jennygordon: (Great Grey Heron)
'Tis that time of year when I like to look back at what I've read over the course of the last twelve months ...

... excuse me while I stick my hands up my jumper for a minute; they're so cold I can barely type!

Right, that's better.

As I was saying, yes, books.

Turns out I've read far fewer books than in previous years. Only 53, six of which were DNFs ("Did Not Finish"). It's no great surprise. Life with a hefty capital "L" has happened this year, and my reading habits have responded accordingly. Also, I note that lots of the books I have read are great big tomes, as opposed to more the more slender volumes I've tended towards in recent years, which also explains the reduction in overall number.

The most surprising book on my list (I keep a hand-written list in a notebook) was one I could barely read the title of, and when I did decipher my scrawl, I didn't recognise the title at all. Weird! I skipped across to my Goodreads page, but it turns out I forgot to list it there. Then, *clang* the memory dropped into place. Mystery solved. The book was ... well, utterly forgetable, so I forgot it!

In previous years, I've tossed down my thoughts on my Top Ten books read in that year. My brain is as cold as my fingers, so I think I'll just mention my three favourites this time:

The Wood Wife, Terri Windling - one of the most magical books I know, and one I return to every few years.

The Burning Air, Erin Kelly - a gripping thriller that swallowed me whole, and had a twist even I didn't see coming.

The Lollipop Shoes, Joanne Harris - a re-read of what is possibly my favourite Harris novel (although I haven't read all of them, so you never know).

Oh, okay, I also have to include Maggie Stiefvater's The Dream Thieves and Blue Lily, Lily Blue. The former was a re-read to refresh my memory in advance of the latter, which was a new release this year. I adore Maggie's storytelling, and her characterisation is subtle and flawless. I learn writerly lessons whenever I read anything by her.

Well, that's me. I'm a couple of hundred pages into The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley at the moment. It's a book I haven't read since I was a teenager, and at 1000 pages, it's going to be a while before I'm ready to make progress with my ever-growing 'To Be Read' pile.

What about you? What have been your favourite reads of 2014?
jennygordon: (Tortoiseshell Butterfly (purple))
When you're feeling below par, and want to be entertained by what you're reading more than you want to be challenged or made to think, which author(s) do you turn to?

For me, it's often Barbara Erskine.

Back in the 1980s, her revolutionary debut novel, 'The Lady of Hay,' marked a new approach to the historical novel, and was an enormous success. Since then, Erskine has written a veritable library of novels in the same vein, all of which include elements such as time-slip (i.e. characters in the present being drawn back to a time in the past through such mechanisms as past-life regression), ghosts and the supernatural, and obscure corners of distant British history. She has a gift with conveying the past in an accessible manner, and has a wonderful storytelling voice.

Over the years, I've dipped in and out of her catalogue, enjoying some books more than others, as is pretty normal with an author as prolific as Erskine.

Not long ago, I picked up a couple of her recent novels at a discounted price, and since I haven't read anything by her for a lot of years, I reckon it's time to dip back in and find out what she's up to these days.

While she has a large and adoring readership, Erskine does also come in for criticism as a one-trick pony, with reviewers often commenting that her tried-and-tested formula has never again succeeded as well as it did with her first novel, which is a fair point. That said, I'm approaching my new Erskine with an open mind. I read the first couple of pages last night, and was reminded again of her way with words and gift for storytelling, and frankly, the way I'm feeling at the moment, that'll do me nicely.
jennygordon: (Rossetti - Veronica Veronese)
One of the many joys of moving house is rediscovering books you'd forgotten about. I find that once a book has been on a certain shelf, in a certain position, for a while, the eye kind of skates over it, so you stop noticing it. Taking books out of boxes and stacking them in all-new places means I notice those poor neglected volumes again. It also means I don't need to visit the library or buy any new books for a while, since the 'To Be Read' pile beside my bed is practically tall enough to see over the rooftops and all the way to the mountains.

