Friday, 11 April 2014

The Night Watch Review



Hi readers,

I've decided to do a double post today- two book reviews. Here's the first; enjoy.

The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko was published in Russia, 1998 and is the first book in the series. The fantasy/supernatural novel, aimed at adults, is set in modern day Moscow, Russia and looks at the conflicts between the Light and the Dark fractions. The narrative is told by Anton Gorodetsky, an agent of the Light and he introduces the readers into his world.

The novel is divided into three connecting novellas and it can be a confusing -due to its complexity- read. However, it does feel worth it and the original ideas come through strongly. I would have preferred a whole novel to introduce Russia, the supernatural elements and the opposite forces. I haven't had the chance to read the second book, so I can only hope that it's different.

In the novel's world is a supernatural/magic realm called The Twilight, which is alongside the real world. Only those who have the ability can tap into this realm and they are classed as The Others. The realm allows them to become stronger, but it feeds off strength and emotions as a payment. The Others are divided into The Dark (vampires, werewolves, witch, warlock) and The Light ( magicians, sorceress, shapeshifters) depending on their beliefs. Sometimes the races can switch sides, it just depends on what attracts them more.

The Light believe in helping the weak and stopping the Dark, who believe they can do what they want. After being at war for years and with no side ever going to win, a Treaty was created. Thus, The Light become The Night Watch and The Dark became the Day Watch to ensure that no one broke the Treaty. All of this is repeatedly explained within the novel, but it does tie in with the plot.

Speaking of which, the plot and its subplots is very complicated, even if the book is read as three separate novellas.The plot of the first novella involves Anton discovering two new Others. The first a young boy called Egor who's destiny has yet to be written and the second is  Svetlana who is a sorceress. Anton ends up saving both their lives as  Mage Zabulon, the leader of the Dark tries to use them against  Mage Boris, the leader of the Light. The struggles between the Light and the Dark to gain overall power is one of the main themes. Each group uses its' members and the public as pawns to achieve what they want. Anton is content to go along with this, however in the end he always stands up for what he thinks is right and normally it does turn out to be.

There is a lot of different characters that appear throughout the novel. They are well written and are needed, but it can be difficult to keep up with them. Thankfully, this is not a problem with the main ones and due to the first person narrative, the reader doesn't become lost within the different stories. There is a range of development across the characters, but Anton's is the most important as he realizes the true nature of things.

Overall, I did like reading The Night Watch and at first I was wondering why I'd not picked it up before. However, towards the end I was feeling a bit confused and all the repetitive history about the Light and Dark does bog the main plot down. The characters are strong and once you do get to grips with things, it is a good read. So, if you are looking for a different fantasy book or/and you want something new from your supernatural genre, then give this a read.

Images from:

http://www.fantasybookreview.co.uk/Sergey-Lukyanenko/The-Night-Watch.html

The Thief Lord Review




Hi readers, 

The Thief Lord (Not to be confused with The Book Thief) is a 2000 children's novel by German writer Cornelia Funke, the author of the Ink Heart trilogy in 2004, which she is more famously known for. If you haven't read any of her books and/or you've not read this one, no matter what your age, I would highly recommend you add it to you reading list. 

Being aimed at children doesn't mean the narrative or plot of a novel needs to be dull. Funke really proves that writing within the children's novel rules, it's possible to create a fantasy style plot and a gripping narrative. Yes, the book is toned down, but the adventure and peril is very visible. The characters, who are mostly children, are developed and still appear complex. Also, Funke has cleverly incorporated basic Italy words in the narrative and dialogue.    

The Thief Lord is set in Venice, Italy, which is wonderfully described and seen from the children's view as being magical. The main plot follows brothers Proper and and Bo, who have run away to escape their aunt and uncle adopting them. They are taken in by a group of runaway children, lead by The Thief Lord, who is also known as Scipio. They are all sent on a mission to steal a wooden wing and in the process they learn about a magic merry-go-round, that has the power to turn children into adults and adults into children.

The subplot involves the adults on the trail of the children. The novel opens with the detective, Victor, who loves disguises and has a collection of beards. He is asked to search for the brothers by their relatives, however, he soon gets tangled up in the mission and ends up helping the children. The aunt and uncle don't have much to do with the plot and at first it seems that they want the brothers for a sinister reason, but this turns out not to be true. Perhaps, their story would have been more interesting if that was the case. Lastly, there is Ida, the owner of the wooden wing. She gives the children the information they need and helps them. There are four other adults who appear and they are mostly used to help more the plot along, but they come across as full characters

I really enjoyed this book, especially the contrast between the real world and the magic one that the children see. The characters were very easy to get along with and they had enough background to make them realistic. I would also like to find out if the merry-go-round (below) has historical/other story connections, because it would be interesting to see if the idea was original to Funke. My only small issue is with the ending. I felt it switched paces between being too fast and too slow. Yes, it does tie everything off, but I didn't think it needed to drag on as long as it did. 

