On Book Hangovers & Reading Recommendations

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It’s that time of year again, folks, when I look to the nethercorners of the Internet for reading suggestions and general bookish counsel from fellow book worms.

Last year I suffered through a rather lengthy, severe, and most objectionable case of Readers Block, which conveniently coincided with my lengthy, severe and objectionable case of Writer’s Block. Being a book worm for as long as I can remember, it was a surprising and unwelcome shock to my inner literary nerd to find that no book would satisfy and none could hold my attention. In fact, I could probably count on two hands how many books I read last year, which is most unusual for someone used to getting through a book a week. That said, there were a few stand outs that succeeded in breaking through my relentless book drought. Robin Hobb’s Rainwild Chronicles, Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, and Joseph Delaney’s Spook’s Apprentice, to name a few.

You’ll be pleased to know I have since overcome that troublesome period in my young life, and have returned to the far more familiar world of books, books, BOOKS!

To commemorate my return, I thought it only appropriate to set myself an assignment to finish a series I had long ago started. A series that somehow always seemed to necessitate lengthy intervals between volumes. C.S. Lewis once said,

It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one till you have read an old one in between.

ADWD UKOtherwise known as a book hangover. And such I found was definitely the case with George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, of which I have just finished the latest in the series, A Dance with Dragons. There is some serious world building happening in that man’s head. Seriously. The series is well and truly alive and three dimensional, helped along considerably by the success of the HBO series adaptation, which is widely considered one of the best things on TV screens right now. And while I genuinely stand in awe of all the characters, places and stories Martin has created, I can’t help but feel for the editors who have the mammoth task of making sense of it all. It’s a great read, but I wouldn’t say a smooth sailing one. It sinks deep in details, is often messy, and lacks the feeling of continuity that made the third in the series, A Storm of Swords, an absolute killer read (pun intended). Even so, I can’t help but feel a certain sense of satisfaction at having conquered the biblical volumes whose spines seem to expand with each new publication.

In between the dragons, murder and intrigue that is the world of Westeros, I have indulged in a few olden goldies that never fail to bring me joy, no matter how many times I read them. Pride and Prejudice being one of them. Apart from it bringing intense literary delight and wordy wit, this is one of the only books that gets me actually laughing out loud in the reading of it.

name-of-the-wind-coverOther books I have reread in the last six months include Patrick Rothfuss’ Name of the Wind and Tolkien’s The Hobbit, between them covering the classic and modern fantasy with divine prowess. I also had my first proper delve into the world of historical fiction with The Lady Elizabeth by Alison Weir, which got a bit too Mills & Boony for me from the middle onwards, but carried me through to the end thanks to my massive fangirl crush on anything Tudor related.

So, on to what to read next. The list is ever growing and presents itself as an unattainable challenge of the most delightful nature. Of recommendations old and new, from blog readers and beyond, I have the following at the top of my list:

Player of Games by Iain Banks

The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

Red Rising by Pierce Brown

The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens

The Curse of Chalion by Lois McMaster Bujold

Harpy’s Flight by Megan Lindholm

Shaman’s Crossing by Robin Hobb

The Willful Princess and the Piebald Prince by Robin Hobb

The Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

The Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan (another series requiring serious dedication to return to)

ThePlayerOfGames

But the list is incomplete.

Are there any new release rock-your-socks-off reads you’d recommend I add to the list? Or old classics that deserve my attention? As you can see, apart from the exception of the lonely Dickens singing out for my attention, it’s all speculative fiction. Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Classics may be my weakness, but I’m never shy to branch out beyond the speculative genre. Hit me up peeps!

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A Patchwork of Fairytales

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Just over a month ago I received an email from a lovely Edinburgh based writer named Ali George who, amongst other wonderful achievements, is known in certain corners of the world wide web for having written 12 books in 12 months.

As you do.

In her email she asked if I’d be interested in contributing a story for an ebook she was putting together to raise money for a children’s theatre company.  “Homespun Theatre,” she explained, “came together through a shared love of storytelling.  From JRR Tolkein to Dick King Smith, from Jim Henson to Studio Ghibli, we love magic and adventure in all forms.  As a theatre company, our MO is simple – we want to make something new from something old, blow dust off forgotten tales, and find the magic around the edges.”

Finding the magic around the edges is pretty much my MO for all things in life, so of course I said yes.

The cause? In 2012 Homespun debuted their first children’s show, East of the Sun West of the Moon, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  It went so well that they want to take it on tour in 2013.  Money raised from the ebook sales will go towards redevelopment, production costs and developing wonderful children’s theatre for all to enjoy.

Some of you will remember my story, The Dragon and the Moon, from the UNICEF fundraising ebook I submitted it to this time last year. Sadly I couldn’t find the time to write something new, but even if I had, this story just seemed so fitting for the cause. Regardless, if you enjoy fun, quirky fairytales, and even if you’ve read my story before, I beseech you to check out the collection. I’ve just started making my way through the other 34 contributions, and they’re good. Real good. From stories of dragons, giants, selkies and sheep, I feel particularly honoured to be published in the company of such creative talent.

And so, all that is left is to announce the happy news that the ebook is now ready for your reading pleasure. What better inexpensive virtual stocking filler for yourself (or someone special) this Christmas?

Do it for the children!

Homespun Threads (A Patchwork of Fairytales) is available from Smashwords for $9.99 and from Amazon for £6.17 (That’s 18 pence a story! Bargain!).

Reader’s Block

So we’ve all heard of writer’s block, but only recently did I come across the much more mysterious ailment known to some as “reader’s block”.

Generally it involves an inability to start, persevere with, or finish a book, but mostly it just means not being able to sit down and take pleasure in the long loved pastime of reading. Truly, it is as repulsive a condition as it sounds.

And for the last several months I have been a sufferer.

To none other than myself does this come as more of a shock. I, who my entire life have prided myself on finishing every book I start, no matter how awful, “just in case” the ending redeems it. I who must read to better my craft. I who enjoy a good book above all things.

