Author Interview: Tor Udall

Tor

Today on Writers Blog, an author interview from Tor Udell about her debut novel A Thousand Paper Birds, which took six years and eight drafts to bring to publication – proving there is hope for the rest of us yet! A delightful interview, and a novel I will be picking up in the bookstore.

About the Author

Tor Udall studied theatre and film before co-founding a dance-theatre company. She spent most of her twenties directing, writing and performing. She lives in London with her husband and young children. @TorUdall

A Thousand Paper Birds is her first novel and is an intimate portrait of five inextricably linked lives, spanning one calendar year at Kew Gardens. After the sudden death of his wife, Audrey, Jonah sits on a bench in Kew Gardens, trying to reassemble the shattered pieces of his life. Chloe, shaven-headed and abrasive, finds solace in the origami she meticulously folds. But when she meets Jonah, her carefully constructed defences threaten to fall. Milly, a child quick to laugh, freely roams Kew, finding beauty everywhere she goes. But where is her mother and where does she go when the gardens are closed? Harry’s purpose is to save plants from extinction. Quiet and enigmatic, he longs for something – or someone – who will root him more firmly to the earth. Audrey links these strangers together. As the mystery of her death unravels, the characters journey through the seasons to learn that stories, like paper, can be refolded and reformed. Haunted by songs and origami birds, this novel is a love letter to a garden and a hymn to lost things.

The Interview

A Thousand Paper Birds is your first novel but with your career in dance and theatre, I wonder if perhaps storytelling is in your blood?

I think ‘creating experiences’ is in my blood. Capturing a mood, a glance, a moment. Having come from a dance background, which is all about communicating a feeling, the things unsaid, the push-pull of an encounter, I had to work hard to move away from a series of images and sensations to something with more narrative drive. I could, however, fall back on my theatre years to explore character motivations, the importance of an arc. I think, primarily, it is imagination that has been my fuel and anchor. Imagining different worlds, the infinite possibilities. Trying to make the familiar unfamiliar.

 

How long has this story lived with you?

It started in 2003 when I first moved to Kew and began jotting down notes about the Gardens. I was working on a different novel at the time so didn’t take much notice. Over the years, different threads began to form – including origami and the question, ‘Who is Harry Barclay?’. I was always struck by the abundance of life in Kew in juxtaposition with the commemorative benches. All those dead people who had ‘loved spending time in this garden’ only made me more aware of the beauty of the place and how fleeting the moment. This rub of death and life began to fascinate me. I started writing the novel in 2009 and it took six years and eight drafts before it reached Bloomsbury.

 

Loss and grief are central themes of the story, and your writing doesn’t shy away from the sensitive subjects of suicide and miscarriage. There’s a beautiful line where Jonah feels he ‘is clutching a newborn child, holding the exact weight of hope in his arms.’ Were you conscious of speaking about grief that is often kept hidden?

Yes. I suffered recurrent miscarriages between my first and second child, so I felt qualified to explore this difficult and often unspoken subject. Grief for an unborn child is real and yet intangible. I’m always interested in exploring the things that are in the mist, that you can only see the vague shape of – perhaps an outline here or there, the rest erased, amorphous. So I wanted to see if I could bring that yearning into being.

A close friend committed suicide when we were in our late twenties. It’s one of those things that leaves its mark on you and it turned up in my writing, unbidden. I think many of us have had some whimsical notion of suicide at some point – but I think there’s a huge chasm between thinking it and doing it. I’m really interested in what that is. The space between.

I have also witnessed friends die of terminal illness – and I’m interested in the grief of a dying person. I remember a day when there was a sudden downpour – a proper, constant dousing – and my neighbour, who knew he didn’t have long, walked out of his house with his umbrella and stood in the middle of the road just taking it all in. How do you say goodbye to that last rainfall? I think one thing the book tries to do is stretch that final moment. If I could press pause between my penultimate heartbeat and my last, what would my thoughts be?

 

The book remains hopeful, the idea of redemption ever-present – perhaps because the setting at Kew Gardens is so beautiful. Did you always know you wanted to set A Thousand Paper Birds there?

Yes. Kew always came first. I was living in a bedsit near the Gardens with only two windows that were so high I couldn’t see out of them. So if I had writing time, I would take myself off to Kew and set up my ‘office’ – which was always one particular bench by the lake. Eventually this became Audrey’s bench. If the weather was dreadful, I would seek refuge in the Palm House and perch on the hot pipes, surrounded by banana trees and palms. In later drafts, I would write in different locations depending on which character’s storyline I was working on; each character has a particular place that resonates.

 

The rhythm of the book was another source of joy for me; could you tell us a little about the structure and timespan the book is set over?

As a dancer, rhythm is vital to me: the rhythm of the sentences, the words, the chapter. It is important to me where the comma is, the dash. It’s Fred Astaire in a graceful spin, his arms wheeling, then a pause – oh, how important the pause is – before he stamps, shuffles, stamps again. Writing IS a dance.

As for the structure, I was weaving two timelines and five character perspectives. At first I worked in narrative order, then in deeper drafts I took the thread of just one or two characters and worked them from beginning to end, just polishing that particular arc. Then in the next draft I would braid them together again, checking the juxtapositions, the pace … and yes, most importantly, the rhythm.

 

Kew felt like a character in its own right, as did the origami cranes Chloe creates almost compulsively. What are your thoughts about the therapeutic properties of art and nature?

Both art and nature are sustenance to me. At an early age, I learnt from Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden that nature has the power to transform. We enter a garden, and if we let it enter us, we leave changed. Ditto for woods, oceans, mountains – even a daisy in the crack of a pavement. It can totally shift my day.

