Sunday, January 30, 2011

January British Book Challenge 2011: The Memory Cage

Title: The Memory Cage
Author: Ruth Eastham
Published: Scholastic, 2011

Synopsis: Alex's grandfather keeps forgetting things, while Alex tries desperately to forget his past.

Alex is Bosnian and has been adopted by the Smith family. As his beloved Grandfather's memory gets worse, Alex decides to delve into his past and record it in a scrapbook. This has all kinds of repercussions for his family, who are also trying desperately to block out the past.

Star parts:  The main characters are lovingly crafted and created. Alex tells the story in first person. Through the key scenes he describes we gain an understanding of the Grandfather's bewilderment and pain. Richard (the Dad) is developed concisely. Leonard is a truly evil antagonist, but you are still given room to understand why he might feel that way and the ending allows him to experience growth. There is no showing in this story. It is the dialogue and action that allows the story and the reader's understanding of the characters.

Another strength of the writing is that clues are littered throughout the story, so that like Alex, the reader is beginning to piece things together. The reader and Alex all gain understanding at the same time, which gives us the reader a very strong emotional link. At the end when Alex realises he also must face the past, I was bawling my eyes out. I won't say anything more about the end, but I felt entirely satisfied (if a little damp) by the resolution.

Black clouds: I had to re-read the first two pages, as seven characters were introduced and I found that a little overwhelming. By the end I still wasn't entirely sure whether Victoria had a place in the book, she didn't do much and didn't move the plot along, but I was willing to put up with her.

I have to admit that I quite like action, so I found the first part of the book a little slow.

Do I recommend it: Yes. When I read children's or YA fiction for personal enjoyment I read fantasy or action, so this was stepping out of my comfort zone, but once the story really kicked in I couldn't stop reading.

With my teacher head on it's a great read for dealing with issues such as Alzheimer's disease, adoption and the concept of peace and conflict. I would recommend it to individual readers who showed interest in any of these subjects and will defintely be lending it to the stronger readers in my class.

Having said that, I'm very aware that Ruth Eastham is a debut writer, and on the strength of the end of the book, this is an author to look out for. I personally, can't wait to see what comes next.

I reviewed this as part of the British Book Challenge. If you would like to sign up 31st January is the LAST DATE TO DO SO!

And while we are plugging British Authors, there is a competition here for Mark Robson's new book The Devil's Triangle here

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Writing on Wednesday: Know your genre

When I first mentioned the word 'genre' to the Frog he gave me a look and asked me to repeat it at least five times and then I had to explain exactly what it meant and then he went: "Oooh gen!" in exactly that annoying way I have of correcting his English when he mispronounces a word. Then he asked me why we didn't have an English word of our own.

But I digress, my point this week is knowing your genre. I am absolutely dead certain that I know my genre: fantasy. When it comes to children's books I like reading it: His Dark Materials, Harry Potter, The Keys of the Kingdom, Mortal Engines, the Narnia books, oh The Wind Singer, Artemis Fowl, anything by David Almond. And when it comes to writing it, that's what I love writing. I've written stories about clones with aura reading fathers, time travellers, mermaids. The character I can't get out of my head, well I think I may have finally plotted something now and it's a ghost story. See, I just love the weird and wonderful. I know books take you to other worlds, but I take that literally, I like creating those other worlds.

And herein lies a problem, it doesn't matter that I know I write fantasy. Children's and Young Adult fiction seems to be all forgiving in a way that adult fiction is not;  you can mix fantasy with crime, or a love story with fantasy, or hey why not comic fantasy, all is possible. Children's and Young Adult Fiction is not so much a genre, as an age range. What I really need to know is my the age of my audience. The thing is I know that too. An advanced 10 year old with good reading skills would enjoy my wip (in my fantasy world they would), but by about 14 they might be looking for something a bit meatier. I write neither for 8-12 year olds nor YA, I write for the 'tweens. And my question is, is that a genre?

