Friday, June 30, 2006

Next time you are in Barnes & Noble...

...or better still, in your local speciality bookstore in the US, don't forget to buy The Tainted.

Yes, that's right, the last book of The Isles of Glory is now out in the USA. And I promise you, it won't disappoint. If you haven't read any of them, why not buy all three? :-)

[And unlike some, my trilogies are just that, trilogies. They don't go on forever.]

For those of you who haven't tried my work, let me say a little about these three books. From the American covers, you'd think they were stories of sort of Amazonian-type pirate swordswomen. They are not really, even though there is plenty of action.

The middle book was, in fact, more the story of a male pacifist physician who got caught up in a battle he really didn't want, a scientist who suddenly finds himself surrounded by the magic he doesn't believe in and wants an explanation for.
This last book brings all the different elements together and introduces a new character - a tiderider who does exactly that for a living - he rides a bore tide.

There's loads of action, disaster, triumph, politics and love. Mostly it's a book about ordinary people rather like us trying to live in an extraordinary time in an extraordinary world.

The last book also brings the world outside of the Isles into focus, as the writer of the letters and journal that have framed the story arrive on the Isles, and you find out exactly what "The Change" is.

The Tainted, like the first book of the trilogy (The Aware) in 2003, was shortlisted for the best fantasy novel of the year in 2004, Aurealis Awards.

It was also voted by readers - in conjunction with Voyager Books 10th year anniversary in Australia - one of the top ten favourite books of the imprint over the last ten years. Lord of the Rings topped the list, which included other classics such as Fahrenheit 451, Feist’s Magician, Tolkien’s The Hobbit. (As you can imagine, I was staggered to see it on such a list!)

Read an extract here. And a few review quotes here.

So go out and buy it, and then pop over to Amazon and write a review - good or bad!!!!!

(In Malay this post is what is called "angkat bakul sendiri" - based on the concept of standing in a bucket and then lifting it up yourself...*grin*)

Oh, and here's an interesting fact - I wasn't asked to check the blurb on the back cover. So there is a rather large factual error about the story there. See if you can spot it.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Which writers influenced you?

I fell to thinking about this after reading Jonathan Strahan's blog. Not which writers exactly, but the "unanswerableness" of the question.

If you look at my blog profile, you will see that I didn't answer those questions about "what is your favorite movie/book/music..." etc. I find them as senseless as Jonathan does. I like all types and how do you compare a 1930's b & w classic film to, say Crash? And even when I admit to having favorite authors, stacks of them, how can you compare Terry Pratchett and Guy Gavriel Kay and Ian Rankin?

And so, which authors have influenced me? ...Well, I can tell you one author who had a definite impact at a very early age. She wrote gripping stuff, unputdownable, in which I immersed myself entirely. One of her books was probably my first lesson on using tension to keep the reader's focus.

Trouble is, I can't remember her name, and I am not sure which book it was - although I can tell you the name of the series. They were all about a girl called Milly Molly Mandy, and I was just five.

And why on earth would I be able to remember its impact? Well, I was on my way to school back in - well, a long time ago. I paid tuppence for a two mile ride on the Perth/Armidale bus down Albany Highway - which was a very rural road at that time. I was reading - and went past the stop near the school because I was so engrossed. The bus disgorged half a dozen other children, but not me. When I did realise what had happened some time later (on raising my head from the book), I wailed - loud and long. The bus conductress - I even remember her name, Inez - told me not to worry, I could go on to the depot and then the bus was going to turn around and come back again. She would put me off at the correct stop. I was still traumatised. And humiliated too - it was all over the school and the community to the extent that my parents knew about it by the time I arrived home from school that day.

Yep, there was a book that influenced me. Taught me never to get too engrossed in reading while riding public transport. My first lesson about the power of the written word.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The oldest book group in the world...???

And no, I didn't mean our collective ages. But this KL group has been going without a break for over 30 years, and one of the members was there at the beginning. There can't be too many book groups in the world with a record like that. I have been a member for 11 years, and I miss them now that I have moved...but I'll be back!

There are in the pix - a Sri Lankan, a Malaysian, two Americans, a Frenchwoman, two Australians and an Indian. The photographer [not in the shot] is a Singaporean, and the three missing members are Malaysian, American and British. How's that for a cultural mix? Ages range from 40 or so to over 80.

We have two art patrons and gallery owners, a mother of quads [yep, you heard], a expert on Islamic jurisprudence, a writer [me], an editor, an ambassador's wife and several people who volunteer for charities and NGOs.

I miss you guys.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Why fantasy and not sci fi?

Over on the Deep Genre site for 25th June, there's an interesting discussion going on about why fantasy outsells science fiction. They had some excellent theories, many of which might explain the difference. Here's my (expanded) comment:

With fantasy, it is possible to have the ordinary person triumph over the most horrendous situations.

