Anna Blackie

'Before I Go to Sleep' - Review

There are some books that once started, there’s simply no stopping. In my experience, these books are few and far between, so when you do land yourself with a novel that invades your brain and engages you to the point where literally all you can do is plonk yourself down with a cup of tea and devour its pages, go with it. Don’t put off the reading for other (possibly more important) things,  dive into the pages and finish that glorious book.

I had such an experience last week when I started reading S.J. Watson’s Before I Go to Sleep. I had bought this book some time ago and left it sitting on my bookshelf for far too long. In all honestly, I started reading Before I Go to Sleep not thinking much of it at all. I wasn’t expecting to be thrilled by this novel; really I just wanted to get it off my enormous TBR list. And maybe this lack of expectation played a part in my experience of reading this book. I had heard very little about it before opening its pages. I knew it had received some acclaim when it was published, and had later gone on to be a film starring Nicole Kidman, but that was it. I was not expecting to get so hooked on this book. I truly loved it. The plot, the writing, the perceptions of Christine, the protagonist. I loved it all. I started this book on Thursday evening, and finished it on Friday afternoon. It took me less than 24 hours to read the 359 page paperback.

For those of you who haven’t read or heard of Before I Go to Sleep, it follows the story of Christine and her husband Ben. After an accident left her with severe memory problems, Christine lives life day to day. Every morning she starts over fresh and can’t remember anything of the day before. In fact, most mornings she wakes up thinking it’s 20 years in the past. Her life is recounted for her by Ben. Things begin to change when Christine begins seeing Dr Nash, a man convinced he can help her regain her memory.  Reminiscent of Christopher Nolan’s 2000 film Momento, Before I Go to Sleep was a psychological thriller that made me question the authenticity of every experience, every memory and every relationship.

I loved the experience of reading this novel.  Before I Go to Sleep was not the best novel I have ever read, but the entertainment I derived from it was wonderful, and I truly loved how engaged I was in this book. As I said, finding a book that truly grips you and has you desperate to keep reading is something that doesn’t happen often enough. There’s something so satisfying about finishing a book that really interests you. Finishing a book at all always comes with some sense of accomplishment, but closing the pages on a story that has completely infiltrated your mind and captured your imagination is a completely different sensation entirely, and one that I search for in every new novel I read.

If every book I read was as engaging as Before I Go to Sleep, I would be a very happy woman. Although, I wonder if having mix in what I read, with some good, some great and some plain awful, is what allows me to appreciate the good when it’s in front of me.

 

Click here to buy your copy of Before I Go to Sleep by S.J Watson from Booktopia.

before I go to sleep cover

'The Museum of Modern Love' - Review

“And maybe this was art, she thought, having spent years trying to define it and pin it to the line like a shirt on a windy day. There you are, art! You capture moments at the heart of life.” Sometimes the things that move you the most are the ones that are hardest to talk about. There are things which can affect you so profoundly that when you search for the words to describe their significance the words simply escape you. In the quiet moments of reflection after finishing the Stella Prize winning novel for 2017, Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love, I found myself hit with an array of emotions, joy, sorrow, inspiration and hope. This books does what all books strive to do, and achieved that which so many others have failed to grasp. Heather Rose created a novel that was compelling and magical, while at the same time remaining so very real and relatable.

The performance artist, Marina Abramović sits at the centre of the story like the sun at the centre of the solar system, the characters orbiting around her. Her art, life and sacrifice formsthe catalyst for their own internal reflection and contemplation of their varied experiences of love, loss and the bittersweet pain of longing. Based on Marina’s true performance The Artist is Present, Rose recreates the 736 hour and 10 minute long silent piece in which Marina sat immobile in the atrium of the MOMA while spectators took turns sitting opposite her. With art as their shared interest, the fictionalised characters of The Museum of Modern Love are drawn together by the perplexing gravity of Marina’s work.

