Monday, 29 October 2018

Writing Science Fiction

I’m currently working on Peace Child 4, The House of Clementine. This might be described as young adult, new adult, science fiction or science fantasy, or all of the above, and there’s even a suggestion that it’s really near future set in the distant future.

Write what you know we’re told, so it may be puzzling that any science fiction fantasy, science fantasy, paranormal fiction or even historical fiction gets written. 

The point is, I suppose, that we explore what we don’t yet know with what we do know. We use what we know to answer the “What if?” question. We use the colours we do know to help us invent the colours not yet seen. 

Science Fiction often describes a future situation. The original Peace Child trilogy looked at a world that had stopped communicating. It also found a way to deal with an ageing population. Now I’m looking at a world ravaged by right-wing politics. I wonder where I got that idea from. In a way, I’m using my science fiction to try to understand the world we’re in now. Thrusting it all into a different setting and into the future gives us some objectivity. 

Science fiction actually has not been very good at predicting the future. I can’t recall seeing email or even social media being predicted.  Blake’s 7 did have a crude form of the Internet and it was voice-activated. 1984 was nowhere near as dire as the book of the same name though possibly we’re living in that world now. 

I’m also currently just over half way through reading a book on which I am to write a review.  In this world humans are partly programmed like computers, mainly in order to control disease but disease is getting the upper hand.    

One thing is for sure: you need to plan your world as carefully as your story. The Prophecy, part one of the trilogy, was the novel I wrote for my PhD in Creative and Critical writing. I spent months and months before I started writing working on my world. I had to decide about:
  • Food
  • Clothing
  • Transport
  • Housing
  • Education
  • Political set-up
  • History
  • Geography
  • Entertainment
  • Religion
  • Values
  • Communication
  • Health
  • Birth
  • Death

I often used time spent in cafés making notes. As I started writing other questions arose.
The river may be allowed to flow backwards in fantasy and on different planets but there still has to be an inner logic. It’s quite a trick as well to get this setting over to your reader without resorting to blatant exposition.     

Thursday, 25 October 2018

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

2017, YA, Key Stage 4, Key Stage 5 ages 14-17

This tackles many themes that interest the target reader.  John Green presents us with death, cancer, depression, grief, family relationships, peer relationships and some mild peer pressure. Green also explores the notion of fiction, both in his notes within the book and in the character of Peter Van Houten, a drunk and an egoist who has at one time been a writer. 

Importantly, Green encourages us to look at those who suffer from cancer as whole people, not just as victims of a disease.  These need not necessarily be nice people. 

Nice or not, the characters are richly drawn. As we have come to expect from Green, the characters are rounded and believable. Hazel narrates the story and has been given a convincing and consistent voice.      
The growth in protagonist Hazel is mild and somewhat negative though we also have plenty of positives:  love, romance, gentle sex and for some, survival.   

The book is some 316 pages long so has a respectable spine. The text s blocked and a serif font, with difficult  ‘a’s and ‘g’s is used.  A bordering on adult readership is further confirmed by quit demanding language and much abstract, philosophical thought.  This edition was published in 2017. The novel was first published in 2012.        

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Do we ever actually finish? Are we all not constant editors?

It came up recently on a forum to which I contribute but was part of the debate about sometimes being rejected coming as a relief; it stops you making a fool of yourself. It was also connected with a discussion about hybrid publishers. A big topic, and the rest of it is for another day. 

I did remark that I'll often alter text as I go to read it out. This is after it has been published or self-published i.e. after a publisher has taken a risk with me or I have taken the risk myself, but both scenarios include a thorough editing process. And it isn't only because you need to the text to be a little different if it's to be read aloud. Most of the time it's because I've noticed another way to improve my text. 

I'm not the only one. Another creative writer / academic friend of mine visited my university and read from her debut novel to some of my students. She paused part of the way through the first page. "Gosh," she said. "I've only just realised; I tell my student never to do that." The book had been edited and published by a reputable publisher. 

Reading is no longer the same for me. Many of my students, whether they study English literature or creative writing, find the same thing. An inner voice constantly critiques the text. However, this constantly analysing mind can offer one advantage; you can enjoy a text you wouldn't normally enjoy because deconstructing it and establishing why it doesn't work for you can be an enjoyable task and brings some education.

Eleven years of marking creative writing and twenty years of critiquing it also add to this process, though I find it harder to do the same to my own work unless I leave it alone for several months.                        
I actually keep a blog of recommended reads. These are for texts that take me out of the editor's head. They are rare: I can be totally absorbed in a story and no longer seeing the black marks on the white paper and something will jolt me out of that dreamlike state; it may be some odd formatting, a missing apostrophe or an awkward phrase.
Still, there is no need for despair. This constant editing activity surely leads to better writing.        

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

George by Alex Gino



Secondary, Key Stage 3, ages 10-13, teen   
George thinks as herself as a girl even though she was born a boy. She feels awkward using the boys' toilets. She longs to play the part of Charlotte in  the school production of Charlotte's Web.   

All of her life, however, she has been assigned male gender and she has a penis. She collects pictures of girls in pretty swim wear - not because as a boy she is turned on by this - she is after all only a fourth-grader -  but because as a girl she wants to look like the people in the pictures.

The narrator uses the pronoun “she” right from the beginning but older brother Scott calls George “little bro’”. Her best friend Kelly seems quite accepting of her wanting to take the part of Charlotte but her words “Who cares if you’re not really a girl?” (26) injure George.  Kelly is keen to support her friend’s plans but completely misunderstands the situation. She reminds George that men have traditionally played women in theatre before, especially in Shakespeare’s time.

George has to go through the ordeals of confessing her status to her best friend and to her mother.  Reactions are somewhat hostile at first.

However, the story ends on a high, though she has taken just one small step and must continue to take one step at a time.      

The Hit by Melvin Burgess


Secondary , tertiary,  Key Stage 4, Key Stage 5, ages 13-17, YA  

Melvin Burgess as he often does here offers a serious of challenges. In this story we have drug-taking, sex, death, risk-taking, social unrest and extreme violence.  Burgess pushes boundaries again:  much of the violence is premeditated and calculated.  

This suits the YA reader well:  my own research establishes that this genre, if you can call it a genre, is often multi-themed. 

The novel is also what publishers might call "high concept". The story centres around Death, a drug that gives users a week-long high. At the end of the week the user dies.  The young adults who take the drug also create a bucket-list of many risk-taking activities they want to enjoy.

Again as we might expect from a YA text, this novel is in effect a bildungsroman. Protagonist Adam learns to value life. The ending is upbeat but uncertain.  There is hope for Adam and his friends.  
Burgess has also created believable characters with whom we can easily empathize. 

This is a book with a thick spin and some 304 pages. It has the narrative balance we would expect in  a novel written for an adult.