For book lovers on a budget

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

For those of you who haven’t heard, the Book Depository is having a 24 hour sale, with up to 80% off selected titles over the 24 hour period. With free shipping worldwide, it should be worth a look.

Click on the banner above for more details about the offers. Or head to their website: http://www.bookdepository.co.uk

~storytelling nomad~

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Awesome People Reading

In light of my participation in the Novel Challenge/MS Readathon*, I thought it fitting to pay homage to some awesome people who love to read.

A while back I came across this very cool tumblr blog, Awesome People Reading, and couldn’t help but spend more time than I really should have clicking through the pages admiring photos of famous and inspirational people reading their favourite paperbacks, hardbacks, comics and newspapers.

Below I’ve attached a few of my fave pics, but definitely head on over to the full site to see many many more.

* I have so far raised $180 so thank you to you special people (you know who you are) for your contributions.  I stayed up quite late last night finishing George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, which was, by the way, excellent! Now on to book 3, Friday’s Child by Ian Kennedy Williams.

Marilyn Monroe

Michael Caine

Sid Vicious

Gregory Peck and Mary Badham

Elizabeth Taylor

James Dean and Marcus Winslow

Alfred Hitchcock

~storytelling nomad~

A Storytelling Utopia: Melbourne Writers Festival 2011

So I mentioned a few posts ago that I had a number of reasons for my recent absence, and today I’m going to share with you one of them.

In Australia there is an ongoing rivalry between the city of Sydney and the city of Melbourne.  Those who live in Sydney claim that they live in the superior city, and those who live in Melbourne claim much the same.  The general consensus, however,  is that Sydney is a financial city, and Melbourne a cultural city.  The Melbourne Writers Festival plays a significant role in this widespread understanding and the number of highly acclaimed national and international guests that attend from year to year, is testament to the festival’s success and the city’s appeal.

This year, I was lucky enough to be selected as a volunteer for the Melbourne Writers Festival.  Woo!  The festival is an annual event that has been running since 1986, and this year joined forces with four other international festivals to form the Word Alliance, now made up of:

  • The Melbourne Writers Festival
  • The Edinburgh International Book Festival
  • The Bookworm International Literary Festival in Beijing
  • The International Literature Festival in Berlin
  • International Festival of Authors in Toronto.

Totally rad.

So what kind of guests are we talking? Pretentious editors? High literature writers? Celebrity journalists?  Well yes, I suspect there are some of those, but the Melbourne Writers Festival is far more than that, and unique in that it observes all kinds of storytelling, not just the award winning, ostentatious kind.  The website elaborates:

Each year, MWF invites novelists, playwrights, poets, screenwriters, journalists, songwriters, bloggers – anyone who’s part of the world of words. We host politicians and artists, policy wonks and pop culture icons, crime writers and high culture theorists. The festival program features an enormous range of literary activity including entertaining discussions, debates, readings, film screenings, interviews, literary banquets, performances, workshops and book launches, as well as a lively schools’ program for primary and secondary students.

Festival Background

Last year they hosted Joss Whedon.  Enough said.

The Golden Ticket

So, as a volunteer I get to make sure people are being orderly, scan their tickets, give directions, have a chat, make sure the guests are comfortable and answer any questions that patrons might have.  My fellow volunteers have so far been awesome, the shifts fun and the patrons very well behaved.  I also get to wear a groovy volunteer shirt.  Win.

The major perk to this gig, however, is my volunteer pass, which gets me into any event over the entire festival.

When I attended my orientation day a few weeks ago, I was astounded at the wide array of events, panels and workshops that were taking place and began to get quite excited at the prospect of attending these events in between my shifts.

One event, the Martin Martini In(k) Concert, merges sounds and image with musician Martin Martini playing in concert whilst four artists illustrate to the tune and inspiration of the music, their images projected onto the walls of the venue.  A totally unique experience, demonstrating that the art of storytelling is far from limited to just words on paper and can be inspired and influenced by anything around you, even sound.

