Posts

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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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BOOK LOVE: Beloved by Toni Morrison

An incredible book. Set in 1873, an African-American mother, Sethe, has killed her daughter rather than allow her to be returned to slavery. Now, the house – 124 Bluestone Road, Cincinnati – is haunted, ‘full of a baby’s venom’. Paul D, one of the former slaves who worked with Sethe, comes and tries to help the family move forward, but in doing so he forces out the ghost of Beloved, who returns to the house as a young woman with baby-like features. Beloved ousts Paul D from the house, and Sethe becomes a slave again, this time trying to do the impossible – to achieve forgiveness from the girl she sacrificed, because, in her own words, she was ‘trying to put my babies somewhere they would be safe.’

On reading this book I felt sickened and strange – but moreover that I was reading something extremely important. Toni Morrison put it like this:

There is no place you or I can go, to think about or not think about, to summon the presences of, or recollect the absences of slaves . . . There is no suitable memorial, or plaque, or wreath, or wall, or park, or skyscraper lobby. There’s no 300-foot tower, there’s no small bench by the road. There is not even a tree scored, an initial that I can visit or you can visit in Charleston or Savannah or New York or Providence or better still on the banks of the Mississippi. And because such a place doesn’t exist . . . the book had to.

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Restful holidays and an unexpected cameo!

Nicky the dolphin at Monkey Mia

Sunset at Monkey Mia

I’ve just returned from a short holiday on the Western Australian coast with my family, where we camped at one of my favourite spots, Monkey Mia. Many people know Monkey Mia for the family of dolphins who come into shore – at 8 am there is usually a crowd of tourists standing ankle-deep in water, marvelling at these friendly cetaceans. However, apart from this daily gathering, it is a quiet place in winter. The water is unbelievably tranquil, as clear as polished glass, and the temperatures are still pleasant. From the water, all you can see is the long stretch of the Peron peninsula, where the sand gradually changes from pale yellow to a vivid ochre. It makes for a perfect, restful break.

This one-of-a-kind place has found its way into part of my upcoming novel, along with Nicky, the matriarch of the shore-visiting dolphins, who makes a very brief cameo appearance. How does Nicky fit into a psychological suspense novel that spans five continents and twenty years? All will be revealed in December, when Shallow Breath is published in Australia!

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BOOK LOVE: The Light Between Oceans By M.L. Stedman

This is a story of right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same …
1926. Tom Sherbourne is a young lighthouse keeper on a remote island off Western Australia. The only inhabitants of Janus Rock, he and his wife Isabel live a quiet life, cocooned from the rest of the world. 

One April morning a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man and a crying infant – and the path of the couple’s lives hits an unthinkable crossroads.

Only years later do they discover the devastating consequences of the decision they made that day – as the baby’s real story unfolds …

What a sensational debut by ML Stedman! Even the strapline is one of the best I’ve read: This is the story of right and wrong, and how they sometimes look the same. I loved so much about this book. The central dilemma is absorbing, and I found myself alternately rooting for (and sometimes angry with) each of the characters as they struggle to find resolution. Throughout the story, the descriptions are mesmerising. My favourite lines are 96 pages in: ‘In a place before words, in some other language of creature to creature, with the softening of her muscles, the relaxing of her neck, the baby signalled her trust. Having come so close to the hands of death, life now infused with life like water meets water.’ I did find the beginning a little bit slow, but it’s well worth persevering. ML Stedman manipulates her narrative like a master, and I’m looking forward to finding out what she does next.

NB: This book has been optioned for a film too, and I hope it gets made. It would be great to see a story based in Western Australia on the big screen.

 

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For the Kimberley

Geiki Gorge landscape, in the Kimberley

It’s not about rights
(though it seems some rights mean more than others?)

