I’ve finished reading my fifth novel for 2020, Infernal Devices, the third book in Philip Reeve’s children’s series, The Hungry City Chronicles, better known as The Mortal Engines Quartet (2001-2006). The first book in the series, Mortal Engines, won the Nestle Smarties Book Prize for readers aged 9-11 years and made the list for the Whitbread Book Award. The book made a huge impression on my boys and I when I first read it to them as a bedtime story some years ago and inspired many late-night discussions about the post-apocalyptic world. I reviewed both book one and book two, Predator’s Gold, for my now-defunct Goodreads account. The kids and I were looking forward to reading the third volume in the series, Infernal Devices. And it didn’t disappoint.

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It is said that Philip Reeve worked on The Hungry City Chronicles for ten years. Coming up with the original ideas in 1989, he developed the story between illustrating jobs. When he felt sure he could do the series justice, he cut back on illustrating and began writing, leading to the publication of Mortal Engines in 2001. The story centres on two young protagonists, Tom Natsworthy and Hester Shaw living in a lawless, dystopian world with the intriguing premise of being populated by roaming predator cities. We followed their adventures through the second novel, Predator’s Gold, and in the third book, Infernal Devices, we catch up with Tom and Hester, sixteen years later. They have settled in the now static city, Anchorage-in-Vineland, where they’ve raised their daughter, Wren, in peace. However, Wren has inherited her parents’ wandering genes, and she escapes seeking adventure, taking with her a mysterious Rasmussen family artefact called “the Tin Book.” As Wren falls into captivity and slavery, and loses possession of the Tin Book, it becomes apparent that every criminal also wants the Tin Book, because it contains the activation codes for weapons left over from the Sixty Minute War. Hester, bored to tears by her peaceful life in Vineland, leaps to mount a rescue expedition for Wren. She and Tom set out to find their daughter, and a chase ensues, while Wren works on her own escape and the Tin Book changes hands again.

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As always with The Mortal Engines Quartet, Infernal Devices, was action-packed, full of imagery and description – a futuristic world sumptuously brought to life. You can count on Reeve to take you on a journey. The world is so familiar while remaining unknown that it continues to capture us and inspire thought even on the third outing. The book delivers gut-wrenching, scary, sad, and triumphant moments in equal part. Reeve doesn’t shy away from bloodshed, gore or killing people off and sometimes you read between the fingers you’ve thrown over your face it gets so graphic and startling. Yet, you can’t stop reading.

My son and I would end up in moral discussions after each night’s session. When the world has blown up and the survivors are fighting to stay alive, what changes, what is right and wrong, what’s permissible when there is no government and every moving city is out to “eat” the next? You could think about the repercussions for days. And we did. I love it when a book makes you think.

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Philip Reeve (born 28 February 1966), is an English illustrator and author. We can find his illustrations in the Horrible Histories and Murderous Math series. His 2007 novel Here Lies Arthur also won the Carnegie Medal, a British award celebrating the year’s best children’s book published in the UK. However, it was through Mortal Engines, and the sequels and prequels, the Fever Crumb series, with his keenly imagined world of predator cities, that Philip Reeve made his name in the literary world.

Made into a movie in 2018, the film of Mortal Engines received a lukewarm reception globally. But according to reports, Reeve praised the  Mortal Engines film adaptation, saying they had “done a fantastic job – a huge, visually awesome action movie with perfect pace and a genuine emotional core…. There are many changes to the characters, world, and story, but it’s still the same thing.”

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Was there anything I didn’t like about book number three, Infernal Devices? I found it a wrench to leave Tom Natsworthy as the main protagonist. Being asked to switch allegiance from him (and Hester) to Wren was a “hard ask” at first, and I resisted it. But the action drew me on and I ended up getting invested in the teenage daughter of our former heroes. The only other thing for me is that sometimes, as an eternal optimist, I find the tone of the series too bleak. A story well told is still worth reading, however, and I persevere with this series because it’s so darned fascinating.

My rating: four-and-a-half out of five stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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“…and then we shall release a storm which will rid this world of the infernal devices happily ever after forever.” ~ Stalker Fang in Predator’s Gold.

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!!

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

May 6 question – Do you have any rituals you use when you need help to get into the ZONE? Care to share?

