Monday, 31 October 2016

Book Review: Lost in a Good Book, by Jasper Fforde

Lost in a Good Book (Thursday Next, #2)Lost in a Good Book by Jasper Fforde
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I found this book very hard to judge. There's a lot going on and it's difficult to summarise when my feelings towards the book are quite mixed.

Essentially, this is the second book in a series about Thursday Next, a Literary Detective in some parallel universe where people have dodos for pets, whose job seems to be investigating crimes or events of any sort of literary nature. She investigates claims of plagiarism and interviews collectors claiming to have found lost Shakespeare manuscripts in her real world, but then also imagines herself into stories and traps villains there, and has a rogue time-traveller for a dad. Following the events of the first book, she's something of a celebrity, and is frustrated by the political gag that prevents her from telling the true story of what happened. As I said, there's a lot going on, and for me it wasn't often clear why the character was doing what she was doing. Roughly halfway through the book, her husband is deleted from the timeline as a means of blackmailing her, and then her motive clears up and the story starts to move forward.

There's a deliberate stab at random wit that is distinctly Douglas-Adams-esque, and around the middle of the book when some of these disjointed ideas started to piece together I truly appreciated this playfulness. Funny character names signal what plot device that character serves. The book-jumping is also good fun, for instance when Thursday appears at court inside a book and has to wait for a scene to play out and a chapter to end before stepping in to meet the judge, or when the characters from Great Expectations dramatically play out their dialogue and then kick off their shoes and slump into chairs like actors after a hard day on stage. These parts, I liked, but it took quite a long time to reach this point.

The bookseller who sold me this book insisted the series could be read out of order but I spent the majority of the read very, very confused. Some backstory is related through Thursday's narration but it seems to be mostly irrelevant detail like the death of her brother and a foreign war, neither of which have any bearing on the actual tale. I didn't dislike the book by any means, but found it hard to keep returning to, and felt kind of relieved when it was done and I understood better what it was actually about. I recommend reading books in order.

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Monday, 24 October 2016

Six favourite Elm Stone scenes

His life was a book of his own writing, one orderly page after another. 
-William Joyce, The Fantastic Flying Books of Morris Lessmore

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In writing, there are scenes or sequences of scenes that are more enjoyable to write than others. These are usually scenes that come to me in daydreams months or years before I reach their point in the story timeline, which I look forward to with excited anticipation and which absorb me so fully when I’m writing them that I don’t move from my keyboard for stretches of seven or eight hours, well into the A.M. and well past the point of starvation and exhaustion. In no real order, here are six that have stuck with me as favourites to write, and favourites to reread as the author responsible for channeling these words from wherever it is that stories come from. I wonder whether these were your favourite scenes to read as well? 
By Ginny from USA (book sale loot) [<a href="">CC BY-SA 2.0</a>], <a href="">via Wikimedia Commons</a>

1. Aristea confronts Renatus at the end of Scarred (Scarred). The dynamic between Renatus and Aristea is a wholly organic creation that I did not expect or plan when I set out to write these books, but it's easily my favourite thing about the series. I love them both in general, but I particularly love them when they argue. They get so raw and I get to play with these toys of mine in their most honest, accurate forms. Towards the end of Scarred, Aristea storms into his office and comes down on him for the first time, angry about the things he failed to tell her before she agreed to be his apprentice and the predicament she now finds herself in. To start with, he miserably accepts her anger, but soon fires up as well. I like their equilibrium, especially as Aristea grows to stand up for herself and comes into her own. They have so much reckless opinion and passion between them, but argue well without ever damaging their relationship - not every pair can do this. 

2. The forest chase (Unbidden). Fanfic followers of mine will know of my love of forest chase scenes and my determination to wrangle characters into a forest setting at night so I can engage them in a chase. It's even better when the rest of the plot accommodates by letting it fit into the wider storyline! A highlight of writing book 3 was the accommodation of this sequence where, first, Aristea and Renatus are chasing down a suspect, but soon after, Aristea is the target of a very dangerous sorceress. I caved and wrote this scene the very day it came to me, sometime even before I'd finished Chosen, and when many years later I breathlessly caught up with the storyline and was able to transplant it, the sequence needed very little change to fit. 

