Sunday, April 30, 2006
You work hard to draw your reader into your world, to have them believe in it, and each time you use an inappropriate word, you fling him or her back into the present. The moment someone is jerked out of their belief in your setting and period, you - the writer - have to struggle to regain their trust.
Some things are obvious. You can't have a man living in a medieval world say "Ok". But lots of other choices are more subtle. Can you have him say, "Run that by me one more time?" (Not in my book, you can't. The phrase just sounds too modern.) Can you have someone in your made-up, pre-industrial fantasy world use the word "teenager"? Or does that sound too modern? Can the healer refer to a heart attack? Or a stroke? Or is he more likely to say apoplexy? Did Roman ladies wear "make-up" or is the word cosmetics better? I have just annoyed a reader by using the word "minutes" in a society that uses only sundials to tell the time. Appropriate or not? Not to that reader - it jerked her out of her sense of place, and that's enough to have me think I shan't do it again.
And then there's those foreign words which we use all the time - but are they appropriate? Can you say "deja vu" in your world? What about "run amok"? "An Oedipus complex"? Or "spartan"?
Sometimes it's the little things that count.
Friday, April 28, 2006
And spring in this corner of Virginia (Charlottesville) is just gorgeous. I believe the town has been voted the best place to live in US for several years now, and I can see why. It really is lovely. I have been here before, but not quite at this time of the year. The dogwoods and cherry trees and azaleas are in blossom, the trees are all in full leaf (eat your heart out, all you people in more northerly climes), the days are short-sleeved Tshirt warm and the nights nippy. What more could one ask?
I am working on the third book of The Mirage Makers: The Song of the Shiver Barrens.
Thursday, April 27, 2006
Emails and message board posts are all positive so far...seems I have been responsible for miscellaneous ills including sleepless nights spent sitting up reading, getting back from work late and getting into trouble with the boss, and - with two people at least - the necessity of taking a cold shower. (I was unaware the book was that sexy, as I do not tend to be particularly, er, graphic!)
I was pondering the need for feedback yesterday, after receiving a lovely email from someone over in Nevada, who was desperate for reassurance on the ending of the Isles of Glory trilogy as the third book is not yet out in the States! That email made my day.
For years I wrote and wrote with no feedback at all. Writing was just to fulfil my own need to create. The joy was in the act, not in the feedback. Most of my work I never showed to anyone. My first published book, Havenstar, was seen by no one at all before I sent it off to my agent. It was not even read by a member of my family, let alone a more critical commentator. Same with the next, The Aware.
But those days are gone, and I find myself desperate for feedback, both before and after publication. Beta readers have become very important in my writing life, and I wonder how on earth I ever did without their input prior to sending the book off to the publisher. And reader input has become a joy. I love to know what impact I have had, if any; I want to know what worked and even more - I want to know what didn't. If there is anything that is boring or sub standard or confusing, I want to know it so that I can prevent a similar mistake elsewhere. Writing is a continuum of learning. I even take reviews as opportunities to think more deeply about my work and how to improve it. I would hate to be one of those writers about whom everyone says: "Oh, she never wrote anything as good as her first book..."
Wednesday, April 26, 2006
Fortunately I stayed overnight in New Jersey - then a day's drive to Charlottesville. My grandson is still ignoring me even though the resident dog and cats have decided I'm harmless! More when I have decided that the sun is actually up at the right time and it must be me that wrongly wired...
Sunday, April 23, 2006
For those who don't know much about writing sff: think about this. If I tell you I am writing a mainstream novel set in London in 2006, you already know a helluva lot about my novel before you've read a word. You have a sense of place, time, culture. You could probably make a stab at what my characters have for breakfast without me telling you. If I tell you my main character teaches at a government secondary school, then you already have an idea of his socio-economic position.
But what if I told you my book was set in Sebundancia in the forty-sixth century after the cataclysm and my main character makes corrabuds for a living? You would be none the wiser. A fantasy writer has to build a whole world and make it believable. If they don't do it well, the whole book flops, even though the plot may be a scorcher and the characters marvellously drawn.
Gillian says: "I am reading Glenda Larke's work and it strikes me that her worlds are a lot more convincing that those of a lot of other writers. When you get down to it, though, she doesn't have a great deal more information than many fantasy novels, and she definitely has less than some. Why do her worlds work? "
"...It isn't the amount of background you add to your novel, though the amount of effort you spend worldbuilding most definitely helps. The important thing is what detail you select. And Glenda chooses her detail with extraordinary care. Her worlds work because she mimics the sense we sometimes get in our own lives: that things are interlinked and complex."
