gods were not happy.' Sometimes it's a cliffhanger, sometimes it's foreshadowing and sometimes it adds drama. It serves to drive the story forward and makes his books hard to put down!

This is written in first person POV. It seems like I'm reading a lot that's in the first person lately. I don't know if that's coincidence or a trend. In this case, the main character is an old man telling the story of his youth. The voice is very strong. It's confident and self-assured, and well suited to the character. What is different to many first person narrator's is that there isn't that much internal monologue or exposition. The story is largely told through scenes with solid description and great action. What internal monologue there is, is very effectively used to show character.

I really enjoyed this and Cornwell has a style of writing that I particularly enjoy.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

The books we should have read...

I do like lists. From the Huffington Post, here's a list of books that apparently people claim to have read but haven't.

The Canterbury Tales by Chaucer - I read the Knight's Tale at school, and it's on book mountain, but I haven't read any more tales.

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville - nope. Maybe I should add it to the list.

Ulysses by James Joyce - nope. Probably won't either.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - nope. The excessive sentimentality of the films put me off.

The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie - no. It's on book mountain so I probably will.

Moby Dick by Hermann Melville - why yes. Lots of lists of whales.

A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking - yes, I have. And I understood some of it.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace - um no, never heard of it.

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco - no. Saw the movie.

Remembrance of Things Past by Marcel Proust - no. But I really feel I should.

Don Quixote by Cervantes - no. It's on book mountain.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner - no. I might though; I really like the title.

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoi - no, but it is on book mountain, so one day I will.

Two for me then. What about you?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Thoughts on reading: Virgin Slave, Barbarian King

Oh goddess, it's so embarrassing. I hate reading these things. But, following a workshop on the challenges of writing for Mills & Boon, there are several of them on book mountain. I'm perfectly prepared to believe that writing formulaic romance requires considerable skill and discipline. The second Mills & Boon I've read since the workshop has provided little evidence.

It's ok. It's way better than the first. There is description as well as inner monologue and there is a pleasing symmetry in the protagonists journey which makes the patriarchy marginally easier to swallow. It has Goths; not quite Vikings but close enough. Other than that, it has little to commend it.

It did make me think about the dynamic of love stories, though. Protagonist 1 meets Protagonist 2 and finds them horrible/infuriating yet attractive. Protag 2 feels the same. Yet, they can't just enjoy each other. No, instead they must be convinced that it would be wrong to love each other and very angry about what they are feeling. Why? What sort of relationships are like that? Not healthy ones, for sure. Mixing love up with shame and anger is not a cocktail I want to drink. But there'd be no story if there were no conflict, would there? If the conflict were external, it would become a different type of story like a quest or an adventure. To keep it a romance the conflict must be internal, fueled by misunderstanding and insecurity. And that's why they follow this pattern. If they don't, it's not a story. So, I learned something from reading Virgin Slave, Barbarian King by Louise Allen.

My non-fiction was more edifying. I read the Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus and it was life-changing. The main essay is Camus' thoughts on how one can respond to the absurdity of a godless world. Surprisingly uplifting.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Thoughts on reading: The Turn of the Screw

Last year, there was a television adaptation of The Turn of the Screw by Henry James and thus there followed much discussion of its horror and psychological twists. Well, what more reason do you need to read a book?

I struggled with the language. This was a surprise. I read the odd classic and although it takes a few pages to get into the rhythm of the writing, usually I find that it is perfectly clear once you get used to it. Perhaps it's because the classics I tend to read are by English authors - Dickens, Hardy, Austen - and James is American. I wondered if the reason I was finding it hard to get to grips with was because it was an American classic and the language was subtly different to English literature of the same era.

What I found really frustrating was that I didn't know what was going on. Things weren't spelt out. There were coded references to socially unacceptable behaviour, which to me could have meant all sorts of horrors. Some people find that leaving things to the imagination makes it more scary. Not me. I can imagine a lot of things and not being able to choose which is the thing being described (because there aren't enough clues to nail it down to one thing) is frustrating. It certainly underlines my belief that detail is what convinces in fiction. For me, the horror was reduced by the vagueness and ambiguity, not increased.

My non-fiction book was Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan. It was excellent, full of good advice, good examples and lots of things to try out in my work-in-progress.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Thoughts on reading: Whit

Whit by Iain Banks has been on book mountain for a while. Years in fact. I was put off Iain Banks' mainstream fiction by not being able to get through A Song of Stone.

It's a slow start and I only stuck with it because this is my work. If I was reading for entertainment, I probably would have put it down well before I got halfway through. Not that there's anything wrong with it - Banks is a fine writer. It's just that the story wasn't compelling. I know what I like; vikings, vampires, adventure and sex. There was none of that. It was a story of a insular community and their relation with the outside world and it wasn't that interesting to me. Until about halfway through. Then it becomes clear that certain people are up to no good and there is a bit of a mystery at the centre of the story.

So, the second half of the book is better, but I don't think I liked it that much. Which is not really the point as we're here to talk about the writing. The main thing I noticed about this book was the worldbuilding, perhaps because I don't expect it to be so obvious in mainstream fiction. Banks is describing the world of a group of people who live in a way that makes them quite alien to 'normal' people. He carries this off well. It is in the first person and the (sole) POV character, Isis, is completely invested in her way of life. She is special in this world, the very opposite of an outcast, and it takes several large event to make her start questioning the status quo. The worldbuilding takes place via Isis, and as she's not an outsider, Banks has the discipline to convey her total acceptance of her world. It is the outside world, the contemporary world, that is portrayed as strange. Her strangeness, the weirdness of her world is shown to us by her skewed interpretation of the people and events around her. It was a skillful demonstration of worldbuilding that brought the reader into the world, rather than leaving them watching from the edges.

The other element of note is almost the flipside of the first. Choosing a protagonist who is at the centre of her world, with high status, who feels loved and accepted, enabled excellent worldbuilding. But it also meant that shaking that belief in the goodness and rightness of the worldbuilding would take some significant events and that had to be done convincingly. I feel that contributed to the slow pace of the unfolding of the plot. Banks spent the first half of the book building Isis and her world up and then the second half tearing it down. I think I would have prefered more foreshadowing than Banks gave us.

In non-fiction, I read The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton. I thought it would be about how humans are biologically wired for faith, but is actually more about how beliefs affect the science of biology. Some interesting ideas, if not a totally convincing theory.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Learning from reading

A lot of the posts on this blog are about the books I've read and what I'm learning from them. But it would be true to say that I don't do this in any systematic way, other than thinking about it and making some vague notes on this blog.

Then I read a post on the blog on learning from the masters. The idea is that you fold up the pages where a passage strikes you as being particularly effective. Simple, no? Except I've always believed that writing on books is sacrilege, and while I'll fold down a little corner to mark my place and break a spine to read it more easily, the idea of folding over half a page seems less like turning a small corner and more like scibbling notes. Of course, when I write it out like this it sounds like the nonsense it is. So, folding up the pages is on.

The next steps are to transfer the passages that you marked into a dedicated notebook, then analyse them and look for patterns. So that's what I'll be doing. I've got a couple of books marked up already and just waiting for transfer into a notebook. What do you think?

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Thoughts on reading: Non-Stop

Number 33 of the SF Masterworks is Non-Stop by Brian Aldiss, which deals with the generation-ship vision of spaceflight. As I'm doing with the Fantasy Masterworks, I'm sort of making my way through the SF Masterworks as well. So far, I've read 2, 4, 43, 46, 52, 53, 60, 61, and 67.

