Monthly Archives: May 2015
Great First Lines (and why they’re important)
Some books don’t need to start with a line about action or someone saying something intriguing to pull you in. First lines can be pretty ordinary, but they still manage to hook you. The first line of Killing Floor (the first Jack Reacher book) is simple and short, but it made me read on.
I was arrested in Eno’s diner.
Lee Child uses six words, and manages to raise enough questions and set up Reacher’s character to make reading on a no-brainer. Why was he arrested? And who is ‘he’?
Some of the best first lines make you question, make you want to read on to find the answers to those questions.
Some books do start out with action, or dialogue or something shocking. But all first lines should hook you–for a lot of people it’s the first thing they read when they pick up a book in a store. The writer has to make sure the few seconds or minute or two the reader has is enough to get them hooked enough to buy the book. The first line and opening of the book are where they’ll persuade a reader or put them off.
Below are some great first lines from books I’ve read…
My mother thinks I’m dead… (From Legend by Marie Lu)
Short, simple, but it packs a pretty good punch. I wanted to know why his mother thinks he’s dead, what he’s done, who he is… Marie Lu makes you ask questions right from the start.
Gordon Edgley’s death came as a shock to everyone– not least himself… (From Skulduggery Pleasant book 1 by Derek Landy)
This line sums up Landy’s sense of humor that runs through every page of all nine books: whip-smart and dry. It also makes us ask questions. And books that begin with deaths always seem to be intriguing.
Lyra and her daemon moved through the darkening hall… (From Northern Lights/Golden Compass by Phillip Pullman)
The first few words of His Dark Materials immediately tell the reader this book isn’t set in the same world as ours. As a reader, I wanted to know what kind of world it was and why Lyra was with a daemon, and why it was hers.
The villagers of Little Hangleton still called it the ‘Riddle House’, even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. (From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J K Rowling)
This is the first of the Potter books that doesn’t open with Harry, but Rowling uses the Riddle name to hook you. Up until now, Voldemort’s past hasn’t been clear, but this opening prologue sets up some answers about how Tom Riddle became Voldemort.
Look, I didn’t want to be a Half-Blood. (From The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan)
This opening line to the first Percy Jackson book almost sounds like Percy is talking to the reader. We don’t know what a Half-Blood is yet, but we want to know.
One minute the teacher was talking about the Civil War. And the next minute he was gone… (From Gone by Michael Grant)
Where did the teacher go? This is one of at least a hundred questions the first book in the Gone series raises. The whole series is a question. Each book keeps the pages turning by slowly feeding you answers, and more questions.
He began his new life standing up, surrounded by cold darkness and stale, dusty air. (From the Maze Runner by James Dashner)
Why is this his new life? What happened to his old one? Where is he? A few of the dozens of questions the first book (and strongest) in the Maze Runner series asks.
It would take a pretty long blog post to list all of the great first/openings lines I’ve read. The above are a few of the ones that stuck in my head. The fact that they stuck in my head proves how good they are– and the skill of the authors who wrote them. They did their job in making me read on. Stephen King and Lee Child are also two authors who are masters at writing first lines.
Does anyone have a favourite from the ones above, or have you got a first line from a different book? Do you like books that open with action, or that make you ask questions? If you’ve got a favourite first line, it’ll be cool to read it, so feel free to drop it in a comment below.
Top Ten Summer Reads
Hosted by the Broke and the Bookish
I’m a winter man. Hot weather doesn’t do much for me, so I like books set in cold, harsh places. Some of the books below are for those readers who don’t like hot weather either. But some of them are good books to read on holiday–where you don’t want to have to think too hard, just be entertained or pulled along for a ride. Some of the books are pretty long, so they’d last a weekend or week.
The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
This book is proof that there could still be life in dystopian fiction. Set in a harsh, gritty world, it blends solid plot, great action sequences, plenty of twists and some quality writing.
The Shattered Sea trilogy by Joe Abercrombie
I mention this series a lot, but it is the best high fantasy I’ve read. Action, violence, a cold harsh world, some original characters and quality writing.
The Bartimeaus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud
This series is funny, and it’s hard to understand why it isn’t as popular as Potter, or why it hasn’t been made into a movie yet. It’s set in London, Britain, but it’s similar to the parallel world of the Potter books. Humor, action, great world-building. Hard to go wrong with this series.
Under the Dome by Stephen King
This is my second favourite King book, and it’s an epic. Almost 1000 pages, it doesn’t feel that way. Some of the best characters ever written, quality writing, great plot and tension makes this one of my favourite books of all time.
The Jack Reacher series by Lee Child
Some people like action and entertainment for a summer read and the Reacher books have both to spare. A cool main character, plenty of action, awesome pace make these one of my favourite series.
I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes
Another ‘epic’ book, this one is somewhere between Bond and Bourne. Twists, tight plotting, a solid main character. This is good reading.
11/22/63 by Stephen King
My favourite King book. More awesome characters and quality writing. King has the ability to suck you in and make sure you’re thinking about his books long after you’ve finished them. This one involves time travel and saving JFK.
The Lockwood and Co. series by Jonathan Stroud
Stroud’s second YA series isn’t as funny as the Bartimaeus Sequence, but it’s just as entertaining. The first book, The Screaming Staircase is action-packed and inventive–the second book is too similar to the first, but it’s still entertaining.
Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
One of my favourite books of all time (and movies), Crichton’s most famous book is also his best. It’s like a summer blockbuster movie on page, but smartly written, tightly paced and the science is somehow understandable for everyone.
Ten by Gretchen Mcneil
This book is a slasher movie on page–a gripping YA horror that offers up some good twists and tight pacing.
Can anyone recommend any other gritty fantasy books? Do you prefer fast-paced, action books that are like blockbuster movies?
The Shadow Fold, a swathe of impenetrable darkness, crawling with monsters that feast on human flesh, is slowlydestroying the once-great nation of Ravka.
Alina, a pale, lonely orphan, discovers a unique power that thrusts her into the lavish world of the kingdom’s magical elite – the Grisha. Could she be the key to unravelling the dark fabric of the Shadow Fold and setting Ravka free?
It seems like every YA high fantasy book I’ve read in the past couple of years has been bogged down with romance– save The Shattered Sea trilogy which I can highly recommend – It’s gritty, action packed, violent, exactly what epic fantasy should be.
Shadow and Bone is no different. The plot is too wrapped up in romance and the rest of the novel suffers for it. Bardugo has created an interesting world. It reminded me of something from a Guillermo Del Toro movie. Cold, harsh, populated by a growing darkness and weird creatures… But Bardugo spends too much time developing romance, and a solid plot is sacrificed. Some readers probably won’t mind. But I wanted more of the action that the beginning and ending of the novel delivered.
The opening is good. The middle made me consider skipping pages. Another thing YA books seem to include a lot of is descriptions of clothes and ‘makeovers’. I don’t want to read about that–not when the stakes of the main plot and the villains agenda is world-altering.
After a slow middle, the pace picks up again when the heroine has to go on a quest. The quest plot-line might not be original, but it guarantees pace and action. Bardugo’s cold, harsh world is the kind of fantasy world I like to read about. The kind Abercrombie and George R. R. Martin have in their books.
The characters are decently developed, though they will probably be developed more in the sequels–as will the world-building, which was a little vague and at times confusing.
The writing style is similar to Sarah J. Maas’s, author of Throne of Glass. Atmospheric descriptions, nice balance of description.
Shadow and Bone is a decent balance of original and influenced-by-other-fantasy-books-and-movies. The pace is fast in the beginning, slow in the middle, fast again for the ending. The set up is promising for the sequels, which I hope will focus more on the main plot arc than on romance.
Does anyone else think that romance bogs down the plot of a lot of YA books? Anyone else prefer gritty, cold fantasy worlds?
This is a pretty tough question to answer…
Sometimes a book is published and its successful, and a few months later a similar book appears, then another and another, until it seems like nothing else get’s published.
It’s more common in YA these days. Probably the best example would be The Hunger Games. An awesome series that spawned a huge fan following, sold millions upon millions of copies and was adapted into movies that make hundreds of millions at the box office. Inevitably people will want to try and reach the same level of success. And that is when the similar books start creeping in. The similarities can be subtle…
A rebellion. A strong heroine. A corrupt government.
But then they become less subtle. Books start having a to-the-death or at least to-a-lot-of-pain style game or contest in which citizens compete. I’ve read several books that focus around the ‘games’ plot line and sometimes it’s hard to imagine how some books made it through to publishing without being called out for plagiarism. But plots can’t be trademarked (I don’t think) so other writers are free to utilize them, change them as much or as little as they like. Some of the similar books are pretty solid, some not so much. But when these ‘trends’ hit they seem to flood the YA market to the point that nothing else seems to get publish.
Dystopia was huge when The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent became popular. I was a fan of the genre, still am if the plot is original and interesting enough. But is so many books being published in the same genre a good thing? Other things are being published, it just seems that most of what is being released has three or four or even a dozen things in common with another book.
Do trends kill originality? Or is YA fiction now at a point where everything has been done and there is little left that is original anyway?
After Games of Thrones became a TV show, the market, both YA and adult, was filled with high fantasy. After Marvel hit it’s stride, there was a fair bit of superhero/superpowers fiction. Some of it is good. Some of it is clearly an attempt to cash-in on the successful original ideas/books.
It also seems that genres that don’t comply with the ‘trend’ are lost or pushed into the sidelines. Good, old-fashioned fantasy like Potter could be said to have had it’s day. Most YA books are loaded with romance because that’s what the trends demand. Is that a good thing? Is the market catering too much for the many and forgetting about readers and writers who still want to read and write something that isn’t a ‘trend’?
It’s hard to say. I don’t know if trends are a good thing, or if they perhaps ruin the market for everything else.
Does anyone have an answer? Do you think trends are a good thing or not?
The House of Silk – Review
The New Sherlock Holmes Novel by Anthony Horowitz
Rating – 5/5
It’s hard to imagine a weightier responsibility than what Anthony Horowitz faced when he was asked to write the new Sherlock Holmes novel. Holmes is one of the–if not the–most famous detective in fiction. Arthur Conan Doyle created a unique character and plenty of unique mysteries and with the movies, TV shows and other spin-offs, Holmes has become a phenomenon.
But Horowitz pulled it off. As far as I can tell. I haven’t read any of the Conan Doyle Holmes stories, but I’ve seen the movies and the TV shows and from what I can tell Horowitz has kept to the spirit of Doyle’s work.
Holmes and Watson are the thing he had to get right, and Horowitz nails it. Their characters are exactly what you expect from watching the shows and movies–and from other reviews they’re pretty true to the original books, too. The camaraderie is there, the banter, and Holmes is enigmatic, annoying and brilliant. Like in some of the original stories, Watson narrates through first person and it’s interesting to see the story and Holmes’s character from his perspective.
