30 March 2011

News from around the Blog-o-Sphere

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Some of this news will be of no surprise to a lot of you, since I've been away from the blog-scene for a good few weeks and I've only recently caught up. Still, there's some pretty awesome stuff going down that needs to be shared.

In response to the crisis in Japan, Amanda over at Floor to Ceiling Books has joined with other writers and editors to create Genre For Japan, which auctions off signed, rare and unique SFF books in order to raise money to aid in the crisis. So far they've raised over £6000, which is awesome. The best of luck to you all, and I'll be keeping an eye out for one or two things myself.

Jessica from The Alliterative Allomorph has released the book trailer for her novel, String Bridge. I've embedded it below for you to take a ganders at. String Bridge is out on November 1st, so if you could repost the trailer to get extra exposure, all the better. Congrats, Jess!



I've also won the Magical Blog Award from Deidra at A Storybook World. Thanks, Deidra!

Also, don't forget that Arlee's A-Z Blogging Challenge is only two days away! I look forward to seeing what everyone comes up with and also to seeing some new faces!

Any other news in the fantasy/blogging scenes that I've missed?

28 March 2011

Review - Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier (Tor)

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Heart's Blood by Juliet Marillier
Published by Tor
Paperback – 560 pages
Published November 2010
Review copy given by Pan Macmillan

Whistling Tor is a place of secrets, a mysterious, wooded hill housing the crumbling fortress of a chieftain whose name is spoken throughout the district in tones of revulsion and bitterness. A curse lies over Anluan’s family and his people; those woods hold a perilous force whose every whisper threatens doom.

For young scribe Caitrin it is a safe haven. This place where nobody else is prepared to go seems exactly what she needs, for Caitrin is fleeing her own demons. As Caitrin comes to know Anluan and his home in more depth she realizes that it is only through her love and determination that the curse can be broken and Anluan and his people set free.

Marillier's Celtic setting is beautifully crafted. Set in Ireland at the time of the Norman conquest of Britain (early 1100's), she excels at giving the reader a sense of life for this culture. Sadly, with the vast majority of the novel spent at the castle in Whistling Tor, we don't get nearly enough of this world and culture within it. As a variation of the classic Beauty and the Beast story, this is to be expected, though I would definitely like to see a more expansive setting from Marillier (something I'd hopefully be able to get from her other historical fiction novels).

Caitrin is an excellent character because she defies both female stereotypes in fantasy fiction of 'damsel in distress' and 'strong heroine'. Instead, Caitrin is a gifted scribe who has been beaten and mistreated by her kin, and who learns to gain her courage through her time at Whistling Tor. Her lack of self confidence and her fear is gradually replaced by a hardened resolve that makes her transformation into a strong, confident woman all the more believable. The character of Rioghan is also very well written, as are many of the more prominent characters that make up 'The Host'. Rioghan is a tormented spirit that is racked with guilt over a decision he once made as a royal military advisor, and this guilt (coupled with ancient nefarious sorcery) has forced him to become part of a host of similar spirits that haunt Whistling Tor. His determination to do right by Anluan, Whistling Tor's lord, shows his struggle for penance for his earlier mistakes.


These are the strongest characters of the story, whereas many of the others many of the other retainers at Whistling Tor seem one dimensional, put into place to fill out of the cast of this retelling of Beauty and the Beast.

Possibly because Heart's Blood a well known fairy tale as the basis for its story, the plot held little surprises. At the end of the first third of the novel, the reader more or less knows the main antagonist and their intentions, which was a bit of a let down at the 'big reveal' at the end. Also, the romance between Caitrin and Anluan seemed forced and unbelievable. There wasn't much to build the romance beyond "that's just the way it's supposed to happen" and it detracted from the overall pacing of the story, which is a shame since the romance is meant to be the crux of the story.

In short, Heart's Blood a rather predictable retelling of an old fairytale with a really good supernatural element. The story is set in a brilliantly well written world and with an excellent protagonist, though the romance is underdeveloped and awkward. Given that this romance is the main element of the story, however, it falls short of the mark overall.

26 March 2011

Getting into your characters' heads

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My Sims Medieval wizard
I started playing the new The Sims Medieval game for the PC a few days ago, and I've quickly become hooked. Rather than rehashing the traditional Sims style that has seen countless expansions and ports to other consoles, The Sims Medieval takes a lot of its gameplay elements from role playing games, focusing on multi layered quests rather than simple wish fulfilment.