I enjoyed this. The worldbuilding is good and there is a mystery that builds up to an excellent reveal. What I noted particularly about the writing was the use of language. Aldiss uses words that indicate one thing to the reader and manages to convey that the characters of the story understand something else by them, for example, ponics (the crop the characters harvest) and ship-related words. There's a lovely point at the end where the main character, Roy, sees the sun for the first time and says he imagined it square because the lights on the ship were all square. Having said that, sometimes, often enough for it to be noticeable, Aldiss uses cliches and adages that are too contemporary and it jolts the reader out of his world. So, I found use of language both good and bad in this book.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger is a book based on a 1970s TV series of the same name, examining the role of the observer in studying art and the myth and meaning of oil painting in Western culture. Fascinating, thought-provoking and challenging. The ideas in this book really excited me. Recommended!

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Thoughts on reading: Black Man

I read a lot and as I've got better at writing (and more confident in my writing), most of what I read either makes me feel 'I can do this too' or 'That's a good way of doing it'. Occasionally, I read something that makes me feel talentless and stupid, that makes me realise how big the gap is between where I am and where I want to be. Richard Morgan's Black Man is one of those books. It was amazing.

Something about this book made it seem better than everything I've read in a long time. All the basics are there and are done well. It's a great plot, with twists and turns but no cheats. There are two key moments where I wasn't sure what was going to happen next (in a good way) and in the end everything came together to create a full understanding of what had happened. The plot was really strong and well paced.

Worldbuilding is something I particularly noted. Morgan throws the reader into his world immediately and just leaves them to catch up. It's slick and realistic. I don't know if it's just that I haven't read much new science fiction lately, but it seemed really modern. It seemed like Morgan is really up on current affairs, cutting edge science and social/psychological theory and his vision of the future jumps off from now. He has lots of little details that really ground the book and make it real, such as having the characters reference celebrities, music, intellectuals and gurus. My over-riding impression was that this was a really intelligent, thorough book.

The characters were well-drawn, believable, with deep inner worlds and congruent outer actions. It was all done through inner monologue, for the POV characters, dialogue and action. The action scenes were exciting, convincing and pacy.

It's not perfect. I noticed one or two clunky adjectives and awkward turns of phrase but that was all in a 600+ page book. I think that what makes this work so well is that all the elements are done to a high standard. There are many enjoyable books that have good plots with ok characters, or great writing and weak plots, or fascinating characters with nothing to do. Few books get everything right, and this is one of them. And on top of that, the themes are intelligently thought through in a fascinating way. Read it. It's amazing.

In non-fiction news, I read The Courtesans by Joanna Richardson, which is a book of short biographies of 19th century French courtesans. Interesting, and full of tidbits for the work-in-progress!

Friday, 6 August 2010

30 Days of Buffy meme - Part 5

Day 25. Favourite Buffyverse saying. See, I think this is about catchphrases and Buffy didn't really have catchphrases. There was great dialogue and some amazing lines, and a slanguage all it's own, but no catchphrases. This is a one of its strengths. There are few things more annoying than having catchphrases endlessly repeated at you. I definitely went through a phase of adding '-age' to nouns though.

Day 26. Favourite Scooby moment. The bit in Primeval where Buffy, Giles, Willow and Xander gather to discuss the things that were said in The Yoko Factor. They are not ok as friends but they decide to do what needs to be done anyway.

Day 27. Cutest moment. Anya dressed as a scary bunny in Fear, Itself.

Day 28. Character you love to hate. This really has to be Buffy. She is often whiny, miserable and self-righteous. She struggles to find the fun and hides behind her responsibilities. But then, she does get put through the wringer and you can't help but empathise with her.

Day 29. Episode you hate that everybody else loves. Don't know what everyone else loved. I wasn't overly keen on Him in Season 7.

Day 30. What you think made Buffy so great. So many things. The wit, the music, the feminism, it had vampires. It had great characters: the heroes were a little bad and the villains were a little good. There was some awesome dialogue and great chemistry. It didn't take itself too seriously. Buffy had It, the X-factor, that indefinable thing that makes something greater than the sum of its parts.

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

30 Days of Buffy meme - Part 4

Day 19. Character you like that everyone else hates. Again, not sure I know who everyone else hates. People seem not to like Kennedy and Glory; I thought they were ok. Glory had some great lines and a really good plot device in the form of Ben.

Day 20. Best Spike-centric episode. They're all great, obviously. But I think I like Lovers' Walk largely because of this piece of dialogue from Spike: "You're not friends. You'll never be friends. You'll be in love 'til it kills you both. You'll fight, and you'll shag, and you'll hate each other 'til it makes you quiver, but you'll never be friends. Love isn't brains, children, it's blood. Blood screaming inside you to work its will. I may be love's bitch, but at least I'm man enough to admit it."

Day 21. Best Willow-centric episode. Doppelgangland. I love vampire Willow and this is close on one of my favourite episodes of the whole show. It's a little slice of a different imagining of Buffy, how it might have been if Whedon was a grittier, darker writer.

Day 22. Best Xander-centric episode. Xander doesn't have that many episodes to be centric in, does he? I think The Zeppo from Season 3 because Xander gets to take care of himself and learns that he can. The Triangle is fun too, but I'm not sure it's really Xander-centric.

Day 23. Two characters you wanted to get together that never did. Spike and Faith. That would have been hot. And also Joyce and Giles, even though they kind of did a bit in Bandcandy.

Day 24. Favourite example of 90's special effects. There's a training montage moment in When She Was Bad in Season 2, where it is clearly SMG's stunt double.

Monday, 2 August 2010

30 Days of Buffy meme - Part 3

Day 13. Favourite potential slayer. The potentials didn't really become individuals for me until Season 8, but I'm not really counting that. I'm going to go with Kennedy, mainly because she's the only one I can remember.

Day 14. Favourite female villain. Faith. She rocks. If I was a female villain, I'd be Faith.

Day 15. Favourite male villain. Spike. Close runners up are Caleb and the Mayor.

Day 16. Episode you like that everyone else hates. Well, I'm not sure that I know what episodes everyone else hates. A few people seem not to like Dead Man's Party, which I quite enjoyed.

Day 17. Character you relate to the most. Faith, definitely. For a lot of the time she was deeply unhappy and, particularly at the time it was on tv, I was pretty unhappy too. She takes independence to a paranoid extreme and I get why. Possibly not to quite the same extent.

Day 18. Character who didn't get enough screen time. Faith! Or possibly Caleb. Or Cordelia, she was hilarious, and I was gutted when Season 4 opened and she wasn't in it. As I remember I had to wait a week to find out she was in Angel.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Thoughts on reading: Twilight

People have had lots to say about Twilight by Stephanie Meyer. I probably wouldn't have picked this up if I hadn't read so much criticism of it and it got to the point where I really wanted to know what all the fuss was about.

While I do subscribe to the view that all published fiction has something good about it, I recognise there are levels and types of goodness within that. So, in comparison to other published fiction that I have read, is Twilight any good? Surprisingly, it is. I wasn't expecting that.

Plot-wise, there's not much to it. Aside from Edward and Bella the characters are pretty lifeless. Bella's friends and family are ciphers and she doesn't seem to like them much. Edward's family are more vivid, in the sense that I know what they're supposed to look like, but by the end only Alice has a distinct personality. Edward and Bella are more fleshed out, especially Bella as the book is in first person from her POV. I can't say I found either Edward or Bella particularly likeable. It's an easy read; it's 434 pages and I got through it in less than four hours.

The description of setting is variable; natural settings are brought out well with good writing but the town and buildings are vague and somewhat sketchy. Weather is also done well. The dialogue is ok, although Meyer is overly found of expressive dialogue tags, of which I think I found 'snickered' the most irritating. In fact, both Bella and Edward do quite a lot of snickering and chuckling and it is part of what contributes to making them unlikeable.

