Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Importance of Beta-Readers

When I began dreaming of writing an epic fantasy novel, a long time ago, I imagined that I would write a first draft, polish it up in a second draft and then send it on its merry way to publication and bookshops all over the world.

Time and experience can change many beliefs and ideas; that belief happens to be one of them for me.

As I moved into work as bookseller I became exposed on a personal level to the authors whose books I loved and sold. I got to talk to them about writing and their process and kept hearing about the importance of good beta-readers. I was not, at first, convinced. This wouldn't apply to me surely. I knew what I was doing. I had a plan.

Hahaha!

Thankfully some part of me was open to the possibility that I was not perfect (?!?!?) and neither was my writing.

As I was procrastinating working on the first draft I was approached by an Aussie author who wanted a male POV on a new book they were working on. And thus did I look behind the Wizards curtain to see what was going on and what a beta-reader can do for a writer.

So as I meandered through various drafts of my own WiP I began asking people if they'd be willing to beta-read my work when it was ready. Of course that 'ready' took longer than I expected, however when it was I had a team of readers ready to go.

They are all people I know - I personally wouldn't be comfortable giving my work to someone I didn't know, although there are some schools of thought who believe that people who do not know you will be more honest in their feedback. Well, knowing my beta-readers beforehand did not help to soften their punches. I had to crawl away and have a cry in a dark room after some of the feedback...

Beta-readers can pick up dropped threads in the narrative that you haven’t noticed because it's in your head. They can wince at and point out the turns of phrase that you thought were beautiful and poetic but don't quite read the way you thought they did, or maybe they don’t make any sense at all. They can talk to you about scenes that might lack something or character motivation that just doesn't work for them. Or they might talk about your characters in a way you never imagined, a way that brings a whole new angle or insight to the experience. Maybe. Maybe not, but hopefully they will give you feedback that will make you think.

(It is entirely possible that a beta-reader can do more than this and I am just not utilising them properly. I am certainly open to learning more. I've heard Brandon Sanderson has a whole google doc spreadsheet thingy happening for feedback here beta-readers can see each other comments and discuss 'amongst themselves' the feedback being provided, and that specific questions are asked for specific passes over. But he also has an assistant to help co-ordinate that and I am just not that organised... but I am looking into it for the next book!)

Of course, on occasion,  a beta-reader won't give you any feedback at all. Either they weren't able to read the manuscript because of time issues or just because they didn't connect with the story. And this is okay. A beta-reader is doing you a favour and everyone experiences a book differently.  

Just remember that you can’t please everyone and you shouldn't try. You have to write the book you are writing. Your beta-readers are a sample audience and can give you a glimpse at reader reaction - as well as an audience for the for work you have been slaving over for so long.

The feedback I have received - both good and confronting - has given me a map of what I need to do to make the book a better, more polished version of itself. It has highlighted (for me) my own strengths and weaknesses and has given me a check list that I will use in the self-editing of my next book BEFORE I send it out to readers...

And it's not over yet. Once this re-write/tweak is done I have a few more people in line to read it (or as the case may be, to re-read it and comment on the text after changes) to give me more feedback before I look for an agent and/or submit.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Remembering Sara Douglass

I can recall picking up Battleaxe on the day of its release. Having always been an avid reader I visit the local bookshop every lunch time with an eye for something new. And back then there was not nearly as much to choose from as there is today. References on the cover comparing to Robert Jordan peeked my interest and I took it home (paying for it first). Those comparisons are not accurate to my mind but it didn't matter, I quickly engrossed, lost in a richly imagined world of magic, adventure and wonder.

Anyone well read in genre fiction will be familiar with the story being told. It's not that it is unoriginal - there is much originality in it - it's just familiar. In a good way. You know what you are getting but you know the way you are going to get it and Douglass twists that familiarity in a gritty melding of bloody battles, sex, betrayal, magic and greed. The fact that Battleaxe is still in print 20 years after it was first published says a lot about how well it continues to sell and gain new fans.

