Category Archives: Reading

Review: 809 Jacob Street (Marty Young)

It’s taken me longer than I wanted to get around to reading 809 Jacob Street – for no other reason than time. I read my books in order of purchase, and Marty’s book was a little ways down on my ‘To Read’ pile. And yes, I just called him Marty, so this review will come with a disclaimer: while I was not at all involved in the production of 809 Jacob Street, Marty Young is one of my mates and all ‘round good guy. Oh, and to top it all off, 809 Jacob Street (Black Beacon Books) won the Australian Shadows Award in the Novel category a few weeks back.

Righto. Let’s get started, shall we?

And we will begin with the act of a spoiler declaration…so…umm… SPOILER DECLARATION! READ ON AT OWN SPOILERY RISK!

809

809 Jacob Street follows the stories of Byron and Joey Blue (and to a lesser extent, Iain and Hamish), and their interactions with the town of Parkton, or more specifically, the house on Jacob Street. I was first introduced to Joey Blue via a short story Young wrote for ASIM #48 (Joey Blue and the Gutterbreed), so I was very much looking forward to reading more about him. Joey Blue is a down-and-out blue’s singer who now spends most of his time at the bottom of a bottle — so much so, his past is almost a mystery to him. But Joey is aware there’s another part of Parkton, a much darker side that hides in the shadows. And it’s coming for him.

It’s Joey Blue with whom we start the story, and Joey’s in a bad place. His friend Gremlin is dead, but that doesn’t stop him stalking Joey and begging for his help. Joey can see those stuck in the veil between worlds, and they can see him, too. They’re aware, and Joey knows better than anyone that once the Gutterbreed are aware, there’s no end to the torment. Joey must make the trek to 809 Jacob Street.

Next we meet 14-year-old Byron who has just moved from Australia to Parkton. And hates it. His only friends are two outcasts, Iain and Hamish. Right from the beginning, there’s something off about Iain, and as the story progresses, the reader’s given glimpses into a psyche that is truly damaged. Hamish, is more an unwilling participant in his ‘friendship’ with Iain, and like Byron, seems to be carried along on the tidal wave that is Iain’s quest for answers at the house on Jacob Street.

The house has a history of blood and violence known to all in the town, and Young has made 809 almost its own character within the story. Iain taunts Byron with legends surrounding the house, and the pragmatic Byron refuses to believe the hype, which sets him on a path that can only lead to one place.

Both Joey Blue and Byron are on a collision course with the house on Jacob Street, and there’s no doubting it’s not going to end well for them. Young ramps up the tension the further into the book you read, and while I knew we were heading for a blood-soaked ending, I couldn’t wait for all the players to step over the threshold of number 809.

There’s quite a bit of backstory given, especially where the boys—Byron, Iain and Hamish—are concerned. At times the pacing was a little slow, but that could be more to do with Young’s build-up of the house through Byron’s eyes. Still..

We’re given a few chapters from Iain’s point of view, and this furthers the reader’s understanding that nothing good can come of the boy’s entering the house, but you know it’s inevitable – Iain will damn well make it so.

While Joey and Byron live in entirely different worlds, they do cross paths, albeit briefly, but this has weighty consequences toward the end of the book. There’s one particular scene—Joey’s walk up Jacob Street—that still resonates with me. Young outdid himself with this scene – it’s so perfectly and vividly described.

I’m not going to spoil the end of this book for readers, but once in that house… things don’t go well for anyone. But it’s in the house where Young really brings his storytelling finesse to the fore. Tension, action, fear, monsters, inner-demons, the dark… it’s all here, and I wasn’t disappointed.

When I turned the last page of the book, I was unsure of how I felt about it as a whole. It was a good read with great characters, and some damn fine imagery but there seemed somewhat of a disconnect between Joey Blue and the other players in the story… almost as though they were two stories spliced together that didn’t quite gel, and I think that’s more to do with the structure of the book – once Joey enters the house (about a quarter of the way into the book) he’s almost forgotten until the end.

There were a few more grammar and spelling issues than I’d have liked to have seen in the book, but that could well be the editor in me. Some of those issues, though, should have been picked up.

809 Jacob Street is on the smaller side of the novel-spectrum, and there’s little doubt in my mind that the story could well have supported a higher word count, where we could have delved a little more into Joey’s story and strengthened that connection between Joey and Byron. I’d have gladly read more, and that alone speaks to Young’s work.

