Sunday, November 16, 2008

Suspended for NaNoWriMo/ Amazon Best Books of 2008

It's getting to the pointy end of NaNoWriMo, and I do want to reach 50,000 words, so entries here may be sparse for the rest of November...

You might like to toddle over to the book section at and see their picks for the 100 best books of 2008.


Friday, November 14, 2008

Quote: Nathalie Goldberg

I read Nathalie Goldberg's two books about writing, Wild Mind and Writing Down the Bones years ago.  Still have them on the shelf, and did a quick squizz through them the other day.  Some of what she says I can still see influencing my writing process and habits.

I was reminded of her again by this quote, which Ali Edwards used on her blog (here is her page of Collected Quotes).  While playing along with NaNoWriMo, I find myself harvesting from the day.  Blue birds, meals, glimpses, people, words, phrases.  Noticing, then remembering is so important.

Learn to write about the ordinary. Give homage to old coffee cups, sparrows, city buses, thin ham sandwiches. Make a list of everything ordinary you can think of. Keep adding to it. Promise yourself, before you leave the earth, to mention everything on your list at least once in a poem, short story, newspaper article.
Nathalie Goldberg

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Michael Cunningham on writing

Visiting a writing class in Maryland, author Michael Cunningham spoke about his writing and his writing process.  Read the whole blog entry here .  My favourite quotes:

We’re not smart enough to write novels. We have to outgrow the modest idea that inspired the novel and allow it to take on a life of its own. We have to work until something passes through our consciousness. Try to get out of the way of the book.

Write the best goddamn book you possibly can. There are more books than anyone can possibly read. You only feel different when your work is published if what you published is good. Trust your instincts and write what is most compelling to you.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Urban fiction

In New York, urban fiction is finding keen readers in libraries and on the street.  Read more about it in a New York Times article here , including one mama who insists that her entire family reads for an hour every day.  Yay!

found via Smart Bitches, Trashy Books 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Free audiobooks

LibriVox offers free audiobooks of books published before 1923.  And you can become a reader for them too, if you're interested.


Thursday, November 6, 2008

Writing advice from Scott Westerfeld

YA author Scott Westerfeld (Peeps is a favourite book of mine) blogs about various things, including some writing advice - mostly written by Scott, occasionally by a guest blogger.  Catch up here .

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

First Tuesday in November + authors

Political action by authors?  Check out YA for Obama .

Sunday, November 2, 2008

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month has started. .  Although the server's pretty frantic at present, so it might not load for you straightaway.

I've undertaken the challenge this year, and am aiming to keep myself honest and on track by blogging about it.  My NaNoWriMo user page is here , with an extract from The Bluebird CafĂ©.

Typing words for this confirms something I've learned and taught about fiction writing - you don't necessarily know what you're going to write about until you start putting words on the page.  So, you need to write, to unfurl what is waiting in your mind and heart.

And then you edit a lot.  But first, write the stuff you're going to edit.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Longlist: Australia-Asia Literary Award

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the longlist of twelve books vying for Australia's richest book prize, the Australia-Asia Literary Award.  Read the article here .

Monday, October 27, 2008

Alien Onion

The Allen and Unwin (Australia) blog, Alien Onion , is lively and entertaining.  Worth adding to your blogreader list (I use bloglines).

Discovered via Justine Larbelstier's blog .  Which is also in my bloglines list.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Interview with Chuck Adams, editor

Five pages of advice, information and opinion from a very experienced editor, who counts Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants among his success stories.

An example:

What are you looking for in a piece of writing?
The first thing is the voice. If it's got a strong voice, I'm going to keep reading. And if a story sneaks in there, I'm going to keep reading. To me, those are the two most important things. I want a voice and I want to be hooked into a story. I believe very strongly that books are not about writers, and they're definitely not about editors—they're about readers. You've got to grab the reader right away with your voice and with the story you're telling. You can't just write down words that sound pretty. It's all about the reader. You've got to bring the reader into it right away.