Overall though, I really would recommend this book to anyone, especially children as they would really enjoy it.  


Images from:
http://childrensbooksguide.com/100-best-childrens-chapter-books-of-all-time
http://www.listal.com/viewimage/4174665

Monday, 17 March 2014

A Series of Unfortunate Events Review, Part 2:

Book 4


Hey readers, 

So today here is part two of my A Series of Unfortunate Events Review. I'll be looking at the next three books, that's books 4, 5 and 6. So here goes! Book 4's title The Miserable Mill really fits in with the book's setting as the Baudelaires are sent to live and work in Lucky Smells Lumbermill. Their new guardian being the owner, Sir, always has his head covered by a cloud of smoke. So no one really knows his name or face. Olaf makes his appearance as Shirley, a female receptionist, who works for Dr Orwell, an optometrist. (That's someone who takes care of and treats the eyes) 

The plot is that Klaus has his glasses broken and has to go to Dr Orwell. When he returns he is different and Violet and Sunny don't understand it. Klaus's glasses get broken again and this time they all go to see Dr Orwell. They also discover Olaf in his disguise. Violet works out that Klaus is being hypnotized and that Orwell and Olaf are working together. Violet then reads up about hypnotizes, but is interrupted by wood being cut. She and Sunny run in and find Klaus using a buzz saw on Sir's business partner. Using the book, they are able to get Klaus out of the hypnotizes, but only after a fight with the foreman, Olaf and Orwell. Sir and Poe show up and the Baudelaires explain what has happened, however Olaf escapes. 

The fourth book to me was the turn in the series. You start to realize that there is more to the Baudelaires and their guardians' backgrounds. Also sub-plot threads start to appear and if you don't pick up on the patterns in the first three books then they should be clear by this one. You get further development of the characters as well in the form of them trying to think like each other and use each others' special skill. This is something that appears often in the series. 

There is a lesser connection with the guardian compared to the first three in this book. The orphans don't spend a lot of time with Sir, as they are made to work and live with the other workers. This just adds far to the mystery of the Sir character. It also shows that the orphans are growing up as they are more able to look after themselves and each other then before.  

One of the main themes of the series, which appears in all the novels, is libraries and books. This also ties in with another theme; literature, which Snicket uses to make outside references to literary figures. (see part 1). Libraries and books appear not only due to Klaus needing for them for his research, but for other characters to do so as well. A love of books can be picked up strongly and there is the idea that almost anything that is needed can be find within the pages of books. Another thing to come out of this is the familiarity and comfort that the Baudelaires get out of libraries and books. Many people can easily relate to this.          



Book 5

The Austere Academy, really continues the turning point and we also see the Baudelaires at school for the first time. This makes you wonder why they haven't been going before, but I guess they've been too busy being moved about and chased by Olaf to actually get settled in a school. The plot for this one is longer and a bit more complex, which then follows on for the rest of the series. It is interesting to see how Snicket has developed the series and I'd so recommend any writer looking to write their own series to read this one. It really want take you very long either. 

The plot; the Baudelaires has been sent to Prufrock Prep School and their new guardian is Nero, the Vice Principal. He explains how the school works and that they have an advance computer which will keep Olaf away- as if!- However, because they are orphans they won't be allowed to stay in the dorm rooms, but have to live in a tin shack in the grounds of the school. They meet Carmelita Spats, a student at the school, who takes a disliking to them as they are orphans. She is also very rude and the readers a drawn to disliking her. 

To balance this out, the  Baudelaires meet and become friends with the Quagmires; Duncan and Isadora, who are actually triplets, but their brother Quigley died alongside their parents in a fire. Duncan wants to be a journalist and Isadora a poet. The Baudelaires start their classes but soon discover that their teachers are pretty useless and the lessons are not as they should be. Sunny, being to young to actually go to school is made into Nero's admin assistant. She is given tasks to do that would be impossible for a toddler, but some how she gets through and her siblings help her. 