The same is true with art. Many books have saved me. Music has lifted and consoled me. I have stood in front of a particular painting for hours, unable to leave. Often I don’t know why – just that it is making my soul itch. Dance has a profound impact. It touches on things we have no words for. It always breaks me and makes me bigger.

Fusing these two themes, I was interested in how humans strive to create and yet are systematically destroying the most creative thing of all: nature. Harry’s job is to save species from extinction. I’m dumbfounded by the vast variety of Kew’s flora. It’s enough to make you believe in a vast, divine imagination – but perhaps that creativity is coming from the seed itself, the atom. I’m curious about the urge to create that is in every living thing – the bud pushing through the soil, the ambition of a tree to birth an apple. In all of us there’s a striving to create, to be the fullest we can be.

 

I’ve been inspired to try and learn how to make paper birds by your book; are you a dab hand at origami yourself?

Sadly, no. I can do a few birds well. A couple of boxes. But it’s not necessarily about a big repertoire of models, but repeating the same bird again and again. There’s something very meditative about the process. But beyond my dabbling, there’s a whole world out there of origami masters making the most extraordinary things. Scientists use origami to solve mathematical equations. Leonardo Da Vinci, Houdini – many of the big thinkers have been enthralled by its mysteries and symmetries.

I love how many things can be created from a single square. How often can I unfold and refold the paper, changing it from a bird to a boat, a kimono, before the paper frays or tears? This was a metaphor for the writing process: how far can I push the form, fold in the different perspectives, and, particularly, how much can I crease the genres before something rips?

One of the best things about the book coming out is people telling me stories about origami birds being scattered in bookshops, left on trains, stranded at bus stops. People are picking up litter – a ticket, a chewing gum wrapper – and folding it into a gift for the next stranger … and the next. It’s a tiny act of resistance that says, despite everything, I still believe in beauty, in small gestures of kindness. A Chinese whisper.

 

As a destroyer of books myself, one of my favourite scenes is that between Harry and Audrey where they talk about books bearing the imprint of their readers – corners turned, pages smudged, words underlined.  Are you a careful or careless handler of books?

When I was a child, Roald Dahl signed a book for me. My copy had felt tip drawings in the margins, silly faces, doodles. He was charmed by it, saying the book had been well-loved, well lived-in. I won’t fold corners to mark my place – partly because I love matching books with bookmarks, but I will turn down pages to flag a favourite phrase. I underline often. I even scribble in the margins. Perhaps something I’ve read has set off a new thought about my characters, or a scene, so I’ll just begin to riff. It becomes a dialogue.

I particularly love holiday books. The ones that come back double the thickness because they’re bloated with sea water – or perhaps there’s sand in the seams, or an unspecified flower pressed between the pages. There may be dirt from a rickshaw. A squashed bug. My holiday has become part of the book – its story.

Some people might judge it as careless. But I believe the biggest compliment I can give a writer is to show them my copy of their book, all the corners turned, sentences underlined. Look. This is how much I loved this. This is how much I lived it. This is how much I cared.

 

 

 

 

Some of the Best Book to Movie Adaptations

Book-to-movies

Truth time: the book is not always better than the movie. What’s more, trying to figure out which version of a story is “better” isn’t always helpful. Film and print are two entirely different mediums, and we ask different things of each form. That said, here are the Book Riot team’s favourite book-to-movie adaptations, that capture the spirit of the original stories, while at the same time enriching them in the way that only film (or TV) can.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

I fell in love with the film, then read the book, then watched the film again to make sure I still liked it. While there are some major differences, Milos Forman’s adaptation captures the juxtaposing moments of insouciance and sorrow that take place in Ken Kesey’s novel. The cinematography is fantastic and the original score is haunting. Furthermore, it was filmed at Oregon State Hospital in Salem, the same setting as Kesey’s work. In the year it was released, the film won all five major Academy Awards, a feat only accomplished three times in total. Also, Louise Fletcher’s performance as Nurse Ratched is incredible.

Anne of Green Gables

I loved this adaptation because it was simply a pitch-perfect re-imagining of the classic books. There were no weird new characters added (and, let’s be honest – this was filmed in the ‘80s, there very well could’ve been an alien), no modern interpretations of plotlines or relationships, just the book’s own narrative, which is why we all fell in love in the first place. And they could not have cast better actors to play the lovely Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, and Diana. Filming on location in picturesque Canada, and especially Prince Edward Island, did not hurt: I usually like to keep the images from the book in my own head, but seeing the White Way of Delight, Lake of Shining Waters, and Green Gables itself, so true to the book’s descriptions, was blissful. And it’s made PEI a bucket-list bookish destination for me, and many, many other readers.

Witches of Eastwick

For me, this is actually a case of the movie being better than the book. Way better. I’m not saying John Updike isn’t a great writer, but his portrayal of woman wasn’t exactly the greatest in The Witches of Eastwick. But the movie is amazing and it’s mostly due to the cast. Michelle Pfeiffer, Susan Sarandon, Jack Nicholson, and…Cher. Let me repeat that. Cher. Admittedly, the movie is a little campy, but it’s the ’80s. I’m also a sucker for movies when women band together (a la 9 to 5) and for me, the movie is what the book should have been.

Jaws

This is my go-to example when people say “name a movie that is better than the book.” (This, and Die Hard. Yes, Die Hard was a book first! It’s also the best Christmas movie, but that’s an argument for another day.) It is easy to pick Jaws, because I’m sorry but Jaws is a horrible novel. I’m sure it was a great trashy beach read when it came out, but it’s quite ridiculous. But from its ridiculousness, Steven Spielberg managed to make one of the most perfect movies ever. Every shot in Jaws is magnificent. Quint is one of the best characters. The whole thing is eminently quotable. And Spielberg cut out all the nonsense from the book, like – spoiler alert – Ellen Brody and Hooper’s affair, and the death of Hooper. How awesome is it when Richard Dreyfuss pops up at the end?