Here's a taste of some of the delights I have ahead of me; many are re-reads, but there are some I haven't read at all yet:

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice

Playing With the Grown-ups, Sophie Dahl

The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern

The Conjuror's Bird, Martin Davies

I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith

Jigs and Reels, Joanne Harris

The Secret of Lost Things, Sheridan Hay

And, I confess, there is one library book among them. Having recently read and loved 'The Thirteen Tale' by Diane Setterfield, I couldn't resist taking out 'Bellman and Black' by her when I noticed it on the shelf the other day.

*Sigh* Literary bliss.
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
I'm in the middle of a horrible stressful time at the moment, and one of the few things that are saving my sanity are books. Trouble is, I need to be reading books that are completely immersive, otherwise my mind wanders and starts to play on the stressful stuff instead. A month or so back, I latched onto one author in particular who did the job for me, but after reading my way through her back catalogue, I floundered with what to read next. I tried a couple of different things, but neither held my interest. Then I picked this one up in a discount bookshop:

The Burning Air

It's perfect! I read 'The Poison Tree' by the same author a couple of years back, and really enjoyed that too (it bears little resemblance to the less-than-great TV version of the book). I kind of surprised myself at the time that I would enjoy a psychological suspense thriller, which isn't a genre I've especially been drawn to in the past. But reading 'The Burning Air' has confirmed for me that it's a genre I'll be seeking out more of in the future.

'The Burning Air' is so gripping I resent having to put it down to go to sleep. It's beautifully written, with intriguing, layered characters, and a mid-book twist I didn't see coming, even though I've read reviews that mention that there is a mid-book twist. Moreover, I'm reknowned for seeing the twist long before a book or film reaches it. This one? Didn't have the faintest clue. In fact, I was so taken aback that I misunderstood the 'reveal' for a fraction of a second before the penny dropped. Then I had to go back and re-read that section of the book just to see how clever the author had been.

I still have a good third of the book to go. Can't wait to get home so I can run a lovely bubbly bath and read and read until I turn pruney!
jennygordon: (Magpie)
It's no good, I simply have to share my latest notebook excitement. And trust me, I'm very excited about these notebooks! I confess, I'm something of a notebook fetishist (as are many writers, I suspect), and when I spotted these little lovelies for a bargain price, I couldn't resist. I bought two. Yes yes, I know the picture shows ... um ... six of them. What's your point? Okay, I went back and bought five more (I have two of one design). Look, aren't they beautiful, and so shiny, with designs from my favourite art era (all but two are still in their cellophane wrapping, which is why they're not quite as shiny as top right and bottom left):

IMG_3165

They're even pretty on the back. I've already begun to fill this one with notes for my reworking of PaintingBook:

IMG_3162

And inside, they have the same lovely paper as Moleskin notebooks, and even include the Moleskin-style pocket inside the back cover (everybody's jumping on that particular bandwagon these days, and who can blame them?)

IMG_3161

Since 2010, I've been keeping a Moleskin notebook to collect random ephemera and story ideas with a small 'i'. My plan is to use these notebooks for story ideas that grow into Ideas with a capital 'I', assigning one per notebook. Because, honestly, who wouldn't want to keep picking up one of these beauties to add more notes inside? In fact, who wouldn't want to keep picking them up to pet and admire them, and talk to them lovingly? Or is that just me? Er-hem.
jennygordon: (Rossetti - Veronica Veronese)
Funny thing, how you can experience books differently depending on the view from were you're currently sitting in your life.

I've just finished reading a book that swallowed me whole, made me laugh, made me cry, and made me .... yearn, I guess is the word I'm looking for. Honestly, I couldn't bear to put it down, yet at the same time, I couldn't bear for it to be finished.

Now, at another time, I know I would have found this book a little too saccharine for my taste. A little too ... I don't know ... a little too girly. And yet, I find myself reaching for more books by this author (and no, I'm not naming names!) I want to wallow in her stories, to lose myself in her sweet magic-realist words. I'm moved and inspired, and all good things. I'm even going to try re-reading one of her books that I set aside a few years back as definitely too saccharine. That'll be the real test.

Perhaps I'm becoming a girlie girl ... Not sure if that troubles me or not ....
jennygordon: (Froud - Green Man)
Aren't libraries wonderful? Joining the library was one of the first things I did when I moved here to my new town, and I was delighted to find an excellent local branch only 5 minutes' walk from my house, filled with lovely books and equally lovely, friendly staff.

