Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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.

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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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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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.

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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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Last year, I challenged myself in January to read more. By the end of 2019, I had read twenty-four books, and I left a review for each one on Goodreads. This year, the challenge continues because reading is essential for writers. As the award-winning writer Kate De Goldi said to us once, “Write write write, read read read.”

I started reading in January and realized I no longer had anywhere to post my reviews. I had quit most of my social media accounts in December. Therefore–drum roll, please–I will post my reviews here on my blog instead. Problem solved.

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The first novel for 2020 was a book I had picked up at the flea market recently, Hickory Dickory Dock, by Agatha Christie. There are certain authors I will always buy their books at book fairs and thrift stores and Christie is one of them, also, William Dalrymple, Amy Tan, Alice Walker, Diane Setterfield, Anne Enright, and so on, however I mostly invest in paperback versions of the other great writers in my genre of fantasy for children like Maggie Stiefvater, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, Philip Pullman, Philip Reeve, Katherine Applegate, Brian Jacques and so on.

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Well loved, Dame Agatha Christie (1890 -1976) is the best-selling novelist of all time according to the Guinness Book of Records, and the most published behind Shakespeare and the Bible. I love a good mystery and admire mystery writers. Agatha Christie is the queen of them all. Her style, while old-fashioned is effortless, she is a natural-born storyteller. She has the gift to pull you in and keep you enthralled to the end.

They published hickory Dickory Dock in 1955. The writing style is outdated to the modern reader and a lot of the language is archaic. I found the story got clunky in places; however, you forgive the occasional over-egging and quaint old-fashioned views of the world for what they are, a precious glimpse into a bygone era.

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This book features Christie’s famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. A somewhat irascible character, he is divisive, some fans love him some loathe him for being pompous. Personally, I indulge his bombastic behaviour because I adore how outrageous he is, and how self confident, and he’s as smart as a whip.

Hickory Dickory Dock is a cracking mystery that takes you on a roller coaster journey as the clues drop. The cast is extensive, and it took me a while to figure out who was who. I enjoyed Christie’s way of drawing you in and igniting the questions in your mind. Yet there were also times when the plot seemed a tad convoluted as if she may have gotten carried away. These days we’d say less is more, but the dialogue is believable and I love the quaint language. It’s a window into another world. Altogether, an entertaining read.

My rating: three out of five stars.

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Talk to you later.

Keep creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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If one sticks too rigidly to one’s principles, one would hardly see anybody. ~ Agatha Christie

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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. Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG and hashtag is #IWSG. Let’s rock the neurotic writing world!

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

OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: February 5 question – Has a single photo or work of art ever inspired a story? What was it and did you finish it?

In a word, no. However, as luck would have it, my friend, author Donatien Moisdon asked a question the other day in an email which I think would make an excellent question of the month.

Donatien: In your latest newsletter, I was very interested to read about your thoughts and those of your friends regarding the question: What makes a good novel?

For me, a writer of popular fiction, a good book entails the perfect marriage of a riveting story line and great characters. I have to feel a connection with the main character; I want to feel drawn to them and want to know what happens to them next.

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So when I’m writing a new story, I strive to know the characters first. I am a fan of the “story bible” or “book journal” which means I write the details of the characters, and setting, background, longhand in a special notebook. By this method, I develop my characters well before I ever start writing the story. The hope is to convey real characters who have depth.

I prefer a small cast. Donatien’s advice is to deal with only a limited number of characters and make sure that readers will recognize them easily.

I agree. I finished reading The Warlock by Michael Scott a few months ago. It boggled me for half the book, trying to remember the vast catalogue of players. For the second half of the book I had a handle on the enormous cast but I still got confused. Even the professional writers get it wrong.

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Donatien recommends keeping things clear in the reader’s mind especially in dialogue. It is very important for readers to know exactly who is saying what. Thus the importance of perfect punctuation.

So for a good book, you need a manageable number of characters. You need to hone good dialogue and pay attention to punctuation.

You also need a rivetting story line. I prefer adventure stories, and I have done since I first discovered the joy of reading as a young girl. And in writing popular or genre fiction for children, the goal is to take readers on a fabulous ride they won’t want to get off. In a story worth its salt the protagonist/s have to win fire (or the elixir) and bring it back to the tribe, but to get there, keep upping the pace, worsening the conflict for the protagonist and deepening the stakes.

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There is an infectious pace that kicks in on a brilliant story. You can’t stop turning the page. Donatien says, Rhythm is very important. Can each sentence be read in a loud voice for the first time by a newcomer without hesitation? If the reader stumbles, chances are the sentence needs work. To bring your writing alive in the reader’s mind, he suggests remembering to use all the senses. Place the reader at the very center of the action, but also at the center of the environment through the use of the five senses. Add a sixth sense: the sense of a dream.