Yet, Twilight has something. By page forty, I was so engrossed I nearly missed my stop on the train and that doesn't happen often. The relationship between Bella and Edward starts off in a standard Mills & Boon format. Edward starts off as angry boner man directing a violent and unpredictable temper at Bella. Then, about half way through, he 'fesses up. Edward opens up and reveals that his anger stems from his insecurities. He still is a bit of a dick, but not so much as he was shaping up to be.

The romance between them is the intensely emotional yet virginal kind that you only experience as a teenage. This isn't a young girl seduced by an older man, it is two teenagers experiencing first love. Edward may be a 100-year old vampire but in this respect he is a seventeen year old boy. There is a bit of touching, face, neck and arms only, four kisses with no tongue, and that's it. Yet, it is so sexy. The passion between them is overwhelming and in the end that's what pulls you in.

The writing is ok (it generally gets better towards the end), neither plot or character are compelling, but the relationship is absorbing. Twilight is good; it's not great, but it's not awful either.

Saturday, 31 July 2010

30 Days of Buffy Meme - Part 2

Day 7. Least favourite male character. Oz. Just didn't get him. He didn't seem to add much to the mix except as Willow's love interest, and both Kennedy and Tara were more interesting.

Day 8. Favourite friendship. Not sure about this, because it's not something I paid too much attention to. I think I'm going to go with Buffy and Willow because it's played out over the most time and explores the way friendship has to adapt when life circumstances change.

Day 9. Favourite romance. Buffy and Spike. Okay, it was dysfunctional and not very romantic, but Buffy was more interesting when she was with Spike. I wished the writers would let her get off her moral high horse and enjoy him.

Day 10. Least favourite season. Season 1. It just doesn't have the depth the rest of the cycle does. From Season 2 onwards you can see the whole story arc that results in the Season 7 finale, or at least you can if you've watched all the Seasons in an epic Buffy marathon, as I have, (several times). I remember not liking Seasons 5 and 6 all that much when they first aired, but when watched as part of a whole I gained a whole new appreciation of them. Season 7 couldn't have happened without the storylines of Seasons 5 and 6. Season 1 sits outside of that grand arc. Also, it has some really annoying episodes (and one or two good ones).

Day 11. Least favourite romance. Willow and Oz. Didn't get the chemistry, thought Willow could have done better.

Day 12. Least favourite episode. The Puppet Show.

Friday, 30 July 2010

30 Days of Buffy meme - Part 1

I love Buffy. So I'm going to do this much more quickly than thirty days. Five posts, six days each.

Day 1. Favourite season. Season 2. It's the season when everything really kicks into gear. Season 1 was essentially a pilot and it's not until Season 2 that Buffy settles down. Plus, we meet Spike and Drusilla, and Angelus (so much better when he's bad). It has some of my favourite episodes and is probably the most fun of all the Seasons.

Day 2. Favourite episode. Oh, this is more difficult. I love School Hard and Halloween in Season 2; Bandcandy and Doppelgangland in Season 3; Fear, Itself, Beer Bad and A New Man in Season 4; Same Time, Same Place, Selfless and Showtime from Season 7. How to choose? I think, by a very narrow margin, I choose Showtime.

Day 3. Favourite song used in an episode. Another tricky one! The soundtrack is one of the reasons I love the show. For me, music can make an average film/show great (Pirates of the Caribbean) or be a reason I can't connect with it (Battlestar Galactica). On balance, my favourite Buffy song is Lucky by Bif Naked from The Harsh Light of Day in Season 4.

Day 4. Favourite female character. Faith. Hands down. Eliza Dushku is very watchable and Faith is a great character. I love her when she's bad, when she's hurting and when's she trying to be better.

Day 5. Least favourite female character. Professor Maggie Walsh. Although Season 4 had some great episodes in it, I didn't like Adam and the Initiative as the Big Bad and I didn't like Maggie Walsh.

Day 6. Favourite male character. Spike. Who doesn't love Spike? Mmm, Spike. Even neutered, he was still fun which is more than can be said for Angel.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Thoughts on reading: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

July's bookclub book was We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. This is a weird little book about two women who live in seclusion in the family home after one of them has killed the rest of the family.

I liked the style of the book. The language was quite poetic and magical. There was a sense of unreality as we were viewing the world through the point of view of a narrator with, probably, mental illness. The setting was given richness and depth by the lushness of the language. Merricat's mental and emotional life is vividly realised; the scenes where the villagers express their fear and hate are moving and her desire to be safe is understandable.

What was frustrating was the amount of the story that was kept from the reader. I wanted to know what had happened, why the villagers hated them, why the girl had killed her family. But I'm the sort of person that likes to understand things, to know why, and I think that probably says more about me as a reader. Thinking as a writer, I can see that it is tempting to include everything you know about a story, and what power Jackson gives her novella by witholding so much information.

I'm not sure I enjoyed reading this - it is literary fiction after all - but it was very well written and there's lots to learn from it.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Thoughts on reading: A Game of Thrones

A Game of Thrones by G.R.R. Martin is book one of A Song of Ice and Fire which features in my top ten favourite books of all time. This is the third time I've read it and this time I was able to get past the awe and look at the writing. Well, sometimes. There was still a lot of awe; I love this book and its sequels. I can't wait for the next one, A Dance of Dragons, and I can't wait for the HBO series coming next year.

So, getting over the love, what did I notice about the writing? First of all, there's a lot of backstory in the early chapters. It's very tightly related to the story of the novel and is actually quite sparing. There's enough to create the sense of a large world with a rich history, without overwhelming current events. It's usually done a few sentences at a time to add detail but occasionally, one of the POV characters spends a few pages reminiscing. There are two things that I think makes this amount of backstory work. One, chapters are organised by POV and there are a lot of POV characters. This means that each character can give a bit of backstory relevant to them and that past events can be perceived differently by different people. The reader gets to piece together backstory from several versions of the same event. The second thing is that the backstory stays relevant to the POV character. They only tell the reader what matters to them. Every piece of exposition is doing at least two jobs; it's adding backstory as well as giving characterisation or world building.

The other thing that Martin does really well is characters. His POV characters are great but one expects that. It's the little characters, the ones that only appear once or twice, the ones that only have a tiny role. They are invested with as much personality and uniqueness as any of the main characters. There is not one that is a cardboard, cookie-cutter character.

He also has a lot of description in the novel. His locations are vividly realised. Again, this information isn't dropped on us in one lump. Each character has something to say about where they are which builds up to a detailed, solid setting. The description is put to work to support characterisation and theme. I noticed that I tend to skip over description as a reader, as I want to get to the action, so I tried to slow down and pay attention to the descriptive writing. It's made me think a lot about how I can improve that in my work-in-progress.

All in all, this is a masterpiece, from one of the greatest fantasy writers there is. I loved it as much the third time round as I did the first time. I can't recommend it highly enough.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Book mountain

I've just tidied up the books on my to-read bookcase (which overflows on to a second bookcase). I have 229 books to read. At a very generous two books per week that's going to take me over four years to get through, if I don't buy another book until it's done.

This morning I was killing time in Waterstone's and came out with a long list of books I want to read. There seems to be so much new fantasy out that looks really good, and of course there are the many classics I haven't read yet. Perhaps I just need to accept that I'm going to be climbing this mountain for a many, many years. Perhaps I should look into additional shelving.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

Thoughts on reading: The Bluest Eye

I discovered I could edit on the train so I wasn't reading for a while. I've got as far as I can with editing the current work-in-progress; it now needs more writing and I can't do that on the train quite so well. That does mean I'm reading again which is no bad thing as active reading leads to better writing.