I think that in today’s society, we face a myriad problems which seem unsolvable (even to sf writers, unless there is huge intervention at governmental levels and the massive investment of capital). We have problems like global warming and the war in Iraq, to whether my office block/tube train is going to be hit by terrorists, to whether there really is going to be a future in which I can clear my credit card debt, find a decent job in a place I want to live in, bring up my kids to be decent human beings, and end up with enough money for my retirement and health care.

When people faced with this kind of life buy a book to read, they want to do more than just “get away from it all”. They want to be left with the feeling that an ordinary person can make a difference. Not some genius scientist, or an astronaut - but an office worker from Milton Keynes or Hoboken, or a medieval shoemaker from Upper Yikmak. Fantasy leaves them feeling better about themselves, and gives them a sense of the possibility of empowerment. So what if it took a magic spell or similar, the struggle to obtain that spell or that magic can still inspire if the book was a good one. The little man (or woman) can triumph.

In a topic like this, I think we should never lose sight of the fact that people who read a site like Deep Genre - and leave a comment - are a very small minority of sff readers. We are the writers and the fans, the editors and the con goers. The people who buy most fantasy and sf are just people who want to get away from it all and be left with a good feeling, when they put the book down, about the possibilities open to them in their own lives.

And, of course, everybody reading this blog is instantly going to think of twenty exceptions where complex, thought provoking, depressing books hit the best seller lists

Monday, June 26, 2006

And Kuala Lumpur is sooooo unfriendly...

Well, now I know why New York seemed so friendly to me.

It appears that, in the very same fact finding mission of the Readers' Digest, Kuala Lumpur was the third bottom on the friendliness stakes.

I can relate to that. I've tried to get on the Kommuter going south from KL Sentral, and simply let train after train go without me, rather than push my way on. I've had my car breakdown in the fast lane and be ignored [except for the irate hooting] while I fixed it myself.

When I first came to KL it was a different story, though. Thirty-seven years ago, it was a lovely place as far as courtesy went....

The funny thing is that the perception hasn't changed to keep up with the reality. People still think of themselves as courteous Asians, respectful of elders, having an Asian gentleness that you don't see in the West... Yeah, tell me about it. You'll still find that in smaller towns and villages, but in KL? Nope, we should learn it from New York.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Grammar tips 4: who, whose, whom and who's

The usual Sunday post on grammar and style...

Let's get the easy one out of the way first.
and who's.
Simple. Who's means who is. Always. Just like it's always means it is. No exceptions.
You can't say "Who is book is this?" can you? So here it must be whose. You can't get much easier than that.

Now the more difficult one: whom and who.
Well, in fact this one is also pretty easy, but there is one problem - whether we should use whom at all.

Now I'm from the olden times, back in the days when school wasn't expected to be fun and teachers happily taught forty minute classes of pure GRAMMAR. I actually say things like, "Whom did he give it to?" Yeah, I know. People like me are anachronistic leftovers from a bygone era. I admit it.

Anyway, let's look at the basis for the difference first.

Who is the subject of a verb, like he or she. Subjects do things.
Whom is the object, like him or her. Objects have things happen to them.

Who is that? [Who is the subject. ]
Whom did she see? She saw whom? [Here, "she" is the subject. Compare: Did she see him?].

"She likes him." should become in a question "She likes whom?" or "Whom does she like?".

The man, whom they all knew to be a doctor, came running into the room. [In this sentence, the subject of the main sentence {in red} is "the man". Ignore that part of the sentence and look at the other part. The subject of the blue bit is "they". They all knew him to be a doctor. - So you can't use "who" in this part of the sentence.

Compare that last sentence to this one:
The man, who was a doctor, came running into the room.
In this sentence, the man is still the subject of the main [red] part.
He's also the subject of the blue part. He's a doctor. This time, there's no other subject like we to worry about. He was a doctor. Which is why we use who and not whom.

We use whom after prepositions too: by whom, with whom, to whom etc. Always. At least always if you want to be grammatical...*grin*.
The people with whom I travelled were all from Nannup.

Another problem with the preposition + whom is that it so often ends up with a hanging preposition which is just plain ugly. Look at this: He didn't know whom to give it to. And yet He didn't know to whom to give it sounds stilted.

Ok so now you know: you can't say "Who did you give it to?" [in other words, "To who did you give it?"] Bad grammar. And hands up everyone who's going to obey that grammar rule...?

Which brings us to the real problem. Whom has gone out of fashion. Put it in your writing and you can sound really staid and out of date. On the other hand, if you use who when you should use whom, it is going to grate on old pedants [one of whom may be the editor you are trying to impress]
like me. So what's a poor writer to do?

Well, if you are writing a modern novel, I would not use whom in your dialogue [unless someone from a past age like me is speaking!]. If you are writing a period piece on the other hand, and your speaker is a well-bred lady/gentleman, then perhaps you should.

