Thursday, October 27, 2011

SIWC and The Kneebone Boy

I spent a great weekend at the Surrey International Writers' Conference. Susan Juby was there, and she's just as personable in person as her writing would lead you to believe. Ivan Coyote gave a brilliant workshop called Bootcamp for Procrastinators, which was exactly what I needed to hear. Mary Robinette Kowal gave an inspiring keynote speech and a terribly useful workshop on what puppeteering taught her about writing. (I bought her book just so I could get her to sign it, and it was great: Jane Austen plus magic.) And I got my "This Day We Write!" t-shirt to remind me of Robert Dugoni's brilliant Lord of the Rings-inspired rallying cry. I highly recommend all of these authors, and if you are a writer I strongly recommend attending the SIWC next year. It's all kinds of inspiring, and fun, too.

I was almost convinced that I should sign up for National Novel Writing Month, in which one commits to writing 50 000 words in 30 days (seriously!), but having checked it out, I think it might be more distracting than inspiring. (And, let's face it, there's no way I could do it. I can't even write a blog twice a month!) So instead I am going to commit, here, in this most public and non-retractable way, to writing some words in my new novel every day in November. Even ten words counts. And I commit to recording here in the blog the number of words I write.

So I'd better get caught up on all the books I've been meaning to recommend, since I may not have any time left for blogging in November.

A long time ago I mentioned that The Kneebone Boy, by Ellen Potter, was a great book. I still think so, but I'm going to cheat a little and direct you to Book Aunt's review, because she did such a good job! I second everything she says about the quirky characters, the atmosphere, the surrealism that feels like magic even though technically it isn't, and the very funny writing. I diverge from her opinion only at the end: I thought the ending of The Kneebone Boy was brilliant. Yes, it totally turns all your expectations on their heads, but that just gives the emotional punch more weight. And it makes you rethink everything that went before, in a resonant, many-layers-of-theme kind of way. It's like when you order chocolate mousse for dessert, and it seems all light and sweet and yummy, and then there's a raspberry truffle in the middle.

I just got completely distracted from this blog entry when I went looking for The Kneebone Boy's cover and I found Ellen Potter's blog. She has a great blog, you have to go read it! Particularly this entry: Blame it on Mary. I have a new motto now (to go along with This Day We Write!)(I need another t-shirt): I am the carpetbag. I Am the Carpetbag. If that isn't inspiring, I don't know what is. (Just go read her blog entry; I can't possibly do it justice.)

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Three completely different books

I haven't made it through the entire stack of library books. (I never do: it's one of the great things about libraries, being able to take books out and then not read them. I can always take them out again later. All that choice and no pressure, like the buffet dinners at all-inclusive resorts!) (And this time I was distracted by the arrival of both This Dark Endeavour and Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I had to read immediately, of course.) But I made some good picks that I ought to share, especially since I think none of them are very well-known.

Wrapped, by Jennifer Bradbury, is a light-hearted historical adventure/romance with Egyptian mummies and spies. It opens with the main character, Agnes, getting fitted for her coming-out dress while reading the latest Jane Austen novel:

"Put the book down, darling," my mother said from her chair beside the mirror.
"The chapter's end is only a short way off," I replied, reaching out with my other hand to flip the page. Despite the ache in my shoulder from holding the book at arm's length so the dressmakers could work on my gown, I didn't want to give it up.
I loved Agnes at once. She longs for adventure at the same time as she is not sure she's ready to come out. She is thoughtless and impulsive but genuinely tries to be good. And she doesn't quite know what to do when the very eligible Lord Showalter begins to court her. But the fun of this book is the amulet she finds at a mummy unwrapping, and the secret message attached to it, and sneaking around--with the entirely unsuitable but good-looking museum assistant--trying to solve the puzzle before the unknown bad guys do. The plot is contrived--it's rather silly the various reasons why she never tells her father about the amulet--but it's all good fun, the conclusion is everything you could have hoped for, and the stage is set for further Agnes adventures. If you liked Sorcery and Cecelia, or if you're a Jane Austen fan, then check this out. I have no idea what syllabub tastes like, but I imagine it's the perfect analogy to this book (they're always having it for dessert in Jane Austen!)

 The Seer and the Sword, by Victoria Hanley, made me wonder why I've never heard of this author before, and made me want to find more of her books. It's traditional fantasy, as the title would suggest, but other than the crystal ball that gives Torina visions, there is little magical that happens. Rather, it is the story of a kingdom and the characters whose choices determine its fate. Torina's father comes home from a war of conquest with the son of the defeated king as a slave for his daughter. Torina immediately frees the boy, and they grow up together, and apart, as plots threaten the stability of the throne and enemies gather from across the sea. It reminded me of Robin McKinley's The Hero and the Crown, or Megan Whalen Turner's Attolia books: it has the sweep of politics and history, but its heart is the coming-of-age of two people who find out what they're made of when everything is taken from them. I cared very much about Torina and Landon and I liked what became of them. Good old-fashioned roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

Questors, by Joan Lennon, looked original, and it was. I can't think of anything to compare it to exept perhaps some of Diana Wynne Jones' work. I'm going to claim Joan Lennon as Canadian, since she was born here, and say this is a Canadian author to watch out for. Three worlds exist in a complex balance, maintained by a mysterious Council in The London House, one of those great places where hallways and doors lead to different realities and Mrs. Macmahonney in the basement kitchen is the one person who knows all its secrets. Three children, one from each world, are brought to The London House and told that the balance is crumbling and they have been designed from birth to be the heroes who will put everything to rights. Except that things are worse than anticipated, and they have to complete their quest ten years before they were supposed to. So they're hardly the heroes they were meant to be. Maddy, Bryn, and Cam each have an ordeal in their own world, in which their choice of which Object to bring back will either save or doom all reality. The characters are convincing in their strengths and vulnerabilities, and in their difficulties getting along with each other. The worlds are imaginative, the ordeals interesting, the mythology mysterious and never completely explained, but not frustratingly confusing. I was intrigued by the concept and carried along by the plot. Fun and different, like chewy ginger cookies.