Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Writers on Wendnesday: A.L. Butcher

Welcome back to Writers On Wednesday. This week I put my questions to A.L. Butcher, author of the fabulous The Light Beyond the Storm Chronicles ...

Tell me a bit about yourself …

Thanks, I am a British author of fantasy/fantasy romance, with two novels, and five anthology pieces to date. I also like to read – fantasy, classics, historical fiction, history, mystery, true crime, all sorts really. I like animals, especially monkeys, the theatre and watching movies.

Tell us about your most recently published book?

The latest is an anthology called Nine Heroes, it is a collection of heroic fantasy stories. My story is Just One Mistake – which follows a bard, and rather reluctant hero in his quest to please a shadowy employer and thwart a slaver. These are all original stories by some of the best new and established fantasy authors around. I am really proud to be part of that collection.

The other authors include Janet and Chris Morris, Walter Rhein, R.A McCandless, Tom Barczak, Teel James Glenn, Shane Porteous, Jesse Duckworth and Douglas R. Brown.

If we are talking about novels I’ll mention Book II of my series. The Shining Citadel follows the characters from Book I and introduces a couple of others. The characters find evidence of a lost elven city, missing for centuries, and move to seek it out. The society in which they live treats elves as slaves and magic is forbidden and so the ruling Order of Witch-Hunters would not be pleased. Dii (Dii’Athella) and Archos are both users of magic, Dii is an elf so to travel around and seek such a place is very dangerous. They are not even sure it is real, but the knowledge it holds may help to free an oppressed people.  Essentially it is the story of a journey, but it is not as simple as a journey of people from one area to another. It is also a journey of souls, of morals, of knowledge and discovery.

As writer, what has been your proudest achievement so far?

I think that would have to be when my mother held the first edition of my first novel. She had cancer, and only had a couple of months left at that point but I will never forget the look of pride on her face. She even managed to tell everyone she knew, and I mean everyone.

What books or writing projects are you currently working on, if anything?

Book III of my series, plus several anthology pieces which should appear later this year.

Which do you prefer? eBooks or Paper Books? Why?

To read? I usually buy e-books now, mainly because of cost and space but I do sometimes buy paperbacks. There is something wonderful about a book you can hold, a book which has some weight to it. I find history books easier to manage as print books, especially ones with maps or a lot of tables.

Aside from your own books, of course, what is one book that you feel everybody should read?

Oh gosh, just one? Schindler’s List. Many people will have seen the film, of course, but the book is even better. It is such a moving book, so full of sorrow and hope.

Finally … is there anything you would like to say to your readers in Adelaide, Australia?

Hello from the UK! It is a really great feeling to think that people all over the world are reading my books. E-books especially have become truly international.

Awesome Links:


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Review: A Modern Day Sense and Sensibility by Kaitlin Saunders

Jane Austen, I suspect, would secretly be very pleased with this modern-day adaption of her classic novel, Sense and Sensibility. Author Kaitlin Saunders (who has previously written a modern-day adaption of Persuasion,) seamlessly moves the characters and settings from the classic novel to the United States and makes quite convincing arguments for the set up of the story--including most importantly how the Dashwood sisters lose their inheritance to their half brother and his conniving wife, who has been renamed Fancil in order to fit in with the novel's contemporary setting. Sanders cleverly follows the plot of Sense and Sensibility throughout the novel, while adapting it to present day America--in this narrative for example the Dashwood sisters find themselves living in a substandard apartment building in Oregon. Elinor, or Ellie, remains the sensible sister, Marianne remains fanciful. Love interests Edward, along with the caddish Willoughby remain in keeping with the original characters, while Colonel Brandon is now Brandon, a wealthy thirty-something hotel owner. 

Overall this one is a lot of fun and real treat for Austen fans who want to see a contemporary spin on their favourite tale. Recommended. 

PS Shout out to author Kaitlin Saunders for sending me a review copy of her work. 

Monday, 14 April 2014

Around Adelaide: Street Art

Kings Head Hotel, Sturt Street Entrance

In a recent, cheeky advertising campaign, the Kings Head Hotel decided to revive the old iconic SA Great logo from the 1980s on their specials board. Obviously, the weather had got to the sign a little bit by the time I walked by and photographed it, but the logo does stir up a few feelings of local pride and nostalgia ...

