Tag Archives: reading

The rain has (finally) come

I’m delighted to be able to report that we have been rained upon – nice, gentle, soaking rain which can continue on for longer if it wants. Encouraged by the 30mm or so we’d had before, I planted a cutting that I’d had under shelter, developing roots. The plant had a good root ball – but the ground where I planted it was only damp for about 3mm. The water had simply run off. I was surprised but that’s what you get after a prolonged dry period. I’m hopeful this time will be better.

All the plants in all the gardens in town have heaved a huge sigh of relief and started to develop new growth. This was, of course, particularly true of the weeds, which always take advantage of any opportunity. The big task now is to keep the weeds under control and give the grass a chance. The callistemons (see above) are flush with new growth and even flowers, which have pleased the resident honey eaters. The one at the top is an Australian noisy miner feasting on a flower. That’s great to see.

The weather has had other consequences. Pete and I, like quite a few other people in town, have contracted a kind of fluey virus that makes us lethargic, hot and sweaty, and achy. The doctor has assured us we’ll get the runny nose and coughs in due course. Something to look forward to.

I’ve been amusing myself by re-reading Terry Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching books. In the first one, Wee Free Men, Tiffany is nine years old. It won an award for children’s books and I suppose an older child could read it. But I was nine about… let’s see… sixty years ago and I’ve enjoyed the book several times already. Like all Terry’s stories, it’s a mix of hilarity, mythology, and life lessons. Oh, and it breaks that Rule of Writing that states you should use dialect sparingly in novels, just enough to get the flavour. The Wee Free Men are Feegles, fairy folk six inches tall who could easily be mistaken for Scots, right down to the kilts, the swords, and the wode. They speak in broad Scottish accents. All the time. Here’s a wee example. “Rob Anybody looked offended.  ‘We ne’er get lost!’ he said.  ‘We always ken where we are!  It’s just sometimes mebbe we aren’t sure where everything else is, but it’s no’ our fault if everything else gets lost! The Nac Mac Feegle are never lost!’ ”

If you’re bored with Brexit or Orange Don, have a look. Wee Free Men.

Apart from that, I’ve had some fun creating posters for my books in Photoshop. Here are a few examples.

To find out more about the books just click on the picture.

Why I don’t finish every book I start to read

Bookshelf full of booksI recently read an article that claimed you really should finish every book you start to read. (Sorry, it has been taken down so I can’t link to it)

I’m not the only one who shouted RUBBISH. Life’s too short to waste your time on reading a book that has become boring, tedious, odious, eye-wateringly bad or eye-rollingly obvious.

But then I thought about it.

Sure, there are some books I would never touch again, not in a moment. Some of them were written by top authors. I remember ploughing through a Ruth Rendell novel while on the Indian Pacific train trip. (You need books for that – lots of them). I enjoyed her murder mysteries and this one seemed to be along those lines, although not her usual detective. Boy, was I wrong. This was about two mixed up kids from horrible homes, a psychological study, if you will. None of the characters were likeable, and the plot lurched from one unpleasant scenario to the next, and ended up with a Romeo and Juliet ending. I know this because I skim-read through most of it, hoping to find something I’d think worth reading. Believe me, if I hadn’t been stuck on a train, I would have given up long before. But I’d made an assumption about what to expect, and I was wrong. I did something very similar with an Elizabeth Moon novel, which turned out not to be the science fiction I expected. Mea Culpa.

I kind of read Dan Brown’s The da Vinci Code. People said it was good, and I liked the premise, with the little mysteries scattered around. But two-thirds of the way through I couldn’t take the over the top inanity anymore and skimmed to the end. My husband is more forgiving than I am (sounds a bit like Return of the Jedi, doesn’t it? That scene where Darth Vader arrives to hurry up completion of Death Star II) and he’d bought Angels and Demons, so I took a look. That got two chapters and a skim to the ending, which earned a resounding ‘what a load of bollocks’.

Sometimes I’ll buy a book – or download a free copy – of something outside my usual choice of reading. If it doesn’t suit, it doesn’t, and I don’t force myself to finish it. No book will appeal to everybody, and at least I tried. Again, that’s my choice. And no, I won’t be rushing off to Amazon to write a ‘meh’ review.