The Bluest Eye is Toni Morrison's first novel. I wanted to read it as it deals with the impact of cultural conceptions on beauty on people who don't, and can't ever, be beautiful on those narrow terms. And Toni Morrison is an important writer whose work I haven't before read.

In the introduction to the edition of The Bluest Eye that I had, Morrison talked about what she had tried to achieve and how she felt that she'd failed. She'd tried to tell the story of a person who is smashed by rejection, who had no self from which to speak because she had internalised the dismissal and hate. To do this, she used a variety of voices to relate a number of incidents that build up to a picture of the child that results. Morrison doesn't feel she succeeded. As I don't know what she was trying to do, I can't say, but it seems to me that what she wrote was exceptional.

What I particularly took from this novel was the way in which Morrison manages to convey accent and rhythm of speaking with word choice and sentence structure. She doesn't rely on dialect spellings to give her characters authentic voices, meaning the reader doesn't need to work out how things are supposed to sound. She uses words that were contemporary to 1950's Black America and structures her sentences in ways that mimic the rhythm of this type of speech. She allows the world of the novel to be built up quickly without distracting the reader from the story.

The second learning point for me was around structure. The novel has four sections which correspond to the seasons and in each section a part of the story is told by a number of different characters. It isn't chronological for the seasons aren't necessarily in the same year. Each event adds another layer to the story of the life of a child until you see just how brutalised she is, and just how unintentional most of it was.

In her introduction, Morrison says that few people were moved by The Bluest Eye - I certainly was.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

I Write Like

I Write Like is an hilarious widget which analyzes your writing and gives you a comparison to a famous author. I tried it a few times and my results were:
  • paragraphs from a business email - H.P. Lovecraft. I may have to think about how I'm writing to my colleagues!
  • paragraphs from the brand new opening scene of my work in progress (which I think is pretty good) - Dan Brown. Mixed feelings about this. On the one hand he sells loads, so yay. On the other, lots of people think he's not that good, but I haven't read so can't comment. On balance, I think I'll take it as a compliment.
  • paragraphs from the first draft of a fantasy short story I wrote a couple of months ago - James Fenimore Cooper. Well, I loved Last of the Mohicans.

Very amusing. What do you get?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Online Etymology Dictionary

Under the category of things that I love is the Online Etymology Dictionary. It tells you where words come from and when they were first used. With words that have several senses, it lists when the word first acquired each meaning.

I always have in mind that Bernard Cornwell said he tried to only use words that would have been in use in the early 19th century when he was writing the Sharpe novels. Large parts of my work in progress are set in the 18th century and if a word sounds quite modern to me, then I'll check it.

Besides, I just love words :-)

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The ten books that mean the most to me

Identify ten books that have meant the most to you over your reading lifetime. These are not necessarily great literature or important or best-selling, just the one's that have stuck in your mind and won't let go. Mine are (in no particular order):

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Prozac Nation by Elizabeth Wurtzel
The Misplaced Legion by Harry Turtledove
The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
My Sweet Audrina by Virginia Andrews
Jerusalem Fire by R M Meluch
A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin (technically this is a series)
The Hammer and the Cross by Harry Harrison
Posession by A S Byatt
Elric of Melnibone by Michael Moorcock

There are others that might have made it on to this list: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel; The Player of Games by Iain M Banks; The Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman (another series where it's hard to say a single book had an impact on me that the others didn't); A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter; and The Winter King by Bernard Cornwell. They didn't but it was a hard choice. And there are many, many other books that I've loved.

Most of these books (not all) I read when I was a teenager and I have wondered if their hold on me was because I read them at such an emotionally charged time. However I've re-read Wuthering Heights and Elric of Melnibone recently, and their power is not rooted in time. It is in the books themselves. I fell in love with them all over again.

This is an exercise from the excellent Novelist's Essential Guide to Creating Plot by J Madison Davis. The point is to see what the plots of these books might have in common and thus discover what kind of plot you might be good at writing. While I go off to do that, what are the books that are most important to you?

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Thoughts on reading: The Hard Way

Plot. I have issues with plot. I have a mental block when it comes to getting my characters from one big event to another via smaller events. Perhaps it's just a confusion, a lack of being able to see the big picture, and the plot really is there and I just can't see it. If it is there, it won't be because I did it deliberately.

With this in mind, I picked up The Hard Way by Lee Child. It's heavy on plot, one of those thrillers that's all plot and not much else. In actual fact, it's more of a detective novel with the emphasis on gathering the little clues and interpreting them to fnd out what really happened. The ending is sufficiently explosive with Jack Reacher dispatching the bad guys at a breakneck pace that makes it rather exciting.

Characterisation is on the light side. This is the second Jack Reacher novel I've read and I don't think I know him any better than I did after reading the first one. The rest of the characters are fairly thin. The bad guys are bad and several of the seven-man crew have only names and a couple of physical features to describe them. Reacher hooks up with an ex-FBI agent turned PI, who is a woman in her fifties given an active role and is the love interest, so kudos to Lee Child for a positive, powerful representation of an older woman. Unfortunately, her role is limited to being a foil for Reacher and at the end she is tied up waiting to be rescued.

It is good to see that there isn't a high body count amongst the female characters, and a theme of strong sisters fighting for their families runs through the book. It is done rather unsubtly but is a nice touch in a genre that is often misogynistic. There is also a drop of social commentary on the privatisation of the defence and security industries. It's not great literature, but it is fun and is better than several thrillers I've read recently.

In non-fiction I turned for help to The Plot Thickens by Noah Lukeman. I got this because it was mentioned by a panelist at alt.fiction 2010 and I have been worrying about plot lately. It has some useful suggestions in it and a couple of things I hadn't read before, so it was worth it's purchase. What I didn't like was the highly gendered use of pronouns when talking about characterisation techniques. At the beginning, Lukeman says he will use he as a generic term, which is lazy at best, but ok. Except that's not what he does. He sometimes uses he and sometimes uses she. If he had just alternated that would have been ok, but he doesn't. He only uses she when talking about things that are associated with women in traditional gender stereotypes and never uses she outside of talking about children, attractiveness and domesticity. Grating, and enough to spoil the book, especially as it was written in 2001.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Podcasts from alt.fiction 2010

Some sessions at alt.fiction 2010 were done as podcasts. They are being posted weekly on the alt.fiction website. So far they have two; Dark Fantasy vs Horror and An Audience with Ramsey Campbell and Stephen Jones.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Thoughts on reading: One Day

Book club time! This month we read One Day by David Nicholls. It's mainstream fiction of the Nick Hornby type.

I don't really know what to say about this. The writing was amazing. It was so deft, assured and done with such a light touch that I was left feeling very disappointed that this talent was wasted on such a dull story. Nicholls is a great writer. One Day is not a great book.

I quite like the concept of it. One Day tells the story of a twenty year relationship via one day (the same day) per year. Again, Nicholls ability to sketch the characters in a couple of scenes that show a year's worth of growth and change, without info dump or exposition, is exceptional. But the story is a fairly pedestrian romance between two characters that aren't very interesting or likeable. I spent the book wishing Nicholls was writing sci-fi or fantasy.

The end of the book was also disappointing. One of the characters dies. It's really abrupt and there's no foreshadowing, which could be interpreted as an admirable commitment to realism or as the only way to avoid the dreary slide into domesticity that seemed so inevitable. I'm going for the latter. Give it a miss, unless you want to admire the technical skill.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Thoughts on reading: The Broken Sword

So, I'm making my way through the Fantasy Masterworks series - this is going to take some time, bear with me - and lately I read The Broken Sword by the prolific Poul Anderson. It's number 32 of 50; obviously I'm not doing this in order. For the record I've already read numbers 13, 17, and 22.