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Review: Allegiant by Veronica Roth

The third and final novel in Veronica Roth's Divergent series is a little quieter than its predecessors and a little lighter on the action, though it moves steadily toward a fitting conclusion, with a moral about what it truly means to be smart, selfless and brave, which are, of course, Tris Prior's three defining characteristics. A number of questions are answered, Tris leans more about the history of her home city and the surprising history of her mother, Natalie. The writing is of about the same standard of the two earlier books (could be better, could be worse,) though the narrative changes slightly with some chapters told from the perspective of Tobias/Four. 

And that is really it. After I finished reading, I found myself totally void of negative emotions as I placed the book on my desk and added a sticky note to the top, reminding myself to review the novel later on. There has been a lot of controversy surrounding Allegiant, particularly from those who read and reviewed the novel in the hours following its initial release, and I am going to be honest and admit that much of this makes me sad. The novel is by no means perfect and the whole thing about damaged genes and dividing people based on a personality traits is a bit silly if you stop and think about it, but that is where the whole concept of suspension of disbelief comes into play. This is where the author uses a grain of truth or realism to draw the reader in to a fantastic fictional world so that they will not immediately question some of the more improbable concepts within that world. Take for example the early MGM cartoons featuring Tom and Jerry. We had some shades of realism there. Tom was a cat and it was his job to keep the house free of mice. Jerry was the mouse and he had the task of outwitting the Tom so that he would not be killed and eaten. The cartoons then revolved around Jerry's hilarious attempts at outwitting Tom so that he would live to see another day. Many of the scenes were so funny, that it no longer mattered that Jerry could often lift something twenty times his own weight or that Tom seemed to escape situations unharmed were an ordinary house cat would have most certainly used up most of its nine lives. In the world of Divergent, the truth lives within the teenage heroine, Tris Prior. A suspension of disbelief is required to understand the world that she lives in. On the whole, Roth does a competent job of explaining the strange world in which Tris Prior lives. Consequently, her take on factions and genetics makes sense within the context of the novel. 

I found Allegiant to be a fitting end to a series that I found interesting, though not always as action-packed or as gripping as it could have been. If you liked the first two books, I recommend giving this one a chance and judging it for yourself. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Review: The Roots of Evil by Phillip Reeve

The Roots of Evil is the fourth in a year long series of eBooks released by Puffin in 2013 as a part of the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who celebrations. Each story was to feature a different incarnation of the Doctor, written by a different and well-established author of books for children and young adults. And despite catching this one rather late, I have to admit, this and the other stories prove to be one hell of a nostalgia trip for an old Whovian like myself. Consequently, I have decided to feature them all on here ...

The Doctor: The Fourth Doctor

The Companion: Leela

The Author: Phillip Reeve, author of Mortal Engines

My Review: The Fourth Doctor's outing sees himself and Leela being captured by a giant tree manufactured by a race whose entire philosophy is based around the presumption that the Doctor is bad and must be punished when they meet him again. This one was a bit lacking compared to some of the other tales, but still a fun read. 

Friday, 11 April 2014

Friday Funnies: Lyman Lives On

Image source: Go Comics
Just had to share this awesome Garfield comic. I missed this one when it ran in the newspapers last year, which is a shame as it is one of those rare strips where Lyman makes a reappearance. This time, we can see a small shot of him on Jon's newspaper ...

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Writers on Wednesday: Debra Borys

Welcome back to Writers on Wednesday. This week, Debra Borys, author of the Street Stories series steps up to answer my questions ...

Tell me a bit about yourself …

Though I grew up in a small town in the U.S. and loved it, I grew restless in my thirties--mid-life crisis, probably--and felt a calling to connect with people whose lifestyles differed from mine.  I was particularly drawn to the poor and homeless living in crowded cities.  It was so opposite of what I’d always known, so harsh, yet they seemed even more alive and tenacious and interesting than most people I knew.  So I decided to leave the isolated confines of my home county and moved to Chicago where I could volunteer with the homeless.

The switch was scary and exciting at the same time.  I found a part of me I didn’t know existed and before long I was just as at home on the late night streets handing out coffee and sandwiches to strangers as I had been in the front yard of my childhood home.

I spent twice a week volunteering with Chicago’s homeless, youth in particular, and got to know a few on a personal level that made me want to become a voice for them. That is what sparked the idea for my first Street Stories suspense novel, Painted Black, and continues to inspire me to write new stories that entertain while also revealing the reality of life for the homeless.

Tell us about your most recently published book?