Author Kate Grenville

Today, I attended a session called Why I Read, featuring prominent authors Kate Grenville (pictured left), Tess Gerritsen and Chris Womersley, all discussing the books that they read growing up and the impact it had on their calling as writers.  They also discussed how reading has changed, an echoing theme throughout the festival, and how we can encourage children and teenagers to read more.

Another highlight of the festival is the collection of city walks.  From specialist bookshops to the city’s origins, the guided walks highlight the Melbourne that is inspiration for writers, readers and storytellers.  My favourite of the walks is called Melbourne’s Hidden Dragons, and it takes you on a tour of the stone guardians and silken mascots that are scattered around the city and explores the mythology of the beasts and their presence in storytelling.  Seriously cool right?

One of Melbourne's hidden dragons

And, on Tuesday evening I hope to attend Edinburgh Unbound, described as “Part reading, part gig, part party”.  Basically it is a fusion of Scottish and Australian musicians and storytellers coming together to present an evening of performance, music, film and stories in celebration of the partnership between the Melbourne Writers Festival and the Edinburgh Book Festival in our sister UNESCO City of Literature.

It is heartening to note that the attendants of the festival have so far ranged from toddlers to grannies, with no gaps in between.  I like to think this is a positive indication in light of recent discussions regarding ‘the death of the book’ and even ‘the death of the reader’, which today I was assured were both myths.  Yes, fellow writers, you can rest easy.

Young and old, we are still fascinated by the art of storytelling, whether it be through the traditional or graphic novel, music or art, the written or the spoken word.  How we tell the stories may be changing, evolving even, but the fact that we are still telling them and interested in how others tell them is what’s important and is what will keep the art of storytelling alive for a long time to come.

The festival runs from Thursday 25th August to Sunday 4th September and all the information can be found on the Melbourne Writers Festival website at http://www.mwf.com.au/2011/.

~storytelling nomad~

Where did the writing begin?

I believe it all started with being an avid reader.  As soon as I could recognise the letters of the alphabet I was rather enthusiastic about sounding out words wherever I could see them.  My sources tell me that I would sit in the car and gleefully sound out all the words I could see as we drove along.  Just so you know, small things still entertain my small mind.

At the age of 7 I dabbled a bit in the art of telling stories but as you can see it didn’t go quite to plan:

My disappointing start to writing fiction

I didn’t even finish my first sentence.  Sigh.  A flick through this notebook shows that I was thankfully more successful with later attempts. I am, however, happy to see that even at this young age I was not predisposed to telling stories that were all about me, taking a mere four sentences before I got ‘board’ with writing about myself and my day.  Also, my stories may have improved, but I believe my handwriting has unfortunately deteriorated since this time.

So, up until about the age of 10, I concentrated on my love of reading.  I remember during my school years in England having book lists and participating in reading competitions.  I would stay up late and read as many books as I could from the designated lists and ask family members to sponsor my reading challenges.  I should probably note here that I wasn’t quite so enthusiastic about the texts they asked us to read in High School.  Shakespeare vs titles such as “I Want My Potty!” There was no contest really.

Success! Young Writer's Award 1st Place - Age 10

Then 1995 came.  The year my family moved to Australia.  A new country, a new school and what seemed like a new language.  The words that I had loved chanting in the car for all those years, suddenly became a point of interest and cause for light hearted jest to my new young Australian comrades.  “Listen to how she says darrrnce! It’s daaance!” I was already quite shy, but I retreated some more, embarrassed by the accent that coincidentally I now wish I still had.

Nonetheless, the words didn’t disappear just because I no longer spoke them so often.  Instead of speaking them I found great pleasure in writing them.  Within my first few months at that primary school I had won my first writing award.  I believe I wrote a riveting piece on dolphins, with a hand drawn illustration to match (N.B. My artistic career was not so successful).  My career as a writer had begun, and that trophy still sits on my bookshelf with pride of place.  Coincidentally, my new best friend was most displeased by my success, as she had won this particular award the previous year.  As young children sometimes are, she became quite cruel with jealousy and not long after, I transferred to a different school where I was not laughed at for my accent, and made a new best friend who is still my best friend today.  Happy endings all round.