Olaf then appears as Coach Genghis and when the Baudelaires try to tell Nero, Olaf appears and eludes them. They then have to meet him to do special orphan running exercises at night. They basically run around a large circle for no real reason. Though this does become clear as they are too tried for their tests and Sunny's office work suffers. Nero tells them that they'll have to be tutored by Genghis if they continue to fail. They go to see the Quagmires and come up with a plan, which does work well. The Baudelaires are then tested and pass. Genghis then arrives and discovers the first part of the plan- which was for the Quagmires and a bag of flour to take the Baudelaires' places on the running track. The Baudelaires try to reveal Olaf as Poe shows up and is told by Nero that the orphans are being expelled for cheating. Olaf is discovered and runs away, kidnapping the Quagmires and their notebooks, which contain information on V.F.D, that the Baudelaires need to become aware of. However, Poe then moves on then onto their new guardian and the Baudelaires have to prepare for more misfortune.  

New characters and plot threads appear in the here. Some of the information gained becomes important in the next few books. It's also about time the Baudelaires make some friends their age too, even though the Quagmires seem to be stuck in a similar situation. They do appear throughout the next few books though and they are key to the Baudelaires learning more about V.F.D and their parents. I really like how each book reveals just a little bit of the wider picture. You also get really hooked to want to keep reading to find out more.           
  


Book 6

This is possible my second favorite book in the series. Though I do like number 5, I really can't stand Carmelita- as you are meant too! What I like about the Ersatz Elevator is that the Baudelaires get lured into a false sense of security and the twist at the end is really good. You also start to wonder if the Baudelaires had actually found themselves with a good guardian in the beginning, how would their lives be? I guess the complete opposite way around. They also wouldn't develop into the interesting characters that they are. 

The plot; arriving at their new home; 667 Dark Avenue, the Baudelaires meet Jerome and Esme Squalor. Esme is an financial adviser and very into things that are 'in' and 'out. We're not just talking about fashion here but everything! The reason why the streetlights and elevator don't work is because they are out and the only reason the children are there is because orphans are in. They learn about that a little later. At first nothing seems wrong with their new guardians and they settle in. However, Olaf shows up dressed as an auctioneer called Gunther. Esme is meeting him to discuss the up and coming in auction. They try to point out who he is, but Jerome takes them out for dinner. 

They then noticed the fake elevator and on climbing down find the Quagmires in a cage. Returning, they work on a plan and make tools to get their friends out. As they go down the shaft again, they see that Olaf has already taken them. Going to back to the penthouse again, they try to figure out Olaf's plan. the Quagmires managed to tell them that Olaf was going to hide them in one of the in auctions lots. Klaus suggests the lot might be number 50 - VFD after viewing it in the booklet. They go to tell Esme and discover that she is working with Olaf, she pushes them down the fake elevator shaft. Lucky, they land in a net and Sunny-using her teeth-is able to climb up the shaft and get the rope they made to save the Quagmires. Returning, they get out of the net and climb further down the shaft. At the bottom they find a passageway which ends in a trap door, leading to the burnt out Baudelaire Mansion. 

Having little time to wonder why this is, they run to the auction and ask Jerome to buy them lot 50. He bids off against Poe, but Sunny wins in the end. They then see that the lot is a box full of doilies and the Quagmires were hidden in something else. Olaf slips on a dollies, losing his disguise. He, Esme and his handyman escape. They then go back to the penthouse and Jerome wants to take the children far away so that he can keep them safe. However, they don't want to go as they need to help the Quagmires. Knowing he can't help, Jerome gives them up and Poe has to move them on again. 

The braver of the character stands out in this story, because I can't imagine having to climb down or up an elevator shaft. Maybe its the unusual and slight impossible feel the plot creates that draws me to like this one a lot more. I also like the addition of the Quagmires because we are able to learn a lot about them and that doesn't happen with most of the other characters. The slight problem with them is that sometimes their back story feels to close to the Baudelaires' story. The deeper connection between them does come across further in the series and we do get to see why their backgrounds are similar. Something to look at next time. 

Images from:
http://www.dooyoo.co.uk/junior-book/a-series-of-unfortunate-events-no-6-the-ersatz-elevator-lemony-snicket/

Additional Information;
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ersatz_Elevator

Monday, 10 March 2014

The Powers of Editing


Hi readers,

I feel a bit bad that this post is going to be cutting into the flow of my Series of Unfortunate Events review. Also it might become a small rant, but I'll try and remain calm. I'm also not in the mood to break down books and digress about things right now. So, I wanted to look at editing and how writers and editors face this section of the writing process. I've been forced into thinking about this due to an editor heavily editing my latest non-fiction story on a website.