The first thing I always do when I write the rough draft, is to go through the techniques we learnt in Tiffany Lawson Inman’s writing class, Method to Madness*, in 2012. I won a grand prize through commenting on a blog that year, and the prize was a writing workshop with Tiffany at the Lawson Writer’s Academy. As a trained actor, Tiffany applied the techniques actors used to relax and get into character as a way for writers to get into the zone and let the inspiration flow to write “Oscar-worthy” moments.

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Tiffany taught the workshop based on the principles she’d learned as a Method actor. She was inspiring. She told us Method acting helps actors tap into deep sensory memories and draw from actual life, bringing memories to life, and that a writer can use the same techniques to tap into their own memories and create more vivid fiction. We learnt to use relaxation techniques and exercise as the key ways to access our native creativity.

Tiffany set us a daily assignment of relaxation exercises we had to do before writing. We could not do the routine after a meal but on an empty stomach. We were to wear comfortable clothes and no heavy jewelry. We had to do the routine in a quiet, dim room with only natural light.

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Then we had to lie on the floor, not a bed or a couch, and breathe deeply. Slowly tense and release each muscle group of the body working from the toes to the head, holding each contraction for five seconds, mentally releasing the tension in each muscle group. We moved onto head rolls from side to side and consciously releasing each muscle group in the face by making funny faces, poking out the tongue, frowning and smiling and so on.

We returned to the deep breathing to a count of five or ten, on each out-breath letting out an AAH or an OOH sound. When standing up the body needed to be floppy, and we had to roll up the spine until the head came up last.

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The entire routine takes about twenty minutes.

“Tension is a creator’s worst enemy,” said Tiffany. “Can I persuade you that physical tension paralyzes our whole capacity for action, our dynamism, how muscular tension is connected to our minds,” said the acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavski.

The other part of the technique was to exercise daily. The combination of moving the body to get the blood flowing and then relaxing completely was the magic formula. It must work because it’s the one I still use today, eight years later. You know when something is a valuable tool and when a tip is worth keeping. These things helped me and still help me whenever I need to get into the zone to write.

I hope they help you, too. 

p.s. I highly recommend Lawson Writer’s Academy, the courses are short, high intensity and well priced.

*Copyright©2012 by Tiffany Lawson Inman, All Rights Reserved

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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“An actor’s instrument is his whole self, it is his body, mind and being, complete with thoughts, emotions, sensitivity, imagination, honesty and awareness.” ~ E.D. Easty

I’ve finished reading my fourth novel for 2020, The Haunting by one of New Zealand’s best  loved authors, the iconic Margaret Mahy. The Haunting follows the story of our young protagonist, Barney Palmer, an ordinary boy as extraordinary things happen to him. Barney and his sister, Tabitha suspect he is being haunted by his Great-Uncle Cole. The story introduces us to relatives of the Palmers, the Scholar family who are weird and wonderful, and there is talk of magicians. The cast is eclectic as one would expect from a Mahy novel and the story holds you gripped, as poor Barney becomes threatened by the ghostly presence with a family connection. Veering into possession it is a scary ghost story for children. Kids love a scare as long as they can trust the author to deliver it with a light touch of humour. And it has a good unexpected twist at the end. On this score too, Mahy delivers.

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Margaret Mahy (21 March 1936 – 23 July 2012) was an award-winning Kiwi author of children’s and young adults books and short stories. She received international recognition towards the end of her life with the Hans Christian Andersen Medal for her “lasting contribution to children’s literature.”

I was lucky enough to meet Margaret once, when she was appearing and I was volunteering at one of the Storylines Children’s Literature festivals. She looked just like she did in all the photos wearing a rainbow wig and a hundred badges. She walked past me with a trail of enthralled little children in her wake reminding me of the Pied Piper. I sat at the back of the room when she read one of her books, The Lion in the Meadow to a room full of three-five-year-olds and she held them in her palm. She was a magical storyteller. Full stop.

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Mahy wrote eloquently of relationships, people, and growing up. These themes underpin The Haunting. Published in New Zealand in 1982, it won the Carnegie Medal, an award given by the Library Association celebrating the year’s best children’s book by a British subject. A lot of Mahy’s considerable body of work, including The Haunting, is low fantasy otherwise known as “intrusion fantasy,” when the fantastical plays out in a realistic setting. Intrusion fantasy can mete out shock and awe in the hands of a master storyteller when the supernatural intrudes on an otherwise ordinary everyday world.