Rose has done such a superb job of creating beautifully life-like characters, which are endearing, broken and perfectly flawed.  In many of the novels I have read of late, I have felt that the authors have fallen into traps of creating characters who seem to be over-inflated caricatures of the generic – there’s a sense of the artificial in these characters who are either far too perfect to even be considered real, or so detrimentally flawed that the reader struggles to make a real connection with them. The trope of characters in The Museum of Modern Love completely subverted my expectations. These characters were real, moving and breathing beneath the pages, their joys and sorrows spread across the 286 pages of this phenomenal work of fiction, connecting with me in a very real and deep way that I hadn’t experienced from a novel in some time.

These days, my main time for reading is on my daily commute. The 45 minute train ride that bookends my days provides the perfect setting to fall into whatever I’m reading. It wasn’t until it was too late that I realised The Museum of Modern Love is not the type of novel that I should read in public. I had made it no further than 29 pages when I began to be overcome with emotion. Like so many of those who sat across from Abramović through the period of The Artist is Present, I was shocked to discover myself weeping at the beauty of the art before me. The particular passage that broke the floodgates came from the story of my favourite character, Jane, a widower whose husband has passed away from cancer. In an attempt to deal with her grief, Jane travels to New York and becomes enthralled with The Artist is Present. The passage in question is one too beautiful not to share:

"He worried a lot about Heaven in those last days. He wanted to know, before the morphine shunt took him from her, where she would meet him. If there were steps, he'd be there. He'd be waiting. But where? If there was a cottonwood tree... an olive grove?... 'What will you miss Janey?' he asked her. 'Tell me what you'll miss.' Your whistle when you come in the door, she had told him. Your shirts on the clothesline. The evenings when we watch the fireflies dance under the harvest spotlights. Your heart. The things only you and I remember about the children. The way your skin is always warm. Your coffee mug half empty on the veranda railing at 7am. She could have gone on but he was tired and it had been enough. The real answer to his question was everything. She would miss everything. What she didn't know, what she took for granted about living with Karl and being a wife, was far larger than the things she could name."

This story that circulates around one extraordinary artist and her 75 day performance piece dives into the lives of characters that are incredibly varied. In a broad sense, these characters are really only connected by their fascination of Marina’s work. Yet upon closer inspection, it’s clear that what binds them is deep love. Love of art, of people, of routine. The intensity of Marina’s dedication forms an emotional thread that traverses the entirety of the story, appearing through the lives of each of the characters. As I’ve probably made abundantly clear, for me, this book was all about the characters. So tangible and deep, these beautifully flawed people conveyed a deep sense of connection. I finished this novel with a deep appreciation of the sentiment that we are all one, connected through our physical experiences in ways we cannot possibly imagine.

“She loved him. She loved everyone in the room. She loved everyone alive and everyone who had ever lived to bring them all to this time, all of the millennia that had gone and the millennia of people yet to come.”

 

Click here to buy your copy of The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose from Booktopia.

museum of modern love cover

Doing It - Women Empowering Women

There are some books that influence you so profoundly that it would be a crime not to share them. My experience with Doing It: A Sex-Positive Anthology edited Karen Pickering, was one such time. This book is a bold and inspiring compilation of essays from a group of fierce and unapologetic feminists who openly discuss pleasure, desire and the important role sex plays in the lives of women. This body of work deconstructs the preconceived societal notions that form our opinions around sex and pleasure. As Karen Pickering says, we hear a lot about what women should be like, or how they can be more appealing as sexual creatures. Women are frequently seen as objects of sexual desire and gratification, but this perception ignores the fact that women are as sexual as men. They are not bystanders to their own sexual experiences. Model and actress Emily Ratajkowski, a vocal feminist and believer in the implicit freedom of sexuality that all women deserve, said this on sexuality: "The implication is that to be sexual is to be trashy because being sexy means playing into men's desires. To me, 'sexy' is a kind of beauty, a kind of self-expression, one that is to be celebrated, one that is wonderfully female. Why does the implication have to be that sex is a thing men get to take from women and women give up?"

