Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole

Finally I’ve finished my series, re-reading my favourite books as a child. The last book in my series is The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend. A British classic of the 1980s.

Adrian is a painful teenager with delusions of intellectual grandeur living through Thatcher’s Britain with his dysfunctional and disappointing parents. Adrian copes with his first pimples, his parents’ marital problems and his own crushes with an amazing lack of self-awareness. It is laugh out funny and I knew most of the jokes already.

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Reading Adrian Mole was like going back in time (in the Tardis with Peter Davison, of course because it’s 1983). I was thrown back into the 1980s when all my favourite music and television came out of the UK. I also vividly remember Adrian Mole TV series and recently watched part of episode 1. It is so faithful to the book, it made me realise why I seemed to remember every second word. I’ve also had the theme tune from the late great Ian Dury in my head ever since.

I had a quick look on Goodreads and it appears that Adrian Mole is now on school curriculums. It is a slice of life in Thatcher’s Britain but I wonder whether kids today would appreciate it like I did. Has it dated?

I remember this book too well to be subjective. In some way, I wished I’d never read it before, so I could enjoy it all over again. It’s funny and poignant. In a similar way to my first year of my arts degree when I finally got some of the gags from The Young Ones, I understood a whole lot more as an adult. The writing is simple, clever and layered.

It was fun visiting Adrian Mole again, but I’m glad I don’t actually know him. He really is a pretentious little git.

 

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Reading habits of a beta reader

Today, an interview with a beloved beta reader of mine, Andrew. Andrew’s a voracious reader and so let’s learn a little more about his reading habits.

Tell me a little about yourself?

OK, single. Love city living. Currently binging on the show Jane the Virgin.

What are you currently reading?

The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker. It’s about what happens when the world’s roatation slows down through the eyes of an 11 year-old girl. Good read.
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How and when did you develop your love of reading?

I’ve always enjoyed reading, but it wasn’t until around 2007 when I started really buying up books by the tonne each year to read.
It kind of got kicked started from a friend I worked with you would mention the books she’d read each morning to and from work on her 1 hr train ride.

What are your favourite genres?

At the moment I’m really into supernatural drama

What was the best book you read in 2015?

Hounded by Kevin Hearne. Can’t recommend it enough. Really enjoyed it was wasn’t expecting much as urban fantasy isn’t something that’s ever been on my radar. Had the book on my shelf for nearly 3 years before I even opened. Once I’d finished I ordered the next 7 books in the series.
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Who is your favourite character of all time?

I’ve got to give this one to Scarlett O’Hara. I was Gone with the Wind obsessed as a 16 year-old and what I loved about Scarlett is that she had everything against her but she never let it get in the way of what she wanted.
GWTW is still my most read book. About every 5 years I pick it up and enjoy the over 1,000 pages epic.
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Are you monogamous with your books? Or a book sl*t?

Oh, I usually have about 3 going at once. I pick one up each morning depending on how I feel.
Note: Sl*t.

Where is your ideal place to read?

Home on the lounge with a quiet CD playing in the back ground.

How do you decide what books to buy? What influences you?

I admit I do judge a book by it’s cover. Kevin Hearne’s Hounded got me by the hot guy on the cover. He he. The cover gets my attention, but it’s the synopsis on the back that will get me to buy a book or not.

What’s your reading goal for 2016?

I’m not going to mad this year, just a small goal of 35 books.

Thanks to the lovely Andrew. Feel free to answer any of my questions for yourself…what was your favourite book of 2015?

Recent Reads – Europe in Autumn

Why did I love Europe in Autumn by Dave Hutchinson so much?

The book is a spy thriller set slightly in the future, in a time when the countries of Europe is dissolving. Every man and his dog is seceding, setting up their own principality. Borders are a bureaucratic nightmare and black marketeers are taking advantage of the chaos.

The hero is Rudi, an Estonian chef turned courier, who gets deeper and deeper into the murky world of espionage.

The book is in four parts following Rudi from his first gig until the point when it all goes wrong. It is almost like four novellas, pieced together eventually. The middle section with Rudi’s family in Estonia seems out of step at first until more details are revealed. I adored the excerpt from the map-making of Whitton-Whyte and the twist delighted this little sci-fi fan.