I think that I am probably mulling over this a little too much, when in actual fact what I am really doing is procrastinating. Last night, faced with a bit of a sore throat that was threatening to become nasty I retreated to bed with a medicinal whisky and went through my wip. What I have done so far is rewrite the first chapters getting rid of the fluff. I have brought some of the action forward from chapters in the middle. I have one more relatively easy chapter to edit and then I have this big fat soggy middle, which is written from the wrong point of view, all the good bits have been used elsewhere and when I go through it I end up having about one or two important sentences left! Ugh.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

JaNoWriWe... or how not mope around like a sad sop

We're buying a flat (YAY!) before the 11th April and then after the 11th April we will start decorating and moving and all that stuff that is involved in moving. Before the move there is a shed load of stuff to do. To ward off the stress headache that is threatening to become a migraine, we brainstormed it all on a giant post it this morning. Oh, I kid ye not the post it is giant, see...
that's an ordinary sized post it beside it. Anyway the flat buying and all that, that's not the point. The point is that all this is going to suck on my time, more to the point my writing time. And funnily enough Better writing habits then starts talking about scheduling your writing time. I've heard talk of it before, but they are more specific: day and time. And I'm adding a little extra of my own: word count goal.

This week the Frog is on a business trip for the whole week. He's not even been gone four hours and already I'm moping around like a sad sop. I'm watching the bubba from the kitchen as I wash up and she gives Dimple the polar bear time out for who knows what and I'm thinking awww the Frog is missing this. I cannot do this. I cannot do this all week and fritter away this precious writing time. So, business, business, business.

Sunday: nap time: 400 words. (I'm being realistic, I am after all a single parent this week- and I'm revising, 1666 is all well and good, but they tended to be on the crap side).
Monday: eat with the bubba and do NOT snack on evil goodies afterwards - 250 words
Tuesday: eat with the bubba and do NOT snack on evil goodies afterwards - 250 words
Wednesday: eat with the bubba and do NOT snack on evil goodies afterwards - 250 words
Thursday: eat with the bubba and do NOT snack on evil goodies afterwards - 100 words (it's staff meeting night and I'm brain dead).
Friday: Do NOT leave your keys at work like you did last year! Go out have fun and don't get drunk* or you will wake up with a hangover and the Frog will not be home to save you in the morning.

That sounds reasonable? No?

*Remember that nowadays you get drunk on two glasses (especially if it's bad wine, maybe you should stick to beer).

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Writing on Wednesday: Aww, aha! and Oh!

This week as I was reading through the new posts on some of my favourite blogs, I discovered I had won an award: L'Aussie's Fair Dinkum award. It's been a while since I've won one of these bloggy things so it made me go: Aww. And thank you very much Rachna for your warm welcome and good advice.

I have to pass it on to six people and define what I think is 'fair dinkum'. Mmm... well, in keeping with the Aha! moment, I'm passing the award on to blogs that have made me go Aha! recently:
  1. Sarah Towle over at Time Traveler Tours - This project is so exciting I almost want my own kid to be a bit older so that I can try it out! If you are in Paris and have an iPhone, iPad or iTouch please check this site out. If you don't have these things, just check this site to learn an amazing amount. 
  2. Scarlett & Viaggiatore have been hanging around this blog and offering support for a good couple of years now. You can find out more about this pair here 
  3. Another long time bloggy friend is Nicky Schmidt, who I first came across in the guise of an alien chicken. We've never met, but we've talked on the phone once and I get loads of helpful e mails, as well as quite a few funny ones. 
  4. Fifteen days without a head I'm looking forward to reading the book, but until it comes out, the blog is pretty good too. 
  5. Rebecca Brown loves musicals, has two lovely little kids and blogs here.
  6. Last but definitely not last is Becky from The Bookette. She is amazing.   
So there I was this week, with a list of blogs all about writing. What was I to do but check them out. It was at this point that I had my Aha! moment. I've been reading ad infinitum about how your query letter has to hook in the agent. That most agents toss about 80% of query letters without even reading the partials, blah,blah, blah ... bad, sad, grey news. So I clicked on each site and after about five I realised I was doing this: I was looking at the title, reading the tag line under it. That was enough. If the tag line didn't grab me I was gone. All of a sudden I saw myself in a well tailored suit, with an inbox full of queries and partials and I could see myself going: no, no, no, no, mmm. This moment kind of put a chill in my heart and has made me think that I need to take more care over my own tag line!

