Don’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover – Even though we all do

17nc0rmlk0dcejpg.jpgThe old adage takes on a more literal message in the world of books. We may tell people not to judge a book by its cover but we all do it and there’s a good reason for that. More people choose to pick up a book based on its cover design. And this industry is only growing with the rise in self-publishing, indie print houses and e-books.

The book industry is a never ending one. Formats may change from print to digital but the cover remains. Most books are bought via browsing (either online or in a book store) and this means that covers become one of the most important factors in selling a book. Even a bad book can have an intriguing cover. Trends in covers come and go but the attraction of a good cover be it for design or familiarity is still a big driving factor.

Why is a good cover so important?

A recent online survey by thebooksmuggler.com revealed that when asked, readers responded to the question ‘Do covers play a decisive role in your decision to purchase a book?’ 79% of respondents said yes.  And according to the Self Publishing Advisor statistics show that ‘the average person will decide to buy your book within 8 seconds of seeing your cover’.

 Current Cover trends

In the New Yorker article by Tim Kreider he says ‘the covers of most contemporary books all look disturbingly the same, as if inbred’. This statement rings true in most mass market books. It seems publishing houses are relying on a sense of familiarity to create covers.

The rise of John Green’s novels have created a plethora of ‘handwritten’ text on super simple background style covers throughout the YA market. This simple approach to recreating a personal feel through fonts designed to look like the scrawled handwriting of the angst-ridden teen protagonists seems to work. Green’s books are best sellers and other writers are getting their work picked up for these covers.

The popularity of paranormal romance both for adults and YA have also created the trend of red and white images and text on a black cover trend. This is most apparent in the Twilight novels; many readers did pick it up because of the cover of white and red on black. The stark contrasts of these colours draw the eye. This theme can be seen repeated in many books in this genre.

twilightsagabooksSymbolism based covers are also very popular. A single striking image or symbol being the only image has become popular with the Game of Thrones and Hunger Games covers. This also stretches to other genres such as action adventure and crime.

The lone figure cover is slowly working its way back into the fiction area. Be it a man with a gun or a woman in a cloak, this trend did die down but has begun to lay claims in cover design again.

However, with the rise in independent publishing houses and self-publishing, this trend is being bucked. With authors having more control over aspects of their designs, more freedom to hire a cover designer that matches the aesthetic they want for their books, the styles are starting to expand. We are seeing a return to customised artwork both digital and traditional being used and the ability to twist old clichés into modern pieces that stand out from the cookie cutter covers of mainstream publishing.

In the world of nonfiction covers still follow this same trend in mainstream publishing. Plain white covers with simple text and maybe one small, hand drawn image is commonplace or alternatively full photo covers. This trend has been around for quite a while now and for the nonfiction world this will probably remain the same for some times to come.

In the independent world, most nonfiction book covers follow this same formula but this is where we find the subpar covers of people attempting to publish their own works and make their own covers.

Problems in cover design when following trends is that due to the heavy use of stock images (in both traditional and indie publishing) is that without significant artistic reworking we are starting to see similar images showing up on several covers. Without moving from the current trends, and without the use of cover designers willing to artistically render original pieces using said stock images, we run the risk of a market flooded with carbon copy covers.

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 What are the skillsets for cover designers of the future?

For future cover designers to keep pace with industry trends, a combination of artistic and technical skills will be critical. Digital art and photography are two skills at the forefront as to capture the perfect cover, stock images just may not be available, but also a return to traditional art methods could be on the cards. The more versatile a cover designer is the more work they will be able to do as trends change.

A good eye for colour is also important with foundations in traditional art and colour theory. This coupled with having a broad knowledge of what is out there in the industry is going to cement a designer in the cover design world.

Graphic Design and Art classes are a great foundation for the theory and technical aspects of the skillset required, but prior skills in art do certainly broaden the scope of work a person can do.

 The world of cover design is an unmapped piece of territory. With such a broad range of genres available to design for, the future is bright with ideas. For major publishing houses it will most likely depend on what the next best seller is in any given genre. Although with the current trends unlikely to fade quickly we will most likely see more John Green’s and more Twilight’s in the near future.

In the indie and self publishing world we are seeing major changes as more writers are using high concept designs and quality cover designers. This is raising the standard and we are now seeing resurgence in original art and digital imaging being used to create covers that are more specific to the books they are for than the mass market, ‘inbred’ covers of the major publishing houses.

For nonfiction I honestly hope that cover designers will be able to step up in the independent field. The times of homemade covers that look unprofessional needs to end for the self published world to be improved. These ‘homemade’ covers are quite common among the self published nonfiction world as many people are beginning to publish their life stories or self-help manuals on platforms without any form of quality control. I believe that nonfiction covers will mostly stay the same, either very stark covers of text and a small image or the full page colour image we see most commonly on memoirs and cookbooks.

As for the major publishing houses, I can’t see too many changes in the near future although more graphic based covers would be a nice change from the black on white covers and photo montages of late. We are slowly seeing a return to these styles of covers with a feature image dominating the cover, overlaid with text. More colour is being used as well which is a nice change from the tri-colour fare of late. This trend will also open up the cover design market to more artistic cover artists, both digital and traditional styles.

 So should we judge a book by its cover? No but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. We go looking for something that catches our eye and if we believe the major publishing houses we strive to find the familiar. However these trends, as all trends do, will change. A slow but inevitable change and we merely need to wait for the next big thing to tell us where the mimicry will lead. The exciting changes though are in the independent published books and their new faces in the cover design world. It’s definitely a space to watch in the design world for originality.

-By Sabrina Gidley

 

 

 

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Turtles Fight With Honour

People complain about violence in show kids watch. I mean, I can see their point, filling impressionable young minds with the worst of human society. Yet there are shows of undeniable violence that show humanity’s best as well.

Image I’ve been thinking a lot lately about something a friend of mine said. She said that she reads fantasy, and while most people tune out after the word ‘fantasy’ she reads further and has taken from it a code of honour that she lives in her daily life. I grew up watching reruns of the old Batman TV series, the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Astro Boy, Star Wars and many more. The ones I’ve listed are all, arguably, violent. Batman, with its biff, bop and zowie, Ninja Turtles kicked butt on a daily basis while Astro had machine guns in his butt, not to mention the guns and swords in Star Wars. Really, what could my mother have been thinking, letting me watch these things?