And : "The detail is *so* telling, that we can infer much more from her hints than is said on the page."
I was delighted when I read that, because that was the result I was striving for. I have a horror of boring the reader with a myriad of details, for example about what you can order for breakfast in the local inn and how the food actually got there... Yet I don't want the reader to ever be jerked into a sense of disbelief. (Hey, wait a moment, this inn is in the middle of the desert, how come they have fresh bread and what do they use for fuel to heat the ovens if there's no trees?)
I don't think I do nearly as much written work to build my world as some authors do. You won't find my study strewn with plans of the economic life of the Gorthan Spit or notes on the details of how the Hub Race affected the social status of the Middling Isles...and yet I do know those things. I could tell you if you asked. So how do I do it?
I spend a year (at least) thinking about a novel before I write it - and most of what I think about is the place. How it is governed and stratified. What the conflicts are and how the economy works. I don't write this down. I don't do it in painstaking detail. And I don't do it as an academic exercise either - I do it through my PoV characters, in the amount of detail that they would understand.
Let's say Ferria is a chambermaid in Sebundancia and she is one of my main protagonists. She works for the corrabud-maker. I think about her a lot. How she spends her day. What she thinks about, the work she does, where she lives, what her family does. She probably doesn't know much about how trade is done with the people who live in the neighbouring valley over the other side of the hills, but she will know some things - where those silk sheets on the beds come from, for example, and how much they cost. And that small snippet of info will also mean that there are silk merchants and silk traders and silk caravans, which I will probably mention somewhere or other. And if there are silk sheets on the bed, then making corrabuds is very lucrative...
Gillian says - and she is absolutely right:
"And that is the strongest argument I can think of for thinking about how that world needs to appear in the book at least as much as you think about building your world in the first place. When a writer gets the appropriate detail -the telling detail - and links it closely into plot and people then fantasy and SF reading becomes a whole new ballgame. We feel as if we are entering those strange lands ourselves."
Saturday, April 22, 2006
And listen to her live interview on Sydney's FBi Radio 94.5 FM at 8.50 am on Monday. One assumes they will also be playing the music.
Photos by Simon Clark , international award-winning documentary and advertising photographer. Click to enlarge.
(Devious Mum here has another motive, btw; if daughter gets her career going downunder with the same kind of success she now has in Scotland and the rest of the UK, she will return home to Oz which is closer - and cheaper to get to - for me!! Besides, I need another excuse to get to all those sff cons and intereting stuff you have down there...)
So go out there and buy her music everyone!
Friday, April 21, 2006
In Sabah though, I reckon we have one of the best morning walks ever. It takes less than an hour, and I suspect we will speed it up even more when we get used to climbing the mountain involved (well, it's gotta be a mountain, doesn't it? - it has a trig point on top!!)
We start at the pond, and from there on, it's climbing most of the way. As we go, the view unfolds: tantalising glimpses of the South China Sea through the trees, then a full blown vista, Kota Kinabalu, the islands of the marine park, and the hills in the other direction.
And then, right at the top, the Crocker Range and the sun over the distant many peaks of Mt Kinabalu. And the trig point.
In the pix with the buildings, our starting point, the apartment is that pinkish building behind the long white block. Taken halfway up the hill.
If you look hard at the pix with the sun, you will see the pale blue rocky peaks of Kinabalu in the distance.
Thursday, April 20, 2006
One writer said, and I have compressed his commentary: Sometimes I wonder at the impartiality of writers advising others not to try competing with them. The cumulative effect of all these well-meaning pieces is to discourage writers. Think of the stories we're losing because we as an industry pride ourselves on the mass of broken bodies outside the front door!
He has no problem with the majority of the advice offered by writers, but is not convinced that the constant flow of discouraging comments to new writers is becoming to us as writers, or to the industry in general. Sick of all the negativity, his advice is: If you're planning to write a novel, go right ahead! Be aware that the path to publishing is a difficult one, but by all means have a crack!
Another writer said in reply (also compressed): The easily discouraged and defeated may give up, but those who are determined to break through, come hell or high water, are more likely to take on board the info they need with a "forewarned is forearmed" approach.
She thinks the negative approach is really designed to stop people making stupid mistakes and to educate them about the realities of a very tough process. She feels that, for the most part, the writers who do talk publishing turkey are trying to help, not hinder. She says, I guess the nub of the question is: are they discouraging, or are they being honest about a difficult and unpalatable truth? Getting published is like wanting to be an actor, or a dancer, or a singer. The cold reality is that many many many more people want to achieve the goal than will achieve it. Do I think anyone at all should be told give up, don't bother? No. I do think that those who wish to pursue the goal should do so with their eyes open, fully cognisant of the pitfalls, the drawbacks and the basic tools necessary for the journey. And if other writers don't make them public, how else are people going to best help themselves?
