Archive for the 'Fiction' Category

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

 

Book review: The Valley Between

THIELE The Valley Between HC

Book Review: The Valley Between by Colin Thiele, published by Rigby Publishing in 1981.

Biography

Last week I reviewed the official biography of Colin Thiele. You can read that review here. I found this biography to be very interesting and quite inspirational. Thiele was a prolific writer despite also being a full-time teacher and a much-in-demand public speaker. In his day, he was a much-loved author, particularly regarding his works for children of all ages. His new books were always eagerly awaited and sold out quickly. I believe that his writing is still held in high regard, though many younger readers have probably not heard of him. Even younger teachers may not be aware of the huge contribution Thiele made to Australian literature.

Inspired

After reading his biography, I was inspired to reread some of his works. I have a few in my own library, but for some titles, I had to go to my local public library. Not all of his books are available here locally, so I am grateful for the provision of interlibrary loans. (We have access to all the books held in public and some school libraries throughout our state of South Australia.)

The Valley Between

One of the books I choose to read was The Valley Between a novel for children set in the mid-north of South Australia in the 1930s. The valley in the title refers to the Barossa Valley about an hour’s drive north of Adelaide. This is a world famous wine region. Thiele grew up a short distance north of this valley. He was born in 1920 and so this book very much reflects his boyhood experiences and exploits. It would be interesting to know how much is from personal experience, and how much is from his very fertile imagination. This story roughly continues from his earlier and better-known novel, The Sun on the StubbleBoth were later adapted into a television series. Probably his best-known work is Storm Boy which later became a very popular film of the same name. A remake of the film is under way this year (2017).

Vignettes

The narrative of The Valley Between is mostly in short vignettes of the happenings in the life of the protagonist, Benno Schulz. Each chapter is an episode in itself, but the over-arching storyline follows Benno’s first experiences after leaving primary school. In those days, many children did not go on to secondary or tertiary education.

While each chapter can be read in isolation just like a short story, several characters appear in each episode, intersecting with the life of Benno as he grows up on a farm near the imaginary town of Gonunda. The town is quite clearly reflective of the town of Eudunda where Thiele grew up. There is a statue of Thiele in a park of the town.

German influences

Many of the characters in the story are descendants of the German settlers who came to South Australia in the 1800s. Thiele uses their distinct dialect, a mixture of English, German and mash-ups of both languages to great effect. He has even included a glossary of German words at the back. I, too, have the same heritage, so the language is easy for me to read. Contemporary readers may struggle a little until they get used to it. This is a small price to pay for reading this delightful story. Many incidents are laugh out loud moments as Benno gets into all kinds of adventures, both deliberate and inadvertent.

Descriptions

Colin Thiele is known for his rich descriptions of the environment in which his stories are based. His words sing with metaphors and similes which bring his settings to life. His wonderful characters come to life through his words and their sometimes bizarre actions and attitudes. While I have said that this book is somewhat episodic in structure, the narrative carries the reader on to the satisfying conclusion.

When I first came across this title in a list of his works, I thought that I had missed reading this title. On getting about half way through, I realised that I had read it, albeit several decades ago, possibly when it was first published. It is well worth tracking down a copy to read.

Further reading:

Colin Thiele

The importance of revising your writing

A love of writing

One of the reasons I am a writer is that I really enjoy the process of writing. I love the creative process that occurs when an idea pops into my head. It does not matter if it is a poem, a short story, a novel, a blog post, a non-fiction article or even an email to a family member, the same joy of creating is there. This joyful feeling is what keeps me going. It has enabled me to write almost three and a half million words in the last twenty-four years. It has kept me pressing on while spending over twenty thousand hours at my computer keyboard.

The unexpected creative process

One of the exciting things I find about writing, especially when writing fiction, is that I discover unexpected outcomes via the creative process. I might have a general idea of where the story is heading, I may even have a clear plan of the plot, when suddenly a character does or says something unexpected, out of character or just plain startling. The plot can take some bizarre and unplanned twists when this happens. I even find that my thoughts can be railroaded into a side-track when writing blog posts or other forms of non-fiction. It’s all very exciting.