And in your text? Tough one. Theoretically you should be grammatically correct. don't want your book to sound like a nineteenth century tome. So dodge whom
altogether whenever using it just doesn't ring true to your writer's ear. In cases like that, rewrite the sentence to avoid it. I know I do.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Friendly New York

A Readers' Digest study found that New York is actually one of the most friendly cities.

I can attest to that, on the basis of the visit I made a few weeks back. Several times people took the time to ask if I needed help when I was alone, presumably because I looked a bit lost and had a guide book in my hand. When I was out with my daughter and the almost-two in his stroller - believe me, you need help. Ever tried to lug a large toddler and a stroller and sundry other items down crowded subway steps? Numerous people went out of their way to assist. I was constantly reminded of how much I like Americans.

Which in turn makes me marvel how so many nice people can elect such an awful government that has so thoughtlessly squandered the goodwill and sympathy felt for their country and New York on 9/11.

Losing touch indeed...

No sooner had I posted the blog on how we are losing touch with the natural world, that I had confirmation in a study done on why there are proportionally less people going to National Parks in the US. than there used to be. Seems that the National Parks Service is losing out to... guess what? ... the internet.

So stop reading this and go visit a National Park!

Friday, June 23, 2006

How I write a novel (3)

See also How I write a novel (1) and How I write a novel (2)

So there I am, on the bus, discovering the route as I journey. Sometimes it all goes far too slowly to please me; at other times I race along at over 3,000 words a day. [I think the most I've ever written in a single day was 5,000 words]. Sometimes it feels as if I am out on the road pushing the bus; at other times the speed of the journey is exhilarating.

And then I am there, at the end. Wow. Break out a bottle of wine and celebrate!

That point can come in as little as five or six months, depending on how much my other job intrudes. But it's only the first time I've driven the route, and boy, did I make some mistakes along the way. I deviated when I shouldn't have; I failed to take some side routes that I should have explored. Some of the passengers were too quiet; others too chatty; some I forgot about and went sailing past while they waited at the bus stop. [In Gilfeather, I remember, I forgot about the dog for half the book and didn't realise, until I reread, that he'd inexplicably vanished halfway through the book!]

As we progressed, I had attended to some of these problems, and even backtracked to solve them, but mostly I was far too anxious to reach my destination.

Now, however, I have to go over the route and again and again. How many times? Hard to say. there are parts where my driving was perfect first time around. There are other bits that get rehashed countless times - twenty? thirty? - who knows. I just do it till I get it right.

Many authors - especially new ones - tend to overwrite [i.e. say too much/repeat/over-explain] and it is at this stage that they re-route the bus, slashing out the unnecessary deviations and repetitive bits. And yes, I do that too. Overall, though, I was too anxious to reach the terminus and I always tend to underwrite. The first major rewrite often results in another 5,000 to 10,000 words being added!

Finally though, I have a story that looks good.

Is that the end it? Not by a longshot. I haven't even looked at the fine tuning, the polishing.

More about that another day.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Losing touch with the natural world

There was a pix in the newspaper today of a very large millipede which apparently caused a ruckus in a town market. The millipede was 8"' long - nothing unusual. I see them all the time in the forest. Along with some of the other things I've posted here. What worries is that it should cause a stir.

We have become so divorced from the natural world - of which we are an integral part - that we think ourselves somehow special and able to exist apart. We surround ourselves by things that are both tamed and exotic - plants, animals - because we prefer them to what we already had. We destroy everything that bothers us - snakes, wasps, spiders, tigers, elephants, rainforest...what does it matter? We can survive without them.

Can we? I'll make a prediction. If you are under 30 years old now, and live to be 80 plus, you'll find out in your lifetime that we can't. At least not with the kind of life you have now. And I don't mean it will be better. It won't.

Not so very many years ago, farmers and villagers over Malaysia counted the seasons by the arrival and departure of migratory birds. (Well, what better way when we don't have winter and spring and autumn and it's kind of summery all year long?) Now, when I mention bird migration, people look at me and say, surprised, "We got migratory birds, what?"

I have to explain migration to people suddenly worried about bird flu. I have to tell them the most elementary of things - yes, migration happens. Yes, birds do come from Indonesia to here. If you ever bothered to look, you'd see them. No, you probably won't catch flu that way - you'll get it via some idiot who imports illegal fighting cocks, or who smuggles in exotic pet birds for his shop.

We ignore our connection to the natural world at our peril. Bird flu could be the next wake-up call. And if it is, it will be because of the way we farm and the way we market our food. It will be because we have made too many inroads into the wild, not because the wild has come looking for us.

Want to learn about our wild heritage and do something to save yourself? Join the Malaysian Nature Society. And stay a member for the rest of your life. They at least are trying - on your behalf. And yet they have a measly 3,000 or so members in a population of 23 million. And that - to me - is a national disgrace.

