Monday, January 30, 2012

A book review: The Ogre of Oglefort

Title: The Ogre of Oglefort
Author: Eva Ibbotson
Published: Macmillan Children's Books; (2010)
Synopsis: When a Hag, an orphan boy and a troll called Ulf get sent to rescue a princess from an ogre, they expect it to be a fairly standard magical mission. But the ogre is depressed, the princess doesn’t want to be rescued – and the ogre’s dead wife is turning in her grave. The Norns who rule their fates decide to take things in hand – will the Ogre meet a bloody end, or will he get a happy ending?


Star parts: A bit of background here. Last year when I first signed up for the British Book Challenge this was the book I intended to start. A long while ago I read The Secret of Platform 13 1/2 and it left me with this lovely warm fuzzy feeling inside. This was Ibbotson's last book before she died. This one isn't so warm and fuzzy, if anything all the characters are a little dark: the hag, the troll and the Princess! Yes, they are all a little on the dark side. But we do feel for them. We feel for them far more than the Ogre and people who are bothering the Ogre at his castle. They're actually kind of annoying. And the ogre's sisters, oooh they're awful. 
In the end everything works out, more or less, and you're left with a certain sense of satisfaction. 

Black clouds: But there were times where I wondered where the story was going. And whether that bit was entirely necessary. And the Ogre really is a right royal pain and I'm not sure he gets enough of a comeuppance. The ending seemed a bit over long. 

  Do I recommend it: Basically I did enjoy it. It was funny and clever in parts, but I just have that memory of that 'other' book and maybe I think that that one was better. So if you haven't read that other book, read this one first. That's my advice. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

A temple to what?

I am an atheist. I'm also always a little unsure how to spell the word, but there's no squiggly underline, so I think I'm good. Anyway, my point is I don't believe in a god or supreme being or that the world was created in seven days. I look around me and I see what goes on in the name of religion and I don't agree with all that. I don't believe that what counts as religion on this planet today was dictated by some deity, it all smacks a little too much of man's fallibility to me. But, and here's a pretty big but, that's what I think and if you think differently, if you believe, than that's OK. Because in the end we live on a pretty big planet and there's room for what I believe and there's room for what you believe. If (this is another biggie) we can live peacefully and harmoniously, then in the end we don't think too differently, do we?

And then there's Alain de Botton. I've read a couple of his books. Both of which I enjoyed, although there was probably some pages in On Love where I wanted to slap him. He's not a philosopher who leaves me scratching my head and feeling stupid, but does encourage thought. And so I suppose in one sense this whole nonsensical idea of a Temple of Atheism has encouraged thought and a decision making process. I don't agree with it. 

Rather than attack religion, De Botton said he wants to borrow the idea of awe-inspiring buildings that give people a better sense of perspective on life.

Personally, I find the Guggenheim in Bilboa, kind of awe-inspiring and because I like art the inside, it gives me a better sense of perspective on life too. 

And the tallest suspension bridge over the Tarn Valley in France, I think that would do it to. In fact going over the Severn Bridge on the back of a motorcycle on a windy day pretty much did it for me too. 
[Richard] Dawkins criticised the project on Thursday, indicating the money was being misspent
Given the amount of debt we're all in at the moment, £1m probably isn't going to solve a great deal, but I do agree that it's money that could be better spent.  
[Dawkins goes on to say] ... that a temple of atheism was a contradiction in terms.
That was my first thought. 
The idea has echoes of earlier atheist spaces, ranging from churches converted to "temples of reason" during the French revolution to the Conway Hall in London which is run by the humanist South Place Ethical Society.
Ok so these are/were spaces that served some function to the public. It wasn't just a space right? In which case if you want a temple of something why not give your £1m to... libraries. Don't know, it's just an idea, they're underfunded, threatened with closure, encourage free thinking. They may even lead some people to give up on religion, or get better at cooking, who knows? But they do serve a purpose. 
The temple features a single door for visitors who will enter as if it were an art installation.
Because let's face it, that's what it is isn't it? It's a 151 ft tower (snigger snigger) not to atheism, but to the person who managed to raise £1m pounds from anonymous donors and others who want their mere mortality remembered by a great big phallic grave stone in the middle of London, because they can't have a gravestone in a cemetery because they don't believe. PURLEASE. Go and think up some good ideas and leave atheism alone.  