I remember when I started out writing, one of my tutors called my sentences “kaleidoscopic” so I shortened them. Some of Margaret Mahy’s sentences are delightfully kaleidoscopic and she uses a lot of head-hopping and so on, but there is no time to care about the issues when you’re hurrying to read the next page! You know it’s a marvellous story when you’re so immersed, you finish the book and think, I forgot to take any notes.

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Every time I read a book for review I’m always looking for the errors or flaws to give a balanced view. But all the rules go out the window when you’re in the hands of a master. It reminds me of when J. K. Rowling published the first book in the Harry Potter series, and it scandalized published authors around the world. They laughed at the old-fashioned style of writing. Here was Rowling flaunting the rules everyone else in the modern literary community tried to live by. Yet the Harry Potter series became the most widely sold books in the world, second only to the bible. Why? Because Rowling is a gifted storyteller. With the gifted, the rules don’t matter.

As Diane Setterfield wrote, in The Thirteenth Tale, ‘There is something about words. In expert hands, manipulated deftly, they take you prisoner.’

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I thought The Haunting was an engrossing tale told with aplomb. It was an interesting take on a ghost story and not one I’d read before. I think that’s the other thing I love about Mahy is the element of the unexpected. The only problem I have with The Haunting if I had to pick one, and it’s minor but still knocked off half a star, is that it was too short. Just as I wanted to get my teeth into the story and stay there, it was over. It was an all-too fleeting jaunt into Mahy’s imagination that whets the appetite and leaves one hoping for more. That’s class.

My rating: four-and-a-half out of five stars.

N.B. They made the Haunting into a movie, The Haunting of Barney Palmer, released in 1987.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Along the borders of this world there lie others,

There are places you can cross,

This is one such place. ~ Diane Setterfield

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One thing I have noticed recently has been the explosion of creativity both from me and from other people similarly cooped-up around the globe. I know friends and family who are having the longest holiday they’ve had in years, and other people living in fear and suffering. I’ve heard friends say they’ve gotten out of their comfort zones and taken online classes in playing guitar and learning new skills, a friend who had always wanted to start a blog wrote her first blog post. As a writer, I’m driven to put it all into words, daily, whether that be through writing my blog, snippets for my monthly newsletter or using my daily journal. Everyone’s finding ways of expressing themselves. There have been copious blog posts, home movies, Zoom recordings turned into podcasts, vocalists singing on balconies, musicians recording songs of hope and live streaming on various social media, memes, tweets, tik-toks and so it goes on. It seems isolation brings out the creative soul in people.

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In times of crisis, the artists of the world come to the fore.

I watched a fascinating webinar last week. The webinar was a conversation between three people in the media entertainment industry. Michelle Walshe, co-founder and CEO of creative content agency Augusto Group asked questions of a local girl made good, Chrissy Metge, in the UK, author, founder and creative director of Fuzzy Duckling Media, and Sam Witters, CEO of Fuzzy Duckling about how Covid-19 has affected the world of entertainment media, films, TV and animation, and what things will look like for the creative community going forward, in New Zealand and abroad.

Sam Witters spoke about the phenomena we’ve all of us noticed and been talking about, and that is “the incredible velocity of connectivity.” Since lockdown started in New Zealand, I’ve had phone calls, Zoom calls, Skype calls, online meetings and virtual drinks, I’ve had daily phonecalls with the family and I already have face times planned for the week ahead. As we are all at home and connected to the web, it’s as if we’re available to everyone around the clock.

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As Chrissy Metge put it, “It’s like there’s no off button” which can have a draining effect.

Yet even so the mood among the experts was one of optimism and they showed progressive thinking, which is the feed we need in these lean times. “All the rules have gone out the window,” said Sam, “it’s open season. There is a huge opportunity to reinvent. He who tells his story best will get their product across.”

And Chrissy went one step further in her unashamedly glass half-full view. “It’s awful to say it, but I’m actually very excited. New Zealanders are renowned for creating something out of nothing, the no.8 wire. New Zealanders just need an opportunity to shine. There are going to be so many opportunities to come.”

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The feeling was that the pandemic has brought people closer together, despite the physical isolation, in that people were being more open with their feelings. “There’s a common bond,” said Chrissy. “This is affecting everyone. Whether you are directly affected or not there’s still a high stress level. There is strength in unity. Leverage each other and other people’s experience.” She suggested artists should create content that will really entertain people because they “have been through hell.” I related when Sam said “it’s traditional in tough times that the creatives lead us out.”

Sam predicted that when this is all over, “there’ll be a need to fill the air.”