I can’t finish without mentioning the illustrations provided in the book. David Schembri, who also created the cover-art, has given the book that extra dimension with internal illustrations throughout. I very much liked them, and it’s always great to see an artist’s rendering of both characters and monsters.

Overall, 809 Jacob Street is a solid first novel for Marty Young, and showcases the author’s ability to create great characters (or in Joey Blue’s case – fantastic ones), and there’s little doubt Young is storyteller who’s well on the rise (some of his phrasing is just beautiful). I’m looking forward to reading more, and if that last chapter is anything to go by, then more there will be.

4 stars

 

The Creative Proce$$

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”
—Mark Twain

Aah, words. How I love thee! They hold a power, a magic all their own. And Mr Twain speaks the truth – for a writer, there’s nothing like finding that right word, the right turn of phrase that will paint a world, a character, a scene with such vivid detail. It’s what has us rewriting and reworking until we hit that perfection.

Words are the life-blood of a writer. We love weaving them together to create wonder and enchantment. We want to take you places, leave you there for a while if we must, and have you take a little piece of it away with you.

We invest in our work, invest in ourselves to create that work. Time and learning our craft is the biggest investment a writer makes, but there are also times where dollars are invested. I’ve done it, and it was money well spent. Five years ago I joined the Australian Horror Writers Association crit group – the crit group was free, but a yearly membership of $20 was paid and worth every cent. Not only did I find a bunch of writers who helped me see where I was going wrong, and who supported and bolstered me and my writing, but more than that, they were (and are) some of the best people I know.

AHWA_logo

When the opportunity arose for a mentorship, I jackpotted again and was mentored by the extraordinarily talented and extraordinarily lovely Kaaron Warren (read her work, it’ll take you to some very spooky places). What I learned from Kaaron was invaluable, and the $165 I paid for the mentorship was a pittance compared to the experience and knowledge she passed along to me.

My writing improved a thousand-fold after working with Kaaron. Even my first drafts were not quite the crap they were previously (and we all know first drafts are crap), but the skeleton was stronger on which to build. It still meant rewriting and reworking that first draft, of course. It’s the investment of time. Time.

So when I came across a “book” professing a foolproof way to write your own book in less than a week, I was more than a little sceptical. More promises followed: six figure income in twelve months; will turn you into an expert in your field. Yada, yada, yada, blah, blah, blah. And let’s not forget the “seminars” and “master-classes” (for more money, of course). Oh, and before you ask, qualifications? Pfft! Who needs those!

Now I have a healthy dose of cynicism, and could see right through this rot (note: I will not provide links to this so-called book, as… well, it’s a load of bollocks), but it’s not aimed at someone like me, someone who can call bullshit on their claims. It’s aimed at the most vulnerable of our writing community: the newbie. (Or as the book proclaims: “for the budding writer”)

bullshit

We were all newbies once; caught up in the romanticism of writing, of creating, of being published. And we still are. Those of us who have been writing for a while now understand the amount of work, the struggle, the yearning and the passion to create. There are no shortcuts. You can’t wave a magic wand over a first draft to turn it into literary gold. It takes rewrites and redrafts, rereads and reworking.

It takes time. Time to make those words that will resonate with a reader; time to learn your craft; time to make your story the best it can be. Can it be done alone? I haven’t come across any story (be it flash, short, novella, novel) that’s stuck with me that hasn’t been passed past another’s eyes, a professional, before publication. When I see someone professing to hold the golden goose out to new writers, I get mad. Duping up-and-coming writers to make a quick buck is unconscionable. These parasites make a mockery of my profession, of my passion, and do so with little regard to those they target. There’s a special kind of hell waiting for those who cash in on the dreams of a new writer, I’m sure of it.

When challenged on the veracity of the content and title of that scam-book, the “author” bid a hasty retreat. Another took up their cause, which ended in an interesting discussion on the creative process, and this person’s flat-out refusal to ever engage beta readers or a professional editor or proofreader – their work didn’t require it.

facepalm

As a professional (qualified) editor, I know this is not the case. All work, regardless of the author, needs another set of eyes passed over it (more than one set if you can manage it). It doesn’t need to cost a fortune, it doesn’t need to cost anything but time: reciprocity is a great foundation for beta readers, and also builds relationships with other writers (who are really quite astute readers).

Can a book be written in under a week? 10,000 words a day for six days gets you 60,000 words – the basis of a novel. Would you send it out in the world? Please don’t. Please, please don’t. You owe your potential reader more than that, you owe yourself more than that.