But alas, as the end of the year draws nigh along with the deadline to my 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, I find my bookshelves spilling over with beautiful, glorious, new books, most with bookmarks poking out at about page 80.

I attribute this unhappy chapter of my life to several contributing factors. Those being:

  1. Writing. This year my writing has taking precedence over all else as I’ve grappled with recurring deadlines and the seemingly-impossible task of writing a novel for assessment. I’m sure I’ll post more about it later, as it’s been the primary reason for my blogging absence these past months.
  2. Working. This is a bit of a conundrum. At the beginning of the year I scored myself a job at a lovely little independent bookstore. One would assume that such a position would generate increased reading. Sadly, the opposite ensued. 9 hour work days on top of uni have resulted in earlier bed times and less brain power when it comes to extra-curricular activities.
  3. Greed. Working in a bookshop certainly has its perks, but my inner greedy reader has been unable to cope with the continuous arrival of new and wonderful books. I get one chapter into a book before another one comes into the store looking all sultry and readable, and I get distracted. As such, I have purchased many books this year, but most of them remain unfinished.
  4. (In)Sanity. The combination of the above factors have together tested my sanity. Reading for work and reading for uni have at times made the activity seem a chore, and let’s face it, who likes chores? Any free time I’ve been able to pilfer, I’ve dedicated to sleeping, eating, or the peaceful enjoyment of staring quietly at blank walls.

The whole thing has been mildly traumatic, but in the meantime I’ve discovered a few gems. Yes, a handful of books actually managed to bulldoze through my reader’s block and give me hope. It’s not that the other books weren’t any good, in fact when (if?!) I get over this ridiculous phase, I’m sure I’ll love them to bits.  It’s just that they weren’t totally, absolutely, incredibly phenomenal. And really, how many books are?

With standards like that, I was destined to be disappointed, but a few shone brightly in the darkness nonetheless. Without further adieu, allow me to share with you the top five books that prevailed over the dreaded reader’s block and made my reading year:

5. A Storm of Swords: Blood and Gold. 

The second part to the third in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series. This is my favourite book in the series so far. I heard along the grapevine that the series was originally intended as a trilogy, and I could tell by the end of this book that for many of the characters things were wrapping up nicely (or bloodily, depending on the character). I haven’t yet been able to move on to the fourth book, knowing that it’s now time to introduce many new characters and saddened that some of my favourites won’t be there to carry the story through. Nevertheless, I look back on this instalment with great fondness.

4. The Hunger Games.


This was a bit of a surprise. I watched the movie and whilst I enjoyed it, I wasn’t all that fussed. When I finally got around to reading the book it sucked me right in and I didn’t put it down until I’d finished. I then went on to read the next two in the trilogy and while I didn’t enjoy them as much as the first, they were still pretty amazing.

3. A Casual Vacancy.

Not the most enjoyable read of the year, given the dark and depressing themes throughout, but even despite that I still managed to finish this 500 page corker of a book in a matter of days (quite a feat for a reader’s block sufferer). It even inspired me to write a review.

2. Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. 

When in doubt, go back to a classic favourite. If I’ve read it once I’ve read it a trillion times, but I’m currently re-reading this Tolkien masterpiece and haven’t been able to put it down yet. Beautiful prose, characters and story: what more could you ask for?

1. Ready Player One. 

READ IT. Seriously. If you know what’s good for you, read this book. It’s an absolute nerd fest with a nostalgic appreciation for 80s pop culture, old school video games, RPGs, anime, and a firefly called Serenity. The blurb describes it as “Willy Wonka meets The Matrix” but I don’t think that does it any justice. Yes, there is a “golden ticket” aspect to it and certainly it takes place in a dystopian not-so-distant future where we spend most of our lives in a virtual reality simulation, but the premise itself is totally original and SO MUCH FUN. In fact, it’s so awesome, Warner Bros have already bought the film rights to the book. If you need further convincing, check out Patrick Rothfuss’s Goodreads review:

Need I say more?

There you have it. The books that got me through nothing short of a peculiar reading year.

Have you ever suffered from “reader’s block”? If so, which books, if any, have pulled you out of it? And for those of you who think reader’s block is as silly as it sounds, tell me instead what books you loved this year. Go on. You know you want to…

Dear Santa…

As I was driving through town the other day, something shiny caught my eye. No, it wasn’t the sun, nor was it the reflection of my wintery moon tan in the rear view mirror. On closer inspection, it turned out to be tinsel.

“Tinsel!” I thought to myself. “Can it be that time of year again already? Surely not.”

Then I heard the sweet serenading sound of carols emitting from shop windows and knew it to be true:

Christmas had arrived.

After a few moments contemplating how on earth this had happened – after all, surely it hadn’t been a whole 12 months since last Christmas? – and a few moments more humming along to John Lennon’s Happy Xmas, my thoughts finally wandered to Christmas presents.

This time last year I posted a list of 10 Christmas Presents for Book Lovers, for the simple pleasure of imagining what I would buy for myself and my book-loving partners in crime, had I the means to do so. This year I’m once again trying to save my pennies for more nomadic adventures, but if you’re in need of gift-giving ideas, from library kits to book ends to book-related jewellery, or, like me, simply enjoy imagining what your Christmas list would look like if you owned a money tree, check out the post for some fun suggestions.

Meanwhile, I’ve since come across a mandatory addition to the list. If there’s one thing you buy this Christmas, may I suggest (read: demand) you head over to Spineless Classics and feast your eyes on the awesomeness.

Imagine your favourite book, every word, mounted on your wall as art.

EVERY. WORD.

Take a look:

Pride and Prejudice from Spineless Classics

Is it not the coolest thing ever? They have a wonderful selection of children’s, adventure, historical, religious, romantic and great classics to choose from. Even more exciting, however, is today’s release of their latest design.

