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After the Novel

Fun activities BEFORE THE NOVEL is published

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Books

Writing Retreat begins

A two-week writing retreat has great appeal. And that’s just what I’m doing for the next fortnight!

But more, I’m at a beautiful lakeside location in New Zealand, and have a stunning view to assist with inspiration.

lakeside-writing-retreat-750px
What’s that? What am I writing?
That’s simple. I’m ‘polishing’ the first book in a planned trilogy. I’ve written most of book one and half of book two and one-quarter of book three.
But, of course, all three books are meticulously planned and researched, so it will be a simple job to finish them.
*Hysterical laughs interrupt …. *

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Charlotte Gainsbourg explores the sharp edges of grief

Known for her famous family and collaborations with other artists, the singer is finally speaking for herself

CHARLOTTE GAINSBOURG is full of nervous energy, switching from sitting on the sofa to the floor, pouring streams of green tea. It has been nearly eight years since the release of her last studio album, the critically acclaimed “IRM”, and her long hair has since been lopped off into a bob. She will release “Rest”, her new album, on November 17th, and is starring in two upcoming films—“The Snowman”, an English-language crime drama, and “Promise at Dawn”, a French adaptation of a novel by Romain Gary.

Notoriously shy, she is still no stranger to exposure. Her parents—Serge Gainsbourg, France’s most revered musician, and Jane Birkin, an English actress and singer—courted the tabloid obsession with their scandalously chic family. Ms Gainsbourg began her music career aged 12 with “Lemon Incest”, a duet with her father (the sort of thing which would make less avant-garde tweenagers combust with embarrassment). Even now, at 46, she appreciates her father’s attentions as an artistic collaborator. “I like touchy subjects and things that make you uncomfortable,” she says. She remembers being in the spotlight with him fondly. “The way for my father to tell me that he loved me was through the media. He wasn’t very outgoing in private; he disguised his feelings much more.”

Continue reading “Charlotte Gainsbourg explores the sharp edges of grief”

Netflix Discovery Portal

Just when you thought it was safe to retire from binge-viewing on Netflix, up they come with another raft of interesting, intriguing and often excellent series.

Of course, Netflix is also essential for major historical catch-ups. Those episodes you missed when you were travelling, or even whole series that didn’t work when they were broadcast on networks at weird times, or even networks you didn’t like.

Or you were in a country that didn’t have the series playing while you were there. But now, often, Netflix fills in the gaps. Plus introduces a lot of opportunities to discover new actors, actresses, directors, producers, etc.

For example, Hotel Beau Sejour and its quirky, supernatural theme. And its peculiar combination of ordinary soap tropes (pregnant teenager, reconstituted families, step-sibling rivalry, etc) and the occasional hammy acting.

But then one story arc or one character stands out. And, in this case, it’s not the main actors/actresses – who in many cases are purely playing ciphers. Thankfully, though, Charlotte Timmers brought every scene alive with her convincing and expressive portrayal, from the slightest twitch of a muscle to the full beam of her smile.

Charlotte Timmers

Two-thirds of the way through the series the story arcs got bogged down – not unlike many novels – and then the final few episodes raced all over the place to tie up the threads. If they’d stayed more on track as a supernatural thriller, rather than trying to create an episodic soap, this could have been a stand-out series. 3/5

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc (Giramondo Publishing)

Selected comments by author Ali Alizadeh at a panel discussion at the Melbourne Writers Festival 2017

Iran and France were close and Napoleon used Iran as a pawn against the British. Jeanne’s role, gender and age surprised me at first. I later discovered that in late mediaeval France women were often in such positions of power.

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc by Ali Alizadeh

France needed a saviour at that time. There were prophesies that a young woman would come and save the country. There were other similar prophecies, especially re a virgin, and about a people’s heroine. The peasantry has been very important in many cultural revolutions, despite being downtrodden. Jeanne was initially dismissed by royalty and the powerful Flemish merchants of the time. And, as part of the misogyny the English, Jeanne was seen as a witch.

It’s worth noting that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Russian revolution, which began with a women’s day march. Revolutions are by definition for the whole nation. Jeanne united a very divided people. France’s population declined by about a third during the Hundred Years War. So Jeanne took it personally and understood the need for the ordinary people to bring about change. And only someone likeJeanne could rise within the context of that time.

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An Audience with Nalini Singh

Nalini Singh was one of the special guests at Word Cafe Raglan 2017, a Writers & Readers Festival in New Zealand.

In a very full hour, Nalini discussed many issues facing authors today along with background on her own writing journey and the genesis of her series of novels.

