Saturday 24 May 2014

Telling half the story

Hey wonderful readers! It's been another couple of months since my last post but it's been another busy time for me - I moved house again, and have been trying to spend my evenings getting to know my new housemates. I have a Saturday to myself today, and it's such a luxury!

A couple of weeks ago, I read a book called Bound, by Kira Saito. It was one of Amazon's free Kindle books (and still is on and, I believe). It starts off alright. Be warned, mild spoilers. I'm always intrigued to read about magic/anything vaguely supernatural, and the book strongly features voodoo, with some interesting facts I'd never known. Call me silly if you like, but I'd always thought that hoodoo was a type of fake magic. Not so, and I love finding things like that out!
"Hoodoo is pure magic, without the help of the spirits while voodoo is magic with the aid of the spirits."
Anyway, the topic and a fairly good build up meant that the book had some promise. However, it had some serious flaws. For a start, the best friend was awful. It was like she was just there to provide a bitchy, unlikeable obstacle to the romance that was obviously going to happen between Aurelia and Lucus. While nothing technically happens, the 'romance' is still fairly cliched - other woman throws herself at him but he's obviously attracted to the protagonist, who puts herself down and really isn't interested, honest. I've never been a fan of that.

Here's the main thing, though. I had forgotten about most of my gripes and had just got into the book, when, mid-plot, it finished. No exaggeration - the plot starts to thicken, you can tell some good s*** is about to go down, and then I read the last lines...
"I cleared my throat and remained cool as I spoke. 'You need to put on a shirt because we have to talk.'
To be Continued
No this is not a trilogy".
Erm, what? Come on! I know it was a free book but that is so blatantly an attempt to make me buy the second book that I just won't now, out of principle. Let me just say that I can understand that it was free and that writers, particularly indie writers, need to make money. There are surely some much better ways about it, though. I probably would have paid for the full version of that book (not cut off mid-way), and much preferred it to reading half a book for free. Admittedly, I don't think I'd pay more than about £1, but surely if the book was good, the writer would be able to raise the price of the following books a little? I've frequently spent a fair bit of money to read more books in a series I love - Veronica Roth's Allegiant was around £8, for example.

It also makes me wonder. If I bought Punished, the second book in the series, currently at £1.79 at, would the same thing happen? Would it be the second half of the book I was hoping to read, or would the old plot be resolved, a new one start, and the whole thing happen again?

What do you think? Is it just me that hates an early finish? Would you be more likely to read the book if it was free, and what would your thoughts be on it finishing before the end?

Thursday 3 April 2014

A YA relationship rant

I'm a couple of months out of date for a post about Valentine's Day, but I've officially reached a point where I need to rant about how relationships are portrayed in YA fiction. How come nearly everybody ends up with their true love, who they just happened to meet at 16 (or younger)? Why are single people relegated to the sidelines?

I should probably make a few caveats: firstly, I know I'm an adult (mid-twenties, sob!) and should remember that teenagers/young adults will probably have a different view on this to me, especially if they're in love themselves. Then, I know books aren't supposed to be realistic, otherwise where would we escape to? There needs to be some parts that readers can relate to, though. As someone who has suffered confidence issues and has consequently been single for much of my life (especially as a teenager), I haven't seen many books that have reassured me that it's fine to be single.

I don't generally read any mushy, pass-me-a-bucket stuff out of preference, but relationships are featured in 99.9% of the books I've read. As the intended audience is young adults, this is understandable: many have been in love (or infatuation), and to be honest, it does make things more interesting. It's great to be able to imagine a lot of what goes on, and there are loads of authors that have completely nailed the sexual chemistry between their characters. There's a fine line between writing a stale ending vs something that takes reality more into account though. Is it really important to have the happy ending if it means that some characters are more believable? What I'm mainly talking about are the endings. Here are some examples (spoilers, sorry!):

The Harry Potter series, by JK Rowling

Nice, neat, stale ending. Don't get me wrong, I loved it, but even while reading it, I knew that I shouldn't have expected anything different. Everything panned out to create the perfect happy ending. Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hermione; one big Weasley family. That's great, I thought. Harry was officially incorporated into the family he always wanted, and Ron (who, while awesome, it has to be said was average in comparison to Harry and Hermione) wasn't left out as he so often was in the books. Obviously, nobody was left to the fate worse than death: singledom.

