Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Fantasy on film

Discovering that A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin (book 1 of A Song of Ice and Fire) is to be made into a TV mini-series has got me thinking about film and TV adaptations of fantasy novels. It has to be acknowledged there aren't too many of them around, and most such movies made prior to Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings were typically dismal; but Peter Jackson (and also James Cameron with Avatar) has done the genre a huge favour. Not only do film-makers now believe that it's possible to make quality grand epic dramas set in another world, they know they have the audience to appreciate it.

Now, A Game of Thrones is being made for TV, rather than cinema, and it's to be expected that the budget will reflect this. But I think targeting the TV medium could be viewed as a positive. For one thing, there should be less constraint on screen time, and one assumes/hopes this will translate to greater content retained within the story. Of course it will be tricky to bring an 800 page novel to life without losing slabs of the plot, but at least it won't be restricted to cinema-like frugality and plot 'adjustments' that leave fans scratching their heads.

I haven't actually read this book in entirety; I have been meaning to pick it up again for ages, although I suspect I'll enjoy the TV show more if I wait to read the book until after it's aired. But there are heaps of other most-loved fantasy series that I would love to see dramatised. I remember a favourite travelling passtime back in the 1990s was to 'cast' Stephen Donaldson's Mordant's Need duology. Oh, the debates we had over who should play Geraden!

I guess the challenge with A Game of Thrones -- and indeed most fantasy sagas -- is the sheer number of books and scale of events that need to be dramatised in order to cover the entire story. In the end it's a huge commitment, and I sure hope they go the distance with A Song of Ice and Fire. And let's also hope this marks the beginning of more fantasy on the screen - silver or small.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Some fascinating feedback

Blogger has finally introduced blog statistics (in the beta version), and I've spent the past half hour amazed by the fact that in the past two months my New York Baked Cheesecake recipe (posted a year ago) has had 50 hits! This must be due to people searching via google. I wonder if anybody has actually taken the recipe and tried it? It's well worth it, that's for sure!

The other surprise is my Magic Eye post from 2007, which has had 38 hits since the beginning of June. And my 2008 post 'When is the right time to submit?' has had two hits in the past day. This makes me realise how all-seeing the google search engine is. I don't tend to take into account people stumbling across my blog due to some random search, and it's rather strange to think of people I don't know reading some of this stuff. Still, that's what a blog is, I guess. Only it turns out I may have more readers that I thought, even if they are only occasional.

The other interesting factor to consider is that the stats only seem to count hits on actual posts, rather than the blog homepage. So hits coming in from networked blogs (which is probably where most of my page-hits come from via facebook) are counted, whereas visits to the main blog homepage are probably not.

Saturday, 24 July 2010


After an extremely tough and draining week, a spot of indulgence was called for. This saw me at not one, but two dessert bars on consecutive evenings. Not good for the waistline, but oh so good for the soul.

First on Friday night was the Lindt Chocolat Cafe in the city, where I partook of cauliflower and bacon soup (with suspected lashings of cream), hazelnut hot chocolate (might as well have been liquid nutella), and a shared waffle with vanilla icecream and molten chocolate. Went home so full I could barely stand.

Following this chocolate orgy, I starved myself today in preparation for tonight's excursion to il Fornaio in St Kilda, where Philippa Sibley has established a dessert bar. Here, I was finally able to have her 'famous snickers' dessert (otherwise known as caramel parfait glace with salted peanut caramel and milk chocolate mousse) as featured on MasterChef. OMG yum. This was preceded by an also delightful light meal of smoked salmon, game tarine and falafels, shared in tapas style, and accompanied by a very decent coffee. The best thing about tonight's outing was the quality -- and not the quantity -- of the food. I left feeling warm and satisfied, but not at all full or about to explode. Wonderful.

Word cloud

Here's a bit of fun: a word cloud for chapter 1 of my work in progress. It's pretty easy to tell it's a fantasy novel, isn't it . . . I think this is the first time I've gone public with any of the names and made-up words. It's not hard to tell who the main character is! This has been generated using Wordle.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

Must read book: Born to run

Born to run by Christopher McDougall is one of those books that I would never have picked up in a million years, were it not on the Page Turners reading list for this year. But boy am I glad that I did. It's the type of book that has you questioning all manner of things that you've always taken for granted, providing enlightenment as well as entertainment.