The 25th Hour

The perfect book to turn into a movie is one with a simple and lean plot that still hits heavy themes, and this debut novel by David Benioff is a great pick. The film is a faithful adaptation (by Benioff) with great casting (one of my favourite PSH roles and that’s saying something) and a talented director in Spike Lee. The 25th Hour is about a small-time drug dealer enjoying his last day of freedom before a long prison term, which sounds like a perfect Spike Lee joint, but this is a story where much is unsaid. No one can talk about the reality the next day will bring, the awkwardness and the emotion underneath are all captured here, and Lee lets the movie breathe without pushing too hard. The movie somehow feels both vibrantly alive and slowly paced. Oh, and it does a few more crucial things: it adds a strong sense of place, beautiful cinematography, and a great soundtrack. Books can do a lot of things, but these elements of sound and beauty are where movies really shine and it’s where the best adaptations make their mark. Warning: while this sounds like a total guy movie (dude bonds with his dad and other dudes) it is a huge weep-fest at the end.

The Fellowship of the Ring

The Fellowship of the Ring premiered on December 19, 2001. Since then we’ve seen the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy brought to screen and three movies based on The Hobbit. But I’ll never forget the excitement and the wonder I experienced in that movie theater when Middle Earth for the first time came to life in a movie that was both beautiful and respectful of the source material. When the movie was over, I remember exclaiming, “Yes!” with great emphasis. I was overwhelmed, in awe, exhilarated. And I couldn’t stop smiling.

The Princess Bride

Like many children of the ’80s, I became intimately acquainted with this movie well before I knew it was based on a book. When I did finally pick up William Goldman’s classic, I was delighted to discover how faithful the film is, not just to the details of the story but the spirit of it. This is a silly, and often ridiculous, story, and the movie, with its crazy-looking ROUSes and intentionally unbelievable sound-stages-dressed-up-as-mountain-cliffs, is just perfect. I’m afraid that if it were made today, we’d see WETA Workshop-style creatures and too much CGI, so The Princess Bride gets my vote for being practically perfect, and perfectly timed.

High Fidelity

When people ask me what my favourite movie is, I tell them it’s Rear Window or The Empire Strikes Back, but it’s probably High Fidelity. For one, it’s a perfect adaptation. Even though it messes with the book’s setting and even its main character’s name, it captures the spirit of Nick Hornby’s book in a way that so few page-to-screen adaptations have managed. High Fidelity is quotable, its soundtrack (and the way it’s used in the film) is exceptional, it features a career-best performance from John Cusack, Jack Black and Todd Louiso as the most endearing set of goofball employees I can imagine, and a Tim Robbins cameo even better than the one he has in Anchorman. The whole thing orbits around Hornby’s music nerd obsessiveness, and we watch Cusack’s Rob Gordon rank and list every meaningful experience (musical and otherwise) he’s ever had, including his most painful breakups. I love this movie, and I might as well face it: it’s number one, with a bullet.

Coraline

Coraline is one of my favourite all-ages books out there, and I was so thrilled when it was adapted to film. This is a case where the story went through changes (of course it did), but not to the point where one wonders what the production team was thinking. The book is one creepy experience, and the film another, with fantastic atmosphere and stop animation. If ever there were a book and film adaptation pair that could coexist, it’s this one.

Romeo + Juliet

Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet made me think that Shakespeare was “cool.”  The delivery of the lines, most notably John Leguizamo’s Tybalt, is forever ingrained in my mind so that when I read the play now I hear them. I see the over-the-top versions that Luhrmann chose for the movie and the play will always be better for it. I say “better” not because it improves on Shakespeare (blasphemy!) but because it makes the play clearer to me as a reader, and helps me understand what is going on in the scenes. And that should always be the point of movie adaptations.

True Grit

True Grit is one of my favourite all-time books, and a classic work that you put down and go “I see why this is a classic.” A small, seemingly straightforward novel that has all of its cleverness buried just below the surface, waiting for you to notice it. It was adapted once back in Olden Days, as a John Wayne movie, about which I have no particular opinion. More interestingly, it was recently adapted by the Coen Brothers (who are godly filmmakers) starring Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin, among others. It’s a film that perfectly manages the sparse simplistic style of the novel (and understands why everyone in the story talks in the weird way they do). What I realised by the end of it, though, was it had got nearly all the book’s dialog in, word for word. I’ve suggested to some people that if you’ve seen the film, you don’t need to read the book. You’ve gotten the entire book, combined with excellent performances and a haunting soundtrack. It’s one of the few times I’ve seen a book translated 100% onto screen without the results being boring and forgettable. Masterful film.

Gone Girl

I go into movie theaters prepared to make excuses, register the differences, and generally side-eye any movie made from a film. That doesn’t mean I don’t often enjoy them, just that I take ‘em with a grain of salt. But Gone Girl was a pleasure to watch from start to finish. I’d read the book twice by the time I saw it, so the plot was firmly fixed in my brain – and the movie fulfilled its promise and then some. Every shot, every actor, every segue felt true to the spirit of the book and letter be damned! No one could have made better use of Ben Affleck’s chin; Rosamund Pike brought a smoky darkness to Amy; I’m now a huge fan of Carrie Coon; and I will never be able to forget Neil Patrick Harris’s, ahem, scene. Add to that the breadcrumbs that they strewed throughout the film, leading toward the inevitably shocking conclusion – and you have one of the most faithful film adaptations I’ve had the joy to watch.