Thanks to @dadwhowrites who alerted me to this silly, silly idea yesterday. Although we usually compare three year old bad behaviour, he also puts up lots of cool news articles on Twitter (which get me thinking) and he blogs here: Dad who writes

Quotes are from this Guardian article: 

Alain de Botton reveals plans for 'temple to atheism' in heart of London

And photos are from Google image search. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

A book review: Howl's moving castle

Title: Howl's moving castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones
Published: Greenwillow Books (1986)

Synopsis: In the land of Ingary, such things as spells, invisible cloaks, and seven-league boots were everyday things. The Witch of the Waste was another matter.

After fifty years of quiet, it was rumored that the Witch was about to terrorize the country again. So when a moving black castle, blowing dark smoke from its four thin turrets, appeared on the horizon, everyone thought it was the Witch. The castle, however, belonged to Wizard Howl, who, it was said, liked to suck the souls of young girls.
The Hatter sisters--Sophie, Lettie, and Martha--and all the other girls were warned not to venture into the streets alone. But that was only the beginning.
In this giant jigsaw puzzle of a fantasy, people and things are never quite what they seem. Destinies are intertwined, identities exchanged, lovers confused. The Witch has placed a spell on Howl. Does the clue to breaking it lie in a famous poem? And what will happen to Sophie Hatter when she enters Howl's castle?

Star parts: Start with action, introduce your main character straight away, let your reader know what he or she wants. To be honest Wynne Jones doesn't do that. By the time Sophie had got herself into a perfect pickle I was rather fed up with her. She was a wet blanket without a ingle bit of oomph around her. Or at least that's what I thought until she picked the wrong customer to get all lippy with and as I said ended up in a bit of a fix.

Another strong point in the book are the characters. Right from the beginning Wynne Jones made the reader lost sympathy with Sophie, so that when she has to sort things out we're right there with her cheering her along, because she's finally taking some action. Her sisters Lettie and Martha are originally painted as Sophie sees them, and boy is Sophie wrong about her sisters. Michael provides some relief from all the tricky characters by being exactly what he says he is, Howl's apprentice. Calcifer tries very hard to be mean, but he just can't manage it in the end. And Howl, well you never quite know with him, although I did suspect that he couldn't be all bad. 

I loved the world building in this book and then when we were unexpectedly transported back into our own world those scenes were hysterical, but I won't say too much about that. Wynne Jones' imagination keeps the reader hooked and then makes you go back through the book to catch all those little hints and clues that you missed the first time. 

Black clouds: This is more of a slightly grey cloud on the horizon that can be blown away. The beginning was kind of slow and I was slightly tempted to put the book down, I'm glad I didn't. And the ending was all kind of quick. It reminded me a bit of the ending of Oscar Wilde play (I won't say which one) or a certain Shakespeare play (again won't say which one), and perhaps it was all intentional, but I would have liked maybe a page more of ending. 

Do I recommend it: What do you think? Of course I do and I've got another Wynne Jones in my TBR pile. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

It's not time for the holidays yet

One of the things I never appreciated about France until bagging a Frog was the importance of holidays. At work the february school break is called Ski break. Now as one who has never skied, I can drop a whole load of reasons why I don't want to try (and regularly do to my sister in law as February swings round), but this major clue about where holidays lay in the French psyche still didn't get through to mine. The summer holidays are called 'Les grands vacances' another big clue, and I'm sure I've written here about how Paris clears out during the summer. And Boulogne Billancourt as Paris' 21st arrondissement is no exception. If anything, last year our residence was like a ghost building as we rattled around here post move. So why am I mentioning it now? Because in order for the big clear out to take place, the French spend January scouring the internet looking for somewhere to stay. And frankly all those holiday villas, houses, apartments are  starting to blend into one and I can't look at another 'annonce' right now. 

