Archive for the 'Books' Category

Book Review: The Golden Hour

novel about identity, trauma and transition

The Golden Hour by Claire Belberg

Stone Table Books, Northcote, Victoria, Australia, 2017.

And now for something different.

This is a novel with a fascinating plot – the story kept me intrigued and guessing until the very end. Sure, many other books have done that too, but this novel drew me in from page one and wouldn’t let me go. What was actually happening to the characters? What had happened to them?

James, a teenage computer hacker and graphic artist, is trapped inside a mysterious, windowless room. He has no idea how he got there. Two other occupants of the room have no idea how they also came to be in this surreal room. The story delves deeply into the fears, background, family and life of James, and how he relates to his companions. Attempts to escape appear futile – or are they?

This is a brilliantly written novel filled with a small cast of finely drawn characters. While the reader’s sympathies lie with the protagonist James, strongly portrayed through the author’s first person account, one is also drawn one minute to the other characters of Naomi and Eliza – and then almost immediately repulsed by them through their words, attitudes or actions.

It is hard to pigeon-hole this novel into a single genre. While there are some elements of fantasy, it does not sit comfortably there in my opinion. Is it a psychological thriller? Hardly – though there are many moments where the reader just has to keep turning the page. Possibly the closest one could get is to describe this novel as speculative fiction. It goes a long way to answering the ubiquitous writers’ question: “What if…?” What if you unexpectedly find yourself locked into a place or situation from which there was no hope of escaping? How would you react?

As something of an aside, as I read this novel I couldn’t help thinking of the characters in Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.” The surreal nature of this novel would, in my opinion, translate well to the stage or possibly even the screen. The plot, dialogue and action are all dense, confronting and intense.

Highly recommended.

Launch: this novel is being launched tomorrow 21st June 2017 at 6:30 pm in the Blackwood Library, South Australia. RSVP ph: 8372 8255

Links:

Acknowledgement: special thanks to the author, Claire, for her friendship, encouragement and for a review copy.

On writing one’s memoirs

Image result for pictures of memoirs

Confusion

In beginning to write on this topic, I must admit to something of a dilemma and a little confusion. I am quite clear about what an autobiography is, as well as a biography and I have read quite a few in each of those categories. What, therefore, is one’s memoirs? And what should one cover when writing one’s memoirs?

Does it cover every aspect of one’s life – no, that has to be a biography. Biographies cover life to death events – and everything in between, often in chronological order. What I am working on is less than everything I have ever done, or the major events anyway. Many of the mundane happenings in my life are of little or no interest to anyone, even my closest family members. I suspect it would be very boring, except for the odd exciting and interesting event.

A special request

Several months ago my eight-year-old grandson was asking me a whole range of questions about when I was young. This probably came from discussions he had in class at school. We have frequent and long conversations on the phone every few days. Because he lives in Sydney, about 1400 kilometres away (or two days’ drive), this is our main means of keeping in touch and getting to know one another. He has been asking plenty of questions about my early days. It was his interest which motivated me to start recording some of my experiences as a child, and as a young person growing up.

Family interest

While the things I am including in my memoirs are of interest primarily to my grandson, there is also the potential for other family members to be interested in reading such a work. I know that my daughter and my son have both expressed an interest, but my five year old granddaughter is probably not there yet. She has too many other things filling her head. She only started school a few weeks ago. There would also be some of my nephews and nieces who might also be interested, and possibly even my brothers. Beyond that, a few odd friends may have a little interest – but they would have to be quite ‘odd’ indeed.

What to include?

The beauty of memoirs, as opposed to an autobiography, is the subject matter which is included. Biographical writing tends to cover the whole range of events in one’s life, with a special emphasis on the major influences and achievements. In memoirs, however, one can ignore some of the otherwise significant periods of a life, and instead focus on some of the minor snippets, incidents and insights which have become memorable to the subject and have somehow had a profound influence on them. Memoirs can be more of a series of isolated snapshots, rather than a broad, panoramic movie. They are reflections and reminiscences rather than all inclusive biographical records.

While have read a few memoirs, biographies and autobiographies in my time, it is a genre I have not really delved into in depth. I recently came across a wonderful resource, a list of the 100 Must Read Memoirs. I am pleased that I have read several of the titles on this list, I have seen the movie of at least one of them, and several others are on my yet-to-read pile of books.

Recommendations

Please feel free to recommend any memoirs, autobiographies or biographers in the comments. I am always looking for more titles to add to that rapidly growing Must Read list, and to that mighty Waiting-to-be-read pile.