Guess I should explain what's happened before I launch into things. So, a few weeks ago, I got messaged on this site by an editor who wanted to put my story on the editor's picks page. I was mega happy about this as any budding writer would be. She told me that some edited was needed and I agreed because I was very aware that some changes and corrections were needed. This afternoon, I finally saw my re-drafted story. I'm not sure how long it's been up for, because the title, summary and image had been changed. Not really what I wanted, but if it draws more people in okay. I then started to read my story and for the first few lines I believed it was actually someone else's and I'd made a mistake. However, certain lines and paragraphs looked familiar and there was a lingering of my work and voice within this story. When I got to the end it suddenly dawned on me; this was my story and an editor had mega edited it and then re-written it!

I was moved to tears and anger. How could someone do this? This story had my name and ideas attached to it, but it was no longer mine. There wasn't much of me left within it and yes, the meaning of the piece was still there, but it felt like someone else's. Having another read, I saw lines and words, I won't have used. I saw ideas that just shouldn't be there and actually the deeper meaning of my story had been removed. The ending was the worse. In my original, I describe my sense of uncertainties like fishing for an oyster with a pearl inside of it and that being the key to me making the next step in life. In this edited version, it had me taking the bull by the horns and feeling like I could take the world on and do everything because I didn't want to be waiting around any more. But that, even though it's similar, isn't the way I wanted it to be.

Seeing from the point of view as a writer and then from an editor is something my degrees have taught me. I learnt too that it's your story and though someone might suggest some changes, you don't have to use them. It's important to stand by your own work and have believe in it. Editors can't always be trusted. Yes, they want your work to look the best and sell good and they suggest changes to make that happen. but if you feel that something is going to be lost and you can't seem to re-write it well enough, then you either let it go or you fight. Some times, the fighting does actually work!

Let's get to the heart of this situation, because the whole editing thing is just the surface. The heart is that I wasn't consulted about the editing done to my story. I wasn't asked to do it myself or make suggestions for the changes. The editor just did it and re-posted it. I think that's the thing that makes me really angry. It didn't belong to me anymore and my voice had been faded out. I couldn't be proud of the story any more because it wasn't mine. If there'd been small changes and the story had remind more intact or else I'd been asked to do the edit work myself, it would have been different. From my point of view though, someone had taken my idea and just wrote their own opinion about it.

Many new writers will be happy to have their work shown on other peoples' pages and won't really think about the attachments of the line 'after we do some editing.' They'll think along the lines that I did and then when they see that their story has been altered so they don't know it, they might feel that they can't do anything about it or that the editor just decided it had to be that way. Actually that'as not true. IT's still your story at then end of the day (unless you've agreed via contract etc) and you have a right to stand up for your writing. Don't be afraid to challenge an editor or anyone else for that matter. If you believe so strongly about something, it's important to carry it though. So, I've deleted that version of my story, re-published the original and messaged the 'editor' with a professorial sounding note about my unhappiness with the editing and why I felt as I do.


So, after all that what is my opinion of editing and editors? Well, both are needed. It's very important for all writers to edit their work. I'm not just talking about spelling, grammar and formatting here, I'm taking about physically editing through every page, paragraph, sentence and word. Ask yourself the questions of; is it really needed? Is there a better word that should be used instead? How does it effect the flow of things? Would this line/word be better some where else? Does this really show what I want to say? Does it stay true to the character/plot? There is also the technique of cutting every word you dare and trying to improve your writing by taking out as much as possible. Always remember to keep a copy of your first draft just in-case you don't like your second draft! Also novels and stories go through a lot of drafts the minimum should be about three or four at least.

Editors from what I've heard can be tricky and sometimes they can see a completely different world to the writer. More often then that, a writer might not have a choice who they work with. Every writer dreams of finding a suitable editor and agent for them. It's not always possible of course, but you have to make the best of what you've got to get to the places you want to go. It would be nice to take a car, but if a bicycle is your only option, take it or else you'll end up walking!

I've sure learnt from my lesson now and I hope that this post makes other people aware of some more writing pit falls! I feel a lot better after writing this and deleting my story. It can be hard, but as long as the choices you make feel right to you, then go and do them. Now, I'm going to sing to some Bon Jovi and get some inspiration for my next story.