We creatives and artists of every kind should prepare our stories, our pictures, our songs, our “bibles,” our pitches now.

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I’ve been working hard on the editing and reproduction of the first two books in my trilogy, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, and the third book, The Last Tree, as we intend to release in June. I have been a whirlwind of productivity. Yes, the kids have been home underfoot, and yes it’s been stressful, but isolation has helped me to sit–put my butt in the literal chair–and plough through the stacks of editing.

I’ve found it inspires me to watch podcasts and webinars like the Creative Class, hearing from other artists in the creative community. Their proclivity to hope and growth is who I am. These are my people. It also helps the fire keep burning to hear from the movers and shakers. I think Sam Witter’s ‘parting words’ were brilliant. “Don’t be afraid. Move forward. Evolve. Pivot.” Exactly.

I believe we will get through this if we are creative thinkers and look out for each other.

Thomas M Madsen, visual artist

Thomas M. Madsen, visual artist

Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

*

Tóg go bog é. ~ Feel the stillness.

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I’ve finished reading my third novel for 2020, Child Power. I like a story set in ancient history and Book two of The Amazon Series by Kiwi writer, Raewyn Dawson, takes place in c.300 BC.  Raewyn set her debut novel, Slave Power, in the area around the Black Sea, introducing Melo, a fifteen-year-old rider of the Amazonian Wild Horse Tribe, pitched against slave traders who tyrannise The Plains.

A story of slaves triumphing over oppression is a rousing theme.

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Book two, Child Power, picks up with a sixteen-year-old Melo, who is now a leader in the combined tribes of the Wild Eagle Horse Tribe. There is friction for the newly formed tribes people. To assist her people with all the changes, Melo helps the unruly children of the tribe by letting them take on leadership roles. Melo’s friend, the young Atalanta is abducted and taken to work as a slave with many other mistreated child slaves at a pig farm. Atty becomes a leader among the slaves and teaches them the methods of inner resilience of those who follow “the Peace Way,” which translates as shedding as little blood as in resolving conflict. The children learn how to work together as a team and look out for one another, in the process gaining the strength they need to fight for freedom.

It’s a story of child empowerment which is a cool idea. Nice one, Raewyn. *High five.

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Christchurch based author, Raewyn Dawson, teaches Classics and plays piano. Born in Wellington, she lives with her three daughters and her husband. Of her novel, Child Power, Dawson said, ‘The second book was about how young people too can work together with real success despite hardship.’

As a poet, I think Dawson writes fiction with a poet’s touch, with rhythm and rich descriptions, and she definitely is a great storyteller. I look forward to the release of the third book. There’s a lot to like about Child Power. I like the fresh ideas. The novel and pleasing notion of “the Peace Way” is such a soothing balm in these fretful times. I also appreciated reading the female protagonists. It’s nice to hear from the girls.

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There were only two little niggles for me with this book. First, was the style used of inserting pieces of narration by a “voice of God” type character, His feeling was mistaken, which come across as a little old-fashioned. I sometimes found the narration intrusive. Personally, I’d rather not have a warning, preferring to read the action as it unfolds.

Also, one antagonist, Mithrida, who had been a total bad-ass character through both volumes, and had prepared for revenge (like Linda Hamilton’s character training in The Terminator sequel to be a warrior) throughout Child Power, gets a mosquito bite towards the end which slows her down just as she would have her revenge. While it’s not responsible for a resolution of the story, it puts a dent in bad guy’s stride, and for me, the device grazed the area of Deus Ex Machina. It seemed a little too convenient.

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The head hopping I’ve already mentioned in my review of book one, Slave Power. Yet, given that she head hops, Raewyn has done an exceptional job in Child Power and Slave Power, of juggling such a large cast of characters. With this second book I felt like I was getting to know all these different characters and they became more real for me. So that’s proof that the author had developed the cast well and there was growth and development whether good or bad for most of them.

It’s an able piece of storytelling. I liked Child Power and the chance to go back in time to a fascinating era. I thought it was lovely, Raewyn letting the youngest character, Atty, be the one who took the lead role in this book, gaining more prominence over Melo. So this series has an excellent setting and a new voice to offer to the Young Adult genre, and it’s done well. Good job, Raewyn Dawson.