There’s a lot of implied shame around being a woman. Women who are brave enough to expose their true selves to the world are often criticised and put down for acting ‘unlady-like’. Women who dare to approach sex in the way that men do, with empowerment and with the correct belief that their bodies are their own and they are free to do whatever they please with them, are deemed sluts or whores. If they don’t show ‘enough’ interest in sex, they’re deemed prudes, nuns or virgins. Take Emma Watson, for example, and the recent debacle over her cover shoot for Vanity Fair, publicizing the release of Beauty and the Beast. Watson stands on the cover, arms crossed, shoulders draped in a knitted throw, looking totally gorgeous. The pages had barely settled after this edition of Vanity Fair hit newsstands when people started to voice their opinions on Watson’s choice of apparel on the cover. The main question seemed to be this; how can Emma Watson be a feminist is she bares her chest on the cover of a magazine? It would seem to me that the answer to this question is painfully obvious, as Watson herself has said; feminism is about liberation and freedom, the right for a woman to have agency and control over her body. I think a better question would be why shouldn’t a feminist, or any other woman (or human for that matter) be able to express themselves in a way that makes them feel comfortable and, god forbid, sexy? Emma Watson, a talented actress, vocal feminist and activist, and overall an educated and intelligent person, has been cut down to no more than a piece of meat by public opinion for the mere crime of exposing a little bit of under-boob. It seems in this society women can’t take a breath without being told who or what they are, with no ability to control their own identities.

“Women love sex. So why do we have such a difficult time accepting them as sexual creatures?”

The attitude towards women who are in touch with their own sexuality and choose to express it is often to scorn and belittle them. A woman has less of a right to connect with her sexual self than a man does.

Karen Pickering says that her love of building communities for women was part of the impetus behind the book. The safe-space created by Doing It which allowed the contributors and readers alike to share their experiences is one of the most poignant things about this work. Too often are women silenced and made to believe their experience or opinions simply don’t matter. One of the most beautiful feelings was diving into the pages of this book and being enveloped in shared experiences and feelings, realising that a woman is not an island.

I am young, and as such am constantly reminded how much I have to learn about the world, but I think one of the most important things I drew from this book was how much I still have to learn about myself. I have been living with the false mentality that merely existing is to know yourself. My mind told me that simply by being alive I must know myself to the fullest scope; there should be no need for self-exploration or discovery because by being me I should know me. I read this book at a time of upheaval; I had just broken up with my boyfriend of over three years and moved into a house with four new roommates. With all these changes I found myself unsure of who I am or where I stand in my own life. Reading Doing It opened up a whole new can of worms in the self-questioning department. This book made me realize how much more I still have to learn, and to understand that there are parts of myself that I am still yet to explore. When reading this book I began to comprehend how closed off I am about my own sexuality, it was as if a veil had been lifted and I began to see that I was purposely ignoring the sexual components of myself in fear to avoid discovering something I may not have liked, or which may have been judged by those around me.

Talking about sex makes me uncomfortable, in fact, this review has probably been one of the hardest I’ve written, and I felt myself constantly questioning what to discuss and in what manner to discuss it in. Although I still feel as if I have a lot to learn about myself as a sexual being, and have many a bridge to cross before I feel more comfortable with discussing sex. I feel that the multitude of experiences and perspectives presented to me within the pages of Doing It, helped me feel a little more comfortable about the nature of sexuality, and develop a more real and tangible understanding that we are all sexual beings in one way or another and that sex and sexuality is nothing to be ashamed of.

That’s often the beauty of a good book, its ability to give us introspection, to apply someone else’s perspective to our own lives and make deductions based on the new lenses through which we’re seeing ourselves for the first time. Before this book, I would have said I don’t enjoy non-fiction, much preferring to lose myself in a story derived from imagination. After Doing It, I have a new appreciation for the real-life, for books written of experience and the importance of reading things that draw attention to the real world, to the issues that plague the existence of so many.

 

 

The Natural Way of Things

After it won the Stella Prize this year, I pushed The Natural Way of Things to the top of my reading list. At this point, most avid readers will have heard of The Natural Way of Things and the huge acclaim it’s receiving for the unique way it discusses the darker elements of society through exploration of contemporary misogyny and corporate control.

Ten women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in an abandoned property in the middle of the Australian Desert. The girls have no knowledge of where they are or how they came to be there. They are forced to shave their heads and dress in strange uniforms, building a road for the unknown ‘Hastings’. The girls are guarded by Teddy and Boncer, two inept and brutal jailers, as well as the strange ‘nurse’ Nancy. Not long after their arrival, the girls begin to realise what they have in common, in each girls past is a sexual scandal with a powerful man. The girls work and wait for rescue or explanation, but when the power is switched off and all talk of ‘Hastings’ arrival ceases it is clear their jailers are as imprisoned as they are, and a new type of life in this strange dystopian landscape begins.