Meanwhile, I continued to pursue my budding career as a writer and just before my 11th birthday became a member of the Starfish Young Writers Club.  Their motto: “The very next starfish star could be you!” I was quite determined to become a starfish star.  Today I found a few things they sent me when I joined.  One being a welcome note from the publisher, and another a poster to put on my wall.  I find that the advice they gave me as an 11 year old, still applies at 25 and probably will for a very long time to come:

Granted, these days the boxes are more along the lines of folders on our computers, and instead of ‘terrible stories’ and ‘great stories’ they’re called ‘absolute crap’ and ‘not so crap’.  But the message remains the same.  Practice and just keep writing.  It all keeps coming back to those relatively straightforward words of wisdom.  The manner in which we write may have changed with the speedy evolution of desktop computers and the internet, mostly to our benefit as writers, but the way we write, the way that we become better writers, is still the same.  Practice.

Over a decade later and here I am, still happily writing away and enjoying the process of telling stories and sharing them with others.

My ‘terrible stories’ box, however, remains quite a bit fuller than my ‘great stories’ box, but as far as I can tell, even the most successful writers have this problem.  As the poster says, “You need to do lots of terrible writing, too.  And in between, you’ll write something great.”

My love affair continues…

Assassin's Quest - Robin Hobb

I think I’m in love.  The subject of my affections? Robin Hobb and her Farseer Trilogy. It’s a fairly recent love affair but I can just tell it’s going to stand the test of time.

I only yesterday started the final book in the series, Assassin’s Quest, so perhaps this might be a little preemptive, but honestly, I simply couldn’t imagine being disappointed by this writer.  She has such an economical use of language, nothing too flowery or long-winded, and yet the writing is still so amazingly colorful, intelligent and imaginative.  While I was waiting for Assassin’s Quest to arrive in the mail from The Book Depository, I started on another of her series – The Rain Wild Chronicles, and although I missed Fitz, the Fool and Burrich from The Farseer Trilogy, I found her writing equally impressive.  Not to mention, all her books have been recently re-released with beautiful covers, and although you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, feel free to judge away with these.

These books really have been a pleasure to read…easy reading without the simplicity.  It’s not one of those books where you find yourself reading a paragraph over and over to make sure you’ve understood what is going on (insert frustration here), but neither does it make the mistake of underestimating its readers’ intellect.  I believe these books to be an excellent example of how to ‘show not tell’, a writing principle that makes all the difference in a good book.

I would recommend this series to anyone who enjoys the fantasy genre…and even to those who don’t.  This is not a point-your-wand/alohamora/Hogwarts type fantasy, for anyone out there put off by that sort of thing.  It’s fantasy for adults, a story of intrigue, loyalty and a boy’s often agonising journey to becoming a man.

In conclusion, read it! You know you want to…

~storytelling nomad~

How to know when the critics are right

For writers, I think one of the hardest things to overcome in order to succeed, is their critics.  Considering that writing is a relatively solitary activity, it is often difficult to make that big scary step towards sharing your work with others.  It is a widely known fact that writers regularly suffer from what I call, the it’s-not-ready-yet complex.  Redrafting and editing seem like tedious tasks, but somehow we thrive on the tweaking and rewriting, always under the pretence that we can make it better, that it’s simply not ready to be shared with the world yet.  At the end of the day, there’s no way to really know when a piece of writing is finished, or ready, but eventually we take the plunge and the deed is done.

It is at this point that we are granted with a fairly brief moment of relief.  Hoorah! I never have to look at it again!  This moment of ecstasy is shortly followed with absolute fear at the knowledge that we must now await the onslaught of our critics.  What if they don’t like it? What if they don’t like me? Or worse, what if no one reads it at all?