On the surface, it's a true account of an amateur 50-mile 'ultra-marathon' race staged in deepest Mexico (the Copper Canyons), pitting several of America's elite ultra-marathoners against a tribe of Mexicans known as the Tarahumara. The people who take part are all fascinating and brilliantly drawn, with their own back stories and reasons for being there.

But it's so much more than an account of a single race. The author (a journalist and recreational runner) became involved in this incredible and unique event following from his investigation into his own running aches and pains, leading him to chat to various doctors, specialists, running coaches, athletes, race directors, recluses, academics and so forth (see embedded U-Tube video below). Soon, his own story fades into relative insignificance, as he recounts the stories of ultra-marathons and the amazing natural talents of the Tarahumara, explores the benefits of barefoot running and points the finger at Nike, explains the art of persistence hunting (it turns out that humans are among the only mammals that can run and breathe at the same time), discusses what we really should be eating . . .

There is so much in this book. Its main point is I think that humans are actually designed for distance/endurance running, but that modern footwear (thanks to Nike) has changed the way we run for the worse, leading to higher risk of injury. If everyone runs like the Tarahumara (right down to the sandals - or 'barefoot'), they will not only almost eliminate the risk of injury, they will actually enjoy the whole experience of running!

Having recently completed the Oxfam Trailwalker event no doubt increased my enjoyment of this book, despite the fact that we walked rather than ran. But I can honestly recommend it to anyone remotely interested in any form of physical activity -- or anyone with biomechanical feet issues. I am not a runner, and have never have been, and this book actually has me contemplating taking it up. It is easy to read, and vastly entertaining. McDougall's 'men's magazine' style did annoy me at first, but my irritation faded in the second half of the book as the interest-factor really picked up.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Towards the 'happy place'

I have to admit that I have not, after all, managed to write for an hour every day this week. It's been extremely busy, with my nieces and nephew joining me on consecutive nights for sleepovers, thereby preventing me from finding the right headspace (not to mention making me exhausted!). There are also other things going on that have me rather preoccupied.

I am working, however, on being more flexible and focused in the long term. I want to reach the 'happy place' again where it's not so hard to find the right headspace and I can better utilise a spare hour or two. In fact, I've been doing lots of soul-searching in the past few weeks about me as a writer, and what I have to do to move forward. Having faith in myself and courage are right up there (with discipline and bum on seat). Onwards and upwards . . .

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

About rabbits and ogres

The Velveteen Rabbit is a classic children's story about a soft-toy bunny who dreams of being Real. I first heard it read aloud in the Tasmanian wilderness, way back when I was in high school, and I picked up a copy sometime in the past few years, intending to read it to my various nieces and nephews. I finally got around to this tonight, when I read it to my 5-year-old nephew who is having a sleepover. I couldn't remember anything about the story, and to my horror found the tears streaming down my cheeks and my throat clogged up -- to the point that I could hardly keep reading. What a truly beautiful story. I have no idea whether my nephew liked it -- I think he was far too intrigued by the sight of me weeping! -- but I certainly did.

Also today, I spent quite some time in a bookstore, browsing children's books and looking in particular for chapter books targeted at 7 year olds. For me it's quite difficult to identify the right reading level, but it seemed there isn't all that much available in the way of chapter books for this age. In the end I settled on a Tashi omnibus, which looked both good value and good reading, with illustrations to boot.

In addition to reading, my 7-year-old niece has taken to writing 'stories' in her spare time. She has emailed us a couple in recent months, and apparently written many more. Yesterday, after watching a fantasy children's film that included an evil ogre, she and I commenced a story about . . . an evil ogre (not any of the 'good' creatures featured in this film!). The idea is that we'll write a few sentences each and email it back and forth -- it will be interesting to see what comes of it. (The story is called The Eating Ogre.)

All this has really got me thinking about writing for children, and wondering whether I should give it a go. I suppose as a starting point I could write stories for my nieces and nephews and see which ones they like. Or, I could write down some of their highly imaginative (although often derivative!) ideas and weave them into something. This is not the first time I've contemplated giving children's fiction a go, but it's the first time I've had a ready-made audience, so to speak. Definitely some food for thought.

Now, off I go to write a few paragraphs about an ogre . . .

