Archive for November, 2010

November 7, 2010

>Firebrand – Gillian Philip

>I’m in a somewhat privileged position of being friends -albeit online friends – with a small number of authors, and thus am inclined to read their books when they are released (though I don’t do so slavishly). I have, therefore, read a number of books which are outside my usual fare, most notably YA.

This puts me in a slightly difficult position. What if I don’t enjoy the book? Do I lie and gush effusively? Do I remain tactfully silent? And, then, what if I really enjoy a book? Does my enthusiastic review of one book damn another by the very lack of such a review?

Yes, I know, I’m over-thinking this.

I’ve read a bundle of books this last year or so that would never have normally appeared on my radar and, without exception, have enjoyed every one. Not that there haven’t been flaws or issues with many of them, because it’s a rare book that doesn’t have some flaws, but I cannot think of any where the flaws have spoilt the actual story. Inevitably, I’ve enjoyed some more than others, though.

I also have a bit of an issue with anything that is too hyped – for me, that means it has to strive even harder to achieve my own personal approval rating. In other words, I try not to be a bit of a sheep – I won’t rave about a book just because others do (the same, incidentally, applies to films, TV etc). Firebrand is receiving the level of plaudits which made me more than a little apprehensive: Best Fantasy of 2010, for example.

So I was actually a little nervous about reading Firebrand. I’ve read another of Gillian’s books – Crossing the Line – and loved it, but Firebrand is a very different book. Also, I don’t read a lot of fantasy, and what I have read recently was a very hard act to follow: Graceling and Fire by Kristin Cashore (brilliant books, by the way, thoroughly recommended).

I won’t go into the story (so, not much of a review, then!) as it’s easy to find that detail in the many other reviews online. What I will say, is this:

It starts brilliantly. Crossing the Line did the same – Gillian is clearly the master of the first chapter. Then, for some reason, it failed to completely grab me for a while – I’m not sure why, perhaps it was the choice of names, the use of Gaelic, which jarred a little (more on names in a moment). Then, suddenly, I found myself utterly absorbed.

There are a couple of genuinely shocking moments, the sort that leave you staring at the words in disbelief, and then compelling you to turn to the next page. Once you hit the first one, there’s no going back; it’s got you, hooked you, drawn you in.

And therein, I think, is the brilliance that has been so lauded. There are a number characters that really get under your skin (once you get used to their names!), that you genuinely feel for and, inevitably, a couple that you really, properly loathe (imagine the chorus of “Boos” had this been a play). Here, though, is my one other gripe: the Queen is called Kate. Kate? Really? Amongst the Eilis and Orachs and Sionnachs, now that I’d become used to them, Kate seemed wrong (and still does, even after the event).

But I’m splitting hairs. Odd to criticise a difficult to read Gaelic name, then foist the same criticism on a too-easy English name.

Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay, though, is to question why it’s shelved in the YA section. Not that YA is, in any way, a problem, but this doesn’t feel like a YA novel and I fear there is an audience of fantasy readers who will never discover Firebrand because it’s sitting on the wrong shelf.

And that would be a real shame.

November 1, 2010


>Today, November 1st, marks the beginning of NaNoWriMo (that’s National Novel Writing Month for the uninitiated – although National has now become International, but InNoWriMo obviously doesn’t sound as good).

The aim is to write a 50,000 word novel (or novella, really) in 30 days. To be fair to the organisers, it’s supposed to be a bit of fun, a way of sparking the creativity, a challenge. Nobody, realistically, expects a complete masterpiece at midnight on 1st December.

There are some, however, who frown upon NaNoWriMo, perhaps even consider it “beneath them”. I’m sure some participants really do believe that bashing out 50k words is all they need to do to be published, and I’m equally sure literary agents the world over dread the potential influx of not-really-ready work to land in their InBoxes during December. But, for the most part, I think the detractors are missing the point.

I tried NaNo a few years ago. I think I managed about 15k words in ten days, so was roughly on target. Except for one thing: it was dreadful. Truly, truly dreadful. It actually had the effect of making me wondering if I was ever going to actually write a book at all; maybe that “everyone has a novel in them” adage really didn’t apply to me. Having reached that conclusion, I gave up and have never felt the need to write again.

But, and this is important, that only applies to me. It’s not that I can’t write at that speed – I know I can. THE LONG SECOND was written in exactly 2 months and, at 115k words, meant that on at least one of those months, I wrote well over 50k words. And (in my opinion), it’s actually a decent story.

And that’s what was missing from my NaNo attempt: a decent story.

I now have three “decent stories” under my belt, and two of them took much, much longer to write. The fourth is proving equally protracted, but that’s my focus for this November, to move this story along. Not at 1500 words per day, maybe not even at 1500 words per week, but at whatever pace feels right, at whatever pace the story reveals itself to me (and it’s coming, it really it, after a bit of a “eureka!” moment last week).

So: if you’re taking part in NaNoWriMo, I wish you good luck, and hope you enjoy it. Just remember that when you’ve finished writing, you haven’t finished the book. If, like me, you’re not taking part, then please don’t look down on those who are – and I’d like to assure my many friends that (should my message be misunderstood, especially on Twitter, with its character limits) I’m definitely not looking down on them, and any use of the #NoNaNo tag (or similar) is not a protest against those who are taking part, but more a gathering place for those of us who might, actually, be feeling a little left out!