Yolanda and Verla stand out from the crowd of girls. Their friendship a strange and silent trail treading its way through the novel. I found I connected most with Yolanda and the animal nature she lets overtake her. Yolanda’s strength and intelligence is what keeps the girls going through the degradation of the confusing community they find themselves in. Yolanda is the only girl of the group who fought against being brought to this strange place, sensing something horrible to come. Verla, on the other hand, sees herself as separate from the others, as better. She judges the girls as harshly as anyone, not seeing or caring about the likeness of their situations or the sisterhood they are now bound in. Verla becomes obsessed with her white horse, a beast she believes she will ride to freedom, making very few actions to actually go in search of the creature she believes to be her saviour.

I felt as if I spent the entirety of the book waiting for something, for a break or a movement in the story. It’s not as if nothing happened in the book, it was just that I was expecting… more. I feel the issue with award-winning novels can often be the hype that is built up around them. From the reviews I’d read and people I’d spoken to, I had built up an expectation for this book. I believed it would be phenomenal, that the novel would really knock me off my feet. And maybe my expectations were what stopped me from having a stronger reaction?

There’s a deep undercurrent of rage that runs through this book. You feel it dripping from Yolanda as she watched Boncer and Nancy ‘play doctor’ with Verla through her illness. You see it in the way the girls look at Hetty after she offers herself to Boncer in exchange for small comforts. Every line of every page is filled with a dull, un-moving rage, an anger that can’t be dissipated even by the books conclusion. To me, this rage represented the unyielding nature of our society, the endless struggle for things which seem so simple. These girls did not deserve their fate, even Hetty, Nancy and Teddy did not deserve what came to them. It’s an anger at the unprejudiced cruelty of existence. Or, at least that’s how it made me feel.

My biggest praise of The Natural Way of Things was the beautiful way in which it was written. It was very easy and enjoyable to let myself sink into the words. I had a very visceral reaction to Wood’s novel. When Yolanda begins to lose herself to the land, developing her new animalistic persona, I could feel the skins of the rabbits she huddled around herself, smell the crisp air in the morning as she hunted the food which kept their small and strange community alive. But for me, this beautiful style and quintessentially Australian setting was simply not enough. I needed more from the book, I craved it. I closed the last page with the thought ‘is that it?’ I would recommend this book, as I certainly don’t regret reading it, I just wished there was more, of what, I can’t say, but there was an overwhelming feeling that something was missing from the pages of The Natural Way of Things.

Judgement is Practical (Sometimes)

We’ve all been told time and time again to never judge a book by its cover, but this is a practice which I simply can’t follow. To me, the cover of a book is almost as important as its contents; the cover should give you a sense, a feeling of what’s to come. It should fill you will hope, despair or excitement. A cover should be a peek at the soul of the book, of its tone and message. A cover is there to set your expectation, and if a cover is sub-par, then you can probably assume the book is too. After working in publishing, I’m now beginning to understand the immense effort and care that go into producing a cover that truly suits the contents of the book. This is the main reason why I’ve taken up judgment of books by their covers. The fact of the matter is that if you know your book well enough, if you connect with it, you should be able to translate that feeling into art. It’s true that the feelings we experience from novels aren’t quantifiable, but there is something about art that is unquantifiable too. Good cover art should almost whisper the story to you, the books meaning imbedded in simple images.

Personally, I find that a beautiful cover inspires me to read. This semester, my friend Candace and I took a course together called ‘Narrative and the Novel’. We were supplied with a bevy of beautiful (and some not so beautiful) texts, one of which was The Hoursby Michael Cunningham, a lovely novel based on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. When I saw my cover of The Hours, I fell in love. It was a simple monochrome photo of wilted flowers losing their leaves, a subtle nudge at the story to come, the melancholy image setting the tone of the story. I began raving about the book to Candace before I’d really even gotten into it, and I was shocked to find that she didn’t (yet) share my enthusiasm. While sitting in class together I looked over at her copy of The Hours and found myself severely disappointed by the disparity between our covers. Candace’s cover, as she describes it, comprised of ‘a creepy woman with a bowl haircut staring into the distance’.