Read it here .

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Book covers, celebrity and dumbing down

Thought provoking blog entry, with a bunch of links, from the Smart Bitches here .

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


What is authonomy?  

In one way, HarperCollins' slush pile, outsourced to readers.  You can submit your ms (you'll need at least 10,000 words) and/or do some talent-spotting (your notes on the work of others will help encourage them to read your irresistible prose...).  The five top rated mss each month are reviewed by real live HarperCollins editors.

This is how they describe it:

Get Read. Get Noticed. Get Published.
authonomyTM is a brand new community site for writers, readers and publishers, conceived and developed by book editors at HarperCollins. We want to flush out the brightest, freshest new literature around - we’re glad you stopped by.
If you’re a writer, authonomy is the place to show your face – and show off your work on the web. Whether you’re unpublished, self-published or just getting started, all you need is a few chapters to start building your profile online, and start connecting with the authonomy community.
And if you’re a reader, blogger publisher or agent, authonomy is for you too. The book world is kept alive by those who search out, digest and spread the word about the best new books – authonomy invites you to join our community, champion the best new writing and build a personal profile that really reflects your tastes, opinions and talent-spotting skills.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

What agents hate

...or to put it another way, tips on what to avoid doing in your manuscript's first chapter.  
Read them here : from Writer's Digest.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Top 100 books: A&R list

Angus and Robertson booksellers have released the fifth of their Top 100 lists, as voted by customers (26000 votes).  Here's the list:

1 Harry Potter series - J.K. Rowling
2 Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
3 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
4 The Obernewtyn Chronicles - Isobelle Carmody
5 My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult
6 To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
7 The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
8 Breath - Tim Winton
9 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
10 Break No Bones - Kathy Reichs
11 The Power Of One - Bryce Courtenay
12 Fight Club - Chuck Palahniuk
13 Magician - Raymond E. Feist
14 The Bronze Horseman - Paullina Simons
15 Mao's Last Dancer - Li Cunxin
16 Memoirs Of A Geisha - Arthur Golden
17 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
18 Cross - James Patterson
19 Persuasion - Jane Austen
20 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
21 The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
22 The Secret - Rhonda Byrne
23 Marley and Me - John Grogan
24 Antony and Cleopatra - Colleen McCullough
25 April Fools Day - Bryce Courtney
26 North & South - Elizabeth Gaskell
27 In My Skin - Kate Holden
28 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
29 A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini
30 The Other Boleyn Girl - Phillipa Gregory
31 Nineteen Minutes - Jodi Picoult
32 Atonement - Ian McEwan
33 Shantaram Gregory - David Roberts
34 Pillars Of The Earth - Ken Follett
35 The Pact - Jodi Picoult
36 Ice Station - Matthew Reilly
37 Cloudstreet - Tim Winton
38 Jessica - Bryce Courtenay
39 A New Earth - Eckhart Tolle
40 The Princess Bride - William Goldman
41 Running With Scissors - Augusten Burroughs
42 Anybody Out There? - Marian Keyes
43 Life Of Pi - Yann Martel
44 Seven Ancient Wonders - Matthew Reilly
45 People Of The Book - Geraldine Brooks
46 Six Sacred Stones - Matthew Reilly
47 Memory Keeper's Daughter - Kim Edwards
48 Brother Odd - Dean Koontz
49 Tully - Paullina Simons
50 Tuesdays with Morrie - Mitch Albom
51 The Catcher in the Rye - J.D Salinger
52 Eragon - Christopher Paolini
53 Eat, Pray, Love - Elizabeth Gilbert
54 It's Not About The Bike - Lance Armstrong
55 A Tale of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
56 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
57 The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
58 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
59 A Fortunate Life - A.B. Facey
60 The Mists of Avalon - Marion Zimmer Bradley
61 The Notebook -Nicholas Sparks
62 Water For Elephants - Sara Gruen
63 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
64 The Host - Stephenie Meyer
65 Dirt Music - Tim Winton
66 Eldest - Christopher Paolini
67 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
68 It - Stephen King
69 World Without End - Ken Follett
70 Emma - Jane Austen
71 Temple - Matthew Reilly
72 Little Women - Alcott Louisa May
73 Lean Mean Thirteen - Janet Evanovich
74 Scarecrow - Matthew Reilly
75 American Gods - Neil Gaiman
76 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
77 P.S, I Love You - Cecelia Ahern
78 All That Remains - Patricia Cornwell
79 The Last Lecture - Randy Pausch
80 Past Secrets - Cathy Kelly
81 The Persimmon Tree - Bryce Courtenay
82 Husband - Dean Koontz
83 Plain Truth - Jodi Picoult
84 Wicked - Gregory Maguire
85 Spot Of Bother - Mark Haddon
86 Always And Forever - Cathy Kelly
87 The Road - Cormac McCarthy
88 Cents & Sensibility - Maggie Alderson
89 Me Talk Pretty One Day - David Sedaris
90 The Shifting Fog - Kate Morton
91 We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
92 Everyone Worth Knowing - Lauren Weisberger
93 Hour Game - David Baldacci
94 Darkly Dreaming Dexter - Jeff Lindsay
95 The Woods - Harlan Coben
96 Half of a Yellow Sun - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
97 Middlesex - Jeffrey Eugenides
98 Scar Tissue - Anthony Kiedis
99 Infidel - Ayaan Hirsi Ali
100 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Where do you find your ideas?

