The buried genre

After a week or more’s musing, I think I have worked out what was so difficult for me in the reading of Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Buried Giant, which I recently reviewed on Goodreads.

The sticking point, for me, is the description of the novel as ‘fantasy’. Turns out that I have quite set expectations of ‘fantasy’ novels – that there will be a resolution to a specific problem being one of them. I can cope with an unusual fantasy protagonist – our hero/heroine/main interest character doesn’t need to fit the traditional handsome (and maybe hidden) prince model for me to read on happily. I can cope without romance, and in fact found the constant ‘princess’ tribute by Axl pretty annoying, though it was clear that he truly loved Beatrice. I don’t need dragons or witches or spooks, black cats or shape-shifting baddies.

What I do want in a fantasy novel is plot, character-driven plot for preference.

I now think that what made me so uncomfortable was the lack of resolution in The Buried Giant. I loved the writing, and I think that, had the novel been described differently, I may have been more relaxed with it.

Genre, genre. Ever since The Game of Thrones (ie George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire) killed off Ned Stark in Book 1, I’ve been floundering!

Birthday memories

Today my dad would have turned 95, if he had survived this long.

Instead, the ghastly, grotesque illness called Motor Neurone Disease (that’s MND in Australia, and ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease in the US) diminished him to death at the age of 67, twenty-eight years ago. Even back then, in 1990, we were hoping for a cure ‘soon’. While some people live for a long (and extremely difficult) time with MND (notably the brilliant Professor Stephen Hawking), many die much sooner. For my dad, the progress of the disease from diagnosis to death was four short years.

While there has been some progress in the treatment and management of MND, we are all still waiting. This was brought home deeply by the recent Australian Story program, ‘The Enemy Within’, detailing the work and illness of the amazing Justin Yerbury.

I still miss my dad. And although I know that he would have completely supported my writing career, and that he always encouraged me, I really, really regret the fact that he doesn’t know about it, and that I haven’t been able to share this stage of my life with him.

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There are so many untold stories. I think one day they will appear. What I’m thinking about now is the last time I saw him, in the hospice, on the day he died. Dad explained that a male nurse, all in white, had visited his room in the night and said that it was time to leave. Dad said, ‘I told him I couldn’t walk, but he said it was time to go.’

I checked with the staff – no male nurse had been on duty the night before. Strange.

But a few hours later, after all his visitors had gone, my dad up and left.

The Cruel Prince: dangerous fiction

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Maybe that should be ‘dangerous reality’. I’ve just finished reading Holly Black’s excellent fantasy novel The Cruel Prince (The Folk of the Air #1). I’ve rated it 5 stars on Goodreads, because I couldn’t put it down. It’s like George RR Martin, Juliet Marillier, and Paula Hawkins got together to write a completely captivating dark thriller set in Faerie.

By the way, I LOVE the cover.

*warning spoilers*

I became totally absorbed by this story, but also increasingly troubled. I’ve been thinking about it, and I’m wondering if it’s the reflections of domestic violence that are worrying me? Let’s look at the story line:

Our protagonist Jude is kidnapped and taken to Faerie by a violent redcap general called Madoc. Madoc was married to Jude’s mother – she left him, taking their child. So Madoc murders both Jude’s mother and her new partner (Jude’s father), reclaims his own daughter, and takes Jude and her twin for good measure. The three girls are brought up in the dangerous, deceitful Faerie court.

So that’s problematic – being brought up by the man who killed your parents because your mother was once married to him, and failed to make a complete escape.

Then Jude, as a teenager, is bullied and despised by the Faerie court, in particular the friends of the beatutiful and very cruel Prince Cardan (who rips off a fairy’s wing the first time we meet him, for not a good enough reason). The bullying is vicious and relentless, and Jude is effectively isolated from any help – even her twin Taryn betrays her.

I was hoping against hope that this wouldn’t turn out to be a story where the girl falls for the violent, abusive love interest, who, you know, really loves her underneath it all. However as we discover that Cardan himself has been abused, I’m suspecting that he is being transformed from perpetrator to victim and that they may end up as a pair.

Scary. Too real.

What do you think?

there’s some cool world-building here

I received my feedback from the 2017 Book Pipeline competition, in which the judges consider an extract of your novel (or your graphic novel/script/non-fiction book/book proposal) for its potential to be made into a film or TV series. For a fee, of course, but that is the usual course when you decide to put your work in front of judges for any purpose. You can see the shortlisted works here, and the finalists will be announced in a couple of weeks. My book The Pale is not shortlisted, but the exercise wasn’t a complete washout.