Anna's Cover

Irrelevant Creepy Lady

I saw immediately why Candace was not sharing the same enthusiasm for her novel. The cover was… unfortunate. Comparatively, my cover played on a repeated image of flowers which carries through the novel, whereas Candace’s ‘creepy woman’ had very little to do with the internal story at all. As I said before, a cover should enlighten you in regards to the story within it. It should pique your interests. If the eyes are the window to the soul, than the cover must be the window to the book.

Now, this isn’t to say that novels with terrible covers cannot be good. It’s fairly often that you’ll see an amazing novel with a formerly terrible cover be released as a second edition with beautiful new artwork that truly compliments the story. But still, I stand by my assertion that books must be judged by their covers. There are so many books to read, so much to be enjoyed and shared, it’s hard enough to pick a good book, so let the covers do the talking. Grab the one whose cover speaks to you, the one whose artwork gives you that little flutter of excitement. Grab a book that you connect with before you’ve even opened the first page.

 

Originally posted on The Musings of a Blackie 

Change of Form

I tend to think of myself as an exclusively short story writer. I’ve dabbled in screenplays and obviously write the occasional blog, but in terms of my creative writing endeavours I always write short stories. The other day a new idea popped into my head. I began to think about the ocean, and all the things that are lost there. Word and images began to form in my head, a solid structure surrounding my idea. I let the thoughts develop, exploring the visual setting and emotions that I associated with the idea, then I sat down and began to plot out my story. I drafted this concept numerous times, but something about the narratives I was constructing didn’t feeling quite right. It wasn’t until I verbalised the idea to my boyfriend that I realised what the problem was; this idea I had was not suited to the short story form.

Generally, when I have a realisation such as this about a piece I’m working on I’ll shelve it and work on something else until I can figure out how to make my idea conform to the structure. Often, the idea will completely reform and slip right into the narrative I desire. Other times, this is impossible and the idea itself has to be completely scrapped. But there was something different about this idea, and I knew that if I tried to force into a short story it wouldn’t have the impact I was searching for and the idea would be wasted. So, I did something I’ve never really done before, I turned it into a poem.

I can’t say I’ve ever really had much time for writing poetry- not because I don’t appreciate poetry itself, but because I feel like poetry is one of the purest forms of writing, there’s no room for waffley language or long paragraphs of description. Everything is laid out in a way that is both complex and simplistic, a skill which I don’t believe I’ve ever possessed. Up until now I’ve always thought my poetry had an air of pretention. It always feels as if I corrupted my original idea by trying so hard to writer ‘proper’ poetry.

So, when I sat down to write this poem, I did something different. I didn’t force it. It sat over my notebook, pen in hand, and let the images I had created surrounding this idea flow until I could completely picture the scene and the emotion I wanted to capture, and then I wrote. Granted, this poem isn’t fantastic, it still has a lot of work to go and I doubt it will ever be read by anyone other than myself. But for the first time I had constructed a piece of poetry that I appreciated, something that I can feel proud of, something which has sparked an interest in me to pursue more poetry, to extend my writing beyond the realm of what I know I can do and challenge myself with a new form.

I have spent many years being reluctant to the idea of even attempting to write poetry, mainly due to a fear that it just won’t be good enough. Now that I look back, I see how foolish that was. I want my writing to be a challenge, I don’t want to write the same stories over and over again and never experiment with anything other than what I know. As Theodore Roosevelt rightly said; “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty…”

 

Originally Posted on The Musings of  a Blackie 

Inspiration in Familiar Places

There’s a strange kind of fear around the idea of meeting ones heroes. I think it’s probably because we spend so much time building these people up in our minds that the reality never truly meets with the expectation.  I’ve never really had much time for ‘heroes’. Certainly, there are people whose work I’ve enjoyed, people who I’ve often dreamt of becoming. But my fascination with them never lasts long. When there’s so much out there to be read, watched, listened to and enjoyed, who can waste that precise time focusing on the creator. I’d much rather bask in the glory of their creations. There are occasions where I’ll read a novel or a short story and thought to myself, ‘this is how I want to write’. There are some authors who perfectly capture everything you wish you could, setting a benchmark for your creation. Generally I see these people as more of an inspiration than a hero, I guess some would say that’s the same thing, but I feel that there’s a great divide in using someone’s work as a bench mark and idolizing someone for more than just their work.