For me, there’s also an X factor that marks a good book, that singular thing of being able to drift away with the words. It’s the fairy circle where you enter and the more you read the more you lose time. I like stories that take me away somewhere. My goal with every story I write is to return the reader to the shaded places of youth where they remember magic can happen, to inspire a sense of wonder. That is the holy grail.

How do you instill wonder? I’m always trying to figure it out! Do you know?

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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Storytelling is really one of the most wonderful things about human beings. And some of us get to be lucky enough to also be the storytellers. ~ Bryan Cranston

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*Please note this special request from Donatien: If you could find the time to read The Immortal Part, available on lirenligne.net, and let me know if I’ve managed to follow my own recipes, I’d be very grateful. On the lirenligne.net website, you have to click on Donatien Moisdon or The immortal Part, then “télécharger” (download) in the brown square. 

*Please remember to write a review. Thank you! 

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!!!

*I took the option of not answering the ‘optional question of the month’.

InsecureWritersSupportGroup

I exist in that strange, no-man’s-land, the limbo on the other side of having finished a book. I only just surfaced from the gruelling, nitty-gritty hard yards of getting The Last Tree to a publishable standard at the weekend. Any Indie will sympathise. Those few weeks and days were late nights and early starts, and staring at the words on the screen, word by word, until I could barely see anymore. Then, I delivered the novel into professional hands and went into free fall.

Slowly I can feel my extremities again. I am relieved and pleased all at once.

I tried an experiment with this book. The first two books in The Chronicles of Aden Weaver trilogy cost me upwards of $5000 each to produce. To bring the price of publishing my stories down to a reasonable level, I cut out the proofreader and the copy editor, which saved $3200 and instead paid $70 for a year’s subscription to ProWritingAid.

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I worked with the online editing program and my blood, sweat and tears.

Last weekend, after developing this book for two years, the deadline for delivery to the book designer was Monday. It locked me in a deadly embrace with time. I can’t stand deadlines. However, they work to prod you into gargantuan herculean efforts of which not even you thought possible. Sunday night I was still at my computer editing hard at eleven, and on Monday morning, I was up at five to start again.

I cross my fingers and toes that by doing it all myself; I have done enough. I really hope so.

The Monday deadline also meant I needed to get the second pen and ink illustration done, because I had only completed one. The weekend of editing was so intense, I gave myself “art breaks” and during those allotted times I doodled and inked in the second picture. It was so much fun! I think I like the resulting illustration the most out of them all.

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I blogged last week about the cover art arriving. After the long haul of editing, when you reach the finish line, it’s like time speeds up and everything happens at once. These vital pieces fell into place. On Thursday night, the cover art brought the world to life. I finished the second pen and ink illustration. I prepared the accompanying copy for the back cover and the end pages. I liaised with the book designers and set up the printers.

Monday eleven o’clock, I reached the words The End and realized I had finished the editing. It was an emotional moment. At lunchtime, I emailed the whole package to BookPrint. Then I drove over and sat with the designer for an hour and a half. The great thing about going to BookPrint again is they have the files of my last two books so it should be a relatively seamless job to produce the third book in the same style as the others.

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For the actual printing of the books, I compared the costs of printing at local firms and took $400 off the price by giving the job to another local company, 3A Signs. Altogether, I have halved the price of production, bringing it to $2500. But have I done enough as the proofreader and copy editor to make the savings worthwhile? I don’t know.

I have an author friend who recommended the online editing program, and she has successfully used it for her last three books. Will it work as well for me? I don’t know.

I wait to see the cover and the layout. I’m looking forward to getting the proof copy. I want to sit and read The Last Tree as a reader would. I did the very best I could, and now, the test, does it hang together as a great story that was worth telling? I hope so.

I hope this book makes the mark, however; I don’t know, hence my insecurity at present. I linger in book limbo. Help! Thanks IWSG, for the chance to rant!

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.
– Eleanor Roosevelt

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 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

OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: October reflective question: It’s been said that the benefits of becoming a writer who does not read is that all your ideas are new and original. Everything you do is an extension of yourself, instead of a mixture of you and another author. On the other hand how can you expect other people to want to read your writing if you don’t enjoy reading yourself? What are your thoughts?

While parenthood and other strains have sometimes prevented me from reading nevertheless books have always played a major part in my life. From listening to mum and dad reading us stories from babyhood, to being given my first book of legends, my first book of poems, fairy stories, and so on, as a special Christmas gift each year, I grew up surrounded and encouraged by literature. There were lots of books in our house. My parents sometimes even allowed me to borrow from my sisters’ library, which was considered a special treat.