Battleaxe does have its flaws but Douglass' gift was that her writing, her story telling, is so enthralling that you just keep reading. Many books can be described as page turners, keeping you up late into the night - Battleaxe actually did this to me. I just needed to know what happened next. That it was the first in a trilogy was even better because it meant that there would more books. Battleaxe holds a special place on my bookshelf as the book that broke Aussie fantasy to the world opened the doors for the likes of Kate Forsyth, Jennifer Fallon, Ian Irvine and Karen Miller.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Blood of the Spear - Wip Report 1



I've been working on this book, The Blood of the Spear, for a long time. Its genesis spark flared to back in 1992 or so but if the truth be told I've only been writing it since 2010.

I am now on my fifth draft, having sent the 4th out to beta-readers and getting a manuscript assessment by the awesome Bothersome Words.

The feedback has been good and various issues with telling (vs showing) and some characterisation have been pointed out. No-one has had an issue with the plot which is a huge relief. If I'd had to go back and make major changes I think I would have cried. The fourth draft incorporated what I thought was going to be a small change, moving the introduction of two characters from the beginning of the book to the middle. It turned out to be a rather major undertaking, akin to pulling a thread out of a woven tapestry and struggling to make sure it didn't unravel. And at 200000 words that can be a...challenge.

Well, I've completed that and don't need to do anything like that again... I hope. Just 'tweak' stuff.

Of course 'tweak' makes it sound a lot simpler then it is. But I am getting there.

What I've done this time around, is pull out each PoV chapter and am now focusing on one character's story at time, effectively, going back to the beginning and working right through to the end. There are 4 main PoV and 2 or 3 smaller ones that pop up throughout the book.

Once that work is done, it will go out to a few more readers and then - all things being equal (ha!) - it will be ready for submission.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Dagger's Path by Glenda Larke

The Dagger's Path
The Forsaken Lands Book 2
By Glenda Larke

The second book in a new epic fantasy trilogy from Glenda Larke, author of the Stormlord series - full of scheming, spying, action and adventure 

THEY FOLLOW WHERE THE DAGGER LEADS

 Ardhi, Sorrel and the excommunicated cleric, Saker Rampion, stow away on a ship to the Spice Islands. They must return stolen items of great power to Ardhi's home, but there are ruthless men after this power, men who will kill to possess it.

 At home in Ardrone, an army of demonic origin runs amok while Saker's superiors in the church struggle to quell it. And the young queen Mathilda struggles with the possibility that her newborn child, the heir to the throne, may be linked to the corruption that has erupted throughout the land. 

Sorcerers, lascars, pirates and thieves collide in this thrilling sequel to Glenda Larke's epic fantasy adventure The Lascar's Dagger.

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Glenda Larke is one of my favourite Aussie authors. She is an absolute master at worldbuilding and at writing enthralling tales that are both exciting, and carry deeply considered insights that are reflections of the world around us. A hallmark of a Larke novel is an avoidance of stereotypical settings and the Forsaken Lands - with its roots in 17th Century empirical expansion and spice trade - is a refreshing change from the medieval staging so often utilized these days.

Last year saw the publication of The Lascar's Dagger and less than 12 months later we have the second instalment, continuing her epic tale of magic, religion and spice trade wars. You don't want to miss out on this one.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On My Radar

Three titles have popped up on my radar for next year. There are obviously more than three titles that I am eagerly awaiting (hello Oracle, House Wars Book 5 by Michelle West AND [hopefully] Destiny's Conflict by Janny Wurts)  but I've just seen covers for these ones and I am excited!

Brian Staveley was for me, the standout debut in 2014. I cannot wait for book two in this brilliant new epic fantasy series, I truly hope it lives up to the wonder of book one The Emperor's Blades.