I have found that writers often choose writing as a career/state of being/lifestyle choice, precisely for the benefits of being able to work independently, to engage in a creative art which doesn’t require you to make speeches in front of a load of people, and to know that your work will be judged independently of your age, looks or social standing.  I believe that generally speaking, a writer’s primal instinct is to create, and to create alone.  Unfortunately, a writer must have its readers, an audience as such.  In writing courses, it is drilled into you that you must ‘know your audience’, ‘know your readership’, ‘know who you’re writing for’.  Kids, adults, fantasy enthusiasts, sci-fi buffs, romance addicts, crime fanatics.  Knowing your reader helps with your tone, your point of view, your language.  And yet, despite the fact that we write for an audience, we are often reluctant to share our work with them.

Obviously we are hard-wired to want to succeed in life, to be good, the best even, at the things we do.  So, after we have spent hours, weeks, months, years, slaving away at our work in progress, refining it and cherishing it like a newborn child, we, like a new parent, want everyone else to see how wonderful it is too, and if they don’t like it, well inevitably we take offence.

Now, back to the underlying question: how do we know when the critics are right?  Well, to begin with I’m the first to admit that I hate receiving negative feedback, but I realise that if there’s a problem with my work which readers are noticing, whether it be a grammatical error or a character flaw, I kinda need to know about it.  I understand this because deep down I know that if the readers aren’t happy then I’m doing something wrong.  This does not, however, mean that we need to change and edit every suggestion made to us by our critics.

I take you back to the concept of knowing your audience and writing for them specifically.  If you are writing a young adult fantasy novel aimed at current readers of books like Twilight, then you cannot expect to win the hearts of say classic literary buffs.  You might want to write a book about your family history, where your audience makes up less than a handful of people, and no-one outside that small group will ever be interested in, or enjoy reading it.  This doesn’t mean your writing is no good, it just means that you haven’t won over a readership that essentially you didn’t write for anyway.  I’ve had pieces of writing that some people have hated, and others have loved.  I’ve read stories that I’ve loved and that others have hated.  It all comes down to the old adage that everyone is different.  How can we possibly please everyone with our writing when not everyone likes the same thing?  Hence, finding your audience, and trying to keep them happy.

Ideally, when you receive feedback for your writing, take it all on board and try to stay objective.  It’s difficult to hear people finding fault with your hard work, and a lot of the time it might just be that they’re not who you’re writing for, your audience.  But, a lot of the time, these are the people who are going to end up helping you make your writing better.  If you receive recurrent feedback about a particular issue, theme, character, paragraph, then it’s probably worth at least taking a look at.  Get people who would be in your target audience to read over your drafts and see what they think, too.

In the meantime, remember that the positive feedback is equally important in improving your writing, because in my opinion, that’s when your readers are telling you that you’re doing something right.

~storytelling nomad~

Stuck for ideas?

When I began my writing course last year, my biggest concern was not whether I could write, but whether I had enough, if any, good ideas to write about.  I was sure I couldn’t be the only one, in fact, my lecturers must’ve been pretty sure too, because they introduced us to an exceptionally helpful book which now holds a prime position on my writing desk.  The Writing Experiment by Hazel Smith provides experimental and practical strategies and approaches to creative writing.  First of all, this is not a ‘how to’ book on writing.  As we all know by now, there is no single, correct way to write and everyone is different. Rather, it is a practical guide to experimenting with words, language and ideas.  From this book I learnt that we have infinite reserves of resource material for writing, we sometimes just need help tracking them down!

The most helpful section in the book for me has been Playing With Language.  As far as I know, we speak about 20,000 words a day, so surely we can string a few of those together to make something special, right? An example of a word exercise in the book is Phrase Permutation, where “the position of the words in relation to each other is changed within the phrase or short sentence, usually radically transforming the sense.”

Eg.
the death of the author
the author of death

An excellent example of phrase permutation is shown by Australian poet Myron Lysenko.  I think this word play is amazing.

UNDER THE TREE

They stood
under the big tree
and talked slowly

Under the tree
they stood
and slowly talked big

The big tree
stood slowly
and under they talked

They stood big
and slowly talked
the tree under

The big tree talked
and they slowly
understood

Another fun exercise was the Word Pool, where you “create a pool of words and then combine the words into unusual and striking combinations.”  The example in the book had the following words in the word pool:

time
clock
step
excrement
vomit
bicycle
word
fidget
blood
drift
mouth
loss
squat
sense
wail
ladder

Then, the words are combined to make unusual, evocative or striking combinations, the idea being to think outside the box.  The combinations given from this word pool included “time squats”, “sense wails” and “words fidget”.  It is anticipated with this exercise, that the combinations might lead you to an idea, theme or title of writing.