It was an interesting discussion, quite a bit longer, with other participants, than what I have summarised here.
I must admit that – having had an enormously long and difficult road to publication in spite of having an excellent agent – I am more of the school that thinks unpublished writers need to be told. They need to be realistic.
To be skilled in anything at all usually takes practice. Usually YEARS of practice. It takes experience. Usually YEARS of experience. It usually involves good advice/teachers/role models/mentors/or similar. You rarely win a game of any kind the first time you try. The unpalatable truth is that most who begin, never win. In the Olympic 100m sprint, there is only one gold medal, one silver, one bronze. Think of how many start along that road and never end up on the winning podium.
I would like to think that my kind of “negativity” is designed to make the best writers more determined never to give up – and to be prepared to do the hard work getting published usually entails. I’d like to think that my story is more inspirational than off-putting.
And, as I have said before, if you enjoy the journey, then your time will never be wasted, no matter what happens at the finish line – because how can a feeling of joy or achievement or satisfaction or pleasure in creativity ever be considered a waste?
Wednesday, April 19, 2006
Malaysia grows coffee. So one would think it was possible to get good fresh coffee beans, or ground coffee, right?
Not so easy. Not here in Sabah anyway. Well, maybe you can, but by the time it is being sold to you, the consumer, it is no longer just coffee. I did the rounds of all the supermarkets in our area looking for decent coffee - found shelves and shelves of instant stuff, and local coffee grounds - but alas, a look at the packet of the latter reveals that it includes everything from margarine to salt to as much as 40% sugar! And I don't take any sugar in my coffee. There's even a drink that is a mix of tea and coffee, if you can believe that. I'm sure there must be somewhere sells just coffee...it's a matter of finding it.
The photo was taken in the Sunday Market in downtown KK, with the girl trying to sell me coffee beans. Ah, I thought, at last. And then I took a closer look. They were all wet and shiny looking...margarine and salt and sugar had all been added. Sigh.
I'm a writer. I need my coffee.
1. It should advance the plot.
2. As a corollary to point 1, a perfect chapter should also contain something new to the story, something that makes the reader go: Oh, wow. In sff, it should stir that sensawunda.
3. It should advance the development of at least one of the characters. The reader should find out something new about him/her/them.
4. It should contain a mix of dialogue and action and description. (I realise not all chapters can do this – but I am talking about the perfect one, right?)
5. The tension in the dialogue should keep the reader on edge.
6. The action should make the reader read breathlessly, racing to find out what is going to happen.
7. The description should give the reader a picture of the surroundings that they can smell and taste and hear and see – and do all that without boring them.
8. The imagery should make another writer wonder why the hell they didn’t think of that first.
9. No passage in the perfect chapter should tempt the reader to skip a word.
10. The whole package should leave the reader panting for more.
And the perfect chapter I just read? It was in Russell Kirkpatick’s new novel Book 1: "The Path of Revenge" in a new trilogy (not yet published – but what a treat in store). Watch for this book when it hits the shelves. Russell's name is one you are going to hear a lot of in the future; his first trilogy was just an appetiser - he really gets into his stride with this one.
I’m about to go and commit harikiri because I am not sure I will ever be able to write something as good as this.
Tuesday, April 18, 2006
The photos show the block of apartments in Sabah where we are renting; the view from one end of the block; and the pond at the other end.
Ramly assures me the pond has kingfishers although I swear he's imagining things. It does have a metre long water monitor, though, that does high dives into the water from the bank every time we approach.
And the bird life in the huge compound (takes two or three minutes to walk to the front gate!) is magnificent - our balcony looks out over some fruiting ficus, for a start, and the Pink-necked Green Pigeons rummage around inside them like kids at a lucky dip, groaning and muttering and moaning under the mistaken impression they are producing birdsong.
For quite a few days after we arrived, I could have sworn that Mt Kinabalu was imaginary too, but it finally popped its crown out from under the clouds and - if you look closely at the third photo! - you will see its summit.
And finally I am online again. It took days to get a bright orange telephone installed (even though there was already a line) and when they did not give us a choice as to colour I didn't say a word.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
And downunder, it is Australia's National SFF Convention, being held in Brisbane over Easter. I haven't been in Queensland since I was 21, and I would have loved to go back again. Sigh. Can' t do them all, which is such a pity. I only recently discovered conventions and I find I love 'em - the other writers, the readers, the fans, the panels, the hunting for a place to have dinner, the whole darn thing in fact. Wish I could be there, and best of luck to the organisers.
