Copy. Paste. Repeat.

I’ve ordered a book called Fablehaven by Brendon Mull. It sounded really good and in the same vein as the stuff I write for kids and young adults. It’s about a place called Fablehaven where the last of the mythical creatures live in a sanctuary away from the real world. A brother and sister find out that their grandfather is actually the caretaker. I liked the premise and thought it was a really great idea and wished I had come up with it. So, as I eagerly await its arrival it got me thinking about these types of books and I realised I had been down this path before…

I remember when The Spiderwick Chronicles by Holly Black came out, it had a similar premise – children find that their grandfather had written a book about the mythical creatures that live around their mansion. I remember getting the book before the movie came out and thinking it was so formulated and predictable that I couldn’t help but think ‘Kids are gonna love this,’ with a long sigh. You could say it was original and written fairly well, but it was lacking something. Holly Black has a history of writing for role playing games and has published other books about Faeries. My feelings about this book are the same for A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket. Although Unfortunate Events was written with a little more originality, it stuck by the same formula – the kids lose their parents in a fire and are orphaned out and an evil uncle is trying to kill them for their inheritance.

There is no way kids are NOT going to love these books. They’re exciting, full of danger and adventure and close calls. Same goes for Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer and Skullduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy. These books are all part of a series; chock full of supernatural, mythical and horror themes. They all involve the protagonists as children and have a book that comes out, like clockwork, once a year. But the thing I find with these books is that they never really explode in popularity, or have the lasting effect, like Harry Potter or Narnia or His Dark Materials. The movies they make from these books are one hit, summer release, wonders. Unfortunate Events movie had the first three books in one movie, the same with Spiderwick. Harry Potter had no problem reaching the 7-8 movie mark, but Naria still struggles to make a movie out of all its books. Lord of the Rings did it too, cutting a lot from the books and only now, since the success of the movies nearly ten years ago are they making the Hobbit. Inkheart appeared as a film, but I haven’t watched it, nor anyone I know. Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief never had any sequels. I guess a movie is a good way for people to get into the books they’re based on. It’s happened to me before. Movies bring in the fans of the books, who are mostly disappointed, but still just happy a movie was made out of the book, no matter how much they cut out of it or get wrong.

I’m getting off the track again…So many books are released these days that are a carbon copy of something that has come out before. It is hard to be original because mostly everything has been done. Every idea has already been thought of. What needs to be done, to stand out in today’s market, is to write well and have unique ideas within the book. I had a rule when writing one of my ongoing books Hexagram, environment always comes first. When I started writing it years ago I wrote on a piece of paper – location, location, location. And that was my first rule. Every scene had to be set somewhere unique and it had to be described continuously throughout the chapter. It’s great for a writer too, you get to push yourself to describe locations you may not have ever been in.

I was in Dymocks book store the other day and I was staring at the rows of children’s books that line the shelves. I got lost in the throng of fantasy books, all the same colours, with similar covers. Some series I saw were up to twelve or fifteen books. To me, they all seemed clones of one another. How can you make an impact in this genre without being lumped into the copy, paste, repeat formula?

I’ve talked once before about going too deep and too far off the beaten track that you lose your readers, things become over exaggerated and your left with this hapless feeling of never getting out of the hole the writers has dug for you. Then again, you don’t want to become predictable, boring or repetitive. I think Star Wars had it right the first time round. You know exactly what happened to who, in which movie. The three movies have different story lines, they introduce new characters and to keep it interesting, I find that I associate the movies with different colours. Empire Strikes Back, everyone knows it started on Hoth, the ice planet. Lots of snow, AT-AT walkers. It’s very blue and white. Return of the Jedi is set on Endor, very green and brown, with speeder bikes and Ewoks. These are large characters and environments that are totally different from one another, but you can drag the reader along because they know the characters from all the movies.

Writing this now, a few weeks after I wrote the start, I’ve read the first few chapters in Fablehaven and am struggling to keep with it. I still don’t know what the lead characters look like, I can’t relate to them, (even my nine year old self wouldn’t). I just don’t feel anything for them. The big reveal of the sanctuary was almost said in passing. Every paragraph I read I kept thinking of exciting stuff that I would have written, and then the story sags. I’m sorry, this is what I do when I read now, ‘I would have written it this way,’ ‘It would have been better if he did this…’ What do I take from this? To write my books better. To write better, more unique characters with complex story lines. I’m no longer reading, but studying.

Mitchell Tierney

Mitchell’s latest book Everdark Realms: The Darkening is now available at



The Gift

This year for Christmas, my true love gave to me a conundrum. Not only did I have to figure out:

a) how a partridge managed to lodge itself in my pear-tree; but also

b) how exactly I came to be the owner of a pear-tree; and furthermore

c) how to deal with the disdainful present of … well, a book. (Bookworms around the world pass out).

Okay, clearly, I’m exaggerating.  It wasn’t my true love. And of the above, only part c) is in fact accurate. Clearly if I owned a partridge I would not be sitting here at present. I’d be teaching it to play fetch.