As a mother myself these days, I come up with a couple of answers of my own. The first is simple. You can’t shield your kids forever. Cotton wool does not protect your kids for long. Eventually, they or the world will rip the cotton wool away and they will be completely exposed to all the nasties the world has to offer. All we can do is teach our kids well, and hope that when they do come face to face with the world, that we have taught them enough. For me, a part of that is exposing kids to what the world is really like, in small doses. Just as you would teach a child to get used to all the household jobs they will need to care for as grownups by teaching them to clean their room. So, on TV, they see that not everyone is nice, and when I go to explain that they need to be careful talking to people they don’t know, they can understand why.

The second reason goes back to what my friend was saying, about shaping your life from ideals set forth in books or shows. She wasn’t referring to violence either. She is not a violent person. All of the shows I mention are violent, but they are primarily hero stories. Yes, the heroes fight, but it is rarely for themselves. They fight to protect those who need protecting – helping those who don’t have their abilities, or their gifts. THAT is the part of these stories that sticks with me, long after the days of play-fighting with my brother in the kitchen. And this is all the more important, because life ISN’T really like that. People don’t always live their lives with honour, look out for one another and try to make their little corner of the world better.

Image While the morning cartoons are playing this morning, I found something I personally thought more disturbing than Ninja Turtles, Ben 10, Young Justice or any of it. What I saw was an ad for a Barbie ‘Glamping’ Trailer… Quick definition for those not in the know ‘glamping’ is ‘glamour camping’ – basically camping with all of the luxuries of home and none of the actual camping bit. I’m not a camper. My idea of roughing it IS a serviced apartment, with a dishwasher and a dryer. All the same, if you’re going to go camping, luxury seems a bit… against the point. That said, why did I find that disturbing? Because I wondered what message that was sending to our kids? That you need stuff to be happy? Following that thought on, Barbie is a worse example to our kids, than a Turtle that was the anthropomorphised through an industrial accident. I’ve already drawn the line at Bratz dolls, because I don’t want my kids to be ‘brats’. Children/teenagers with attitude: It won’t do me or them any favours.

I try, in my small ways, to make the world a better place. I try to teach my kids to be good people. I try to be kind and understanding to those who need it. I spare change to charities, when I can and I nearly always buy a badge for the ANZAC/Remembrance day appeals. I try to recycle. It’s not a lot, but I have my own problems too. I’m not perfect. I try not to expect perfection in others. But most of all, I write about worlds where there are people – some like us, some not so much – who in all different ways, try to make the world better. I continue the tradition of setting ideals in print for others to take on, to try and live by and to pass on. I write, with honour.

~M A Clarke

The Apprehensive Critic

ImageIt’s really hard for me to hate something if everyone else thinks it’s amazing. I feel like I might not be ‘getting’ it, or that I don’t understand it. For example, I had ordered a new graphic novel that had been given 5 out of 5 stars in almost every review it had. The write ups about it had been extremely positive and it appeared in all the horror website lists and so forth. On top of that, it was written and drawn by someone that I’ve admired for a long time.

When it arrived I flipped through it, eager to look at the art and contents inside. It seemed ok. Just a horror story with some splash art. Reading the first few pages, I got confused. It was as if it started in the middle somewhere. I had no idea why the character was where he was, why they were buying this house or why their dog suddenly ran off. The story didn’t progress steadily, like I would have hoped. Instead it staggered into the basement and became a mash of strange flashbacks that never explained enough to fully grasp a hold of what the story was about. The artist/writer tried to give you someone to hate, to give you the person responsible for the horror that you saw, but you never saw him in that light because he was in it for two, maybe three pages. It missed the mark by a very long shot. Also, every panel was splash art, up-close shot of faces and over layered with computer effects. The whole book seemed like it was missing something form the story, and the art was totally over done.

This happens a lot with movies too. I wanted to love Dark Knight Rises, I really did. But it just didn’t hit the mark for me. It was pretentious, over written and skipped a few key elements that needed to be explained a little better. A few people I know also didn’t like it, but then there are those who loved it and I often wonder if they are afraid to hate it, or to say so. I remember seeing Phantom Menace on opening night and walking out thinking ‘did I like that? Am I allowed to say I didn’t.’ When people asked me next day, I said it was great, but I knew perfectly well I didn’t think that. It was heresy to say you didn’t like a Star Wars movie, especially one we waited so long to see.

I’ve been reading the DC comics New 52 run of Batman. Written by Scott Snyder and drawn by Greg Gapullo. Scott Snyder created, amongst others, American Vampire, which was awesome. There was even a short run where he wrote it with Stephen King. Currently Snyder is the big name in the comic writing field. I’d admit it, his writing is easy to read and the story chugs along nicely. Every twist and turn Imageseems to be well thought out and planned a long time in advance, which is what I like from writers. I believe that makes you a good writer. But saying this, issue 11 of Batman, which rounded off the year long story arc and had the big reveal was hugely disappointing. The entire run up to this point had revolved around an ‘underground’ group called the Court of Owls. For a start, I thought was pretty cool having ‘Owl’ vs ‘Bat’, but however, if you google a real bats enemy, you’ll find its main predator is the owl (also the hawk and snakes). So, it kind of left my initial impression in shreds as I felt that if I could find this out in three seconds, there wasn’t much pre-thought into the new Batman villain. Maybe not though? So, back to my point, I’ve picked up issue 11, and the big reveal is about to happen, who is this mysterious Talon that has been kicking Batman’s ass the whole year, turns out ***SPOILERS*** its someone who claims to be Batman’s brother. I wanted to slam the comic closed and throw it out onto the road for the vultures. For me, and this may be because I write a lot and read a lot, this was a stitch up. I felt robbed. This, in my opinion, was an easy go-to. This was the first exit door and was very obvious. But, can I tweet Scott Snyder and tell him? Nope. Too many people praise him and tell him he’s the new king of comic writing. I’m  guessing I’m not the only one who felt robbed of a good twist, but we are few and far between.

Since I’d read issue 11, I’m really not that keen on Scott Snyder’s work. I’ve looked him up on Goodreads and he’s given himself 5 out of 5 stars for every comic he’s ever written. To me that’s a sign of an egomaniac. However, I gave my book (Everdark Realms) 5 out of 5 also, but 80,000 people aren’t reading that every month. I find it hard to be a critic at times in fear of being wrong, even though an opinion can’t be wrong, it does feel that way. If I swap positions and someone is criticizing my work, I get defensive and Imagequite attacking. It’s part of being creative, it makes you vulnerable and overprotective. But saying that, if you’re in the spotlight, like Snyder, maybe negative feedback is what you need from time to time.