Good reading. Happy, productive writing.

Trevor

Further Reading:

Congratulations and Happy Anniversary

 

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This site, Trevor’s Writing, is celebrating its 11th Anniversary today.

It hardly seems like eleven years, but time flies when you are having fun. The start of this blog was soon after I retired from 35 years of teaching. (You can read more about me here and here)

Loyal readers – I salute you

Over the years I have been adding various articles here about writing, reading, publishing and many other things along the way. Sometimes I have posted regularly every few days; at other times I have gone weeks and sometimes months between posts. To anyone who has remained a regular reader – I salute you. Such patience and loyalty should be rewarded, but sadly, all I have to offer you are promises.

Works in progress

Over recent days and weeks, I have been working on a short novel for children. I hope to publish this soon, first as an eBook and then as a print book. Stay tuned. I have many more plans to self- publish many of my works of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. As a side project, I am also adding occasional entries to my memoirs. At this point, I am not sure if this will be a limited publication for family and friends only, or more widely available. We will see how it turns out.

Works still to come

I have plans for many more posts here on this site, as well as plenty of self-published eBooks and print on demand books. I can see an exciting future ahead, so stay with me. Over the last 25 years, I have written well over three million words, a good proportion of those words are on my blog sites. In addition to blogging, however, I have many unpublished works – novels, short stories, poems, articles and plays. Many of these I plan to polish, edit and publish, with a little rewriting as needed. I also have a half dozen picture book texts waiting to be sent off to traditional publishers.

Imagination

On top of all of the above writing, rewriting, editing, proofreading and so on, my fertile imagination won’t just stop. It keeps on coming up with great ideas to write about. Several ideas for novels have been bubbling away in my subconscious for months – some even years. Somehow, they must get written and out there for the world to enjoy.

Meanwhile…

I will keep the posts coming on a wide variety of topics, from publishing and writing hints, story ideas, writing prompts, poems, short fiction, book and film reviews and more.

Newsletter

Go to the sidebar or below the comments to sign up for my regular newsletter. It has been so regular, in fact, that issue #1 still hasn’t been written. (Sigh – that’s another thing I plan to write.)

Why not stop by and leave a comment or two?

Good reading, Good writing,

Trevor

Further reading:

  • Archives – over a thousand articles on this site – and counting.
  • Short story starters – these are always very popular with my readers; they are designed to start you off with your stories.
  • Poetry – read samples of my poetry
  • Short fiction – read some of my short fiction
  • Trevor’s Birding – my blog about Australian birds
  • Trevor’s Travels – my blog about our travels in Australia, Thailand, Nepal, Ethiopia, Morocco and Spain.

Book review: Return to Me by Lynn Austin

Return to Me (#01 in The Restoration Chronicles Series)

Return To Me by Lynn Austin (Restoration Chronicles #1)

This was the first of Lynn Austin’s books I have read. It is the first of her trilogy in the Restoration Chronicles. Having read the first one, I am sure I will read the following two in the series. I am particularly interested in the third book which features the life of Nehemiah, one of my favourite people of the Bible. The book of Nehemiah is one of my favourites in all of the Bible.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and will probably read more of her works in the future. This book is a fictional account of the first group of Jews to return to Jerusalem from captivity in Babylon. It is very true to the historical Biblical account.

The main character of the story is Zechariah. The plot follows his early life growing up in Babylon with all of the hardships endured there, including the pressures to conform to the social moralities of the Babylonian culture and religion, including astrology. The sudden change on the part of King Cyrus is greeted with great joy by the Jews in captivity, and plans are immediately made for them to return to Jerusalem to begin life anew in their home country. The author cleverly portrays the family conflicts which arise, with families being torn apart, some remaining in Babylon, with others leaving for the long journey home.

The reader is given an in-depth impression of the physical hardships endured on the journey and the subsequent struggles to establish themselves in Jerusalem and in the surrounding countryside. The author never shirks from also drawing out in depth the spiritual pressures placed upon this band of people, especially the constant exposure to the paganism and astrology of the neighbouring Samaritans. The stark contrasts between the Jewish faith and the faith of other people living near Jerusalem is explored in many ways in the novel.

Zechariah features prominently in this account. Towards the end of the story, we see him as the prophet whose book we read in the Old Testament. The author strongly portrays a young Zechariah in the early stages of his developing spirituality, and how he has a growing awareness of his special relationship with God. Austin never strays from showing the internal spiritual struggles of Zechariah, as well as his grandfather and mentor, Iddo.