I’ve known Peter Yeldham my entire life. I didn’t realise he was an author until I found a copy of Without Warning on my parents bookshelf when I was 13. I read through it quickly, devouring it as fast as I could. I absolutely loved it; to this day I still remember it vividly. I didn’t read another of Peter’s books until I started working at For Pity Sake Publishing. Above the Fold was a beautiful novel. The way it used the Northern Beaches (my home for the first 19 years of my life) as one of its base settings was incredible. I’ve never had the experience of reading a novel set in a place I know so well before, and it really just brought the story to life. However, it was A Bitter Harvest that really changed something for me. This book moved me so profoundly that I doubt I will ever fully recover. It is truly one of the most magnificent and touching books that I have ever read. It’s beautifully tragic, even thinking about it now is bringing a tear to my eye. A Bitter Harvest changed something for me. As I read this novel and fell in love with the characters and embedded myself in the time period, I thought of Peter, this man that I have known my whole life. I thought about how he had been able to weave these unique characters from thin air. Now, I know this sounds like something that every writer does, but I can’t stress how much of a feat A Bitter Harvest is. The book is 578 pages long, and spans over three generations of the Patterson/Muller family. The characters are deep and challenging, you finish the book feeling like you’ve made lifelong friends, their lives affecting you in a way you can’t comprehend.

And here’s where we come back to heroes. For me, it’s almost impossible to really idolize someone that I’ve never met. There are too many variables, questions about their lives that I desperately want answered. And there’s the fear, the fear that one day I will meet said hero and they won’t live up to my expectations. That’s the beautiful thing about Peter Yeldham, a man that I’ve known my whole life, someone that I’ve spoken to and formed a real life connection with. Reading Peter’s work I think, ‘this is it, this is how I want to write’, Peter’s life and his writing is something that I aspire to, something that I will spend the rest of my literary career working towards.

 

Originally posted on The Musings of a Blackie 

Not a Romance Reader

I’ve never really been one for the romance genre. It’s not to say I don’t like romance novels, it’s more that I’d never really found one that filled me with an urge to read more. Granted, until last year I had only ever read four romance novels, three of them being the Fifty Shades series, the other was a novel by Rachel Gibson, a book so bland I can remember neither the title nor the story. It wasn’t until I read Winterflood’s Passion, the first novel by Diana Thompson, that I actually found a romance novel that I enjoyed. When I read the novel for the first time, what struck me the most was Diana’s ability to create such vivid imagery. Winterflood’s Passion is set in the Southern Highlands, a veritable cornucopia of scenery porn. Diana harnesses the natural Australian beauty of the Highlands and uses her beautifully emotive and rich descriptions to pull the reader deep into her story.  Those of you who have read Fifty Shades of Grey will attest that artful descriptions of scenery were the farthest thing from E.L James’ mind when she wrote the series. It’s safe to say that Diana’s well-rounded approach to romance novel writing was a welcome surprise when I began reading.  I think, like most of us who are unfamiliar with the romance genre, I had constructed an idea of what the novel would be in my head before I even picked up the book. I naively believed that all Romance had to follow that cringe-worthy mould of awkward sexual encounters and the over-use of the term ‘throbbing member’, but Diana’s novel surpassed all expectation.

For me, one of the most interesting aspects of this novel was the development of the protagonist, Charlotte Ranleigh. Charlotte is a young widow who is living in self-imposed exile in her marital estate in the Southern Highlands. Life for Charlotte has fallen into a rut after the unexpected death of her husband, Michael, one year earlier. After Michael’s death, Charlotte is overcome with guilt over their last parting. She closes herself off from everything around her, giving up her dreams of owning an art-school, punishing herself for something which was out of her control. It’s not until Charlotte is introduced to the playboy, art-dealer Daniel Winterflood, that her life begins to blossom again. When Daniel enters the picture Charlotte is given the motivation to start living again. She begins painting once more, and slowly starts to return to her former self. To me, this book was as much about Charlotte’s personal development as it was about the love story between her and Daniel. Diana created an amazingly real and relatable character through her development of Charlotte. It’s almost impossible to not love Charlotte, and through the book I found myself sharing her joy as she began to rebuild her life.