Photos [courtesy my husband]
Beetle, spider and vine from Maliau Basin
tualang tree [Koompassia excelsa] with wild bee nests hanging under the branches, oil palm plantation, Kalabakan. The world's tallest tropical rainforest tree.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Sabah Blogging: the Sunday market

The early morning Sunday market in Kota Kinabalu is fun. It's also heart-rendingly sad at times.

Right in the heart of the city, you can buy just about anything, from live puppies to rainforest solutions to your impotency problem, from wild honey to - alas - shells and corals stolen from the country's natural heritage (or possibly from the Philippines' natural heritage), from tortoises (yes, they are tortoises, not turtles, you Americans out there - they have legs, not flippers, damn it!), to clothing and sumptious food.

You can even have your blood pressure checked for a donation (people give as little as US 30c) to a charitable organisation.

Bottles of bee honey - many of the insects used are not at all like the honey bee. Wood, bark, fungi, lichens, roots, leaves - everything seems to have medicinal value - a lot of it aimed at enhancing sexual function (men really do have a problem, don't they...) Funny thing is this: the buyers all seem to think that because a product is "natural" it's got to be good for you. Hmm. Have they never heard of hemlock or similar? They happily take untested produce on the say-so of a stranger telling them it's "traditional medicine". Yeah, right. They are braver men than me.

Check out those lovely woven dishes and containers.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Writing tips: keep it tight

The regular Sunday writing tip...

I tend to write a first draft quickly, aiming just to get the story right, with a good sense of flow. When I read it back, I groan. The flow of the story is fine, but the writing is sloppy. There are too many superfluous wishy-washy words that shouldn't be there. (I never show my first draft to anyone!)

Beware of words that don't mean anything much: seem to be, appear to be, really, actually, very, keep on, almost, have to, go and, all those useless prepositions. Go for verbs that are punchier.

He went and blew the candle out. If it makes sense, change it to He blew the candle out.
The day appeared fine.
Why not: The day was fine. Even the verb "to be" has more of a punch that "to appear" or "to seem"! Run a "find" on your word processing programme for overused words.

Here are some examples from my recent writing:

"...and then keeps sending me small luxuries he buys with his own money"
Changed to: "...and then sends me small luxuries he buys with his own money"

"I don't know what you said to her to explain why you lost control of your power while fighting..." There's a stack of short words here, and you end up reading it twice to work out what it means. It can be altered without changing the meaning or the speech patterns of the character.
Changed to: "I don’t know how you explained your loss of control over your power during the fight..." his father could have a sense of ... becomes: his father gained a sense of...

...with a troubled expression on her face becomes simply: ...with a troubled expression.

Arrant started preparations for planning the building of the aqueduct (Ugh! Did I really write that!?) becomes Arrant started planning the construction of the aqueduct. I replaced "building" with "construction" because it meant one less "ing" word - even though "building " was a noun in the sentence, it sounded ugly because it followed "planning".

Beware of too many prepositions one after the other:
He passed
back up through the alley...
He sat back down behind with Tim.
He turned up below with Garis.
I looked behind back to where...

There is, there are, it was, it is are often superfluous. Toss them if you can.
There were six men standing on the road = Six men stood in the roadway.
It was a storm that came from the north = The storm blew in from the north.

Some time this coming week, I'll do another blog on "How I write a Novel". Right now I have to devise a questionnaire for birder tourists coming to Malaysia...
I'd rather be writing the ending of "Song of the Shiver Barrens".
Or doing some birding myself.
Especially on a Sunday.

Friday, June 16, 2006

When friends and booksellers rock...

A fellow writer and friend, Russell Kirkpatrick, once recommended a book of mine (The Aware) to a bookseller over where he lives in Hamilton, New Zealand (pop.130,000 - or so the town website tells me). The bookseller read it and loved it, then started to recommend it - and subsequent books of mine - to readers coming into her (independent) store. The nice thing is that they kept coming back for more...

Result: she has sold 20 copies of each title. Wow. Geez, that's one book per every 2,160 people. I don't know your name, Ms Bookseller from Hamilton, but I think you rock! Bless you.

Now if only Whitcoulls, the New Zealand bookchain with 80 stores, would stock my books with that sort of enthusiasm...

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Borneo blogging: back in Sabah

Here I am back in Kota Kinabalu for at least four months. If I look out of my window, I can see Pink-necked Pigeons in the line of fruiting of fig trees outside. They mutter and grumble and whine like a line of school-entrapped teens.

And I am having problems with language. The accent is different, and I find myself straining to make sense of Malay that has a strong Indonesian twang to it. And then there's culture-shock. I ordered teh O kosong yesterday (literally "tea nothing empty") and, guess what, there was half an inch of sugar in the bottom of the glass. Guess I'll have to learn to add "Gula tak nak!" (sugar don't want!).