“I wrote six books for Harlequin. At the time they were the only ones taking submissions from authors without an agent. But I had been through a number of changes of editors and didn’t get on with the new one. So I sat down and started writing the start of my whole Psy/Changeling series. I wrote the first draft of book one in three weeks, eating peanut butter toast for dinner each night.”

Nalini Singh Psy-Changeling series and Guild Hunter series

When asked about her Breakthrough point, Nalini explained how she became a full time writer. 

“I needed an agent so I went online and made a list of agencies who were working with the writers and publishers that I wanted to work with. I condensed my pitch down to three simple paragraphs:
Para 1 = about me
Para 2 = brief book synopsis
Para 3 – why I wanted work with that agency

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Amazon’s Author and Publisher nightmare

Amazon and Kindle nightmareHow could this process be so difficult? One author plus two books. Easy! But not. Even though CreateSpace and Kindle are owned by Amazon, none of them speak to each other properly. CreateSpace blames Kindle and Kindle blames CreateSpace. That is, until CreateSpace also blames IngramSpark, while IngramSpark refuses to answer queries. Whew!

And CreateSpace is a customer of IngramSpark. Which appears to mean that CreateSpace doesn’t do much at all. They are just a front end – and a clumsy front end – for the real work which is carried out by IngramSpark (print-on-demand books and distribution). And carried out by Kindle Direct Publishing (eBooks). And carried out by Amazon (sales).

Books about Pacific Ocean sailing adventuresThree weeks to get one author and two books onto a platform that is supposed to make publishing easy is nonsense. The left hands and the right hands of the Amazon ecosystem need to speak to each other. And speak properly and efficiently. Otherwise Amazon will continue to have huge turnover and no profit!

The dozens of emails and web chats and web forms that have been necessary to achieve one author page will have cost Amazon et al at least the profits they imagine they make on 100 book/Kindle sales. Sounds like a wasteful way to do business!

Lost in Translation – All Tell and No Show

Book review: The Lost Girls of Rome by Donato Carrisi

lost-girls-of-romeThere are three or four stories wrapped up in this book. I hesitate to call it a novel as it fails so many tests.

None of the protagonists do much. They are puppets in the travelogue around Rome and environs, and in all cases anything significant is explained, usually at least twice. Once with the dialogue, and then with the following text:

‘Help me, please,’ she said, weeping, without realising that he was already helping her.

And …

‘Yes,’ Costa said, struggling to restrain himself. He was clearly taken aback by the offensive way this man referred to his handicap.

And, of course, there’s the water. Well, that is, the repeated way water is used to ‘reveal’ a hidden door or trapdoor which we’d already guessed, even if the police forensic teams – and the main protagonists – had missed the obvious.

How this can be described as a “literary thriller phenomenon” is, truly, beyond me.

Multiple Spoiler Alert

Book review: Learning to Swim by Sara J Henry

Learning-to-Swim-150pxI want to spoil your enjoyment of this book. And not just this book. In fact, all the other self-serving authors and so-called ‘reviewers’ who pat each other on the back, all in the interests of promoting their own mediocre books.

There are some good paragraphs in Learning to Swim. Full stop. Henry is a columnist, editor and writing instructor, apparently. And there are occasional glimpses of the characters and their environs. But mostly there is bland story development, trivial life observations and an absolutely terrible ‘reveal’ at the end which is complete nonsense.

So what is my beef? A poor novel is hardly something to write home about. But …

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Almost Perfect Police Procedural

Book review: Deeper Than the Dead by Tami Hoag

Tami-Hoag-Deeper-Than-The-Dead-254pxAt last a book with believable characters, skilful dialogue and just about perfect story arcs. And you can ignore the nearly-standard praise-blurbs. This is an exciting book in the way it contrasts 1985 police and FBI techniques with what we accept as the ‘norm’ now – post CSI etc.

The “lives of more women are at stake” blurb and the occasional mentions of same in the book are correct in a way, but the writing elsewhere is so good that we want to follow the stories and characters. And anyway, we know this type of book will have a ‘successful’ ending.

In fact, arriving at the conclusion is almost a non-event. The numerous red herrings are the one flaw with the book. The suspected-but-not-villains gradually fall by the wayside with monotonous and obvious regularity.

But I’m not going to end on a low note. Deeper Than the Dead is a clever, captivating and carefully crafted novel that ticks just about every box. Go read it now.

Police Procedural Pain

Book review: The Ice Child by Camilla Lackberg

Lackberg-The-Ice-ChildSo here are 41 characters introduced in the first 30 pages! And being Nordic there are a hell of a lot of them with surnames ending in …sson. And the point? Zero. Or should I say Noll.