A Problem

As fascinating as this is, such a sudden turn of events, or change of direction, or unplanned content to one’s writing can have a serious repercussion. The writer can get seriously off-track. A short story about a woman’s struggle with depression (yes, I have had one such story published) could take off in the direction of telling all the woes of her childhood. This is back-story; it is probably not necessary in a 2000 word story. In a 100,000 word novel – perhaps.

The importance of revision

I have discovered over many years of writing that revision is crucial to the whole process of the art, as is rewriting, editing and proofreading. I should write articles on all of these aspects of writing – and I probably have over the years. (You can find them by using those terms in the “search” box at the top of the page.)

In this article, want to focus just on “revision”.

What is Revision?

The process of revision can include the following:

  • Reading back over the piece of writing, checking for errors of fact, especially in non-fiction. It can also be crucial in fiction, too; you can’t have a character using a mobile phone if the story is set in the 1960s – unless it is a time travel story, but then, the phone wouldn’t work.
  • Correcting the wrong use of words, or constant repetition of words and phrases.
  • Recasting sentences which demonstrate poor grammar.
  • Checking for spelling mistakes and typos (though this is usually regarded as editing or proofreading, two other important processes of writing).
  • Deleting a sentence, a paragraph or even as much as a whole chapter which is unnecessary to the whole work. In one novel I wrote, I had to delete large chunks because it read like a travelogue and didn’t advance the plot.
  • Rearranging the order of sentences, paragraphs or chapters to create a more logical flow.

How other writers revise their work

I have included only a few ways in which one can revise your writing. There are many different ways of doing this important process. Each writer is different, and individual writers can vary their own approach, depending on what they are writing.

I recently came across an article 12 Contemporary writers on how they revise. Each writer has a different approach to the same process. At the end of each writer’s segment, there is a link to further articles on that writer, including blog posts, podcasts, interviews and more. I hope that you find it useful.

Further reading:

 

 

A new fantasy imprint launch

Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God.COV DRAFT A_23.10.20

Melbourne-based publisher Morning Star Publishing will launch its new fantasy imprint this coming Friday 16th December 2016. The new imprint, to be known as Stone Table Books, will focus on publishing new and exciting books in the fantasy genre. Devoted readers of the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis will understand the symbolism encapsulated by this imprint’s name.

At the launch, the imprint’s first two titles will also be launched. Both titles have been written by the eminently suitable Mark Worthing who is an author, and pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in North Adelaide, South Australia. Fantasy has long been a passion of his. He has taught the writing of fantasy literature at tertiary level as the former head of the faculty of Humanities and Creative Writing at Tabor Adelaide.

The first title (with cover art shown above) is Narnia, Middle-Earth and the Kingdom of God: a History of Fantasy Literature and the Christian Tradition. This title explores the fascinating, and arguably, symbiotic relationship between Christian faith in all its manifestations, and fantasy literature. I will be posting a more thorough review of this book in the next few days.

The second title to be launched is also by Mark Worthing. It is Phantastes: George MacDonald’s Classic Fantasy Novel as retold by Mark WorthingThis modern retelling of an iconic work of the mid-1800s makes this significant novel far more accessible to today’s readers. Once again,  I will give a thorough review of this title in the next few days. The cover artwork is shown below.

Launch details:

The launch of the new imprint, as well as the two titles mentioned above, will take place this coming Friday 16th December 2016, at Immanuel Lutheran Church, 139 Archer Street, North Adelaide, South Australia at 6:30pm for a 7:00pm start.

The editor of Stone Table Books and the CEO of Morning Star Publishing will be present to talk with prospective authors.

Tabor Adelaide Creative Writing programme and Stories of Life Competition will also have information stands on the night.

Come and celebrate the launch of these two books, as well as the launch of Stone Table Books. Drinks and nibbles provided.

Please note that there will only be cash sales on the night. The books may also be ordered via the publisher’s website (see below).

Links:

phantastes-cover