And knowing how upset I was that I can't make it, a very special person from the Voyager Purple Zone made me (and others who can't go) this:
Monday, April 10, 2006
There is an extract up at the HarperCollins Voyager site (it's the beginning chapter) which can be read here.
Book 3, Song of the Shiver Barrens, is zipping along beautifully: 85,000 words - and this with all kinds of other stuff going on this week. Just organised the car into being shipped across the South China Sea...
Funny, when I was a kid, I used to love place names that had a romantic ring to them - like Sandakan and Samarkand and Tashkent, the Golden Chersonese and Katmandu. Why those in particular, I have no idea. I swore I would go to all of them one day. In those days, Kota Kinabalu was called - much more prosaically - Jesselton, or I am sure I would have included it in my list.
I had two sources for my idea of romantic places: a stack of aging National Geographics kept in the wash-house across the back lawn on the farm (in the days when the magazine had no colour pix and only the index on the covers), and a radio programme called Armchair Chat, with a guy called Wilfred Thomas (if I remember correctly - this must be fifty years ago or more!).
I've been to Sandakan since then. I live in the Golden Chersonese. I passed through Tashkent and watched the shepherds shooing the sheep off the runway as we landed. (I also have unpleasant memories of being penned like sheep in a locked room in the airport, back in communist days). And now I'm off to live in Kota Kinabalu. Katmandu and Samarkand are still on the to-do list.
I thought then - and still do - that the most romantic line of poetry ever written about a place is this:
A rose-red city, half as old as time...
I still haven't got there, either.
The book is called Heart of the Mirage - but what's the name of the trilogy?
Competition open to all except residents of Australia & N.Z., who can buy the book in their nearest bookstore... :-)
All answers are somewhere on my blog in the posts on books/writing-related topics.
First 3 correct entries, answering all 3 questions, sent to my email address firstname.lastname@example.org, will win a free copy of Heart of the Mirage posted to your address. No need to give the snailmail address until you receive confirmation of the win.
Go fo it!
Sunday, April 09, 2006
However, we were there to hear my daughter's band : Callan, Paul and Nashii. (See here for their website.)
We shoved ear plugs in - didn't seem to make much difference, frankly - and to my surprise, we actually enjoyed the music. The band has a great sound and interesting lyrics. Although it was probably just as well her dad wasn't there to hear the first line of the first song...
Ok, so I would have enjoyed it more if it had been half the volume, but the crowd all standing in that cellar that night adored them. (What is it with modern music that it has to be loud enough to rattle your ribs and loosen the fillings in your teeth? No, don't answer that.)
This month they have a single (cd and 7") out in Scotland and a cd out in Australia. The single is called what's the signal and you can buy it the download from their website, and most i-tune stores around the world after the 24th April. The Australian cd is from Jam Recordings and it is out tomorrow. It is called If Gold Was Silver and Silver Was Gold - four songs and a video on the cd. See here for details and online sales. I believe i-tunes have or are going to feature the band...
The photos are from Simon Clark - a NZ photographer now working out of London. He came up to Edinburgh during the festival when I was there, to take photos of the band (see left)...
(Take a look at some of his other work here - the shots of refugees taken in Kosovo are heartbreaking and haunting).
Friday, April 07, 2006
create your own visited countries map
or vertaling Duits Nederlands
This is fun. Try this site (thanks Alma) to make a map of all the countries you have visited. To my utter astonishment I found I've actually visited 40 - I had no idea it was so many! But it's still only 17% of what there is...
So this is my map (you have to wait a bit for it to appear) - and I didn't count the countries where the plane landed but I didn't get off. It looks as if I've been all over the USA, whereas I've only been to the eastern seaboard and in Russia, the only place I've been to is Moscow!
And here's a view of the view from inside the new apartment. Apparently, to get that view of Mt Kinabalu I spoke of earlier, you have to hang out over the side of the balcony with someone else holding on to your ankles.
On the writing front, I have hit the halfway mark of Song of the Shiver Barrens, the third book of The Mirage Makers. That's halfway of the first draft - but still, "halfway" sounds good.
Thursday, April 06, 2006
And now the problems begin: what do I pack to take with us, when we might only be there 6 months? All my lovely reference books...how can I leave them behind? More to the point, how can I take them with me without anchoring my baggage to the tarmac under its sheer weight? Decisions, decisions...
And this photo is one my husband took in Kalimantan - the Indonesian part of Borneo. For no particular reason - I just like it. Those brown things are coconuts with the outside husk already removed.
