Tag Archives: George RR Martin

Warriors, worriers and the winding road

Japanese New Year traditions include the purchase of blank-eyed papier mache Daruma dolls. The recipient fills in one eye when they make a wish. Then, whenever they see the one-eyed doll, they are reminded to persevere, to fight on towards personal goals.

If the goal is achieved, the second eye is added. At the end of the year, whether goals are achieved or otherwise, the dolls are taken back to the temple they were purchased from, thanked for their service and burned.

My Daruma doll will finish 2014 with only one eye but that doesn’t mean it failed me. Maybe its lesson was to remind me to keep believing, keep working and focus on small steps towards the main goal. As the sign on the bakery wall said, ‘Look at the doughnut, not the hole.’

One eyed Daruma doll
One eyed Daruma doll

As the Thunder Road twists towards 2015 it’s a good time to review the year gone by. I’ve written a lot this year, probably more than I’ve ever managed before. I’ve spent many hours in schools, hopefully lodging a splinter or two of storytelling wisdom. I have a manuscript that’s teetering out into the world like a toddler taking its first steps. And another manuscript with a publisher, waiting to see if it slots into the complex 3D jigsaw that is a publishing schedule.

I’ve also made a return to journalism for the immediate future. Two employers came calling the day before an opportunity I’d been waiting on as an author evaporated. The universe can be less than subtle at times.

Over summer, I’ve set myself another goal, not quite the equivalent of NANORIMO but not unrelated, either. I’m writing quickly, as often as possible, about characters that danced into my consciousness and started talking. Listening to their banter has been great fun. Depending on how the story takes shape, and reactions from my intended crash-test dummies in the caravan park, I might even blog the chapters next year.

In the meantime, here are some of my reading, viewing and listening highlights for 2014:

Reading: I’ve spent countless hours in Westeros these past few years and can only doff my cap to Mr George RR Martin for his epic and detailed imagination. I’d been waiting to finish A Dance with Dragons before tackling Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North but ultimately couldn’t wait. I’m glad I didn’t. The Man Booker prize winner is visceral and confronting and worthy of multiple readings. I also finished Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy. Amazing stuff.

Watching: Am loving True Detective and The Walking Dead. At the cinemas I enjoyed Edge of Tomorrow and The Fault in our Stars, both of which had their origins in YA novels.

Listening: Chet Faker’s Built on Glass; Coldplay’s Ghost Stories; new CW Stoneking and official recordings of the Springsteen concert I attended.

Thank you to everyone has read my work, listened to and hosted me at schools and libraries, and stocked my books this year. Those who have attended my workshops will know I rave on a bit about the importance of spell-check and proof-reading so I’ll sign off with my favourite typographical errors of the year, sourced from entries in a short story competition I judged in October:

  • “We were being pursued by Mongolian worriers.”
  • “The uninhibited backyard was overgrown with weeds.”
  • “Mum and Dad scarified themselves for me.” (Ouch!)
  • “I must be imaging things.”

There’s already a meme out and about but, inspired by these latest errors, perhaps I should adopt it for 2015: ‘Be a warrior, not a worrier.’

 

As big as my imagination

I’ve been reading George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series for what feels like an eternity. They’re big books but it didn’t help that I cut costs and bought an e-book edition that combines four titles into one massive anthology, a collection so huge that contemplating the page numbers is like gazing up at the Himalayas. To give you a sense of scale, I recently reduced the font size and happily discovered I only had 1000 pages to go. It felt like the end was in sight. At least until the next book is published.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m thoroughly enjoying the GRRM universe. It is epic in scale and sumptuously detailed. It’s an astonishing feat of imagination. I also admire the unsentimental way the author terminates key characters and introduces new voices whenever he feels like it. The reader can take nothing for granted.

In an interview with Fairfax, Mr Martin said: “When the writing is going really well, I do get lost in it. I almost live in it. It occupies the back of my head. I’m thinking about it constantly. I go to sleep thinking about it. I wake up thinking about it. I cross the street thinking about it – my office is across the street from my house.

“On good days, I vanish into Westeros and the real world goes away and I spend the day dealing with my characters… There are bad days, too, when there are a lot of distractions. The real world is always a threat to the imaginary world.

“I still love the world. I still love the characters. I still want to go back and spend time with them.

“To my mind (character) is one of the most crucial things, but the writing, the prose, how you evoke a scene, is something you spend a lot of time on. How to bring it alive and put your reader there and evoke all the right sounds, smells and sights, so that they don’t feel they are just reading it, they are living it. That is always the goal, the struggle.”

