Sunday, June 27, 2010

In My Mailbox (32)

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

Where has the month gone?? Twenty-seven days into the dystopia challenge and not one review have I posted. Awful and wonderful things have been happening one after the other and it's been like that all year!

Just the one book this week, until I can coax my housemate into going to the post office for me to pick up my packages. My long commute is not opening-hours friendly.

Wintercraft by Jenna Burtenshaw. This one sounds like it could have a dash of romance along with all the magic...

Ten years ago Kate Winters' parents were taken by the High Council's wardens to help with the country's war effort.

Now the wardens are back...and prisoners, including Kate's uncle Artemis, are taken south on the terrifying Night Train. Kate and her friend Edgar are hunted by a far more dangerous enemy. Silas Dane – the High Council's most feared man – recognises Kate as one of the Skilled; a rare group of people able to see through the veil between the living and the dead. His spirit was damaged by the High Council's experiments into the veil, and he's convinced that Kate can undo the damage and allow him to find peace.

The knowledge Kate needs lies within Wintercraft – a book thought to be hidden deep beneath the graveyard city of Fume. But the Night of Souls, when the veil between life and death is at its thinnest, is just days away and the High Council have their own sinister plans for Kate and Wintercraft...

Friday, June 25, 2010

Prime Minister Julia Gillard: Something to celebrate

In Australia we are all still reeling from the news that K-Rudd (Prime Minister Kevin Rudd) was booted/stepped aside from the prime ministership yesterday morning (depending how you look at it), and into the helm stepped Julia Gillard ... who is a woman! Our very first female PM, in fact.

There's a lot of grumbling going on, but also a lot of celebrating. I for one think it's absolutely fantabulous that after a long history of Old White Men PMs we have a woman (and a ranga!) bringing a bit of diversity to the portraits that hang in Parliament House.

To make it even more exciting, she was sworn in by Australia's first female Governer-General, Quentin Bryce.

Before the discontent sets in, before we all start objecting to her policies and labeling her appointment to PM as sneaky and underhanded and a trillion other nasty and probably undeserved things, perhaps we can pause for a moment and consider this: it's the beginning of the end of Old White Men being the only candidate for rulers of this country. Maybe one day a female PM won't be such a novelty.

Until then, go Julia! I'm gunning for you. And I'm a bit proud of you too.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

In My Mailbox (31): Three weeks of books, and burlesque!

This meme is hosted by The Story Siren.

This week's most anticipated is Feed by Mira Grant. It's about bloggers who are on the trail of the secret behind the zombie-pocalyse. Seriously FTW.

Also for review are Infinity by Sherrilyn Kenyon (I haven't read the other books set in this world but I hear you don't need to), The Fool's Girl by Celia Rees, Scarred by Julia Hoban (Willow in the US), White Cat by Holly Black, The Eternal Prison by Jeff Somers, Spirit Bound by Richelle Mead and Impossible by Nancy Werlin.

The awesome Lauren from the UK's I was a teenage book geek sent me Crashed by Robin Wasserman and Children of the Dust by Louise Lawrence. I have never heard of the latter but it's dystopian and she assures me I'll love it and I'm sure I will. I sent Lauren one of my favourite and little known and very hard to find Australian timeslip books, A Breath in May by Robin Hogan. Think Playing Beattie Bow meets Looking for Alibrandi.

Not books: I also received Simplicity pattern 2535, an eBay purchase. I've been invited to a burlesque party and I'm going to make option C (the red, white and black dress) in pink and white. I love dressing up! There will be pictures.

To continue the burlesque theme, here's Australian chanteuse Bertie Blackman with a cover of "Peek-A-Boo" by Siouxie and the Banshees.

Golly jeepers, where did you get those peepers?
Peep show, creep show, where did you get those eyes?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Constructive Commute

I've just started a really great job working as a marketing executive for a fabric store. I've always made my own clothes and dabbled in patchwork, embroidery and knitting, and I've just started sequining. I'm learning all about search engine optimisation and the ins and outs of Google, plus I'll be paid to blog and tweet and get up to all sorts of social networking shenanigans once I've got the website whipped into shape.

The downside is the commute: two trains and a bus. Or, if I'm at my boyfriend's, a tram, a train and a bus. That's about three hours a day on public transport. (Even if I could afford a car, I couldn't drive it. I'm twenty-five with a learners' permit!)

My new office, pulling into Flinders Street Station.

Good thing I like to read, huh? The commute itself doesn't bother me at all. I'm going against all the commuters the whole way so I get lots of seats and space to myself. It's an absolutely freezing Melbourne winter and I've got a big white woollen coat and--hello boys--black woollen tights. (They're not as matronly as they sound, and not in the least bit itchy either.) And to make myself even snugglier, I pack a thermos full of coffee. No, Melbourne hasn't run out of espresso. I just balk at paying nearly $5 for a nice big soy latte everyday when I'm trying --trying--to save.

So I'm there in my wool this and that and I've got my coffee and there's not a chromer or loud mobile phone talker in a 10 k radius. I could read a book. In fact, that's what I did do all last week. But this week I took along my notebook and rediscovered the lost art of handwriting. Lost to me, at least. I do scribble notes in my notebook. I'm a list maker and a note taker. Sometimes when I make lists I put on stuff I've already done just so I have the satisfaction of crossing them off straight away. "Oh look, today's jobs are half done already. Go me!" But writing prose by hand. That's something I don't do very often.