My rating: three out of five stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Cadence is the difference between a piece that simply ‘works’ and one that doesn’t. The professional and the novice. So treat your piece like its poetry. Read it out loud. Do you stumble? Does something seem off? Clunky? That’s the cadence right there. The rhythm of a piece, the beat. The play on syllables, the alliteration. ~ Shreya Vikram

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Subscribe to my newsletter by emailing me with “Newsletter Subscription” in the subject line to: yvettecarol@hotmail.com

It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!!

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

April 1 question – The IWSG’s focus is on our writers. Each month, from all over the globe, we are a united group sharing our insecurities, our troubles, and our pain. So, in this time when our world is in a crisis with the covid-19 pandemic, our optional question this month is: how are things in your world?

We’re in the North Island of New Zealand, where the whole country has been on lockdown for nearly two weeks, with two weeks still to go, unless the end date gets changed. It’s been so strange, almost haunting, as if one had gone back in time to one’s youth. The air is clear of the usual traffic fumes and jet exhaust and smells different. Clean. The streets ring with the sounds of children playing and adults talking. There are more cyclists than cars on the road, and there are families out walking along the footpaths in droves.

It reminds me of growing up here in the 1960s.

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Yet, it’s not like the memories I keep of my childhood because this bucolic idyll is fraught with tension and a keyed-up state of general anxiety. As my friend said the other night, in our virtual drinks, re the Covid-19 virus, “I could have it, you could have it, we could all have it,” and that’s the uneasy truth we’re living with. Every visit to the supermarket, every outing, we feel we’re literally risking our lives. And we are.

Those of us who are parents are also trying to help our children deal with the stress. I have three boys. My two younger boys, my nephew and I are in our “bubble” over here, and my eldest is in a bubble with his own little family on the other side of town. At present, I’m worried about my eldest and his twenty-two-month-old baby. My darling granddaughter has a fever and they’re not sure what it is yet. I’ve been receiving constant updates and staying in contact with them.

Thank goodness for the Internet.

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My youngest son has immersed himself either in online schoolwork or in gaming and watching anime. He practices the trombone and drums. He’s not worried about a thing, he is as happy as a sandboy.

My seventeen-year-old Sam has Down syndrome and does not understand the pandemic or anything about lockdown. All he knows is that everything is suddenly different. His weekly chart of activities went from being full with school every day, and extracurricular activities, dance class, gym training, and basketball at night to being stuck at home on endless holiday. For a special needs person, they thrive on routine, and they like things to be the same every day. All Sam knows is the personal disaster of everything changing and becoming different suddenly. His reaction is to act out, to do silly things, or to freeze up and refuse to cooperate with even the simplest of requests. As Sam can’t speak, bad behaviour is his way of expressing himself. However, he’ll get used to the new normal given time.

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I’ve been enjoying the virtual meetings. I’ve been attending Toastmasters’ meetings via Zoom every Wednesday. They’ve been a lot of fun. It’s so nice to see everyone and see they’re doing well. I think connecting in whatever ways we can is uplifting. I also attend Friday night virtual drinks with old friends, via Zoom. We’ve known each other since schooldays. We’ve called our soiree “cocktails & pigtails,” and we wear our hair in pigtails, too, for the laughs. I’ve been so grateful for my friends, and I’m on the phone daily with my family. We’re checking up on one another.

I’ve been busy, more so than ever, since lockdown. I’ve been an editing machine and in two weeks, I have edited the entire manuscript of my work-in-progress twice! I’ve also been communicating with the book designer and figuring out how we will redo my first two books and do the design for the third. With luck, I’ll stay on target for publishing The Last Tree by June. I’m still going after my dreams, despite my insecurities, virus or no virus, lockdown or no lockdown.

What about you?

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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“Life is the love that reaches out, building bridges across gulfs of uncertainty to touch hands, hearts and souls in the experience of union,” – P. Seymour

The city has gone quiet and the noise from the motorway barely audible. In New Zealand, we are officially on lock down as the government helps everyone in the fight to contain the Covid-19 virus. We have four weeks ahead of self isolation and with luck the government will step the nation down from a “Level Four Alert” to a Level Three. It’s okay. I can hear more of the bird calls and the songs of the insects. It sounds poignant. Some people say they don’t like the quiet. I love it. I haven’t seen the streets this quiet since I was a kid growing up here in the sixties. The stillness feels peaceful, which is just what we need as we curl inside our family “bubbles” and prepare to hibernate.

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Essential services are still running. I ventured out yesterday to do the grocery shopping, and it was nerve-wracking. Police outside the supermarket, hazard signs, and perspex barriers between us and the checkout operators.