I’m encouraged by these comments. I have writing days when the distractions dive bomb me like mosquitos and very few words get written. On the good days, I’m living with my characters and barely notice time passing.

I’m unlikely to ever write anything as lengthy as A Song of Ice and Fire but am currently deep into the longest story I’ve ever tackled. It’s speculative fiction, set in the near future. It has been percolating in my head for several years but only now are characters emerging from the mist. The scope of the story might even demand a series of novels but time will tell.

My experiences with writing this year have reminded me of another quote I stumbled across from Mr Martin. He had been working in television where he was continually told to scale down his ideas due to budget limitations. Frustrated, he left television to work on a book, “as big as my imagination”. A Game of Thrones was published two years later. More than 27 million books have been sold in the Ice and Fire series and the TV series has been a smash hit.

Comparing sales figures with other authors is a speedway to insanity so let’s not go there. I mainly wanted to show that writing brings inevitable challenges, no matter who you are. We all have to quell the real world to let the imaginary shine through.

My big, ocasionally rampant, imagination can be a blessing and a curse. But I’d rather live with it than without it.

Door featuring Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire.
Door featuring Tyrion from A Song of Ice and Fire.

Best book apps: Part 3

To my regular readers, please accept (another) apology about the lag time between posts here. I’ve been helping my wife in her new business venture, working on several writing projects and generally neglecting this blog, sorry.

To honour an earlier promise, I need to point you all to some of my favourite book and reading apps for readers of a YA and up vintage. Previous posts have highlighted fantastic apps for junior fiction and middle fiction readers. Today we’re looking at apps intended for those of us slightly longer in the tooth.

Just in case you’re arriving at this post cold via a Google search, I should probably highlight the difference between interactive book apps and reading apps such as Kindle and iBooks. These latter apps let you purchase books via Amazon and the Apple e-book stores respectively and store a large number of titles, PDF documents and other reading materials. They’re like personal libraries that travel with you in the electronic cloud hovering above us all. One of the advantages of apps like iBooks and Kindle is that you can easily transfer books between devices such as, say, a phone and iPad or a Kindle e-reader and iPad.

Most of the titles you buy and download are simply tap-to-turn-the-page e-books. However, there are items within the iBookstore that have a limited degree of interactivity; there’s more noise and movement than a printed book. For instance, the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine picture book contains embedded animation clips and interactive elements within some illustrations. Non-fiction books such as Cadel Evans: The Long Road to Paris, are enhanced with video clips of interviews and other footage.

You can buy an edition of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones that contains occasional clips from an audio book of the series and links to (very) brief biographical information on the vast cast of characters. Personally, I think series like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings will be where the iPad could really strut its stuff. Imagine if you at any point during reading you could activate a map of Middle Earth or Westeros showing the whereabouts of all the key characters, movement of armies and so on. Imagine how well this could work for non-fiction military history books and the like. Bring it on, developers and publishers.

The iBook app lets you download samples of books in its store, just as you can do with Amazon. You can also find free user guides to most Apple products.

I also regularly use an app called Comixology that has become a personal library of comics and graphic novels. This is a personal favourite because it lets me enlarge panels within comics and study the artwork much more closely than a print publication. You can read or view each work as laid out on the pages in print form or panel-by-panel (by double-tapping once), which has the effect of almost creating your own animation. I’ve downloaded classics like Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or Joss Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men series and seen them in a whole new light. I’m now working through the Doonesbury back catalogue.

In contrast to these ‘library’ apps, interactive book apps focus on one title only and offer a higher level of interaction between reader, story and device. The illustrations are likely to be lush and contain extras such as sound effects and movement. There may be ‘extras’ that detail the history of the book or the life of the author. A good example is Frankenstein, by Dave Morris, which is adapted from Mary Shelley’s work and enhanced with old anatomical drawings that add to the mood of the novel. (I’m aware of a Diary of Anne Frank app that is attracting great reviews but haven’t checked it out myself yet.)

Other apps worth a look include:

AppStart – This is a brief guide to essential apps, by AppAdvice.com. If you’re new to the iPad, this is for you.

Instapaper – This app lets you store online articles and webpages for reading later. It’s great for research purposes, particularly if you’re surfing newspaper sites that update regularly and offer unreliable search tools. Some web browsers now offer this ‘read later’ functionality, so Instapaper may be on the way out.

Flipboard – This app takes your life and makes it a magazine. You can peruse your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram feeds, or a vast array of curated speciality interests, as if they’re in a magazine published just for you. It looks great but can be slow to download so avoid this if you’re away from wi-fi. Another app, Zite, offers similar functionality, skewed toward filtering websites and topics you’re interested in, sans the white noise of social media.