Drum roll please…

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from Spineless Classics

That’s right. You can now admire the entire text of the first Harry Potter book in a single 700 x 1000mm sheet. And if you’re feeling guilty about spending the money, feel better knowing that 100% of the commissions they pay to the publishers is going to J.K. Rowling’s children’s charity.

This year I’ve told Santa to bypass my house and have an early night (the chimney is still under construction, you see). But had I sent him a letter, it would have included a Spineless Classic on the list.

How about you? Any book-related goodies you’d like to see in your stocking this year?

EDIT 05.12.12 

A new edition to the list could not be denied a place in this post. Introducing The Hobbit:

The Hobbit from Spineless Classics

The Hobbit from Spineless Classics

The Casual Vacancy – Review

I may be on a temporary blogging hiatus, but how could I resist the temptation to briefly return and share my hot-off-the-press thoughts on The Casual Vacancy, the latest from one of my favourite authors, JK Rowling?

There’s been much speculation in the book world over her first adult novel. Will it live up to Harry Potter? Will she fail miserably? Why is she writing a book for adults? Why is she writing at all? WHAT THE HELL IS THIS BOOK ABOUT?

With little to go by but a fairly inscrutable blurb about a dead man named Barry and a town “at war”, I set my expectations as low and as neutral as they could possibly go, the Harry Potter fanatic inside me squealing desperately at the opportunity to once again get inside JK Rowling’s brain, and eagerly anticipated the hour in which we were allowed to open the embargoed boxes at work and start reading.

Two and a half days and little sleep later, I finished the last page of the book and sat down to make some sense of my thoughts:

A dark but fascinating social commentary by an exceptional writer. 

Barry Fairbrother’s death is the precipice on which we, the reader, meet the inhabitants of the small town of Pagford, each self-righteous in their perception and judgement of everyone around them. The only decent person in town seems to have been Barry himself, which is the standard by which the rest of the characters are measured, all of them falling short in their own way. The story itself follows the lives of these characters, as they move from Barry’s death, to his funeral, to the election to fill the council position he so “casually vacated”, and the aftermath of every complication along the way.

There is no real plot that I could identify, just the simple act of observing a town in crisis and sensing the rising tension as families and relationships unravel. I suspect this lack of discernible storyline will be its undoing for many readers, but in many ways it is the novel’s greatest strength; relieving the reader of any misplaced presumptions that things will be okay, that a hero/heroine will save the day, that things will wrap up nicely. Instead it frees the reader to just go with it, get to know the characters, and watch them fumble about in the mess that is their lives.

Whilst The Casual Vacancy may show no evidence in subject matter of the JK Rowling we are so used to – preaching hope and goodness to the masses, comforting readers that good will always overcome evil – it is no small consolation that in the writing itself, Rowling excels. There were hints of Dickens, Austen and other wordsmiths of centuries past in the darkly comic tone and particularly unhurried pace of the narrative. Quite simply, the writing was magnificent and never fell short of the expectations placed on her by the simple but sophisticated standard set in Harry Potter.

With the ugly realities of poverty, rape, suicide, abuse, pedophilia, politics, class struggles and mental illness* setting the sombre tone of the narrative, I don’t think this is a book any reader can “enjoy”, so much as appreciate for its stark candidness, captivating characters, and wonderful writing.  It is a brave novel, an almost cruel reminder of how easily we judge those we perceive to be “below” us, the self-sabotage we envisage got them there, and the vicious cycle that ensues when it appears that something, or someone, is beyond help and therefore not worth the time to help.

I don’t think The Casual Vacancy will be for everyone; it’s comfortless and often downright depressing, something I usually steer well clear of in my reading (and had me certain for at least the first 200 pages that I wasn’t going to like it). But despite all that, it turned out to be one of those rare books that on the last page had me mourning the characters I had come to know so well and sitting in silent awe at all the extraordinary things they had to say.

Have you read/will you be reading The Casual Vacancy? Tell me your thoughts, dear readers!

*They really do mean it when they say “adult novel”. No wizards or dragons here. Move along, kids.

Book Depository 24 Hour Offers

24h offer. up to 80% off. Great Discounts at The book Depository

For the booklovers out there these Book Depository sales are always worth keeping an eye out for as you can usually find yourself a bargain.  Every hour from June 20th a new book will be up for grabs with discounts of up to 80% and free delivery worldwide.

As always, let me know if you find any good ones!

Happy reading :)

7 am EDT (GMT -4)

12 noon BST (GMT +1)

9 pm AEST (GMT +10)

http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/

Newsflash!

Hear ye! Hear ye!

STORYTELLING NOMAD HAS RETURNED!

 

So, in the craziness that has been my life of late, it seems that a whole month has passed without a blog post to show for it. My apologies for that, dearest readers.

I update you with the following, in my defence:

4 REALLY GOOD REASONS FOR MY BLOGGING ABSENCE:

1. New job

Sometimes at my new job I get to schmooze with the stars, like Healthy Harold!

Yep, that’s right, I’ve moved on from monopoly money to the real live stuff, folks. What’s equally, if not more, exciting however, is that my new place of employment is the loveliest little local BOOKSHOP. I cannot contain the joy!  And I’m proud to say I battled 350 other applicants for the job. I spend much of my day drooling over new books and getting overexcited when customers come in looking for new fantasy fiction. Other jobs include: reading books, dusting books, carrying books, talking books, ordering books, making book displays, and even, would you believe, selling books. 99.9% of my day is book related, which makes me pretty darn happy.

2. Novel Writing

As submission deadline loomed, the dining table suffered

Okay, so this has been the big time suck.  For my Masters in Creative Writing course I have decided to finally pursue my novel idea, with the hope that deadlines and academic support will encourage (read:force) me to overcome my fear of failure and just WRITE the damn thing. My first deadline was last week, which saw me submit the first 15,000 words of my YA fantasy fiction novel. YAY! Chapters 1 to 4 in all their redrafted glory are now being assessed by the highly competent Australian Vogel Award Winner, Rohan Wilson. I’m looking forward to sharing some extracts with you soon.