Book Pipeline’s extra incentive to pay an entry fee is that even if your work is not shortlisted (and therefore can’t win), you still get a paragraph of feedback.

So here is what they say: kind of yeah, no, yeah, but no.

That’s alright as I can cherry-pick the good bits (like our politicians do with ‘facts’), such as “there’s some cool world-building here”, and “classical in its approach”, and “familiar” elements “similar to Mad Max: Fury Road” (for the cyber-punk-ish bits) “and The Hunger Games” (for the competing factions aspects). I thought when I submitted that the biggest problem might be rendering the canini – my GM dogs with thumbs, enormous brains, and advanced language skills – onto film, but they didn’t get a mention.

Dystopian spaces are “incredibly saturated”, which I guess means that these folk watch the news :-). The Pale is considered just a little too classical, and too familiar, for movie purposes, but actually I think maybe that’s not a bad thing for books. Generally if readers like a book, they want to read another one that’s similar.

Anyway, it’s been an interesting and instructive process, and I now feel that I can legitimately compare The Pale to the Mad Max franchise (of which, guiltily I admit, I have never seen any), and to The Hunger Games trilogy (well, I have read the first book, but haven’t seen the movies). And “cool world-building” may well be a quote I can use for marketing.

Now, what can I pitch for the 2018 round, starting March 15th?

A Novel Kidnap

They have cut me off at the pass. They won’t leave me alone. They arrive at all hours and demand to speak to me. I feel that way too much of my life is currently in ransom to them.

And they’re not even flesh and blood!

Before you call the zombie apocalypse team or the ghostbusters, I will confess that these pesky creatures are of my own creation. When I started writing The Pale, I had no notion of how much attention these folk would claim.

My plans for February were: send Pale #2 (‘Broad Plain Darkening‘, or BPD to those in the know) to my wonderful beta readers, and give the manuscript a rest from me for a while (and vice versa). In the meantime, I aimed to spend time spruiking The Pale and attending to the thousand and plenty follow-ups. I also created quite a few questions for my beta readers to address before I embarked upon the next book in the series. I thought that their answers would help inform the action and the character development that I had loosely mapped out.

However, I planned without the consent of my characters themselves. They have insisted, and I have complied – Pale #3 has begun. Yes, it has a working title – but that’s way too embryonic for any other gaze at the minute.

Oh, and my jotted mapping of Pale #3? It may just go out the window. Character X really doesn’t want to do Z, even though it’s what I planned for him. He says he doesn’t want to head in that direction, and I have to listen to him.

Especially at 4 am.

Mapmaking, worldmaking

There are a number of fantasy mapmaking programs available free on the internet – who knew?

I’m especially fond of boing boing – where you can generate your own random fantasy world, and there are a number of others. Wonderful fun. I can (and did) spend hours exploring quite a few of them.

However, I need a map of a fantasy world which is not random, but which conforms to all the particulars I have created for it. I’m currently working on a hand-drawn draft, which is totally out of scale*, but is helping to put shape into the world of The Pale. I’ve based the coastline of the continent on various stretches of Tasmania and New Zealand, by tracing actual maps.

It’s huge fun and a big project. Once I get it into more reasonable form, I’m also going to make myself a city map for the Pale itself.

And yes, there are random fantasy city map generators out there, such as the excellent one by Geeknative.

*Just how far can a tribesman walk in one day across the hostile terrain of Broad Plain? That is the question – or one of them, at least!

A name, a name

I’m looking for a book title that’s searchable and succinct, catchy and attractive.

I realise that I didn’t do enough research when naming the first novel in my story sequence. While I checked that there were no other books called ‘The Pale’, I didn’t perform an Amazon, Goodreads, Booktopia, etc., search. Now I find that searching for The Pale brings up every book that has ‘pale’ in the title: The Pale Horseman, The Pale Rider, and so on.

So I’m being a bit more cautious about naming Pale #2.

Its current working title is ‘Broad Plain Darkening’. I like it, and a search brings up no books, but a line in a long, long poem about Napoleon – The Napolead: In Twelve Books, by Thomas Hedges Genin, published in 1833. The line (above) looks very appropriate for my purpose.

Any other ideas for a title gratefully considered!