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We grew up with a nightly ritual of our father reading us bedtime stories. From the time we were babies right through to young adolescents, in reward for getting ready for bed dad would come and read a few pages to us. He read slowly in his deep voice and it was wondrous to hear all the classics, Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, The Swiss Family Robinson, and so on.

You’ve heard the saying, you are what you eat. I believe it’s also true to say; you are what you read.

The wonderful Kate De Goldi put it best when she said, ‘I’m someone who’s been constructed by books, my sense of self, how to think about other people, how to understand other people’s realities is largely down to reading.’

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Having been an avid bookworm since the age of seven, I feel I’ve been steeped in the cultures and stories of every novel I’d ever dragged home from the library and pored through every night.

I am not sure how you would separate me from the stories I’ve heard and told and read.

So I must accept that there’s no getting away from the literature I’ve imbibed. Those books are part of my DNA. I’m re-reading the Redwall series from the beginning. I got a shock the other day, when I read a character refer to death/the afterlife as being ‘the dark gates’ because in my Chronicles of Aden Weaver series, I called death ‘the black gates.’ I must have subconsciously recalled the phrase from those wonderful books by Brian Jacques and made it my own. I’d completely forgotten the term until I read it recently.

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Do the best you can to be as scrupulous as possible, but sometimes these things happen. Does it mean I should stop reading to avoid such clashes? No.

Every writer has heard that they should read to write. The theory being if you don’t read the best in your genre, how do you know what those readers are interested in reading? It’s vital research to every author worth their salt, to know their genre.

When I was a younger writer I used to exist in a bubble of solitude. It was the 80’s before the internet and personal computers. I was a young mother at home and I did not understand what the marketing of books was about in those days.

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I hadn’t read in my genre (of children’s fiction) since I had been a child. I wrote about whatever I liked. The resulting epic, The Scrifs and the Stirrits, was fantasy adventure for 6- 9–year-old readers with a tale of furry little critters on a quest.

In the 80’s absolutely no one was publishing anthropomorphic, off-world fantasy adventures for 6- 9–year-old readers. They weren’t popular, but I had no way of knowing as I was not reading in my genre. There wasn’t a single publisher in New Zealand who would look at my manuscript. Those were the days before self publishing when the traditional gatekeepers really did stand between the writer and the goal of publication. It was a tough lesson.

Point taken: you have to read to write. What do you think?

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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 “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies,” said Jojen. “The man who never reads lives only one.” ~ George R. R. Martin. A Dance with Dragons

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Subscribe to my Newsletter at www.yvettecarol.com

The first week back at school, the youngest son and his friends organized a game of laser tag on the Friday night. The group of nine kids arranged their parental transport and played laser tag from 6-7 p.m. It was all good clean fun, and the kids had a ball. This week, they’ve organised to play Call of Duty together at one of the boys’ houses.

I thought, wow, we’ve come a long way from the earlier despair over having no friends.

His social life is definitely waxing. However, for the time being, the youngest still seems mostly content to be at home playing C.O.D, Minecraft or Fortnite on his X-box, or watching anime on his phone. Sometimes, he even reverts back to playing Roblox on his laptop. I still have a buddy a while longer, yet.

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We were talking the other night at bedtime. I’ve mentioned this before. My son does his own version of The 10 p.m. Question like the protagonist, Frankie, in Kate de Goldi’s brilliant book, who comes to the door of his parents room every night with a deep, thought-provoking question. On one of the writing courses I did with Kate, she told us that the character sprang directly from her son and his ‘nightly questions about the universe and everything.’ My youngest does his own version: every night, after we’ve all done some reading, cleaned our teeth, and said our prayers, when I go to close the door and say goodnight, the youngest son suddenly says, “Why do people get depressed?” (last night’s question) or something similarly deep and reflective and requiring a long considered conversation. He says he gets most of his ideas at night.

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As a fourteen-year-old, I had my head in a book, to the extent that I remember taking twenty books with me, when our family went on holiday to the Coromandel. I suffered frequent headaches throughout the vacation. When my parents had my eyes tested upon our return home, they were told I had 20/20 vision. So they put my headaches down to ‘too much reading’! As if.

I carried on reading regardless, of course, as you do when you’re a teenager.

My youngest son is headstrong in the way of being in his own dreamworld at times. Tonight, he was due at soccer practice at 5.15 p.m. “Finish your food.” “Put your phone down.” “You still have your exercises to do.” Why is he still sitting there watching anime on his phone and eating with one hand, when it’s 4.55? “Put your phone down.” “Hurry up and finish your food.”