It’s not about need
(who can say about greed)

It’s not about whales
(or this rare, safe place they calve)

It’s not about flora, fauna, or natural heritage
(or dinosaur footprints left 130 million years ago)

It’s not about a wilderness few will visit
(out of sight, out of mind)

It’s not even about pollution
(the inestimable clog of it)

No, it’s not about any of this
(It’s all of this)

 It is that all this damage is irreversible
(i.r.r.e.v.e.r.s.i.b.l.e.).

Land and sea are irreplaceable
And afterwards
They are all we’ll have left.

S.A.V.E. T.H.E. K.I.M.B.E.R.L.E.Y.
(and all places like it)

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Only 90,000 words to go…

Signatures have been exchanged, and the deal is done. Most significantly for me at this stage, the deadline has been set. In January 2012, all being well, I will hand over my third novel. I began work in earnest this week, and welcomed back a familiar feeling of giddiness and discomfort – the usual combination of excitement and fear that is present when I’m writing.

I have given myself a huge challenge. All I’ll say about the story at present is that it takes place along the beautiful coastline of WA, and there’s a messy, complicated family (of course!), who are already hijacking my thoughts regularly. I have the feeling that however determined I am to take the reins of their story, there will be parts of the process where all I can do is hang on and try to enjoy the ride.

One of the best parts of this job is that readers I have never met are prepared to give my ideas and imaginings some of their precious time. My desire to write a fantastic story that will capture your heart and mind is as strong as your desire to read one, so wish me luck, and let the fun and hard work begin!

GUEST BLOG: FLEUR MCDONALD, author of Blue Skies and Red Dust

I’m very excited to introduce Fleur McDonald, a fellow West Australian, as my guest blogger today. Fleur has written two brilliant books, Red Dust and Blue Skies, and is currently busy working on a third, called Purple Roads. Please check out her fantastic website and blog at www.fleurmcdonald.com. Over to Fleur: 

I love thunderstorms. To me they represent unbridled power and helplessness all in one. The power they produce, we humans can’t harness, which makes us at the mercy of the storm, therefore the power/helplessness.

Thunderstorms always seem – well on the coast, anyway, to be in layers. First of all there is the high, white strips of cloud that streak, in wisps, across the sky. As the storm starts to stream in over the hill, huge indigo coloured rollers make us stop and watch. I’m often unable to tear my eyes away from what is about to happen. Lastly, and this does really only seem to happen on the coast, the cold, scuddy, murky grey clouds seem to come up from the sea and lay across the menacing clouds, giving the storm three sections.

And then as these clouds roll through, we wait. The sky darkens, the atmosphere, the humans and stock all tense in anticipation.

At the first crack of thunder we all jump, even though it’s expected, the lightning sheets across the sky or forks and hits the ground. Again we hold our breath, watching for fires, but when the rains start, we laugh and lift our faces to the heavens. No fires, nothing destructive, just life-giving rain.

Creating a book is much like this, believe it or not! The book holds the all the power and, as the writer, I feel helpless, until the setting and characters emerge and introduce themselves to me. It starts in layers, the first one being the setting, like the high clouds, it doesn’t do much, but it creates the atmosphere. For me, as both a reader and a writer, I want to be immersed in the place that the story is being told. I want to breathe the air my characters are and see the things they do.

The second layer is the plot. The very thing that gives the book the control to draw the reader in.

The third layer is the characters. They are what makes the book – who they are, how does their setting effect them, make them the people they are and have the relationships they have. Now my issue is getting it all to mesh together, weaving the suspense and action into normal peoples lives. It takes time and it can be frustrating, but as it all comes together, then comes the anticipation – what is going to happen next, we’re all waiting…

Bang! A thunder clap – or a pivotal point in the book.

Lightning strike – gasp, hold your breath! Is there going to be a ‘fire’?

Then the rain is the ending, we’re happy to see it because now we know what is going to happen, why it did and how we got to the finish line.

So to me, writing a book is a lot like a thunderstorm; a rollercoaster of emotion, plots, characters and settings. Although sometimes frustrating,  I love every minute of it!

I couldn’t agree more. Thanks for visiting, Fleur!