I am going to get back to Song of the Shiver Barrens today, even though my editor tells me there is no need to have it in at the end of July as she is off to UK for the whole of August. (She is going to meet my agent for the first time while there). I am expecting the copy edit for Shadow of Tyr back any minute, too.

On another front, I have embarked on a new project for the Malaysian Nature Society who are in turn working with the Ministry of Tourism on the promotion of bird tourism. Or maybe that should read birder tourism. I'm glad to have some "real" work again (huh!)- the first this year. In the meantime I am delighted to see that the last project I worked on - the push towards the gazettement of NW Langkawi as a national or state park - seems to be moving things along. Occasionally we do have small victories. Just hope it is not too late...

So a busy few months coming up.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Review out of the past

The Aware in good company. Pix by Russell Kirkpatrick

Thanks to the original reviewer, I just found out about a review of The Aware from back in June 2003.

Another nice one.
I am still waiting for the inevitable day when I receive a rotten review - that's pessimist me, waiting for the second shoe to drop! Still, with 5 books on 3 continents in 3 languages, and still no sarcastic review rubbishing anything (not even on Amazon!), I am beginning to think that maybe I write an ok story. Guess I am a typical insecure author.

The review was in Broadsword, a wargaming/military history magazine. The reviewer, Donald Lamont, loved the plot and the action (says he wanted to grab a sword and jump right into the action himself!) and the characters; refers to Blaze Halfbreed cutting "a swathe across a very detailed and unique world" and ends by saying that that he "very much recommends it for anyone who reads fantasy," because my writing style gave him the feeling of one of "those really good RPG sessions that you always talk about. Do yourself a favour and read this book." Wow. Thanks Donald. The whole review is in Broadsword June 2003. I must admit I know nothing about roleplaying myself, never having done it. It was particularly satisfying to have the fights praised in such a magazine!

Over on Emerald City, there's an announcement about Trudi Canavan's new deal with Orbit for her new work, to be set in the Black Magician trilogy world. Congrats, to see Aussies go on to new successes. I love the bit about being the first fantasy author to take off like that in years!

Monday, June 12, 2006

Life in the technological fastlane

Back in the Dark Ages (I remember having a slate in what we called Standard 1)(yep, that long ago) a little "country" school (it's now an outer suburb of Perth, but then it was the back o' beyond) (yep, that long ago)
...Grades 5 & 6 had a single teacher and shared a schoolroom and we kids shared twin desks which were nailed to the floor. Yep, that long ago.
The teacher was a madman from hell, whose idea was to terrorise everyone into learning. We started the day with something called "mental arithmetic". He went around the class asking everyone in turn things like: if you paid tuppence for one apple, how much were 28 apples going to cost you in shillings and pence? (Yep, that long ago.)
Boys were sometimes caned for not being able to answer; girls were simple terrorised. (Yep, gender discrimination.)

I was not much good at mental arithmetic, but I was better than the friend I sat next to, so I used to make marks on the desk with a finger to tell her the answer. All this did have one good effect: I grew up not needing a calculator. I wouldn't advocate the method for today's kids - but sometimes I do wonder...

Today I bought 10 lightbulbs. I asked the shopgirl how much they were. She said, $1.80 each (Malaysian ringgit).

She then proceeded to use a calculator to tell her that 10 x 1.80 = $18.00.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Writing tips 3: the feral apostrophe

The Sunday regular blog: grammar and such...

There is nothing that so marks a piece of writing as unprofessional as a feral apostrophe.

And yet writing "it's" when you mean "its" is an easy typo, and one that you can't pick up with a spellcheck. Happily it usually does jump out at me from my own typing like a red flea on a black and white page. Unhappily, it does the same to me when I read it elsewhere. It prejudices me immediately. (And yet there is a certain member of my own family, who has a Masters from Oxford and a Ph.D from Cornell, who regularly sends me plaintive emails asking, 'What's the rule on "its" again?')

Let's be quite clear about one thing first before we deal with "its" and "it's":
PLURALS never take an apostrophe UNLESS they also show POSSESSION (ownership).

You can't write: Bagel's, application's, war's, boy's - when all you mean is more than one bagel, application, war or boy. (And I don't think there are going to be too many people reading this who think that you can!)
Example: You can write "the boys' shouting was heard in the next street...", meaning the shouting of a number of boys was heard; or you can write "The boy's shouting was heard..." meaning the shouting of one boy was heard. But never, "The boy's shouting in the next yard were heard all over the neighbourhood." What you mean is that there were a number of boys shouting and they, the boys, were heard all over the neighbourhood. So it should read: "The boys shouting in the next yard were heard all over the neighbourhood.".

And you CAN'T write "your's", "our's", "her's", "their's" either, EVER. Even though possession is involved. There, that's simple enough, isn't it? NEVER, ever, ever. Don't worry about why not, just remember the rule. It's simple.