Linda Newbery and Nicola Davies answer this question in this article, From Idea to Story.  Here's a quote:

"Where do you get your ideas from?" Every author who gives talks to children or adults has been asked this question hundreds of times, and of course there's no simple answer. Ideas are everywhere - the trick is to recognise a promising one when you get it, and not let go. Your starting point may be something that's happened to you, or to someone you know; a news item; a fear, or a dream; something from the past; a fascinating character; a painting or poem; and of course our heads are crammed full of ideas and images from books we've read, stories we've heard and films we've seen.
When a promising idea grabs hold of you, hang on to it and see if you can turn it into a story, or at least the beginning of a story. You can build on it by asking yourself questions and thinking of the answers. Who? When? Why? will get you started; then more and more questions will follow: But why doesn't he tell anyone? Who could possibly help her? Where have his parents gone? What's he hiding from? At this stage, it's a game: you haven't committed yourself to anything, and can enjoy playing around with ideas and possibilities.

Playing around with ideas and possibilities, and pursuing good ideas.  A very good place to start...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Book Club Fiction

I don't belong to a book club right now, but reading this blog entry about Book Club Fiction from (literary agent) Nathan Bransford, it seems like a lot of my reading is in this commercial/literary crossover.
Around the publishing industry there has long been a hankering for a certain type of book that is both literary and yet commercial, familiar and yet exotic, well-written but not too dense, accessible but with some depth. They are books that are kind of tough to categorize, because they don't exactly fit into any one genre. I'd often hear people calling them either literary commercial fiction or commercial literary fiction.

But during my last trip to New York I heard an apt label for this category: book club fiction*. And lots of editors want it.

What books are in this category? Think: 
(*EAT PRAY LOVE would be an example of book club memoir)

Which begs two questions, one of which is whether, in writing my own work, how I should be thinking about what I read in relation to what I write.  I'm not entirely sure about this, in that my writing style/method isn't necessarily to work to a formula, of any kind.  When writing fiction, I'm telling stories with the voices and conflicts and events that come as I put words on the page.  The evaluation of genre/niche comes later  - I want to grab and catch the words first.  Later, of course, there is the issue of genre/niche in relation to marketing, to catching the attention of an agent and publisher.  And yet there are so many books that have been successful and eluded pigeonholing.  They were what they were, and readers found and loved them.