Can you make a six-figure income within twelve months on said book? Realistically? No. And promising a budding writer such is not only fraudulent, but downright despicable.

The creative process does cost, but most of those “costs”—time, sweat, and yes, sometimes tears—a writer is willing to invest. But those costs shouldn’t line the pockets of scammers trying to bilk money from those who are just starting out.

There are organisations—reputable writing centres, writing associations, writing groups etc—that are found easily enough on the ‘net. Invest the time to search for a group or association that fits your needs. There are a lot of genre associations who would be happy to point you in the right direction. Don’t be taken in by “books” that promise the world. Remember, if something’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Review: The Last Argument of Kings (Joe Abercrombie)

The final book in The First Law trilogy is the longest of the three and the one I read the quickest. Abercrombie had used book two (Before They Are Hanged) very well to set up the mess you knew was coming in The Last Argument of Kings.

When I say ‘mess’, I do so in a positive way. Abercrombie has worked his main characters into corners they may well not survive.

So before you read any further, I best add a spoiler warning:

INCOMING SPOILERY SPOILERS THAT SPOIL

Last Argument of Kings

We begin with the five intrepid questers (Ninefingers, Ferro, Bayaz, Luthar and Longfellow) returning to the Union from their failed journey to the old world. It’s here the decisions Ninefingers, Ferro and Luthar make as they disembark have grave consequences. Abercrombie does well to make what appear to be inconsequential decisions, life-changing ones.

The Union is still fighting for its survival, and with the death of the last royal, those of aristocracy conspire, coerce, cross and double-cross in a bid for the throne. Political machinations have never been so messy (and at times, tiresome), especially amid a war that could see the Union eradicated in its entirety.

Bayaz is his ever-scheming self, and Ferro’s quest for vengeance has tied her to the Magi more than she’d like or care to admit — a lot of which has to do with the mixed emotions she has for Ninefingers. The two had gone their separate ways despite both wanting (internally) to remain together, and for Ninefingers this will come back to haunt him in so many ways.

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There’s much that needs to be tied up in this book, and as with books one and two, it was Ninefingers, Dogman and his crew, and West who held my attention. They’re in the thick of war. With some Northerners fighting on the side of the Union, loyalties are tested on all sides… or more a blurring of those sides against a common enemy. But even within these ranks, there’s no end of problems – past rivals and scores that must be settled.

As in the previous two books, Abercrombie doesn’t shy from the horror or war. This is especially evident when Ninefingers and his old crew join up with some hill-people to fight Bethod. This is a nasty, bloody battle, and it’s here we really see just how out of control The Bloody Nine is, and what toll that takes on Ninefingers.

The Ghurkish are still knocking on the door of the incompetent Union, and West is still being stymied at every turn by regulations that make little to no sense under the circumstances. Life really did screw West over.

There’s a lot to like and a lot to… meh, about in this book. The character development didn’t quite… well, develop. I wonder if this was intentional on Abercrombie’s part – sometimes leopards don’t change their spots.

There are no happy endings here – not for anyone. I suppose some might argue that Bayaz, the master manipulator, was the only “successful” player here – player being the operative word here. When it’s all revealed in the end, Bayaz just toyed with those around him, motivated solely, it seemed out of boredom (he’s lived a while, this magi). Being as powerful as he is, a god amongst men, he manoeuvres Jezal into Kingship by such roundabout means, it seemed like a waste of countless pages of political manipulation that could well have been spent on the likes of Glotka.

Ninefingers has been my favourite character from the start, but his ending (and that’s still up in the air – pardon the pun) felt like a cop out. Glotka, however, is the stand-out character come the end of this trilogy. Despite the character’s penchant for running his tongue over his gums, I found it was him I was sort of rooting for in the end.

The dreams/aspirations each of the characters began with are shattered, all through actions (and sometimes inaction) and decisions (or indecision) on their own part. They all had crappy lives to begin with, now they’re just in slightly different crappy lives. I guess the moral is: life sux.

Jezal gets far more than he ever wished for in his life, but guess what? When you get all you desire, it never really lives up to its expectation. Same goes for Ferro. Driven by her need for vengeance, it wasn’t much of a surprise that this came back to bite her on the arse.

It does make you think (as Ninefingers and Ferro often ponder) what their lives would have been like had they made different decisions upon their return to the Union. Crappy, sure, as that’s the way life is in these books. For everyone.

