Thursday, 13 March 2014

SEVEN INTERNET GEMS FOR READERS, including: Cassandra Claire's NEW SERIES, Spritz, Lestat, Book Boyfriends.


I haven't blogged for an age, and there's two main reasons for that. One is a vacation in Oman, the other is the end of the financial year. I'll be telling you more about one of those next week (guess which one). In the meantime, I was thinking how quality news about books and reading is kind of scattered across the web, so I decided to concentrate some of it, the things I've been looking at, here for you...

1. Our favourite fictional characters are never simple, and seldom entirely good. This article claims that a whole bunch of the best loved authorial inventions are much worse, they're bad to the bone PSYCHOS.

2. Do you want to read faster? I'm not sure what I think about this. I don't like the idea that reading novels, or anything for enjoyment, could be some kind of race. Maybe work reading, or research? But to me one of the joys of books is taking your time, going over things twice, or speeding along if you want to. See what you think?



3) Most of the readers of this blog are, well, readers, but still, you might need to persuade somebody else. Here are a stack of quotes saying why reading is the best.

4) Before Twilight, before The Mortal Instruments I first learned the possibilities of the contemporary paranormal from Anne Rice's Lestat, or more accurately, the Tom Cruise/Brad Pitt movie, which led me to the book. The news? Lestat's  ON HIS WAY BACK.

5) Speaking of the Mortal Instruments, everybody knows that there's a 3rd series on it's way, to make TMI and ID ending a little better. The news is that there's  FOURTH series, set in the same kind of era as ID. Cassandra Claire is a WRITING MACHINE.

6) Still speaking of the Mortal Instruments, every day is a little bit better because it's a bit closer to the next book. Getting to the last book in a series is terrible. This article describes the process. How far along are you?

7) And finally, more from Huffpost. We all have our favourite book boyfriends. Apart from maybe possibly they aren't as perfect as we think. Check to see if your flawed 'BBF' is on this list.




Wednesday, 29 January 2014

True Adventures of a Part Time Writer. The Sea of Galilee.

I sat here, at this table, in a state of slight disbelief. In the distance was the Sea of Galilee, the town I was in was Roman, and the restaurant had been built in a beautiful black and yellow stone Ottoman mansion.


Where was I?

The view south from the restaurant is like this, five miles of Roman temples, theatres, stores, and baths. In the bright November sun (yes, November) lizards sunbathed on blocks of stone, then sprinted away if you came too near, legs lifted high on each side.



The place is called Um Qais. It's in northern Jordan, the slice of pale water in the distance is the Sea of Galilee, now in Israel. The nearer hills are in Syria and Palestine, and the valley is that of the river Jordan.


The Roman town was called Gadara, most of it is now buried beneath olive groves, but it was once part of the Decapolis, the network of cities that ruled the area. It is the site of a biblical story about a herd of swine being chased into the water. When I was there it was also the site of an owl trying to sleep in a tree and a flock of sparrows determined not to let it.


The Ottoman village dates to when the Turks were in charge, but they left long ago, when their empire fell in upon itself. Local farmers took it over, but they too have gone.

The restaurant serves beautiful lamb stews, to the sound of haunting Lebanese guitar music. The day I was there, though, there were two other noises. The first was a weird trilling, like distant birds. I looked everywhere for them, until I spotted them high over head. Arrow head formations of broad winged, long legged cranes, migrating from the Russian Steppe to Africa for the winter.

The other noise was more distant, and more sinister. The muffled thump of artillery in Syria. Damascus is only just beyond the first range of hills, the infamous Golan heights. The whole area is scarred by millennia of wars. In the springtime the hillside is a riot of wildflowers, and filled with exiled Palestinians who throng there to see where they once lived.

There are stories everywhere, and some places few of them are happy. All we strive for is an end to this one, and as soon as possible.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Who I see when I think of a story, Aisling Loftus, Mr. Selfridge, Levels 4, Idylls of Merlin.