What does throw me out? Normally, if a book hasn’t grabbed me in the first few chapters, it’s an unapologetic DNF. I’m not against slow openings, in fact I rather like a bit of scene-setting so I can ease into a different world, but quite soon I want to be taken on a journey with interesting characters. So I’m not a great believer in the latest fiction-writing rule that thou shalt open in the middle of an action scene. However, I need to meet characters I like, doing things that I find plausible, and interesting. Action that immediately incites feelings of how is that possible, or why would she do that, will have my finger hovering over the ‘off’ button. The writing’s important, too. I can ignore typos in moderation, but if the author’s voice gets up my nose, that’s it. Terry Brookes comes to mind. Yeah, okay, I bought the novelisation of Star Wars I after much hesitation, even though he wrote it. I’d given up on him years before. I soon found my opinion hadn’t changed, and the book was off to the second hand bookshop. Once again, Mea Culpa.

However, sometimes I will return to a book I have given up on. Take, for instance, Jack McDevitt’s Slow Lightning. After a prologue, it winds up slowly, setting the scene. I’ll admit to starting it twice, both times ignoring the prologue because I don’t like them, and I found the prologue in the only other McDevitt book I’d read up to then (A Talent for War) a crashing waste of brain power. The third time, I soldiered on and was so glad I did. The novel soon became a clever page-turner. And I had to go back and read the prologue, because it was vital to understanding the book.  I wrote an article about it here.

But sometimes, you know, it’s just that I’m not in the mood for that sort of book today. Maybe I’ll finish it some other time, maybe it will remain unopened.

What about you? Do you finish everything you start reading? What throws you out? Have you ever been like me, and gone back to a book you’d given up?

You can’t be too careful with that precious first page

picture of annoyed cartoon character

Life is too short

Authors, you can’t be too careful when crafting that precious first page for your tour de force. This is a case study.

Since he retired, my husband has read a lot of books. He tends to like crime, thrillers, mystery – that sort of thing. And he often picks up free books from Smashwords. As I explained in a previous post, if he enjoys the read, he’ll go and buy whatever else that author has on offer. Sometimes, he’ll share his new find with me. “Read this. I think you’d like it.”

So, feeling at something of a loose end, I sat down in my reading chair and opened the book on my tablet. It’s a crime novel, written in first person. I’ll say no more at this stage, because all I’d read was the blurb. In the first few sentences I met the protagonist, and a rather scruffy stranger. The exchange was very different to the usual polite frippery. He says, “Pleased to meet you.” She responds with, “No you’re not.”

So far so good. I’m interested. But then we meet a new character who is this lady’s boss. And this is where the author lost me. Not because a new character is introduced, but because I am immediately derailed into a far too long exposition of this person, his background, her background… All presented as her inner thoughts. But of course, they’re not. When you’re having a frank and earnest discussion with someone, you don’t reflect on how long you’ve been employed, or explain how the boss has taken on the role of buffer. The protagonist has taken on the role of narrator, cunningly disguised with the word “I”. Meanwhile, I the reader had lost track of the story.

I wasn’t in the mood. I switched off and did something else, muttering to the OH that his idea of a good read and mine weren’t the same.

The difference between us is that I’m a writer. What would have been perfectly acceptable to me ten years ago, now has to pass the inner editor. And while I can turn the inner editor off if the story has grabbed me, that’s going to be for grammar and such. If I lose interest in what’s going on – life’s too short, sorry. I have other things to do. Like look at pictures of cats on Facebook.

As it happened, at the OH’s insistence I had another go and managed to get past my irritation with needless information. It wasn’t a bad read. The main character was autistic, highly skilled at body language but very poor at social skills (hence the book’s opening exchange). I thoroughly enjoyed the insight into this lady’s mind, and the way she developed through the events in the book.

After I’d finished it I realised that my first reaction – I can’t be bothered with this, it’s all too hard – is very likely what an agent would do while wading through her slush pile. The entire work that an author may have taken years to perfect, is judged by a few paragraphs in the opening chapter. Just as well my husband acted as gate keeper for this one.

How about you? Have you ever ploughed through what you initially thought wasn’t so hot to find a gem? And why, indeed, did you persevere?