I have never thought of myself as a romance reader, but after reading Winterflood’s Passion (and having a sneaky read of Diana’s next novel, a book which follows the story of the dreamy vet Nick Delaney) my mind has been changed. I can truly say that a love story has never interested me quite like this one, and I think that has to be attributed to the copious amount of thought and time that went into Diana’s first novel. Each character is so sincere and realistic, and you can really see the love and effort that Diana has put in to developing such intriguing and individual characters.

Winterflood’s Passion is a truly unique and beautiful novel that offered me a new perspective of the Romance genre.

 

You can buy your copy of Winterflood's Passion here!

 

This blog was originally posted on annablackie.com on the 10th of August, 2015.

Ideas

As an amateur writer, I am constantly coming up with new ideas for stories or blogs. The note section on my phone is filled with obscure one-liners and vague ideas waiting to be utilized. I’ve gotten into the habit of carrying a small notebook with me wherever I go, and dashing down whatever ideas pop into my head. Generally, they’re fairly obscure ideas that need to be heartily developed before they even come close to making sense. But sometimes, they’re massive ideas that have so much potential I can’t even believe they’ve come out of my brain. I think one of the hardest things about being a writer is accepting the fact that sometime an idea is simply lacking. It doesn’t matter how much work you may put into it, you can pour your heart and soul into a story, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be any good. It’s all about the idea. The idea is the structure that has to carry your words on its back. It’s like a house, without a solid foundation it will crumble, and who can blame it?

While writing a ten-page script for my screenwriting class this semester, I discovered the importance of a strong idea. We were asked to develop the idea for our screenplays in the first few weeks of the semester, and I struggled, finding every idea I developed to be too long-winded or convoluted to fit within the word-length provided. So, I followed the simple path, choosing a more simplistic idea in the hope that I could make it both spectacular, and fit it within the guidelines (the joke was on me when it ended up being  five pages over the limit, leading me to spend a frantic three days attempting to cut it down). My story was focused on one key character, Henry. It was basically a four-day story about the terrible life of Henry, a man haunted by the criticism and hatred of his mother, struggling to make his way through his menial life. It’s not until he has a major breakdown on the train to work that he snaps and begins to be present in his own life, no longer letting bad memories of the past stop him from living.

As I said, my idea was simple. This simplicity was reflected in my feedback, where my teacher questioning the motivation for Henry’s sudden change of attitude. At first, I was insulted, I’d put almost a month’s worth of work into this ten-page fiend and my teacher is now telling me he doesn’t get it, seriously? But then I thought about it, and yeah, I put a lot of work into the assignment, and the writing was good, really good actually (not to toot my own horn, but after a month of work it had better be good, right?) but it wasn’t the writing that my teacher was commenting on, it was the idea. Henry’s story seemed unrealistic because it was. The idea itself was flawed and there was no way to fix that besides changing the entire concept.

I think there’s a kind of clarity in realising the importance of an idea. We all know that you can’t please everyone. Some people may love your work and other may hate it, but usually that can be chalked up to the fact that this world is made up of billions of people all of which have very varied opinions and preferences. For me, accepting the importance of the idea has taught me to doubt myself less. Previously, when getting bad reviews or feedback, I used to doubt my writing, spinning myself into a self-deprecating hole and telling myself that the only way to improve was to focus on the words themselves. But this isn’t necessarily true. It’s clear to me now that sometimes it doesn’t matter how brilliant the writing is if the idea is complete and utter trash.