Aisling Loftus (pronounced Ashling), to me, is one of the greatest actresses of her generation (it's the younger generation, so far there's not a ton of competition).

I'm editing Levels 4 now (it doubles as Book One in the Idylls of Merlin) and there's one character, Madeleine Bride, who's becoming very complicated indeed. For three books she's been the POV character (except for a brief meltdown in Lullaby of Lies, when she wasn't strong enough to carry the story).

Now, though, she's one of an ensemble, and for much of the story - particularly the start, she's not even the lead. She has to play a mature, balancing role, when new players are charging in and making a mess of things. Aisling Loftus does complexity, balance, and imbalance with ease.



She also does swimming costumes, which is important. Anybody who knows Levels, knows that Madeleine has a love-hate relationship with her swimsuit. She doesn't swim as much as usual in The Walled Lake, because she needs to organise the future saviour of the world, but Aisling Loftus could do that too.

The main reason why Aisling Loftus would be a great Madeleine Bride is that she does an amazing job of hinting at vast inner resource. She can act surface fragility AND inner strength at the same time. I know this because I've been watching her in Mr. Selfridge. It's a great series, and she's the best thing in it. I haven't included a clip of it here, though, because her hair is all wrong. 1908 hair is splendid but it's not very Levels at all.



In Mr. Selfridge she's the naive, starting at the bottom shop girl who turns out - surprise! - to be graced with vast talent and oodles of charm.

Watch it! You can get DVDs for one dinar each in a shop near my place...


Thursday, 23 January 2014

Ukraine 2014: Massive Dramatic Story, Good against Evil, Giant Super Hero takes on Grotesque Villain.

The bright colours and sunny pictures of my friends facebook profile pictures are disappearing. They are being eaten up and replaced, one by one, with this.


Nothing. Mourning. The long dark night before the dawn. My friends are Ukrainians, or people who, like me, have lived in Ukraine.


You didn't know that, did you?


I lived in Ukraine for three years. It's where I had my first proper job (the company sent somebody to the airport with a SIGN to pick me up). I had the first apartment all to myself (the windows were taped shut, and the water out the tap was hot enough to make coffee with). My first real relationship was in Kyiv. Ukraine is an awesome country. It is the biggest nation entirely within Europe. The people are spectacular. They party with a joy that is rarely seen, though their history is astonishingly harsh. One after another powerful neighbours have rampaged across their great expanses of undefendable, beautiful grassland. In the 1930s the Soviet Union engineered slaughter by starvation that saw corpses piled in the streets. 


Then there was Chernobyl.


It is that history, which gives authenticity to the other things that are so great about Ukraine. In the west are the mountains and forests of the Carpathians, haunted by wolves and bears. Lviv is an ancient city with hundreds-of-years old churches from a dozen different forms of Christianity, some of them rare, and tiny, and hailing from far away. 



In the east the steppes roll away towards the Caspian sea, much as they did when Cossacks galloped across them.


Kyiv, the capital, is a beautiful city, rolling over seven hills, from river beaches...

...to mysterious wooded graveyards that feel they are the edge of a 1000 acre forest. 


There are markets heaped with fruit, and a metro so deep the escalator takes 10 minutes to ride. In the winter it can be 20 below, in the summer people cram into beautiful parks, late into the evening. 

And now it is racked and ruined. You might have seen. I won’t go into the politics. You can find that elsewhere. All I want to say is that this is a beautiful, European capital, where young people are fighting for their futures.

Fortunately they’ve got this guy on their side, and he’s used to fighting. This is a time for heroes, and it may be that Ukraine has one.


The Black Square on people’s Facebook page was also the signature artwork of Kazimir Malevich, one of the founders of modern art, who was… drumroll… Ukrainian.

Not many people know that, much as they know little about Ukraine in general. It’s worth finding out, though. Much of this blog is about how YA paranormal and fantasy is not really that fantastic, because real life - if you are adventurous and look hard - is much more extraordinary. (examples here, herehere, and here) It is the fantastic things I have experienced in places like Ukraine that have informed my writing. 