I was perusing Amazon at the end of my working day yesterday - as you do - checking out various titles to see whether I could pick up cheap secondhand copies, when it occurred to me that it might be worth trying the library for some of them. So, I duly logged on to the library catalogue and Lo! two of the books on my list weren't just stocked at my local library, they were also listed as currently being on the shelf. I swung by after work, and picked up both.

Thank you library!

For those of you who might be interested, the 2 books in question are:

The Ghost Orchid, by Carol Goodman

and

Some Kind of Fairy Tale, by Graham Joyce.

The connection between them is my new project, which I'm going to call FallingBook. They're not the same kind of story, but they bear similarities, so I thought I'd check them out.
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
Since it's the time of year for this kind of thing, I took a look back at the books I read during 2013. There were 65 of them, which falls short of my 2012 total of 89, though that was a bit of a fluke, as it's more normal for me to fall around the 60-mark. Of those, I reckon there were a few standouts for me, for a variety of reasons.


  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, NK Jemisin — which reminded me of the fun I used to have with my wild and weird imagination, and inspired this post.
  • How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff — which was a random buy in my local charity shop. I knew nothing about the book or the author, but it turned out to be an unexpected delight. Flukily, a film based on the novel appeared later in the year.
  • Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore — which is the latest novel by one of the best YA fantasy writers currently out there.
  • Seraphina, Rachel Hartman — which was such enormous fun, and left me with the enduring image of dragons living in human form who obsessively sit on piles of books instead of piles of treasure. Well, who wouldn't?!
  • The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss — which was a reimmersion in high fantasy that I thoroughly enjoyed.
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern — which was a sublime dream of a novel for a lover of style and lycicism like me.
  • Sacrificial Magic, and Chasing Magic, Stacia Kane — which are two gritty and original novels in the only urban fantasy series I follow.
  • The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater — which are some of the most stylish and ambitious YA novels currently out there.
  • The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater — which is the fourth (or fifth?) time I've read this standalone novel, and I loved it even more this time around, so it had to appear on this list.
  • Chime, Franny Billingsley — which is written in one of the most engaging first person voices I've come across.

So, that's me. I know some of you have posted your own lists, but what I want to know is which of the books you've read were standouts for you, and why?

jennygordon: (Magpie)
A quick fly-by post to let you know about an exciting new e-book by the lovely Robin Prehn, whose blog-based reviews of books for teens I've been reading and enjoying for some time. Her reviews are always fair and honest, and this book is a wonderfully useful and accessible guide for anyone who enjoys Young Adult fiction. One of my favourite things is discovering new authors, and what better way to do so than through the reviews of someone whose view you can trust?

Thanks for all your hard work, Robin, and best of luck for the success of this book.

If you're interested in picking up a copy, it's up on Amazon now, for the bargain price of $3.07. Take a look at the 'Look Inside' option to check out the wide range of books included.

tbagff cover
jennygordon: (Hermit)
I've spent a delicious few days reading the first two of 'The Dark is Rising' sequence, and decided I'd throw down a few of the thoughts that have struck me this time around. Not a review as such, just some things that wafted through my head as I read.

I should mention that there are **spoiler alerts** throughout.

First up, 'Over Sea, Under Stone'.

Over Sea, Under Stone - Susan Cooper

1. This, of all the five books in the sequence, is the only most firmly rooted as a children's book. Also, while many of the pieces for the subsequent books are set in play, it seems to me that Cooper is still learning her writerly licks. I wonder how old she was when she wrote it ...

2. "Great-uncle Merry walked along beside them in silence, very tall, brooding, his face lost in the shadows. With every long stride he seemed to merge into the night, as if he belonged to the mystery and the silence and the small nameless sounds." This gorgeous description showcases Cooper's gift with words, and perfectly sums up the mysterious figure known to the three children at the heart of the book as Great-uncle Merry. His full name is Merriman Lyon. It's Barney, the youngest of the children, who realises at the end of the book who he might really be (the clue's in the name).