10 Things I Hate About You

Heath Ledger serenading Julia Stiles with “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You” and precious nerd-pants-baby-faced Joseph Gordon-Levitt trying to woo Alex Mack? How can this NOT be the best book-to-movie adaptation? I guess technically it’s a Shakespeare-play-to-movie adaptation, but would you rather see The Taming of the Shrew or 10 Things I Hate About You? Thought so. This is the movie that made us look at the smelly, borderline greasy dude in the leather jacket and think, “If I dance on this table to Biggie Smalls ‘Hypnotize’ and hit my head on a chandelier, maybe he will catch me before I fall, sing to me, royally piss me off by taking money from the guy who was on Party of Five and I think started his own religion in real life, then break into my car and leave me a Fender!” Maybe that was just me, I was 16 and apparently undateable when it came out. I highly recommend rewatching it as an adult. You’ll probably cry when Kat reads the poem to Patrick because… it’s really sad now.

The Shawshank Redemption

I spent a good portion of the ’90s rewatching The Shawshank Redemption over and over, and when I discovered that it was an adaptation of Stephen King’s short story “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (from Different Seasons, if you’re interested), it recast the Guy Who Writes The Scaries into The Guy Who Has An Unbelievable Fictional Range in my mind. Tim Robbins is perfect as Andy Dufresne, the urbane and seemingly soft-but-actually-hard-as-fucking-nails banker sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife. Morgan Freeman is, well, Morgan Freeman (his speech to the parole board is one of the best moments in movie history). This is a hope-filled heart-breaker and classic film.

If you haven’t yet read these books or seen the movies, I highly recommend them all.

Via: http://bookriot.com/2014/12/22/riot-round-favorite-book-movie-adaptations

Author Interview: Allison Tait

Allison-Tait

Allison Tait describes herself thus on her website:

“I’m a freelance writer, author and blogger, living large(ish) in a small(ish) town. I write a lot. I combine my day job (feature articles & non-fiction books), with my night job (fiction), and my 24/7 job (family). Fortunately, I gave up sleep years ago!”

A professional writer for over 20 years, Allison started her career as a staff writer for magazines and newspapers, and in recent times has added online publishing to her list.

Allison’s latest incarnation is writer of children’s fiction. Her first book in a series – The MapMaker Chronicles – Race to the End of the World – is published by Hachette Australia, under the name A.L.Tait and was released in October 2014. It is the first in a trilogy that is already garnering her a legion of young fans across the country.

Congratulations on the release of the Mapmaker Chronicles. You changed your writing name for this novel. What was the motivation behind this decision?

I didn’t so much change my name as abbreviate it! I wanted to differentiate between the writing I do for adults and this book, which is for kids.

When did you decide to write children’s fiction? Or did it choose you? Can you outline the start of the creative process behind this project? Was there a light bulb moment?

I think The Mapmaker Chronicles chose me! I never imagined I’d be an author of children’s books. When I began writing fiction, I wrote women’s fiction (which I still write, and so far have completed two full-length (90,000+ words) manuscripts, one of which went very close to publication and the second of which I am redrafting).

But I have two boys, now aged seven and ten, and they are both fans of the ‘head-hurting’ question. We have long-and-involved conversations about where space ends, how high the stars are, whether there are any places in the world that remain unexplored, which dwarf from The Hobbit I would invite to a dinner party… you get the idea.

Several of those conversations, close together, led to one of those ideas that make you tingle all over.

“How far does space go?” asked Mr10, one night.

“Nobody knows,” I answered.

Then the next night: “How did they map the world?”

“Well, they had to go out there and find out,” I answered, distractedly.

“They must have been brave,” he answered.

“They were,” I said. “They would have felt exactly as we feel looking out into space, not knowing how far it goes or what’s out there.”

And just like that, in my mind I saw a race to map the world, and a boy who really didn’t want to go.

You have many writing projects on the go at any one time. How do you manage to delve in and out of genres and characters, fiction and non-fiction? Does one writing style provide relief for another?

Over many years of freelance writing, I’ve learnt to juggle lots of projects. I like to have one long-length manuscript on the go, and then I work on articles, corporate work, websites and other things as they come up, using the deadlines as the best way to prioritise work. I really like to work this way – it means I’m never bored and I don’t get writers’ block because I simply move on to something else for a while if the words aren’t flowing for one project. I don’t work on more than one fiction project at a time – I just push through until I have it completed, putting aside any other ‘brilliant ideas’ for later.

With so much on your calendar how do you manage your writing time? Do you have a strict routine? Do you have to make personal sacrifices?

I have a mammoth To Do list and the paid work always comes first. When you have so many deadlines, it’s a simple matter of prioritising what needs to be done each day to ensure those deadlines are met. I don’t have a strict routine for writing in that I just do what needs to be done each day – but I’m at my desk while the boys are at school and I often work at night.

What advice do you have for starting out writers when it comes to pitching stories and managing deadlines? How do you deal with rejection?

Oh, this is such a massive subject. I have a lot of information on my blog at allisontait.com that’s full of advice for freelance writers and my eBook Get Paid To Write: The Secrets of Freelancing Success is full of tips and tricks of the trade. But as a starting point:

  • A pitch is not just an outline of a subject you’d like to write about. You need to find the angle of the subject that is new and exciting and you need to sell it. It’s a real art form and it takes a lot of practice. I often suggest to my students at the Australian Writers’ Centre that they open a magazine, read a story and then try to write the pitch that got the story published.
  • Reliability is essential for any freelance writer, and to be reliable you need to be organised. When you get commissioned to write an article, start making phone calls and lining up interviews that day – even if your deadline is four weeks away. Things don’t always go to plan and you need to allow yourself time to change interviewees or find a new case study or hose down any other disaster that arises.
  • Rejection is part of the game. It’s no fun and I don’t think anyone ever grows to like it, but you do get used to it (sad but true). Remember that the editor is not rejecting you – it’s just that the particular idea you’re pitching is not right for that publication at that time. Have a look at your pitch, rethink it with a new publication in mind and try again. Don’t just send out one blanket pitch to six publications – that will result in a lot of rejection.