Following that supernumerary error, we have crime thriller 101 errors followed by serial killer 101 errors and psychopathology 101 errors, ad nauseam.

For example: “Patrik wondered what an outsider would think about the banter that went on between them, even during the most harrowing investigations. But it was something they all needed. Sometimes the work left them so weighed down that they had to take a moment to relax, tease each other, and laugh. That was how they coped with all the sorrow, death and despair.”

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“Being Clever” rather than Telling a Story

Book review: Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid

‘I’m not entirely sure,’ Charlie had prevaricated.

McDermid-Trick-of-the-DarkOh no, I thought. Surely not. The Val wouldn’t write like that. But the whole book is a peculiar departure from the usual tight storytelling and crisp arcs you might expect from McDermid. Although this book is copyright 2010 it’s almost as if it sat in a bottom drawer for the past 20 years. And the editor(s) didn’t get around to a close reading before sending to print.

Apart from the adverb issues (of which there are many), there are the cardboard characters and the enormous “tell, don’t show” passages that go on for page after page. Repeatedly.

So what we’ve got is the smarter-than-smart main protagonist and an emotional goddess partner, alongside the stunningly attractive heroine (sort of) and her plain-Jane but oh-so-sharp sister, plus the fiendishly wicked antagonist, and the … . Need I go on.

Continue reading ““Being Clever” rather than Telling a Story”

Mini cars, mini skirts, punk fashion and punk music

Book review: Stories We Could Tell by Tony Parsons

Parsons-Stories-We-Could-Tell.jpgThis is a wonderful #music #history #novel that was written before we had hashtags dominating our reading preferences. Nonetheless, there are dozens of potential hashtag references dotted through the story: #JohnLennon, #CarnabyStreet, #Mods, #Punks, #Riots, #MelodyMaker and on and on.

So what happens? Terry, Ray and Leon are all music journalists at various stages of development/disintegration, partly trying to grow up. But they’re in an age when we didn’t really have to grow up! Yes, it’s the 1970s and the fashion, music, non-fashion and non-music is tossed around the narrative with happy abandon. Let’s just say that Parsons appears to be a bit OCD about the 70s and the emergence of the attitudes and yoof-kulture of the time.

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A Tale of One City, or, Ian Rankin joins Mills & Boon

Book review: Doors Open by Ian Rankin

Doors Open by Ian RankinWell yes, I have loved the Rebus stories and the wonderful descriptions and depictions of Edinburgh as a character in the Ian Rankin novels. Although he is a curmudgeon of the highest order, there’s still huge humanity lurking beneath the Rebus exterior.

There’s depth of experience of life, there are the wrinkles of bad experiences and bad decisions, plus there are the friends and colleagues, loyal or not, who surround the Rebus plots with lightness or darkness — and all knit together into profoundly satisfying novels.

With Doors Open Rankin introduced a bunch of new characters and surrounded them with the Edinburgh personality with his usual acumen. The streets, buildings, climate and atmosphere are as alive as always. The characters, not so much — in fact hardly at all — and that was a disappointing surprise.

Continue reading “A Tale of One City, or, Ian Rankin joins Mills & Boon”

A Tale of Two Cities

Book review: Past Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton

Book review: Canary by Duane Swierczynski

Philadelphia is the fifth largest city in the US of A, while Seattle is possibly the fifth most attractive. I’ll leave the second ranking up to the reader to decide.

In the two books under review, the cities are as much characters as the people, with both the urban areas lending obstructions and help in various ways to the inhabitants.

Past Crimes Glen Erik HamiltonPast Crimes by Glen Erik Hamilton is the lesser of the two books, with too many of the characters not much more than a cliche – powerful grandfather, rugged henchmen, foolish minnows, etcetera. If the author had put as much time into developing the characters as he had into the often warm and loving descriptions of Philadelphia and its environs, the book would have soared. As it stands, it’s a rather obvious read of how the ‘hero’ will use his awesome talents to outwit the baddies, the weather, the ocean, asphyxia … you get the picture.

Canary Duane SwierczynskiCanary by Duane Swierczynski achieves so much more, even with a YA hero. Sidebar: are we allowed to say heroine any more? Or do heroines have to be called heros, just like actresses have to be called actors. Or so some would have us believe. And can a book that depends extensively on long passages from the YA’s journal really work?

Swierczynski pulls off every technique to perfection, giving us believable characters, believable plot and action, and very believable outcomes. Sure, there would be other stories very similar to Sarie’s which could end badly – and there a few in the book. But then there also stories where the Davids outwit the Goliaths, even if they occur one in a thousand. Canary is a one -in-a-thousand delight – about both the city and the YA heroine – so rush out and grab a slice of Swierczynski soon.

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