3. Reading

If you haven’t watched John Carter yet, do it. Or read the books by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Yep.

My reading list for the book journal that had to accompany my 15,000 word submission was four and a half pages long. Before bed, before work, during lunch breaks; any free moment I’ve had, has been spent reading, reading, reading. My brain is currently overflowing with millions of words and creative goodness.

Check out my 2012 National Year of Reading page for a list of what I’ve been reading lately, but the highlights have been:

The Barsoom Series by Edgar Rice Burroughs. I got into this after watching John Carter at the cinema (based on the books), which, by the way, is AMAZING. It’s such a shame about the poor critical reception of the film, because it really was pretty fabulous. The books are equally amazing, and would you believe, written in the 1900s? Mind blown.

– Enchanted Glass by Diana Wynne Jones. Beautiful, classic, fantasy storytelling. I’m new to Diana’s works, but what a lovely collection of books she’s left me to catch up on.

Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. I’m still not sure how I feel about this book. It’s been a HUGE seller and I couldn’t understand the hype about a story that sounded to me like soft porn. But the people coming in and raving about it were normal, everyday people; not the crazy, sex fiendish types you’d think would be interested in bondage stories. So I finally gave in and read it. I can see the fascination; I got through it in a day, which is testament to its addictiveness. Sure, it’s 90% erotica and basically an amped up Mills and Boon, but there’s something about it that keeps you wanting to know more. My issue (SPOILER ALERT) is not with the rudie nudie scenes, or the writing, or the story, but with the fact that the young, virgin protagonist, is practically coerced into participating as a Submissive/Sex Slave by a man who was sexually abused as a child and now finds pleasure in inflicting pain on others. There’s love there, sure, and an attraction, and they both make compromises, but there’s also an undertone that the whole situation is just, well, a little bit wrong. Maybe the rest of the trilogy will clean it up nicely… Interested to know what others thought about it?

Jon Snow being awesome.

4. Game of Thrones, Season Two

I can’t deny it. When I should have been writing, or sleeping, or reading, I have spent one glorious hour a week, for the last 10 weeks, salivating over the awesomeness that is the HBO adaptation of George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series, Game of Thrones. If you haven’t yet given in to the GoT phenomena, I implore you, get addicted!

So, that sums up my month of non-blogging. I hope you’ll forgive me and stick around while I ease into the blogosphere I’ve missed so dearly. And my sincerest thanks to those of you who cared enough to notice my absence and ask if I was okay. What lovely loyal readers you are!

On a final note, my nerd status is now officially complete with the acquisition of glasses. Yep, I now get to be nerdy on the outside, as well as the inside, which is all very exciting and totally news-worthy.

Happy reading, bloggers!

Nerd out.

Reading Habits

   

In light of my 2012 National Year of Reading goal, I thought it would be fun to take part in this questionnaire that I came across at Lazy Happy Bored Happy Sad, on reading habits. I know lots of people who are very particular about where they read, how they read, what coffee cup they use when they’re reading. So, let’s have a look at my reading habits, shall we?

If you could live in a fictional world, where would that be?

There’s a reason the books are so popular; who wouldn’t want to live in a world where there existed a Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, Whomping Willow, Forbidden Forest, Floo powder, flying broomsticks, Dobby, Ron Weasley and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans? The wonderful world of Harry Potter has long since been a world I’d love to live in.

Do you read in noisy or quiet places?

I definitely prefer quiet places. That said, I will read anywhere if necessary. Train, bus, dinner table; if I’m lost in a really good book, it won’t matter what noise is going on around me, I won’t hear any of it.

What was the first book you ever read?

The first book I ever read likely took place at an age when that long term memory part of my brain wasn’t yet activated. It could have been anything.

If you could only read one book for the rest of your life, what would it be?

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy. It would probably take a lifetime to soak in all that there is to be learned from that collection. Language, description, history, theme, expression, characters…it would be some time before I got bored of the sheer mastery of that entire story.

Favorite Author?

This would be a toss up between JRR Tolkien, JK Rowling and Robin Hobb. In fairness to them all I’d have to set them a challenge, whereby they each bring to life a dragon from one of their stories, and nominate that fire breather to battle it out. Last dragon standing wins.

Do reviews influence your choices of reads?

They can do, but I try not to let them influence my choice too much. I usually read by recommendation, which sort of bypasses that process of looking up reviews. I’ve come to realise though that books are much like movies. Too often a bunch of critics have slammed a great movie, prompting me not to go see it at the cinema, only to watch it later and find it amazing. Books, like movies, are subjective. It’s always worth giving something a go and seeing for yourself what to make of it.

Fiction or Non-fiction?

While I’m happy to read both, I mostly read fiction.

Meeting Brandon Sanderson at Supanova 2012

Have you ever met your favorite author?

Tolkien and Rowling, no. I once brushed shoulders with Robin Hobb at a convention before I had read any of her works. I kicked myself for it afterwards, but received a lovely email from her to make up for it. You can read it here. I’ve met Isobelle Carmody, who in my younger years won me over with her Obernewtyn Chronicles, Brandon Sanderson, who I’ve yet to experience due to my lack of commitment to the Wheel of Time, and Ian Irvine, whose fantasy books I also loved during High School. Those are my only claims to authorly fame.

Audio books or Paperback?

When I was younger my parents used to put on the War of the Worlds cassette or Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox for me and my little brother during long car trips, and we absolutely loved it. Since then, I hadn’t had much to do with audio books UNTIL Harry Potter was released on audio, narrated by Stephen Fry. I couldn’t resist the temptation, so I bought it, listened, and by golly was it spectacular! Audio books are such a different reading experience and I’ve made myself a promise to listen to more of them in the future; it’s how storytelling begun, after all, with the verbal sharing of tales.

Classic or Modern Novels?

Both.

Book groups or Solitary Reading?