Mitchell Tierney

When Horror Was King

I was going to base this blog on the dwindling horror genre, but because my horror book knowledge is fairly limited, I had to do a little more research before I started talking about it. I knew horror had branched out into sub-genres, but what direction was I supposed to head? If horror literature is almost extinct, how could I possibly write about it? But little did I know, I had just answer my own question.

For research, I went to Dymocks book store in Brisbane city. I had been up there a few times before but couldn’t remember what their horror section looked like. Coming up the escalator I imagined isles of horror. As I rounded the boxes upon boxes of Hunger Games books and wondered through the sci-fi section, which was a full isle, I got to the horror section and couldn’t quite believe what I saw. It was maybe one metre long,  with only four shelves. I thought, ‘no, this can’t be all of it,’ so I walked around the isle to the other side into the fantasy section. That one, small, section was all the horror they had. What happened to the horror section? I went back around and stared at the books, just to see what they had. One and a half shelves were Stephen King, no surprise. Then it went to Dean Koontz, for one whole shelf. More than half their allocated horror space was dedicated to just two authors! The next half was Lovecraft anthologies and short stores. So that left one shelf, one meter long, for all other horror books. I couldn’t believe my eyeballs. I was sure the horror section was bigger when I was a kid and the sci-fi section was smaller. I kneeled down to look at what this last shelf had to offer, as it was the bottom shelf and if you were standing close to the books, you wouldn’t be able to see it at all. They had a few zombie books, one Walking Dead book and a few other horror titles that looked and sounded awful. Is this what horror had become?

Even the second hand book store I used to go to had a small horror section way at the back near the birdcage. This was where the owner used to sit and have his soup for lunch. Even then, that section was dominated by King and Koontz. Way at the front of the store was an equal sized section dedicated to twilight. I was mortified and disgusted, but also motivated.  I went home with the thought, ‘that’s it! I’m bringing horror back!’ For a few years now I’ve wanted to write a strict, down the line, horror book. A book that can’t be confused with paranormal, thriller or fantasy. Back to the root of all evil. I don’t have the time right now to complete a horror book, but I started it anyway, trying to make myself feel better. It’s called Sore Bones and I had made a mental list of all the things I wanted to have in it – a haunted house, a haunted lake with a dark past, creepy locals and the main characters should, at least once, run for their lives with an ending so horrific that it would make you wonder why you stuck with it all the way to the end when you should have slammed it shut and hid it in the bottom of your clothes hamper.

A couple of nights later I happened to be walking past a Blockbuster video and peered in. Their horror section is massive, almost equal to, if not a bit bigger, than comedy. They had all the titles there, all the classics, the sequels and prequels and remakes. The romance section, on the other hand, was small. So, I thought, nodding my head, horror hasn’t gone away, it’s just transferred to movies. Look at Saw, or Scream for example, these might make alright books, but they’re not going to win any awards or stand out as best sellers. But as movies, they clean up. Scream cost 15 million to make and grossed over 161 million. It did have several sequels to follow, which were below average, but they still made a ton of money. Back in 1996 when Scream was made, the only popular romantic movie out were Jane Eyre, and that grossed 5 million. You also had Tin Cup and Bed of Roses, which don’t score very high on IMDB and didn’t make that much money. There really wasn’t much competition and there certainly wasn’t any supernatural fantasy heart throbs yet.

Horror movies, I believe, will be forever strong in the cinema. But the more sequels they make, and the dumber and more embarrassing it gets, the worse it gets for the horror book reputation. People may assume that if you’re a horror movie fan, your only watching it for the blood and guts. I admit, if there is a scene that is practically well done that involves something horrific happening, then I do appreciate good amounts of blood and guts, but books have a different appeal. It’s much harder to make a reader jump when they’re reading a book. You can’t simply film a scare scene where something jumps out, the writer has a lot more ground work to cover.

It’s been a few weeks now since I had that burst of motivation to write Sore Bones and nothing more has been written. What I have found out, or concluded, is that horror is hiding in other genres. A lot of kids books now days are horror, just toned down for their age group. Clive Barker, who wasn’t even in the horror section, but in fantasy, is mostly horror. Harry Potter and Hunger Games have hints of horror. So maybe it isn’t disappearing, but has broken up and merged with other genres. I still pray to the writing gods that horror will come back and be massive again because once King and Koontz are gone, we’ll have a legacy, but nothing new.

Mitchell Tierney

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 http://www.ouroborusbooks.com/shop

 

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

Sneak Peek at Everdark Realms: The Darkening

Everdark Realms: The Darkening 

by Ella Hazelwood, Sabrina RG Raven and Mitchell Tierney

Prologue

Everdark Beginnings

When the isle of Amitav was new and still part of the mainland, the Ancients of the races there lived in harmony. They fashioned the diverse landscapes of their homes, and imbued the lands with their own magic and guardians.

The Ancients, of course, were just that – ancient. They witnessed many things in their time, but most sacred of all was the Everdark Alignment.

Every sixty years, a cosmic alignment of stars was pierced with a blue comet known as Everdark.

It was discovered by the Ancients, living much longer than any other creature on Amitav, that this alignment shone its sacred blue light upon the children who would aspire to greatness. No one could discern how Everdark knew who would be the best leader for their people, but the chosen ones were always gifted whether anyone realised it or not.

As the races grew, thelandofAmitavgrew with them, splitting from the mainland. Some left the island almost entirely, leaving only a few of their kind to wander and mix with the main races of the land; some travelled to the far corners of Amitav, to the lands that suited them best. The Luna Lukkos journeyed to the canyons, the Aistríonians to the forest, the Sapphyrians from their palaces in the south and forced to tunnels below, the Jishakus roaming the land and eventually inhabiting the Tendril Valley, the Aquillians expanding their underwater kingdom off the coast, and the Illumiens to their lofty tower.

Peace reigned for many generations. Traditions were born and legends were made. Four of the races kept the Everdark Alignment sacred, using the mighty power to select their new leaders.

Nevertheless, peace does not last forever. Soft words turned bitter and spiteful, and for many years war raged between the races. Times of peace became fewer and further apart until eventually the lands became a war zone and it was dangerous for even the brave to leave their home. Fear began to confine all but the wild creatures and the few traders willing to risk travelling. Blame was laid by all, on everyone else and never on themselves, becoming a part of life with every person ready to fight even if the conflict was, in essence, only kept alive by the mob mentality their history had created.

By chance, circumstance or perhaps something more, there was a meeting of three children of Amitav, moons before the Alignment, and though they had all pressed the occasion from their memory, knowing it would be frowned upon, in their hearts they wanted something to come from it, they wanted the peace they had shown to each other for all the people of Amitav. A life without fear.