Images:

http://www.gracebooks.org/book-editing/different-types-of-editing/
http://www.adelekamp.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/book-editor-office.jpg

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

A Series of Unfortunate Events Review, Part 1:




Hey readers, 

I thought it was about time I actually started writing this review as it's been in my drafts for the last few months. I re-read A Series of Unfortunate Events last year and I then plotted out the review for it. However, I just haven't had the chance to publish it. So as it's a new month I thought I'd look at all the books in the series, divided into four parts as I actually wanted to do before Christmas. So, here goes;

A Series of Unfortunate Events (SUE) is made up of thirteen books and follows the lives of three siblings.
The books are aimed at a young audience, but adults will find them a good read. The first book, The Bad Beginning, was published in 1999 and written by Daniel Handler under his pen name of Lemony Snicket. As with every first book this creates the starting block for the series. The reader is introduced to Violet, Klaus and Sunny Baudelaire, who suddenly find their normal lives turned upside down by the death/murder of their parents in a fire that has also destroyed their entire home. 

Mr. Poe, the banker and the person in-charge of the Baudelaire family fortune, is the messenger of the bad news and he is forced to take the children in. However, they are quickly taken to their new guardian a distain cousin; Count Olaf, who also turns out to the the antagonist for the series. He only wants one thing and that's the Baudelaire fortune and he'll do whatever it takes to get it. Both these characters appear throughout the series and other then a few characters in later books, there's not many other recurrences.This also starts a pattern off as in nearly all the books the children start out with a new guardian. 

Each of the children has a special talent which they always put to good use throughout the series. Fourteen year old Violet is an inventor.  Klaus, twelve, is an avid reader/researcher and their baby sister, Sunny, likes biting things. When they arrive and meet Count Olaf, he puts them to work in his house. Each day he then leaves them a list of chores to do. Olaf is an actor and has his own acting troupe. The reader is introduced to them, but its soon clear that they are actually Olaf's henchmen/women. They are working on a new play, The Marvelous Marriage, which they perform and give a leading role to Violet. However, the play is staged so that Olaf can be married to Violet so that he can claim the fortune. Luckily, this doesn't work out, but Olaf ends up escaping and the siblings are forced to live in fear of him finding them.  

The characters are all likable and can be sympathized with. There is no lengthy introduction about them, instead we learn and are reminded about things as the series goes on. The descriptions make it easy to imagine each different character. They also age and grow throughout the series too. 

The settings of the series seems to be a sort of steampunk/alternate/mock-gothic 19th century America, though with a slightly 20th century feeling in some places. However, it's never made clear enough. Real places are mentioned though, but none are traveled too. Being given this 'timeless' setting does have an impacted on the characters, because it allows them not to be grounded to an actual time and able to get away with more. Snicket doesn't stretch the bounds of this and tries to keep things true to the world he has created. For the reader, this undefined setting doesn't cause too many problems.   

The language and tone of the books also follows the suggested setting. The narrative switches from third person to first as Snicket is also a character. The reader gets snippets about his life throughout and this has a deeper connection to the story of the Baudelaires. Sometimes, there is also digressions and long explanations of words, but this is understandable when having the readership as children. 

Overall, the first book is a good introduction to the main characters and the setting. 


The Reptile Room (A Series of Unfortunate Events, Book 2)


The Reptile Room is the second book in the series. This is possibly my favorite one. I think because it seems more humors to me and also because the characters become more defined. It follows on well from book one as it starts almost straight afterwards. The children meet their second guardian, uncle Monty, who is a snake expert and has a large collection of them, including the deadly viper which appears with Sunny on the front cover. This is also the first time we get to see Count Olaf appear in one of his disguises. In mostly does this in every book and pertains that he is someone else, who doesn't know the Baudelaires. Of course, they and the readers are well aware of who he really is, but the guardians often don't know until the end.

The plot of this book is that Monty is going to Peru to study a snake and he's having to take the Baudelaires with him. Olaf appears as an replacement assistant as Monty's normal one has suddenly be called away. As the children try to warn Monty, Olaf threats them and it turns out that he believes it would be easier to kidnap the children whilst in Peru and then get his hands on the fortune. However, things don't go to plan and Monty his found dead in the reptile room. The deadly viper is blamed for his death and Olaf tries to take the Baudelaires away. He's stopped when they find evidence that he's behind the murder and he flees the scene.

There are lots of recording themes throughout the series; such as disguises, spies, death, friendship, secrets and the truth. One thing that really attracted me to this series was Lemony warning readers about the books nature in the blurb, at the start and in certain perilous scenes. I liked how he wanted to make the readers aware that books contained a lot of sadness and bad luck. Of course, who wanted want to read a book after being told not to? Especially if it's children! Though it probably is over used, I did't get tried of the warning, rather it made me more interested to find out what trouble the Baudelaire orphans had found themselves in!