3. Cooper has a gift for portraying snapshot moments that stick in the memory. In this book, for example, the moment Jane and Simon turn to see dark figures lit by the moonlight up at the standing stones on the headland they have just left, is truly creepy.

4. I liked the fact that the children get scared quite a lot, and have to battle their very understandable fear. It works to enhance their ultimate courage.

5. Landscape, landscape, landscape. A sleepy Cornish fishing village in high summer, its cliffs and seascape, are core to the plot and the atmosphere.

And next, 'The Dark is Rising'.

The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

This is my favourite of the series, and was actually the first I read, way back when. It's also likely that this book was responsible for instilling in me a love of using weather to enhance mood and story. There's a clear step-up in writerly technique in this book, with Cooper ironing out extraneous adverb-usage and tightening her storytelling. At its heart lies a perfectly-paced quest, in which all the pieces fit together just so.

Also, gorgeously creepy cover, or what?

1. This time around, the part of the story that really grabbed me was the subplot around the tragic character of Hawkin. Foster-son of Merriman Lyon from the thirteenth century, he is taken out of his own time in order to play a pivotal role in Will (the MC's) story. His reaction to what he is required to do, and his subsequent betrayal of Merriman and the Light, is that of a character of complexity and depth.

2. And speaking of Merriman, am I the only person who finds him frightening? Always did. While he's a key agent of the Light, and first among the Old Ones, he can also be grim and distant and intimidating, with his "fierce, secret face." He's like a combination of Gandalf and Saruman.

3. This is the main book of the series in which the time of year and the weather are particularly significant. Set between Midwinter and Twelfth Night, when the power of the Dark is at its greatest, this is a book of snow storms and fearsome cold, sent and used by the powers of the Dark to gain their foothold on the winter-locked country. The atmosphere of encroaching cold and growing fear is perfectly evoked, and deliciously shiversome.

4. For a relatively slim children's book, this one has a wide cast of characters, from Will Stanton's enormous, mayhemic family to the local Old Ones, agents of the Dark, and other village folk. It's striking how successfully Cooper creates pen-portraits of each one.

5. I still love the use of the Hunting of the Wren in the story. It's one of those ancient British traditions that's so strange it always makes me wonder where its origins lie.

6. In fact, Cooper has successfully bound together traditional folklore tropes and strands of old, old history to creates a new mythology that's utterly convincing. It goes to show that if you weave your invented world/magic system with threads of real, historically-rooted facts, it helps create a depth and resonance it might otherwise lack.

7. Perhaps one of the reasons why this book appealed to me so powerfully when I was a sprog was that it is full of things I was already falling in love with - ancient British folklore and Dark Age history, with echoes of the Anglo Saxon Sutton Hoo ship burial in the King of Ice and Fire. It's no coincidence that I went on to specialise in Dark Age history for my degree, with a focus on the pagan Anglo Saxons. It probably also explains why the era never entirely ceased being bound up with magic for me, despite three years studying it as an archaeologist and historian. What can I say? 'The Dark is Rising' marked me for life!
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
I've just come across a meme, courtesy of [livejournal.com profile] stephanieburgis, and since it's fun, and since it's Friday, I thought I'd play along.


Here's the meme:

"The challenge is to list 15 books you've loved and been transformed by, right off the top of your head."

So, off the top of my head (no fiddling, deep thought, attempts at cleverness or editing allowed!)

1. The Faraway Tree books, Enid Blyton
2. My Second Big Story Book (a collection of fairytales from all around the world in their non-sanitised form).
3. Charmed Life, Diana Wynne Jones
4. Memory and Dream, Charles de Lint
5. Cloven Hooves, Megan Lindholm
6. The Go-between, L.P. Hartley
7. The Castle of the Dark, Tanith Lee
8. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
9. Dragonquest, Anne McCaffrey
10. The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Patricia McKillip
11. Medea, Miranda Seymour
12. Faeries, Brian Froud and Alan Lee
13. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
14. The Wood Wife, Terri Windling
15. Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey

Hmmm. Which is all very interesting, as an 'off-the-top-of-my-head' list. The meme says, 'books you've been transformed by', and the books that were truly transformative for me were primarily those I read in my childhood and formative years. In fact, there are only five books on the list which I read after I left my teens.