Recently, JK Rowling mentioned that she regretted not pairing Harry and Hermione up. At the time, I was outraged, but if I admit the truth to myself, mixing the pairings up probably would have made for a more interesting ending. A common criticism of Harry and Ginny's relationship is that while Harry is the hero of the series, you can't say much for Ginny's personality. She's a little feisty, but generally, just 'nice'. Considering how Molly and Arthur Weasley pretty much adopted Harry from the start anyway, why couldn't he have ended up with Cho Chang? Or, given that the epilogue was set when the main characters were in their 30s, someone else he met in the meantime? My inner child won't let me accept the demise of Ron and Hermione's marriage though. Without their bickering, old-person relationship, I can't bear that Ron would probably have married (and divorced) a bimbo and Hermione some clever corporate bland-face. There's only so much a girl can take.

The Soulkeepers series, by GP Ching

I really enjoyed the whole series of this; it was an original premise, the lovey dovey stuff was well done, and I loved the action. I even got goosebumps during the ending. BUT, during the ending I also got quite cross.

*** (This is where the spoilers come in. I'd advise you to read the books first before reading this as they really are well worth it.) ***

Throughout most of the books, there's a Soulkeeper called Bonnie, whose twin sister Samantha gets paired off with one of the male Soulkeepers fairly quickly. The books discuss Bonnie's fear of losing her sister to a boy, and also, I felt, jealousy that she was still single - completely natural. She later appears to have feelings for Cord, the Watcher turned angel, but he dies. At the end of the books everybody is not just paired off, but married (in their mid twenties, when they all met at around 16 - what are the chances?!) and some have children. This is all except for, you guessed it: Bonnie. Instead, she becomes a pastor. It really annoyed me that, as the odd one out, she was kept single and given a career that I'm not sure suited her (although I think pastors can marry). However, Cheveyo, who struck me as a real player, is with a woman he knew at the start of the book, and not single/with some bimbo. I think what I'm trying to say here is that characters are paired up for the sake of it, regardless of their personalities. If there's an odd person out, they can be single, but in this book the metaphor is that her partner has been replaced by God.

The Fault in our Stars, by John Green

Not that I'm going to see the film, but I bet it's a good scene!
Now this is an example of a single person's portrayal that I did like. Granted, the story is about Hazel and Augustus, but the inclusion of Isaac made the book even better, in my opinion. Within the context of the story, nothing is contrived, whether it's his and Monica's full-on kissing and I-love-yous, or that he, Gus and Hazel went and threw eggs at Monica's car when she dumped him. It's something I can see happening. Isaac just lost his eyesight but he's more worried about Monica having dumped him; that's one of the 'teenagers are weird' moments that totally do happen. John Green nailed it.

C'mon authors. Stop me feeling like this about being single:

What do you think? Am I the only one that wants to see more happily single characters?

Saturday 15 February 2014

A shamefaced return, and interview with Victoria Lamb

Hello, and a very belated New Year! As you may have guessed, I did that extremely annoying that bloggers sometimes do and stopped posting due to burnout. Basically, I wasn't completely happy with my job, and writing after a long commute became a little like homework.

Things have changed a little since then though. Since the date of my last post (October), I have left my old job, started a new one, and moved to a completely new area. I'm now working as an editor for the finance section of a graduate careers advice website, and do a lot more writing. They say that writing as much as possible is like turning over soil and making the imagination more ripe - this can only be a good thing, I guess! I've still been reading a lot of YA, of course, so hopefully I will have some new reviews up for you soon. I won't be posting as often in case I overdo it again - it's all about the love, not views, haha!

Back while I was still blogging regularly, I sent an email to Victoria Lamb asking her to answer some questions. I actually thought I'd already written about her two current books, Witchstruck and Witchfall, but I must have been waiting until the interview was ready to publish, oops! I'll re-read them and have them up ASAP, but rest assured I loved them, and they're well worth a read, especially if you love supernatural/YA/history stories with a bit of romance mixed in!

Having captured much of the public’s imagination, the lives of most people with even a simple connection to the Tudor court are fairly well documented. Who has been the most intriguing person for you, as a writer, to develop a character from? 

Probably Elizabeth, who is known as the 'Lady Elizabeth' in these books, as her title of Royal Highness was stripped from her as a young child following her mother's execution. To have been born into the ruling family and yet be treated as an outcast, a second-class royal, even considered illegitimate because of arguments over how Henry VIII had married her mother while his first wife was still alive - the Pope, of course, famously refused to grant him a divorce, so Henry founded his own Church of England and granted it to himself! All of that must have made Elizabeth a very complex and difficult person to know. So trying to depict her character truthfully in these novels, and not hide negative points about her (as queen, Elizabeth was known for pinching and slapping her ladies-in-waiting when they displeased her, and even locking them up in the Tower of London!) was both fun and problematic. I can understand why she had a difficult temperament, but many readers have found my portrayal of her less than sympathetic. I rather like the fact that they've been challenged by it, as films tend to depict Elizabeth as very regal and fair-minded, but what we actually know from history paints a less complimentary picture of the real Elizabeth.