This is how I write when I'm on my computer: type type type, backspace backspace, type, highlight earlier text, delete, retype, hit the end key, go up two lines, take out adverb, split long sentence into two, retype dialogue, hit the home key, go down two lines, repeat.

I'm all over the place. I don't often write linearly. The words expand on the page like bread rising. But on paper you've got to write more or less linearly, and then there are all your dull, inane sentences inscribed for as long as you let that notebook exist, for anyone to see, and not a delete button in sight. The best bloody thing about computers is you can fiddle with a sentence all day until it's perfect and then pretend it came out that way in the first place.

But I'm not going to be precious about it. I'm going to have a constructive commute and do all those things like plotting and thinking about character and setting and whatnot that I sometimes neglect when I open Word and just start typing. I will write linearly and not scribble. Try not to scribble, at least.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Books for Writers (5): The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson

I've said before that Bill Bryson could describe paint drying and I'd still find it fascinating. I'm also a major word nerd, so his book on the English language, The Mother Tongue: English and how it got that way, was a must-read. As an American, Bryson is perhaps the best person to discuss the English language--or at least, better than an English person, because he's not afraid to call a spade a spade. English had an extremely humble beginning as the tongue of peasants, and while he rejoices in the language of Shakespeare, Wilde and Shaw, Bryson also marvels that it caught on at all.

I read The Mother Tongue over two fever-filled days of 'flu. Non-fiction is always a comfort to me when I'm sick. Being irrevocably couch-bound makes me feel like I need to put something stimulating in my brain. It is unfortunate, though, that whatever I read through a particularly bad bout of illness becomes associated with feeling pretty bloody awful, and writing this review is reminding me just how bad I felt at the time. I'll try and not let these associations affect how I feel about the book!

Bryson devotes chapters to spelling and pronunciation, Old World (England) and New World (America) English, dialects, swearing and so on. But by far the most interesting chapter is chapter four, The First Thousand Years. My English history is rather hazy, but I do know there was a Germanic tribe called the Angles, who, way back when, filled the vacuum left by the Romans when they abandoned England to the barbarians. Bryson is rather hazy on the details too (not his fault; the Angles were illiterate so there's no written history from the time) but at some point the language spoken in England became distinct from the dialects of mainland Europe. It subsequently became one of the world's richest languages and the most successful, despite the drawbacks of its spelling and grammar.

I will happily agree with Bryson that the inconsistencies of English spelling must be excruciating for someone who is learning English. I didn't find it the least odd or confusing as a child that though, through, rough, trough, bough and so on are all spelled similarly but pronounced entirely differently. But now I think about it, it's rather odd that this is so. Even odder is that English grammar isn't English, it's Latin. At some point some very scholarly fellow sat down and decided that because it's impossible to split the infinitive in Latin, we shouldn't be able to do it in English either. Again, I'll agree with Bryson here. Infinitives are two words in English, i.e. "to go", while they are only one in Latin. It can very tempting to put an adverb in the middle of an infinitive, thus "splitting" it, i.e. "To boldly go", which you will recognise from the opening credits of Star Trek. It's "incorrect", but it sounds good.

I'm not just a word nerd. I'm also a bit of a grammar nerd so it came as a shock when Bryson began railing against the rules of grammar in general. To him, grammar is the realm of pedants and the rules are often baseless. I can't help feeling that he missed the point deliberately in order to amuse the reader. Yes, a lot of the rules are stuffy and it's absurd to have imported our grammar from a foreign (and dead) language. But the reason for good grammar is to aid understanding. Remove ambiguities. In short, it helps the writer get his or her point across without being misunderstood. Bryson ignores this while cheerfully implementing the rules that he denounces. I didn't spot a split infinitive in the entire book.

I skipped over much of his discussion of American dialects. My 'fluey mind just wasn't interested in the nuances of the Baltimore accent. Americans will undoubtedly find these parts of the book fascinating. And while this is a book on English, it's aimed squarely at the American market. It's the first time I've noticed such a bias in Bryson's writing.

The Mother Tongue was not quite as satisfying as some of Bryson's other books, and not nearly as amusing. (Or was that just because my sense of humour was as under the weather as the rest of me?) It's a book to pick and choose chapters as you go along, reading the aspects that interest you and discarding the rest. But it's easily digestible, like all Bryson's writing, and highly informative. Anyone who loves words will find a lot in this book to enjoy.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The Dystopia Challenge begins! soon as I've finished The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larrson.*

Click here to view the longlist of titles I plan to read. I probably won't get to them all and they may change a little as I go along. You're welcome to suggest new titles to me at any time as well.

And something I should have mentioned in the last post is that you're very welcome to read and review along with me. In fact I'd love you to! Celia has already signed up. Celia has wicked taste in books and also in desserts!

Anyone can help themselves to the challenge button below. (Don't you just love the pink?) A million blogger kudos to you if you just popped it in a post to let people know the challenge was happening.

Happy reading!

*I made the mistake of picking it up right at the end of May and got hooked in hardcore. Eventually. The first 200 pages had me yawning. But I'm almost finished, and as soon as I am I'll be picking up Genesis by Bernard Beckett. The first review of the challenge will be The Gardener by SA Bodeen.