This might be set in Victorian London, but Horowitz hasn’t limited himself. The pace is fast and there are plenty of gripping set pieces along the way. Including (mild spoiler) a final horse-drawn carriage chase.
The setting of Victorian London is almost a character in itself. Horowitz takes Holmes and Watson through gritty streets, harsh storms, luxurious mansions and seedy carnivals. Horowitz gets description down pat, and there’s just enough to make things palpable and not too much to make it hard to read.
The mystery itself has enough side-plots and twists to keep it interesting, even if it does get a bit predictable towards the end. It’s hard to think of another way to resolve things, but having Holmes explain everything did feel like a huge info-dump. But with mysteries, it’s hard to resolve things another way, and from what I know of the TV shows, movies and books, it’s done the same way.
Overall, this is a rip-roaring mystery with pace, wit, twists and a solid set of main characters. It’s also addictive and I’m looking forward to reading the follow-up Moriarty, and hopefully more sequels in the future.
Highly, highly recommended – especially if you’re a Holmes fan, but also if you’re just looking for an entertaining, well-written mystery.
Has anyone else read this, and if you’re a fan of the original Holmes stories, what did you think?
Top Ten Tuesday
TOP TEN FANTASY WORLDS
Hosted by The Broke and the Bookish
There are a lot of fantasy worlds. Some of them it would be pretty awesome to live there… Others maybe not. I like fantasy worlds that are gritty and cold and harsh. But I also like worlds that suck you in. All of the worlds below do that.
1- The Wizarding World (Harry Potter)
You’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t want to at least visit The Wizarding World, and Hogwarts would make school awesome… that is unless you’re a Muggle or a Half-Blood and Voldemort ended up in power. Rowling created one of the biggest, most detailed worlds for the Potter books and makes the series even more epic.
2- Middle Earth (The Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit)
Middle Earth is arguably the most detailed fantasy world ever created for a book. Tolkien thought up languages and cultures, dozens of creatures and places. It’s hard to imagine a world ever coming close to being as detailed as Middle Earth. I struggled with the books, but the movies are among my favorites of all time.
3- The County (The Wardstone Chronicles or Last Apprentice series)
I like cold, harsh worlds and the County from Joseph Delaney’s series is pretty cold and harsh. Rain, snow, storms all help to create atmosphere, and the rugged landscape is almost a character in itself. It’s populated by all manner of dark creatures. This series is solid fantasy and if you haven’t read it, I urge you to check it out… all 14 (so far) books.
4- The Edge (The Edge Chronicles)
Like Potter, I grew up reading this series. Paul Stewart’s writing and Chris Riddle’s illustrations make the Edge a vivid, crazy world to read about. It sits somewhere between Pratchett and Tolkien, and it’s as cool as that sounds.
5- The Shattered Sea (The Shattered Sea trilogy)
This is another cold, gritty fantasy world. So far there are two books out, and they keep getting harsher and gritter. Joe Abercrombie might not my able to rival Tolkien or George R. R. Martin on detail, but the Shattered Sea world has plenty of atmosphere.
6- Panem (The Hunger Games)
Panem probably isn’t a place many would like to go, but Suzanne Collins’ reinvented America is also gritty and harsh, and the fact that it’s more realistic than most fantasy worlds makes it an even more interesting world to read about.
7- Lyra’s Oxford and parallel worlds (His Dark Materials)
I’m a big fan of the first two books in this series. Book 3 was good, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the others. But the world Pullman creates is rich in detail and atmosphere. From the old buildings of Oxford to the frozen lands of Svalbard.
8- Westeros (A Song of Ice and Fire)
Like Panem, it’s hard to imagine many people wanting to visit Westeros– on account of how many people die there. But Martin has created a world that rivals Tolkien in detail: countries, cultures etc. I haven’t read the books, but if the TV show is anything to go by, the books are awesome.
9- Camp Half-Blood (Percy Jackson/and spin-off series)
Like Potter, I grew up reading the Percy Jackson books, and Camp Half-Blood is another world that would be cool to visit. Rick Riordan writes like he can see into his reader’s heads and knows what they want. Camp Half-Blood has forests, sword fighting arenas, a lava wall for climbing and archery fields.
10 – Erilea (The Throne of Glass series)
I’ve only recently started this series, after avoiding it because of the heavy romance in the first book. But I’m glad I gave it a shot. Erilea is a detailed world and Maas incorporates aspects from existing myth and legend to make for a fantasy world that easily pulls you in.
Anyone have a favourite fantasy world from the list above, or another one I forgot or haven’t heard of? What places would you want to visit, or avoid?
Heir of Fire by Sarah J. Maas
Rating – 4/5
Momentum is a tough thing to maintain through an epic series. Rowling did it with Potter, Joe Abercrombie is doing it with the epic Shattered Sea trilogy (check the series out if you like gritty high-fantasy).
A world and story as big as the one Maas started with Throne of Glass, and continued to build and better in Crown of Midnight, is a tough world and story to maintain. And Maas does it with Heir of Fire, even if the third book isn’t as strong as the second.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of the first book, but Maas made the second gritty and action-packed…
Heir of Fire is still stirring, gripping epic fantasy and no mistake. It develops the plot and the characters and advances the story. But it’s also about 100-150 pages too long. And a lot seems to be dragged out for no other reason than to extend the word/page count.