The Broken Sword is inspired by Norse myths and is set amongst Vikings, elves, trolls, Aesir and Jotuns. The writing style is brilliantly archaic. There were a couple of points where I thought Anderson was making words up and he's certainly not shy of turning nouns into adjectives or verbs. Every word works to create the rhythm and feeling of myth. The words are strange and alien which is fitting for a story set in a strange and alien world.

I don't think the plot was lifted directly from myth but it follows a familiar path to its tragic end. Despite the unusual language I found this an easy read and the pace was quite fast. Characterisation was done with quite a broad brush, with more tell than show, but in this case I feel that was dictated by the constraints of the style. Because it was told as myth, then characters were described as mythological characters - many of whom would be familiar from other tales in the Norse mythology.

I really enjoyed this and it is very different from contemporary fantasy. Worth a read.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Thoughts on reading: Club Dead

The Book People come to where I work and sometimes you can gets lots of books for little money. The last time they had eight Sookie Stackhouse novels for a tenner. Even taking off the two I've already bought, it was still a bargain, so here I am, reading more pulp fiction.

Club Dead by Charlaine Harris is the third in the series. Like the others there is something compelling about it but I can't put my finger on what. The writing is ok; it's not great but worse gets published.

Sookie's overwhelming attraction for the supernatural men around her is tiresome. She's so special and different (undefinably, because it's not about her telepathy for all them) that they just have to have her. Of course she says regular men find her unattractive but there aren't actually any in the books. In Club Dead, Sookie is angry with Bill for cheating on her, but she doesn't know that for sure, and she goes off to rescue him anyway. Along the way, she smooches with Eric and a werewolf without managing to pick up any understanding for Bill. Reversing the double standard doesn't make it better.

I don't think I can even read it as sex positive, because Sookie doesn't have agency. She is at the mercy of passion, swept along by the force of male desire, unable to help herself. And that's why it's not sex positive. Sookie isn't having these encounters because she is choosing them, she's having them because she is unable to resist. Which just reinforces negative stereotypes about women and sex.

Of course, for all its many faults, it is a great story that is an easy read. And there is no doubt I will read the rest, probably soon. I'm not sure why I like them, and I feel slightly soiled, but I do like them. Can anyone explain it to me?

Non-fiction titles I've been reading are The Gods of the Celts by Miranda Green and Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture and the Body by Susan Bordo. Gods of the Celts was really interesting, if a little dry. The evidence is largely archaeological and the Celts didn't leave behind any written explanation of their own, so inferences must be carefully done. It was fascinating and represented a take on religion that is different to the current dominant paradigm. Unbearable Weight was awesome. It is a collection of Bordo's essays on feminism and the cultural aspects of eating disorders. Highly recommended and for a serious academic work, very accessible.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Words: Ruth

I use the word ruthless quite a bit and the other day I was wondering whether there was such a word as ruth, so that one could be absent of it. In one of those marvellously serendipitous coincidences a couple of days later my Word of the Day was 'ruth'.

It means compassion or pity; sorrow or grief; or contrition, remorse. It's a lovely word that deserves more use.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Thoughts on Reading: Confessor

Confessor is the last of a long cycle by Terry Goodkind. Once again, I haven't read the others; it's just something I found on my shelf.

I enjoyed the writing. There was extensive philosophical dialogue that was nicely handled. It made me realised that my characters tend to talk in short, clipped bursts, trading swifts sentences back and forth. I think I could mix it up a bit and include some longer bits.

Goodkind also uses a lot of interior monologue. It occasionally borders on info dump, if that term can be used for emotional/intellectual exploration. Again, something that needs expanding in my own writing and this offers a good example of how to do it.

On the other hand, it is quite a violent book - one of the themes is the use of violence and where it might be appropriate, in 'just' wars, for example - and quite a bit of the violence is sexualised. Goodkind appears to be making the point that violence against women is bad and is labouring it somewhat. What that does mean is that there are many female characters playing a variety of roles, which is good for representation of women.

So, I liked this. The writing was good and the ideas were thought provoking. I will go back and start at the beginning of the cycle.

In non-fiction, I read Buy-ology by Martin Lindstrom. It's ok. I bought it thinking it would be quite heavyweight, but it wasn't. It's a good introduction to advertising techniques if that's new to you.

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Reflections on alt.fiction 2010

Wow, what a difference two years makes. I've just got back from alt.fiction 2010 and it was thought-provoking and inspiring.

I went to alt.fiction 2008 and it was a fun event. I met some people and learnt some things about writing and getting published, but it wasn't such an amazing experience that I was keen to come back again. The organisation and sessions had an amateurism that doesn't appeal to me. I have some experience in professional event organisation, which may make me harsher than others, and the little things are important to the overall impression of the day. We all have our quirks, right?

2009 didn't happen. I know what the reasons were; I think it had to do with funding and logistical support. Given an extra year, and the fact that I have friends in Derby, I thought it would be fun to go again. I wasn't expecting too much.

This time round both the organisation and panels were better. The event seemed smoother and there were plenty of helpful staff on hand to keep things under control. The panellists (many of whom were the same as 2008) stepped up to the smarter venue and better organisation. The disucssions were erudite and intelligent and I was inspired by the conversations. It reminded me that there's nothing that's more fun than talking about books and writing, especially specultative fiction.

I couldn't attend every session. From what I did attend, this is what I'm taking away with me:
  • Writing can be a career. You have to decide what you want from it and treat it in the same way you would any other career.
  • A web presence is essential.
  • Chasing the market doesn't work. Write what you need to write - the market will catch up with you.
  • I have so much reading to do...

I'm definitely going next year. Maybe by then I'll have worked up the courage to talk to a publisher about my novel.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Jarka Ruus

As I'm working my way through my enormous pile of unread books, which is not getting any smaller as I keep adding to it, not that I have some sort of addiction to buying books, I'm reading books that are in a series where I haven't read the first one. The first of these is Jarka Ruus by Terry Brooks. It's the first in the High Druid of Shannara trilogy which is part of the larger Shannara cycle and I've not read any of the others.

Still, the large amounts of exposition in the book mean that doesn't matter too much. The plot, loosely, is that a very powerful sorceress is trapped in a shadow world of extreme evil and her teenaged nephew and his sidekicks have to rescue her. Not a complex plot, but well handled it could have been very good. As it was, I found myself unhappy with the trope that small boy rescues grown woman as a coming of age rite of passage. The sorceress, Grianne, is supposed to be the most fearsome magic user in the world and yet her part in the story seems mostly to be standing around waiting.

I didn't find the dialogue convincing; it felt too contemporary, too familiarly colloquial. The characterisation was a bit ropey and the characters didn't really seem to have any depth to them Overall, I didn't enjoy this and I don't think I'll be picking up any more.

Monday, 17 May 2010

Does lots of sex scenes mean bad books?