What also strikes me is that, while I don't think of myself as purely a fantasy reader or writer, those books I adored during my formative years, and which have shaped me as a reader and writer are largely from the broad fantasy stable. Everything from high fantasy with the McCaffrey to early urban fantasy with the de Lint, to mythology-inspired fantasy with the Zimmer Bradley, Cooper and Seymour. I've cheated a bit with 'Faeries', as it's primarily an art book. That said, it is a book I've loved since I was seven years old, and which has certainly been transformative for my imagination.

Also, while all of the books on the list remain treasured members of my library, there are many of them I won't read again. They were important for me at particular stages of my life, but they're not novels I feel any desire to read again now.

Looking back over the list, I can see that most of the books were ones that not only shaped my imagination, but which also taught me lessons in the art of writing; what is possible, and how it can be achieved.

Who'd have thought a quick meme could end up revealing so much about me?

Anybody else want to play?
jennygordon: (Great Grey Heron)
It's the beginning of December, which means it's time for 'The Dark is Rising.' I mentioned a while back that I was planning to re-(x multiple) read the second book in Susan Cooper's classic children's series about old magic and the ancient battle between Light and Dark. 'The Dark is Rising' (second in the series of five novels, collectively known by the same title) is set around Midwinter, and I like to re-visit it around the same time of year every few years. It now seems extra timely because Susan Cooper has recently won a Lifetime Achievement award (along with Tanith Lee) at the 2013 World Fantasy Convention — and about time too! In honour of this, I've decided to re-read the entire 'Dark is Rising' sequence, and have dug out my omnibus edition ...

The Dark is Rising Omnibus

I first read the series when I was maybe ten or eleven years old. Back then, the editions in print had gorgeous, evocative, and delightfully disturbing covers by Michael Heslop.

Like so many of us who have grown up to become writers ourselves — and so many who haven't — 'The Dark is Rising' series had a huge and enduring impact on me and my imagination. When I visited some of the places the books are set on family holidays, particularly Cornwall and North Wales, I experienced them through the filter of Will Stanton and the Drew children, who are the heroes of the novels. The wild beauty of those places that would have stirred my soul regardless was enhanced by the power with which Cooper had evoked them in my imagination long before I ever saw them for myself. Nowadays, I live in England's West Country, not too far from Stanton Drew stone circle.

Stanton Drew stone circle

Surely it's no coincidence that Cooper names her heroes as she did ...

Just retrieving the omnibus edition from my bookshelf and flicking through the pages, I feel again that familiar stirring of excitement at the story waiting for me there. The poem that accompanies the books, which is also a riddle that foretells the shape of their journey, floats to the surface of my mind, where it has lain, memorised by heart so many years ago.

"When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
Six Signs the circle, and the Grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold
Played to wake the Sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the Greenwitch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree."
jennygordon: (Magpie)
I've just finished a re-read of Maggie Stiefvater's award-winning novel "The Scorpio Races", and all kinds of writerly things are turning over and around in my head, as restless as a November sea. This book is successful on so many levels, for so many reasons. The ones that resounded for me this time are:

1. Characterisation - achieved in a mere scatter of words. This is something Stiefvater excels at.

2. The way a writer can re-mythologise (Is that a word? It is now!) a folklore trope to make it her own.

3. The representation of magic and the fantastic as a normal, everyday part of life. It looks like superstition until, suddenly, it doesn't. (Although, ultimately, this isn't a book about magic at all).

4. How a story's theme(s) should be so deeply rooted they thread through every scene and bind the whole together.

5. How to world-build so delicately the reader hardly notices it. Rather than using great tracts of description, the characters simply interact with their world, providing the sense of time and place, while a handful of well-placed details serve to zoom in the camera-eye of the reader and create enduring images.

Oh, and there's a sixth. I lied ...

6. How to use dual first person present properly. It's easy to write in first person by simply using 'I saw', 'I went', but it's only when it's done well that the reader truly climbs inside the character's skin and experiences the world and the story through the filter of their personality.