I’m a solitary reader, but I won’t say no to a good discussion about the pros and cons of my latest read. I’ve never joined a book club, but my writers’ group does have a ‘book club’ segment where we show-and-tell what we’ve been reading and talk a little about how we’re finding it. I find that sort of thing always promotes quite valuable discussion.  The only exception to my solitary reading rule is with my best friend Mel. When I visit her in Sydney we will often spend our days just quietly reading together. True friendship!

Jane Austen pondering discussion at our dinner party

If you could invite three dead authors to a dinner for four, whom would you invite?

JRR Tolkien
Jane Austen
Charles Dickens

We four would have much to discuss on the state and decline of modern day literature.

So that’s me, now it’s your turn. What are your reading habits?

Birth of a Book

It’s easy to forget how much time, effort and manpower goes into creating a book, far beyond the author sitting down and actually writing it.

As writer Mark Welker points out on his blog, “many other things may die with the printed word, including the intersection of craft and art, and the beautiful things humans can produce when working together.”

This beautiful short vignette (just under 2mins long) shows a book being created using traditional printing methods, and is a wonderful reminder of the value of the printed book, and the enormous effort that goes into its creation for our benefit.

Enjoy.

Birth of a Book from Glen Milner @glen_milner on Vimeo.

Great Sentences

For my upcoming Masters in Creative Writing class, we have been asked to think about great sentences. Books, movies, articles, blogs, newspapers: It doesn’t matter the format, only the mastery, the prominence, the significance of the sentence itself.

I love this task. I often find myself reading a book and thinking “I wish I wrote that sentence!” and dog-ear the page just so I can go back and goggle at it again later.  Sometimes, if I can be bothered and I’m not so wrapped up in the story that I can spare a moment to find a pen and paper, I’ll write the sentence down, hoping that it might ingrain in me some ingenuity to later reproduce something of a similar standard.

Of course, I don’t know that it actually works like that. It’s not really a case of being able to swap a few words to make it your own, so much as recognising the combination of elements that just, well, work.

I find classic literature to be a treasure trove of great sentences, largely due to the fact that back in the day insults were so very cleverly disguised with words so charming and beautiful, such as Shakespeare’s, “Thy tongue outvenoms all the worms of Nile”, or Oscar Wilde’s “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others, whenever…”  Mostly, however, I love classic literature because the language in general was just so damn spectacular.

The sentence I picked is from Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. 

I remember Mr Hubble as a tough high-shouldered stooping old man, of a sawdusty fragrance, with his legs extraordinarily wide apart: so that in my short days I always saw some miles of open country between them when I met him coming up the lane.

Honestly, does a sentence get any better than that? It evokes such a vivid image for me, as well as a subtle humour that intensifies its appeal. That, and I can’t help but love Dickens’ use of punctuation. Some of his sentences go on and on with so many commas and semi colons (see the opening to a Tale of Two Cities for further evidence of this) in such a way that I can’t help but marvel at the dexterity of it all.

But Dickens isn’t the only master of great sentences. Austen’s opening sentence to Pride and Prejudice is typically ranked at the top of the ‘greatest first sentences of all time’ lists. And for good reason:

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.

It would take many hours to list all my favourite sentences from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but this one from The Return of the King is quite beautiful:

It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have is not ours to rule.

Despite the countless times I recall thinking “what a great sentence!” I’d be hard pressed to remember them all now.  If nothing else, this task has reminded me that I really do need to write these things down, just so I can find them again easily later.

What are your favourite sentences?

2012 National Year of Reading

Those of you who have been here a while know that I’m a bit of a book-a-holic. I read books as often as I breathe the free air, which is always, in case you wondered.

While this addiction has not always had the full support of my bank account, or my poor bag, which has spent many an outing weighed down by bricks disguised cleverly as novels cough-Wheel of Time-cough, I have always considered it an obsession worthy of the pursuit.

Reading improves analytical thinking, increases vocabulary, encourages creativity, and my all-time favourite, takes you to other worlds where you not only fight wars, win battles and have wild adventures from the comfort of your favourite armchair, but where you can also relax and be distracted from the real world chaos that you sometimes just need to escape.

Yep, reading is pretty groovy, kids.

That’s why this year I’m supporting the 2012 National Year of Reading. While it may be an Australian run initiative, I don’t see why the rest of the world can’t join in.

So, what’s it all about? I hear you ask…

The National Year of Reading 2012 is about children learning to read and keen readers finding new sources of inspiration. It’s about supporting reading initiatives while respecting the oral tradition of storytelling. It’s about helping people discover and rediscover the magic of books.

There are loads of events taking place throughout the year to promote this noble endeavour, but I’ve decided to set myself a reading challenge, which I hope you’ll participate in with me.

As an already active reader, I thought I’d up the ante and set myself a reading target. I’m a fairly fast reader if I have days to spare and nothing else to do (though that rarely stops me), but as most of you will probably understand, life often gets in the way of finding a bit of quiet time to sit down and get lost in other worlds. Cooking, cleaning, work, studies, friends, sleep: they’re all pretty good excuses, but if we put our minds to it, I think we can do better.

Last year I read just over 30 books, so this year I’ve set myself the goal of 52. One a week for the whole year. Some people will scoff at the number and say “that’s nothing!” Others will say, “don’t be ridiculous, that’s impossible.”  What’s important is you pick a number that suits you, but also challenges you. A number that makes you turn off the television and pick up a book instead. A number that has you listening to Stephen Fry reading you Harry Potter in the car on the way to work. A number that will make you read more, but which is also realistically achievable.

It may be 10, it may be 100.

I’ve set up a page to record my progress, which you’ll see a link to at the top of each page, titled “2012 National Year of Reading“.

Goodreads is also on board. If you go to their 2012 Challenge Goal page, you can enter in how many books you’d like to read by the end of the year. Every time you finish one and enter it into Goodreads, your widget will update and tell you whether you’re on target or how many books behind you are. I’m currently 2 books behind, thanks to George RR Martin’s whopper of a series!

You can also see how many participants there are (currently 201,744) and how many books have been pledged (12,164,418!!).