I was reading 'The "Tyranny of Sex" in the Saudi Novel over at MuslimahMediaWatch today and it got me thinking about sex and writing, or more specifically, writing sex scenes. While the MuslimahMediaWatch article is more focussed on reflecting on Saudi society, this caught my eye:
It was government cultural head Mahmoud Al-Watan who complained of "the
tyranny of sex in the Saudi novel," saying it falls to those without talent to
slap some sex on to the page and "call it a novel"
Which got me thinking about Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins and the bonkbuster novels of the eighties that I devoured. Now, I'm not going to argue that these books were great literature - that would be too contrarian even for me - but I do think they occupied an important place at an important time.
Most of us don't have that many sexual partners according to my highly unscientific analysis of all the people I've ever known that have told me anything about their sex lives. Either you are sexually adventurous (caveat: this includes all varieties of motivation, postive or negative) or you tend to have had roughly the same number of partners as you've had relationships, and
for most people that number seems to be between five and fifteen.
My point is that most of us don't learn about sex by doing it with lots of different people. For me, reading glamourous, sexy novels as a teenager was exciting and a large part of that was reading the sex scenes. Proper erotica just seemed too daunting: too hard to get hold of, and harder to defend if someone were to question your choice of reading material. So Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins et al were a window on to the adult world of sex without the danger of getting into something you couldn't handle.
It gave us an idea of what good sex could be like. Despite raunch culture and the ever-present sexual objectification of women, there is still an undercurrent of socialisation that insists women don't and shouldn't enjoy sex; that sex is really for men. Bonkbusters can be an antidote to this where they show women enjoying sex. They showed us how amazing it could be how good it could feel. Having had sex of varying qualities, I don't think these depictions of sex were unattainable or fantastic. Sex can be as fun, exciting and fulfilling as the novels. And maybe more men should read them...
Storytelling is the way we share our interpretations of the world we live in. If Saudi novelists are writing about sex that's because it's vital to life and maybe it's a little bit because it is reflecting how their society is changing.
The quote above rolls out the stereotypical connection between bad writing and lots of sex scenes. While it may be true that much erotica is poorly written, and it may be true that a thin plot can be padded out with sex scenes (not that I've ever done that myself, you understand), it is undeniably true that writing sex scenes is difficult. The Bad Sex in Fiction Award annually proves that all sorts of writers - the good, the bad and the indifferent - flounder when it comes to describing sex on the page. There is a lot of potential for getting it wrong.
There are also lots of writers getting it right. There are stories which have moments when having sex is absolutely the thing that your characters would do, and showing it to your reader demonstrates something about their relationship that is important. I can think of a number of books I've read recently in which the sex scenes were great. So, no, lots of sex scenes doesn't equal bad writing.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Tess of the d'Urbervilles

Back to the classics. Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy is probably one of the most famous stories of english literature. The story follows the eponymous heroine as she is coming of age. She is seduced and ruined by one man, rejected by another when she discloses her shame and then further manipulated by the first until she kills him.

This was a great book, a classic that firmly deserves to be there. For a novel of it's age, the authorial voice is muted and much more of the characters is to the fore. Characterisation is subtle and effective. The hard struggle of life of someone in Tess' position is made clear without labouring the point.

Naturally, the pivotal event in the first third of the book largely happens off-scene and leads to the question - is it rape? It is never described as such but I can't help feeling that that's because rape is defined as 'violent stranger-danger' and what happens to Tess is more like acquaintance rape. According to Wikipedia, as the event happens off-stage it leaves the reader to decide whether she was raped or seduced. To me this sounds like 'either she was violently raped or she willingly (enthusiastically) participated'. My reading of the story was that she was pressurised and manipulated; her class, poverty and social conditioning were used against her to wear her down - plus, she's asleep when Alec d'Urberville starts on her. Throughout the book Tess is painfully conscious of how she is being manipulated but unable to find a way through it.

Later in the book, when Tess has been abandoned by Angel Clare, Alec d'Urberville's behaviour becomes abusive. He targets her and holds her responsible for his actions. Her very existence is the thing that he claims compels him to act and Hardy neatly describes a consummate piece of victim-blaming.

This is a fantastic book with many levels and written with great intelligence and empathy. Highly recommended!

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I bought The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson on the strength of the marketing, the fact that I saw everyone reading it and loads of people said it was good. Normally, I ignore that sort of mass trend but something about this book made me buy it despite its popularity.

It was good, although perhaps not as good as I'd been told. In fairness, it is a thriller and is very much better than much of the genre - but I don't think a novel should be judged only by the relative standards of its genre. The story is of a journalist hired to investigate a forty year old unsolved murder and in doing so uncovers a serial killer going quietly about his business.

The elements of writing were largely well handled; characterisation and dialogue were definitely a cut above the norm of the genre although I doubt they would stand out in broader comparisons. Plotting was also good. The sense of place was strong and all senses were brought to bear in creating the novel's world. Sweden seems more real to me now.

Where it fell down a bit was in pacing. This is not a roller-coaster ride filled with thrills and spills. For the first half of the book, which is over 500 pages so that's for a good 250 pages, I was waiting for it to get going. There was a lot of exposition in the first half, delivered to the reader in short but frequent info-dumps. The authorial voice interfered a little at the start as well making the info-dumps read in a slightly different tone.

Once past the mid-way hump, the pace picks up, there's a lot more action and it builds up into an excellent ending. This is the first of a trilogy and I will happily pick up the second and third books.

Friday, 30 April 2010

The Reason of Things

As it's been a while since I was posting regularly, I've gotten a bit out of order with the books I've read and for several reasons it's been a non-fiction heavy month. Other books read in April include:

The Reason of Things by A. C. Grayling. This is a collection of philosophical essays about values (mostly). It is accessible and enjoyable to read. I found it thought-provoking and interesting. Grayling is an atheist, left leaning liberal and I find most of what he says eminently sensible.

Living with a Long Term Illness by Frankie Campling and Michael Sharpe. This was a helpful book that talked about how long term illnesses are different from acute illnesses and how to cope with that. It covered physical, emotional and mental factors, how to become an expert, how to have a more effective relationship with your doctor and a few other points. I found it helpful. I'm not adjusting well to having a long term illness and this helped me shift my thinking.

Dark Side of the Light Chasers by Debbie Ford. I picked this up because I'm going on one of Debbie Ford's workshops in May. It was good. It helped me move my shadow work on a step. There are lots of exercises I haven't done yet (who does??) but I actually think I might go back and do some of them.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Living Dead in Dallas

I was going to leave Living Dead in Dallas by Charlaine Harris, the second Sookie Stackhouse novel, until True Blood Season 2 was on but I forgot until I was actually reading it. No matter, from what I've read about season 2 I think True Blood is going in a different direction.

Which is good because Living Dead in Dallas starts with the death of Lafayette and it would be terrible if True Blood lost that character.

Anyway, on to the book. It was as readable as the first book and I actually thought the writing showed improvement. On the other hand, I didn't think the voice of Sookie Stackhouse was as strong as it had been in Dead until Dark. It is still in first person POV and the supporting cast still has a cardboard cut out feel.

Sookie's relationships with the vampires Bill and Eric are deeply problematic. The trope of male desire being dangerous and uncontrollable is front and centre. Indeed it is male desire that kills Lafayette. Sookie spends a lot of time thinking about how her appearance affects the men around her and what they like to see her in. The feminism that was evident in Dead until Dark has been dropped for this second book.

It was ok. Better than the first one in some respects, not as good in others. I'm looking forward to True Blood in the summer.

Getting to Yes by Roger Fisher, William Ury and Bruce Patton is about principled negotiation. It's about applying fairness and ethics in negotiations, gives advice about how to deal with aggressive negotiation and is full of handy examples. It's an old book and has been quite influential, so while reading it, I had a sense of having heard it all before. There's no harm in repetition with these things though and the Q&A section at the back was very useful in illustrating application. Highly recommended.

Monday, 26 April 2010


April's Book Club book was Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.

It wasn't my cup of tea. I was bored reading it and it felt like a chore. But that wasn't because of the skill or talent on display, both of which were impressive. It was more about the subject matter. The novel is about a young Irish girl who emigrates to the US in the '50s. It's character driven and I like plot-heavy novels.