The trick now is to internalise those lessons to the degree that I'm able to practice them in my own writing .... er-hem!
jennygordon: (Star Gazer Lily)
I'm not a big one for 'meet-the-author' events, but when I heard that Robin Hobb, a veritable legend in her own lifetime, was visiting a bookshop near where I live to sign her latest book, I made a note in my diary. I first knew Hobb's work twenty years ago, when she was writing as Megan Lindholm, in the days before she reinvented herself as Robin Hobb. It was under that name that she wrote one of my favourite books — 'Cloven Hooves' — which I've mentioned on my blog before, and which I took along to yesterday's signing.

"You know," Megan/Robin said when I handed her my much-loved copy of the book, "This is the strangest book I've ever written. It's in first person, present tense, and it was exhausting to write."

I'm not surprised, since it's the power of that first person, present, voice that is one of the things I love about the book.

Published 20 years ago, 'Cloven Hooves' tells of Evelyn, who grows up in the wilds of Alaska, and who is more at home out in the wild than with other people. Her only friend is Pan, a young faun from legend, who shares her connection to the wild things. An outsider even in her own family, the book opens with Evelyn and her husband and small son leaving Alaska to live with her in-laws on their farm, to help out there for a season. Those in-laws don't understand Evelyn, and she is isolated and ostracised by the clan, to the degree that when tragedy strikes, she isn't allowed to claim her feelings, nor even to find out what actually happened.

By this time, Pan has shown up in her life again, and it is with Pan that Evelyn leaves the farmstead and heads off into the wilderness. There, she spends the autumn and winter with Pan, healing, and reconnecting with what is of true importance in her life.

Like the best fairytales, 'Cloven Hooves' works on many levels. It can be read at face value, but its metaphorical roots reach so deep it's impossible to shake them off. Or so it proved for me, at least.

I read 'Cloven Hooves' at a formative stage in my writing life, and it taught me two important things:

1. The immense power of fantasy-as-metaphor, and
2. The immediate and emotive force of first person, present.

Which is why I wanted to head down to Waterstone's yesterday to say "Hi," to an author who, through a single book, proved such a significant influence on me. And she was lovely. Despite the length of the signing queue, she was happy to spend time with each person; to make their moment with a favourite author special.

"Thank you," she said to me, "for bringing this book along today. It's brought back memories of a happy time in my life."

I think I'll be reading 'Cloven Hooves' again soon ...
jennygordon: (Great Grey Heron)
What a perfectly magical morning.

A silver-clear waning moon hung over a mist-veiled countryscape, lit golden by the dawn.

It felt like a gift. My spirits rose, and my heart overflowed with the beauty, reminding me why I love autumn best of all. While nature is closing down for winter's sleep, the glory of the season is waking me up, making me feel truly alive.

It's time to re-read 'The Scorpio Races' by Maggie Stiefvater, which is set during November. And then around midwinter, I shall return to one of my all-time favourite books, 'The Dark is Rising', by Susan Cooper, which is set during the days at winter's heart, and is so intrinsic to them that it fills my thoughts whether I read it again or not. But this year ... this year is a 'Dark is Rising' year ...

...

...

... and then, later, while I was at work, a heron came and stood on the roof opposite where I sit. For ages. Just as it did this time last week. Which is why I changed the avatar for this post. I think the Universe is trying to tell me something ...
jennygordon: (Skywatcher)
On perusing the adult Fantasy shelves in my local bookshop, it seems to me that - depressingly - the market is still dominated by two things:

1. male authors (writing male characters), and
2. epic fantasy (either "the invaders are coming; to war, to war!" or, "the invaders have been and now everything's gone to hell, to hell!")

(NOTE: I'm excluding the Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance subgenres here, where female writers and female protagonists are much more common).

Now, while there are certainly some fine writers amongst those books, neither of these things particularly appeals to me, which is why I've generally read around the fringes of fantasy, rather that in its heartland.

As a girl, it's desperately frustrating for me that the heartland of fantasy is still dominated by men writing about war in some form or another. For a start, it only bolsters the cliched stereotype of fantasy fiction, and for seconds, there are so many more story tropes to explore in Fantasyland.

