We Were Liars – E. Lockhart

We Were Liars

Another brilliant novel has sailed across my desk – We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. This is a YA novel which stays with you long after the final page has been devoured. The story is told through the central character, Cadence. We follow her summers spent on a family island along with her friends /cousins –The Liars. As the liars hold a mirror to their family, they don’t always like what they see, and this has a disastrous effect.

The narrative of this novel is like a boat on the ocean, the reader is rocked by its undulations, of an idyll childhood spent on a private island near Martha’s Vineyard, to the fractures of this Kennedyesq family, which break, heal and break again. The reader is taken on an emotional journey, riding the ups and downs of the waves, which eventually crash to the shore with its stunning conclusion.

Lockhart’s writing is clear and concise but not devoid of description or poetry. It is her writing that first grabbed my attention. Here is an example of the main character describing her cousins and friend.

 

Johnny

He is bounce, effort, and snark.

 Mirren

She is sugar, curiosity and rain.

 Gat

He was contemplation and enthusiasm. Ambition and strong coffee.

 

The writing was taut and effortless, but it was the plot in the end that won me over. I had to know the secret, the mystery.

Do not go in search of other reviews if you are interested in reading this one, as spoilers will surely ruin the whole experience. I’ll leave the last word to the dust jacket.

“We Were Liars is a modern suspense that will leave you reeling. Read it. And if anyone asks you how it ends, just lie.”

Title: We Were Liars

Author: E. Lockhart

Published: 2014

Genre: YA/ Crossover

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What Not to Write

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There are a couple of things that I find annoying; people not using their blinkers, queue jumpers, noisy eaters in the cinema (really important stuff),these little, pesky things disrupt the flow of my day. But they also pop up in novels, not literally these problems, but other things that authors often do that jolt my reading experience out of the fantasy realm back into reality. An author once said if you want to know what not to write, think about the things you skim over as a reader. There are two things that without fail have me flipping through the pages faster than a Kardashian seeking publicity.

1. Dream sequences – I hate them, I never read them, I skim as quickly as I can to get back into the story. Writers often put them in as foreshadowing, some psychic warning, but they are always boring. I know when I have a dream and I want to tell someone, I start to tell the dream and I gradually I see his or her eyes glassing over. It’s not that I’m a bad storyteller, truly I’m not, it’s that dreams are only interesting to the dreamer. So writers, heed my warning, leave the dream sequence out.

2. Overly long descriptive paragraphs – In a genre fiction there is no need to do lengthy descriptive scenes, most readers do not care what the character is wearing, and what they ate for lunch. If it’s not important to the story or characterization leave it out. The one exception is when the writer has a gift with words and the description is so skillfully woven that it creates an emotional response from the reader. Writers like Ian McEwan, F Scott Fitzgerald or Martin Amis, even Earnest Hemingway fall into this category.

Alex by Pierre Lemaitre

Alex

One of the fastest moving trends in the YA genre is the crime novel. John Grisham, Harlan Coben and James Patterson, usually write adult crime, are all producing novels aimed at a younger audience. Next week I will review Harlan Coben Shelter, but first, I thought I should indulge in an adult crime novel so I can compare the two. I chose Pierre Lemaitre’s Alex, it was translated into English and re-published last year, and since that time it has received a lot of praise and won the CWA’s International Dagger award for 2013, so I thought it was a good choice.

The first thing I will say about this novel is don’t read anyone else’s review. This might sound arrogant, but I’m giving this warning for your own well being as many of the reviews reveal too much and I found this tainted any mystery the plot may have held. Most of the reviewers have done this inadvertently, but my readers are an intelligent bunch and I know they can read between the lines.

With that in mind, I will give you a very brief plot blurb. The setting is France (mainly Paris), a girl is kidnapped and the police try to solve this and other evolving mysteries- there. I want to mention a couple of things that bugged me about the novel, I don’t usually do this as opinions can be subjective, but I have an uncontrollable compulsion today to put it out there.

First – the cop, he is the stereotype, white, middle aged, pig headed, flawed character we’ve seen time and again in many crime novels. This is a shame as Lemaitre has a talent for characterization. Secondly- the title, it really “had my goat up” as my mother would say. It did the crime genre, which is unpredictable by nature, no justice.

Now for the good- what I love about the novel is Lemaitre’s keen observations on human nature. He manages to create characters that are incredibly believable. His writing pulls out the subtleties and nuances of the everyday, that most of us are unaware. Lemaitre’s talent is in the detail. I’m not talking of the kind of detail that can bore you to tears, I once read a book that described a fob watch for eleven pages, it’s the kind of detail that forms clear pictures in your mind and allows the story to move along seamlessly. It is that talent that leaves me wondering whether Lemaitre should write in a different genre especially literary fiction.