Do you have any remedies for writer’s block? (taking your cheeky puppy for a walk?)

Everybody deals with this in their own way. As I said, I don’t really get writer’s block per se, but I do allow myself a lot of thinking time when I’m writing a manuscript. I find that my mind works best when my body is involved in some kind of mindless, repetitive activity, so I walk (not with the puppy though – he’s too distracting!), I wash dishes, I weed the garden, I hang out washing… And I usually find that if I do that for a while, my mind busily unravels whatever plot problem I’ve struck.

Do you find the self-motivation and the discipline required difficult?

Honestly, no. I never struggle to motivate myself to write fiction because I love it. I’d rather be doing that than just about anything else. When it comes to the freelance work, my day job, I have been a fulltime freelance writer for more than 10 years now and I know how to get an article written. Yes, some days I’d rather faff about on the internet and tweet, but that just means that I sit down later that night and get the story done. If I don’t write the article, I don’t get paid – that’s a great motivator!

Writers these days have to be very technically savvy and keep an online presence. How do you juggle your social media commitments with writing?

I think that this comes down to time in the game, as well as time on the field. I have been blogging for nearly five years now and have worked through several different social media platforms to accompany that, whittling it down to the ones that I like. Over the years, I’ve built up an amazing community across my blog, Twitter and Facebook. I do a bit on G+ and Pinterest, but mostly I go to the others because I really like them. My advice to people in this area is two-fold: do what you like and, most importantly, what comes easily to you so that it doesn’t feel like work, and secondly, don’t expect miracles overnight – it takes time to find your networks and create a community.

Do you find writing a lonely experience? It can also be an anti-social exercise. How do the people in your life deal with that?

I like spending time by myself. I have a busy family and social life outside of my work, and I’m more than happy to be alone in a quiet house during the day. I don’t write when my boys are around – or try not to (there are occasions when deadlines need to be met) – and I don’t work on weekends.

Do you have a routine / a particular place and time when you write?

I write in my study. I’ve tried writing in cafes but they’re too distracting. I work while the boys are at school and at night after everyone goes to bed.

Who /what inspires your writing? Who are your favourite authors?

I’m inspired by everything around me. I’m inspired by the joy I get from bringing a story to life. I have so many favourite authors and favourite books that I don’t think I could even begin to name them.

Why writing? Have you always wanted to be a writer?

I think that writing is something that chooses you. I wanted to be an actor for a long time, but then I realised that the stage fright would kill me. I fell into magazine journalism and it kept me happy for a long time. And then I decided I was going to write fiction, so I sat down to give it a go. My first attempts were woeful, but you learn with every manuscript you write.

Do you have any further advice for starting out writers?

My main advice is to stop talking about writing and actually write. You’ll never get a book written if you don’t make the time to sit down and write it.

What is your next major writing project now that the Mapmaker Chronicles is released?

I’ve just completed the third manuscript in The Mapmaker Chronicles series, and I’m redrafting an adult novel that I’m hoping might be my first published in that area. That should take me to the end of the year. After that, who knows?

***

If you’d like to learn more about Allison Tait, you can check out her website here.

You can see the original article here

17 Books That Should Be On Your Radar: May 2017

books-radar-may2017

Every month, the Writer’s Bone crew reviews or previews books they’ve read or want to read. This series may or may not also serve as a confessional for guilty pleasures and hipster novels only the brave would attempt. Here are their recommendations for May 2017:

  1. Salt Houses by Hala Alyan
  2. The Wrong Side Of Goodbye by Michael Connelly
  3. Marlena by Julie Buntin
  4. Janesville, An American Story by Amy Goldstein
  5. Little Victories by Jason Gay
  6. The River Of Kings by Taylor Brown
  7. American War by Omar El Akkad
  8. A Brutal Bunch Of Heartbroken Saps by Nick Kolakowski
  9. The Dinner Party by Joshua Ferris
  10. Tell Me How It Ends by Valeria Luiselli
  11. The One-Eyed Man by Ron Currie
  12. Recitation by Bae Suah
  13. The Warren by Brian Evenson
  14. Unbearable Splendor by Sun Yung Shin
  15. Hothouse by Karyna Mcglynn
  16. Make: A Decade Of Literary Art
  17. Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfar

Click on the links above for a detailed synopsis of each book, or follow the following link to see what the Writer’s Bone crew had to say: http://www.writersbone.com/book-recommendations/books-that-should-be-on-your-radar-may-2017

Short Stories: The Top 10 Classics

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Continuing on with our Writer’s Blog Short Story Week, Writer’s Edit put together a reading list of top ten classic short story recommendations. As mentioned in yesterday’s post, the short story emerged as a recognised and respected literary genre throughout the 19th century. What better way to celebrate this literary form than by returning to some of the great tales and classic authors who helped shape this genre into the literary gem it is today.

Here is the pick of the top ten ‘must-read’ short story classics!:

10. ‘The Signal-Man

Author: Charles Dickens Year: 1866

Written by one of England’s greatest novelists, ‘The Signal-Man’ is an eerie ghost story about a railway signal-man who is haunted by foreboding, spectral visions.

Favourite Line: “So little sunlight ever found its way to this spot, that it had an earthy, deadly smell; and so much cold wind rushed through it, that it struck chill to me, as if I had left the natural world.”

No doubt the best aspect of ‘The Signal-Man’ is the way Dickens establishes atmosphere. An example of this can be seen in the quotation above. Here, Dickens succeeds in creating a haunting, supernatural atmosphere by not only suggesting the narrator has “left the natural world”, but also by describing the setting much like a graveyard.