So, here I am turning my mind to my writing resolutions 2012. Thankfully, what with it being January and all (just about) EVEYRONE has already posted theirs, so I've pilfered the useful ones!
  1. This one isn't directly a writing one. Someone wrote about mind and body and I'm certainly happier when there's a little physical activity  going on in my life. NO! *blushes* I meant exercise, sheesh. So I'm going to swim once a week. I was aiming for 1k, but my sports coaches have pointed out that first I need to stop pushing off the sides of the pool! 
  2. I will write a synopsis (Thank you writing gods. Nicola Morgane's Write a Great Synopsis came out YESTERDAY). 
  1. I will write a query letter (I think that's Nicola's next book!)
  2. I will knock the revision of current WIP on the head. 
  3. I will send off some pages to the editors/agents from the December conference I attended. 
  4. I will write the first draft of the thing that I started in November. 
  5. Crit group is a must (especially since we've shifted to evenings and there's a bottle of wine involved). 
  6. Maybe attend one SCBWI thingie. 
  7. Keep an eye out on the Chicken House website and see if they're running that MS comp again this year. (Part one of that plan is now in place in that I follow them on Twitter). 
  8. Keep the social networking manageable -No Tweetdeck, cull regularly. 
And lastly I will take the balloons down. Party time is over, it's time to get to work. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Cultural characters

The other day I was checking my Twitter feed on the way to work when I came across one that linked to a now taken down article in The Guardian and stated that French parents were better than me. Of course, that was bound to set my blood boiling and my little thumbs furiously smacked out a reply all about those great French parents. Then I planned a great big long rant about French and UK parenting, before remembering that this was a writing blog. 

By the time I got to work (having already tweeted the 140 characters of aforementioned rant) I had that little moment to reflect on the fact that my child is half Brit, half French. In our parenting combo, right from the off, everything the other did was wrong. Totally wrong. Not because it was wrong, but because we were brought up differently. Where the Frog suffers (and believe me it shows all over his face) the indignity of having to put his child on time out and then asking the child if she understands why she was on time out, I have to chew my lips when I can see the three year old is dying to leave the table, but we haven't all finished eating yet. We're different. It's different, there's no right or wrong parenting. The book French Children Don't Throw Food, may purport French parenting styles, and we may read it to further our understanding of social anthropology in the same way that we might read A Year in the Merde, but we're not actually going to start acting like the French, because we're culturally programmed not to.

Which brings me to writing. I've lived here for eleven years, before that a couple of years in Madrid and before that Mexico. This year I can no longer vote in the UK, I am well and truly an ex-pat, yet I still write British characters. I can't stop. I just don't feel equipped to write a French one, and wouldn't dream of writing a Spanish or Mexican. I may put them in as minor characters, but as a main I wouldn't dream of it. I think that as my child grows up, I'll be in a unique position to write the French character and may even do so one day, but at the moment it's easier to create a whole new fantasy world.

And then boys? Do I write boys? Yes, British boys. But I was reading this blog the other day: Interview with Shelly Harris, and she raised the point:
I was surprised how much I had to learn about a male viewpoint, and how different it can be from that of a woman. 

She also wrote from an  British Asian point of view and talks about how she went about making the voice authentic. And that is the point. I'm not saying we shouldn't do it. Having just reviewed Unhooking the Moon, by Liverpudlian author Gregory Hughes, one of the things that I really liked about the book was that the characters seemed real. As writers we can write from a male/female POV or a Peruvian one, if we so wish, we have that liberty, but we have to make it true.