This book has loads of exercises like this, to get you creating things out of nothing.  I like it because it’s engaging and practical…there’s no nonsense about 10 step plans to writing a novel or any garbage like that.  It’s simple, creative exercises, generic enough to apply to any writing form, but specific enough in its execution to get some solid results.

You can check out more about it at The Writing Experiment.

~storytelling nomad~

The Book Depository – amazing online bookseller

The Book Depository and I have only recently been introduced, but we are fast becoming the very best of friends.  Without sounding like spam, a company promoter or a total nerd (of which I can confidently deny the first two), this gem of a site not only offers some very competitive book prices, but also FREE delivery worldwide.  At the moment they also have 10% off everything throughout the month of May…yay for us!

A nifty little feature that they have is the ‘wishlist’.  Basically, if you see any books you have your eye on but don’t want to purchase immediately, add them to your wishlist. Seems pretty standard, right? You’d think so, except that it’s not.  Not only does it keep a record of all the books that you’re looking to buy, but it sends you an email when they’re on sale…which, from what I’ve seen so far is fairly regularly.  As a uni student/struggling writer/book-purchasing enthusiast (read: addict), I’m the first to admit that I’m always out to save a dollar or two, so I’m totally digging this particular wishlist feature.

Check them out at The Book Depository

Fly my pretties, fly! Because now there’s really no good excuse not to satiate your book buying addiction.

~storytelling nomad~

Review: The Khareef by Pico Iyer

Travel literature is often regarded as boring and unvaried. Personal tales of “getting off the beaten path”, discovering the “inner journey”, finding romance on a moonlit night in Paris, or being rendered speechless by one of the many colossal icons across the globe have been overdone, and the small shelf allocated for travel literature in bookstores bears testament to its limited demand. With readers often slightly bewildered by a genre that offers an obscure mix of fiction and non-fiction and few fresh ideas to spark interest, travel literature seems to have been becoming a forgotten genre.

Thankfully, Pico Iyer offers a refreshing change amongst the underdogs with his enchanting tale The Khareef. This piece, from his collection of travel stories Sun After Dark, details Iyer’s 2001 trip to Oman. As he reflects on the Oman as it was, as it is, and later as it will come to be, Iyer illustrates a place far removed from the rest of the world, triggering colourful images of a magical, otherworldly and far away land, somewhat stuck in the past, but juxtaposed with snapshots of contemporary influences.

Those unfamiliar with the travel writing genre, may be unacquainted with the British born novelist, who in 1995 was named by the Utne Reader as “one of the 100 visionaries worldwide who could change your life”, next to the likes of Noam Chomsky and Václav Havel. A regular essayist for renowned Time magazine since 1986, Iyer has also made a name for himself contributing to prominent publications such as The New York Times, National Geographic and Harper’s. He is also the author of Video Night in Kathmandu, The Lady and the Monk and The Global Soul, to name a few.

With all this behind him, The Khareef doesn’t disappoint as a travel piece to outshine travel pieces. The word khareef refers to the south-western monsoon that passes through the southern tip of Arabia each year, and it is with this image that begins visions of a “heavy chill mist” falling over Oman with its veiled women, “only their mascara’ed eyes looking out”.

There is a distinct feeling of isolation highlighted through vast desert images, abandoned hotels and little to no connection or intimacy with any people or of the place itself. Little dialogue gives the impression that Iyer is simply observing and reporting what he sees rather than interacting or becoming a part of it. He describes a place somewhat resistant to receiving foreigners as its own, stuck in an odd limbo between past and present, yet ironically destined to continually and dramatically change and transform within the restrictions of its isolation. There is little magic in Oman, but Pico Iyer shares with his readers the enchantment that veils this far away place.