Why did I enjoy this book so much?

Perhaps it was the mix of vivid characters; the burly Hungarians, the obnoxious mentor Fabio, Rudi’s bizarrely robotic English captors, the grumpy crusty Pawel. The characters were well rounded and real.

Perhaps it was the slight weirdness of the world. Quite similar to our own, yet with minor technological and geo-political differences.It was familiar and yet intriguing. There was little time spent world building, the story jumps right in and explains the world as we go. Yet there are enough odd little details to remind the reader that this is not your ordinary Tom Clancy thriller.

Perhaps it was the wry English humour. The dialogue was sharp and believable. I chuckled out aloud a number of times.

Plus a cracking plot.

Let’s just say, I really liked this book.

But the topic of genre provoked the most thought for me. This is classified as a science fiction novel – which it is. The world is futuristic, but only looking a few years into a possible future. I was so curious about the genre of this novel, I contacted the author. I had a nice conversation with Dave Hutchinson over Twitter regarding the genre classification of this book. Hutchinson describes it as a “near-future espionage thriller”. This is a very apt description.

I struggle with the “science fiction” label because it brings to mind aliens and spaceships. My own writing is in a similar vein to Hutchinson’s – a different world not too dissimilar to our own. Is speculative fiction a better description or “fantastika” as Hutchinson offered? Yet, your average punter doesn’t use the expression ‘speculative fiction’. When I look at the categories for sci-fi in Amazon, the only vaguely applicable are “dystopian” and “post-apocalyptic” but my own writing and a book like Europe in Autumn does not fit with the other zombie invasion novels.

Anyway less about me and more about Europe in Autumn. If you like a well built near-future world with espionage, great characters and good writing, I recommend you take a look at Europe in Autumn.

I’m off to read the sequel…when I’ve finished The Wise Man’s Fear.

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How I “finished” – tip#3 Marinate for 4 weeks

Marinate for 4 weeks

When I’m in full on editing mode, I go cross-eyed. I can’t see “the wood for the trees.”

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Putting aside my writing to “marinate” is important. Like marinating meat, putting your writing aside makes the flavours richer.

I’ve got a bad memory and when I put something away in the drawer, I completely forget the details. After a period of a month or so, I regain some objectivity about my work. I can see flaws and where to focus next.

And on occasion, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by my own work. Hoorah!

Do you have a rule for resting your work?

Tomorrow – Tip#4 Thwarting Resistance.

 

Siblinghood of the World Blogger Award – my responses

I’ve been nominated by Beverley Lee to answer the following questions as part of the Siblinghood of the World Blogger awards. I answer 10 questions, then I pose 10 more questions to 10 more bloggers. Here we go…

Your favourite author is going to call you for a once in a lifetime chance to talk. You can only ask them one question. Who is the author and what is the question? Why?

I can’t narrow it down to one writer.

The more I grow as a writer, I realise we all share the same self-doubt and struggles with wrangling our stories. So the one question I’d like to ask all writers I admire is…

When did you feel like a “real” writer?

Which fictional character would you want as a friend, and why?

Which fictional character would you want as a friend, and why?

Nightingale from the Rivers Of London series. I want my own immortal magical mentor with impeccable pre-war dress sense. I imagine him being like Bill Nighy.

List three books you’ve read more than three times.

  • Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
  • Anno Dracula by Kim Newman
  • The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen.

How’s that for a weird combo.

Who would you say is your greatest writing influence in terms of your own style?

I think my influences are from the opposite side. I know what I dislike, so I avoid that type of writing. I have a background in the corporate world and business writing, so my style is simple. I don’t like overly flowery writing because I’m a lazy reader. The style is important to my reading pleasure. Some styles (and writers) do my head in and so I quickly switch to something cleaner.

What are you working on at the minute?

Starting today, I’m writing the next novella in my Evangeline steampunk series. This novella is about seances and spiritualists.

Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from your most recent book?

She is in serious trouble of being typecast, but from the recent Dr Who episodes playing Ashildr/Me, I can absolutely see Maisie Williams as my character Alga from the Monolith series.

How important is a book cover to you? Would it influence you over the back blurb?

