Monday, 23 July 2012

Thank you, Margaret Mahy

I'm deeply saddened to hear that one of New Zealand's greats, Margaret Mahy, passed away today. I'm sure there will be many, many people out in Aotearoa sad to hear this news, for Mahy has been one of our greatest children's writers for more decades than I've been alive. If you will indulge me, I would like to share with you what Margaret Mahy meant to me.

Although I am NZ-born I was not quite NZ-raised. We lived in England for 9 years during my childhood, and when we returned to NZ I found myself a Kiwi with little knowledge of what it was to be a Kiwi. Being a bookish child, naturally my solution to this problem was to read all of the books in the library written by Kiwis. As you do. I scoured the shelves for that little koru sticker on the spines that indicated a New Zealand book. When I found a Kiwi author whose work I enjoyed, I got all her books out of the library and read them one after another. One of those authors was Sheryl Jordan, another was Caroline MacDonald. And one was Margaret Mahy. Of the three authors named, Mahy's works were the ones that taught me most about what it is to be a Kiwi.

Thank you, Margaret, for making my reintroduction to NZ culture easier. I appreciated it then, and I appreciate it now. Rest in peace.

Book review: Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern WorldGenghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World by Jack Weatherford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the version of this book. I purchased the book because I wanted to learn more about non-European history. With the exception of my enthusiastic yet patchy knowledge of Japanese history, so much of what I have learned about the past, whether at school or otherwise, is heavily Euro-centric. I am keenly aware of the gaps in my knowledge, and that my worldview must be biased because of it.

Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World started by recounting what is known of the early life of Genghis Khan, or Temudjin as he was known then. It moves on to how he gained rule and founded his Empire, and recounts his conquests. The book doesn't stop with the death of Genghis Khan, but rather follows the Empire under the rule of his sons and grandsons, until the breakdown of the Empire several generations later. The book also details some long-standing influences the Mongolian Empire had on global culture. For example, Genghis Khan was the first ruler to try to establish a common writing system that could be used to write any language; and the Mongols established many of the major trade routes throughout Asia.

The research sources used in this book are not always reliable, but the author takes the time to mention when there are doubts about the veracity of a claim. Therefore, the reader or listener has an idea of how likely it is that the events in the book are true as portrayed. I appreciated this honesty.

Overall, I found this book to be a fascinating and informative listen.

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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Book review: Introducing the Honourable Phryne Fisher

Introducing The Honorable Phryne Fisher (Phryne Fisher, #1, #2, #3)Introducing The Honourable Phryne Fisher by Kerry Greenwood

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I downloaded the sample of this book to my Kindle after reading a review, and quickly ended up buying it.

This book is an omnibus of the first three in Kerry Greenwood's long-running Phryne Fisher books. The series is set in Melbourne in the late 1920s and follows the adventures of a rich (with a poor background) fashionable flapper detective with loose morals and yet a strong sense of justice. It features a wide cast of strong women very different from one another, and an assortment of awesome men from various walks of life. If there's one thing these books do, they demonstrate that strength comes in many forms, and can be found in many places.

In each book Phryne and her associates solve two crimes. If you are looking for intriguing, intricate mysteries, you won't find them here: I don't read a lot of mysteries, and yet even I could call most of the outcomes. But even still, the ways in which Phryne & co. go about their investigations and the shenanigans they get up to are fun and diverting to read about.

This book is highly recommended for a fun weekend read.

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Monday, 16 July 2012

Book review: the Inheritance Trilogy

I've recently read the Inheritance Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin. I'd heard good things about the trilogy, and so my expectations were quite high. The books met those expectations with flying colours.

You know how some books can be put down and returned to later, and some books you just have to read all in one gulp? All three of the Inheritance Trilogy were 'gulp' books for me. I had some late nights while reading these. Not that I am complaining. I love it when a book picks me up and shakes me like that.

The Inheritance Trilogy is set in a world where the three Gods and their numerous children, the Godlings, are not vague distant beings, but rather live in close and frequent contact with humans. The books are set some time after a terrible war was waged among the Gods and Godlings, after which the losing side was bonded to become servants of the ruling human dynasty. The trilogy follows the after-effects of the war, and details how the wounds that the war left begin to heal. Each of the three books follows a different main character, something that I am not usually fond of, but which works very well for this series.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The first book in the trilogy follows Yeine, a young woman from the north who is also related to the royal family, the Arameri, that rules over the empire. Yeine is summoned to court to be a pawn in a dangerous political game that will lead to the throne for one of her cousins, but certain death for herself. Instead of playing the part of the poor pawn, Yeine becomes enmeshed in the affairs of the captive God and Godlings held in the palace, and their bid to finally win their freedom.