So get involved, readers! Let’s make 2012 the year we exercise our brains, get smarter, get creative and support reading worldwide. And don’t forget to keep me updated on your progress. I want to hear all about your reading endeavours.

Happy Reading!

P.S. If you’re looking for inspiration, The Book Depository is currently offering 10% off everything, with free delivery worldwide.

Happy Easter!

Wishing you all a very Happy Easter. May it be filled with loved ones, far too much chocolate, and lots of literary goodness. After all, if the Easter bunny has time to read, then so do you!

~

Watercolour by Amber Alexander

Journey of a pencil wielding, grammar-free child

"The mathematically-minded matriarch of the family unexpectedly pulled through with arguably the finest piece of writerly wisdom I have ever received."

Today I’m guest posting over at the wonderful Dodging Commas as part of a new series of guest posts with the theme Inspired to Write.  Blogger, writer and Dodging Commas hostess, Stef, explains:

Writers love talking about inspiration. We like to moan when we aren’t inspired and we like to boast when that sudden rush of inspiration has just jolted our minds into action. Inspiration can come from many sources – we can be inspired by places, images, words, actions, music, current events … and we can be inspired by people.

I have approached the writers behind some of my favourite blogs to contribute to Dodging Commas on the theme Inspired to Write. This is an opportunity to showcase a favourite author, express gratitude to a teacher, or dote upon a friend or family member. Above all, it is a celebration of the people who started us on our creative journeys, the people who keep us going, and the people who inspire us to follow our passion.

For me personally, it was a gratifying opportunity to explore the fundamental supporters of my creative dreams, as well as the literary peers who have shaped and influenced the kind of writer I strive to be.

For any creative undertaking, there will always exist those people who cease to question when it is you will be getting a ‘real job’, or who glaze over in the eyes when you try to explain your character arc or story synopsis. It’s not an easy job, supporting a slightly nutty, pencil-in-her-hair creative introvert, so those who do so are well deserving of the recognition.

To read my post and other literary, grammar and writing-related posts, head over to Dodging Commas this instant!

…Or at your earliest convenience.

Journey of a pencil wielding, grammar-free child

When Stef first asked if I’d like to write a guest post on who inspires me to write, I grinned and swayed like a giddy school girl. An opportunity to gasbag about the people in my life who have influenced the writer I am today? Oh, the joy!

Then I began to panic. How was I to contain a life-long accumulation of inspirational words, thoughts, ideas and people into an appropriately sized blog post?

[continue reading]

S is for Souvenirs

Let’s face it, with a hefty 9 year student debt and no full-time employment on the horizon, I’m not exactly one to spend big money or partake in extravagant shopping sprees when travelling. All my carefully saved pennies go towards getting me to my destination, making sure I’m supplied with several meals a day whilst there, and getting me back home again.

Luckily for me, I’m less into souvenirs and more into experience, which generally happens to be free. Walks down cobbled streets, watching sunrises over foreign waters, catching up with far away friends, admiring architecture. These things keep me happy and sustained whilst travelling and frankly I feel I’m rather the better for devoting my time to living the experience rather than wasting it in search of the latest Louis Vuitton handbag.

That said, I do like to bring home with me things that remind me of places I’ve been. Photos are usually the best kind of souvenir, postcards too, but sometimes they just won’t do.

Here’s what I picked up on my latest trip.

Masks of Venice, Italy

You’ll be hearing more about Venice in a later post, but let me just say that this was my 4th visit to the city of love, and it was no less charming than it was the first three times. It is the personification of a place you can enjoy without having to spend a cent, the beauty of it being simply having the opportunity to walk the canals and to get lost in the maze of bridge spotted alleyways. On this trip, however, I decided to take home with me a little piece of Venice in the form of two hand made Venetian masks. The photos don’t really do them justice, but I assure you they are stunning.

Golden Venetian mask

Tragedy and Comedy, Venetian mask

Art of Edinburgh, Scotland

I love checking out local art when I’m travelling. Sadly it is almost never practical to take any of it home with me, but this time I found this beautiful little painting of Edinburgh by Rob Hain and couldn’t leave it behind. I love the vibrant colours and the somewhat fantastical quality of it; the moon in the sky above the castle and the steam engine at its foot.

“Meet me by the Fountain” by Rob Hain

Dragon of Krakow, Poland

As you already know from my past post, Krakow is said to have been built on the ashes of a dragon. Cool huh? So naturally there are dragon souvenirs everywhere. I was disappointed to find that most of them were pretty tacky and sadly labelled ‘made in china’, which is why I was so happy to find this little guy at a local toy maker’s market. He’s wooden, hand painted, has legs and arms that swing and eyes that rattle, and a wire coil to hang him from the ceiling with.

Wooden toy dragon

Life Ring of Hamburg, Germany

I confess, I’m not really sure why I bought this little life ring. Perhaps it’s my deep appreciation for harbours, or the fact that I grew up on a town by the sea. Or it could be that Hamburg surprised me with its canals and massive shipping port. Probably it was because it cost one Euro and I knew it would be light enough to carry home in my suitcase. Either way I picked it up and here it is.

Hamburg Ahoi!

Books of Edinburgh, Scotland

The Folk Takes of Scotland, retold by Norah & William Montgomerie

Edinburgh, the city of literature. Needless to say, here I picked up BOOKS. Oh my, there were just so many pretty ones to choose from. Beautiful covers, rare finds, first editions. But alas, I stayed the trembling hand that willed me to buy them all and restrained myself to these two.

The first is a book of Scottish folk tales and I confess I was wooed by the cover alone. Even so, it is a wonderful collection of beautiful folk stories.

The second is a book, which I think is pretty darn groovy. It’s the Story World Storytelling Kit, and while it may be for ages 4 and up, this 26 year old was enamoured. I kid you not, I opened this thing and fireworks went off in my eyes. Basically, it consists of forty tarot-sized story cards, each with a beautiful image on the front and on the back a one sentence description and three questions. The idea is to get your creative wheels turning to give you story ideas. It also comes with a book that has further card keywords and descriptions as well as tips on how to use the cards and examples of stories created from the cards.

