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BOOK LOVE: The Hunger Games trilogy

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, “The Hunger Games,” a fight to the death on live TV. Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she is forced to represent her district in the Games. The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed.

This mega-selling trilogy is down as YA fiction (as is Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, another of my Book Loves), but I definitely want to read more if this is where YA is at these days. I refrained from this series for a while as I thought the premise sounded pretty macabre. And it is, but after a few recommendations from trusted reader friends, I shook off my reservations and I’m glad I did. From the first chapter, I was completely absorbed in Katniss Everdeen’s journey. I’ve obviously got a thing for dystopian fiction – I love their vivid re-imagined worlds, the fast-paced action, and the exploration of control and subversion. I’m obviously not alone. Why do these stories appeal to so many people, and teenagers in particular? Perhaps it is because there is obvious and terrible injustice in the real world as to how powerful people control and manipulate others, and in these books there is an opportunity of redress by an everyday, ordinary person. The story of Katniss Everdeen might belong to a fantastical world, but I found one of its strongest themes was that there is hope to be found even in the most powerless, grotesque and overwhelming situations.

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Perth Writers Festival #3: Fiction discussion at its finest

To begin with, I was drawn to the writers in the session entitled ‘Reverberations from the past’ more than the topic. Natasha Lester is a friend of mine, whose beautifully crafted book, What is Left Over, After, won the TAG Hungerford in 2009, and I’ve read and heard so much about Gail Jones’ and Jon Bauer’s books that makes me want to pick them up as soon as I can. During the session, all three writers breathed fresh life into the over-analysed theme, and every audience member appeared captivated by their eloquence and their ideas. Gail Jones spoke about how other writers, including Virginia Woolf in ‘Sketches of the Past’ addressed the issue; Natasha Lester told us about the wonder tales of the French court in the 14th century and how she used them in her novel; then Jon Bauer read a piece he had written for the event, which was filled with soundbites, such as ‘The past is not a foreign country, nor is it the past. It is you, now.’ In the following discussion they each spoke of how their own experience had found different routes and resonances in their writing. Jon Bauer had used some personal challenges of his childhood; Gail Jones’ drew on the story her great-grandfather, who committed suicide in a Kalgoorlie hotel; while Natasha recently reached out to others in a creative non-fiction piece about her experiences of her daughter’s hip dysplasia (published in the WA journal Indigo). They all discussed how they looked for the subtle but resonant aspects of experience that might be used in storytelling to convey authentic feeling and reflection to greatest effect, whether representing grief in the landscape or manifesting in a character’s physical appearance.

Finally, Jon Bauer answered one audience member’s question in a way well worth noting. When asked about how to move a piece of writing forward, he said he wanted to respect the fact the writer was lost and struggling, as we all are at times in writing, and therefore he wouldn’t answer the question in order to empower the gentleman to find his own way through. Such an eloquent way of encouraging a writer to keep reaching for their own authentic, unique voice.

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Your editor is on your side

Book pages 2This blog also appeared on the Random House ‘Random Blogs’ website on 6th April 2010

It is always interesting to see how writers respond to editorial guidance. Some are completely open to suggestions, others are not, and there’s a third category who seem to be keen for a critique, but then either don’t like the reality, or don’t seem to alter anything much as a result. What many writers appear to get stuck on is the ‘Well, I like it’, or ‘It has to happen because…’ response. A writer becomes so attached to a piece of writing, or a certain event in their plot, that they will hold on to it come hell or high water. But I believe that the more malleable you see your work, right up to the point it becomes set in print, then the more likely you are to create a better book. This doesn’t mean you have to follow any or all editorial suggestions, because ultimately, and quite rightly, the author has the final say. However, it is worth remembering that editors are there to help you produce the best finished product you can, not to ruin your treasured script! Therefore their comments should not be dismissed too lightly.

That’s the theory, anyway, coming from an editor’s perspective. But how did I go as a writer? Well, I had this experience with Come Back to Me. The book had a prologue, which was the very first thing I wrote for the novel, and I loved it. Every time I reread the prologue, it made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could get this thing published. So when the script came back with a big pencil line streaking across the first page, I did have a bit of a gulp. And, if I hadn’t had an editing background, I would have probably argued passionately for it to remain – because I loved it. However, the thing is, while I felt it was a fine piece of writing, it interfered with something more important: it delayed the real start to my story. So when I’d had a few minutes to think about it, I knew the editor was right. The prologue was a personally beloved part of an earlier draft, but it didn’t belong in the finished piece. So out it went. And the book is better for it.

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Perth Writers Festival 2010

I had a fantastic time at the Perth Writers Festival. It was a new experience for me to be on panel discussions, and I am very grateful to Grant Stone, Michael Koryta, Helen Merrick, Liz Byrski and Anita Heiss for making it such a thoroughly enjoyable debut. I very much enjoyed talking about book editing too: first of all in a Publishing Seminar on the Friday before the main festival, with Georgia Richter, Jon Doust and Donna Ward, and then with 25 brave participants at my workshop on Saturday afternoon – where we spent 3 hours in a room without air conditioning on a 40 degree day! It was lovely to meet so many fellow booklovers over the course of the weekend, and to cap it all off, Come Back to Me was launched on a balmy Sunday evening in the beautiful Sunken Amphitheatre at UWA, by Amanda Curtin, author of the wonderful WA-based book The Sinkings. Thank you to the organisers and volunteers at the festival for making everything run so smoothly – I’m in awe of the organisational skill that must go into such an event. I’m looking forward to doing more events in future – but first I have the small matter of a book to finish!