When I got to the end of this trilogy, I wasn’t sure how I felt. Book two is definitely the stand out for me. Book one was a painful read until the last 150-odd pages. Book three? Great battle scenes (all of Abercrombie’s battle scenes are beautifully and ghastly choreographed), deaths of some likeable characters (always a plus if an author’s prepared to do that), and an ending that I saw coming earlier than I’d have liked.

Overall, it’s a good trilogy. Not a great one. And I wanted a great one. The dark stuff was dark, and I think that helped get me through some of the more lacklustre parts of plot. Abercrombie’s characters run the gamut of ordinary to wonderful, but I was left with the feeling that this could have been so much more.

Abercrombie writes well, and there are times when his words are pure poetry, but when you’re looking at close to 1800 pages of story… I expected more, but it wouldn’t stop me from picking up another of his stories just to see what tale he can spin.

stars

Review: Topsiders (Scott Tyson)

I very much enjoyed this read but I’m going to begin this review with a disclaimer.

It’s fair to say quite a few of my reviews will have a disclaimer of sorts; as a writer, I have a lot of writerly friends and colleagues who pen the genre I love reading, so there’s bound to be cross-overs from time to time. Scott Tyson falls into the cross-over category. While I’ve worked with Scott on another project, I was not involved with either the pre or post-production of Topsiders. Yes, that is me mentioned in the acknowledgements, but that was for providing general advice of a writing/editorial nature. My only knowledge of the Topsiders story was based solely on the back-cover blurb. I did not receive a free copy of the book – I buy the books that fill (overfill?) my shelves, and do so gladly.

topsiders

Okay, now that we have the disclaimer out of the way, let’s get on with this review. Oh, and big-arse spoiler alert here: I’ll be talking about the end of this story so if you don’t want to be tainted look away now…now I said! Stop peeking through your fingers!

Topsiders is a tale of twos: two worlds, two families, two journeys and two protags. Told through the eyes of father (Bill) and son (Mathew), we follow each as they embark on separate (though intertwined) quests into an abandoned house by the river. You know this isn’t going to end well.

The story started a little slowly for me; the small glimpses I had of the goings-on in the house made me want to be there, not reading of the dynamics between the adult-couples, or the jostling hierarchy of 14-year-old Mathew, his just-older brother Guy, and love-interest Claire. Don’t get me wrong, the characters are well-drawn and believable, I just wanted to get into that house… or rather, beneath it.

As we’re told this story from two points of view, we know that overly-cautious Bill isn’t so keen on investigating the house, but provoked into doing so by his estranged wife Judy, and lured by his lust for family friend Helen (despite Helen’s husband Phil), Bill plunges into the darkness of the house. When the parents go missing, Mathew, Guy and Claire (Helen and Phil’s daughter) head up their own search party.

Tyson does well to flip between the two parties. Access to the world below is through a tunnel hidden behind a picture in the bathroom – our first glimpse of this is done remarkably well, which only heightened my belief that we needed to get to this point sooner. The tunnel is creepy, and you know they shouldn’t enter, but they do (as we’ve all done things we know we really shouldn’t), and here we really see Bill’s cowardice come to the fore.

Mathew and Claire soon follow suit, determined to find their parents and the now-missing Guy. Tyson creates tension here, and his use of monsters-hiding-in-darkness fear is done very well (sometimes what is unseen is more frightening that what is). Bill, now alone, is at a crossroads – he’s seen (kinda) what lies below and he wants out, but Mathew’s arrival forces Bill’s hand.

Once both arrive at the heart of the monster’s home, the horror of what really lies beneath is shown in its total brutality. There are parts of this story that aren’t for the feint-of-heart, but I liked that Tyson didn’t shy away from brutality – this is a horror story and horror happens.

Once in the cavern, we’re shown the true heart of all involved: the monsters, Bill, Mathew and Judy. Tyson shows us that sometimes there’s not a lot of difference between those that live below and the ‘topsiders’. It’s a hard ending, but there’s a truthfulness to it that made the story all the more enjoyable. There’s a Laymon-esque quality to Tyson’s story – a collision of worlds that is honest in its brutality. I don’t want to spoil the ending of this story, but let me say that Tyson doesn’t soften that blow but delivers it how it must be delivered.

My main issue with the story was its slow beginning, and I think part of that goes to the world Tyson’s created beneath that house – this is where the true story lies, and I think the relationships explored at the beginning could well have been given to the reader while the topsiders were underground. I believe it would have amplified their dynamic. I wanted more of that world, and those trying to survive in it (monster and topsider alike), especially when you take into account that last chapter.