Vickie Motter from Navigating the Slush Pile has a post up discussing why titles can't suck. So, I clicked through the hundred titles in the list and kept thinking: These are not best titles! I don't agree, these titles are rubbish. No, she's wrong. Titles aren't that important. No, I've read loads of books that aren't on this list. In fact these are no way best book titles, there are a bunch of books on this list that I would NEVER read based on the title alone, no... OH! Oh! She's right, titles can't suck. And can I just add, that personally, any book with the word 'suck' in the title is definitely not on my 'to be read' list.

So, that's my learning curve for the week. There hasn't been much writing what with very exciting real life events taking place and having visitors. Tonight is scheduled writing night*, so I bid your farewell to go and sort out Ella, who's going to sneak out of Maths any minute.

*hence the fact that this was actually written on Tuesday night, if you can get your head round the timing of that!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

January British Book Challenge 2011: Shadow Forest

Title: Shadow Forest
Author: Matt Haig
Published: Corgi, 2008

Synopsis:Nobody listens to Samuel Blink, not even his parents when he's trying to tell them a falling log is about to crush their car! After the death of their parents Samuel and Martha Blink are sent for by their Aunt Eda, who lives in Norway without a TV, a computer, or her husband Uncle Henrik. She does; however, have lots of rules and a big scary Shadow Forest right next to her house. But why should Samuel follow all her rules now, what has he got to lose? What would happen if he went into the Shadow Forest?

Star parts:  The beginning is very well built up. You know something is going to happen (I'll come to that bit in a minute). You get led to believe it's going to happen straight away, then it doesn't so you relax a little bit and then wham!

I loved the world of the Shadow Forest, the tunnels, the little houses, the little clues that something has gone awry here. In fact once Aunt Eda also entered the Shadow Forest, the reader is completely immersed in this world and its creatures, its culture and the drastic changes that have taken place. In fact, at this point, the pace of the plot really picks up and it's an unputdownable page turner. It's also pretty funny. The huldres seemed a little bit like Golem (you know, from Lord of the Rings), but the other creature were original or sufficiently different from traditional takes to be interesting all over again. I'm not sure which of the creatures I liked the most: the truth pixie, the slemp, the trolls (maybe the trolls) or the servants of Thuluba (ooh, I really liked that bit too).

The human characters: Samuel and Martha (who is mute) were also well created. I felt like I got to know them quite well, although it was as though they told me what they were like quite a bit rather than showed me, but then Martha was mute! I, like the author, also liked Aunt Eda, the fact that she often welled up and was still waiting for the love of her life to return. Her accent was a bit of a stereotype, but she did have a super cool part in the book.

Black clouds: Now these aren't small grey rain clouds in an otherwise blue sky. These next points I found majorly annoying. Firstly, Haig starts the book with Humans and other creatures you will meet in this book. This section is irritating because it GIVES AWAY parts of the plot! Hello Mr. Haig! The story is good, why did you do that? Then as if that bit was not irritating enough he does it again, not once, but TWICE with interruptions from the author and yet again he gives key points of the plot away. I think it's meant to be a comic device, but to me it says: my plot isn't strong enough and I don't trust my reader to understand what is going on. The first half of the book does lack a bit of pizazz in terms of pace. It picks up, it slows down, it picks up, it slows down, but what it didn't need was those interruptions.

Do I recommend it: Despite a couple of annoying bits, I did really enjoy it, so yes I do recommend it. Haig is funny, the characters are funny, the plot is engaging and the Shadow Forest is an amazing world to visit. Oh, and I really liked the ending.

If you don't know what the British Book Challenge is you can find out about it here and here.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Writing on Wednesday: More procrastination

Look, I'll just cut to the chase OK. The world away from my laptop screen has brutally infringed on my writing space this week. I've looked at the 7 excuses writer's make and I've made them all in the space of three short days. However, I did follow Sunday's advice during one procrastination moment. I made a playlist for my wip. The video I've included is not on the playlist because it's an amazing story all on its own. Make a cup of tea, press play and listen to a tale of vengence and coincidence... 