The series is also filled with literary references. There are countless names of writers being used, references to novels, plays and poetry. Also inventors, artists and musicians show up. Children won't get most of these, but adults will get the bulk of them. For instance in The Reptile Room;   



*Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Reptile_Room. 

This is a theme that appears throughout the series. It does add a sense of realism and dark humor to the books. It also gets you interested to do more research and read other writers' books as well. 



This is the third book, The Wide Window. The Baudelaires go to live with their aunt Josephine. She is afraid of everything and lives in an unstable shack of a house above a lake. Whilst the children try to get use to her odd lifestyle, they meet Olaf disguised as Captain Sham. He charms Josephine and she ignores the children as they try to warn her about him. That same night, the children hear a crashing sound and discover a suicide note next to the broke window.

However, knowing that Josephine was very particular about grammar, Klaus reveals a hidden message in the note. Josephine is alive and hiding in a cave across the lake. With a hurricane about to start, the Baudelaires escape from Olaf and Mr Poe, steal a rowing boat and head out to the cave. They rescue Josephine, but then get rescued by Olaf as they try to return. Olaf sends Josephine to her death and then tries to take the children once they get back to land. However, they reveal who he is and once again he's force to escape.

This plot does become something of the same for most of the other books. It's a simple format really, but its the different dangerous, how the Baudelaires escape and the fact that Olaf gets away all the time. In the next three books more subplots are added and it becomes a lot more interesting. Also none of the guardians are relented to them, but are more friends of the Baudelaire parents, more on that next week.

Lastly, they made a movie of the first three books. I think people have very mixed feelings about it though. It basically mashes the books together, with the start of the first one being split between the beginning and the end of the movie and the other two books being in between them. I thought it did no justice to the books when I first saw it, but I've become more accepting of it now.




Images from: 

Monday, 24 February 2014

Fill Your Soul and Writing With Music




Hi readers,

Here's another different post for this week, but I'm still staying with the writing theme. Two things actually gave me the idea for this post. The first was an article from helping writers become authors; 'how music affects writing process.' (linked below) Which discusses how listening to music can be important during writing and how it can have different affects. The second, though off topic, but just linking in, comes from a conversation about Sonic the Hedgehog Underground characters getting their own music themes. This was due to someone posting and suggesting pieces of music-which actually didn't match the characters- in the comments of that particular review on my boyfriend's YouTube channel.

Everyone has their own place and system for writing, even if you don't realize it or you do one or two simple things. I'd be shocked if anyone told me they just sit at their computer or notebook and wrote solidly for a few hours. Most people have chores or other jobs or must grab a coffee first. I'm not saying its impossible to just start writing straight way, but its rare to do that. At the start of my degree, I remember being given a task/writing technique to try, which meant that the first thing I had to do when I woke up was to write. Now it could be anything; a dream, a stream of conciseness, recording what I could sense, a story idea. It didn't matter as long as I spent my first awake moments writing.  I never actually got in the habit of that, but it was the beginnings of my thought documents, where I write a lot of stuff, mostly personal/story relented and often in a diary like way. It gives me a private space to just write and not think or edit.

I don't think I have an actual 'set' way of preparing myself to write. I know that I like to have eaten something and have a drink at my side. I will have checked out my favorite websites and updated things. I'll have watched some internet videos, but now have iTunes, Spotify, media player or my ipod on shuffle. Or else playing music from a certain artist or album. I still like to write in the afternoons and evenings, when I've had time to do other tasks and wake up fully. I've only recently become a fan of flavored coffees and have been drinking them to stay warm more then anything else! I might write in my thought doc or read a chapter/short story of my current book, before officially starting to write.

The one thing I couldn't write without though is my music. I find it impossible to work in silence or with the TV/movie on or with an internet video. The only time I've wrote without it was during school/college lunch times and free lessons, when I didn't have an ipod. Back then I was still learning about writing and found my stories very easy to escape into. Now though I sort of relay on music to help me escape. Listening to certain songs reminds of things, like right now Before I'm Dead by the Kidneythieves is on and it reminds me of the Queen of The Damned movie because it's part of the soundtrack. Thus, I think about vampires, Anne Rice novels and Lestat. It's not just about the lyrics or the singing though, when I write I feel more focused on the actual music. Is the beat fast or slow? Is it heavy or soft? Does it change or is it constant? How this going to affect my writing; speed wise, ideas/inspiration and the flow of the words?