And just to prove this was a writing post, books mentioned during this post:
French Children Don't Throw Food by Pamela Druckerman
A Year in the Merde by Stephen Clarke
Jubilee by Shelly Harris
Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A book review: Unhooking the moon

Title: Unhooking the moon
Author: Gregory Hughes
Published: Quercus Publishing Plc (29 April 2010)
Synopsis: Meet the Rat: A dancing, football-playing gangster-baiting ten-year-old. When she foresaw her father's death, she picked up her football and decided to head for New York. Meet her older brother Bob: Protector of the Rat, but more often her follower, he is determined to find their uncle in America and discover a new life for them both. On their adventures across the flatlands of Winnipeg and through the exciting streets of New York, Bob and the Rat make friends with a hilarious con man and a famous rap star, and escape numerous dangers. But is their Uncle a rich business man, or is the word on the street, that he something more sinister, true? And will they ever find him? Hughes has created a funny, warm, unique world that lives and breathes. Like I Capture the Castle, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Curious Incident, Hughes' story and characters will resonate for many and for years to come.
from Amazon

Star parts: OK where to start. Well for a start the book made me laugh out loud. And what were the bits that made me laugh the most, well probably the bits that should have had you crying such as the funeral scene. And the climax, which involves some pretty awful people, and is totally exciting, and still hysterically funny. 

The characterisation is great, the Rat and Bob really come alive, their voices are authentic and they way Bob deals with his sister is, in my mind, really realistic. 

The story also carries you away. You want the kids to succeed and you want everything to turn out alright for them, even though I knew that at every turn things could go so dreadfully wrong. Each time they pull through something completely ridiculous happens, yet the story is so well written that it doesn't matter what Hughes comes up with next. 

Black clouds: The thing is, that it's not a black cloud. There are no faults with the book, it's just that it didn't end the way I wanted it to end. In the end despite the far out situations these kids go through, the ending isn't Disney saccharine sweet, it's realistic. I'm not saying I like Disney endings, I just grew to love these characters all of them, the Rat, Bob, the con man, the rap star, the Italian. I just wanted them all to be alright and in real life, that doesn't always work out, does it?

Do I recommend it:  Well first of all, a little back story. I read this to see if it was suitable for a 5th grade class. The Rat is always going on about 'goddamn pedophiles', and the books deals with some pretty hardcore issues, so I sent the book along to the high school library as it seemed very YA to me. Now if you find it in the high school library read it, because it's brilliant. And if you don't have access to our library, just get hold of it and read it anyway. 

Monday, January 09, 2012

Getting to know you: Andrew Leon

If you recall from my previous post, I mentioned that there was a list of stuff that: I've started and then not had the time to finish properly. One of the things on this list was an interview with the author Andrew Leon, who has been extremely patient as the ball has gone bouncing down a very long corridor. So finally here is the long awaited interview that was originally meant to be part of the third writer's platform-building campaign (long since finished). Anyway, big apologies to Andrew and with that let's get on with getting to know him. 

Well, maybe not straight away, before we talk all about you, I just have to say that I am a big fan of Neil Gaiman. I loved his Books of Magic (not the Vertigo imprint that came out later - even though I did buy them), but I read a friend's copy and I haven't read it since. Can you just tell me one of your favourite scenes, please? So I can have that geeky 'Oh yes!' moment. Thanks.
Oh, man! It has been so long since I read that, and my copies are in storage. I love that series, though. It's probably my favorite comic series done by Gaiman. Thinking about it, there is this scene where Tim is walking off with the Phantom Stranger (I think) that is just etched in my mind. Whether the etching is accurate or not, I don't know, but it's there. I also loved Gaiman's portrayal of Constantine.

Your book HOUSE ON THE CORNER is available on Kindle and POD. Why should we add it to our to be read lists?
And, now, you're asking me to be objective about my book? How cruel! Well, first, I think anyone who has kids should read my book and read it to their kids. It's great for that. I know, because I've spent more than a little time reading it in my kids' classes at their school, and the kids love it. But for adults, I really think it's capable of taking you back to being a kid and what it was like to think about all the hidden things that could be hiding around the corner. Unless you didn't have an imagination as a kid. In that case, it probably won't do anything for you. Although, it does have more than a tiny bit of humor in it. And, yes, it's available on the Kindle and the Nook and available as a physical book through CreateSpace.