9. ‘The Happy Prince’

Author: Oscar Wilde Year: 1888

‘The Happy Prince’ is a melancholy tale, reflecting the style of a fairy-tale or fable – which is, after all, where short stories found their roots as a genre. The story looks at themes of love and sacrifice, wealth and poverty, and the nature of true beauty.

Favourite Line: At that moment a curious crack sounded inside the statue, as if something had broken. The fact is that the leaden heart had snapped right in two. It certainly was a dreadfully hard frost.”

This line is extremely effective and moving due to the dramatic irony of the narrator’s suggestion that it was merely the frost that had broken the prince’s heart. In contrast, the reader is able to recognise that it is the prince’s sorrow, and love for the poor, little swallow that has caused the “leaden heart” to snap in two.

8. ‘The Magic Shop

Author: H.G. Wells Year: 1903

The Magic Shop is a curious tale that follows a father and son’s experience of visiting a ‘genuine magic shop’. While the little boy explores the shop, seeing only joy and wonder, his father is confronted with much more sinister visions. The story therefore examines how we experience the world as children versus how we experience the world as adults. In doing so, ‘The Magic Shop’ forces the reader to consider whether innocence and evil truly exist in the outer world, or whether these are merely determined by our own perceptions.

Favourite Line: I felt him pull at something that clung to my coat-sleeve, and then I saw he held a little, wriggling red demon by the tail – the little creature bit and fought and tried to get at his hand – and in a moment he tossed it carelessly behind a counter… ‘Astonishing what people will carry about with them unawares!’”

The symbolic implication of this line seems to sum up the overall purpose of the story. The narrator, of course, believes the demon belongs to the magic shop, yet the shop owner claims that the narrator has been carrying the little devil around himself. This therefore begs the question – is evil born of our own perceptions?

7. ‘The Gift of the Magi

Author: O. Henry Year: 1906

‘The Gift of the Magi’ is a simple story about a young, married couple’s quest to find each other the perfect Christmas gift. In securing these ‘perfect gifts’, however, each partner is forced to give up something highly valuable, and precious to them, resulting in a rather unfortunate twist.

Favourite Line: But in a last word to the wise of these days let it be said that of all who give gifts these two were the wisest.”

This line is made all the more wonderful by the contradiction of the line immediately preceding it, which suggests that the couple were extremely “unwise” for giving up their greatest treasures. The delightful contradiction forces the reader to consider how the couple could be considered both “unwise” and yet also the “wisest of all”. In doing so, O. Henry invites the reader to recognise that, although the valuable sacrifices the couple make for each other ultimately reduce their gifts to irrelevance, their sacrifices were made out of love, and are therefore the most valuable gifts of all.

6. ‘Rip Van Winkle’

Author: Washington Irving Year: 1819

After falling asleep in the woods, the ‘henpecked’ Rip Van Winkle awakes to find his village deeply changed, and is startled to discover twenty years have passed. One of the greatest, classic short stories to emerge in America, ‘Rip Van Winkle’ takes a metaphorical look at the changing American Identity following the event of the Revolutionary War.

Favourite Line: I was myself last night, but I fell asleep on the mountain, and they’ve changed my gun, and everything’s changed, and I’m changed, and I can’t tell what’s my name, or who I am!”

Through this exclamation, uttered by Rip Van Winkle, Irving perfectly captures the crisis of identity he aims to represent. Through this line, more than any other, Irving portrays America as a nation that must struggle to map out its own, unique identity, after severing its ties from the previous monarch (much like Rip, after finding himself free of Dame Van Winkle).

5. ‘Désirée’s Baby

Author: Kate Chopin Year: 1893

Set in Louisiana, prior to the American Civil War (a time when slavery was still considered ‘lawful’), ‘Désirée’s Baby’ examines the injustices of racism and gender discrimination.

Favourite Line: “But above all,” she wrote, “night and day, I thank the good God for having so arranged our lives that our dear Armand will never know that his mother, who adores him, belongs to the race that is cursed with the brand of slavery.”

The sense of karmic justice in this final line leaves the reader feeling smugly satisfied. After expelling his wife and child from their home, merely for their mixed heritage, the reader takes great delight in discovering that it is Armand himself who is not entirely of white descent. Within this ending, Chopin highlights that all people are ultimately the same, and that not one of us, for any reason whatsoever, have the right to treat another person as less human than ourselves.

4. The Body Snatcher

Author: Robert Louis Stevenson Year: 1884

Inspired by the Burke and Hare murders of 1828, ‘The Body Snatcher’ is a gothic tale that follows two med students, involved in crimes of grave robbing, in order to keep their anatomy professor supplied with instructional cadavers.

Favourite Line: We were all startled by the transformation, as if a man had risen from the dead.”

What makes this line so intriguing is the way it seems to strongly foreshadow Stevenson’s grotesque, gothic ending.

3. The Yellow Wallpaper’

Author: Charlotte Perkins Gilman Year: 1892

Flying the flag for feminism in this story, Charlotte Perkins Gilman provides an interesting and unsettling exploration of the oppression of women in nineteenth century society.

Favourite Line: At night in any kind of light, in twilight, candle light, lamplight, and worst of all by moonlight, it becomes bars! The outside pattern I mean, and the woman behind it is as plain as can be.”

The rich symbolism of the emerging wallpaper pattern as we witness the narrator’s gradual descent into madness is definitely what makes this story so memorable and effective. It is clear to the reader that, just like the woman in the wallpaper, the narrator is being held prisoner by her husband, and is desperate to break free.

2. ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’

Author: Edgar Allan Poe Year: 1843

Of course, we couldn’t have a Classic Short Story list without including the ‘Father of the Short Story’ himself, Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. It is always difficult to choose only one story from such a prolific writer, but in our opinion, ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ serves as an excellent example of Poe’s prowess in the Short Story genre.

