Wednesday, September 26, 2012

RTW: Best Book of September

Almost at the end of September? No way, Say it ain't so! And it's Wednesday, which means Road Trip Wednesday! If you're new to RTW, it's a blog hop hosted by YA Highway and is one of my favourite times of each week!
 This week the topic is - What is the best book you read in September

I haven't had a lot of variety in my reading this month. In fact for most of the month I've really been reading a long running series - The Pretty Little Liars books. (I'm only up to book 5 of 12 or something crazy.) I'm obsessed with the TV show, kind of sad really, but it's addictive, and this was my way of getting through the hiatus - reading the series. Quite interesting being able to compare the books to the show, the book is more like a dramatic soap opera than the show (although the show does come close at times....)! So that's been filling up my September, however there was one book that was released at the start of the month that I read in a few short days.

Origin, by Jessica Khoury, is a book that I'd been waiting for for quite a number of months. I'd read Jessica's blog, I'd read the preview in the Penguin Breathless Reads and I entered the competitions to win Arcs - I was so looking forward to reading it, and my wait paid off.

The setting of the novel was by far a stand out feature. It's set in the middle of the lush Amazon rainforest, and the descriptions of this setting really transported me into Pia's world. When I couldn't sleep my mind would take me to the rainforest. It almost had a calming effect!

I loved the fact the main character had a pet jaguar. I was insanely jealous but thought that was a super cool touch. I also liked that the story had essentially two different 'worlds'. Two different cultures, lifestyles....however you want to describe it. I liked being able to recognise the stark contrast in Pia's world with the male character, Eio's world.

There are a number of twists in the book that unless you're super alert you really won't see coming. It'll have you sitting on the edge of your seat, desperate to find out what happens next. The beginning is a little slow, BUT don't stop reading, I promise you, it's worth it. It's a really original story, with some characters you'll love, and some you'll hate. Definitely give it a try!

So that would be my best book in September, but now I'm keen to hear yours. As soon as this Pretty Little Liars series is out of the way I'll be pushing forward onto lots more so would love your suggestions!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Forming story ideas

In the last two days I've spent about six hours lying in the park. I desperately needed some sunshine, so took the opportunity to get out there and soak up some rays.

While I was lying there, I watched all the people come and go - mothers with their kids, teenagers with their friends, toddlers with their nannies and young couples on what could potentially be their first date.

It's a great place to get inspiration for future story ideas, to imagine the lives of these people, their ups and downs and what makes them tick. In fact, I probably spent about an hour creating the spider web of relationships in my head for a toddler and her nanny yesterday.

One thing I found interesting though, was that none of the stories I came up with while in the park really spoke to me in the way that my past characters have done. The stories I write seem to jump up and down in my head, demanding my attention and doing whatever possible to force me to tell the story.

The stories I'm compelled to write honestly just come to me when I'm actively thinking about ideas.

I read a lot of authors say they have an image come to them that they then build on, or they saw something in their daily life which they turned into a story. My ideas don't seem to work like that. Sure, I've had some images that have come to me, but none really speak to me in a way that I can pull a story out of it. It might give me a general idea but that's about it.

So I'm wondering, where do your ideas and inspiration come from? Are you the type of author who's ideas just appear before your eyes or do your ideas come to life when you really sit down and concentrate?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

RTW: Retelling of a fable

Another Wednesday, another Road Trip! Road Trip Wednesday is a blog hop hosted by YA Highway!
 This week the topic is - Name a fable or story you'd like to see a retelling of. If you're feeling creative, come up with a premise of your own!

I had a lot of trouble answering this weeks question as there are a number of stories I'd love to see retold.

The first one would be The Princess and the Tin Box. Just because it's not very well known, it's a great little fable and it'd be interesting to see how this story could be turned around. Since this story was originally told, the values of society has shifted dramatically. I'd love to see this story retold from a modern perspective and retaining the original message while adding in more currently relevant messaging.

The second would be The Emperors New Clothes, simply because when I was 12 I acted in a production of this story, except it was an original script with a few interesting spins in it. I'd also love to set this story in the Victorian era, with the main characters being a mischievous girl and boy who are causing trouble around the palace. Perhaps the swindlers aren't actually swindlers, perhaps they're legitimate clothes tailors and it is the young duo who cause all the ruckus that the "swindlers" get blamed for. Hmm that sounds a bit too much like a children's story... it'd certainly need a lot of work to create a brand new story while still remaining true to the original!

The final story I'd love to see retold would be The Princess and The Pea. This has long been a favourite story of mine, and again is another tale I performed on stage, this time when I was around 14. My family always teased that I was the princess as if there was anything in or on my bed (food, jewellery, lego etc), I'd feel it and wouldn't be able to sleep until it was gone. This is such a classic old tale it'd be interesting to see how it could be retold. I'd love to see this one set not in the present day, but either in the last century or even in the future. It's nice to mix it up a bit!

There's so much potential! The old fables and fairytales we've grown up with are so great to look back on and reflect, I really love pouring over books which retell the stories to see how it's been done, and to fall in love with the plot all over again!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

To plan or not to plan

For all the novels I've started to write, whether or not they've progressed very far, I've planned them. In fact, before I even start writing, I spend weeks and weeks planning as much as I possibly can.

In my head I build my world, I build the back story of my world, I build the creatures and people of my world, and then I create my characters. I look into their lives, their relationships, their back stories. I think long and hard about what to name them .... their name has to be perfect. Then I listen to where the journey is going to take them. Then I plot out their journey (as loosely as possible).

Of course, I expect things to change while writing, and I'm perfectly open to things changing... but before I even start writing, everything needs to have been created.