How cool is that?!

But that’s not all. There are EXPANSION PACKS.  The top up packs have more specific cards to add to your collection with themes like “Quests and Adventures”, “Faery Magic” and “Animal Tales”.

I picked up both of these books from the gorgeous Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh’s High Street. Well worth a visit. If, however, you live in faraway lands and don’t own a personal jet plane, apparently you can find these gems on Amazon, so I highly recommend you check them out for you or the kids.

The Man in the Moon storytelling card

Back of the Man in the Moon card

The Story World Storytelling kit

Pottery of Rye, England

As I mentioned in my post R is for Rye, I was rather amazed to find that the pottery trade in Rye had not ceased to flourish with age. With my parent’s house in Australia dotted with the Rye pottery that they brought over from England 15 years ago, I knew they’d appreciate a 2012 addition to their collection, so I bought them Rye Pottery tea cups. They are English after all.

Rye Pottery tea cups for the oldies

Shotglasses of The Earth, Everywhere

Okay, so this is my small indulgence. I’m not entirely sure when it began, but many years ago I started collecting shot glasses as souvenirs from places I had visited. At the time I think I figured they were small and light (important things to consider for a heavy packer such as myself), they can be found in every city, and also because I thought they might be nice to pull out of the cupboard when having friends over for drinks. Ironically, I no longer drink alcohol and don’t remember the last time my friends and I thought it would be a good idea to pull out 40 odd shot glasses and get wasted, but no matter.

The point is, I can’t seem to drop the habit, and continue to pick up a shot glass in every town, city and country I find myself in.

Lots of little shot glasses, lined in a row

There you have it. My small collection of souvenirs from the trip.
What do you like picking up or collecting when travelling?

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

If, like me, you share a love of books, writing and stories, then watch this beautiful short animation that has been nominated for this year’s Academy Awards. You won’t be disappointed.

Inspired, in equal measures, by Hurricane Katrina, Buster Keaton, The Wizard of Oz, and a love for books, “Morris Lessmore” is a story of people who devote their lives to books and books who return the favor. Morris Lessmore is a poignant, humorous allegory about the curative powers of story.

Using a variety of techniques (miniatures, computer animation, 2D animation) award winning author/ illustrator William Joyce and Co-director Brandon Oldenburg present a new narrative experience that harkens back to silent films and M-G-M Technicolor musicals. “Morris Lessmore” is old fashioned and cutting edge at the same time.

“The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” is one of five animated short films that will be considered for outstanding film achievements of 2011 in the 84th Academy Awards ®.

EDIT MARCH 2012: The film ended up winning the title of Best Animated Short.

Book Depository 24 Hour Sale

24h offer. up to 80% off. Great Discounts at The book Depository

…is back. Every hour from February 2nd a new book will be up for grabs with discounts of up to 80% and free delivery worldwide. The last 24hr sale was hugely successful, with the 500 or so copies they had on offer each hour being snatched up within the first 10-15 minutes.

While last time there were admittedly a lot of cookbooks and sewing books in the mix, there were a few fiction bargains if you were patient enough to wait for them, and if I remember correctly were usually selling for between $4 and $12. The three that stick out from memory were:

Slaughterhouse 5 – Kurt Vonnegut
Catcher in the Rye – J. D. Salinger
Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

I do all my book shopping here (apart from my Aussie books…support your local writers people!), because they are just so cheap, with or without the sale, and can’t recommend them highly enough.  If you do pick up a deal, don’t forget to drop back here and let me know!

Sale starts at

7 am EST (-5)
12 noon GMT
11 pm AEDT (+11)

http://www.bookdepository.co.uk/

Makeover time!

With the new year just around the corner, what better time to give the blog a bit of a spruce up?

Up until now, I’ve had a photo of a beach from my previous home town, Newcastle Australia, as my blog banner. I chose it to represent my love of travel, my nomadic lifestyle and of course my adopted home country, Australia.

Nobby's Beach, Newcastle NSW Australia

Since that time, however, I’ve had a growing feeling that it no longer reflected the direction the blog was taking. What I first thought might be a platform to vent a few thoughts and share a few stories, has since turned into a forum for readers, writers, book lovers and nerds alike, to share our tales and lay bear our vices, all in the name of becoming better writers, more perceptive readers and to have a bit of a gander about what makes us tick.

While I still consider myself the nomad this blog was partly named for and despite the enormous influence these escapades have on my writing, my travel adventures represent only a small share of the content of this blog.

In conclusion, new banner, new theme – new and improved blog!

My sincere thanks to New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Ilona Andrews, for giving me permission to use her amazing fantasy wallpaper art for my banner. I like to think that from stories comes magic, which is exactly what I see in Ilona’s image.

You’ll also see that my featured posts can now be viewed from the carousel at the top of the page.

Hope you love it as much as I do.

Image by Ilona Andrews

~storytelling nomad~

10 Christmas Presents for Book Lovers

With just over a week til Christmas, it’s usually about this time of year that I avoid the shops and opt to steer clear of the filled to capacity car parks, long snaking queues, and inevitable widespread Christmas rush.

Whilst online shopping has been a godsend in this regard, this year I am, like many, electing to make Christmas more about people and less about presents.

Despite that, I can’t help but satisfy my inner shopaholic by compiling mental lists of the many things I would love to give and be given, were I and my loved ones in the fortunate position of being ridiculously wealthy.

I’m not gonna lie; Villas in Italy and year long vacations are pretty high on the list. But for all the extravagances money could buy, sometimes it’s the simple things that make me happiest.

With that in mind and not forgetting, of course, my (and presumably also your) reading, writing and book-loving obsessions, I put together a list of ten things that I think many book lovers might appreciate.

Even if you can’t afford it this Christmas, it’s nice to just make believe, right?

Ahem. In no particular order:

  1. Bookends
    No serious book lover can resist a good pair of bookends to keep those books standing tall. Check out this website for 13 Brilliant Bookends.