The opening is strong. Celaena is consumed by grief and a desire for revenge. She’s left Rithfold to find a way to stop the King and end his plans for world dominance. She finds herself in the court of her ancestors and ends up training to awaken her magic.
The training plot device is used in a lot of YA–and while it is necessary in Heir of Fire, it maybe didn’t need to take up almost the entire length of the book. The training could have been cut down, and the plot would have felt a bit tighter. It was a little boring at times, but Maas’s world-building kept me reading, as did the punches of action she kept delivering to keep things moving.
Like the other books in the Throne of Glass series, Heir of Fire is divided between multiple perspectives and stories. This time around, Maas introduced a new character in the witch Manon whose plot line involves training wyverns. This is interesting and offers up some awesome set pieces, but it felt unnecessary at times, even if it did help expand the world and expand the scope of the story.
The previous books had epic world-building, and Maas’s imagination is just as epic, but there were things in Heir of Fire that seemed a little familiar. Giant talking spiders (Tolkien), a magical ring that controls people (Tolkien), a stag who watches over the forest and wild wolves who serve a manipulative queen (Princess Mononoke)… But it’s hard to find a book that isn’t influenced by one or more others, and Maas delivers enough originality that nothing is ever too familiar.
The ending is the strongest part of this book, and Maas delivers the literary version of a punch in the gut.
Overall, this is a strong, if flawed, third entry in the six book Throne of Glass series. The uneven pace is compensated for by some solid action set pieces, good character and story development, and Maas’s epic world-building. Great things are promised for the rest of the series.
Is anyone else a fan of this series? If so, what did you think of Heir of Fire? An improvement on book 2 or not as good?
By Sam Whitehouse
and how writing changes
One year in high school we had an English exam where we had to write about fear. We had an hour to write a short piece of fiction focusing around what scared us, or what scared a character. I couldn’t think of anything I was scared of worth writing about, so I decided to create a character instead. I can’t remember fully what I wrote, but a few years later I wrote the same–or at least what I could remember– piece again without the time constraint. It turned out to be more flash fiction than short story.
Flash fiction is a good way to get back into writing if you’re not in the mood or come up against writer’s block.
The story below is as I wrote it a few years back. It’s interesting to look back on something you wrote years ago, compare it to how you write now. I used to focus more on description, less on story, pace and character. I learned to play around with sentence structure–use less complex, long sentences. This is also the first time I used present tense–even if it wasn’t a conscious decision.
As I stare into the inky heart of darkness, it stares back at me.
My bare feet are numb against the glacial air and I can no longer feel the sting of the lacerations inflicted by the thorns and shards of rock that jut from the frozen ground like pointed, black teeth. A bitter wind snaps at my fingers and so I bury my hands in my pockets, searching for any last morsels of warmth. There are none. Cold dread permeates everything.
The forest’s yawning maw beckons me closer, seeming to draw me forth with an unnatural pull. But with what little self-control I have left to me I do not move.
I stop. I stand. I stare.
Gnarled roots erupt from the earth, tearing it asunder, making it pulse and writhe; they furl forwards, breaking away from their shadowy retreat, edging towards the last of the light… only to recoil: creatures of the dark.
My eyes watch unblinking, fearing that to avert my gaze will render me vulnerable to her. She is risen from her slumber now and is hungry. I hear her send forth her children: Crows with slicing razor beaks; clicking, hissing insects; thorny vines, creeping and winding. All advance hesitantly; they are wary of the burning light.
I can hear her breath, it echoes from the depths of the trees: stinking, foul and retch-inducing. She is tasting me. She knows I am here but she cannot take me yet. Not while the light keeps her and her voracious brood at bay.
I want to run, to turn and flee the way I came but something holds me here… keeps me paralysed and rooted to the darkening hilltop. What warmth I felt on the back of my neck is fighting a losing battle. For soon the sun will submit to the moon, she who waits impatiently in the first traces of twilight to take his brother’s place, and spread night across the land.
My quickened breath is no longer alone in daring to break the steely hush; there comes the snapping, cracking steps of the forest’s children. And though I cannot see them, I sense their approach; feel their footfalls sending tremors through the earth.
Though I cannot turn, I see the moonlight’s probing fingers stretching ever closer; casting pale, skeletal columns through the forest’s fringes and throwing her bone yard into ghostly relief. The remnants of her victims are suddenly revealed: cloaks and jerkins torn and tattered beyond all recognition, hanging from gnarled branches and shifting in the forest’s breath; shattered lanterns oozing waxy beards of tallow, their once revealing lights long since snuffed out; and the mould-encrusted axe of a man who tried to cut the forest down. But she doesn’t stand for that. No, she won’t let harm come to her servants, her children.
I stand. I stare.
Sharp wind cuts at my exposed flesh. It screams to be covered, concealed, but I never planned on remaining here, I never expected to be this long. I only wanted to look, to see…her.
And now the night is upon me, advancing from the horizon like a line of stampeding black stallions. What little sight I have left to me is occluded and those final hopes of returning to the warmth of home and leaving behind this fearful place are snatched away.
Deep down I knew that escape was never an option, but I held the possibility close, warmed my body against its weak flames. Now… now I know what my fate is to be. In this nightmarish place, where what lives delights in despair and decay.
They will be here soon.