Now, once more, it is the legendary coming of the Everdark Alignment and the finding of leaders new. A selected few would gather, all hoping to be chosen as leader. They would unite under the eyes of their ancestral kin. At their own sites of sacred power the Everdark Alignment would shine and illuminate the leader of nature’s choosing.

That is the ritual of the Everdark as it should be, but not all is well in thelandof Amitav…

 

Part One

The Luna Lukkos: The Curse of the Calaveras


Chapter One

A Not-so Family Portrait

In the family tree of the Mantilla’s, Saboo would be somewhere near the bottom… and a little to the side. It wasn’t that his parents didn’t love him; he was born eighth out of sixteen children and often got lost in the throng of family members when they had a reunion. In the picture over his mother’s stove you could see only his left ear, broad and round as a dinner plate… and that’s it. Saboo would tell you that you could see some of his whiskers if you squinted and got really close to the portrait.

Saboo was a Luna Lukkos, a tribe of tree dwelling natives that thrived on adventure and fun. He could often be found swinging from branch to branch, catching animals in his traps or just playing a local game called hide-and-come-find. Saboo’s fourteenth birthday had come and gone recently and with little fuss. He received a small apple, picked from a far away orchard which he had never been to; a new hunting rope, which had been cut in half so his parents had something to give him for his next birthday; and small sack of beetleberries, which he was allergic to. His parents often forget he was allergic to them, but they couldn’t be blamed, they had sixteen children to buy gifts for.

Saboo was small for his age; all his brothers towered above him and often mocked his short stature. His coat was a sun kissed reddish-brown, whereas his brothers’ coats were just brown, better for hiding in trees and less visible. Saboo had one other abnormality that made him different from his siblings; his tail was shorter. It was severed at the tip after a run in with a lepordconda as a child while playing hide-and-come-find with his brothers. His brother thought it would be funny to hide the rock in the lepordconda’s nest just after it had laid its eggs – talk about an over protective mother – and the dangerous animal had bitten the tip of Saboo’s tail off. The end was now a small, fleshy stump, a frayed fuzz of fur around it. Saboo looked at the portrait, his large, brown eyes reflected back at him, when suddenly his mother yelled for him.

Saboo!

‘Right here, mum,’ he said, standing right beside her.

‘Always disappearing… one day you’ll turn invisible and we’ll never find you.’

‘Mum,’ he protested, ‘I’ve been here all along.’

‘Go get all your brothers and sisters, it’s dinner time.’

The pot over the stove was huge. Saboo had once used it as a hiding spot when they played hide-and-come-find. His mother had not been impressed.

Dinner time at the Mantilla’s was always chaos. Hand over paw reaching for spices and juice; tails sneaking extra dessert and after dinner sweets.

The family had been gathered around the table, basking in the afterglow of a home cooked meal, when Uncle Bajool opened his big mouth about Everdark.

‘So Taboo, are you going to try out for the contest?’

Taboo was the tallest of the Mantilla clan. His shoulders were broad and his muscles were well built and structured. His hair was grey on the top, a feature thought highly of in the Luna Lukkos community.

‘Well, you know me, Uncle. Not only will I try out, but I will get in and win… and when I’m leader, you can come over to my palace for supper.’

All the other children rolled their eyes.

‘I’m gonna try out too, Uncle Bajool,’ came a voice from the far end of the table, slightly around the corner and into the lounge room. Everyone craned their necks to see where the peep had come from.

‘Saboo?’ his sister Shiloo said.

‘I didn’t even know he was here,’ his older sibling Masoo answered.

Uncle Bajool laughed while holding his bulbous stomach. His long beard bounced up and down.

‘You, enter the contest, Saboo? I think not.’

‘Leave him alone,’ his mother cried out, slapping Bajool on the arm.

‘Saboo is… well… a runt?’ he said, waving his arms in the air like he was juggling.

‘A runt?’ Saboo echoed, taking offence. ‘I’ll have you know, Uncle Bajool, that I have climbed the Gargantuan Tree twice!

‘That means nothing,’ his uncle snapped, even though everyone knew that it was indeed a mighty feat.

‘You can’t even see the top of the Gargantuan Tree, Bajool, it’s out of sight!’ his mother said, passing yet another bowl of food down the procession of Mantillas.

‘It took me four days. Up and down.’

In his anger Saboo picked up his mashed Poa-Poa Yam and tossed it right at Bajool’s ugly face. It struck him square in the forehead, knocking his head back. The other fifteen children burst out laughing.

‘Saboo… to your room,’ his mother said quite solemnly, although Saboo thought she may have been stifling a laugh.

‘Mum?’ he whined.

‘Come on, mum,’ Masoo said. ‘Bajool deserved it!’

Bajool wiped his face. The creamy goo was in his hair and his mouth; some was on his ear and a little was up his nose which had blushed as red as his face. He slammed his fist down so hard on the table that drinks toppled over.

Saboo’s mother shot up from her seat. Her eyes were warm when they wanted to be and stern when they had to be; today they looked fierce. Everything stopped when they saw her face.

‘Saboo… to your room. Bajool, it’s time for you to take your drunken tail home.’ They both looked like they were going to question her, but thought better of it.

***

 

Saboo sat on the edge of his parents’ balcony. The stars were brighter than usual, shining down with delightful intensity. Saboo looked up and let out a long sigh. He ran his filthy fingers through his long hair and huffed as Lazarus, his pet lizard, crawled up beside him and gave him a nudge, nearly setting him off balance.

‘Hey, boy,’ Saboo said. ‘Wow, you really are getting big, almost as long as me now.’ Lazarus nudged him again in agreement and almost knocked Saboo off the city.

‘Whoa, boy… steady there, it’s a long way down.’

The city ofMonkishwas hundreds of metres off the canyon floor. From up close it looked like a massive cubby-house. Panelling and antennas sticking up from various places. From a distance the shrubbery covered most of the framework, and the canyon hid the rest.

They both peered down to the canyon floor below. In the darkness they could just make out the guards of theMonkishCitychasing glow-wasps, instead of being at their posts.

‘I don’t wanna end up some ground-dwelling guard, Lazarus… I wanna be… something,’ he said, patting the giant lizard’s head. Lazarus gurgled slightly.

‘Saboo,’ came the soft voice of his sister Shiloo.

Saboo turned around. She had snuck him some dessert from the dinner table – a small round plate covered with little purple cakes slathered with rich dark sauce. She handed it to him with a smile.

‘I don’t blame you for what you did; Uncle Bajool can go too far sometimes.’