There were some enjoyable moments. There is a particularly visceral depiction of the effects of sea sickness which I thought stood out as a single instance of colour and physicality. For me this was the best scene in the book. Throughout the novel the heroine's relationships are characterised by a complete inability to express emotion. It was deftly portrayed. The heroine's mother, especially, had a habit of saying the opposite of what she thought. The isolating and distancing effect that this has was captured and I found that moving. Towards the end, the heroine is expected to give up her future to return home and pressured is applied through a brother's letter and through the weight of expectation on the part of neighbours. Because, of course that's what a woman should do.

Aside from that, the heroine is largely passive. What happens to her seems to happen without any agency or passion on her part and I found it difficult to identify with her. There was no sense that she wanted to be with either of the men she was given - and I've no doubt that's what the author intended - and I couldn't see how she would go along with it. I'm sure that many women of the time would have behaved and felt just that way, but I didn't like her for it.

In terms of the technique of writing, this novel is quite deft. The characterisation is excellent and the author shows you who they are through their actions and words. I always had the sense that what I was reading was what the author intended me to read. The sense of isolation through not knowing what people were thinking or feeling was strongly conveyed through a slight dissonance of words and actions, through body language, and through knowledge gained later in a second hand way. All techniques that can be put to good use.

If you like character-driven fiction this is a well written and subtle book. Not enough dramatics and/or silliness for my tastes.

In non-fiction, I picked up Survival of the Sickest by Sharon Moalem. The theory is that some of the most lethal diseases that humans are prone to must have had an evolutionary benefit in the past or they would have been naturally de-selected. It's a highly readable book and the theory is certainly plausible. Well worth a look.

Sunday, 25 April 2010


Phew, it's been a while. Partly it's because I've been travelling and partly it's because I'm sick.

The travel is a short term thing. I went to Athens on holiday. That was lovely. I really liked Athens and the Acropolis was amazing. Then I ended up in Abu Dhabi because of erupting volcanos.

The sick is more of a long term thing. I get very tired and I only have energy for a limited amount of things. Sometimes I prioritise blog writing and sometimes I don't. Lately I haven't been. I would really like that to be different, but I don't know how realistic that hope is.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010


Target by Simon Kernick is an easy read. It's a fast-paced thriller and is fairly typical of the genre. There were a few noteworthy things about it.

Firstly, loads of people died. I know it was a thriller about a psychotic hitman, but still. It did feel like there was a bit of red-shirt syndrome going on; any new character introduced was likely to be dead shortly.

Secondly, there were only two female characters, one of which was the kidnap victim and who never gets any screentime. The other was a detective who start off with a good role, gets kidnapped and it seems like she's waiting to be rescued. In the end, she rescues herself which I was happy to see but for a long while she was taken out of the story. Also the violence against the two female characters was depressingly sexualised.

And lastly, the author killed off the first person narrator. He's not the only POV character and I question the use of both first and third person POVs in the novel; it's somewhat disjointed. This was a surprise and I found it a brave move. It was thoughtprovoking but I'm not sure how I feel about it. The fact that the antagonist had killed so many characters by this point did contribute to a response of 'oh really, another killing?'

Anyway, it was ok. Problematic in places and patchy technique, but good in the things that make a good thriller. I might pick up another of Kernick's books next time I'm looking for brain candy floss.

Then I read Hawkwood: Diabolical Englishman by Frances Stonor Saunders which is the biography of a fourteenth century mercenary, Sir John Hawkwood. It was less biography than an exploration of a moment in time hung around the structure of one man's life. It was fascinating.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Vile Bodies

Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh is a delight. It follows the activities of the 'it' crowd in the late nineteen-twenties. They are the sons and daughters of the rich and famous. It's funny and in places it's tragic. In contrast to The Left Hand of Darkness, the writing was quite terse and restrained, but it was equally powerful. I liked it and will definitely read more Waugh.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Left Hand of Darkness

I put The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin up for my book club to read. There was a point before I'd read it where I was getting worried that it would be really hard going, because two people had given up on it only a few pages in.

But I have two hours of commute and I was determined to see it through to the end. As I am quite interested in gender representations in literature and keen to avoid problematic stereotypes in my own writing, I felt that this was an important book to read. Le Guin sends a male protagonist, Genly Ai, as an ambassador to a world in which people are not defined by gender. Each person has a monthly cycle in which they are sexually active for about a quarter of the time and pairings change into male/female pairings depending on the interaction of hormones between them. Every person will be male sometimes and every person will be female sometimes. Every person will be both father and mother.

The first third of the book is hard going. There is fantastic depth to Le Guin's worldbuilding and there's a lot to take in. The narrator of this section, Genly Ai, is also highly unreliable, although that doesn't become clear until later in the book. While reading it I was disturbed by the judgements Ai was making, in particular the negative qualities he clearly identified with the female. The book was written in the late sixties and reflects a very stark correlation of masculinity and positivity. I'd like to think that is less true today, but perhaps it's just less boldly stated.

Anyway, the world that Ai is visiting is split into nations and there comes a point at which Ai goes to another nation. Here the book changes. Another character, Estraven, becomes a POV character. Through Estraven's eyes we see things differently and realise just how unreliable Ai is as a narrator. The pace of the story picks up and in the last half is quite the adventure story.

I was awed by Le Guin's worldbuilding. Her world is worked up from the bottom meaning that everything is different and new and we can't make any assumptions. After having read so many fantasies lately where the worldbuilding has been quite superficial, this was both inspiring and intimidating! The writing is wonderful; I really enjoyed the lush, detailed language. The characterisation is subtle and effective. If was going to make any criticism it would be that the various voices could be more differentiated, but it's a tiny point. The Left Hand of Darkness is amazing; go and read it now.

For non-fiction I read A History of the World in Six Glasses by Tom Standage, which looks at beer, wine, spirits, coffee, tea and cola and their impact on society. It was entertaining, easy to read, and offered a unique way of looking at history. I learnt stuff I didn't know before which is really what I'm looking for.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Plotting with the Snowflake Method

Yesterday I spent the day on the work-in-progress which now, for the first time ever, has an ending. It also has a new front-runner for the title.

I've been writing quite a bit of new material and had reached a point where I needed to get organised and put all my stuff in order. As I've mentioned before, the fact that I struggle to plan stories bothers me. I'm a planner. I like planning for things and I feel much happier if I know I'm prepared. I enjoy planning so much that sometimes I plan things I've no intention of actually doing. But I can't plan a story. Maybe it comes from a totally different place in my brain. However, writing by the seat of my pants leaves me with a pile of material that is overwhelming and then I don't know where to go next.

So yesterday I decided to get myself sorted out and that meant googling a method of plotting. How do you do a plot? What does that look like? No idea. The first link I clicked on was the Snowflake Method, which I had heard of before, and came with quite detailed instructions. I spent the day writing several summaries, first generally and then for each of my three main characters. Clearly articulating in this way really helped and in the course of doing it I discovered what the ending of the novel needs to be.

This is no small matter. From the start I've had no idea how it would end. There have always been options and at some point I narrowed it down to three possible endings. Naturally, the right and perfect ending that I found today is not one of those three options. I feel like lots of things have slid into place today. As added bonuses I have another idea for the title (I find titles so hard to come up with) and I have a good basis for a query letter when the time comes.

The Snowflake Method has been very helpful. I don't think I could do it cold. Yesterday I was able to say what my characters wanted, were motivated by, and what got in their way only because I've spent so much time writing about them. But this hybrid of planning and seat of the pants writing seems to be working itself out. I only hope the next one doesn't take as long.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Priestess of the White

Priestess of the White by Trudi Canavan is not a small book. It's the first part of a trilogy and is a massive 650 pages. The first hundred or so of these pages made me feel that finishing it would be a chore. It didn't turn out to be, but I can't say it turned into a real page turner either.