Favourite Line: “True! – nervous – very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad?”

What makes this story so memorable is Poe’s brilliant use of the unreliable narrator. From the very opening line (included above), the reader is given the strong sense that the narrator is not to be entirely trusted. The structure of the introductory line is erratic and disjointed, creating the impression of mad ramblings. In addition to this, the narrator plants the seed in the reader’s mind himself that he is, in fact, ‘mad’. Of course, the wonderful irony of this is that the narrator is attempting to convince the reader of his sanity, and yet with every sentence, the reader only becomes more and more certain of the opposite.

1. B24

Author: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Year: 1899

Anyone who has heard the name Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would know he is most famous for his hugely popular Sherlock Holmes stories. But perhaps not everyone realises what a talented, and prolific writer he truly was – particularly in the genre of the short story. The Sherlock Holmes stories themselves are, of course, exemplary of this. Of the sixty stories, chronicling the adventures of the consulting detective, fifty-six of them are short (and all sixty are well worth the read, if ever you get the chance). But for anyone who has ever wondered what this author can do outside of the Holmes stories, ‘B24’ is excellent in highlighting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as a master of the short story.

Favourite Line: “I have only you to look to, sir, and if you will clear my name of this false accusation, then I will worship you as one man never yet worshipped another. But if you fail me, then I give you my solemn promise that I will rope myself up, this day month, to the bar of my windows, and from that time on I will come to plague you in your dreams if ever yet one man was able to come back and to haunt another.”

Spoken directly from the narrator to the reader at the end of the story, this line is extraordinary in a number of ways. By addressing the reader in this way (both here, and in the opening) Doyle personally drags the reader into the story and places a great deal of responsibility on his/her shoulders. In doing so, Doyle establishes an acute sense of realism in the tale, allowing the reader to feel as though the narrator can, in fact, extend beyond the page and come back to haunt them as promised. The line is also notable for the seed of doubt it places in the reader’s mind, that the narrator may be unreliable.

Written from the perspective of a thief, attempting to convince us he has been wrongly accused of murder, the assertion that he will hang himself if we, the reader, refuse to help him, makes us question the narrator’s sanity (much like the narrator in the Tell-Tale Heart). If the narrator is mad enough to hang himself if he is not listened to, perhaps the reader cannot trust his testimony after all? In this way, the reader is left wondering, do they really know who the killer is?

Keep an eye on Writer’s Blog for our upcoming third and final article, celebrating Short Story Week where we will cover how to write a short story of your own.

Via: http://writersedit.com/top-10-classic-short-stories/

 

The Books That Made Your Favourite Authors Want To Write

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It’s a question that’s asked by interviewers all the time: how did you become a writer? It’s kind of a lob, and for many authors, the answer is obvious. Reading made them into writers. What else? Besides actually, you know, sitting down and doing the work. But while many authors cite a lifetime love of the written word, or a storytelling acumen developed in the womb, or a childhood spent lost in libraries, some can point to a specific book and say: that one. That’s the book that made me who I am today – if only because it opened a door, or gave me permission, or even just a spark. Below, a selection of these: 30 recommendations plucked from interviews and essays the internet over. If you read them all, you’ll probably become a writer instantly!

Zadie Smith: Hurricane, Andrew Salkey

A Jamaican writer called Andrew Salkey… wrote a YA novel called Hurricanebefore YA was a term. I remember it as the book that made me want to write. He was the most wonderful writer for children. I just found what looks to be a sequel, Earthquake, on an old-books stall on West Third, and I intend to read it to my kids. He died in 1995.

Alain Robbe-Grillet: The Stranger, Albert Camus

The two most influential books of the war years were Sartre’s Nausea and Camus’s The Stranger. Other novels by the same authors—for example Sartre’s The Roads to Liberty or Camus’s The Fall—are of little interest. I feel that I decided to become a writer when I read The Stranger, which appeared in 1942, during the Occupation. It was published by Gallimard, a firm very much connected with the Occupiers. By the way, Sartre himself finally confessed that the Occupation hadn’t bothered him much. But my reading of The Stranger, as I explain in the Mirror, is very personal. The murder committed by Mersault was the result of a situation, which is the situation of relationship to the world.

Eileen Myles: Little Women, Louisa May Alcott

Do you remember what books you encountered, growing up in Massachusetts in the 1950s and 60s, that might have inspired you to want to become a writer?

The 50s is childhood up to age ten, so myths, sci-fi. Those didn’t make me want to be a writer. They made me want to do drugs or have adventures, travel. Maybe Little Women made me want to be a writer because Jo, the star of it, was a writer. I didn’t understand yet that that was the author. In the 60s I was a teenager. I liked Franny & Zooey, really everything by J.D. Salinger. I realized it was important who was talking. If you could tap into that you could get a flow going. Henry Miller came to me in the 70s. He said I didn’t ask to be born. He wrote in a complaining, American working class speech. He was from Williamsburg. It was ugly. It reminded me of Somerville, where I came from. He made it clear that an unprivileged American could be a writer and could have a lot to talk about. He switched constantly from speech to surrealism. That shift was important to me because an unstable self was what I had to use.

Jodi Picoult: Gone With the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

My favorite writer is Alice Hoffman; she’s brilliant. One of my favorite books in recent years was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi – I wished I’d written it, which is my highest form of compliment. The book that made me want to be a writer in the first place was Gone with the Wind – I read it and wanted to create a whole world out of words, too.

David Mitchell: The Earthsea Cycle, Ursula K. Le Guin

There was no single epiphany, but I recall a few early flashes. When I was ten I would be transported by certain books – Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy, Susan Cooper’s fantasy novels, Isaac Asimov – and burn to do to readers what had just been done to me. Sometimes that burning prompted me to start writing, though I never got more than a few pages down. A few years later I would indulge in a visual fantasy that involved imagining my name on the jacket of a book – usually Faber and Faber – and I’d feel a whoosh inside my rib cage.