    Dragon Bookends

  2. Personal library kit
    Okay, so who hasn’t lent a book to someone only to wonder 6 months later who borrowed it and whether it was returned? A Personal Library Kitis the answer! Channel your inner librarian.

    Personal Library Kit from KnockKnock

  3. Bookshelves
    From functional to fashionable to the down right funky. Why not make your own upside down bookshelf? Or check out 15 very cool bookshelves here.

    DIY Upside down bookshelf

  4. Bookmarks
    I’m not averse to the odd folding of corners and using dog ears to mark my place in a book (I know, I know), but there will always be a place in the world for bookmarks and there are some quite creative ones out there. Great stocking fillers too. My favourite is this DIY bookmark:

    Make your own bookmark

  5. Furniture
    Furniture? But of course! From book stools to reading chairs to lazy lounges. We want to be comfortable and fashionable while we’re cooing over our favourite reads, don’t we?

    Book lover stool

  6. Boardgames
    There are some literary specific games out there to challenge your book lover friends with. Just to get you started there is the It was a dark and stormy night board game, the Scrabble Book Lovers Edition and the Scrabble Library Classic.

    Scrabble Library Classic

  7. Books Planter
    Have a green thumb on top of your book addiction? Want to make your garden as good looking as your bookshelf? How about a Book Planter?

    Books Planter

  8. Personalised book
    Sometimes there is nothing better than a hand made gift, personalised to the recipient. I’ve found Apple iPhotoan amazing tool for creating soft and hardcover books with pictures and text.

    Make your own book with Apple iPhoto

  9. Ereader
    They’re not going away any time soon. Kindle, Nook, Kobo. Pick one. They’ll love it. You’ll love it.

    Kindle Touch

  10. Books
    And last, but definitely not least. What would a book lover want more for Christmas than more books? Vintage classics, rare editions, new releases, best sellers, hard cover special editions and the most treasured; those that you make yourself.
    I can’t go past the Book Depository  for their super cheap prices and free delivery worldwide.

    "Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers." ~Charles W. Eliot

    10.1.    Jewellery
    Okay, so this list has a 10.1 entry, because I only today stumbled across these cool little charms for book lovers and realised there’s probably a whole world of book-related bling out there. Like the Jane Austen charm bracelet and this book necklace made of vinyl records:

    Vinyl Record Book Necklace

Any other cool book-related gifts you’ve been dreaming about? 

~storytelling nomad~

How to choose a pseudonym

I realise the title of this post suggests I’m going to reveal some kind of ten step formula, perhaps a clever strategy of sorts to come up with a suitable pen name, but in the name of full disclosure I should probably state right now that I have no such knowledge.

In fact, quite the opposite.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late since writing my article about Females in Fantasy (check it out here), and how a great deal of female authors still choose ambiguous, androgynous or straight-out male pen names to help the sales of their novels.

There are unquestionably plenty of other reasons for authors, male and female, to put a name that is not their own on the front cover of a book, but what I want to know is how they come up with such a name.

To get an idea, I sourced out some of the more well-known authors and their pseudo counterparts.

J.K. Rowling uses her first initial (Joanne), her grandmother’s first initial (Kathleen) and her last name. Easy.

Robert Jordan, author of the Wheel of Time series, is actually James Oliver Rigney, Jr.. It is said the idea for his pseudo-surname came from using the initials of his full name: J.O.R.. It is also speculated that he adopted it from Ernest Hemingway’s character of the same name from For Whom the Bell Tolls.

George Orwell, aka Eric Blair, chose a pen name that “stressed his deep, lifelong affection for the English tradition and countryside: George is the patron saint of England (and George V was monarch at the time), while the River Orwell in Suffolk was one of his most beloved English sites.”¹

Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel) - The Cat in the Hat

Theodor Seuss Geisel became Dr. Seuss, because apparently his father always wanted him to become a doctor.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson invented his pen name, Lewis Carroll, by translating his first and last names into Latin, Carolus Lodovicus, and then anglicizing it.

Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, were published under Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, at a time when female authors lacked credibility. Each of their pseudonyms began with the first letter of their actual names.

Children’s writer Dav Pilkey came up with Sue Denim, which I think needs no explanation.

So if I wanted, or was asked, to choose a pseudonym how would I go about it?

My initials, K.M.H., are all consonants, so no help from Robert Jordan’s strategy.

I could get back to the origins of my name, like Lewis Carroll.  Katy, which is thought to derive from either the Greek Aikaterine, or even earlier Hekaterine, would be Katherine in Latin. Hulme derives from the Middle English Holm (someone who lived near a holly tree). Katherine Holm? Katherine Holly even? Maybe I could just do a Madonna and go with the single named Hekaterine. Hmmm.

If I wanted to follow the Brontes, Robin Hobb, or J.K. Rowling, with an ambiguous sounding name, ‘Kit’ is the diminutive of both Christopher or Katherine. Christopher Hulme? Kit Hulme?

Or perhaps I could follow Dr. Seuss’s reasoning and just add a title to my name. I’ve never wanted to be a doctor, but I could see myself as a noble. Lady Katherine? She wasn’t the most pleasant character in Pride and Prejudice. Countess Hulme? Hardy ha ha.

Failing these, maybe I could cheat and consult a name generator. The Leprechaun Name Generator has christened me Tweedle O’Gold. The Fantasy Name Generator, has me as Lena Amethystmace. Or more subtley, The Pen Name Generator tells me I’m Cindy Capleton.

I think I’m having a slight identity crisis.  Honestly, I feel no closer to finding my bestselling counterpart. For the time being I think I’ll stick with the name my parents bestowed upon me, and focus my attention on writing my novel, as opposed to the name that will appear on its cover.

Anyone else have any interesting pen name formulas to share? A pseudonym of your own perhaps? For those of you who don’t, any ideas what you’d like to call yourself if you were told to choose one?

~Tweedle O’Gold~