The trouble usually come with "its" because sometimes we do insert an apostrophe.

This is also quite simple to remember too:
"It's" means "it is". ALWAYS.
If it doesn't mean "it is", then spell it like this: "its".
Don't worry about why. Just do it. Easy, right?

Friday, June 09, 2006

How I write a novel (2)

I think, if anything, the only thing posts of mine on this subject are going to say of value is this: everyone has to select the way that best suits their own creative mind.

I obviously seem to hate to be squashed inside the rigid design of a chapter by chapter outline. My way is definitely not a method that I would advise for everyone. It could be disastrous.
So why does it work for me?

Think of writing the book like a bus ride.

Firstly, I always have a clear objective: I know exactly how the book is going to end. The terminus is there and I am heading towards it all the way. (Mid-journey, I have been known to change which door to the terminus I use, though, and change the ending to the book a bit.)

Secondly, although I may not know the roads the bus will take, I have vivid stops along the way clear in my mind and I do know the kinds of scenery there will be visible out of the windows. I know my world, although the details of the route may be indistinct when I get on to the bus.

Thirdly, I know the important people on the bus very well indeed.
Fourthly, I know what I want to talk about with those people, while I am on the bus. I know what are the most important elements of our conversations and the tales they will tell me - love, politics, betrayal, war, courage, ethics or action? - I know what I want to emphasize.

Because I have those important things clear in my mind, I don't mind where the bus wanders as it goes along. I don't count the stops it makes, or exactly what I see through the windows, or who climbs on or off - those things become clear as I travel. Sometimes I tell the driver where to go; other times it's the other passengers that direct the journey. I am careful, though, about the plot dictating too much of the route. That's the mark of an unskilled navigator.

Why is it a method that I enjoy? Because it allows me to improve the story as I write - to spot interesting things out of the window as I travel, to ask interesting questions of those characters on the bus. I'm not so caught up in the map of the trip and with the timetable that I can't see opportunity when it shows up.

And, oh yes, because I love writing... but hate writing synopses and outlines - even outlines done just for myself.

I have a friend who has a brilliant idea for a sf novel. Yet he's so involved in the planning, he has never got past the first chapter. If he used my method and wrote, damn it, he might have finished it by now.

I shall talk more about the process in future posts.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

BLOG INDEX: My books

Heart of the Mirage (book 1 of The Mirage Makers)

Fifth Review of Heart of the Mirage May 31, 2006
Fourth Review (Heart of the Mirage) May 26, 2006
Third Heart of the Mirage Review May 10, 2006
Anticipation. For Ages May 08, 2006
Second Review (Heart of the Mirage) May 03, 2006
First Review (Heart of the Mirage) May 01, 2006
Feedback trickles in.... April 28, 2006
Heart of the Mirage extract April 10, 2006
About Heart of Mirage March 27, 2006
So what's the book about? March 23, 2006
The Mirage Makers trilogy map March 03, 2006
Orange in April March 01, 2006

Isles of Glory trilogy: The Aware, Gilfeather, The Tainted

Covers again: gotta love 'em March 19, 2006
There are covers...and there are, um, covers March 10, 2006
The Isles of Glory US edition February 07, 2006

Havenstar (writing as Glenda Noramly)

Havenstar sells....! March 03, 2006
The Russian translation March 24, 2006
Havenstar makes money February 19, 2006

How I write a novel (1)

I wish there was a formula.
Do this, so that, and there you are.
But alas, there are as many different ways of writing as there are authors, and each author may not stick to the same method for each novel.

I would love to say that I’m ultra-organised – that I know exactly what I am going to write before I put fingers to the keys, that I have a chapter by chapter synopsis written, that I know how long each chapter will be, and indeed, how many chapters there will be..

There are authors that do it that way. I’m not one of them.

Here’s how it starts: I get an idea. I start mulling over it, usually while I am still writing the previous book. I think about it in the car, under the shower, while exercising or washing the dishes; any spare moment, in fact. I don’t write anything down at this stage.

Here’s how it worked for Heart of the Mirage. I read something about the Disappeared Ones in Argentina – the people who vanished during the Argentina military junta. And that connected with what I knew of the Lost Generation of Aboriginal Australians. And I started to wonder what it would have been like for the young children who were ‘disappeared’. How would they grow up? What sort of adults might they be?

So that’s the first idea. A single idea doesn’t make a book, though; only a short story. Gradually I add a whole lot of other ideas. And then gradually it starts to take form. I build a world and a story – in my mind – to put the ideas in. By the time I am ready to start writing, the basic book is there. I have the fantasy elements, I have a handful of main characters, I have the land, the beginning, the end and a couple of key scenes in between. I’ve jotted down a few key points.