I only have one little criticism: the frequent changes of point of view can take a little getting used to, but overall, this is a very well written and enjoyable account. The novel has one enduring strength: by being written as fiction, the author can draw each character in compelling and intriguing depth, while never losing sight of the facts of the historical foundations of the narrative.

Highly recommended.

Reflections on an old story

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

Memory lane

I have been having a trip down memory lane in recent days. I have been typing up an old story I wrote many years ago. In fact, the only copy I appear to have is a typed copy with 1989 on the title page. I was shocked to realise that this story was written nearly 28 years ago. It has languished ever since as one or two copies stored in boxes in our garage. The copy I am using was printed on an old dot-matrix printer. Remember those old clunkers?

Early computers

This story, called Magpie Farm (hence the photo of an Australian Magpies above and below), was typed on either a borrowed Commodore 64 computer or on the Amigo 500 I bought around that time. I can’t remember. I think that it was written during a school holiday break; I was a classroom teacher at the time. Those old computers were wonderful, and I learned so many things about the digital world from them. I still have the old Amiga – in working condition too, though I only fire it up every five years or so. Sadly, the old Amiga discs are not compatible with today’s PCs, hence the need to retype this story.

First novel

I am sure that this was my first attempt at writing a novel for children. At just under 10,000 words it is probably better described as a chapter book. I have since written several more novels for children, of varying lengths and subject matter. I am planning to prepare these for publication sometime this year. They will initially be in eBook format with print on demand paper copies also available.

Background to Magpie Farm

As I type up this story, I recognise many incidents from real life. The main character is a young boy who is afraid of magpies. Some Australian Magpies are notorious for their tendency to swoop people during the breeding season. The boy’s family move to a small farm and he is horrified that there are magpies on the farm. Some of the incidents I have included in the story are drawn directly from my own family’s experiences. A few years before writing this story, we also bought some acreage, though five acres (two hectares) can hardly be called a “farm”. We did have some sheep for a while; I’m not sure if that qualifies it as being a farm.

A problem

I have a serious problem with the story. Several problems, actually.

It is terrible.

Honestly – it needs some serious editing, rewriting and restructuring. The problem is that I have decided to be very strong as I type it up. I tend to edit as I type. This applies to most of my writing these days. The first draft is often very close to the final draft. I rewrite, edit, proofread and so on as I go. Not always, but usually that is my preferred writing style. This time I decided to be very strong and resist all urges to stop and rewrite, edit or change anything. Those steps will come later.

Why is it terrible?

As I type, I find myself wincing often. How could I have written such terrible prose? The dialogue between characters is not all that bad, but the rest of it is quite naive – almost childish. This shows up three basic things:

  • I have certainly progressed a long, long way as a writer in the intervening years.
  • There is much good material in the story which can be vastly improved.
  • I now know what is wrong with the story and the writing, and how to fix it; that comes with experience and heaps of writing practice (over 3 million words later, and counting).

Where to now?

I still have a few chapters to type up. Then I will spend a week or two rewriting whole slabs of the text to bring it up to publishable standards. Later will come the proofreading and copy editing stages before I send my baby out into the world. After that, I have two other longer novels written several years later and they will both need the same treatment.

Is it all worth it?

If the story as it stands now is so terrible in my own eyes, is it worth pursuing and putting in all that work? I believe so. I take this attitude, not because it was my first serious attempt at a novel, but because of feedback from readers.

  • At the time I printed out a number of copies and handed them out to friends. They all commented how good it was, and how much they enjoyed it.
  • I also read it to several classes I was teaching at the time of writing. I still have contact with many former students who remember the story well.
  • I was asked recently by one former student if I had published this story. He added that it had a profound, positive effect on him. It inspired him to become a writer. He has published some of his writing, he has participated successfully in performance poetry events, and he wrote and performed in a musical which was showcased last week at the Adelaide Fringe Festival. This festival is regarded worldwide as second only to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
  • Wow! I love feedback like that.

Stay tuned

I plan to publish this chapter book (novel?) in the near future, so stay tuned. The launch will be announced on this site, and it will be available through this site.

Good reading. Good writing.

Trevor

Further reading:

  • Trevor’s Birding – check out another blog of mine where I also write regularly about Australian birds. I showcase many of my bird photos on that site.
Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie

Australian Magpie