Thursday, 18 August 2011

Lord of the Rings, Vampires, Whales and the Azores

Vampires, aliens, elves, robots, borrowers, timelords, supermen, werewolves, hobbits, angels. I'll stop there but the list could go on and on. Why do so many books and films hinge on the idea of people meeting, communicating, interacting, and fighting with other, intelligent species?

From the very first fairy stories I read, with wolves and witches, to my obsession with the Lord of the Rings, they seem to have been in more of my books than not. My personal favourites are probably the elves in the Lord of the Rings, and in the wider mythology that Tolkien created. Cross-species romance is incredibly popular at the moment. It doubles the drama of a regular relationship, without limiting the amazing attractiveness of everyone concerned. Mostly the drama is 'I really want my boyfriend to bite me, so I live forever as well.' Tolkien's version was gentler, though. In his stories of elves and men that loved one another, the elves choose mortality, and their family are always stricken. This tragedy was memorably played out by Liv Tyler in the movies. You can see a little bit of it HERE.

It seems like we're desperate for somebody else to talk to. It's almost as if we're bored with people, all the same old problems and abilities. And what problems the other might have... They shine in the sun, they're two feet tall, they're practically slaves. As for their abilities, I think everything, ever, imaginable has been covered.

People who've been reading will know what I'm going to say.

We don't need to make them up. They all ready exist. Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you...

...the cachalot, or sperm whale. Biggest brain in the world, largest carnivore to ever exist, it hunts for giant squid with sonar. It's clicks mean it can see in 3D, in the dark. It explores a black, empty world, far from the surface, where we can't go.
It's quite possible they're incredibly intelligent. We don't really know, we know very little about them. One scientist said sitting in boats and trying to understand whales from what we see is like sitting underwater in a drinking hole and trying to understand elephants from their feet and trunks splashing about. Far from falling in love with them, our main interaction with them has been to slaughter them in gigantic numbers and melt down their fat to oil our watches.
Yet they survive. The best place to see these amazing animals is the Azores, in the Atlantic, off Portugal. I went there, to Horta on Faial island. It's a small harbour town, like something out of Pirates of the Caribean, with the most beautiful view, I think, in the world.

The island of Pico across the straits. I went out in a whale watching boat, saw Sei whales and millions of amazing dolphins, but no cachalots. I was disappointed, but not too much because it means I have to go back. In the meantime, of course, I'll read books about vampires and watch films about the apes that did for mankind. Kinds sorta the same thing. Maybe.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Look up! Is that a Floating Island?

It's been a while since I took part in a blog hop, but I like the question for this one. What book titles stick in your mind?
My answer would have to be The Floating Islands by Rachel Neumeier, though I was probably also affected by the awesome cover...

I came back to it a couple of weeks ago, when an amazing thing happened: Fiction became reality when an artist created an ACTUAL FLOATING ISLAND, which looked completely amazing, and then was released and disappeared, last thought to be somewhere over the Czech Republic....

That's my title story, but there are others on each of the blogs taking part in the Crazy for Books Blog Hop. Please check them out. Also, if you're flying, keep an eye out the window, you never know what you might zoom past... But before you go anywhere... PLEASE CAST YOUR VOTE...

UK Riots, True Blood and Sookie Stackhouse

Did you riot?
If not, why not?
Reading and Rioting (Ha!) are so incompatible that a big bookstore in Manchester, Waterstones,  posted on Twitter about it. On Wednesday, when chaos loomed, they wrote 'we're staying open, if they steal some books they might learn something.'
But they didn't.
Maybe reading -  and especially reading a lot - makes you more likely to see things from somebody else's point of view. You spend 300 pages looking at the world through someone else's eyes and you get good at it. You think about what it feels like to be them, and you know that it can't be good for their shop to be smashed in, their livelihood stolen, their restaurant burned down, their community ruined.
So you don't do it.

Of course there's different ways of seeing things from other peoples point of view. In 'Dead until Dark' by Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse can see right INTO other peoples minds. She reads them. What's really interesting, though, is that she hates it. It embarrasses her and she tries not to do it.
So many stories have characters mind-reading for advantage that it's a real breathe of fresh air to find a character who is so NICE that she never even considers it.
Sookie is the biggest strength of the story. The setting - the rural deep south - is strong too. The plot meanders a little, and is a bit improbable - even for paranormality (so many murders). Overall, though, I have to come back to Sookie. She's a barnstorming creation and 'Dead until Dark' is worth reading for her alone.
For all her mind reading skills, though, I doubt even Sookie Stackhouse could work out REALLY why people did such horrible things in London, Manchester, and Birmingham this week. Politicians are trying, a good attempt is made by RUSSELL BRAND, here, but the bookstore staff had as good a try as  any. We're not learning enough, understanding enough, reading enough.
Speaking of which, there will be a bit more reading available in September, when my book 'Song to Wake to' is published. In the meantime I'd be really grateful if you could help me out and - if you haven't already - HAVE A QUICK VOTE. Thanks.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

30 words for $30 - WINNER!