Emma Donoghue: The Passion, Jeanette Winterson

The book that made me want to write was The Passion by Jeanette Winterson. It made me feel that historical fiction didn’t have to be fusty and all about bodices, that it could be a thrilling novel, which just happened to be set in 1800.

Tom Wolfe: Napoleon, Emil Ludwig

Regarding writing, was there any particular book that influenced you?

I was greatly struck by Emil Ludwig’s biography of Napoleon, which is written in the historical present. It begins as the mother sits suckling her babe in a tent. […] It impressed me so enormously that I began to write the biography of Napoleon myself, though heavily cribbed from Emil Ludwig. I was eight at the time.

Roxane Gay: Beloved, Toni Morrison (and a lot of other books)

My writing ambition was sharpened by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, an unapologetically political novel that reminds us of what it costs to be a woman in this world or the next. My ambition, that toward which I aspire to write, has long been guided by Toni Morrison, Beloved, and through her words, seeing how a novel can be mysterious and true, mythical and raw, how a novel can honor memory even when we want to look away or forget. My ambition has long been sharpened by Alice Walker, willing to tell the stories of black women without apology, willing to write politically without apology – Possessing the Secret of Joy, a haunting, gorgeous novel about female genital mutilation that keeps me transfixed and heartbroken and helpless each time I read it, because sometimes the only way to tell the truth is to tell a story.

Neil Gaiman: The Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis was the first person to make me want to be a writer. He made me aware of the writer, that there was someone standing behind the words, that there was someone telling the story. I fell in love with the way he used parentheses – the auctorial asides that were both wise and chatty, and I rejoiced in using such brackets in my own essays and compositions through the rest of my childhood.

I think, perhaps, the genius of Lewis was that he made a world that was more real to me than the one I lived in; and if authors got to write the tales of Narnia, then I wanted to be an author.

Anne Lamott: Nine Stories, J.D. Salinger

What book made you want to become a writer?

You mean, besides Pippi Longstocking?

Nine Stories blew me away‚ I can still remember reading “For Esmé – With Love and Squalor” for the first time, and just weeping with the poignancy of the damaged soldier and the young girl. And “Teddy” – I still remember the moment when the little boy Teddy, who is actually a sadhu, tells the reporter on the ship that he first realized what God was all about when he saw his little sister drink a glass of milk – that it was God, pouring God, into God. Or something like that – maybe I don’t remember it quite as well as I thought. But it changed me both spiritually and as a very young writer, because both the insight and the simplicity of the story were within my reach.

Oh, and “A Perfect Day for Bananafish,” and “Down at the Dinghy,” with the great Boo Boo Glass. And “Uncle Wiggily in Connecticut” – don’t even get me started…

***

For more fantastic recommendations from your favourite writers, check out the original post here: http://lithub.com/the-books-that-made-your-favorite-writers-want-to-write/

10 Life Lessons from Terry Pratchett

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On April 28 Terry Pratchett would have celebrated his 69th birthday. To mark the special day, we’re remembering the many life lessons learned from the characters of Discworld:

1. How to be brave

Tiffany Aching, Witch of the Chalk, taught us how to see beyond what is in front of us, and how to be brave…

“There wasn’t any real magic, she thought. I just stood my ground. You have to stand your ground, because it’s your ground” – Tiffany Aching

2. Do not fear death

The friendly face of Death taught us that death in itself is nothing to fear…

“Despite rumour, Death isn’t cruel – merely terribly, terribly good at his job”

3. Treat others with respect

Granny Weatherwax taught us to treat others with respect, dignity and decency.

“Evil begins when you begin to treat people as things” – Granny Weatherwax

4. Prejudice isn’t helpful

Rincewind taught us that sandals make the best getaway shoes, and that prejudice is not a helpful approach to life…

“He was a person who divided the world quite simply into people who were trying to kill him and people who weren’t. That didn’t leave much room for fine details like what colour anyone was” – Rincewind

5. The leopard can change his shorts

Moist Von Lipvig, a natural born criminal, a fraudster by vocation, an habitual liar and saviour of the postal service, taught us that the leopard can change his shorts…

“I’ve fallen into good ways. I keep thinking I can give it up at any time I like, but I don’t. But I know if I couldn’t give it up any time I liked, I wouldn’t go on doing it” – Moist Von Lipvig

6. Sometimes it’s good to break the rules

Esk taught us when not to know your place, and when to break the rules.

“If you ignore the rules people will, half the time, quietly rewrite them so that they don’t apply to you” – Esk

7. Politics is always complicated

Vetinarii taught us that the only time politics is ever simple is when it’s tyranny…

“Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote” – Vetinarii

8. Light a candle in the dark

Captain Carrot taught us that being simple is not the same as being stupid, and to light a candle in the dark…

“Only crimes could take place in darkness. Punishment had to be done in the light. That was the job of a good watchman, Carrot always said. To light a candle in the dark”

9. Don’t tolerate injustice

Samuel Vimes taught us not to tolerate injustice, and that, while candles are all well and good, sometimes it’s better to light a flamethrower than curse the darkness…

“The common people?” said Vimes. “They’re nothing special. They’re no different from the rich and powerful except they’ve got no money or power. But the law should be there to balance things up a bit” – Samuel Vimes

10. Words have power

Susan Sto Helit taught us that words have power, that stories are important and that we want a schoolteacher around when the apocalypse comes…

“Because in this world, after everyone panics, there’s always got to be someone to tip the wee out of the shoe” – Susan Sto Helit

Via: https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/features/2017/apr/life-lessons-from-terry-pratchett-discworld/