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Grumbles and Groans

In the evenings when I am just a little bit too tired to write I sometimes do other things. I look up agents, I look for competitions, I look for social networks for writers.

Recently I scoured the SCBWI site to find the Agents List. It's quite good, because it tells you who is looking for submissions and who isn't. Admittedly, I don't actually have anything to send, right now, but I'm researching, right. Anyway, the point is that the SCBWI list is all US agent, but not to be put off so easily I thought I would look at the SCBWI British Isles site and no, I couldn't find anything there. But it did say:
 International membership automatically grants you membership to the British Isles Region or any other region local to you.
You can go directly to the international SCBWI website to join.
So, I did this and that and this and that and that and this and other than changing my address I can't see how I can get membership to the British Isles chapter of SCBWI.

Never mind, I thought, I saw that a lot of the stuff was on the website and if ever an event coincides with one of my visits to London I will try to go. But then I spotted something else on my list of things to look for: a ning site. For those of you not in the know, a NING is a way of setting up your own social network site, Scribblerati is one such NING. So, here was a way for me to connect with UK based writers, but I didn't have to lie about my home address to get on. So I started filling in the form and...
We're really sorry non-UK based SCBWI people, we're only accepting UK based members from now on. Please make sure your membership is up to date before you sign up!
I HAVE A BRITISH PASSPORT, I was born in Wimbledon for crissake's, I lived in the UK for 25 years. My daughter has a British Passport. 

But you know, I'm still researching. Now, I thought I would look at competitions, in particular the Amazon Breakthrough Awards, an International competition run by Penguin US. Again, I don't have anything ready to enter, but next year, right. I looked through the entry requirements:
You are eligible to enter the Contest if you are at least 13 years old at time of entry and a legal resident of one of the following countries: Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada (excluding the Province of Québec), China, Denmark, Finland, Germany, India, Ireland, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, the United States (the 50 states and D.C.), or the United Kingdom.
So, I'm over 13 and I'm a legal resident in ... I'm a legal resident in ... Where is France? Where is France on the list? Why is France not on the list?

So, maybe that just makes me a complete glutton for punishment, but I looked up the entry requirements for Undiscovered Voices. Do I need to quote? Can you guess what that said?
Must be a member in good standing of SCBWI-BI living in the UK.
So, at the end of all this I pose a question:
What do you do if you are a British writer living outside of the UK?
 I'm guessing the answer is not to grumble and groan.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Another little practice run

Title: No and Me
Author: Delphine de Vigan
Published: Bloomsbury, 2010

Synopsis:  Lou Bertignac is a thirteen year old, gifted child with an IQ of 160. She wonders about many things such as the base ingredients of frozen food and which way your tongue goes when you kiss. She wonders about all the people who are getting on trains and off trains at the Gare d'Austerlitz, until one day she meets No, a young homeless girl.

Star parts: Now as embarrassing as this is after ten years, I was reading this in translation. A good translator can make or break a book. So, first gold star goes to George Miller who did a stellar job. In English there is no formal and informal address, yet Miller managed to get formality across in the translation and where things just wouldn't work, he used English references. Great job.

Now onto the book, I loved Lou. There we go, I'll just get it out there. I loved that she asked all those questions; that she explained how her ideas whizzed around so fast that she couldn't express herself properly; that she couldn't get her shoelaces done. I loved her because her little voice was just so strong and clear. And she made my heart bleed when she reflected on the relationship between her mother and her.

The next good point was that homelessness is a tough subject and yet de Vigan didn't pretty it up. I don't want to give too much away about the ending, but it could have been all a fairytale, but it wasn't and that was part of what made the characters of No, Lou and Lucas so real. The family relationship is also painful, particularly that of Lou and her mother and again it was dealt with realistically.

OK, the ending wasn't all down and miserable, and do you know what? I liked that too, because I wasn't expecting it.