Why did I come here? Why did I want so desperately to see her, see the rotting heart of the forest? I’d heard the people talking – those few who paid such things mind and were old enough to remember when the forest first grew – in furtive tones about what lurks here. And I’d taken their tales to be nothing more than a means to frighten children into behaving. I’d put little stock into their – what I’d assumed to be – whisky-induced ramblings. What reason had I to believe them? But now I see my folly, my ignorance… and I understand the cost of it.
A flicker of movement in the shadows: her children are growing nearer, frolicking in the gloom, liberated now by the swallowed light. They come scuttling, flapping and burrowing their way towards me. For like her they can smell me; smell and sense the fear and despair that oozes from my body. To them it is like tendrils of the most delicious aroma imaginable. My teeth rattle together, vibrating a jarring rhythm in my skull. Shudders flit up and down my spine like cold bolts of lightning.
I can hear them, even closer now, their shrieks and cries and yelps, their rattling breaths: the forest’s orchestra. They arrive at the treeline, lingering in the darkness and watching with gleaming black eyes. Alighting on the branches, clacking their sharp scarred beaks and beating their scraggly wings and stirring the last of the dead leaves that spiral listlessly down and land at my feet…
… And the barrier is broken. No longer is there a wall between her and me, between this world and theirs. And they know it, for now they advance- and I can see them! Wicked, twisted, snarling faces. And now they’re around me, circling, closing in and yet paralysis still holds me in its infuriating grasp. Until something dawns in my mind, a distant door is unlocked and I can suddenly move again. I can turn, I can run… But no, now they are at my feet, biting, clawing, scraping. Teeth like hot needles, claws like daggers, grasps like vices. My arms flail in the darkness, beating them off only for them to bound forward again and sink their fangs still deeper, brace ever tighter. They wrestle me to the floor and my face slams into the dank, stinking earth. I feel myself being pulled, dragged inexorably backwards and away from the winking lights in the windows of the village. Dirt fills my mouth, nose, eyes… obscuring my senses. I splutter and cough, the taste is foul. Screams and pleas for help come, gushing from my open mouth in an incoherent torrent, only to be stifled by the choking mulch and the darkness, so thick and impenetrable. No aid will come tonight!
I dig my fingers into the dirt, grappling at sods of grass and sharp rocks and roots, but her children are stronger, riled into a frenzy by their hunger, and I cannot hold on. The soft earth crumbles away beneath my scrabbling, desperate fingers and my grip is lost. I hear her calling them back, beckoning now for her children to return with their prey. And their claws: terrible, scraping, scratching claws.
Writhing in their grasp I scream for help. But the only replies are the echoing remains of my pleas. The leafless boughs and gnarled branches rush by overhead, like the ribcage of some long dead beast and stabbing through is the harsh moonlight. Between the flashes of illumination my rolling eyes catch sight of the gnashing jaws of my captors; their twisted limbs and wild, hungry eyes. And from the bowels of the forest her slurping, sonorous voice resonates, louder, closer. Beneath my clawing fingers the earth becomes waterlogged. The foul stenches of stagnant bogs, rotten vegetation and something metallic thicken in the air.
Suddenly the jostling, clawing creatures that bore me through the darkness scamper away, shrieking. They gather between the slime rimed trees that girdle the clearing. Hot blood pumps down my legs and arms, but I do not feel the sting of the wounds. For now the marshy floor shudders beneath me and I watch as, with a sucking, guttural roar the ground before me swells. Boiling like the contents of a cauldron, the root-tangled earth heaves upwards. From this lurching mass of dirt and moss and root a form takes shape. Limbs strangled with vines and moss emerge, trembling under the weight of her colossal body.
A scream lodges like a stone in my throat as the forest’s mother turns to face me. From a head of snarled roots, clogging moss and pitted boulders stare two bulbous, glistening eyes. I am held fast in her gaze, my limbs rendered leaden. Her face is suddenly cloven by her parting maw, revealing fangs of boulder and bark. From the depths of her cavernous throat gusts her wet, stinking breath and the sound of bones rattling in her stomach. The thick carapace of her body writhes with insects as she lurches slowly forward. Her children gather at her feet: squealing and grunting impatiently.
As I stare into the darkness it stares back at me: it is the last thing I see as she and her children swarm.
Does anyone else use flash fiction to get back in the mood to write? Or do you do something else? Can anyone see a noticeable change in their writing now and something from years ago?
Top Ten Authors I’d like to Meet
Hosted by the Broke and the Bookish
Most of the authors on this list wrote books I grew up reading, so they made the list for making me interested in writing and helping me improve my writing. Some of them are just damn good writers.
Author of the Jack Reacher books, Child is as cool as his main character. Technically, I’ve met Child, but it was at a book signing, and I shook his hand, but didn’t get an opportunity to ask questions. His writing style is sharp and addictive and his books never fail to entertain. But more than that, he helped me better my writing and encouraged me to write something other than fantasy/adventure.
JK Rowling probably makes it onto this list for a lot of people. I grew up reading the Potter books and they kept me rooted in writing.
This guy is the boss. It’s hard to think of a better writer. I haven’t read all of his books–not even close. But those that I have read are consistently awesome. He writes characters better than any other author I’ve read and there’s never a dull moment in his books. 11/22/63 is one of my favourite books of all time.
Like the Potter books, I grew up reading Percy Jackson. Action, adventure, humour, battles, everything I like in a book.
Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell
Stewart and Riddell count as one, because they’re the co-authors of the Edge Chronicles–another series I grew up reading. The Edge is an awesome fantasy world and the books are some of the best fantasy I’ve read.
The Skulduggery Pleasant series is laugh-out-loud funny, action-packed and entertaining. If Landy is as funny as his books then a meeting with this dude would probably involve plenty of rolling on the floor laughing.
I’ve yet to read Abercrombie’s adult high-fantasy series, but his YA Shattered Sea trilogy is some of the best high fantasy, if not the best, I’ve read. Gritty, action-packed, plenty of violence–this guy knows how it’s done.
The Bartimeaus Trilogy, The Lockwood & Co. series–Stroud writes some of the best YA/MG fantasy around. There’s no limit to this dude’s imagination. And I can only hope to write fantasy as well as he can.
Delaney reminds me of my Grandad, who used to tell me stories when I was a kid (and still does) and first got me interested in books. I’d been interested in books long before I started the Spooks series, but Delaney fueled my interest in fantasy.
Crichton wrote one of my favourite books and movies of all time in Jurassic Park, and I’ve read almost all of his books. The guy blends science and entertainment like nobody else and manages to make it understandable for everyone. It was a sad day when he died, but he’ll be remembered as not just a great sci-fi writer, but a great writer all round.
Would anyone like to meet any of the above authors, or someone different?
A ‘found footage’ Short Story
This year for University we had to write a short story related to the environment/nature. To get extra credit we had to play around with genre and style. I didn’t know what to do. I usually write in first or third person, past or present tense. But that wouldn’t be enough to get me the grade I wanted (in the final year, you have to pull out all the stops). I thought about a diary–easy enough, and different from my regular writing style. But I wanted to write something with action, and a diary wouldn’t let me do that–I also never liked writing diaries. Then I remembered how popular found-footage movies are (Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity etc.) and decided to see how translating found footage into a story would work.
Below is what I came up with, and what I submitted for my assignment. Warning: contains bloody horror towards end.
By Sam Whitehouse
PRIVATE LOG 11/10/2014 09:48
This is one of two logs. The first is for the lab, the second is for you, Evie. I know you hated the thought of me being out here. But, Evie, this place… You called it the ass end of nowhere. You should see it. The movies, the prep videos, the books… they don’t do Alaska justice. We’ve been flying for a little while. I caught an air taxi in Talkeetna. Didn’t take us long to reach The Great Gorge of the Ruth Glacier. Some of the guys who’d been out to the base before me described it but… words don’t it justice. Guess I’ll try. The glacier itself is vast; white and grey and blue—even black in places. Where its white it looks like dough, folded up; in other places its razor sharp, great sheets of ice striking against each other. And the gorge rises on both sides, walling the ice in, impossibly sheer and stark against the sky. I’m out here to track the storm, but there’s no sign of it yet. Not at all. The sky is blue, for as far as I can see. No clouds—save mist that sits as crowns on the highest reaches of the granite walls. When I can tune out the whir of the airplane, I can actually hear the glacier shifting. A rumbling and cracking that you almost feel. It makes you realise how small you are: the vast sky, the vaster glacier and the sheer granite… It makes you realise there are things a hell of a lot bigger than you.
PRIVATE LOG 11/10/2014 13:35
Watching the plane leave made me feel small again. The pilot looked worried, asked me, “You sure this is right, guy?” For a second, I considered saying, “You know what, I don’t think so. Let’s head back.” But I gave the place another hard look… You’d be crazy not to want to stay. There’s a small town around forty miles away—the closest form of civilization, and someone will come to check on me in a couple days. But stretching in all directions around me is everything but civilization. I keep the base to my back and take it all in. The cloud comes in from nowhere—swelling in as colossal as the mountains it’s smothering. It moves fast, so I’ll describe the view before it’s lost. The mountains circle me on two sides, sheer and sharp-peaked and dark but for the snow. Forest completes the circle, bordering the base to the east and south. It’s as sheer as the mountains, towering Black Spruce, verdant and dense. The trees have all got caps of snow, but what with the cloud rolling in, those caps will be full body armour pretty soon. They’re pretty much the only tree—hell, the only flora—that thrives out here, able to deal with the long winters and the short summers that bring raging fires. There is little undergrowth. The stunted aspen and birch are dwarfed by their spruce neighbours—they only need 20 inches of soil to grow. There’s little in the way of colour too, and will be even less when more snow arrives. But what colour there is is sharp and clear, so much so that you have to squint against it. The snow already lays thick on the ground, up to my knees, the surface crusty, brittle and snapping beneath my boots. I walked a dozen feet from the plane and my legs were burning. The pilot used the river to land. I can barely see it now—it’s frozen solid, covered in snow too, hidden by it. I hear it, faintly, the water rushing beneath the ice. I stand here, the cloud rolling in towards me, a wave, a wall—if I didn’t move, just waited for it to arrive with the snow, it’d hide me too—in seconds. There is a rumble, not as far off as I’d like. It’s not the storm I came here to study, but it’s a storm—an Alaskan storm. I’ll do what you’d yell at me to and head inside.