In my brief research and thinking about it, I've found that music is a popular subject with writers. There are lots of different articles, posts and discussions out there. It was hard to stop myself reading them and becoming influenced by them whilst I'm writing this. There are recommendations for the type of music you should listen to whilst writing to achieve the highest out of it. I found some science also relenting to how and why music affects the brain -you can read all about that in the link below-. The interesting part is of course what you should be listening too. I half fancy following the suggestions and seeing what happens, though I'm very set in my choice of writing music!

This is a summary of the suggest way; (for it in full see the link to Keep It Lit below)

 Choose instrumental music. 
 Choose songs within a 50–70 bpm range. 
 Choose music with lots of repetition to encourage your brain to let go. 
 Consider the tone of the project you're working on. 
Pay attention to how you feel while listening to music. 
Experiment. 

 I recently got into listening to Natural Sounds-especially rainfall and stormy weather- I actually started listening to become more relaxed and sleep to, but I found it good to listen to during writing as well. The almost white noise/constant sounds just help you keep the flow going and also can help picture the settings a lot more. I've always said I write better when it's raining and now I can listen to it all the time without it actually raining! Brad McBride has a good YouTube channel for these; 
http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCBoTun54dQmzQMTxWTdJ9Sg

Secondly, I've been listening to some Japanese instrument music. I'm not into classical or instrument unless its' heavy metal relented. My boyfriend got me into the Studio Ghibli movie soundtracks which I do like listening too, but I'm sure it's only because I know the music from the films. Expending out from this though, someone else introduced me to the Yoshida Brothers. I have found their music to be fascinating, though it can be a little bit too fast for me to write too. A YouTube channel for some of their music can be found here;  http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCIvFJmgxa8wXAHs3AKVEsog

Another thing to consider relates to the second thought in my introduction; characters and music within the inner workings of the story. We are surrounded by music and sounds daily, but what about characters? In some stories music has no or a small role to play, whilst in others its' a major theme which helps the plot and reader along. For example Haruki Murakami's Norwegian Wood, named after The Beatles song, has a large part in the plot and has other connections with the characters. Music and artists named in the story can say a lot about characters, (though it can also conjure up stereotypes for readers) and also the writer. So, what kind of music your character likes is important for making a complete picture of them, even if you don't include it in the story.

The last part of this is that the story within the lyrics of songs can inspire you to write stories based or around them. My MA dissertation piece was a story inspired by Bullet For My Valentine's Your Betrayal. That actually helped create one of my best non-vampire antagonists, who also fascinated my tutor. Though she did make me concerned about which part of me she had come from. Though as I looked at in another post some time ago; when we write we aren't actually ourselves...

Hopefully, that's been useful for some people. All the other links are below for you to check out. Next week I'll be back to a book review. I wonder which on it'll be though!



Images from:
http://pitchfork.com/features/staff-lists/7967-words-and-music-our-60-favorite-music-books/
http://images.firstcovers.com/covers/flash/m/music_and_writing-12360.jpg?i
http://www.musicteachershelper.com/blog/words-worth-reading/


Websites:
 http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2012/12/how-music-affects-writing-process.html
http://www.backwoodsauthor.com/2013/08/26/guest-post-how-music-can-affect-your-writing-by-marcela-de-vivo/
http://keepitlit.squarespace.com/blog/2012/7/30/listen-up-how-music-affects-focus-creativity-and-mood.html
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v-bRvd4-oHA

Sunday, 16 February 2014

The Mammoth Book Anthologies Review


Hi readers,

I have always liked Woolly Mammoths. I guess there's just something about the way they look that I like. I've been interested in dinosaur and ancient animals since I can remember. I still have a few toy dinosaurs knocking around and I've a number of Woolly Mammoth soft toys. I wonder if they do mange to bring Mammoths back-as science has been looking into-what they'll actually be like and if they are just elephants with fur and longer tusks? Of course, they actually have nothing to do with this post, because the use of Mammoth in this content means huge. So, let's get to it.

I am reviewing The Mammoth Book Of .... series.   Now, because there is a LOT of these books covering fiction, non-fiction, photos (as I recently found out) and puzzles. across all genres and mostly in the format of short stories, extracts and novellas, I decided to just write about them as a whole and touch upon the ones I own. In trying to do some research about this series, I found that there wasn't much out there. I was hoping for a complete list of books or a history about where, why and how the series came to be, but I've been unable to find out the information I wanted. (if you can help, please comment below). Of course there is a list of currently available books that does differ in each or most of the Mammoth Books. Also an up to date one appears on the publishers website, which I've included at the end.