Saboo nodded and threw Lazarus a cake.

‘If you give him too many he’ll leave mess around the house again and mum will seriously kick your –’

‘Look at that!’ Saboo shouted. Above them a falling star exploded and descended towards them, burning away in a fiery glow.

‘The first signs of the Everdark,’ she said, crossing her arms to protect herself from the cold breeze her tail tucked in beside her.

‘Do you think I have a chance of getting in?’ Saboo asked.

‘If Taboo can get in, I’m sure you can… when you see the Elder, just pick your words carefully.’

Saboo thought about this for a moment.

‘I wanna show everyone that I can be a leader, that I am not a chimp anymore. If you could just see me out there.’ He waved his hands towards the dark, dense jungle. ‘I can swing higher than anyone I know. I’ve invented new traps to catch the pot-belly twisterpigs. I’ve created new weapons and learned moves that Taboo doesn’t even know about!’ He put his cake down, too distressed to eat, which was odd for a young Luna Lukkos.

‘It’s more than that, Saboo. It’s here,’ Shiloo said, as she touched his chest with her finger, ‘in your heart… and here.’ She pointed to his head. Saboo nodded.

‘Your heart will tell you what to do and your brain will tell you how to do it, and these will make it happen,’ she said lifting her paws up to the afterglow of the falling star. Saboo looked at his hands. He had the feeling that if he was going to get in, he would have to push himself beyond the limits of anything he had ever done before.

***

 

When Saboo awoke, his head was pounding, his eyes dreary. He shifted his legs and kicked something hard in his bed.

‘Ouch,’ he cried, lifting his sheets to see what intruder was in his bed.

A filthy, oddly shaped rock lay near his throbbing toes.

‘What the?’ He lifted it up.

The window beside him let in the cool morning air. He looked through the window to see a few younger kids arguing outside.

‘Hey!’ he yelled as they looked up. ‘Who put this in my bed?’

One of the small children, whose name was Razzy, slapped his forehead.

‘Saboo!’ he hollered out. ‘That was the best hiding spot I could find!’

The kid next to him whipped his tail back and forth. He had seen the rock, making him the winner.

The rules of hide-and-come-find were simple: one person hid the rock and the other person had two days to find it. If the first person didn’t find it they had to do a dare. If they did find it the other person had to do the dare.

‘Thanks a lot, Saboo!’ Razzy said. ‘He would have never found it up there!’

‘Go play hide-and-come-find someplace else!’ Saboo said, tossing the rock down to the now irritated adolescent. He limped into the kitchen where Taboo was flexing his muscles. No one noticed Saboo pulling up a chair and wiping the sleep from his eyes.

‘…and then what will you say?’ his father asked Taboo.

Taboo scratched his chin and thought for some time. Saboo almost fell asleep again.

‘…Oh yeah! I’ll say how my family is one of the original ancestors that helped build theMonkishCity…’

‘…and…’ his father pressured him on.

‘…and we helped set the traps around the borders and we make up a large number of the voting tally for next year’s Mayoral elections!’

His father dropped his head and shook it from side to side. The Everdark comet had been seen soaring through the sky late in the evenings, and everyone was getting nervous that it was so close. They thought the Elder would announce the contest any day, so some early practice was in session, but none knew exactly when it would be called.

‘What?’ Taboo asked.

‘What about honour and the skills needed to bring this city into the new era?’ Saboo said nonchalantly.

Everyone turned and looked at him in stunned amazement.

‘Saboo?’ said one of his sisters.

‘How long have you been there for?’

‘Saboo,’ his mother told him. ‘Go check the traps for meat, we’ll need to celebrate if either of you get in to see the Elder.’

Saboo nodded and yawned again.

‘Have two brothers ever been in the contest, dad?’ Taboo asked.

Their father was a large man whose shoulders arched forward, his back was curved and sore from years of building and construction.

‘When the last Everdark Alignment occurred, I was only a toddler. I can barely remember it,’ he laughed heartily. ‘All I can remember is that the ones chosen to receive the clues and start the contest are very brave. They have something inside them that only the Elder can see.’

Saboo’s mother wrapped her arms around him and hugged him close.

‘They are excellent in battle,’ their father continued, ’and swift on their feet. They don’t need the local markets and canteens in the city to survive. They can live off the forest and canyon floors.’

Their mother rolled her eyes and patted Saboo on the shoulder.

‘Now, Saboo, before we all have to start eating off the floors, go get meat from the traps.’

As Saboo dragged himself off the chair and went to his room to get his utility belt, Razzy was climbing back through his window with the hide-and-come-find rock.

‘Razz!’ Saboo shouted.

‘Saboo?’ he said guiltily, having been caught red pawed.

‘You can’t hide it here. I don’t want the entire population of Monkish searching my room for it.’

‘But I wanna be the hide-and-come-find champion!’

Saboo picked up his utility belt and strapped it to his waist. It was full of pockets and compartments. It was packed with smoke-cluster bombs, wire, trip-string, scent-disguise pellets and knock-out throwing discs. He grabbed his spear, which was compacted down to a foot long, metal rod. A button was positioned in the middle, so with just one touch, it extended to full length. He put it in a pouch that was flung over his back.

‘Give me the rock,’ Saboo finally gave in. Razzy’s eyes lit up.

‘You’ll hide it for me?’ he said.

‘Sure I will,’ Saboo replied.

‘Great! They’ll never find it!’

‘Ok, good, now go… I’ve got work to do.’

***

 

Once Saboo had left the gates, the guards went back to their normal sleeping positions, spears left lying on the ground and empty, fermented juice bottles by their feet. It had been a while since anyone had dared attack the city; but visitors were still common as Monkish was one of the only mixed race city’s left as far as Saboo knew, although most the population were Luna Lukkos like himself.

I would hate to know what would happen if we were ever really under attack, Saboo thought. The guards are more like baby sitters for the iron doors, making sure they don’t get too rusty.

He continued on his path. After some time he came to a deep valley. The trees angled down towards the bottom of it, almost pointing the way. Saboo could smell the rotting meat. He knew there would be no animal in this one, but he better take a look anyway. He grabbed onto a branch and lifted himself high, swinging between the branches. He leapt off a huge, thick tree arm and soared through the air, gracefully snatching a hanging vine and landing on his feet on the valley floor. He walked over to the middle. The trap was near invisible. Just where his feet were was a stinking heap of grey meat, tempting to any wandering animal. He bent down. A thin piece of wire hovered gently over the rancid mess. He dare not even breathe near it, or it would send several razor sharp spears into him before he could blink twice. Saboo stood up, grabbed the vine and climbed it. This was the first of many that he had to check.