One of my friends said to me during my planning phase of my current WIP, 'You know, most authors just create while writing. Everything they need to know comes to them as they write.'
I know many people do this. I wish I was one of them, but I'm not. I need to know everything. I need to have a total and complete understanding before I even start telling my characters story.

I'm a bit of a perfectionist. Perhaps that's why. I'm terrified of potential plot holes and character mishaps.... I want everything to be real. I want people to read it and for them to not think 'well there's no way that character would ever do that.'

So I plan. It's what I do best. I've always been a crazy planner. Whether it's traveling, or getting ready for a new school year, or planning a birthday party. I plan. It's not a fool proof way of avoiding slip ups, but it keeps me in my safety net. I don't have too many surprises.

Some might say it messes with the creative process... but I don't think it does. If anything it leads me in the right direction while still giving me the freedom to run all over the show.

So I'm curious - in your writing, do you plan ahead, or do you take each chapter, plot arc and turning point as it comes?

Friday, September 7, 2012

To love a character

What is it that you admire most about your favourite character? Is it that he is made of muscle and can fly? Is it that she has a huge heart yet is much stronger (emotionally) than all the men around her? Is it that every guy falls at her feet or that inside he's a really big dork?

Maybe you love this character because he, or she, succeeds every time.... or maybe it's because he/she simply tried.

In most novels, you expect the character to succeed. It's pretty much part of the standard format. In fact, I can barely think of any characters that don't succeed (if you can think of any, I'd love to hear them!) But I don't think it's the fact the character succeeds in whatever mission he is she is trying to accomplish that makes us love them. I think it's the journey. I think it's the trying to succeed.

Take Harry Potter to start with. I love Harry Potter, we all know this by now. I read the first book when I was nine years old but I still remember how much I loved it from the very beginning of the book. That was before Harry had fought with Quirrell and Voldemort, and won. At the end of the book (I'm sorry if this is a spoiler, but really, the book has been out for fifteen years, and the book for ten years.... you've had plenty of time to catch up!) Harry succeeds in his mission. He keeps the Philosophers stone safe and Voldemort doesn't manage to kill him. Again.

But we already loved Harry. We cared whether he lived or died, we admired him for his journey in life. (And if you were like me, you were jealous he got to go to magic school.) We loved him for TRYING to figure out who was trying to steal the stone, for risking his life to protect the stone he really knew nothing about. We all knew he would most probably get the stone and live to see another day, so it wasn't the success that we were likely to admire him for. It is the journey. The trying.

In my favourite book of the year, The Tea Rose (Not a YA book, I should add, but a great book nonetheless), the main character doesn't always succeed. Spoiler alert. In fact, it leaves you a little confused. You're sitting there saying "What on earth is going on? She's the main character, she's not supposed to have this much bad stuff happen to her with no sign of good luck on the horizon." But it works. Ultimately, she does succeed (to which you'll release the breath you didn't realise you had been holding for the last 800 pages). Her success though, it's not the reason you would admire her. It's one of them, sure, because she worked very hard for that success, but it's the trying to succeed and the journey she's taken to succeed that makes you love her.

She's one of the strongest female protagonists I've come across, and she's one of my favourite female characters because of her journey. Because of what she overcomes and because she's not afraid to keep trying.

It's an interesting thought to keep in mind when you're writing. It's not the character's successes that makes us really love them, it's their journey.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

RTW: Books from school

Another Wednesday, another Road Trip! Road Trip Wednesday is a blog hop hosted by YA Highway!

This week's RTW comes as the kids of America are heading back to school. So the question - What's your favorite book that you had to read for a class?

This is a tricky one because I did read some amazing books at school. Some classic, some contemporary, some plays like Hamlet, some that I should've loved but found really hard to read like Wuthering Heights and some that I recommended to everyone, like The Tomorrow Series. 

The other reason this is a tricky question, as although it's only been seven years since I left high school, it still feel like a really long time, and I'm having trouble remembering some of the books from the earlier years. However there are some that stick out.

The first is one I would consider to be one of the best books I've ever read. I should say I hated it with a passion when I had to read it. Oh how I hated it. It's long and it's very serious.... it's almost painful. But it was worth the slog. The book is called One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

 One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich cover.jpg

The book is literally that. One day in this man's life. This man, Ivan Denisovich is a prisoner of a Soviet labour camp in the 1950s and the book describes an ordinary day. It's a tough read, because it's pretty close to the truth but it's very moving and insightful. The author of the book was imprisoned in a labour camp from 1945 to 1953 for writing a derogatory comment in letters to friends about the conduct of the war by Joseph Stalin, so obviously had first hand experiences of the hardships. This is one of the best books I read at school simply because of the impact it had on me. Almost ten years later and I still list it as one of the best books I've ever read....

The next book I loved was The Secret Life of Bees

Front Cover

In New Zealand, we don't get taught a lot of American history in school. We may brush over a few aspects like the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence and we may talk briefly about the Civil War or the Revolution, but we don't really study American history. In one of my classes as a 14 year old, we did, however, study the Civil Rights movement. I am a history geek, you may be able to tell. I became obsessed with learning all about the Civil Rights Movement and so enjoyed this book a lot, which we had to read as a way of getting a feel for the segregation and atmosphere of the time. Anyway, to put it simply, it's a great coming of age story about a young girl who finds herself living among a group of African American women and helping them run their honey business.  It's a great book.

Other books I feel deserve a mention - Mister Pip, The Halfmen of O series (love love love), The Handmaid's Tale (another that I only appreciated later), The Whale Rider - All these are New Zealand books! Oh also To Kill a Mockingbird and The Lovely Bones.

I'm sure there are heaps more but these were definitely some that left a lasting impression! What are yours?