The Providence of Fire
Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne Book Two
By Brian Staveley

War is coming, secrets multiply and betrayal waits in the wings... The Annurian Empire's ruling family must be vigilant, as the conspiracy against them deepens. Having discovered her father's assassin, Adare flees the Dawn Palace in search of allies. But few trust her, until she seems marked by the people's goddess in an ordeal of flame.

As Adare struggles to unite Annur, unrest breeds rival armies - then barbarian hordes threaten to invade. And unknown to Adare, her brother Valyn has fallen in with forces mustering at the empire's borders. The terrible choices they face could make war between them inevitable.

Fighting his own battles is their brother Kaden, rightful heir to the Unhewn Throne, who has infiltrated the Annurian capital with two strange companions. While imperial forces prepare to defend a far-distant front, Kaden's actions could save the empire, or destroy it.


Book one of Peter Orullian's Vault of Heaven, The Unremembered came out sometime ago, unfortunately it didn't grab me in quite the way I had hoped, for various reasons. However having read his short stories set within the same world, in particular Sacrifice of the First Sheason, my understanding of just where he is coming from has completely changed and I looking forward to seeing where he take the series.  

Trial of Intentions
Vault of Heaven Book Two
By Peter Orullian

The gods who created this world have abandoned it. In their mercy, however, they chained the rogue god — and the monstrous creatures he created to plague mortalkind — in the vast and inhospitable wasteland of the Bourne. The magical Veil that contains them has protected humankind for millennia and the monsters are little more than tales told to frighten children. But the Veil has become weak and creatures of Nightmare have come through. To fight them, the races of men must form a great alliance to try and stop the creatures.

But there is dissent. One king won’t answer the call, his pride blinding him even to the poison in his own court. Another would see Convocation fail for his own political advantage. And still others believe Convocation is not enough. Some turn to the talents of the Sheason, who can shape the very essence of the world to their will. But their order is divided, on the brink of collapse.

Tahn Junell remembers friends who despaired in a place left barren by war. One of the few who have actually faced the unspeakable horde in battle, Tahn sees something else at work and wonders about the nature of the creatures on the other side of the Veil. He chooses to go to a place of his youth, a place of science, daring to think he can find a way to prevent slaughter, prevent war. 

And his choices may reshape a world...


I first came across Mr Polansky when his debut, The Straight Razor Cure, was released in 2011. Unfortunately I got side-tracked finishing the book and only just picked it back up when I saw the cover for this new one. And boy I am glad I did. The Straight Razor Cure is brilliant and I will be reading books 2 and 3 in the trilogy very soon while I wait for this new one.


Those Above
The Empty Throne Book One
By Daniel Polansky

The first in an explosive new epic fantasy series by Daniel Polansky, perfect for fans of Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.
They enslaved humanity three thousand years ago. Tall, strong, perfect, superhuman and near immortal they rule from their glittering palaces in the eternal city in the centre of the world. They are called Those Above by their subjects. They enforce their will with fire and sword.

Twenty five years ago mankind mustered an army and rose up against them, only to be slaughtered in a terrible battle. Hope died that day, but hatred survived. Whispers of another revolt are beginning to stir in the hearts of the oppressed: a woman, widowed in the war, who has dedicated her life to revenge; the general, the only man to ever defeat one of Those Above in single combat, summoned forth to raise a new legion; and a boy killer who rises from the gutter to lead an uprising in the capital.

Those Above is the first of an extraordinary new fantasy epic by the author of the acclaimed Low Town series that will sweep the reader into a wholly alien, wholly recognizable world of rebellion and revenge, of love and of death, of intrigue and pitiless war.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The World of Ice & Fire - Not Really a Review

THE WORLD OF ICE & FIRE
By George R.R. Martin, Elio Garcia 
and Linda Antonsson

If the past is prologue, then George R. R. Martin's masterwork-the most inventive and entertaining fantasy saga of our time-warrants one hell of an introduction. At long last, it has arrived with The World of Ice and Fire.

