Monday, October 19, 2009

Mostly an excuse to write about Jacob Black.

So. It turns out I am on Team Jacob.

(Apologies for starting a post with the word 'so.' I blame Seamus Heaney's translation of Beowulf.)

(Further apologies for almost all of what follows.)

A friend of mine lent me Twilight a little while ago. I'd really like to write a review of it, but my feelings on all of the books in the series were so mixed that I really couldn't be coherent enough to call the result a review. Maybe this is a reaction, then. Like an allergic reaction, but not a serious one.

In the positive column, I've rarely gotten into a book so quickly - by the time Bella was at the airport on her way to Forks, I wanted to know what came next. I spent the whole book wanting to know what came next, even when what came last had really annoyed me.

I also like Stephenie Meyer's writing style. Stephen King has said she can't write worth a damn, and I hate to disagree with Stephen King, but I have to. Stephenie Meyer has her faults as a writer, but I find her nuts-and-bolts use of language rarely makes me stop and think "Oh, heavens, no." Finally, in the positive column, I quite like Charlie Swan, Alice Cullen and I heart Jacob Black.

However, I can't stand the two protagonists. Like Bella, this didn't prove a problem for me when I was reading Wuthering Heights, but it has done with Twilight. I'm not convinced that a man who has travelled the world, gone to college numerous times and lived for 107 years would have his head turned by this girl. We also aren't presented with many compelling characteristics to sell Bella to us. She can cook. She's clumsy. She likes housework. She has no discernible interests or hobbies. But seriously, dude, you should smell the bitch. That is about all she has going for her.

Even I don't think that clumsiness and liking housework are character traits, and I have quite a soft spot for teenage female protagonists who compulsively clean their houses (mostly because I like Isabel from Sarra Manning's Let's Get Lost so much). All the same, that and clumsiness are not sufficient to make me want to get to know a character better. When she grew closer to Jacob in New Moon, I found myself liking her a lot more. She had opinions, and she liked someone based on who he was rather than on a biological compulsion.

And Edward? Meh. A world of meh. I only liked him when he was in the tent with Jacob in Eclipse. Oddly, this was one of the only times in the whole series that I disliked Jacob - it seems that, unlike Bella Swan, I only have room in my heart for one undead American teen at a time. Gosh. I suppose life is always a journey of self-discovery.

Finally, we come to Breaking Dawn. Jacob got his potentially happy ending, so I was a satisfied little Jacob-fan, but that final confrontation? All those endless names? Gah. 'Bella, this is the vampire contingent from Achingly Cool European Country A. They are Ethnic Name One, Ethnic Name Two, and Ethnic Name Three. Later, we are expecting a smaller contingent from Achingly Cool European Country B, when you will have the opportunity to see once again how much time Ms. Meyer spent on'

This post is rambling all over, because my opinion on the Twilight Saga rambles all over. Some great writing, some very compelling storylines, some excellent scene setting, but the basic love story just didn't grab me.

And on the matter of the underlying Mormon morality that has taken the internet by storm? I'm not touching that with a bargepole until I've re-read the books (which may be never) and learned, y'know, at least one concrete fact about Mormons. And the reason all this is occuring to me now, when I read the series months ago? It's because the friend who lent me Twilight and started the whole thing was over in my flat at the weekend, and only accepted her copies of New Moon and Eclipse back under protest. 'Do I have to take them? Really?'

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nathan Bransford's 3rd Sort-Of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge

I've posted the first paragraph of my current work-in-progress on Nathan Bransford's blog, as part of his 3rd Sort-Of-Annual Stupendously Ultimate First Paragraph Challenge (yes, it is quite the title, but else could you expect from a man who has written a book called Jacob Wonderbar and the Cosmic Space Kapow?)

And once I'd gone and posted it on someone else's blog, it did seem only fair to put it on my own :) So here it is:

After her father died, it took a while before Hannah McCarthy and her mother managed to fully sort through his belongings. The day that he died, within an hour of leaving the intensive care unit, Nora had started to dispose of anything that visibly reminded her of Jack. His alarm clock, his work files, the watch he’d left on his bedside locker when he left the house that morning – even his shoes were boxed up and stowed away or thrown out. His books took a few weeks to disappear, mainly because no one knew which books were his and which he’d borrowed. Hannah’s brother Tony sorted the books and Nora distributed them between his friends at the golf club and in his local pub. His clothes took the longest, because they still smelled of his aftershave and cigarette smoke.
No one dared touch his desk.

The prizes are pretty cool, so hey, here's hoping!

Sunday, October 11, 2009


It's almost that time of year again.

I *love* National Novel Writing Month. For those of you who haven't come across it, the object of NaNoWriMo is to write a 50,000 word novel in the month of November. There's no pressure for it to be any good - in fact, writing a good novel is actively discouraged. You win by reaching the word count target.

It attracts its share of criticism, though not from me. Some writers won't do it because they feel it will distract from their real work (or 'real work', depending on my opinion of the writer in question :p). Some people feel that there is enough bad writing in the world without encouraging more of it. These are definitely valid points, and I would agree with both of them to some extent - and any writer who thinks NaNoWriMo will affect their real writing badly should, of course, run for the hills.

Not me, though. I love NaNoWriMo. It distracts me like hell from my 'real work' (I deserve the sarcastic inverted commas, not everyone does), it releases more bad prose into a world that has plenty of it, but I don't care. NaNoWriMo is the best thing about November.

I do NaNoWriMo for a few reasons. The most important is for fun. Usually, I pick a novel that is totally unlike what I usually write, and I aim for trashy as hell.

One year - the only year I won - I wrote a high-blown fantasy epic with trees and mountains and terribly metaphorical weather systems and sacrificial victims and well-meaning best friends and beautiful, crotchety, middle-aged, Greg-House-esque wizards and plucky young heroines and every single character was named after a gemstone, a season or a geographical feature. It was marvellous fun.

Another year I wrote about fairies in the bottom of the garden. Irish fairies. The ones you don't mess with. Except now they've invaded suburbia and only a young graphic designer and her sociologist friend can save South Dublin from its own mythology. That one crashed and burned, but I did manage to give my friend's house a cameo appearance before I gave up.

Last year I decided to revisit my crotchety wizard with the pretty young proteges (there were two this time). By adding in some unrequited love, I was able to send three completely innocent fictional characters haring across an alternate-universe medieval Scotland, where witchcraft had never been outlawed but where its practitioners were suddenly being persecuted by a non-magical jealous king. They ended up in Edinburgh, watching people put to death in the Norloch, trying to save loved ones and stay undercover themselves.

This year, though, I have no ideas. Not a single one.

Which brings me to the other wonderful thing about NaNoWriMo - the forums. Oh, the bliss. Discussion threads that run to dozens of pages, full of character names and titles. A dedicated forum where you can ask things like 'My main character's boyfriend is a paramedic. What are their shift patterns like in Norwich?' and actually get useful responses.

My plan for this year is to look through the title thread and find a title that suggests a suitably compelling image for me to hang a novel on. This happened last year - I saw the words 'Autumn Chase' somewhere, and suddenly imagined people (in autumn, natch) following each other across Scotland (I like Scotland, and I was there last Halloween) with crazily different motives but the same basic aim. And that's why I love NaNo - usually, it's difficult for me to carve out writing time and I'm loath to spend too much of it on a project that may not have legs. In November, I just take an image that looks pretty and I run with it until I hit 50,000 words, or until I get bored.

Then I go back to the real novel, remembering why I'm writing anything at all.