The other?  Have you thought of hunting among book club recommendations to find among them more books you'd like to read?  Of the list above, I've asterisked those I own or have read (own meaning I haven't read 'em yet).  Publisher sites often have book club/reading group sections to cater to this market.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

NaNoWriMo: National Novel Writing Month

There is fun to be had in November, and time now to sign up and get yourself ready. Read all about National (that doesn't mean just the US) Novel Writing Month here . Over in the sidebar you'll find a link to the home page and also my page. I have plans...

The gist is that you join up deciding that you'll make/find/create time to write a novel of at least 50,000 words in the calendar month of November. You can clock your count on the site, and be among the winners if you reach/surpass that goal number (anyone who does is a winner - it's not about the prizes). The goal is volume, not exquisitely polished paragraphs. Chasing the words to create a story, which may or may not be finished when you reach 50,000 words or the end of November.

The organisers justify this venture as follows:

NaNoWriMo is all about the magical power of deadlines. Give someone a goal and a goal-minded community and miracles are bound to happen. Pies will be eaten at amazing rates. Alfalfa will be harvested like never before. And novels will be written in a month.

Part of the reason we organize NaNoWriMo is just to get a book written. We love the fringe benefits accrued to novelists. For one month out of the year, we can stew and storm, and make a huge mess of our apartments and drink lots of coffee at odd hours. And we can do all of these things loudly, in front of people. As satisfying as it is to reach deep within yourself and pull out an unexpectedly passable work of art, it is equally (if not more) satisfying to be able to dramatize the process at social gatherings.

But that artsy drama window is woefully short. The other reason we do NaNoWriMo is because the glow from making big, messy art, and watching others make big, messy art, lasts for a long, long time. The act of sustained creation does bizarre, wonderful things to you. It changes the way you read. And changes, a little bit, your sense of self. We like that.

If you decide to play too, please leave a comment with the link to your page on the NaNoWriMo site.

In case you think it's all amateur foolishness, the FAQ page on the site lists books published which began as NaNoWriMo works, including Sarah Gruen's Water for Elephants.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Censorship: A golden compass and those penguins

Philip Pullman writes about book banning - The Golden Compass was on the American Library Association's top 5 list for this last year.  A quote:
 The inevitable result of trying to ban something – book, film, play, pop song, whatever – is that far more people want to get hold of it than would ever have done if it were left alone. Why don't the censors realise this?
You can also find out why some real penguins from the New York Central Park Zoo whose story became a book caused such havoc among would-be censors.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Robert Harris on How To Write

From The Guardian's series on How To Write , author Robert Harris on What's the Story?

He begins:
Writing a novel - unlike operating a piece of heavy machinery, say, or cooking a chicken - is not a skill that can be taught. There is no standard way of doing it, just as there is no means of telling, while you're doing it, whether you're doing it well or badly. And merely because you've done it well once doesn't mean you can do it well again. The whole process is a mystery, devoid of rules or fairness.
That doesn't mean that guides like this are without value. On the contrary. Having the urge to write a novel, especially if you've yet to be published, is like having a medical condition impossible to mention in polite company - it's a relief simply to know there are fellow-sufferers out there.

Welcome and beginning

On my other blog, patterning the world , the posts are about everyday life in words and pictures.

This blog is more about words and writing, fiction, books, stories, articles, links: a narrower focus.

I am a reader and writer, creator and consumer of text in print, the spoken word and on screen, engaged by words and language, intrigued by imagination and its journeys.  The keyboard and the pen are the tools I use to explore and to write, thus the title of this blog.

I hope this blog will be useful to you and to me.  There are so many resources about books, words and writing on the net.

And I may include excerpts from my own fiction as well.  Be kind.  Honest and kind (what's that Larkin phrase?  Not untrue and not unkind?).  Yes.  That.