Black clouds: I finished reading this a couple of days ago and I've been thinking and thinking, but I can't think of a single thing I didn't like about it. I found the Paris I know and love in this book, with the villages of 'Quecha' tents that were handed out to the homeless a couple of years ago. I wonder if this book transfers as well because it is so steeped in Paris. I know about everything Lou mentions. Sometimes she mentioned a place name and I could see myself there. So, I do wonder if it works for those who don't live in Paris, or have no knowledge of Paris. It would be interesting to know.

Do I recommend it:Totally and whole heartedly. In my bid to read more French literature, I read everything that I see in translation (I'm lazy!) and this and The Elegance of the Hedgehog are top reads. They are classed as adult reads over here, but having read both, and as both have a teenage main character in it, I think they could both easily be YA/adult crossover. (I know this is a review for No and Me, but I just LOVED The Elegance of the Hedgehog!)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Writing on Wednesday: Back to work

Since Monday I've been back at work. But I've discovered that this isn't such a negative thing, as the more I have to do, the more I get done. Hence, during the holidays, there were whole days where I did no writing. Whereas now, well, I'll get to now.

On Sunday, in preparation for focusing on the revision I decided to tidy up my pinboard.

I found some postcards in my creative box and put them up. That one on the top says: Nobody cares about the adults, write from Ella, Morgane or Leo's point of view. And yes, that is a picture of the Annunciation there. It's a bit of a private joke between me, myself and I.

So the next bit of prep was to pack the old handbag. At the moment there is the light green notebook which has masses of notes about A Twist in the Tail. When that became almost full I decided to shove in the dark green notebook. Just before Christmas I got a new idea to sort out Sands of Time or whatever it's called in it's current form, so a chapter and some ideas went into that notebook. On Sunday night I had this amazing idea for sorting out The Shaelan Sensors. I spent a whole summer writing it, my critique group spent a lot of time on it, and apparently dystopian YA is super cool at the moment, so I think it needs to be sorted. So, to scribble that idea down I decided that I needed to peel off the plastic wrap on another notebook. The thing is that I was in a bit of rush on Monday morning, the notebooks come in pairs , so I shoved both of them in there. On the metro I wrote the idea down and then Alex started talking to me. Alex has made an apparition on this blog before, but I can't find where. He's been talking to me for years. Here I am one of these people who plots, plots, plots, but Alex is always there. He's been there since I was... what twenty? Yep, I think. He was not a nice guy when he first came out, but that was twenty years ago and since then he's come in all kinds of different forms. He even tried to be a girl called Callie for a while, but he tends to go back to being Alex after a while. And now a story has come, I think. I can still call it The Trelawney Funerals and he can still be a dick, but a dick with a heart of gold. I have no idea when I will have time to write all these things, but the bus ride to work at the moment is a hell of a ride.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Writing Resolutions

Following on from the round of applause, here is what I hope to achieve this year. I'm going to try and be realistic, because if all goes well, this year is also going to be the year where me, the Frog and the bubba have some pretty important projects too (gutting and redecorating an apartment).  Lia Keyes, the administrator of Scribblerati, made up a list of suggestions, which I loosely used:

  1. I will finish the revision of A twist in the Tail.
  2. I will find, beg, ask someone to read the whole draft and critique it (any offers will be gratefully received and obviously I would love to critique an MS in return.)
  3. I will endeavour to go to all the critique group meetings, even if it means organising babysitting. 
  4. I will start work on something new, either The Sands of Time or The Trelawney Funerals
  5. I will not abandon the blog, even if at some point in 2011, I won't strictly be living in Paris anymore, and I haven't done any exciting wandering for a few years.  
  1. Apply for the SCBWI work in progress grant. I'm still totally uhmming and ahhing here.
  2. Go to some kind of SCBWI event, this is in my list of maybe's because of the fact that I tend to get some kind of 'itis' just before any SCBWI event I've ever signed up for and therefore have NEVER been. 
  3. Start on the final revision of A Twist in the Tail, but that will be towards the end of the year.
So, I'll just leave you with this last message:


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