 

Originally posted on annablackie.com 

A Life-Long Love of Literature for Children

I think that there is a common misconception surrounding children’s literature that it is somehow less worthy of reading time than fiction written for adults. But, I think anyone who has spent some time exploring the genre of fiction for children would tell you otherwise. Throughout my English Degree, I have taken numerous children’s literature courses. I took the first of these classes last year, picking up the unit so my friends and I would have a class together, thinking to myself that children’s literature would most likely be a pretty bludgey subject. I fell in love with the class instantly. The course gave me my first taste of the brilliant writing of Terry Pratchett with The Wee Free Men (An amazing novel from Pratchett’s Discworld series which I highly recommend). We also read Fire Eaters, a beautiful novel by David Almond, which for me bore a strong resemblance to The Catcher in the Rye. The semester provided me with a plethora of beautiful narratives for children, and reminded me that age should never be an obstacle to reading. After all, many of my fondest childhood memories are of my parents reading me the Harry Potter series every night before bed, Mum and Dad as engaged in the story as I was. To this day Mum and I still like to appreciate the fictional hotness of Oliver Wood, captain of the Gryffindor Quiddich team.

Although, like any genre, children’s literature has its down sides. I think that possibly one of the biggest flaws of the genre is that authors feel they can get away with producing sub-standard works as they believe that their audience does not have the capacity or intelligence to see their short-comings. However, I think this is both a gross underestimation of the intelligence of children, as well as a lack of understanding of the importance of reading in one’s formative years.

I think when we speak about sub-standard literature for children and young adults; most people’s first example is Twilight. After an unfortunate arm-breaking incident in year 9, I spent the entirety of the winter holidays reading the Twilight saga, and I’m embarrassed to say I, like almost every other girl my age, was dragged into Twilight hysteria (an affliction which I have thankfully since recovered from). This book is certainly the pinnacle of terribly written fiction for children. There are parts of the novel that I still believe were not edited at all, and the fact that Stephanie Meyer could have even stomached writing a novel for young girls that basically condones this type of unhealthy, obsessive, ‘I love you so much I’m going to die for you’, relationship still sickens me. This, in my opinion is where the stigma surrounding children’s literature comes from. Adults seem to believe that because a narrative is constructed for children it must focus solely on children’s issues. Although, the way I see it, children’s issues and adults issues are the same, they’re just coloured through different lenses.

In the sense of developing a long-standing relationship with books and reading, children’s literature is essential. My love for reading emerged through the myriad of books I would devour as a kid. The Tomorrow When the War Began series, by John Marsden, is an incredible Australian series that follows the story of a group of teenagers who are forced into guerrilla warfare after their town, Wirrawee, is invaded by a foreign power.  As I worked through the series, I raved about the books, encouraging my father to read them also. I think Dad got just as much enjoyment from them as I did, and it developed a strong literary bond between the two of us. Lemony Snickets’ A Series of Unfortunate Events was another series that helped to form my endearing love of the written word. The 13 books series followed the grim adventures of the three Baudelaire children after the mysterious death of their wealthy parents. I’ve always had an affinity for somewhat depressing literature. My mother often commented on how she was unable to get past the first three books as they were simply too unfortunate for her liking. However, both these series really stick out in my mind. Both books created intricate and exciting worlds for me to fall into, drawing me into to their constructed stories. I can safely say that without these books I would not be who I am today. And there-in lies the beauty, and importance of children’s literature.

In children’s literature, kids should be given the opportunity to learn how to deal with difficult situations; cruelty, death, racism, sexism, the unsettling truth that life isn’t fair and people don’t often get what they deserve. Through children’s literature we have the opportunity to present our young audience with life obstacles, to educate them. And why is that something that adults shouldn’t want to cash in on to? In the last year, the best novels I have read have all been children’s fiction. The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson, and Genesis by Bernard Beckett, are the two that really stood out. Both books are beautifully written and deal with obstacles surrounding humanity, what it means to be alive and the ability to discover who we really are. These themes are addressed in a way which doesn’t overwhelm the child reader, allowing them to come to their own conclusions, while desensitising them to some of the truths they will inevitably have to face. I believe these stories are just as fascinating and educating for an adult reader.

I think it’s common practice for us to underestimate children’s literature. To believe that something written for children can never truly engage an adult. Obviously, I think this is assertion is absolute crap, and I hope I’ve provided you all with enough examples of quality children’s literature to inspire you to engage in the genre. It’s well worth it, and you may learn a lesson or two yourself.

 

This blog was originally posted on annablackie.com