NB: He did win the Prix Goncourt award for an epic novel Au revoir là-haut on WWII; the highest award for literary fiction in France.

In the end I recommend the book for adults who enjoy this genre, as it was enjoyable. I also recommend it to budding writers, as there is much to be learnt from his style, and its what I found to be the most enjoyable part.

 

Title: Alex

 Author: Pierre Lemaitre

 Published: French 2011, English 2013 Maclehose

 Genre: Crime

THE Agatha Christie Mystery

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This post is a little bit of fun. There are so many interesting author stories out there I thought I’d delve into the 11 day disappearance of crime novelist, Agatha Christie. For those of you haven’t heard this before I hope you find it as intriguing as I do and for those of you who have heard it then –sorry.

It was a cold December night in 1926 when Agatha Christie kissed her daughter goodnight and stated she was going for a drive in her Morris Cowley. The following morning the car was found abandoned, by a lake with the hood up, inside, were her fur coat and a small suitcase.

Mrs Christie’s disappearance became the hot topic around dinner tables, bus stops and even parliament. Theories where coming left and right, some pointed to foul play at the hands of her unfaithful husband others at publicity stunt. If it happened to a crime writer today I would definitely say publicity.

Her disappearance had fellow writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes) and Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey) on the hunt. Sir Conan Doyle even consulting a psychic. 15,00 volunteers and 500 police scoured the land, waterways and searched by air.

 

Mrs Christie was found 11 days later, at a spa Hotel in Harrogate, when a musician at the hotel recognized her. She had been staying there under an assumed name (more on this in a minute) since the day after her disappearance. This created more speculation as Mrs Christie claimed she had lost her memory. This may be the case, as she was under a lot of stress at the time. Her mother had recently died and her husband was leaving her for his mistress. Prior to the night of her disappearance Agatha had told friends that she was going to take a break in Yorkshire (which happens to be where the Hydropathic Hotel is located). On the night of her disappearance though Archie Christie (Agatha’s husband) had already left to go to a friend’s house to meet up with his mistress miss Nancy Neele. This is the curious part, the name Agatha used to check into the hotel was Teresa Neele.

Doctors diagnosed amnesia, but journalists (suspicious bunch they are) and police weren’t convinced. Mrs Christie had plenty of money on her person and it appears to be a highly unlikely coincidence that she would choose to register under her husband’s mistress’ last name.

Over the years expert have come forward claiming, evidence of a nervous breakdown and a stress induced condition known as “Fugue “ state (stress amnesia) in 1999 author Jared Cade interviewed Agatha’s brother- in –law who pronounced that Agatha created the hoax to spite her adulterous husband Archie.

Whatever the real reason she sure created a stir. The today the Hydropathic Hotel in Harrogate is known as The Old Swan and is now the fitting meeting place for the annual crime writing festival.

 

 

 

 

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

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Neil Gaiman is mostly known for his wonderfully dark, Stephen Kingesq children’s novels, but he does dip his quill into the realm of adult fiction and it’s just as atmospheric and haunting. In his current novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, he delves into an adults’ recollection of his childhood. The narrator is a seven year old boy whose name we never learn, while reading the book I didn’t notice the absence of a name, it wasn’t until I finished that I went looking; maybe I missed it. Obviously this was deliberate and I wondered whether Gaiman was either trying to say it was insignificant or, more likely, that the character was unsure who he was.

Through a magically symbolic story, Gaiman explores how our memories of our childhood are perceived differently as an adult and how we are affected by them. The blend of fantasy and realism had me wondering if the boy’s imagination created an unreal world so he could deal with the real problems of his father’s infidelity and a family where he didn’t quite fit.

What I enjoyed most about this novel was Gaiman’s attention to the details of a child’s relationship and observations to the world around him and his interactions with his family. This excerpt shows his ability to capture a world through a child’s eye:

“Adults follow paths. Children explore. Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences”

Plot, Plotter, Plotted

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What is the plot of a novel? According to the Macquarie Concise Dictionary the word Plot means:

  1. A secret plan or scheme to accomplish some purpose, esp. a hostile unlawful, or evil purpose. (oooh)
  2. The plan, scheme, or main story of a play, novel, poem, or the like. (I like no.1 better)

The plot is the synopsis you send to the publisher, it’s the blurb on the back of the book that makes you spend your hard earned cash. So, how do you create an award winning, unique plot? If you research the subject you will find countless theories and analogies on the number of possible plot themes from “The seven basic plots”, “Twenty Master plots” and of course the famous “The Thirty-six Dramatic Situations”.