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Result: we arrived at practice ten minutes late, which is disrespectful to the coach. Next week, I will renew my efforts to coral this long-limbed, gangly, phone-watching teenager and get him to soccer practice on time.

We have had one success story, so far. This year, I forced the youngest son into a new routine of nightly reading. He was consistently getting his lowest marks in English. He’d always enjoyed a bedtime story, but never spent time reading on his own. So this year, while I have continued with the usual bedtime stories for his brother, the youngest son chooses his own books and reads alone. His goal is two pages a night. Sometimes, I have to make him stop after four, or he’ll be late to bed. And he’s now getting better marks in English.

The other night, as I went to say goodnight, the youngest said, “Mum, I have to write an essay for social studies about early life in New Zealand, all about the pioneers. I need pictures and maps. I mean where do you find that sort of stuff?” “I’d go to the library and ask the librarian.” “The library? Thanks, mum, I never thought of that.”

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He needed more than Google could provide, yet he never thought of going to the library? That’s sad. The school library would have been my first port of call when I was a kid.

By the way, the youngest loved the idea and went to the school library with a few of his friends this morning. “Did you get any books out to help with your essay?” “No, I got chatting with my friends and forgot to get any books out.”

He promises me, he will remember to actually look for books next time.

I believe in the value of libraries. Well known author, Margaret Mahy said, “I’m here to assert that librarians stand dancing on that tenuous ridge that separates chaos from order. That dancing librarian makes so much of the world accessible to others.”

I’ll be expecting more 10 p.m. questions soon…

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(Kate de Goldi and I, 2008)

Talk to you later.

Keep on Creating!

Yvette K. Carol

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Leave the libraries alone. You don’t know the value of what you’re looking after. It is too precious to destroy.’ ~ Philip Pullman

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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 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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OPTIONAL IWSG Day Question: If you could use a wish to help you write just one scene/chapter of your book, which one would it be?

If I had a wish to help me write just one chapter of my book, it would be the opening chapter. For me, as a reader, everything hinges on that first experience. If I’m not hooked by the time I get to chapter two, there is zero chance I will keep reading.

I remember clearly to this day when I first fell in love with books, and that was when – as a nine-year-old – I opened the first page of Tove Jansson’s classic tale, Finn Family Moomintroll and I read, Dear child!!!! When I first heard that the whole Finn Family Moomintroll was going abroad, I went to Moominpapa and asked if I should pack the usual things we carry with us on our wanderings around.

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I was enchanted! I had to know what happened next. And, my love affair with reading really began.

That’s the sort of reaction I’d like to elicit in the people who read my stories. I remember when J.K. Rowling was really getting big – and there was a huge kafuffle around the release of each new Harry Potter book – the thing I admired the most about her meteoric rise was that she had gotten kids reading again.

J.K. Rowling drew the kids away from their devices, and not only that, she’d reached that Holy Grail of getting the boys reading. 

Wow. I loved that. I don’t dream of the sort of massive success Rowling had – I think it’d be hideous to have the world’s attention on you 24/7 – I dream of turning non-readers into readers. How cool!

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I did a children’s writing workshop with Kiwi author, Joy Cowley, in 2010. Joy said the opening sentence ‘has to have huge energy. It’s the bait on the hook to catch the reader.’

Perhaps I could use my wish to ask for help with the first line? My good friend, author, Cat Clayton, posted on Facebook this week, ‘How many times can you edit the same sentence? Countless.’ And, it’s true. I can’t fathom how many times I edit and rewrite the opening lines of my books. With my work-in-progress, The Last Tree, I may have rewritten upwards of forty times.

The way Larry Brooks puts it, Somewhere in the first 30 to 50 pages your reader needs to realize they are as intrigued by the characters – often both the protagonist and the bad guy, though the latter may not have shown up yet – as they are by the conceptual “what if?’ hook you’ve sunk into their skull.’

So, no pressure.

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I always remember friend and successful Kiwi author, Donna Blaber, telling me to edit the heck out of the first ten to twenty pages of each book. She said she always spent more time on those crucial pages than any other part of her story. I’ve followed Donna’s advice ever since. And, with the first sentence, especially, I can’t rest until I feel I have it right.

I spend agonizingly long periods in front of my computer until I go nearly cross-eyed. I examine each word carefully. Put it this way, if I did get my wish granted, to have help with the first chapter of my book, it would free up a lot more of my time!

Do you over-edit your first page, first chapter? Do you choose your books to read by the back cover blurb or by reading the opening lines?

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Keep Writing!

Yvette K. Carol

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‘Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 years or 20 years, every day, not counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.’ ~ Anne Enright

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


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