The book was given to me by a family friend who was surprisingly thoughtful and put two (I love books) and two (I love books) together and came up with books. And I’m afraid I haven’t been this disappointed in a long time. I haven’t wished for socks so bad in my life. And I feel really bad!

I was touched by her thoughtfulness. And I was over the moon to discover it was a book. I don’t want to seem ungrateful but it’s just not a book I’m into. Despite this, I really tried to read it. And sincerely wished I hadn’t.

It’s not just the genre. This book is in short, well trash. It’s the sort of story they turn into a midday movie that you’re further afflicted with when you’re home sick because clearly you haven’t suffered enough.

Still, I did try and oh how I tried to read this, out of respect for the gift, out of respect for the simple fact that it is a book. And I just could not do it. One page was mindless stupidity involving the two main protagonists calling each other “darling” whilst sipping champagne and discussing their engagement. It reeked of superficial, rich, Manhattan nothing. No A5 sheet of dialogue should have the word “darling” in it 7 times, unless it’s a comedy pointing out the obvious fact that the protagonists are calling each other darling through gritted teeth. I hope the writer got a thesaurus for Christmas. In short it was bollocks. Complete bollocks, and I feel for the forest that was ripped to shreds to make copies of this pure crap that was eventually sold to the masses who actually buy this pure crap. If you need fertilizer, hit up the hardware stores, people!

Oh the torment that pulsated through my being when the protagonist had to decide between fish and chicken for their wedding reception! Nail-biting moments, simply nail-biting. I had an alternative suggestion – big bowls of plastic to go with the rest of that fake bollocks. These characters could not have been more dense and plastic and fake if they had been manufactured by Mattel.

This was one of those books that made me want to take the ‘author’ out with a pea-shooter full of pellets made from her book.

I’m sorry to say, this wasn’t a book, it was embarrassing and unfortunately it’s opened me up to the hideous truth that I can no longer dream of reading and devouring all the books in the world. Because some are so painfully damaged I’m surprised they’re not in therapy.

It pains me to think of it. I love books. Love them. And yet, I’ve come across a book I just can’t stand. There was no story, no real characters, nothing. There was no point to this thick mass of nothing. And it breaks my heart that there are truly talented writers, yet to be discovered who haven’t had their work published, yet there is this crap out there.

I know, it sounds like I’ve done a complete about-face since my blog about ‘at least it’s got them reading’. Here’s the thing. I love anything that introduces people to the world of reading and books and makes it more enjoyable for them. But it’s like that midday movie, it’s like that trashy magazine. Yeah, sure, sometimes it’s great to hang out and enjoy something entertaining and slightly mindless. We all have that moment. But I am advocate for the story. And I’m a big advocate for a good character. You know this; you’ve read my blogs about it.

I suppose the reason I write this is to be honest here. The main goal for any writer, I would imagine would be to write a story well. When I get together with other writer friends of mine, we sometimes read each other’s work and give critiques. Not bad ones, just feedback from an audience and writer point of view. It’s great, because there is a lot that we can sometimes miss. And there are things out there that we need fresh eyes and fresh perspectives on. It’s happened with my work a bit, and I’ve done it with other people’s work. It’s important not to get so wrapped up that you can’t see the story for all the words. And I think that’s what’s happened here. Either this author’s editor was too scared to tell her that this needs to be tweaked, or there was no editing process at all. No one was on hand to read this beforehand and mention that the characters need…character. They can’t be cut out of a cereal box and stuck in a book.

And yet, when stories like this are published, it throws some of my beliefs out the window. If the goal is to get your work published, and to do this by writing really well, then how is it possible for this kind of trash to exist in the public forum? I think the answer is democracy. We’re lucky to have the freedom to write whatever we choose and because we’re this lucky, some hideously written work will get out into the world. It’s up to the discerning public on whether they choose to read this or not.

My only advice to writers is, though it is disheartening when you see something that’s just painful to read, and as a published work makes a mockery of all things writing, keep going. Yes. It hurts. I know I’ve been there, I’m designing the shirt. But keep going. Personally, I use these sorts of books as a reminder of what not to do. I don’t want my characters to turn out like this, and it’s a great way to keep that in the back of my mind when I’m writing. A brilliant teacher of mine once told me, you only fail if you give up. Never think that you’re a failed writer, because your work hasn’t been published. It will happen, if you keep going. Among a lot of my writing friends it seems to be the consensus that if you’ve received a few rejection letters from publishers, you’re onto a good thing and your work is probably pretty damn good. Hey look, it’s so good it’s been rejected a few times.

So my point here is keep going.

Oh, the book? Yeah, I’m giving it Lifeline. I figure they might get a few bucks for it at their amazing bookfest.

 By Sandy Sharma

2011 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 3,100 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 52 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Published in: on January 1, 2012 at 1:12 am  Leave a Comment