PRIVATE LOG 11/10/2014 14:58
The base would be small if there were half a dozen other people here. But there’s just me, so it’s not small. It’s set out as a triangle, something like a courtyard in the centre. But it’s filled with snow, and I can barely make out the table and chairs one of my predecessors set up out there. The walls are well-insulated, but that doesn’t stop the wind screaming against them and over the roof. It doesn’t stop it rattling everything, driving the newly-arrived snow into the windows, filling the cabins with a brittle sound like chattering teeth. The living quarters are in the north and east sides of the base. Bedroom, kitchen, bathroom. And something that’s supposed to be a games room but is really just a ten feet by eight feet space with a couple of lumpy armchairs, a TV that might be a microwave and a dartboard. The rest is lab, and equipment I know you wouldn’t want me to waste time describing so I won’t. The bookshelves are filled with tomes as wide as my hand, some with titles I can’t even pronounce. But someone’s tucked some fiction here and there. Dan Brown, one or two Stephen Kings’, the odd Wilbur Smith and three Jack Reacher thrillers. There’s some other reading material—but I swear I won’t look at it.
PRIVATE LOG 11/10/2014 17:58
Made dinner. Made might be exaggerating. I added water to dehydrated carbonara.
PRIVATE LOG 11/10/2014 18:15
It’s a common misconception that the Alaskan winters cover the country in constant darkness or never ending daylight. Neither is true. Far north, in the winter, the sun doesn’t set for months. But here, the night does come. It’s here now. I stand at the window, the wind driving snow into the glass. The last of the silhouettes I could see seconds ago are quickly fading into dark. It’s almost liquid, the way it moves, spilling in from all corners, from the forest; it’s already hidden the mountains, and the clouds cover the moon, making sure there’ll be no silhouettes at all out there. The base lights are off, and I watch the last few feet of landscape disappear. But it doesn’t. Not altogether. The snow is too absolute for the darkness to take full hold. It reflects residual moonlight and bounces it off of every snow-covered surface. Everything glows faintly blue. It’s not whiteout conditions out there yet—yet—but all I can see is the snow blurring the air and then the night beyond. Save the rattle of the snow against the window, there’s no sound. I’m on the opposite side of the base to the lab, so I can’t hear the hum of the refrigerators or the computers. My ears ring. The silence helps me imagine you here, Evie. Standing beside me at the window. But you’re not here and with darkness in all directions I might be the only person on earth.
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 07:12
You’ll have been up for an hour or so now, I guess. I woke up a couple hours ago—or rather the computer monitoring the storm did. They’ve programmed it to alert me with an alarm whenever there’s significant progress. According to the software’s estimates, it’s a day and a half out. I laughed when I saw it. A computer predicting a storm—one of the most unpredictable forces on Earth. And here we are—I am—trying to track it, study it.
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 07:25
Breakfast wasn’t anything dehydrated. Fruit loops and then powdered eggs on defrosted bread. I didn’t even know they made powdered eggs anymore. I’ll be heading out today. As well as the storm, they want me to take some air and temperature readings.
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 08:12
I checked the computer before I left. There’s a small storm on its way in, and I estimated I’ve got a couple hours before it hits the base. I need to be back before then—I will be back, don’t worry.
The snow came up past my knees when I first stepped out of the base, so I headed back and strapped on snowshoes. They keep me on the surface and I start off for the forest. The rise I need to climb is beyond the trees, that’s where I’ll take the air and temperature readings. The sun is out, not far above the mountains, but far enough that it bounces off everything and light hits me from all directions. I pull down my goggles against the glare, squinting for only thirty seconds, enough to start up a headache. There’s no cloud again, so there won’t be any let up until I reach the trees. The equipment isn’t heavy. Neither is the rifle. I debated whether or not to mention it. But you should know I’ve got some protection against bears and wolves and—but they probably won’t come too close. Yes, I know how to use the rifle. Yes, I’m sure. Fourteen hours in all on the range. I didn’t tell you because I didn’t want you to worry. A shriek sounds behind me, keening and close. I spin in time to see a gyrfalcon; its brown spattered wings spread low against the snow. I didn’t think they came inland. Talons emerge from a belly of soft down, snatch at the snow—not the snow I see an instant later. A small rabbit wriggles in the falcon’s claws—not for long. The bird soars up, beating its wings once, twice to gain height, leaving a scarlet arc in the snow below. I watch until it vanishes into the forest. I follow.
I don’t need the goggles anymore. I slip them off… After the tinted vision everything is sharp.
It’s a different kind of quiet out here. It’s… I don’t know how to explain it… Bigger, maybe. You wouldn’t like it. There’s no traffic noise. No sirens. None of that background noise that you don’t realise exists until you come out here.
Come summer this place will be on fire—literally. The heat gets so intense in places that the forest burns. But the trees survive it. The pinecones rely on the fire to open up and get rid of their seeds. The fire and the breeze carry them and that’s how the forest spreads. The forest needs the fire.
Enough of the discovery channel crap, I know, I know.
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 09:58
Jesus… Just let me… just let… breath back. Shit, maybe I should’ve hit the gym more than the firing range before I came out here. Finally out of the forest, making my way up the mountain. Need to get to higher ground for the air and temperature readings. The pines aren’t gone altogether. But they’re sparse enough that I can see all the way to the peak of the mountain. Almost all the way. Like most of the mountains round here the peaks are covered with mist and cloud. But I’m not going that far. Don’t worry. I take the snow shoes off, clamber up onto the first rock at the foot of the mountains…
The climb would be—shit. Maybe I should’ve put crampons on. The climb would be a hell of a lot harder without the pines. The rock is sheer, save a few places where it levels out into ledges. The pines cling to the spaces in between, adaptable roots taking advantage of the thin layers of dark soil up here. I use the trees to haul myself between ledges. Heights don’t bother me, you know that, so my progress slows every minute or so when I turn and take a look over the forest. Because I can see over it now, right over it and to the frozen river and the forest beyond that and the mountains beyond that… Wait…
I thought the computer said… There’s some cloud coming in. Dark and—thunder. Or the first rumbles of it. But it’s thunder all the same, no matter how distant it sounds… I don’t know if it’s… if it’s the storm. It shouldn’t be, but… I don’t know…
Better work fast.