The books themselves are amongst the best anthologies I've read. No matter which one I pick up, they have a good range of stories in them, due to the variety of authors old and new from around the world and eras. The books also cover all genres and some like the Best New Horror and Best New SF  are published yearly with the latest stories of the year before appearing. That's what actually got me thinking about writing this post. I brought the Best New Horror 22 (2011) off Amazon last week and realized that I'd not wrote about a Mammoth Book before. I am not sure what my first Mammoth Book was, but its possible that I saw it in a library or someone brought me one. The chances are that it was one of the vampire or horror ones. Since then I've got a lot of them, though my collection contents only the books on vampires, supernaturals, horror, fantasy and romance. I also buy the SF ones for my dad as he really likes them, (though I don't really read them as I'm not into SF).

I'd love to actually go and find out which ones I had. Most of them are together on my shelf due to the fact I order my books more on genre then anything else. Anyway, the other reason why I like MB is because I can dip in and out of them and just read the stories in any order. They make a good break from a long novel or else if I know I'm going on a trip or holiday or weekend away and fear that I might need something to read. I'm a bit strange with my reading away from home as I don't like to read during traveling and whilst away I prefer to be doing other things. I guess I sort of take a break from reading at these times because I do so much of it at home. The size of the book doesn't make it difficult to pack either. They are all paperbacks and are about the same length of a normal book. They do have 500-600 pages, which does make them a little bulky, but that's normally no problem. Also, I have always found them to be cheap. Normally they sell for £7.99, which is about the same price as a normal novel and you always seem to pay a bit more for anthologies. However, if you spend a bit of time online or in a book store and you don't mind buying second hand, you can get them for a lot cheaper. Horror 22 cost me a 1p plus £2.60 P&P.



One slightly negative thing I would say about them is that sometimes the covers of certain titles can differ. As I found due to a reprint of a title that has been out of print for a few years. Or, they update the title by adding and removing stories, but they decided not to make a new anthology overall. Sometimes it also has to do with country it was published in. Really, though it's such a small thing, but I'm only bring it up because it caught me out with The Giant book of Vampires (1992) and The Mammoth Book Of Vampires (2006). The editor, Stephen Jones explains on his website (below) that the publishers wanted to reprint the first book but change some of the stories. I have to say though that both these books are on my favorite list of vampire stories and I've read them a lot. I am sure I've got all MB relenting to vampires. There is those two and then, Vampire stories by Women, Dracula, Vampire Romances 1 and 2. 

From Jones' website I was able to find out that that first Best New Horror anthology was published in 1990. There's has been a new one every year since then. I've actually just gone and brought this book on Amazon and had a look at some of the others. They are all available on Kindle, which is great because some are expensive second hand. So I might do a post about that in the future. It'll be nice to have them all actually, there is 24 all together. And I own only numbers 18 and 22, I believe. I have got some others like the ghost story ones, but yeah it would be nice to have some more of these. I just brought 1, 4, 5, 11 and 15 though! Yeah, I need to stop digressing and get on with the review.

Having a quick look through the titles, it seems that MB have published collection on everything and anything. There are some interesting titles and I would like to have Dark Magic and Celtic myths now. So MB really caterer to everyone's taste and fantasies! These books would make great presents and they would be useful for writers of that genre and also students/researches. In the book of Horror 22, there is a list of useful address for readers and writers to use, it contents publishers and magazines. (not sure if all MB do this though). There is also a Necrology chapter listing the deaths of writers, artists etc. The introduction is also packed with lots of information about the horror genre and the latest books to be published. So really, MB could be just the beginning for many readers and writers!

Overall, I would recommend Mammoth Book anthologies to everyone. There is a genre/topic to suit everyone. The books are cheap and great value. They take up just a bit more space then a normal book does on a shelf or in a bag/suitcase. They are good for dipping in and out of and great if you don't have a lot of time to spare. They are useful to writers as they can keep in touch with what's popular and find inspiration. There is an introduction to new writers and subjects. The covers are also well done and look very interesting. I would differently say I was addicted to reading and buying them!


Images:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/evolution/10301194/Climate-change-killed-the-woolly-mammoth-researchers-claim.html
http://stephenbacon.co.uk/2011/06/15/a-nod-to-the-editors/
http://www.stephenjoneseditor.com/article-sj-undead01.htm

Web Links:
http://www.isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pe.cgi?19097
http://www.stephenjoneseditor.com/book-01.htm
http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=sr_nr_n_0?rh=n%3A266239%2Ck%3Athe+mammoth+book+of&keywords=the+mammoth+book+of&ie=UTF8&qid=1392572692&rnid=1642204031
http://www.constablerobinson.com/?section=books&series=mammoth_books&home_page_feature=4