So we have a decision. Sorry it took so long. I've been distracted by the situation in the UK. Really scary stuff. Also, though I've written four novels this year, deciding the best entry was one of the hardest things I've ever done. Next time I'm definitely going to invite a panel of judges.

So thanks to EVERYBODY for excellent entries. You really stepped up to the challenge. The winner has been chosen because of the way it gives a real sense of what the book is like - in fact is quite damning - without using lots of summarising words.

So step up James Steele... entry number 14:

"Flow My Tears the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
A 1984ish future.  A protagonist with the emotional depth of oatmeal.  What’s going on?  All I remember is the line where a character “stops speaking to fart silently.”  Thanks, Philip."
By James Steele.
Well done James, I'll be in touch to see how you'd like your prize. Commiserations to everybody who didn't win. I'll definitely be running another competition in a couple of months. In the meantime, if you haven't done it already, pleeeease do my very short cover survey HERE...

Monday, 8 August 2011

Anne Hathaway, 'Switched' by Amanda Hocking, and Princess Di.

Life doesn't seem to suit you, nobody really gets you, you don't get them, they don't show you the kind of respect you're due. Life is tough.
Then one day somebody tells you you're secretly royal. You don't believe them, of course, but they keep telling you. They give you a little bit of proof. in the end, inevitably, you believe. Hurrah!
You're royal, a proper prince or princess.
This story is played out in millions of books, films, songs. The latest I've read is Switched, by Amanda Hocking.
Alright, Hocking twists it a touch. Her heroine finds out she is a troll princess, a changeling who was swapped at birth, and who's mother hated her to the extent that she was diagnosed as insane and locked up. This stuff is interesting, but annoyingly skated over. It should be massively traumatic, especially the story of the boy who was abducted from her family and raised among strangers. He seems fine, everything seems mainly fine, apart from the massive trauma of deciding which boy to fancy.
But of course, as is the case in most of these stories, being royal turns out to be not as amazing as you hoped. The future of this young woman is a case in point...

Still, Hocking's heroine manages, and has the option to walk away, in the end. The lesson, maybe, is the though it seems so much duller, REAL LIFE can be much easier than ROYAL LIFE. My story, 'Song to Wake to' has a royal strand. It's due out on September 15th, and in the meantime I'd really like your help choosing the COVER... Thanks!

Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Final Selection - Decision Tomorrow

This is the final list of entries in the competition. If you want to have a look, tell me what you think, I'd be very grateful.

1. "Book Title: If I Stay
Author: Gayle Forman

In just one moment in time your whole life changes. Everyone you love is gone. Your body is now a hollow shell. Will memories and love keep her alive?"

by Beckie Voigts

2. "Small Blue Thing by S.C Ransom;
I found this book to be very romantic, but in a sort of tragic kind of way. I found it a tad slow at the beginning, but it got better!
by sarahseaturtle

3. "Ultraviolet by RJ Anderson

""I'm not really a neuroscience student. I'm a janitor""
""Oh ...""
""I'm also an alien.""
""Like ... illegal immigrant?.""
""No, from outer space.""
That's where the story lost me."

by Claudia Kruger

4. "Divergent by Veronica Roth
 Dystopian Chicago. Choose a faction, Candor (honest), Abnegation (selfless), Dauntless (brave), Amity (peaceful), Erudite (intelligent), change your life. Right or wrong. Tris and Four are Divergent, what are you? "
by Jules
5. "Hollowland by Amanda Hocking

Remy & co narrowly escape run-ins with zombies and random predators! This has it all - tons of action, suspense, emotion and a little romance, plus plenty of laughs."

Cindy H

6. "Title: Being. Author: T.R. Mousner
This book was amazing! Aliens, human nature, love, hate, faith and courage.  This author created this world in her book and sucked me right in! IT WAS AWESOME...READ IT!!"
7. "Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare:

A story set in gorgeous Victorian London, white gloved hands, secret glances and stolen moments. With proper and charming characters; but with the strong fierceness, blades and magic Shadowhunters have.

by Jude Henderson.