Notice what’s not there: no minor characters, no minor sub-plots, no idea of how I get from the beginning to the next main scene. As I say, I am really disorganised. What I do have at this stage (which is at least a year from when I had the initial idea), is a detailed beginning. I know who is there and what they look like and how they feel. I know all about where they are, and why. I know their weaknesses, their motivations, the tensions between them. I know what they are going to be doing or talking about. I have a good idea of what the next major scene is, but very little idea of how I am going to get there.

That’s when I start writing.

It’s not a method that is going to work for most writers – it is far too unorganised. And yet it seems to work for me. As I begin writing, so much seems to immediately become clear. The characters are so real to me, that they seem to know what they are going to do, or say, all by themselves. They even surprise me sometimes.

It’s a method that has pitfalls. I often have to go back and rewrite bits in, or swap scenes around, or change something because I later realise that the plot needs its underpinnings tweaked before I proceed further. And it has a major advantage.

More about all that tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

BLOG INDEX: After Publication - the bumpy road of a published writer

When Friends and Booksellers Rock... June 16th, 2006

Why Fantasy and not Sci Fi? June 27th , 2006

It's a Quirky World June 03, 2006

What's with this middle book thing? May 25, 2006

When readers get it wrong... May 11, 2006

Feedback trickles in... April 28, 2006

If you don't read fantasy, read this.
April 04, 2006

Author Trepidation March 30, 2006

Ten things I have learned as a Fantasy Writer
March 26, 2006

The Mystery of the Missing Middle Book March 15, 2006

The Downside of Being a Writer March 14, 2006

Writing in the Tradition of... February 25, 2006

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Fame... February 20, 2006

An Author's View of Reviews
February 9, 2006

BLOG INDEX: Writing Tips / Tips on Getting Published

Grammar - being too clever July 2nd 2006

Who, whom etc. More Grammar. June 25th 2006

The Feral Apostrophe June 11 2006 [Grammar]

Beta Readers December 6th 2007

The First Person Point of View October 30th 2006

Writing in the First Person Point of View October 31st 2006

Was it possible to have a Feminist Society? January 17th 2007 [World building]

Need help writing a novel? January 15th 2008

Secret of Writing a Good Book September 29th 2007

Actively Voicing the Passive July 31st 2006 [Grammar]

No Such Thing as Writer's Block? August 4th 2006

On How to Get Published August 11th, 2006 [Is it necessary to have connections?]

How Long Should a Book Be? August 30th, 2007 [Length]

Writing a Fantasy Novel Synopsis March 11th, 2007 [Synopsis]

How I write a novel (7) July 25th 2006 [World Building]

On wanting to get published March 22nd 2007 [When should one give up?]

Creating a world June 27th 2007

How I Write a Novel (6) July 23rd, 2006 [on the Editor's edit]

How I Write a Novel (5) July 12th, 2006 [on Beta Readers]

How I write a Novel (4) July 6th, 2006 [on sentence by sentence editing]

How I write a Novel (3) June 23, 2006 [the journey 2]

How I write a Novel (2) June 09, 2006 [the journey 1]

How I write a Novel (1) June 08, 2006 [before starting, and the beginning]

Grammar: a look at some commas July 9th, 2006

Writing tip 2: Grammar again - which or that? June 04, 2006

Practical advice for writers: What's that? May 28, 2006

What a Literary Agent can and should be May 27, 2006

Coincidence: in fact and fiction May 23, 2006

The "Ten Things I hate to see in a book" meme
May 11, 2006

A First review...and why aren't kangaroos invisible? May 01, 2006

Getting the language of the period and place right... April 30, 2006

World Building
April 23, 2006

Words of Writerly Wisdom or the Discouragement of Dastardly Doomsayers? April 20, 2006

The Perfect Chapter
April 19, 2006

On Being a Writer: making the dream come true - step 1 March 20, 2006

Advice to writers: your first novel March 03, 2006

What's the hardest part of a novel to write?
February 24, 2006

What's luck got to do with it? February 16, 2006

Monday, June 05, 2006

A New York without monuments

Now I know why I didn't see any monuments in New York. I thought it was because we were in the company of an adorable two-year-old who was more interested in playgrounds and watching trains in the subway, but the truth was, according to the Dept of Homeland Security, that NY doesn't have monuments. Right. Glad I have that straight in my mind. At least I guess that means no one is going to blow anything up there any more.

Anyway, here's a grandma and a two-year-old's New York. Playgrounds and the zoo in Central Park, and me gawping at the sight of trishaws in NY. Here in Malaysia those are a symbol of a past we want to leave behind.
Such is life - somewhere along the line what is old ceases to be out-of-date and dowdy, and becomes quaint and chic. Would that would happen to me too...

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Writing tips 2: Grammar again

Sunday again, so here’s the second "writing tips" blog.

Which or that?

The problem arises when either of these two words is used as a relative pronoun (if you really want to know the name).