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Little signals

Been getting little signals all day telling me to get writing. First thing was breakfast with a photographer friend, who has been putting art before career. Second thing was watching Jennifer Byrne's First Tuesday Bookclub (repeated on ABC2). Third thing was flicking through 1001 books to read before you die -- initiated as the result of JB's bookclub, although this also reminded me how many brilliant novels there are in the world, undermining my enthusiasm slightly. Fourth thing was watching the season finale of Castle (recorded from a few weeks ago), in which Rick Castle has a novel deadline to meet. Fifth and sixth things were friends' blog posts related to writing. What a shame I managed to ignore them all.
Mission for this week: Write for at least an hour every day.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

'Bum on seat'

Tonight I was bone-numbingly tired after a horrible day at work, but I turned the computer on, opened my work-in-progress and attempted to produce some words. Just write a paragraph, I tell myself on such occasions, because we all know that the biggest effort is 'bum on seat' and that once you actually engage with the WIP and write that first paragraph for the day, that it invariably turns into two, then five, and soon you have a page.

In theory. It didn't happen for me tonight, but at least the intent and effort were there. At around 9pm I read through the scene written to-date, fiddled around the edges in a few spots, introduced a couple of lines of dialogue, and then my lids grew heavy and I was sitting in front of the computer with my eyes closed. At 9:40 I decided to go do the dishes.

Part of my problem of course is starting too late, which is the fault of working too late and getting home too late. There's also the little problem of reading too late, which isn't helping with the leaden eye syndrome.

So tonight it wasn't to be, but perhaps I'll have more luck tomorrow. As long as I achieve 'bum on seat' (and for the first time in many weeks I'm back at my desk instead of the couch with the all too tempting TV) and open the WIP and get at least a few words down, I can't really ask much more of myself at present. If the words come, that's great. If they don't, it won't be because I didn't give them a chance.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

When characters assert themselves

One often hears authors describe how their characters take over and do things unexpected. This happens to me as well. More years ago than I care to reveal, when I first assembled a cast of characters and began writing about them, I had a female supporting character who kept on trying to shoulder her way into the limelight and make it her story. In my inexperienced mind she was only along for the ride, but she wouldn't be tamed, and in the end I gave up and switched mid-story into writing from her point of view only.

Back in those days I was writing by hand in A4 exercise books, and somewhere in a box are about 10 filled with scrawly handwriting. That story -- and the same female character -- was the nucleus for the novel I am desperately trying to finish now. It was one of my first lessons as a writer: listen to your characters and let them be heard.

I mention this because I am currently reading a 4-book fantasy series in which one of the major characters gets very little airtime in the first book. Speaking with a friend of the author, and someone who read an early draft of the novel, I discovered that this character was barely even present in the original draft. This smacks to me of a character who asserted his dominance as the story progressed, and who decided that he would be the hero of the story. This would have forced the author to go back and beef up his presence in the first novel, even though his role doesn't really take off until book 2. I love knowing this!

Part of the joy of writing is putting characters in situations and seeing how they react. This is particularly so in first drafts, when you're still figuring them out and allowing them to drive the story into places unpredicted. Not so much in rewrites, when you're trying to make sure they're consistent and believable. In this case, the thrill is knowing and understanding the characters so well that it's obvious what they would or would not do or say.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Page Turners: Post Mortem by Patricia Cornwell

Book of the month was a landmark crime novel: Patricia Cornwell's first Dr Kay Scarpetta novel, Post Mortem. The book was selected by one of our group who wanted to try Cornwell, and for the same reason I was quite happy to give it a go as well. I found it an easy read, although not as gripping as I expected of an author who's so highly rated. Perhaps it's because it was the first and she hadn't hit her straps yet.

There's not a lot of subtlety or nuance to discuss -- it's fairly in-your-face rape/torture/serial killer stuff. A bit daunting for those of us women who live on our own (and there's a few in our group). Another striking aspect is how dated the book is these days. 1990 doesn't really seem that long ago, but in reality it's 20 years! In that time IT and the Internet have come a looooong way, as has society's attitude to smoking and women in the workforce. This last was rather a strong theme -- the struggle of an intelligent professional woman to be taken seriously in a position as senior as Chief Medical Examiner. It was interesting to read a novel that was so of its time.

The characters are very well drawn -- in fact, it focused a lot more on character than I expected. This is a good thing, but I don't think the plot (as in the crime/mystery part of it) was sufficiently complex to balance it. It seemed to drag on for a while getting nowhere, and then end in a rush, without the twists and turns we're accustomed to seeing from such stories these days. Nevertheless, I can see that the foundations are laid for a multi-book series with a rich cast of characters.

Having said that, I don't know that I was sufficiently engaged to seek out further Cornwell novels, although I'd be happy enough if the circumstances were right (holiday or plane reading, for example).