How do I cope with going out in public? I take preventative measures.

There are face masks available at some local chemists. I’m doing my best to follow all the preventative measures. The boys and I are washing our hands regularly and using Hand Sanitizer. We keep a distance of two meters from others in public. When we get home we shower, wash the clothes we were wearing and put shoes and coats out in the sun. We wash all the groceries, fruit, vegetables, and the packaging of processed foods in warm soapy water. There are many things we can do to minimize the risk.

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It is still scary. Every day we hear about new cases of people infected. I hope my family will be okay. But yesterday, while in the supermarket, two men sneezed and did not put an elbow over their faces. In another aisle, an online shopper was putting goods in his basket and did a sneeze over the goods he had collected. Horrible. Though sneezing is not a symptom of Covid-19, when there is a deadly virus around, any sign of illness is off-putting. If they’d had face masks on they wouldn’t have shared their illness with us. I realized how little control I had over the situation and for the first time I was afraid. There is an invisible danger every time I leave the house, and yet I still have to enter the supermarket and grocery store to get supplies each week.

How do I cope with the fear? Deep breathing helps. I sometimes say a mantra. I find meditation helps me stay on an even keel, so I’ve been meditating more than usual.

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After this week’s sneezing incident, I’ve taken the boys’ father up on his offer to do the shopping for both households for the duration of the lock down period. The fewer people out there, the better.

Yet, as social animals, we still need social interaction. It can get lonely in isolation. Thank goodness for modern technology. People have been reaching out to each other, face timing relatives on Skype and meeting with friends online. I’ve heard from friends, family, and Toastmasters colleagues. I’ve had videos sent to me via Facebook of friends singing. My old friends from schooldays are meeting up via Zoom room this Friday night for “virtual drinks.”

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This week we had our club’s first ever online Toastmasters meeting, and it was great fun. In among the fear, there have been positive things that have come out of this extraordinary time as people find new ways of connecting and supporting one another.

However, there’s also such a thing as being too plugged in. With world news at the moment, I think less is more. I sat and watched the BBC news with my son the other night and afterwards I felt almost unable to function. Stress lowers immunity function. I think for now, a light touch with the news is necessary for one’s well-being.

If we give in to the fear, we spiral downward. We have to stay strong mentally and emotionally and physically. That’s the only way we can be of service to our families. We have to persevere, keep our spirits up, the morale high.

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How do I keep my spirits up? I gravitate towards things I enjoyed doing as a kid.

I read books, watch movies, draw pictures, doodle, write stories, listen to music, sing, dance, go outside into the garden, plant things, and spend time with my family.

The boys and I have done their schoolwork together, gone for family runs, and we’ve played board games. I’ve seen whole families out biking to the park, couples walking dogs.

We’re reminded we can get through this together, and we will. How about you, how are you doing?

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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The darkest night is often the bridge to the brightest tomorrow. – Jonathan Lockwood Huie

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 * There are free counselling services in New Zealand. Call or text 1737. Check what’s available in your area.

I’ve finished reading my second novel for 2020, Slave Power. The setting for the Amazon Series is in ancient history and the books are stories about the mysterious Amazon tribes, which makes them an ambitious undertaking for Kiwi writer, Raewyn Dawson. Her debut novel, Slave Power takes place in c.300 BC. I have to say, as a fan of historical fiction, I thought Raewyn brought the past to life convincingly. That’s what I treasure about historical fiction is that you vicariously go back in time and you learn about the past. The series is for young adults, so there is some R-rated content that makes it unsuitable for younger readers.

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Book One in the Amazon Series, Slave Power, takes place in the exotic setting of the Black Sea, The Plains, and the Caucasus Mountains. The story follows Melo, a fifteen-year-old rider in the Wild Horse Tribe, as she and her fellow Amazons come up against the slave traders who tyrannise The Plains making raids on the peaceful tribes. The slave traders capture Melo and most of the tribes, separating some with Melo to train as warriors, selling the others. As the enslaved youngsters cooperate and work on outer and inner strength, they finally overturn the overlords by using peaceful means. Peace is an overriding theme for the book, because the Amazons and people of the plains follow “the Peace Way” which translates as shedding as little blood as possible in resolving conflict.

Raewyn Dawson

Raewyn Dawson is an award-winning speaker, pianist, and teacher of Classics. Born in Wellington, she has three daughters and now lives in Christchurch with her husband. Of her novel, Slave Power, Dawson has said, ‘The first novel was about the power of friendship among women, even if oppressed, to achieve hope.’