3. Peter's drowning (Chosen). I don't know why this should make a public list, and I'm sure you're all now edging uncomfortably away from me thinking, psychopath. In the very earliest drafts of Chosen/Scarred, back when it was a single book spanning across way too many unedited pages, this scene was not present, and only learned about later through the scryings of Qasim and Renatus. On a rewrite, I realised what an intriguing and powerful story element I was choosing to omit. I had a go at writing the execution, and thoroughly enjoyed the process of learning what had actually happened to Peter.

4. The Prague showdown (Unbidden). Originally written as being in Johannesburg before it occurred to me that I knew nothing of the place, this rewritten sequence allowed me to dig out my photos, post cards and travel diary to re-explore the most magical city of all my real-world adventures: Prague. But even on its first write, this scene was immensely satisfying to produce. I think I knew I was on the home stretch and I knew exactly what I wanted out of the scene, and it all poured out of my fingers for hours. I sat at my computer for days writing the lead-up (my husband regularly came home to a totally dark house and a bewildered, starving wife who hadn’t realised it had been seven hours of real-world time since he left), and on the day of writing the showdown I barely moved until I finished it at around 3A.M. I got to live it and love it all over again when I rewrote it, and got to include lines of my favourite spoken language, Czech, in my efforts to include more non-English dialogue in the books.

5. The water spell (Scarred). There’s this little spell Renatus does with Aristea near the beginning of the second book and it’s quite inconsequential, but whenever anyone says “I love the magic in your book!” this scene, and Jadon’s explanation of how magic works in the first novel, is what comes to mind. In a demonstration of what they’re now capable of since their bonding, Renatus uses Aristea’s powers to encourage a burbling cupful of water to form in her hands. Laughing, she drops it. It’s a favourite for a lot of reasons: it’s a step forward in their friendship, it’s a rare show of magic for the fun of it rather than for a purpose, it’s an insight into how learning magic employs the same brain activity as any other learned skill, and it’s one of the last things I wrote for Scarred before I sent it to the editor. It wasn’t there in any of the early drafts and it kind of stands out as being written on its own. I enjoy it every time I reread that moment.

6. The masquerade ball (Unbidden). Another playground I tested out in the world of fanfiction before I presented it, polished and published, to the real world. I saw this scene in my head years before I reached a point in the story where Renatus would be ready to interact with this cast and before Aristea would be skilled enough to appreciate and understand what she was being exposed to in this extravagant party of slimy, dishonest, immoral elitists. Unlike the forest chase, with this scene I held off and made myself wait, and it was a glorious two solid days of aching eyes and seizing fingers to get the whole massive sequence down. I loved every keystroke.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Six things asked

One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. "Which road do I take?" she asked. "Where do you want to go?" was his response. "I don't know," Alice answered. "Then," said the cat, "it doesn't matter." 
-Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

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Keeping with this theme of six things, I asked my readers to ask me questions they have been meaning to put to me. Here are six of them, with my answers, below. I accept no responsibility for answers you do not like.

1. How long does it take you to write a book?
It’s hard to say, because I write sporadically throughout the year according to the school terms and the academic calendar, but all up I suppose about eighteen months? My books are quite lengthy for YA novels – if I wrote shorter I could maybe get them done more quickly. 

2. Why did you choose to set it in Ireland?
I have asked myself this many times – why set my story somewhere so far away instead of somewhere I know? For some reason I have always felt an attraction to Ireland as a place, though I have not yet been there. In my mind I have this association with old magic, and I was maybe trying to connect with that. Plus, I think I really liked the idea of Aristea and Renatus talking with an Irish accent. 

3. Do you have anyone in mind for the movie adaptations?
Theo James for Renatus.

4. What is your favourite scene from Unbidden?
The best scene to write was the masquerade sequence. I looked forward to writing that for years before I reached that point in the series! 

5.  How do you find the time to write? 
I get this one a lot. I suppose I do it instead of other things that other people do, like going to the movies or baking. I'm also uncomfortably strict on my time. I can't watch Netflix unless I am also folding washing or laminating. 

YES! I have written the first chapter, and it starts with a bang. Hopefully I can get into it when school breaks up over Christmas.