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is a great introduction to the trilogy, and quickly demonstrates Jemisin's writing strength – getting into the minds of her characters and dealing with the psychological implications of the events in the book in a convincing manner. Her weakness is also quickly apparent; Jemisin is not as good at describing the physicality of the world her characters move in as she is at describing the internal landscapes of their minds. This particular combination of strength and weakness leads to a writing style very different from the bulk of epic fantasy fare. I found the change refreshing.

The Broken Kingdoms

Ten years after the events of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, a blind painter called Oree Shoth, who can see magic even though she can't see the world around her, finds a God in her rubbish heap. Oree is plagued by Gods, so doesn't think too much of her find. She simply takes him in and feeds him. But this particular God is nothing but trouble for those who know him, and Oree is soon caught up in a plot that she doesn't understand but which only she can stop.

As I mentioned above, Jemisin is better at describing her characters' inner lives than the external world they live in. This writing style is exceptionally well-suited to telling the story of a blind person. For this reason, The Broken Kingdoms was my favorite of the trilogy. All the elements of the story and the overall feel of the trilogy came together most harmoniously in this book.

The Kingdom of Gods

Many years after The Broken Kingdoms, the trickster child Godling Sieh has a bit of a problem: he's growing up. Sieh must learn how to be mature despite his own nature, and how to accept the responsibilities that have been dealt him. In the process, he uncovers truths that will shake the world of the Gods to its very core.

This book ends the trilogy with a bang, one that will linger with you as you ponder over its philosophical implications for days after you finish the book. It draws the plot threads of the series together, and although it does not tie them all neatly, it leaves the story in a place where we can be sure that the resolution we want will happen at some stage in the future. This book also introduces a fascinating internal conflict for the main character, Sieh, one that is beautiful and thought-provoking in its simplicity and poignancy.

Jemisin has an individual writing style. I liken it to a sketch by a master artist; although the scenery is indicated by the barest of lines, the face of the subject is worked in such exquisite and realistic detail that the viewer finds the breath caught in her throat as she looks at it. The characters' motivations and psychology are so well crafted that any writer will want to study these books to try to figure out how she did it.

Because of the lightness of the scenery descriptions (as mentioned above) and the complexity of the character Oree Shoth, The Broken Kingdoms is by far the best book of the series. It does not matter that the world is hazy; Oree is blind and cannot see it anyway. I think this was an elegant matching of character and writer, and it is something that has made me think: what kind of character would suit my writing style? I'm not sure.

Learn more about N.K. Jemisin:
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Friday, 6 July 2012

First draft of my novel complete!

Today I finished the first draft of my novel Symmetry Breaking (tentative title).

I started the draft on 6 March, so it took me 4 months and 1 day to write. I had an initial estimated word count of 100,000 words, but in the end it came in at 77,975 words. Whatever. The story knows better than me how long it should be, right? And it may get longer (or shorter) in revisions.

Ugh! Revisions! I am a bit petrified of them. I know that the book is far from finished yet. I didn't revise as I wrote, and so the book is currently filled with plot holes, cardboard characters, and unconvincing motivations. So. Much. Work! I've got a list of changes I've already realised I've got to make, waiting for me to implement. Some of these are going to be huge. For example:

  • Introduce [minor character] and [minor character] earlier. (Um, where?)
  • Chapter 15 is boring. Fix.

Seriously, I copy-pasted that second note exactly.

But at least I have that lump of clay on the wheel now, ready to be shaped.

I will start the revisions on 1 September. Until then, I will be leaving the novel to sit, so that I have some distance from it, and catching up with all the other things I have procrastinated while I have been in Writer Mode. Which is a whole other reason to panic.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

'The Wrong Camera' available on Kindle!

My story in Tales from the Archives, 'The Wrong Camera', is now available in eBook version through the Kindle store. At the moment it doesn't seem to be available for people in the Asia/Pacific region, but even so, I'm really, really excited to see my name on Amazon. I'm searchable, peoples!

And, oops, it seems there is already an author going by my name (I don't have a Dallas perm, BTW). Good thing I am getting married at the end of the year and my name will be changing.