It seemed to me, having gone over the subject of the witch trials briefly at university, that the character of Marcus Dent was based on Matthew Hopkins, the real life Witchfinder General. I love how you humanised his obsession for catching witches (rather than just simply being a psycho!). When writing the character of a person such as Dent, does it all come from your imagination, or do you base certain traits on the research you’ve done on the historical figure they’re based on? 

Nearly everything, where it's not based on historical fact, comes from my imagination. I didn't actually start researching Hopkins and his kind until after I had written most of Witchstruck. In fact, the original plan behind Dent's character was far more complex than it came out, following editorial changes, and I regret that. I can't spill the beans too much, but Dent was almost a rival for Meg's affections in the early drafts of Witchstruck, and that slightly dangerous relationship was glossed over as revisions happened and the book was shortened. If I had to do it again, I would dig my heels in and fight to keep my original plan. So Marcus is not as complex a character as I originally envisaged him to be, but I hope some of what happens in book three will counteract that.

Is Meg Lytton completely fictitious, or is she based on one of Elizabeth’s servants? 

Completely fictitious!

From the cover of the books, Meg looks gorgeous, obviously. How much influence do you have over your books’ front covers, and if so, what do you think is the most important thing about it? 

Almost no influence at all. And much of that is about marketing and getting the readership right, so to interfere might be dangerous. Probably if I hated something I would make a fuss and try to get it changed, but in fact, I am not a designer and covers don't matter much to me as a reader, so I stick to what I'm good at - the writing - and leave art work and marketing to the experts.

If you weren’t writing about the Tudor/Jacobean periods, what do you think your books would be based on? Is there another era you’re fascinated by, or would you be writing something like sci-fi? 

My first novels were contemporary, and I would like to return to that - though probably under another name! I do enjoy fantasy fiction, and love to watch sci-fi films and television shows, so I haven't ruled out writing that. My first rough attempts at novel-writing as a teen were all fantasy.

Astrologer John Dee features in the stories as someone who can tell the future from the stars. If you went back in time and he offered to read your stars, what would you want to know about? 

As a double Scorpio, 'how can I improve myself?' would be my first question. Though of course I have some training myself as an astrologer - I hold a Certificate from the Faculty of Astrological Studies in London - and often study my own transits to get a fix on general trends in my life. Astrology is enormously complex though. Many people don't realise that and think there are absolute answers to everything. And in Dee's time many astrologers thought there were absolute answers; it was more like a science then, and taken very seriously by those in power. But reading a horoscope is more like planning a novel: you may know roughly what's ahead, but can't pinpoint exactly how things will happen or how your characters will react to changing circumstances. So astrology today is about working to your strengths and improving your weaknesses, not about whether you'll marry or have kids or whatever.

If you had a ‘voice of power’ like Meg’s, who would you use it on and what would you want from them? 

My kids, probably. "Tidy your room!" would be my first command. And occasionally, "Please be quiet!", which seems to have limited success in my normal voice. Or "Fetch me snacks!". That would be a good one.

I read on this blog post that you love translating Latin for fun. What’s the best phrase you’ve come across (and its meaning)? 

'In saecula saeculorum' is a satisfying one to say, it just sounds fabulous on the tongue. It basically means 'forever and ever' and is religious - it's often tagged on the end of prayers, for instance - and I'm not at all religious, despite having a would-be priest for a hero in my books. But the neat repetition with variation of this phrase is wonderful. It's like music. I do love Latin, yes.

So... 5 children. Phew, I’m tired just thinking about it! What do their ages range between, and do you have any favourite stories you loved to read to them? 

My eldest is 26, and has a three year old son, so yes, I'm a grandma now. And my youngest is just nine years old and still at primary school. In between I have twin boys of 11, and another daughter of nearly 23. I also have a step-daughter who's in her late teens. So that's 6 kids really. And a bit, LOL. I don't read to them now, but when they were younger I read poetry to them mostly. My mother taught me nursery rhymes and poems as a young child, and that really helped me develop an ear for language. My husband, who is rather more patient, used to read to them from Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea series at bedtime. We all love fantasy and sci-fi fiction in this house.

As you told me on Twitter, Witchrise, the next Tudor Witch book, is out in mid-2014. Can you tell us what to expect? Personally, I’m trying to think of a way around Alejandro’s priestly vow of celibacy, haha!

Ah, but Alejandro's order of priests allows him to marry! (This is actually true, it's a medieval order of priests that still exists today.) As to the rest of the story, Marcus Dent of course is still at large and there's a major showdown beween him and Meg. The final battle, perhaps. But things may not turn out precisely the way a reader might expect ...

Thanks for the interview, Victoria! Sorry it's so late...! Witchrise will be released on 31st July.