Tuesday, April 04, 2006
I was on the Purple Zone this morning (the great online forum over at the website of Harper Collins Voyager Australia) and read what one writer was told when registering with the lecturer of a writing course: 'Well, there'll be people writing serious stuff and they may not want to read your work. But don't worry, there's always a couple of people writing genre stuff in each class who stick together in the corner!'
This prompted Alma Alexander/Hromic into an excellent reply on her blog.
And I feel a rant coming on, too.
We all start by reading fantasy. Cinderella. Fairy Tales. Mother Hubbard rhymes. Local stories of taking animals. All those delightful kids’ stories that have charmed generations of children, and the modern tales that are just as good. We all have a background in myths and legends from whatever the culture of our upbringing. Religious stories are – almost by definition - full of the fantastic.
Then somewhere along the line, people seem to drop out and start reading what is supposedly “real” (even though it is fiction and not real at all). Unfortunately, many do it under the mistaken belief that fantasy is only for children.
Because only kids have the imagination to appreciate it? Come on.
Or maybe you think fantasy is poorly written. Er, what have you been reading, ever? There is enough top notch fantasy writing out there to keep you reading a book a day for a year and never be disappointed by the quality. If this is what you think, then you are choosing the wrong books. Or is it, dare I suggest, that you actually don’t read fantasy and are just guessing???? Shakespeare wrote fantasy. So did Dante, Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, Rushdie, Dickens, Isobelle Allende...
Maybe you think that when you’ve read one fantasy book, you’ve read them all? Excuse me while I roll around the floor laughing. That’s like saying I don’t watch TV/go to the movies because it’s all the same. Fantasy can be modern, medieval, ancient, futuristic. It can be in this world or any other. It can be sad, funny, tragic, happy, violent or romantic; it can be about love or war or passion or principles or education or …anything.
Maybe you think fantasy has no relevance to your world. Rubbish. That’s like saying we have nothing to learn from “Animal Farm” because it was all about animals. Of that Tolkien had nothing to say about the human spirit because he wrote about Hobbits and Middle Earth. All modern successful fantasy books are successful because people can relate to the story they tell.
There was a lovely article in The Guardian (Saturday January 21, 2006) where an author, Francesca Simon, (who loves “literature”) and her son (who loves fantasy) challenge one another to read the other’s favourite. Mother heads off to read Robin Hobb’s Assassin trilogy. Son ends up with Trollope.
End of experiment: son is absolutely sure Barchester Towers is not for him. Mother is hooked on Robin Hobb and goes out to buy the next book in the trilogy. It was no contest.
I have nothing to be ashamed of because I write fantasy.
And you – if you have never read it, you don’t know what you're missing. If you tried once and hated it, then try again. You didn’t give up on mainstream books because you happened to hate one, did you? That’s like giving up on oranges because you had one sour one.
And bear in mind, we fantasy readers and writers do get tired of being scorned by people who don’t even read the genre.
Monday, April 03, 2006
Sunday, April 02, 2006
There was a policeman at either end of the "runway" to stop the traffic. Guess that's what is known as an economical use of facilities.
And out on the blogs there is some tearing of hair over UK's plan to introduce ID cards. Can't be done, say some! Why, every time you lose a card, get married, die, change your name, change your address, get older, etc you have to alter the card...how will the registration offices cope? And how will the guy on the street cope with having to produce the card every time they do something? Reading Charlie's Diary (Charles Stross the Sf writer), you'd swear they were right. It sounds like an impossible task.
And then you realise, hey, wait a moment. Malaysia does that. In fact, we have just re-done all Identity Cards to go from the old type to the new computer chip "smart" cards for everyone over 12 years old. We have to produce the darn thing to open an account, get a license, buy a house, vote, register for anything at all, go to a hospital, enter a govt office...the list is quite endless. And we do it. It's second nature.
Over on the horror writer Poppy Z. Brite's blog (met her at Continuum in Melbourne last year), there's a look at New Orleans 8 months after Katrina - and it is appalling (see the entry entitled "Not OK" March 31st). This is the USA and they can't get something as simple as rubbish collection back on track after 8 months? You know what? I don't think that would happen here. In fact I'm damn sure it wouldn't, not if so many people were affected so badly. We don't have the resources of money and facilities that the USA has, but we have something else...not sure what it is. A certain capacity to deal with whatever life throws at us? A better, more workable system of government? Maybe it's just an absence of Dubya!
You know what? In Asia - for all its chaotic surface - there are times when things get done a damn sight better and/or more quickly that in the western world.