Tyson has left this open for a sequel, and given the point of view of that protag, I would gladly read it.

On a Goodreads scale, I give this a 4 out of 5 stars.

 

 

Review: Before They Are Hanged (Joe Abercrombie)

I’ll be completely honest, I went into Before They Are Hanged with pretty mixed expectations (I believe I actually gave a long-suffering sigh when I took it from my bookshelf). If you’ve read my review of book one in Joe Abercrombie’s The First Law trilogy, you’ll know how often I almost gave up on this series. If I hadn’t made it to those final 150-odd pages of book one, I’d never have picked up the second book in this trilogy.

I was wary, sure, I’d been burned with book one, and this was a longer book (although not by much), and my resolve to finish all books I start meant this could become tediously frustrating.

Before they are hanged

Spoilers ahead, so read on at your own risk…

So, Before They Are Hanged…? Now this was a story I could sink my teeth into. Where book one had been a chore, I down-right enjoyed this story. With trilogies, I’ve often found that the second book is where the story falls down, flails, if you will; where the story becomes more of a way-station between books one and three. But Abercrombie takes the tension he’s built at the end of book one and (mostly) runs with it.

It’s a dark, punishing look at a world that’s on the brink of change. And according to the characters telling this story, it’s not going to be a change for the good. The Union is screwed, but they’re the facilitators of their own undoing. As a long-term ruling power, they’ve become lackadaisical, especially with their army, focussing more on pomp and ceremony than actual fighting skills, and it doesn’t take much for these weaknesses to be exploited.

For me, the story is carried by the characters. Abercrombie has really pulled his socks up with characterisation here – he’s challenged his characters to change, and they’ve bit back hard, resisting his push for it but undergoing it nonetheless. Ninefingers is still my favourite character (the Bloody Nine!), although Dogman and his crew are all very close seconds – I could happily read about their exploits, and their dialogue is excellent. Ferro took a while to warm to, but her harshness and dogged thirst for vengeance (regardless of self-realisation) endeared her to me.

Glokta is still the intriguing character he was in book one, but watching his edges being chipped away… this isn’t going to end well for anyone. The revelation (for me, anyway) were my feelings toward Luthar. I had no interest in this character in book one. He was a bland waste of space, and I had to consciously stop myself from skipping over his pages in book one (a hard task indeed). He starts off this way in book two, but his interactions with Ninefingers are some of my favourite. Luthar can still be a bit of a pratt, but if he’d have changed to someone of good character and compassion… well, that would have felt like a slap in the face as a reader.

The battles that take place within this book are grim, bloody and in-your-face, just as they should be. Abercrombie doesn’t shy from the horror, the ugliness, and the unfairness of war. Shit happens. A lot of bad shit happens. People die. Horribly. People live (also horribly). And those we want to live, die; those we want to die, live. That’s war. It’s not pretty. It’s not glorious. Abercrombie does it shitty justice.

There’s a lot at play here, and Abercrombie’s worked it well, giving us more of the characters and fleshing out the culture of this world and its roots. The Union is fighting (rather poorly) for its survival, but there’s war happening on all fronts here: Bayaz and Khalul, Glokta and Sult, Ninefingers and Ferro (sex/companionship as a battle), West and the pompous colonels, and all the internal battles of the main characters… it’s everywhere and I liked it.

There are multiple plot-threads in this second instalment but it’s not too messy. Each new sliver of information, each cross and double-cross adds to this ongoing chess game. They’re all playing – each character a king in their own game, but pawns in the games of others. It’s this… greyness of storytelling that kept me turning the pages – nothing is ever as black and white as it seems.

This isn’t a completely glowing review, as at times the pacing seemed a little off. There are times when Abercrombie really grabs you with his storytelling, then lets you go, asking you to wander around a bit while he gets his soldiers all in a row. I found that most of this was to do with what I like to call ‘politics-interruptus’. It’s the telling of what’s going on that drags at the book; yes, I understand there’s politics involved with this story, but we really did get our understanding of these machinations with book one (in slow, slow shovel-fuls), there’s little need to rehash it in book two. Give the reader some credit; we can carry the pseudo-religious-politico games through on our own.

Overall, Abercrombie’s written a fine second book in this trilogy. Before They Are Hanged was a story I wanted to keep reading, and while book three awaits, I’ll be taking a breather with another book before heading into the epic 700-pager that awaits with the Last Argument of Kings.