As a recognized poet in New Zealand, I think Dawson writes fiction like a poet also, with certain unexpected turns of phrase and rich descriptions. She handled the setting for Slave Power nicely. Whenever I read books set in the past all my instincts go on high alert as I seek to reassure myself within the first few pages that the author can deliver the past believably. I’m pleased to say this was the case with Slave Power. I relaxed as soon as I was sure the author could deliver me into ancient history and take me for a wonderful ride.

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So that’s the good cop. The bad cop has two issues with Slave Power. The first gripe is the “Head hopping.” According to editor Louise Harnby, head hopping is when the writer forces the reader to play a game of ping pong on the page. Instead of reading the story, one is constantly trying to work out who’s telling it. I would read Slave Power thoroughly engrossed and then suddenly we would switch to another character in a different place and then a different person and so on. I longed to get to know Melo better, and it was frustrating to only be with her character occasionally throughout the story. A lot of highly successful authors juggle multiple points of view deftly and weave a magical story this way. I have no problem with that. All I’m saying is that head hopping is not my preference. I like to get to know the protagonist and spend time with them, getting to know all their funny quirks, until they become like dear friends or family members, people you know and care about. It’s hard to care about Melo the way I cared about Harry, for instance, when we don’t hear from our protagonist for three or sometimes five or six chapters.

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Gripe number two about Slave Power was the ending. In fiction, it is vital to answer the questions you’ve raised, to touch on the ending for each of the point of view characters, and to have an ending with resonance. Melo and the other slaves had been training for most of the novel, and the other enslaved youngsters. Yet at the end, when Melo and the other slaves overturn the regime of bad guys in town, it’s almost a non-event. In one page they’ve surrounded the city, and it’s theirs, which I felt was a let-down. It was too abrupt.

That being said, overall I liked Slave Power. Reading about the Amazons and the strong female characters was refreshing. Raewyn Dawson is a skilled storyteller and has a great imagination to share. I also felt interested in starting Book Two in the Amazon Series, Child Power. I think that’s a fairly healthy sign of a tale worth reading.

My rating: three out of five stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. ~ Roald Dahl

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I’ve been running around all week like a flea in a fit. The youngest son has been home from school, suffering from his allergies, and as any parent knows when a child is sick it creates a ton of extra work. Also…he likes to talk. He’s one of those people who once he gets going on a topic that interests him can ramble on and on, making it hard to get away. So each day, he’s lain on the couch, sneezing, talking, and watching anime, surrounded in a cotton cloud of spent tissues, while I’ve tried to get all the usual stuff done as well as look after the patient. These are the times you need to clone yourself.

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I suspect the youngest son has an active mind. The other day he said, “Do you know what I’m looking forward to the most about growing up?” A number of things went through my head like leaving school, independence, money, etc. He said, “I’m looking forward to having rational conversations.” I think my jaw hit the floor. Say what? Yes. He said he gets tired of the ridiculous things his friends say and it drives him crazy. I was amazed by that. I hung off every word my friends said when I was his age like a brainless gibbon. I had no such discernment.

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Since he was a tiny child the youngest has always been wise for his age. And decisive. While I’m dithering about on a decision, like what to name a new pet, the youngest son will deliver a verdict immediately. As the years went by, I started to rely on his instantaneous decision making because he always seemed to make the right choice. He’s fourteen and to him things are very clear. It’s a quality I envy at times. To me things are very grey never black and white, however, I may have gotten jaded with time.

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Over a month ago, he begged me to take him to an information evening about junior space school. The $10,000 price tag for two weeks at Space Camp didn’t faze him. He negotiated with his father and has started working every weekend with him as a builder’s hand. He’s saving the money steadily. “I want to do this more than I’ve wanted to do anything else in my life,” he told me. I believed him and want to support him in fulfilling his dream in every way that I can. The other day, in a questionnaire for school, he said they asked what he wants to be when he grows up. “I wanted to write astronaut but thought it would sound stupid.” “It’s not stupid to have big dreams,” I told him. “Dream as big as you like and anything is possible.”