The Luna Lukkos were excellent inventors. They loved setting traps on the ground as well as up in the trees. They preferred the trees because they disliked being on the ground for long periods of time. It felt unnatural to them. They favoured their homes high in the trees. It felt as if they were being pushed up and away from danger, and the water. The Monkish hated the water, in fact they dreaded it. The city was the farthest place they could find that was away from any water. Many lived in caves and tunnels on mountain ranges, but most lived in the City ofMonkish, high in the trees, connected by cables and flying-foxes, lifts and conveyer belts. Once up in the city you forgot the fact that you were up so high. The ground was level and covered many, many acres of sky. Sometimes the height of the city scared some of the visitors, but once they were up in the city they forgot all about the ground far below. As the city grew and grew, more outsiders came to investigate and ended up staying. Now the Monkish City was a bustle of different races and creatures, but most were still the Luna Lukkos.

The day moved on with dismal slowness. The heat stuck to the bottom of the forest like a fog. It was thick and difficult to walk through. Not many animals were out hunting, preferring to stay in their caverns and holes and sleep the hot day away. The green moss turned yellow, as it sometimes did when rain was days away. The air above the canopy was cool and welcoming on Saboo’s face. He knew he couldn’t spend all day jumping from tree to tree, he would have to, at some point, check his ground traps.

As he landed his stomach grumbled for food. His eyes still felt puffy from only being awake a few hours. He reached into his bag and pulled out a compass. He flipped it open and several small dials whirled to life, buzzing as electronics calculated his position. The circular screen lit up and a little red arrow spun around and around, finally resting to his left. He looked up into the trees. There, hidden among a mimica bird’s nest and a vine, was his mark: a yellow paw print to remind him where he had set the trap. He closed his compass and placed it back in its compartment. One of the first things he noticed was an absence of smell. That meant one of two things: the trap hadn’t gone off, letting an animal have a free feed, or meat for a feast!

Saboo walked into the thicket, pushing large plant leaves out of the way. He got closer to the trap and could see his make shift vine ropes had released the cage. He ran the last few feet without fear of getting caught in the trap himself. An upside down bowl-shaped cage made of branches and wires sat where he had set the trap. Inside the cage, carved spear heads chewed down on the back of an animal. As Saboo poked his head through the bars of the cage he could see it was a gawk-antelope, a slow moving animal that ate ants, scraps of meat and dead leaves. They often got lost from their herds and wandered over this side of the island in search of food or a dry spot to lay eggs.

Saboo ran to the nearest tree and pulled a lever he had made from his mothers old clothes-line retractor. The spears squished as they were slowly pulled out of the gawk’s skin, the cage withdrawing back up into the leafy awning. The gawk was slightly bigger than the ones that had wandered here in the past. Saboo picked it up and heaved it onto his back, thinking it was good luck finding some meat before it got too dark. The forest could be quite scary after the suns went down.

The body being so heavy, it would put a little strain on swinging home, so he opted to walk it.

The gawk’s head, flopped over his shoulder, looked almost mummified. He stopped and examined it some more. Teeth marks were located on the outside of its face and neck. That’s strange, Saboo thought, I knew they were stupid, but how could it bite itself there?

A deep rumbling growl echoed around him. Suddenly, the forest was deathly quiet. The heat had intensified. The rumbling noise of a beast rattled the twigs and shifted the dead leaves. Saboo dropped the gawk and stood dead still. Something had killed this animal before his trap had a chance to. Now it was here, and he was the meat.

Out from the dark shadows of the forest trees came a silhouette of a huge creature. As it came closer, Saboo could see the redness of its eyes, the stringy hair on its back and the huge paws… a crimson wolf. Due to their hypersensitive eyes being very distracted by the light of day, they usually only hunted at night.

Saboo circled the crimson wolf. Its fangs were like picket spikes; not made of bone or flesh, but wood as hard as rock. Its eyes were sunken back into its head like pits of flaming red anvils. The crimson wolf’s eyes never left Saboo’s.

‘Okay wolf,’ he told it. ‘Let’s do this the easy way… you take my meat and I’ll starve.’

The wolf bared its teeth. Hundreds of dark, splintered stakes spread across its mouth. Its hind legs compressed, lowering it to the ground. Saboo knew the crimson wolf breed; they could pounce hundreds of feet into the air, coming down on their victims with such force it left craters in the ground, being able to pinpoint its prey’s future location with alarming ease. He had seconds to think of what to do but that was more than enough.

He reached into the utility belt that hung low around his hips and pulled out a black cube, no bigger than a die. His eyes shot down at it at lightning fast speed. He flipped the safety switch off. When he looked back, the wolf was gone.

Damn, he thought. Rule one with crimson wolves: never take your eyes off them. He knew it was above him, claws extended and seconds away from landing on him. He threw the cube down and green smoke spewed all around him. The wolf thundered into the ground the smoke throwing him off target. Nearby trees shook violently, sending birds and animals scurrying for cover. The wolf was frantic, tearing at the smoke, gnashing its teeth, its jaws snapping open and shut. Pieces of the ground were sent into the air. Then it stopped suddenly. The green fog floated gently around its black fur, the wolf’s red eyes glowing through the mist. Breathing heavily, its rib cage heaved in and out.

‘Pssst… wolfie. Up here!’ Saboo sat up high in a very tall tree, holding the gawk over his shoulder. His tail was wrapped around the branch.

The wolf went berserk, racing up the tree with the speed of an arrow. Saboo gulped. He had forgotten the crimson wolf had the ability to hunt prey in the tallest of tree tops. He swung down, his tail catching his weight and catapulting him into the next tree. He gripped a branch with his spare hand, continuing his motion, swinging to the next. It was not easy with the weight of the gawk over his shoulder. The wolf followed, biting branches clean in half. Splinters showered down and leaves fell to the ground. Its breath was beating on Saboo’s neck.

Saboo moved horizontally through the foliage, behind him the deadly creature gaining momentum. Saboo leaped high into the air, standing out in the suns’ rays. He reached over his back into his pack and pulled out a small staff. It was the size of his forearm and brown in colour, with silver patterns engraved up the handle. In midair Saboo turned, dropping through the trees like a heavy stone. Twigs slapped his back and face, cutting him under his eyes. The huge wolf followed him, bearing down on him from the tops of the trees. It was just feet away, its paws extended, massive talons bared, ready to tear flesh.