This lavishly illustrated volume is a comprehensive history of the Seven Kingdoms, providing vividly constructed accounts of the epic battles, bitter rivalries, and daring rebellions that lead to the events of A Song of Ice and Fire and HBO's Game of Thrones. In a collaboration that's been years in the making, Martin has teamed with Elio M. Garcia, Jr., and Linda Antonsson, the founders of the renowned fan site Westeros.org-perhaps the only people who know this world almost as well as its visionary creator. Collected here is all the accumulated knowledge, scholarly speculation, and inherited folk tales of maesters and septons, maegi and singers.


It is a chronicle which stretches from the Dawn Age to the Age of Heroes; from the Coming of the First Men to the arrival of Aegon the Conqueror; from Aegon's establishment of the Iron Throne to Robert's Rebellion and the fall of the Mad King, Aerys II Targaryen, which has set into motion the "present-day" struggles of the Starks, Lannisters, Baratheons, and Targaryens. The definitive companion piece to George R. R. Martin's dazzlingly conceived universe, The World of Ice and Fire is indeed proof that the pen is mightier than a storm of swords.
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What needs to be said about this one? Any fan of made up history (Hello! Guilty as charged), and/or A Game of Thrones, is going to devour this history of Westeros and the lands beyond.

The World of A Game of Thrones is staggering in its scope and as rich and complex as the events of the War of the Roses, as treacherous as Imperial Rome and could chew the Borgias' up and spit them out without breaking a tooth.

This compendium work contains full colour artwork and maps, detailed family trees, new material that gives in-depth explorations of the history and culture of Westeros, half of which Martin has written for this book specifically.

It is the definitive companion to this masterwork of modern fantasy fiction and perfect for fans of the books and the TV show.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Clariel - A Review

Clariel
An Old Kingdom Novel
By Garth Nix

Does the walker choose the path, or the path the walker? An epic fantasy adventure, set six hundred years before Sabriel and as rich and compelling as the original Old Kingdom novels.

Clariel is the daughter of one of the most notable families in the Old Kingdom, with blood relations to the Abhorsen, and to the King.

When her family moves to the city of Belisaere, Clariel finds herself at the centre of sorcery and intrigue: a plot is brewing against the old and withdrawn King Orrikan; her parents want to marry her off to a killer; and a dangerous Free Magic creature is loose in the city.

When Clariel is drawn into the efforts to find and capture the creature, she finds hidden sorcery within herself, yet it is magic that carries great dangers.

Can she rise above the temptation of power, escape the unwanted marriage and save the King?

Set approximately six hundred years before the birth of Sabriel, Clariel will delight Old Kingdom fans as well as new readers hungry for epic fantasy adventure.

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This book brought with it a heavy dose of nostalgia. It has been many years since I read an Old Kingdom novel, yet they still stand in my memory among the best fantasy books I've read.

Nix is an evocative writer and from the first page it was as though the years between my reading the original trilogy and getting my hands on this - what is technically a prequel, yet also a stand-alone book - had never occurred.

Clariel never wanted to come to Belisaere, the capital city, the only place she felt at home was in the Great Forest but her mother's position as the head of a powerful guild and her relation to the Abhorsen means her wishes are disregarded. She struggles to find herself a place in this new life, but when she is used as a pawn her fury knows no bounds and she escapes to make her own choices.

A somewhat darker novel than the original books, Clariel depicts the Old Kingdom in the glory we had previously only read about and never experienced. And things aren't always as they are recalled in history books. The powerful Kingdom is strangled by hierarchy and social inequality, unrest is rife and self-absorption and a disregard for the Charter all adds to wonderfully a fleshed out world that brings vibrancy and atmosphere to the stage.

Fans of the Old Kingdom Trilogy will find this an exciting addition to the story, those of you new to Nix's work will find it a great place to start.

I hope we continue to have many more adventures in this wonderful world.



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