(On a Goodreads scale, I give this 4/5 stars).

 

Review: The Blade Itself (Joe Abercrombie)

I didn’t read anywhere near as much as I wanted last year (I’m talking for pleasure, not work), so this year I’m setting about turning this around. I’m also wanting to read more fantasy (of the darker kind), as the novel I’m writing has fantasy roots. Aaanywho, I picked up Joe Abercrombie’s ‘The First Law’ trilogy, and as I’m about halfway through book two, I thought I’d chuck the review of book one up here.

So, here we go…

This is a 2.5 star rating, but I’m going to review this book as two parts because that’s exactly how it read to me – like two books… and sometimes even two authors, who put ‘The Blade Itself’ together.

I picked up ‘The First Law’ trilogy on a recent trip to my local bookstore. The sales clerk raved about it, and a quick check on Goodreads showed great reviews, so I was pretty excited to get started. Grimdark!

The blade itself

Here there be spoilers…

I have a like/hate relationship with this book. I began intrigued by the story, and with Logen Ninefingers especially (if it weren’t for him, and later his ‘merry’ band, I’d have thrown the book at the wall), but the further I moved into the book, the more frustrated and annoyed I became. The story started strong enough, Logen Ninefingers, talking with spirits, the Shanka – all good, then in came the world of the Union, and in particular Inquisitor Glokta and Captain Jezal Luthar – two very different peas in an almost farcical pod.

Glokta is an interesting character; once one of the Unions most famed soldiers, after 700 days at the “mercy” of the enemy, he’s a crippled, toothless shell of a man and now the best torturer the Union has. Abercrombie does well to make the reader believe Glokta is an old man; I was surprised to learn he was in mid-thirties. Glokta’s Practicals are also a nice touch to the man – Frost especially. At times, I was cringing at the amount of internal monologue Glokta has; less is more, and repetition can become tedious.

Captain Jezal Luthar is an awful parody. Godawful. The back of the dustjacket describes Luthar as a ‘paragon of selfishness’, but I found him to be lazily written. I’ve absolutely no problem with unlikeable characters, if fact, they often make a book, but Luthar is… well, did I say godawful? Especially when he’s marked against a character such as Ninefingers or Dogman, for instance (fleshed out and well-rounded). There’s room for shallow characters, but not room, I believe for shallow characterisation. Sure, he can really only go up from here, and there’s nothing BUT growth to be had, but Abercrombie shows he can write a great character, it’s more like he couldn’t be bothered with Luthar and that makes the book suffer in my eyes.

When I said farcical, that’s exactly what the Union is… with a few clichés thrown in for fun: a fat, dementia-riddled absurdity of a king; a ridiculously stupid crown prince more worried about fashion that his empire; the king’s guard (I’m talking 40-odd men here) who cower, whimper and almost piss themselves when their king is vaguely threatened (seriously? no one’s buying that); and a religious council (let’s call a sect a sect) who pretty much have their hand up the king’s bum like a puppet. Yes, I understand the need to make the Union appear as defenceless and gormless as possible, but this is beyond believability – I can suspend belief, I can, but c’mon!

sheldon1

The one man in the Union who does understand the ridiculousness (and danger) of the situation is Major West, a commoner risen above his station, much to the derision of the blue-bloods (yep, I see that cliché too). But him, I like.

350 pages in and it was a struggle; where was the story arc? Where was the plot? It was Ninefingers and his old crew that kept me turning the pages… well that and I’m stubborn. I was finishing this book, and I was going to be honest in my review.

Then something happened. The story finally kicked in. It had been wandering all over the place, almost as if it were trying to find its way. When Ninefingers, Bayaz, Luthar, and Glokta walk into the House of the Maker it was like they awakened the author. The writing (mostly) fell into place, and I began to see the story Abercrombie wanted to tell.

From here on in I read the book quickly; I was interested and intrigued, and even grew to tolerate the beige that is Luthar. The magic, both dark and curious, began to show its other hand, and the Eaters are a great creation. THIS is where the story should have begun. This is also where I realised the first 350-odd pages had been the longest character introduction I’ve ever read. From here, Abercrombie pretty much holds his own. The ‘Bloody Nine’ chapter is a bloody good read, and the scene where the Bloody Nine rises is a stand-out.

For me, the structure doesn’t do the story justice; I was close to giving up so many times but perseverance got me through. Thing is, a great read shouldn’t be about perseverance, especially when the last 150-odd pages were a good, and at times, a very, very good read.