Saboo’s tail was curled up beside him, guarding it from the wolf’s blood-thirsty mouth. He aimed the spear at the wolf. Its huge body flew through the air, hair in waves behind it. Its eyes were a scrub-fire red, burning with the hunger for fresh meat. Saboo pushed the button, at the same moment that his arm smashed into a stray branch. The spear head shot out, whizzing through the air and tearing through the crimson wolf’s ear, ripping it in two. The wolf let out a howl of anger. His aim would have been a bullseye if the branch hadn’t redirected it.

The spear was attached to the handle by a single strand of wire, tough enough to hold ten gargar-moths. He fell faster and faster, smashing against large branches. The spear tip zoomed up into the air; the small barbs attached to the sides ripped a giant hole in the leafy canopy. The ground was coming closer and closer. He could almost feel his body smashing against the hard surface, shattering all his bones. The blue sky flashed in his eyes for a split second, the white clouds formed images of the Elder looking down at him, displeased. He looked at the wolf’s open maw. Saliva poured from its mouth. Saboo reached for his kill and threw it at the wolf. It rocketed through the air and straight into the wolf’s mouth – much to its surprise. Saboo used both his arms to yank the spear back towards him. The spear head turned in mid air and plummeted back towards earth. The barbs struck the wolf’s back, digging into its hair and skin.

Saboo could now smell the dust of the forest floor. The wolf looked up, the kill still wedged in its mouth, and it saw the spear sticking into its back. With its attention diverted it lost track of its fall and plummeted into the fork of a tree, crashing into instant death. The spear wire twanged as it was stretched tighter than a drum skin. Saboo closed his eyes and tightened his grip as he prepared for the slack to catch up. His fall stopped dead quick, sending him jerking into the air and dropping the last few feet onto the hard ground. Wham!

The wind shot from his lungs, he gasped for breath. A large dust cloud puffed around him from where he landed. The staff handle swung idly just above his head. Far, far up in the trees the massive wolf was nothing but a mangled mess of skin, bones and teeth. He sucked in air quickly, filling his lungs once more. His breathing returned to normal, his head hurt a little and his tail felt bruised. He wiped his brow.

All of this for meat? he thought. If getting meat was this hard, maybe I’m not cut out for the Everdark contest.

Out of the tree the gawk-antelope dropped and landed on his head.


LOSING THE PLOT (LITERALLY AND LITERARILY)

There’s nothing I hate more than reading a series that starts to get too deep and complicated. Reading these books, you can hear the writer digging their own grave. For example, the Spooks Apprentice series by Joseph Delaney. The first few books were amazing. It was so fresh and new it gave me tingles every time I read the first few chapters of the new books, but after the fifth book, things began to become a little…complicated. Spooks Apprentice is set in 17th or 18th Century when the English county is overrun with ghosts and ghouls and witches. Spooks are seventh sons of seventh sons, they have the ability to see things others can’t. They use rowan staffs, salt and iron to defeat evil. Joseph Delany strips back the basic ghost defeating apparatus and sticks to very basic mechanics to deal with evil, and it works. I liked it because Tom Ward, the main character, is friends with a witch, Alice, and the Spook doesn’t like it, but puts up with it. It’s written like a journal entry, through the eyes of Tom as he deals with his grumpy master and his dealings with the supernatural.

After the fourth book, the story started to become much the same old plot. Something exciting happens at the beginning, some major evil bogart or witch is planning something and all hope is gone, then they defeat it. From book three to six, I can’t tell you which book was about what, or what happened in each one, which I don’t find to be bad as such. If I had a series of six or seven books, I’d write each one to be so unique you could remember each book and know what happened in each one. Where Joseph Delaney started to go downhill was when he went beyond the suspension of belief and dived into the realm of unrealistic plots. I can believe there are bogart’s and witches, I can even believe in evil demons and swamp creatures. In book five or six, Tom Ward starts to make a deal with Satan to save the souls of all the people he loves. Satan appears then tells him something that changes the way he thinks about his witch friend Alice. Now, Alice produces a ‘blood jar’ to keep Satan away and he must have it with him at all times. Tom talks to Satan regularly and now he must not leave Alice’s side. After closing book seven, The Spooks Nightmare, I just wanted it to go back to being the way it was. I don’t like the Satan story line. It’s too complicated; it’s too entangled and unbelievable. I liked the spooks books where it was simple and exciting, without being overly pretentious. I have book eight, but haven’t read it yet. I dread reading it because I don’t know how he is going to shake this plot. He’s in too deep to just give the reader a simple bail out, he has to do something dramatic. It became too much to suspend belief and doesn’t make me want to read it, although there are only another two books to go and then Joseph Delaney is ending the series.

I got the same feeling from a book called the Monstromologist by Rick Yancey. It started off so well, very similar to Spooks Apprentice. I young boy is left to a grumpy old man who hunts monsters after his parents perish in a fire. It starts awesome – set in the 18th century. Late, one cold night, there is a knock at the door; it’s a grave robber with a monster in his cart hidden under a sheet. The main character, Will, helps his master carry it inside and they dissect it and find there is a plague of these monsters that have come to their town, then, half way through it loses its steam. Will and the Monstromologist visit a boat Captain who is bed ridden. He was on the boat that had accidently brought the monsters over from somewhere else. Rick Yancey stayed for about three chapters on this one scene. It was drawn out, boring and way too long. At one point I wanted to slam the book shut and thrown it out the window. I just couldn’t keep reading, but I was so far into the book, and as a general rule, I don’t give up on books. I had to grin and bare it. It was a long slog, but I got through it and did, I must admit, want to read the next book, but looking back I just can’t get over that massive drag in the middle, and that is what stuck with me primarily.

I get authors who want to change it up a bit. Because you would get bored writing to the same formula every time. If the new plot decisions breathe new life into the book, why not? Because spooks apprentice is coming to an end, I would like to see Tom Ward grow up into a man and become in charge of his own county. I’d like to see everything that he has learnt become tried and tested, that’s how I’d like to see the book end. But with this Satan story line, it’s hard to see them wrapping it up in the next two books without leaving a large scar down its face. I’ll reread the first book, possibly in the future, but not the others.

 

Mitchell Tierney

 

Book vs Movie: The Golden Compass

Firstly this one is short but sweet. Secondly minor spoilers, you have been warned.

The Golden Compass (2007) movie is based on the first book in the His Dark Materials trilogy by Phillip Pullman, called Northern Lights. And I use the words ‘based on’ quite lightly. For those who have read the books and have not made the jump to see the film for the love of all things literary DON’T. It will anger you.