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 10:31
The wind’s picking up. It throws up the snow that’s settled on the mountain side and drives what’s already falling into my face. I’ve gotta put my mask back on… Can’t see a goddamn… The trees are creaking, bending against the wind, groaning more than I am. I can barely speak… don’t know how clear this is coming through. Every time I open my mouth it fills with snow and cold air, snatching my breath away. The descent is easier. Not easy—not at all. But hell of a lot easier and faster than the climb. I slide most of the way, between trees, ledges. The wind screams down from the peak. Rips boughs from the spruce. Tosses sheets of snow at me. I can’t see over the forest anymore. Can barely see the forest. The cloud’s moving in fast. Don’t know if it’s the storm. Jesus, I hope it’s not. If it is, I don’t know— Shit—
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 11:24
I don’t… I don’t know if this is still working… Not sure if it’s still recording. I don’t want you to hear this. But I don’t want you not to know either. I know what that would do to you, Evie.
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 11:37
I’ve moved maybe fifteen feet since the last time check. My leg’s broken—in more than one place… And the ice cut it up… looks like ground beef. My tourniquet’s for shit. My clothes are freezing up, freezing to me. But it burns… I burn like I fell into fire, not a river. Knew I should’ve put on crampons. Knew I…
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 11:41
Another ten feet. I’m moving fast, but that’s only because… only because the trees are thicker, closer together. I can use them to drag myself along. There’s a trail of blood in my wake. I can see it for so far. Then it vanishes into the snow. It’s near whiteout… not completely… But near. Didn’t lose the compass in the river… managed to keep… so… I should find the base.
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 11:58
So heavy… I don’t think… I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired. Every part of me is… is so heavy, Evie. And the burning’s stopped. I’m just cold now… Every part of me is cold. Every single… part. Heavy…
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 12:09
There are only… few gaps in the spruce foliage… Look up… but might as well be looking in any direction. There’s only white… only snow. Save… save the black strips of the spruce trunks. And they only go so far. Only so far until there’s snow again. So heavy, Evie… Like crawling through syrup.
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 12:28
Can’t feel… leg… legs… Can’t feel much anything… below my waist
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 12:48
No. No. No. Can’t… Shouldn’t sleep. Don’t know how long I… I blacked out for. Time check. Check… time… time… I can barely feel anything, Evie… Evie. I’ll get back. I’m gonna get back to the base… get back, so I can see—
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 12:07
I see the base. For an instant. Only an instant. But I see it… The white boxy structure just a little darker than the white around it… I can make it… heavy, cold… but I can make it. The trees are clearing; enough that the wind hits me full force. I bow my head against it. It slows me. And I’m already heavy…
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 12:14
I’m close enough to touch the base. Brush the foundations with my glove. I can make it. Will make it… It is the storm. Has to be. It’s complete whiteout now… I stretch my arm out in front of me… then the other… crawl. When I do, I can’t see my hands, my wrists… they vanish all the way up to me elbows. Whiteout. Can’t see my legs either. Can’t see them can’t feel them… Lift me head… so heavy. Can’t see the base. But I know it’s there. I make sure I don’t veer right… the base is on my left. I know it’s— I hear it… Can’t hear much of anything save the wind but I hear it now—
A long sound that tapers into the wind, but it is not the wind.
The howl comes again, longer and louder and closer.
There is only one of them. But one is enough.
The base is on my left… I’m close to the door—I don’t know if I am… Don’t know if that’s true, but it has to be… has to be. If it’s not…
So heavy, but not as heavy as before. Adrenaline burns through me, it’s hot and sharp and it gives me speed and strength—
Yes. The steps. I see them. The snow thins for an instant and I see them. The howl comes again. It’s so close. It fills my head more than the roar of the wind. I don’t look back… can’t look back.
I grab the first step. I cannot feel my fingers, so I cannot grip. I use an elbow instead, jam it behind the first tread and lever myself up—growls now: behind me, close. Another elbow behind the second tread… and—shit—heave again. Again. Once more… Face pressed into the door, cold metal burning. Howl this time, transforming to low growls: behind me, closer. I don’t look back. Reaching up—shit, my fingers, goddamn fingers. Can’t… I push myself to my knees. There might be pain—in my leg, the wound from the ice, but I can’t feel it. I don’t look back. I slam my hand down on the handle—shit—too hard, too fast. Again, softer, slower. Door swings in. I fall as it does. Face against the carpet—but no further. I use elbows I can’t feel, try to drag myself across the threshold. But try is all I can do. Not moving—I’m not moving.
I look back.
Red. First and only thing I see. Pouring from my leg, across the steps, and the snow. Staining the wolf.
Evie—I thought you needed to… needed to… needed… to hear this. But you don’t. Evie…
PRIVATE LOG 12/10/2014 12:15 END
It would be good to hear what people think. Does found footage work in story form? Or, like most found footage movies, doesn’t it? What other styles/genres have you tried writing in that aren’t usual? Did they work or not?