A good cover is so bloody important. There are some serious ugly covers out there, especially in the self-publishing world, but I’ll admit, often I don’t read the back blurb. There have been many times when I’ve been wowed by an early plot twist, then later on read the back blurb.

Before I buy or borrow (library love), I have to read a page at random. There are certain flowery styles of writing which I can’t handle (see above answer).

If you could live in one fictional world, where would you live?

China Mieville’s Bas-Lag world from Perdido Street Station. What’s not to like …aliens, steampunk and magic. Mieville’s world building is crazy detailed and luscious. I feel I could step right into the pages and live there.

Do you let other people borrow your books?

Absolutely. Words and books are to be shared. Share the love.

Books have some of the most wonderful quotes among them. Which is one of your favourite quotes, and why does it resonate with you?

Let’s go back to my favourite kooky melodramatic Canadian redhead.

It’s been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will.

Thank you Anne Shirley and L.M. Montgomery.

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My Ten Questions

  1. When did you feel like a “real” writer?
  2. How do you overcome resistance?
  3. What advice would you give yourself as a wannabe writer?
  4. Do you prefer writing or editing?
  5. What part of the writing process do you struggle with the most?
  6. Do you Nanowrimo?
  7. What authors do you follow on social media?
  8. What’s more important to you; a good plot or beautiful writing?
  9. Do you take yourself on artist’s dates? What do you do?
  10. When friends and family ask “can I read your book?” What do you say?

My 10 nominated bloggers

Confessions of a writer tag

I’ve been tagged by Aura Eadon to answer the following questions arising from Nicolette Elzie‘s blog.

When did you first start writing? Was being a writer something you always aspired to be?

Aside from the grey period when law school sucked out all the joy, I’ve always loved books and reading. But I never thought I could be a writer. I wasn’t creative or deep enough. Yet the need to create stories niggled at me for years. I’ve done Nanowrimo, attended a few short courses and produced five or six half-finished novels but never had the confidence to take myself seriously. Then during some maudlin navel gazing, I realised writing a novel was my life’s ambition. So I decided to get serious and come out as a writer.

What genre do you write?

I like to make stuff up so speculative fiction is my genre. A bit sci-fi but no spaceships. A bit fantasy but no ‘chosen ones’. I’ve tried writing in other genres (urban fantasy, crime etc) but the stories did not feel right. It did not feel like me. Speculative fiction is a comfy place to be.

Can you tell us a little about your current work in progress? When did you start working on this project?

I’ve got a full production line going with four or five pieces in various stages of drafting, editing and resting. My Monolith trilogy has been my main focus for the past eighteen months but I’m taking a break and currently working on a set of steampunk YA novellas set in 1880s Melbourne. My heroine is a 17 year old ex-pickpocket and acrobat now living in the Colonies with her long-lost father.

What was your first piece that you can remember writing? What was it about?

There was the cringe inducing poetry published in the school magazine, featuring thinly veiled phallic imagery. Good times.

What’s the best part about writing?

Reaching the magical flow state, when the story takes over and ideas appear out of nowhere. I am just the implement recording the words on the page. It’s pretty damn cool.

What’s the worst part about writing?

When everything I write is a steaming pile of poo and the vicious voices whisper in my ear, telling I have no talent and I’m wasting my time.

What’s the name of your favourite character and why?

Anne of Green Gables. Manic, kooky and fragile, she leaps from the page. She’s the inspiration for my steampunk heroine, Evangeline. Although in real life, Anne would get on my nerves. Such a drama queen.

How much time a day/week do you get to write? When is the best time for you to write (morning or night)?

I’m one of those annoying A-type personalities. Since I decided to get serious, I write or edit every day. But writing is my happy place. In an ideal world, I’d spend every morning writing. But in real life, I write whenever and where ever I get a chance.

Did you go to college for writing?

Nope. I’m ambivalent about writing degrees. For me, writing is about discipline and practice. Can those skills be taught in a class at university? I’ve done short courses in the past. Now I read writing reference books and try to read critically.

What bothers you more: spelling errors, punctuation errors or grammar errors?

Spelling errors. They stand out like a big angry zit.

What is the best writing advice that anyone has given you?