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I admire him because I know how far he’s come. I guess when you’ve faced death on the operating table at the age of five it changes a person. But the youngest son survived his double bypass open heart surgery, without brain damage or the possible side effects of paediatric heart surgery like emotional/developmental/behavioural difficulties. He came through perhaps a little weaker physically than his peers. Otherwise he is no different except for his high level of intelligence and a well of compassion as deep and wide as Lake Taupo. I would say he’s an extraordinary individual. If anyone could grow up to be an astronaut, it’s him.

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I tell friends, “he’s fourteen going on forty” as a way of saying he has an old head on young shoulders. I remember we were driving back from his physiotherapy one afternoon, and the boy racer in the car next to us screeched to a halt half a car’s length over the stop lines on the road. The youngest said, “Why do that? He’s just showing off. It’s silly.” I thought if I closed my eyes that could be my father speaking, you’d never think it was coming from someone nearly eligible to be a boy racer himself.

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It’s humbling being a parent. As Kahlil Gibran said in his famous book, The Prophet, your children are not yours, they are the arrows and you are the bow that sends them forth into the world. As a parent you want the best for your children. You create them, raise them, guide them, love them and then you let them go. Yet, with my youngest sometimes I’d swear he’s the one raising me.

What about you, do you know a child who seems far older than their years? Or are you the old soul in your family?

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. ~ Kahlil Gibran

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It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organisers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!!

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March 4 question – Other than the obvious holiday traditions, have you ever included any personal or family traditions/customs in your stories?

Not so much family traditions, however, there are other ways I’ve used family as a resource for my stories. The main character, Aden Weaver, who is the hero of my latest series, The Chronicles of Aden Weaver, resembles my youngest son. Aden is a year younger, but it’s still been useful whenever I’ve wondered how he would act or how he would view something to imagine my youngest and look at things through his eyes. It enabled me to gain access into the young male mindset. Conversely, for Aden’s leadership of the team, his plans, decisions and the way he spoke in every crisis, I brought to mind one of my nephews and he helped me capture that strong male warrior mentality and masculinity.

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I based the kindly yet stern grandfather figure in the series on my father, with his white shock of hair ‘standing off his head in a salute.’ I had to get my father’s hair into a story! It was wonderful and the bane of his life. Dad would carefully slick the hair on top of his head down every morning with some product and halfway through the day his hair would spring up again. If I pointed out how cute he looked, Dad would look horrified, although in a gently comedic way and scamper off to comb his hair again. He was a great model for Aden’s beloved grandfather. I took the character’s name, Papa Joe, directly from my younger boys’ paternal grandfather, Joseph, who signed his first card and a letter to the kids with “Papa Joe.” I loved the name the moment I saw it and knew I had to use it in a story one day. It was too good, too short, sweet and lyrical.

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I drew Aden’s grandmother, Nana Jeen, from my grandmother, except I gave Nana Jeen the hair I’ve always loved in children’s literature, long silver locks which she wears in a braid or coiled up. I mention Nana Jeen’s cooking often, and that was my grandmother, whose husband famously never once took her out to dinner. When asked why not, he would say, “Why would I go out to eat when I can eat so well at home?” Nana Jeen is soft, attentive and loving like Gran was and she cares enough to go the extra mile like remembering to make someone’s favourite sweets. She also likes a drink of strong liquor in the evening. Gran was partial to sherry.

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In my story, Nana Jeen disapproves of Papa Joe smoking cigars, whereas in real life my grandmother was fond of a private daily cigarette. Nana Jeen is also a kick-arse gal, who knows how to fight, being a trained warrior in the Order of Twenty-four, and I think Gran would have liked that.

Te Maia was a name I overheard in conversation, when my Maori sister-in-law said if she ever had a baby girl she’d name her Te Maia. It was such a beautiful name it stayed with me through the years. I gave Te Maia in The Chronicles of Aden Weaver disabilities because having my son Samuel who has Down syndrome, I’m drawn to include characters with special needs. Te Maia learns to fight, and she has a prodigious memory, and she also brings her healing skills with herbs and traditional medicine as assets to the team.

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Sun was an easy character to draw for me because I’d bring to mind another of my nephews. I worked as his live-in nanny, looking after him from the age of three weeks to seven years old. He quickly earned the nickname “Sumo-momo” for being a fearless, feisty, energetic, irrepressible dynamo. Sun is one of my favourite characters in the whole series. She has that special something my father used to call “spirit” that get-up-and-go quality.

When I think about it, I guess I have drawn on family liberally for characters for my stories.

What about you? Do you use family for inspiration?

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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Whether or not you write well, write bravely. ~ Bill Stout