Are these lists any use to the writer? or do they interfere with the creative process and develop fiction devoid of imagination. I believe they have a place in the writing process. For example, my writing starts with an inspiration, an idea, I then develop the characters that can move this idea along and get the story to its conclusion. I’ll start with the beginning and/or end and then flesh out the ups and down of the middle. If inspiration isn’t coming easily there are many exercises writers use to get a basic plot going, but if the task ahead is Herculean and you are a prolific Trollopian writer a list of themes can be a godsend. I have a series, which centres on the same characters, and at times I look to this list for the spark to get a new theme started.

In the interest in serving my fellow writer I have included the 36 plot themes here. These themes were included in the above mentioned book in the 19th century, by French writer Georges Polti, then translated to English in 1916, but the list is credited to Goethe, who credits them to Gozzi from the mid 1700’s.

 

  1. Supplication
  2. Deliverance
  3. Vengeance of a crime
  4. Vengeance taken for kindred upon kindred
  5. Pursuit
  6. Disaster
  7. Falling prey to cruelty or misfortune
  8. Revolt
  9. Daring enterprise
  10. Abduction
  11. Enigma
  12. Obtaining
  13. Enmity of kinsmen
  14. Rivalry of kinsmen
  15. Murderous adultery
  16. Madness
  17. Fatal imprudence
  18. Involuntary crimes of love
  19. Slaying of a kinsmen unrecognized
  20. Self-sacrificing for an ideal
  21. Self-sacrifice for kindred
  22. All sacrificed for a passion
  23. Necessity of sacrificing loved ones
  24. Rivalry of superior and inferior
  25. Adultery
  26. Crimes of love
  27. Discovery of the dishonor of a loved one
  28. Obstacles to love
  29. An enemy loved
  30. Ambition
  31. Conflict with a god
  32. Mistaken jealousy
  33. Erroneous judgment
  34. Remorse
  35. Recovery of a lost one
  36. Loss of loved ones

If the dreaded writers block is firmly wedged, I hope this list will be the jackhammer of inspiration –Happy writing.

 

Five books all writers should own

 

Every writer needs his arsenal of writing weaponry. After the obvious hardware such as pen, paper, computer, (duh!)the most useful purchase is a selection of helpful books. You’ve bought the dictionary and thesaurus (I hope), and if you’re a fantasy writer you may have bought a Lexicon of Myths and Fairytales or a crime writer may have bought a book on criminal investigation procedures, but what other books can help the aspiring writer. I’ve listed my top five and maybe some of you can share books or websites you’ve found helpful.

1.Elements of Style – William Strunk and E.B White

One piece of advice I remember from my studies of journalism at university was never leave home without this book.It is, by far, the best book written on grammar. Every journalist has it in their briefcase/ backpack because it contains wonderful little grammatical reminders that may have slipped our minds. (Unfortunately, the older I get, the more my mind slips)

2. On Writing – Stephen King 

I’m sure most writers have stumbled upon this book. Stephen King’s advice is straight up, no fancy pants talk. He just tells it like it is. I found this book to be practical and inspiring. When I’m feeling out of my depths I like to pick it up and have a flick, I always find something motivational. Here are some of my favourite quotes:

 

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

“Kill your darlings, kill your darlings, even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler’s heart, kill your darlings.”

 “Your job isn’t to find these ideas but to recognize them when they show up.”

 “Words create sentences; sentences create paragraphs; sometimes paragraphs quicken and begin to breathe.”

 

  1. The Australian Writer’s marketplace

When I graduated from University this was my first purchase. It’s a compendium for writers listing details for submission and contact details for agents, magazines and newspapers, competitions and events, organisations, writers’ services, scripts and courses. My copy was heavily dog-eared, and I purchased many revised editions. This is centred on Australia, but a website that contains a fabulous array of publishing opportunities, for mainly the USA, is: http://www.everywritersresource.com/lists.html

 

  1. The Writing Book –Kate Grenville

This is a practical guide, using exercises, to get the writer started and heading in the right direction. It contains practical advice on character development, plotting, writing dialogue. I found Grenville’s book to be the best in this genre, but I also like Holly Lisle’s online courses “How to Think Sideways”

 

  1. If I Tell you I’ll Have to Kill you – Edited By Ian Robotham

This book is a recent addition to my collection and I’ve just finished reading it, so I thought I’d add it to the list. It is a collection of discussions from some of Australia’s best crime writers. Each writer explains, their writing process and the ins and outs of crime writing and how they came to be a writer. It is interesting (and often humorous) to read the various ways that writers go about their work, some are plotters and some are ‘go with the flow’ writers. This is a good read for all, not just those interested in the crime genre.