Now I hadn’t read the books when I went to see the movie and as such enjoyed the story of Lyra Belacqua and her dæmon Pan (a sort of familiar that take the shapes of animals) and her search for the missing Gyptian children across the snowy lands. The movie boasts stunning visual effects and is the only thing I still enjoy about the movie post book reading. Seeing the polar bears, especially armoured bear Iorek Byrnison  come to life was amazing.

The problem with the movie is the giant chunks of story that is taken out or changed. Apparently (so I’ve read anyway) director Chris Weitz was made to change a lot of the script because of its anti-Catholic and atheistic themes that are quite blatant in the book (despite Catholicism never actually being named in either).  Lyra’s world is run by the Magisterium who are conspiring to end tolerance and free inquiry. And I guess I understand this was done as to not anger the Catholic Church (although personally when people protest a movie it usually does better) so instead they angered the fans of the books.

For those who have only seen the film, please, please, please read the books. All of them. They are well written with layers and layers of plot, several wondrous storylines and have parts that will make you laugh and cry. Most of all they make you think. Something the movie was sorely lacking.

I’m not going to give away any of the plot because it really has so many elements, but if you haven’t read the book, go see the movie, enjoy its prettiness, then go read the books and discover the wonder and intrigue Pullman has created that is sorely lacking in the film.

Inanimate Lessons

 I’m by no means a natural born writer. I have to work at it. Just like any profession or sport, practice will, inevitably, make perfect (or near enough). When I started writing, I had an issue with length. I was young and didn’t know how to structure chapters, so my chapters ended up being a page long. I’d write ‘Chapter _’ at the top and write to the bottom. Once I hit the bottom of the page, that would be the end of the chapter. I eventually was able to expand my chapter lengths a little, but it still wasn’t enough. My books would have 50 + chapters and the story didn’t seem to progress very far at any one time. So, I set my self a task – write a book about ten people. Each chapter will be about one person and it will be ten pages long. You will never go back to that person, so whatever happens in that chapter will have to be resolved at the end. I thought it was a good way to push my boundaries and get good length writing practice.

The story was simple enough, a body is found dumped in a drain, a young person who’s wearing a red cape. Slowly the news spreads and each chapter is about each persons reaction to finding out. I called it ‘Bloody Cape’ after a Deftones song. One chapter had the police officer receiving the call and going out to investigate, another was a man bound to a wheel chair who worked at an Adult Store and closed the store to go and take a look. I never planned the characters, but came up with them while writing each chapter. I thought, ‘Ok, the deceased person is wearing a cape because there’s a local comic book artist who draws a comic with a red cape.’ So the next chapter was the artist finding out the person died looking like one of his characters. It was hard at first to keep the ball rolling, because usually, for me any way, the chapter will end itself and you know it’s time for the next chapter to come. But when you’re writing to a set of rules, you can’t stop. I had to force myself to keep going. By the end of the book, I found my chapters were exceeding the ten page limit. I got used to writing long chapters. The only down fall was, every book or short story I wrote after that was long and I had to learn to cut them back a little.

There is a Family Guy episode where they mock Stephen King. They ask him what his next book will be about and he looks around the room frantically trying to make something up on the spot. He picks a lamp. ‘How about a Lamp? OOooooOhhh!’ I thought this would be another good assignment to set myself. Could I write something scary using an inanimate object? What would be the least harmful thing I could think of and make it terrifying? I thought of a cardboard box. It’s simplistic, everyone has one tucked away in their garage, spare room, shed, etc. They’re mostly harmless and also collapsible. A baby could knock one flat. How could I make this the main subject of horror? I thought about the cardboard box and what it’s use for. Moving and storing. I thought, what if the box had kept a serial killers belongings in it while he was in a mental ward? What if it stored all his ‘trophies’ or personal belongings? Could some of his energy or ‘mojo’ seep into the box? Why not? Sounds plausible. I figured I would write a trilogy about the box. Three short stories centred around the same box and how it brings each owner agonizing horror and misfortune. I was going to call the trilogy The Murder Box, with each story in turn called The Gore Box, The Flesh Box and The Horror Box. The first story was a mother and her two children moving from one town to another to escape their abusive father. They leave the box in the spare room to unpack another day and go to bed. At midnight, when the house is quiet and dark, the lid opens up on its own and a black, charred hand reaches out of it from the darkness. The daughter gets out of bed to get a glass of water and walks past the room, the hand disappears. As her back is turned, a dark, shadowy figure dashes across the hallway in the next room. I never wrote the second story because I had an ending where a young man escaping the law crashes his car and the box is burnt to ash in the fire. The young man laying on the road, bleeding to death, watches all the demons and monsters spill from the box and burn.

I tried this assignment again with one of the first short stories I wrote that I was proud of called The Tape. The story was based around an elderly man living on his own named Leo. One stormy night there is a knock at his door and when he answers it, it’s his neighbour Joe who is looking frantic and horrified. Joe says that he is leaving and Leo asks why he’s taking off in the middle of the night in the pouring rain? Joe doesn’t answer, but instead asks him if he wants his old stereo. Leo takes it and Joes runs off into the hammering thunder and drives away. Leo leaves it on the table, not knowing what he’s going to do with it. Later that night he goes to the bathroom to take a bath and takes the stereo with him to listen to music. He finds a tape inside the cassette deck and plays it. It’s an interview by a psychiatrist and a schizophrenic patient who talks about see a little girl in a dress wearing a pure white mask. After a few haunted experiences, towards the end, Leo is in the bathtub holding a razor when the lights flicker in the bathroom. He looks to the doorway and sees the young girl with the white mask. She then pushes the stereo into the bathtub.

From constant practicing and experimenting, and also setting myself assignments, I can work on the areas I think I need to be better at.

NaNoWriMo is upon us and that is always a challenge and a good way to learn how to write. You push yourself to finish and sometimes that it what is needed to get it done. Because most of us aren’t published authors with agents breathing down our necks for the next book, we don’t have that push to finish and sometimes the book can get lost along the way and forgotten, and that’s always a shame. Finishing a book is a big deal for any writer. Some people may only finish one book in their writing lives, others may finish many.

Whenever I pick up a book at the book store, I’ll flick through it and if I see the chapters are short, it appeals to me more. Only because I don’t have that much time to read, and when I do it’s normally half an hour to an hour at the most. So if I know I can get a chapter or two done before bed, it makes me feel like I’m still sticking with the story and getting it read. Early Terry Pratchett books didn’t have chapters and it always made me apprehensive about reading them because I hate stopping the middle of a chapter or I’ll lose the flow of the story, but his recent books have chapters now, much to my relief.

Mitchell Tierney