I’ve also used the Overdrive app to download e-books from public libraries. I hesitate to recommend this though, as it’s not user friendly when getting registered, up and running.

I should probably offer a warning. If you overdo the comics and e-books you might find your device quickly runs out of space. I speak from experience and now prune regularly.

One last thing – if you have any favourite interactive book apps, I’d love to hear about them. Oh, and my second novel, Five Parts Dead, is available via Kindle, iBooks and other e-book stores.

Winding up, winding down

How do you capture the flavour of 366 days in a few words? Issued the challenge, I’d have to go with: Work intense. Writing irregular. Friendships strong. Cycling legs good. A curveball (or wake-up call) to end the year…

But that doesn’t really cut the mustard, does it? If it means anything, it’s probably only to yours truly. The rest of you deserve better.

So, at the risk of boring any regular readers, let’s recap a tad. The tiny company I’ve worked with for over a decade, the same mob that’s given me the flexibility to be an author when the Muse sings and a public speaker when schools, libraries and festivals come calling, was taken over twice in 18 months. From my POV that involved adapting to approximately three successive sets of managers and a morass of policies, procedures and paperwork easily the equivalent of this. Or this.

There are definite upsides to working for a juggernaut entity but survival in a large organisation means striving harder to be seen. In the past two years I’ve taken on two massive and rewarding projects – but have had to wind back on being an author and speaker. I’m hoping to adjust the balance soon.

Work aside, this year has served up some considerable challenges. There was the phone call that let me know my parents had been hit head-on by a recidivist careless(!) driver, health scares for friends, the text message in the middle of the night that suggested other friends may be splitting up and the test result that delivered a personal wake-up call.

Daunting in far more positive ways have been the commitment to raise over $2500 and ride 200km plus for cancer research (mission accomplished – thank you all), finding the right secondary school for the Little Dragon (fingers crossed) and working on proposals for two new novels (in progress). I loved touring regional Victoria for the Melbourne Writers’ Festival. Working with students studying Five Parts Dead was good fun, too. On the bike I’ve clocked up 4825 km in 2012 so far, which has to be a PB.

A particular 2012 highlight was the night I spent acting as a prompt for Impro Melbourne creativity. Over the course of the night I read three passages from my work and left the impro experts to run with whatever ideas occurred to them, based on my readings. The third passage I chose was from a speculative fiction manuscript I’m working on and, not only did the actors enjoy it, I had audience members approach me and ask where they could buy the book. That’s what you want to hear about an unfinished work. Confidence can be a fleeting thing and any boost is a bonus.

And so to my traditional end of year lists. Because work has dominated the year, I haven’t read, watched or listened as much as usual. I’ve probably forgotten favourites but here are those that sprang to mind as I prepared this post:

TV: It’s been a big year for Glee at my place, courtesy of the Little Dragon singing lead in his school rockband. Once the kids slide into sleep, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed ABC productions such as Rake and back seasons of Deadwood and Friday Night Lights.

Movies: Apart from Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, which was great fun if a tad long, I haven’t had many magical cinema moments this year. The Dark Knight Rises was solid but didn’t quite deliver to the expectations of this Frank Miller fan. Take This Waltz lodged in my head for quite a while but my favourite films for 2012 were Paul Kelly: Stories of Me and the utterly wonderful Hugo (based on the prize-winning book).

Reading: I’m immersed in George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire series (aka Game of Thrones) to the detriment of all other titles. Other reading highlights include: David Almond’s Skellig; the marvellously consistent Bob Graham’s A Bus Called Heaven; Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones; The Rider by Tim Krabbe; and Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer. There’s a few tears in that list.

Music: Apart from the aforementioned Glee, there’s been limited time for music this year, sadly. Albums that did strike a chord include: Metals by Feist; All the Little Lights by Passenger; Spring & Fall by Paul Kelly; and Wrecking Ball by Bruce Springsteen. (Late arrivals I’m currently enjoying are Of Monsters & Men’s My Head is an Animal (very Arcade Fire) and Chet Faker’s Thinking in Textures).

Thank you to everyone who has visited this blog, read my books and supported me in 2012. Your faith and friendship is appreciated.

New Year’s Eve update: Having managed some downtime in the past few weeks and in the wake of a visit by the jolly bearded gent I am belatedly entering the universe of Chris Ware. This is storytelling on a whole new level, best tackled by emotionally resilient and visually adventurous readers. It’s jaw-droppingly good.

Finally, thank you to everyone who supported the National Year of Reading. From where I’m sitting it’s been such a success we should do it all again. Starting tomorrow.