Priestess of the White is an epic tale of religious war between the good White and the evil Black sorcerors from the south. Problematic. I tried very hard not to draw conclusions about who was supposed to be good and evil, but in the end I was left with the idea that the author was deliberately employing stereotypical symbolism. White equals good, kind, just, true and right. Black equals evil, trickery, cruelty, lies and wrongness. These days I'm not comfortable with these racist constructions.

Compounding this are the inevitable religious parallels. Again through the use of familiar symbolism White is associated with christianity (good) and Black with paganism (evil).

I don't know if this was deliberate on the part of the author or whether this was a case of lazy worldbuilding. Much fantasy is based on historial societies and transfers the insitutions, economics and social dynamics wholesale. Done well (e.g. The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch) this can provide a solid base for a recognisable and believable world. I think that a lot of care needs to be taken that the fantasy world is more than a thin veneer.

Done badly, it becomes hard for the reader to immerse themselves in the fantasy world. I was wondering if it was meant to be allegory and thinking that if it was, it wasn't clear what Canavan was trying to say.

Characterisation was okay, in some respects quite superficial but better than some stuff I've read recently. The same goes for the writing. It was unsophisticated but not the worst I've read lately. It did pick up as the story got going. By and large, Canavan avoided big chunks of exposition, which was nice. Overall, I felt that it lacked depth and in a book of this length that's a real problem.

I think I will read the rest of the trilogy at some point because there were some ambiguities in the ending that suggest that Canavan is preparing to subvert and confound the assumptions she's set up. I would really like to see that.

The non-fiction interlude was Mauve: How One Man Invented a Colour that Changed the World by Simon Garfield. This was fascinating, full of lots of interesting things to know and less of a biography than an exploration the impact of the discovery of synthetic colour.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Eleven Hours

Eleven Hours by Paullina Simons was my second pull from the book drop at the office. There was no non-fiction interlude between this and City of Beasts as I wasn't organised enough. The book drop doesn't contain vast amounts of books that I would jump at reading, so I just went for something lightweight and entertaining to tide me over until I got home to the collection of books that I desperately want to read. On the surface, Eleven Hours appeared to be a pretty standard thriller, heavy on plot, fast-paced, simple writing.

What a delightful surprise this book was. It is a fast paced, plot-heavy thriller and it is so much more. The characterisation was extremely skillfully done. The main character, Didi, endures an eleven hour abduction. I didn't like her much, but she was very real to me and behaved in exactly the way I thought such a woman would. Even down to the extent that when she was being taken from the car park with threats of violence she never actually said no. Because many women can't and don't say no.

Another main character was presented to us with a single mention of his race. I mention this because often it seems that the defining characteristic of black characters in books written by white authors is that they are black and the adjective is used constantly. It is a measure of how impressed I was by the writing in this book that I was disappointed when this character was introduced as 'a black man' and so I subsequently was alert for how many times that was used as an adjective. I was pleased to note that it wasn't.

I was also pleased with the ending. Although Didi's husband and an FBI agent are chasing after her to rescue her, ultimately Didi rescues herself and then gives birth unaided. Her efforts are nothing short of heroic and even though she is so passive in nature, Simons' writing is utterly convincing. I really enjoyed this.

This time I was prepared and my non-fiction interlude was The Work we are Born to Do by Nick Williams. This was lent to me by a friend years ago and I have often thought that I shouldn't have kept it so long. Well, I'm glad I did because I gained a lot from reading it.

Friday, 5 March 2010

City of Beasts

I haven't read Harry Potter. Sometimes it seems like I'm the only adult in the world that hasn't and the reason is that I'm not a child and therefore I don't read children's literature. Plus, I have an uncontrollable contrarian streak that prevents me from partaking in mass cultural crazes, which is why I don't have an ipod either.

Any how, sometimes it is really hard to tell what is YA and what isn't, especially if you're not in a bookshop where they've conveniently categorised everything for you. At my office there's a book drop where people can pick up and leave books. Handy when I unexpectedly finish a book on the way in and then have nothing left to read on my hour and a half commute home.

The first book I pulled out of the book drop was City of Beasts by Isabel Allende. On the whole, I enjoyed it very much but I found it took a while to get going. There's a fair bit of exposition at the beginning and the language often feels a little stilted. Once into it, it's a very engaging tale of a young boy travelling with his grandmother to the Amazon jungle and discovering a magical, strange city of beasts. It is quite fantastical and does raise the question about where the boundary between fantasy and magical realism lies. The structure is mythic and it has an old-fashioned feel about it - but in a way that is charming rather than patronising.

I googled the book because it's been a few weeks between reading it and getting round to posting here, and I discovered that this is Allende's first YA novel and that there are two sequels. I don't think I'll make an effort to read the sequels but I would certainly recommend it for teenagers.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Adventures in reading

It's been a while, but mainly because I've been writing a short story, so no apologies. Since I've been away I've cracked through lots of books and thus here comes a huge post.

Following on from the epic Martin Chuzzlewit I finished off Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein, one of the many half-read books lying around my house. It had some interesting material but there are better examples of this type of book out there.

Moving on from there I felt that I wanted something light, so I chose A Wicked Liaison by Christine Merrill. It's a Mills & Boon Historical Romance and quite far from my usual choice. I have it (and a few others) because my writing group did a workshop on writing for Mills & Boon and getting some examples was for follow up research. Anyway, I feel violated. On a content level, this offended me. On a writing level it does offer some interesting observations of what is missing from the book. What is there is well written, it's just that there is so much that is left out. There is very little world building (as it is set in Regency London). We are offered little in the way of description, hardly any smells, sounds or kinesthetic input. The book takes place completely in the mind and we are entirely caught up in the thoughts of the two protagonists. This does make it very intense but the inner monologues are quite repetitious. Ugh. Did not like.

My non-fiction interlude was Earth Path by Starhawk, which I loved.

Then, due to an unscheduled trip to Doncaster, I read February's book club book, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. It was an interesting style. The author chose a monologue for the whole book and the writing was wonderfully tight. What was there was very well done but, for me, the style made it distancing. It felt like an intellectual novel not an emotional one. Disappointing, because it could have been much more powerful.

After my unpleasant toe-dip in to romance, I felt a strong need to return to speculative fiction, in the form of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick. I find that Dick's novels are very much the fiction of ideas. I did notice lots of new words for not-so-new concepts and at one point it did feel a bit overwhelming. I loved the idea of stress being measured in units of Freuds. Having said that, the world-building was great. The book plays with the idea of reality, the nature of god and altered states of consciousness. I really liked it.

Following that I read The Introverted Leader: Building on your Quiet Strength by Jennifer B. Kahnweiler, which I found really inspiring and helpful.

Then I picked Poison Study by Maria V. Snyder (I'm noticing a lot of people using middle initials today). I think I'm going right off the use of the first person in the long form. The story had potential but the writing was unsophisticated. I couldn't make up my mind up whether it was YA fiction or not; in the end I decided that even if it was, it could still be held to the same standards as anything else. There was too much tell and too much 'Yelena had worried about/planned for/thought' where we hadn't been given that previously. The world-building and characterisation lacked depth. It also committed the cardinal sin (in my eyes, at any rate) of not being internally consistent with levels of technology, clothing, dialogue, etc. I couldn't fix an historical period in my mind. Characters fought with swords, lived in castles and used magic but then had factories and used incredibly modern dialogue. For me, it was distracting and annoying. The dialogue as a whole was not well done; often I felt that the dialogue didn't reflect the characters as they were described. The relationship between the protagonist and her love interest was pure Mills & Boon and was so creepy. Not good. And there are two more in the series.

Most recently, I've read Belching out the Devil by Mark Thomas, which is an exploration of Coca Cola's activities in the world. I may not be able to drink pop again.