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.” – Steven Pressfield

What advice would you give to another writer?
  1. First drafts are always shit – go Hemingway!
  2. Stop talking about writing and write
  3. The real work starts after you’ve finished the first draft
What are your favourite writing sites or blogs that you turn to for help, tips or encouragement?

The Creative Penn, Story Grid, Steven Pressfield, Chuck Wendig. Encouragement comes from the brilliant Monthly Writing Challenge crew on Twitter.

Besides writing, what else do you enjoy doing? What are your hobbies?

I spend a lot of time in my head and sitting on my bum, so I try to balance this out with walking, running and weight training. I love to lose myself in books and films.

What’s the best book you’ve read this year?

Three way tie between Perdido Street Station – China Mieville, Parable of the Sower – Octavia E Butler and Sunne in Splendour – Sharon Penman. Speculative fiction in three different ways.

What is the best movie you’ve seen this year?

Cheap Thrills – a twisted movie about what people will do for money.

What is your favourite book or series of all time?

Of all time? Too hard. Currently I’m into Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series. Recently completed Book 5 – Foxglove Summer and anxiously awaiting #6.

Who is your favourite author?

Depends on the direction of the wind and what I’ve had for breakfast. I’ve mentioned a few authors above. Other honourable mentions include Val McDermid, CJ Sansom and Michael Robotham.

What are your plans for the rest of the year in terms of your writing?

Hopefully to start querying my Monolith trilogy by the end of the year. Exciting times. Wish me luck!

Where else can we find you online?

Twitter

Goodreads

Consider yourselves tagged.

Sara General

Mollie Smith

Annelisa Christensen

Mattias Ahlvin

What you are your thoughts on the questions above?

Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge

It’s time for part four of my “revisiting childhood favourites” series with The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.

Maria Merryweather is an orphan (of course) and sent to live with her long lost uncle in the West Country at Moonacre Manor. She takes the long journey by carriage through the night with her bilious governess and Wiggins, her grumpy spoiled spaniel. Her new home is mysterious, mythic and magical. Her uncle tells tales of the tragic love story of the Moon Princess and Sir Wrolf, the first Merryweather, and of course the rarely seen little white horse.

Firstly it must be said, this book should be mandatory reading for anyone interested in glorious world-building. The descriptions of Moonacre Manor and its characters are vibrant and rich. From cosy cave houses and circular bedrooms in towers to a curmedgeonly dwarf with a rich vocabulary baking fairy cakes and lavish descriptions of hearty country meals (very reminiscent of Enid Blyton) to a cat that can write and the grumpy spoiled Wiggins, the spaniel.

But the story itself is a little strange. The haughty Maria bullies her family (both immediate and estranged) into complying with her wishes. All the while maintaining a relationship with a shepherd boy which no one questions. And this is supposedly 1842. There is much talk of “wicked men” and yet she converts them to goodness with harsh words and pearls. Reality aside, she is a firebrand who gets what she wants. A feisty female protagonist.

But the pleasure in this book is the imaginative world-building. If you are interested in descriptions or characterisation, I urge you read this book. Especially the first few chapters as Maria explores her new home.

Recent reads – Parable of the Sower by Octavia E Butler

One of the curious things about my writing life is I write sci-fi but I don’t often read it. I’ve recently made an effort to read some “masterworks” to fill my gaps.

Don’t you hate it when you find a brilliant “new” writer, only to find out they are already dead? I’m definitely late to the Octavia Butler party, the trail blazing African American female sci-fi writer. Before reading a word of her work, only her bio, I was filled with deep respect for Butler.

First I read Bloodchild (mainly because it was free and I am cheap). I thoroughly enjoyed the story of the alien host and her human servants. Although reading the end notes, I jumped to the conclusion (like many others) that it was a story about slavery. Apparently not!

Then while on a recent trip to the US, I came across Parable of the Sower in a bookshop. The luxury of holidays gave me time to devour it quickly. If I’d been at home (and not required to be social), I would’ve curled up in a corner until I finished it.

In Parable of the Sower, Lauren is 17 and lives in a neighbourhood compound in post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. Her father is the local preacher and community leader where the neighbours band together to keep themselves safe from the dangers outside the walls. The outside world is dangerous, filled with drug addicts who revel in fire.