Your book is an e book. How did you reach the decision to be an indie writer? 
Actually, I hate that term indie writer. I'm just a writer. Now, an indie publisher, that I can get behind. Really, I made the decision to self publish only after I finished the book and started querying. It wasn't until that point that I really began to look at the state that traditional publishing is in and the fact that agents, on the whole, don't really do the jobs of agents anymore. Between that and the fact that publishers won't really market you unless you're already going to sell, meaning you have to do it all yourself, I figured I would just do it all myself and skip the 2 year wait.
Can you explain a little about he steps you took e publish your book?
Well... that's a long answer. Mostly, because I really did it the wrong way, first. Let's see... I did all of the editing myself. But! I have a degree in English, and I have worked as an editor before, so it wasn't a hard stretch for me. However, I did learn one thing, editing on the computer is hard. I noticed so much more when I had the actual, physical book in my hand, so, if anyone is thinking of self-editing, I would highly suggest having a physical copy to look at to do that with. Even if you're just going to e-publish, it could be worth going through CreateSpace -just- to get a proof copy to hold in your hand and edit from. The other main thing I did was read the book out loud. As I said, I read the book in my kids' classes at school, both as I was writing it and from the proof, and that really helps to catch awkward sounding sentences. As for the formatting... well, that was no fun. Everyone wants something different. CreateSpace wanted it as a pdf, which I had never used before, so I had to figure that out, meaning I had to make a bunch of mistakes before I got it to work. The Kindle required different formatting when I went back to do the second edition than it had required the first time, so that took some doing, too. I'm not a very techy person, so all of these things are the kids of things I wish I had someone else to do for me. Heh

There is a lot of talk about platforms nowadays, why is it so important for an indie author?
I didn't think anything about platform when I was writing my book. Mostly, I see these blogs of people that are still working on producing their first novel and using their blogs to prepare the platform so it's there when (or if) they ever do finish. That's the conventional wisdom these days, but I'm not sure I'm sold on it. What I do know is that managing my blog has made working on the sequel to House much slower than working on House. I suppose what I'm saying is that I think it might be better for people that want to write books to do that, first. Get that first book written and then start working on the platform thing. I don't know... It is important, though. You need to have some way to let people know that you have a book out there. Just because you've written it doesn't mean they'll come, to paraphrase a popular movie. People need to know, and, beyond that, they need to be convinced. That's the hardest part.

Now are you a plotter or pantster?
That's an interesting question, and it's a discussion that I see going on all the time. The people that love the discovery of pantsing vs the control of the plotters. When I'm actually writing, I feel like a pantser, I suppose. I'm just doing the writing. I mean, I don't write anything down ahead of time. I don't make outlines, I don't make time lines, and I don't write out copious amounts of back story. However, I don't start writing until I know where I'm going. I know my plot arc and have it in my head at all times. I can't really write without having a destination. I suppose pantsers would say that makes me a plotter, but I'm sure plotters wouldn't have me in their club, either.

What's your top writing tip?
That would have to be to just do it. I have this problem with my son all the time. He will sit there and stare at a blank piece of paper for hours trying to get the words to come to him. It's painful. I have to tell him all the time to just start writing and the words will start to work themselves out. Yes, he may have to go back and re-work some of the beginning because he wasn't “warmed up,” yet, but that's better than just sitting there. He always says how that will never work until he actually does it, so he always has to come back and tell me I was right.

What's your most valuable writing resource?
That I don't know. I read. But I wouldn't call that a resource, per se. I tend to keep a dictionary and a thesaurus open on my desktop while I'm writing, and I use those a lot. Usually because I have a word in mind that is not precisely the word I'm looking for, so I do a lot of cross-checking of definitions for synonyms. Of course, there's always my kids. They give me a lot to write about. Heh

If you would like to get to know even more about Andrew you can find him over at Strange Pegs. You can also buy THE HOUSE ON THE CORNER directly from Andrew's blog. See? There in the corner. (I tried to draw a circle around the spot, but it's getting to the stage where this post is NEVER going to go up if I continue trying to do it). 

Saturday, January 07, 2012

In other news...