Without warning, readers are led on an unexpected path of deeply thoughtful explorations as Iyer begins his piece far from where it finally ends. Late night encounters with young boys and their guns “guarding their turf as in East L.A.”, black veiled women tapping away on their slow computers “linked to a world no one really believes in.” Curiously, his detached voice offers a distinct undertone of discontentment with Oman as Iyer passes through, observing but never engaging. He evokes the feeling that foreigners are from too different a world to ever truly belong there or understand it, and yet despite this, sanctions a deep appreciation for its uniqueness, antiquity and detached charm.

Iyer’s command for language is flawless. The words roll off your tongue like poetry, each line evoking an image that draws you further into the desert, carrying you along as if swept up in the khareef. In an interview with travel writer Rolf Potts, Iyer stated that the writing process for him involves trying “to catch the feelings — the sound, the smell, the tang, of a place” (cited in Potts n.d. ⁋10) Indeed, colourful images of the landscape, the sounds, the people, all contribute to a read which takes all the senses on a memorable ride.

The Khareef liberates itself from the more mundane in travel writing. In a rare moment, it succeeds in delivering a place both desolate and neglected, yet also alluring and irresistible. It is hard to say how exactly Iyer manages to make his readers both distance themselves further from Oman and at the same time yearn a closeness to it.

If you are looking for a travel story that strives valiantly to set itself aside from the rest, look to The Khareef. Let Iyer take you on a magical journey to a particular kind of cheerless hell that leaves you wanting more, without suffering the reality of it. And brace yourself for the ending. It will undoubtedly remind you that despite our absolute dislocation from Oman, it really isn’t that far away at all.

~storytelling nomad~

ebooks vs printed books

Are new forms of publishing making the conventional book redundant, if not obsolete?

There is no denying the increased popularity in new forms of publishing such as e-books and print on demand in recent years.  The highly significant advantages of portability and mass storage capabilities of e-readers have become valuable assets in a society that demands immediate and large amounts of information available at its fingertips, whilst print on demand remains beneficial to books that do not have a big enough market to make a conventional print run profitable.  Despite these advantages, however, they are nonetheless limited and, as is customary with new technology, are still flawed.  As such, it is unlikely that the conventional printed book will be made redundant and certainly not obsolete by new forms of publishing, its uncomplicated design, functionality, and enduring appeal still eclipsing any advantages held by these new forms.

Continue reading

Reading – May 2011

I recently found an excellent app on my iphone called Book Crawler. It lets me create ‘collections’ – basically reading lists so that I can keep up to date with what I’ve been reading, or keep an updated list of books I intend to read. The best thing about this little gem of an app is that it has a scanner which uses your iphone’s camera to scan the barcode of a book you’re reading, and it updates all the info for you – title, author, cover image, edition etc. It’s fantastic.

In light of my recent app acquisition, I thought I might share what’s on my reading list at the moment. I have gone fantasy fiction crazed this year (although, I suspect this is not very different to any other year), with 10 out of the 15 books I’ve read so far in 2011 being of the fantasy genre. I was introduced to Robin Hobb’s books when I attended the Supanova fantasy/sci fi convention in Melbourne in April. There was an enormous line of people waiting to get their books signed by her, so after I finished the Isobelle Carmody books I had been reading, I went to the second hand bookshop and decided to give the first of her Farseer Trilogy – Assassin’s Apprentice – a go. I absolutely loved it. I have since read the second in the trilogy, Royal Assassin, and am now awaiting the final book, Assassin’s Quest, to come in the mail (I thought I’d give the Book Depositary a go after it was recommended to me by a number of people).

While I’ve been waiting for that to arrive, I started on another of her series The Rain Wild Chronicles, with book one The Dragon Keeper. Again, excellent writing, but I still rate The Farseer Trilogy as best so far. Having since also finished that book, I have now started on Jennifer Fallon’s The Undivided. I attended two fantastic writing classes that she held at Supanova this year, and was impressed with her advice and guidance. And so, I begin her most recently released book with high expectations! Verdict yet to be determined.

Here ends the ramblings of my latest reading adventures.

~storytelling nomad~