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GUEST BLOG: LISA HEIDKE, author of Claudia’s Big Break

I’m delighted to welcome the lovely Lisa Heidke to my blog. Claudia’s Big Break, her most recent bestselling book, is a hilarious and heartwarming read that I couldn’t put down. I asked Lisa what she thought were the linking themes running through her work so far. Over to Lisa:

I have written before how my characters are formed first before I consider plot but I have been forgetting a crucial element, theme.

The theme in Claudia’s Big Break — women, generally in their thirties, who are at a cross roads in their lives —is a theme that runs through my other two books, Lucy Springer Gets Even and What Kate did Next as well.

When starting a new manuscript, I’ll think about the general theme and develop it more specifically, for example infidelity and its’ repercussions, and then create a character to embody that crisis. Whilst the characters in every book are very different, they are all struggling with real issues women face such as aging, betrayal, divorce, teenage sexual awakening, career frustration, loss of independence, friendship, etc.

In each of the novels, the characters start in a difficult place but by the end of the 85,000 words they are on their way to resolving those issues. They are not going to lead perfect lives but the characters have developed the strength and determination to keep going and moving forward in a positive direction.

I always write in the first person so while developing Claudia, Kate and Lucy’s stories, I imagined living inside their heads to make their personalities, motivation and dialogue as emotionally authentic as I could.

While Claudia is the main character in Claudia’s Big Break, the story revolves around the relationship between three long-time best friends: Claudia, Tara and Sophie. All are in their thirties and are struggling with personal issues: Claudia has a less than stellar career and love-life, Tara is trying to overcome personal demons so she can finish writing her novel, and Sophie is dealing with the transition from corporate lawyer to stay-at-home mother.

What excited me about writing this novel was creating the intricate and often tricky relationship these women have, and playing that out against the idyllic Santorini back drop.

With What Kate did Next, the focus is very much on Kate and her coming to terms with the fact that the dreams she had at twenty are no closer to becoming a reality as she approaches her thirty-sixth birthday.

Lucy’s husband in Lucy Springer Gets Even walks out on her in the first sentence, so her journey starts in a very bad place, that of being totally blindsided and having to rebuild her life.

I can’t see the general theme of my books changing. I like writing about women, what drives them to succeed (or fail), how they react to adverse situations and how, even though they may start from a dark place, their strength of character pulls them through in the end. My characters generally aren’t going to get ‘the happily ever after’ of fairytales, but I hope that they are interesting and inspirational regardless of how flawed they appear.

You can find out more about Lisa at www.lisaheidke.com. Thanks for visiting, Lisa!

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Sources of inspiration

Where do you get your ideas from?

It’s a question I am asked regularly. And my answer is ‘everywhere’. Considering my profession is writing, I spend much more of my time thinking about what I might write rather than actually noting it down. I am a compulsive thinker – not just that, but I like to replay, analyse, deconstruct, reconstruct, rewind and fast-forward. Occasionally I might even add a soundtrack. I find it difficult to switch off the whirring of my brain, though I have trained myself to get better at it, and my thoughts are widespread and random. I wonder what the cat is thinking on its morning prowl around the back garden. I wonder who made all the things in my house, which hands these objects passed through, and how curious it is that through them I am connected in some small way to hundreds of other stories I won’t ever know. I wonder who first thought of putting vinegar on a potato chip, or chilli in chocolate, and whether they received the recognition they deserved. These thoughts and others zip through my head all day long, and when I’m building a story, occasionally something will linger for a moment, and I’ll connect it to a character, and it eventually becomes part of my book. That’s if I can stop my thoughts long enough to find a pen and write them down. I often seem to have my best eureka moments just before I fall asleep, which is an endless source of frustration. I’m either constantly switching the light on and off to make notes, or trying to repeat ideas like mantras so I might remember them in the morning (which I rarely do).

I can’t ever imagine running out of inspiration, because I can’t see that I’ll ever run out of these streams of questions. And somewhere within my fascination with them, and the possible answers to them, is the place where a story begins to form.