Lauren listens to her father’s sermons but she has her own ideas about what God is. Over time her thoughts formulate in her mind, she is creating her own religion. It is called Earthseed.

One night, the compound and Lauren’s world is breached. She leaves and must fend for herself on the highways of California, looking for safety and a new life. All the while, building on her ideas for a new faith.

But the Parable of the Sower is much more than a dystopian road story.

As an aspirant writer, this is one of those books that made me want to put my pen down and give it all away. The prose so crisp and precise. The concepts so big and mind-chewing. This is what I want to be when I grow up.

As I said in my review of AYTGIMM, I’m ignorant about religion. The Parable of the Sower passage from the Bible has no meaning to me. I brought no preconceived ideas when I started reading.

With the chaos around her, Lauren sees God as objective. God is change and cares only about survival. There is no moral overlay about right or wrong. It just is. This reminds of the concepts in Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s Antifragile. Another book which wowed me.

I was struck by a single line. “Some people see nature as God.” Pow. There’s my worldview in a nutshell in a way I’d never considered it before. The way some people see God is the way I see nature/the universe. Awe inspiring and all powerful. But like Lauren, I never placed the moral overlay on nature. She doesn’t care about you and me as individuals. She only wants to continue on.

This book has stayed with me for months now. What more can you ask for in a book? Entertainment plus a soul searching challenge on your view of the universe.

Top 5 Influential Children’s Books – Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret

Blog posts have been a little tardy. I’ve been distracted by the main game, my fiction. But let’s return to my favourite childhood books.

The next book in my series revisiting childhood classics is from Judy Blume. A classic children’s writer, I remember her books fondly. But funny how your memory plays tricks on you.

Time and memory are true artists; they remould reality nearer to the heart’s desire – John Dewey (1859-1952)

As an 80s child, my reading life was chock full of Judy Blume. I owned a copy of Starring Sally J Friedman As Herself.  (This could explain why a kid in Tasmania in the late 1980s was reading biographies of old film stars like Lana Turner. Although as a voracious reader, I did work my way through most of the books in my small local library.)

Blubber. Super Fudge. Forever was the taboo book when I was in Grade 6, to be hidden from the parents under the mattress because it had s.e.x in it.

Then of course Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret (AYTGIMM). The quintessential book on growing up. So today, I’m revisiting my old friend, Margaret.

Margaret has just moved to Jersey from NYC and she’s eleven. The child of a Jewish father and a Christian mother,  she has grown up without religion, yet she talks to God every night. Margaret has a new school, new friends and new womanly body to manage.

Before I started to read this book, my memories of AYTGIMM were all about bras and periods. I expected it to be full of female body stuff. A fiction version of Everygirl. But on re-reading, I was surprised to discover that puberty is only one part of the story. The more important storyline is Margaret’s spiritual search. Is she Jewish or is she Christian? Who is this God she speaks to?

Looking at the title of this book, the religious element is completely obvious.  Like Margaret, I grew up without religion, but I never went through a religious curiosity phase like she does. Margaret chooses to explore religion as the topic of her year long school project. As a child, this part of the story must not have resonated with me. Perhaps the difference is the overt religious tension in Margaret’s family. Or I blocked it out and focused on the juicy stuff.

AYTGIMM was probably the first time I read about someone like me, dealing with their newly adult bits, bras and periods, secret clubs and talking on the phone for hours about (very important) nothing. The “Two Minutes in a Closet” brought back cringe worthy memories of my own Grade 6 parties. Did we get the idea from this book? Although we used an ensuite bathroom. It brought back memories of my own experiences of being eleven.

The stand-out characters were Sylvia, Margaret’s grandmother and Laura Danker. Interfering and vibrant, Sylvia sounds like a super fun grandma but incredibly infuriating for Margaret’s mother. Laura Danker is a tragic innocent character. An early developer, the world makes assumptions about her morals just because she has boobs.

I didn’t enjoy AYTGIMM as much as I thought I would. The puberty stuff is of no interest anymore and neither is the religious angle. But I hope this book still resonates with eleven year old girls wondering what’s going on with their bodies and making sense of religious tension in their family. Just not for me.

Next book in line is The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge. Apparently I’m in good company as this is also a favourite of JK Rowling.

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