I can’t forgive the amount of times ‘Er…’ appeared, though, I just can’t. Everyone says it. All. The. Time. If I’d have made a drinking game of it, I’d have been hammered a couple of chapters in. If I’d based the game on exclamation points, I’d be back in the mud. (Ping to the editors on that – less is more, less is more!!!!!)

drunk dog

Make no mistake, Ninefingers and his old crew carried this story for me; they were the only ones I was invested in.

So… here we are at the end of this review that will get two ratings: 1.5 stars for the first part, and four stars for the end. Nothing we learned in the first part, couldn’t have been given to the reader in a hundred-odd pages without losing any of the understanding of characters, culture and the history of the world Abercrombie has created.

I’ll start book two, and see how it goes. Though I’m now a wary reader.

Planet Word

Language is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.

With today being the last day of Women in Horror Month, I thought I’d sneak in one last post on gender. Today’s topic? Words. Gender-specific words. (It’s true, they exist.)

As an editor of both fiction and non-fiction, I spend a lot of time immersed in the words (and worlds) of others. For fiction, gender-specific words work – your characters are female or male (as yet, I’ve not worked with an author on a story containing a transgender character), so there are very few instances where gender-specificity becomes an issue. With non-fiction and copywriting, I’ve often found it to be a minefield of exclusivity.

What started out as a discussion with an editor friend of mine, Geoff Brown, about gender-specific pronouns grew into a Facebook experiment (here and here), where I posed a question and asked for replies on whether there was an error. The question was simple enough:

If a doctor doesn’t bulk bill, should he be required to work longer hours?

Out of fifteen responses (and a lot of fun had along the way), only five picked the gender-specific pronoun. Why should the doctor be a he? Why indeed. Another pointed out that when the word ‘nurse’ is used, most think ‘she’. While historically these professions have been gender-defined (with some wonderful exceptions here and here), they are no longer, but so ingrained is our concept of gender-identification that we allocate (mostly subconsciously) language that suits individual ideology.

What’s wrong with that? Well… plenty. Let me set the scene: I have two children (a girl and a boy – both amazing kids); now, using the example above, if my kids are to only ever hear me refer to doctors as ‘he/him’ and nurses as ‘she/her’, am I not reinforcing (however subliminally) gender-discrimination?

words have power

Even writing this, I wonder if I’m making a mountain out of a molehill (and I’m sure some might believe I am), but language is powerful, and studies show that from the womb, we’re attuned to it. From birth, we’re encouraged to speak (nothing beats the first time my kids said ‘Mumumum’); children pick up nuances of language – they mimic, they learn, they apply.

As a writer, I love language. I love words and what they can do. I love using them to create people, worlds, cultures, beliefs; to create monsters, gods, conflict, harmony – the possibilities are endless. As an editor, I have a responsibility to ensure language is inclusive (linguistic inclusivity). As a writer, I do as well – why would I limit my audience?

But surely a simple pronoun wouldn’t do that. I ask you this: as a woman, if you were to read a piece of copy or non-fiction where the only pronouns used were ‘he/him’, would you feel it was written for you? As a man, if you were to read an article or non-fiction piece where the only pronouns used were ‘she/her’, would it resonate with you? Would you notice? Does it matter?

Call me crazy, but to me it does. Words matter. Context matters. Inclusivity matters – be it gender, ethnicity, age, ability or disability – it matters. Words; wield them well, my friends.

words

Women in Horror (part two) — F**k the Naysayers and Make Good Art

So here we are, Women in Horror Recognition Month, 2014… and what a sad state of affairs it’s been. Over the last few weeks I’ve read a plethora of posts and blogs and forums both for and a reasoned post against WiHM; some made me applaud while others made me want to gouge my eyes out with a spoon.

In part one of my WiHM post, I mentioned my support of the month (and for those women who write/read/film/act in this amazing genre), and my despair for its need. Yep, I said ‘need’, and that makes me sad. To my knowledge, I’ve not been the subject of gender-bias within the industry, but I’d be a fool to say it doesn’t happen. All one has to do is read a couple of comment threads to know that it is real and it’s out there, clubbing its Neanderthal way through the genre I love.