Bend Me, Shape Me, is the second book in the Street Stories series, and tells the story of Snow Ramirez, a bi-polar street youth convinced the psychiatrist treating her brother is instead driving him to suicide.  Of course, because of her history of mental illness, no one is willing to take Snow seriously until she approaches my series protagonist, reporter Jo Sullivan. 
Snow hasn’t trusted anyone in a long time, not even herself.  She has clouded memories of something she did as a child when she visited her deceased mother’s family on the Yakama reservation in the Pacific Northwest. Not only does Jo need to find a way to prevent Snow’s brother from becoming another victim of the obsessed Dr. Levinson, but she must use her faith in Snow to help rebuild that young woman’s sense of self-worth.

Tell us about the first time you were published?

I had almost given up hope of finding a publisher for the first novel, Painted Black.  I’d been working on it off and on for probably ten years.  And that wasn’t even the first book I had written.  There are at least four completed manuscripts sitting in a drawer somewhere.

I had finally decided that I needed to either add Painted Black to that drawer, or just self-publish to get the thing out of my way.  I already had a plan for Snow’s story, but couldn’t seem to let go of the first book.  Then fortune struck.  Someone I had met in a writing class a few years previously started a small publishing company with a friend of his.  When I was congratulating him about that, he asked me if I had ever done anything with the novel I’d been editing in class.  When I told him I was thinking of just publishing it myself, he asked if I would mind if they took a look at it.  Would I mind, he asked.  What a silly question.  Obviously, they liked what they read and the rest is history.

As writer, what has been your proudest achievement so far?

Persistence.  I am proud of never giving up, at least not for long.  That, I think, is the key component for any writer.  In this age of self-publishing, of course, you don’t have to wait years to get published like I did.  You can just upload it yourself.  But even today persistence is the key to success, because the more you write, the better you get at it.  The better you get, the more readers will love your work and beg for more.  That is the true success, not just getting published, but producing stories that entertain or enlighten or thrill a reader.

What books or writing projects are you currently working on, if anything?

I am about 5000 words into the third Street Stories novel now, with hopes to get it published this year or early 2015 depending on my publisher’s schedule.  I don’t have a title yet, though I am toying with either Hello Goodbye or A Box Of Rain. Jo Sullivan gets involved in the lives of two street youth this time.  Booker T is a former foster kid who is trying hard to pull himself out of the poverty rut he was born into. He has managed to graduate high school and win a scholarship to a community college, but when he finds a severed head in an alley dumpster, all he’s achieved means nothing to the police who suspect him of murder.

Booker’s best friend, Shorty, is almost an exact opposite character.  He’s been tied up in gangs since he was eight years old and while he values his friendship with Booker, his loyalty to the Vice Lords always comes first and foremost.  Even if it means letting his childhood friend take the rap for something he knows the boy didn’t do.

Which do you prefer? eBooks or Paper Books? Why?

I’m still in love with print books, but have purged all but my favourites from my library.  Most of my reading is now with eBooks.  I don’t think I’ve bought a print book since I started reading eBooks, although I have read a few that people have loaned to me. Cost is one main reason for that, since eBooks are less expensive.  I write full time now, no outside job, so I have to watch the pocket book. But also it’s just more convenient to read an eBook.  I can take all my books with me when I go somewhere and I can easily look something up or highlight and bookmark things.

Indie Publishing, or Traditional Publishing?

I lean toward traditional publishing as a writer because I do believe that publishing houses serve as a filter, a first reader if you will, which means readers can have more confidence that my books are entertaining, well written, and with limited errors.  Of course, I’m considering small presses part of the traditional publishing model--maybe that’s not what you mean? Small presses are, I think a better market for an author than the big houses, simply because there are more of them, and they seem to care more about their catalogue and their authors.

Things are changing, however, as self-published authors learn the importance of having their work edited by a professional editor and putting out quality work rather than focusing on quantity.  But for right now it’s a bit of a slush pile out there still, and the odds of downloading something that’s not up to your standards are higher than I like.

Aside from your own books, of course, what is one book that you feel everybody should read?

I read Tessa’s Dance, by David Edward Walker, when I was researching Bend Me, Shape Me and really enjoy the way he immerses the reader into the world of the Yakama reservation in Washington state.  Tessa is a young girl struggling to overcome generations of oppression that she doesn’t even know are weighing her down. He has just put out a sequel to the book, also, Signal Peak.

Finally … is there anything you would like to say to your readers in Adelaide, Australia?

Not all of us have the opportunity or privilege to be able to directly learn about other cultures.  Thank God for books, then.  The best books not only engage our minds and entertain us, but create a tangible world and drop us in the middle of it, comfortably living another life from the familiarity of our own homes. If you read one of my Street Stories novels, I hope when you put the book down you will feel like you yourself have been walking the streets of Chicago with me, getting to know these kids and these men and women who are fighting so hard to live good lives.