Full review: here...
8.  "Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky:
A classic on the nature of right and wrong. It's about a man's struggle to understand his place in the world after committing a murder. Grueling, but a great read. "
by Mick Theebs
9. "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Upon finishing this book at promptly 9:52 p.m. last night, I realized exactly what I thought of it: It stunk up until page 770. Then it got really good. "

by Michaela Bean

10.  "Out Stealing Horses.  Per Petterson.  
Simply written with basic conjunctions such as 'and', the slow paced descriptions of life in a Norwegian Wood draw you in and then the 'real' story starts.  I recommend it."
by Fiona 
11. "The Shipping News" pulls your heart strings with a story of ill-placed love, displacement and return.  Chilly descriptions of the Newfoundland landscape contrast with the warmth of the characterisation.  Really loved it.

by Redge

12. "My review:Hex Hall by Racael Hawkins
Sophie Mercer thought that she was a normal teen. But after magic gone wrong Sophie is sent to Hex Hall. Now Sophie must uncover deep secrets about her and school."
by Patrick Castro
13. "Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl

This odd but humourous read comes from the seasoned wit of the inimitable children's author. The Three Little Pigs and other classics get a ""revolting"" makeover that doesn't disappoint. "

by Paul Miazga

14.  "Flow My Tears the Policeman Said by Philip K. Dick
A 1984ish future.  A protagonist with the emotional depth of oatmeal.  What’s going on?  All I remember is the line where a character “stops speaking to fart silently.”  Thanks, Philip."
By James Steele 
15. "Next" by Michael Crichton

Instead of research that benefits mankind, every scientist is skirting the legal system so they can make money and get more funding.  The moral of the story: scientists are evil."

by James Steele

16. "When We Were Real by William Barton
The author can’t finish a...  Well...  You see, he can’t finish... Well.  I’m sure you...  Right.  Great.  When there isn’t a vagina around, the whole book is like this."
by James Steele
17. "The Forbidden Game by L.J. Smith

I cried, was tense and afraid, yet there was sweetness there. I met Jenny and Julian, a prince of darkness as evil and terrifying as he was beautiful and compelling"

by Ter05

18. Wuthering Heights fascinates; the obsessive relationship between Heathcliff and Cathy reflected by the raw charge of the wild setting. ‘He’s more myself than I am’ – raises hairs on my neck.  
by Casper
19. "Bird By Bird. By Anne Lamott.

A concise writing guide colored by Lamott's unusual experiences, Bird by Bird belongs alongside Zinsser and Strunk & White on any serious writers bookshelf. "

by Christopher

20. "Game of Thrones: George R. R. Martin
 Incest, sex, betrayal, violence, war, love, family, honor, and a witty dwarf! What more could you need to make an amazing book? Nothing! A must-read!"
21. "Ebook - Essence by Diane Tolley.

Todd's scientist father has created 'Essence', which will turn anyone into the animal of their choice.
Now it's been stolen. Adventure ensues."

By Diane

22.  "The Glassman by Jocelyn Adams.
Fae realms, strong heroine, hot hero, amusing yet terrifying villain, and a rocket speed writing pace will drag you along for a magical and fantastical ride for the finish line."
 by J.A. Belfield
23. "City of Bones by Cassandra Clare

Firecracker Clary Fray rips the glamour off New York’s underworld to rescue her enigmatic mother. Uncovered secrets reveal taboo snogging. Clare writes luscious romance, dynamite action but sickeningly wordy sentences. "

by Emma Madden

24. "Captain Underpants"-  Dav Pilkey
The chronicles of a cool-ass superhero principal with an underwear fetish make this book a refreshing, albeit slightly juvenile, read.   
by Po
25. Thirsty by M.T. Anderson

Teenage boys becoming vampires, lust after imperfection, and inexplicable celestial beings named Chet shape Chris's life.Tch'Muchgar and traitorism infiltrate the climax, while bittersweetness flavors the ending.

by M. L. P.

26. Artemis Fowl : The Arctic Incident by Artemis Fowl
 A nice blend of action and wit. Engaging language and realistic scenes. Awesome chemistry between characters. For action and faery lovers.Can be read alone / series."
by Jezebel Lee

What a selection! Again, thanks to everybody for taking part. If you've got an opinion, PLEASE COMMENT.
And in the meantime, I've got a little survey HERE that I'd really like your help with...