For instance, I hear that Mark Charan Newton's new series will be Holmesian detective fiction set in a Roman-type fantasy world. And then there's Patricia McKillip's work, which is sometimes referred to as "domestic fantasy", because she tells stories on a much more intimate scale. That's not to say she doesn't include "epic" aspects. In 'Song for the Basilisk', for example, the protagonist ends up bringing down a tyrant. The difference is, there aren't any great battles, because it's the protagonist's personal quest to right the wrongs done to his family, and he's a musician, not a warrior.

This brings me to my second thought, which is that in the Young Adult market, fantasy fiction is dominated by female writers, female protagonists, and intimate rather than epic stories. (Again, I'm excluding Paranormal Romance and Urban Fantasy here, and concentrating on "otherworld fantasy").

Once again, "epic" is present in novels such as Kristin Cashore's 'Fire', which concerns nations at war; in Leigh Bardugo's 'Shadow and Bone', which is in the "light vs dark" vein, and in many others. Yet without exception, these stories are more concerned with their character's path and growth as a result of the wider warring, as opposed to the warring itself.

Undoubtedly, a lot of this difference between YA and Adult Fantasy is due to their target audiences, but my question is this: If female readers are being won over to fantasy in their teenage years, surely supporters of the fantasy genre want to keep them reading fantasy once they move over to the adult shelves. But where are the kinds of fantasy novels they've come to love amongst the male-orientated epic quests? Where too are the female writers of adult fantasy?

Alright, alright, I know there are female fantasy writers out there, and some have even emerged from the shadows of their male counterparts. I also know that books with male protagonists can be perfectly rewarding for a girl to read. My issue is the on-going skew in the market. For every one female author, there are a dozen hairy blokes!

It seems to me that a pretty large trick is being missed here.

Which is why I've decided to start a revolution!

Let's get more girls writing the kind of fantasy fiction that appeals to girls (of all ages). Let's hold on to the female audience who fell in love with the YA fantasy novels of Kristin Cashore, Shannon Hale, Rachel Hartman, Megan Whalen Turner and SJ Maas, and give them books to love on the adult fantasy shelves. Let's throw wide the doors of Fantasyland and show the boys how much more there is to explore!

Who's with me?
jennygordon: (Blue Butterfly)
It's been a couple of weeks since I completed SeaNovel, and I've very deliberately been resting my writing brain. Not entirely, of course — never entirely — but it's been important for me to decompress. To allow myself to depart properly from the world I've inhabited for the past 2 years. To give my brain an airing, and a dust in the corners, ready to fill it to the brim with a delicious new world. So, what have I been up to instead of writing? Well, I've ...

  • worked on my synopsis and query letter for SeaNovel
  • updated my agent research ready for my first round of submissions (gotta love an EXCEL spreadsheet!)
  • pondered feedback on this version from my readers, ready for a final polish before submitting begins
  • joined Goodreads
  • read lots, including discovering two of the most wonderful books I've read in a long while ('The Night Circus' by Erin Morgenstern, and 'The Snow Child' by Eowyn Ivey)
  • created a moodboard of inspirational images for ShadowNovel (my next project). That got me so excited about it I had to ...
  • ... start writing some preparatory notes.

And you know what? My enthusiasm for ShadowNovel is bubbling so hard now that I sense it's almost ready to begin overflowing onto the page. Just a little while longer, then a pinch or two more seasoning and a good stir, and I'll take a peek and find out what's been cooking.

Yum!

jennygordon: (Clock)
Thought it was high time I signed up to GoodReads, so I've used some of my 'between books downtime' to do precisely that. The eagle-eyed among you might have noticed that I've included a link to my GR site over on the left of my blog mainpage.

After a bit of thought about how I want to use GR, I've decided not to give books a star rating, nor to write lengthy reviews. Instead, I'm going to include a brief one/two liner for each one, focussing on the good aspects of the book, regardless of what I thought of it overall. See, I'm a glass-half-full kind of girl, and I try to see the best in everything. Also, I believe all books have something to teach us, whether it's how TO DO something, or how NOT to do something. That's not to say there won't be the occassional 'DNF' (did not finish) on the list. After all, my reading time is limited and precious!