It's worth finding out about Ukraine. I did, and I never looked back.



Friday, 3 January 2014

Happy New Year King Arthur Survey!

Hello everybody. I hope you had a fabulous holiday. Mine was mainly about the food, and a bit about Transylvania... I'll write more about it as soon as I'm sufficiently recovered...

In the meantime, though, I thought I'd remind you about a fun little survey I first released 2 years ago. It's about modern perceptions of King Arthur. Have a go, it'll take you a couple of minutes, and I'll compile your responses into an article for when Levels 4 comes out...

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/CQYTVKH

Friday, 20 December 2013

Scott Westerfield, more Animals in Stories, Editing, and a Secret Photograph of the JD Field Writing Process

What's your favourite Potter animal? What would be your Patronus? Or your Daemon? What's your favourite Scott Westerfield animal?

I've talked about the appeal of animals in kids books before. It's interesting that it doesn't seem to cross over to YA books that I've seen. There's something about the play of imagination necessary to see the world through the eyes of an animal that maybe stops as we grow up.

Westerfield is my latest discovery. I've just read leviathan.



It's BRILLIANT. Recommended to everybody. It's a re-imagining of the events at the start of the First World War, seen through the eyes of a teenage girl and a teenage boy who get caught up in events. It's fast-paced and action packed, but that's not the best bit.

The best bit is that the Germans have armies of gigantic, walking war machines, while the British have fabricated animals by blending their DNA together. There are enormous, armoured elephantines, and ferocious wolf-tigers. There are jellyfish filled with helium that float into the sky. Best of all is a whale as big as a village, that produces hydrogen in its guts, and floats through the sky like a gigantic airship. This is the best thing ever.

If you've read The Water Book you'll understand why. If you haven't, then read the Water Book. It's free at BARNES AND NOBLE. That's got a whale, and imaginatively depicted animals, as well.

Fortunately Westerfield's work is such compulsive reading that it won't be keeping from my editing for much longer. I've printed Levels 4 onto 70 A3 pages.


Here it is, with the corner of my new noticeboard. The corner has a note about the stories I'm going to write AFTER Levels... I'm currently on page 35 of the edit, scrawling arrows all over everything, and crossing stuff out. Crossing tons out. Lucky I've got plenty more to add, so when it finally gets to you you're not going to feel short changed...
  

Monday, 2 December 2013

Thors v. City of Bones, why YA movies fail, and a FREE EBOOK.

I'd been looking forward to City of Bones for a year. Thor, not so much, though I like the character. He's got a lot in common with my character, Eddy Moon. I imagine they talk in the same stilted, regal kind of way and they share a connection with ancient myths. Probably some of the people Eddy came across believed in Thor. Here he is, a bit. If you've read the Levels books you'll get what I mean.


Coming into this City of Bones had more advantages than being anticipated. I bought both DVDs in downtown Amman, which looks like this.


My copy of Thor had bonus audience coughing and head-scratching silhouettes in front of the camera.

But still I preferred it. Thor is silly, operatic, but it's lots of fun and it's straightforward. City of Bones  - as a movie - is just so tortuous, and at the same time differs from the book in little, annoying ways. And what's wrong with the light? Why can nobody in New York get a 100 watt lightbulb? I think it's a bad sign if the only way you can make a film dark is to - literally - turn off the lights.

If you're into YA books or movies and want to read a bit more about this, there's an interesting article here: YA books into movies don't go, HERE.

I felt bad about my bargain basement DVDs, and so have decided to even out my karma a bit, by giving a book away. It's a novel aimed at teens, probably more suitable for boys - though bright, curious girls will like it too. If you know somebody who has an interest in - or a love for - wildlife and might like an imaginative story, in the tradition of Willard Price and Watership Down, then please point them in the direction of a free ebook. It's about a rebellious, imaginative teenage boy who gets embroiled in marine biology adventures.

It's called THE WATER BOOK and it's HERE.