Those pesky writing resolutions...
are just not forthcoming this year. In my hazy memory those resolutions just came really easily last year, whereas this year I'm all kind of ooo, aahh, mmm...

So should I do them? I think I should, because they are motivational and it'll be nice in 2013 to say that I achieved them, but I just don't seem as pumped up as last year. 

I think I know why.

The dreaded synopsis

I've never written one before. I've never written one before because although I've started millions* of first drafts, I've only finished two and I've only revised one and now I'm at that stage where I suppose I have to do the dreaded synopsis, followed by the even more dreaded query letter.

Now, while I've done some research on the query letter and can recommend Kidlit and Help! I need a publisher as two sites that can help you get over that obstacle, I've not been paying much attention to the synopsis and more to the point what I've come to realise is that 'I don't get it'. I can write, I'm fairly sure I can. I can even turn out quite a good story if I say so myself (oh yeah, I am saying so myself), but this synopsis thing just gets me. What is it meant to be?

With that in mind I did a search and found many sites, some that I even remember reading before. While each site has its own take, the advice is pretty similar: single spaced unless it's more than a page, simple present, give the tone and voice of your WIP, give everything away. But I still don't get it. 

Having recently made the best god damn chocolate cake I've ever made in my whole life (with a lot of help from the frog), I realised what I needed was a recipe. 

I have found a site that I think might just work. I'm only on step 1 and this time next week I might be tearing my hair out and swearing, but here it is, I hereby present:
How to write a synopsis of your novel
in 7 easy stages, or not. I have yet to find out. I'll let you know how I get on.

Oh Bo*!/£ks I seem to be breaking the one resolution I've made!

Well I haven't broken it yet, but I'm considering it. Caroline Smailes over at In search of me has posted a challenge:
  • Are you a writer?
  • Would you like to be a writer?
  • Do you write flash fiction?
  • Do you fancy seeing your work published?
I can whole heartedly answer YES to all four questions, so I'm wondering. If you would like to consider too, then please click on the link below. The deadline is the 11th January. The flash fiction piece is to be no more than a 100 words and should be inspired by a youtube music clip. 

A challenge and the chance to see your story in print

Right, that's enough news now. I better go and do some writing. 

Coming up on the blog:
Interview with author of The house on the corner Andrew Leon

*That might be a slight over exaggeration. 

Friday, January 06, 2012

Sunday, January 01, 2012

It's that time of year again

Last year I posted a bunch of writing resolutions, I had a little look at them when I was planning this post and was mostly rather chuffed. But despite that there was also this little niggle. Things that I've started and then not had the time to finish properly. So before I have a good think about this year's writing resolutions, I'm going to try and stick to the tenet:
Know thy limits
in other words:
I challenge myself to take up NO CHALLENGES 

While this might seem to be a contradiction, my idea this year is to FOCUS on writing and to spend less time flitting about on the internet going: 'ooh look shiny new blog badge and blog challenge'. Looking back at last year's resolutions, that's exactly what I was and I achieved everything on my definitely list. I did finish the revision of my WIP. I did tentatively get a BETA reader. I went to LOADS of grit group meetings and yes, I occasionally had to get a babysitter. I started on something new and I only abandoned the blog at the end of the year. 

On my maybe list I did not apply for the SCBWI work in progress grant. I was umming and ahhing about it in January, and as the deadline neared I had the opportunity to pitch my WIP to agent and author John Cusick, so I turned my focus to that instead. 

Number 2 on my list was to go to a SCBWI event. I ended up attending the Pitch session and the December conference. Woo hoo me. There was a cold niggling away in the background, but I managed to get through the weekend sans 'itis' and I had a really enlightening MS review.

Number 3 on my list included starting yet another revision on my current WIP. I've worked out how to use the editors in Scrivener and using what I've learnt about editing at the December conference, I'm doing a general edit before I present the whole MS to my crit group. 

Coming up on the blog:
  • 2012 writing resolutions
  • A book review or four 
  • Two new author interviews 
  • 52 photos!


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