My GoodReads page is a work in progress, and I'm still getting to grips with things over there, but I've added all the books I've read so far this year. I've also tried to create a 'Favourites' shelf, but it isn't showing as others people's do at the moment for some reason. *sigh*

I've tracked down a couple of you over there, and have sent you 'friend' requests. If I haven't found you yet, and you're on GoodReads, I'd love to be your friend over there. If you're not on GoodReads, but would like to see what I'm reading, feel free to swing by (click on 'Read' under 'Jenny's Bookshelves').

You can find me here.
jennygordon: (Gargoyle)
I'm irritated with Patrick Rothfuss (author of 'The Name of the Wind' and 'The Wise Man's Fear')*. Is that even allowed? I mean, he's really famous, and really popular, and really clever, and writes really good books. And he's funny.

*Sigh* Come to think of it, I might actually hate him!

It's not that I'm annoyed with him for being such an all round good guy (seriously, he's used his celebrity to establish a charity called Worldbuilders that raises money for Heifer International). I'm not even annoyed with him for writing such excellent books. What irks me is that he uses a name that I've used and really like, and was really wedded to, and which is part of the world in which my ShadowNovel series is set. (The books that will form the basis of my next writing project).

Dammit!

Now, I came up with this name (it's a name for a particular place) in around ... um ... probably 2004/5. 'The Name of the Wind' — in which the place with the same name is a crucial setting— came out in 2007. But I'm a little behind the game, because I only read the novel last year (I know, I really have been living on the moon as far as the adult fantasy genre goes). If only I'd read it sooner, I might have saved myself considerable grief, because I'd have spotted that I wasn't the only person to come up with the name, and could have ditched it before becoming too wedded to it.

I still have to ditch it; it's too unique and too memorable, and Rothfuss' books are too well known and loved, and the last thing I want is for anyone to think I nicked it from him. Trouble is, my place with that name has had that name for so long it's now going to be really hard to think of it as anything else.

It irked me the first time I read 'The Name of the Wind' and it's double-triple irking me now that I'm re-reading it.

So yeah, big fat raspberries to Mr Rothfuss. Hurrumph!

*I realise this won't mean anything to those of you who don't read fantasy.
jennygordon: (Tortoiseshell Butterfly (purple))
I've been feeling so veryvery strange for the past couple of weeks. Reality doesn't feel, well, REAL. It's as though I'm a balloon floating above everything at the end of a long string that's the only thing connecting me to the world. I'm dipping into life where necessary, while the rest of the time, I'm lost in the semi-world of my thoughts, which are all over the place.

I think I need to ground myself. Burying my hands in rich, dark soil last weekend while I was gardening helped, but the effect didn't last.

Hmmm. Strange days indeed.

On a more tangible note, I celebrated a birthday fairly recently, and was lucky enough to be given some Amazon vouchers, which I have spent on five books. All but one were second-hand, but all of them are as new, so I'm delighted - I always try to get as much for my money as I can. For the curious, they are:

Fire and Thorns, Rae Carson (Girl of Fire and Thorns in the US) - I borrowed this from the library a year or so back, and decided it was a keeper.

Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore - the third novel in a series of related books (as opposed to a series per se).

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairland in a Ship of her Own Making, Cathrynne M Valente - this had been winning awards and garnering glowing reviews. Not quite sure what to expect of it, but I like to use gift vouchers to try out new things.

Seraphina, Rachel Hartman - another book that's been well received by reviewers. It's billed as 'literary YA fantasy', so I'm intrigued to see what that entails.

Witchlanders, Lena Coakley - this one crossed my radar months back and has been sitting on my Wishlist since then. It caught my eye again when I was shopping with my vouchers, so I thought I'd indulge.

*Sigh* - there's nothing quite like adding new books to the ever-growing 'To Be Read' pile. And it really is ever-growing at the moment as I've been digging other books out from my bookshelves to re-read. Books like, The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, and Lavondyss by Robert Holdstock, neither of which I've read for over a decade, so it'll be interesting so discover what I make of them this time around.

I guess, if I don't manage to find a way to ground myself back in reality, at least I've got all sorts of delicious new worlds to discover between the pages of books. Can't all be bad!

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January 2016

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