Some of the vitriol I’ve read is mind-blowing. I get mad. I get frustrated. And at times I’ve wanted to reach through my screen and throttle the ignorance right out of someone (now there’s a horror story in the making!). There have, however, been cheap shots thrown from both sides; reasoned debate fast falls away to slanging matches that put pre-schoolers to shame. A lot of these comments are made by authors, by those who understand the power of words, yet a ‘fuck you’ seems to be a go-to response.

Stay-Classy-Internet

I’m no stranger to swearing, and anyone who’s read my stories knows I can curse it up with the best of them, but when it comes to something as important as equality in the industry—‘cause really, folks, that’s what it boils down to—devolving into playground bullying doesn’t do anyone any favours, especially when some posts have gone viral, and damage the genre and those who like to play in it.

When I first decided to write a post on WiHM, I fully intended to go in all guns blazing – I’m a woman who writes horror, why shouldn’t I be taken seriously? I don’t write stories with my boobs, and my uterus doesn’t scream ‘don’t do it!’ every time I torture and/or kill a character. I’m just as sure that men who write horror don’t do so with their penis, and their balls don’t swell with ‘manly pride’ every time they torture and/or kill a character. So why the distinction between female horror writers and their male counterparts? It can’t be anatomical, surely.

Women can write the brutal stuff just as well as men (one story I wrote for ASIM offended a reader so much with its violence he cancelled his subscription – a proud moment for me, no doubt; something I’d written deeply touched another), we can write psychological horror, subtle horror, slasher and any other label you’d like to attach. So why is there a resistance to women putting horror to paper? Makes no sense to me.

I don’t care what gender the author of the book I’m reading is; for me, it’s all about the story. But here, we might be getting into tricky territory. With a perceived belief that women can’t or don’t write horror (or write it well), some authors choose to write under a male pseudonym and others choose to use their initials so it’s not readily apparent that they’re women. A sad indictment. I chose to write under my decidedly female name (this was a personal choice, and is no way a judgement on those who have selected not to). Could I have gone with my initials? Sure. But what does that tell my daughter? Hide who you are so you can be accepted in your chosen field? Being a woman can hold you back? Hell no. I’m not teaching her that, even subliminally. And I’m not teaching my son that either.

hell no

But instead of the ‘all guns blazing’ approach, what I’d like to talk about is art. The art of creating a world, characters, creatures, cultures from nothing but imagination. Forget about gender, forget about the politics, the naysayers; fuck those who say you couldn’t, you shouldn’t, and MAKE GOOD ART.

That’s what it comes down to. That’s all it comes down to. Immerse yourself in your worlds, sidle up to your characters and learn their secrets (share them if you must), give them loves, hates, give them lives – beautiful and horrible. MAKE GOOD ART. Everything else is secondary. The accolades, the recognition, the story acceptances and rejections, reviews (peer and otherwise), none of it matters when you’re knee-deep in your story, giving life to your imagination, creating something essentially out of nothing.

When you’re making your word-babies are you thinking about the Stokers, Aurealis, or Shadows awards? Are you tailoring your creations to market trends? Are you wondering whether readers will care what does or doesn’t swing between your legs? No? Then back to it, my friend, you’re doing it right – MAKE GOOD ART.  If you are, then this may be the wrong gig for you. You’re missing out on the pure, unadulterated freedom of creating. Shed those self-imposed shackles and run naked through your imagination (I lost a shoe there once, so it’s best to go in unfettered), and see what happens. Enjoy it. Revel in it. Is it not the act of creating that draws you back time and again?

Lost my shoe

Let the anxiety, the fear, the ‘what ifs’ go. Hard though it may be (and that bout of writerimposteritis can be a bitch to shake), believe in your story and believe in yourself, it’s the least you can do. So you didn’t win an award this year, didn’t make a shortlist, didn’t get the recognition you thought would come… did you make good art? Yes? Then I take my hat off to you – you’re a writer, the best and sometimes worst gig in the world. But I can’t fathom doing anything else.

So, Women in Horror Recognition Month, I thank you for bringing attention to what can be a downright disgusting part of the industry; I thank you for giving voice to those who suffer under draconian beliefs of a woman’s ability to write in my favourite genre; I thank you for opening the eyes of readers who may not have picked up a horror tome penned by a woman. And to those who think women don’t or can’t write horror? I thank you, too. You’ve bolstered the drive and determination of those us who write this genre to prove you wrong. Bravo!

If there’s one thing I want you, dear reader, to take from this (no matter the genre you write) is: FUCK THE NAYSAYERS AND MAKE GOOD ART. Go on, I dare you…

WIHM 2014