One of the greatest assets with the sims that you create is that, in addition to selecting two personality traits (e.g. scholarly, lonesome or dedicated) you also have to select a 'fatal flaw', such as a drunkard, a compulsive gambler or accursed. This makes for a far more interesting game, since you have to compensate for your character's weaknesses and, in addition to the questing element, means that you eventually start thinking and reacting as the character would. For those of you who play tabletop RPGs or even LARP, this is no big thing. In general, though, I'd imagine that deliberately making the wrong choices because that's what your character would do would be a hard habit to form.

It got me thinking that playing games such as The Sims Medieval could be a useful writing tool, since you'd be able to play as your character (or near enough) so you could spend some time in their skin, as it were. From what I know of video games, sci-fi doesn't tend to offer this kind of opportunity, so I'm talking mainly about fantasy video games in this (though if anyone knows of sci-fi video games that offer a similar role playing experience I'd like to know about it).

It also got me interested in finding out how others 'get into the heads' of their characters. It's a common theme that a protagonist is often based on the author themselves, at least to some extent. However, what if you have a character who's a drunken brawler, a megalomaniac or a tortured schizophrenic? Research will only go so far into these particular mindsets, so what do you do to get into your characters' heads?

Is there any particular place you go/thing you do to prepare for writing a certain character? If you're not a writer, what do you think would be the most difficult kind of character to write as?

23 March 2011

A possible CSI-esque Discworld series featuring the City Watch? Yes please!

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Terry pratchett Night watch cover

Yes, the Internet is finally back *does a little dance*, and what better piece of news to coincide with my glorious return to the web than this. Sir Terry Pratchett wants to create a police series set in his famous Discworld featuring the City Watch. Think CSI with goblins, dwarves, golems, vampires and the worst policemen ever and you've got the idea.

The whole thing is still in the very early stages at the moment, but ever since Disney were rumoured to be making an animated Discworld movie, fans have been getting quite excited about the prospect of more televised Discworld awesomeness.

Members of the City Watch have been seen in the televised versions of Hogfather and Going Postal, but they have little more than bit parts. Having a series dedicated entirely to the City Watch has excellent potential so long as it's done right. With a series like this, we'd be able to see a proper character arc with Sam Vimes, which would be lacking if any of the novels were turned into  TV movie.

Also, the chance to see Nobby Nobbs and Fred Colon banter would be excellent. See the video below for Pratchett pitching ideas for the series.
(via Blastr)



What would a series about The Watch have to include to be successful? What Pratchett novel would you most want to be turned into a movie/series?

6 March 2011

Delays and updates

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Yes, it has been quite a while since I last posted here (actually, quite a while since I've hit the blog-o-sphere at all). I've been waiting for five weeks for the Internet to be set up in the flat, and I've heard nothing from them at all. My now all to regular haunt - the local library - doesn't allow me to login to Blogger at all, so I can neither post nor comment on anything. I've managed to snatch a precious amount of wireless from a Mobile Broadband USB dongle for this post, which is a plus. Anyways, here's a quick little update as to what's been happening while I've been sans Internet:


    I participated in World Book Night on 5th March. I was given 48 copies of Northern Lights to give away to people in my home town. Though it was a success in that I managed to give all of the books away, I was disappointed with the lack of support and response from many people. The prison and the hospital that I had contacted about donating books had failed to respond, and all contact with my local newspaper about the event was ignored. Similarly, giving books on a face-to-face basis in my town was either met with 'No. No. No. No' before I finished my first sentence (as if I was selling something) or the other, much more saddening response of, 'I / my partner / my kids don't do books'. If there ever was a response that betrayed a cry of 'I NEVER READ!' this is it. Still, it proved the point that the event was trying to promote, and the 48 free copies should (hopefully) set a few on the path to literacy.

    I got a job! I start working with Admiral Insurance at the end of the month. This means that I get 3 weeks to not do much of anything except read and play Xbox (which I'm doing with gusto).

    I came back from a weekend at the British Museum in London, where my spoof-academic group The Super Extreme Archaeology Team sold archaeology/humour T-Shirts to a surprising amount of archaeologists and academics. It was a great weekend, and we lived up to our reputations of being both academics and hardy drinkers, hehe.
    I need to get back into a regular posting schedule again, so I will do my damn best to find a decent source of Internet and exploit it for all that it's worth. I'll try to put up a review on a Monday, some news mid week and a feature/article on the weekend. I hope to stick to that promise too.

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