{What's a relative pronoun? Well, it's a word that introduces a clause and refers to an antecedent. And if you don't know what the heck that means, it really doesn't matter, because the examples below make it clear what a relative pronoun is.}

All you have to do is remember one simple rule:

that defines what goes before
which doesn’t, it just gives you a bit more info about what went before.

Look at these 2 examples:

The river, which here is brackish and tidal, is of vital importance to shipping.
The rivers of the region that are tidal are of vital importance to shipping.

In the first sentence, the bit between the commas just gives you more info about the river. It doesn’t tell you which particular river. The writer is assuming you already know what river s/he is talking about.

In the second sentence, the words "that are tidal" actually tell you which rivers we are talking about: the tidal ones. The others are, by inference, not of importance to shipping.

Here are some more examples:

1. The team, which consisted of boys under sixteen, won handsomely.
(Which team won? The one that I was talking about!)
2. The team that consisted of boys under sixteen won handsomely.
(Which team won? The {only} one that consisted of boys under 16!)

3. The team that I bet on won handsomely.
(Which team won? The {only} one that I bet on!)
4. The team, which I bet on, won handsomely.
(Which team won? The one that I was talking about!)

The above 2 sets of sentences are all grammatically correct, but the sentences in each set don’t mean the same thing.

In sentence 1, you already know which team I am talking about. Then I give you more info – they are under-16 boys.
In sentence 2, you don’t know what team I am taking about , so I have to tell you: it’s the one with the under-16 boys.

In sentence 3, I am defining the team – it was the one I bet on.
In sentence 4, you already know what team – but I am giving you more info.

Note the commas in the which sentences, and the lack of them in the that sentences. Why? Because in sentences 2 & 3, the subject of the verb is the whole shebang.…(The team that I bet on…)and you can’t divide it up with commas and cut it off from its verb. Don’t try.

Look at this sentence:

There will be a split in the Labour Party over this war, comparable to the split in the Liberal Party that occurred on the question of taxation, which everyone seems to have forgotten.

More complex, but the same principles still apply.

In this case, "that occurred on the question of taxation" defines the split in the Liberal Party.
"which everyone seems to have forgotten" is just extra info about the split in the Liberal Party.

Note that the sentence could be organised a different way:

There will be a split in the Labour Party over this war, comparable to the split in the Liberal Party, which everyone seems to have forgotten, that occurred on the question of taxation.

I wouldn't advise this rewording. The "that" clause is separated out from the words that it defines, which is never a good idea if you can avoid it!

Easy, huh?

Saturday, June 03, 2006

It's a quirky world...

Check out the comments on the previous post for some insights into Malaysian (and other) prejudices.

Over on Pub Rants, the agent Kristin has some interesting stuff to say about covers and how they are chosen. If you are interested in the difference between Australian and US and Russian covers for the same one of my books, look here and here.

I think the most peculiar thing that came out of what Kristin was saying is that the marketing people don't seem to care that they might be misrepresenting the product (which would, one would think, lead to a dissatisfied customer who is not going to come back to that author again). All they want to do is sell the book. That seems short-sighted. I'd love to know what readers think.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


I just saw this movie. If you haven't, do so. It's the best thing to come out of Hollywood in years - I cannot remember ever seeing a film that kept such a high level of tension going from beginning to end, even though parts of it were very funny. By the time it had finished, I was exhausted.

I bow to the scriptwriters in awe. I wish I could write something half as good.

(I did need some of the jokes explained to me - I guess only an American would get the bit about Mexicans and cars on the lawn...went competely over my head.)

And you know what? I felt sometimes as if parts of it could have been written about this country ...America (alas) doesn't have the exclusive copyright on being weird when it comes to race relations.

Here's a true story. Happened about two months back.
A friend of mine had a Jewish houseguest who wants to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath. Friend doesn't know whether Kuala Lumpur has a synagogue, so she rings up the Tourist Bureau to find out. Woman on the phone says, 'Huh? What's a synagogue?'
Friend explains.
Woman on phone - a government servant, remember, whose job it is to give information to visitors to the country - laughs and says, just after she has been told that the inquiry is being made on the behalf of someone Jewish: "Oh no, we don't have Jewish peoples here! They are naughty peoples!"

I shudder. This is the kind of person who represents our country to tourists? Someone who is so steeped in prejudice and ignorance that she can say something like that and not be deeply ashamed of her bigotry?
At a guess, I would also say that she is so stupid that she can't tell the difference between the Israeli government (whom she may have legitimate reason to consider "naughty"), and someone who follows the Jewish faith. She is so ignorant that it never occurs to her that there may, from time to time, be people of that faith in the country, whom she is supposed to serve with courtesy. And she is so appalling bad-mannered that it never occurs to her that the person asking might be offended by such a crass statement.
I despair.

Anyway, go and see "Crash".