Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • May21st

    Bold statement – writing Historical Fiction and writing Fantasy (of certain sorts) are almost identical undertakings. A Game of Thrones and Wolf Hall? The same thing, really.

    Think about it. Writers of both have to introduce and explain an unfamiliar world. Writers of Historical Fiction and writers of Fantasy can’t assume the shared knowledge that writers of contemporary fiction can.

    Writers of contemporary fiction can take a great deal for granted. They don’t have to explain the social mores, the political structure, the clothing, the standard layout of buildings, methods of transport, forms of communication, common technologies, and thousands of other details of life that affect and intersect with their characters.

    Not so with the writers of Fantasy and Historical Fiction. We have to help the reader come to terms with a world that could be alien in countless ways.

    The first step for both of us, of course, is that we have to be familiar with the world we’re introducing. Here’s where our jobs may diverge a little. The Fantasy writer has to work from scratch, whereas the Historical Fiction writer doesn’t.

    Let’s face it, most Fantasy secondary worlds are derived from history. Fantasy writers are always scouting around the world and going back and forward through time looking for fertile areas as a springboard into world creation. Take a time period and location that’s in turmoil, tweak the events and the names a little, add some magic and there’s the beginnings of a framework for a solid Fantasy trilogy or two, easily.

    Therefore, both Fantasy and Historical Fiction writers spend a great deal of time researching, in order to be utterly cognisant with the world we’re about to introduce.

    After this comes the delicate task of sifting in all this background detail. The challenge is to do this without boring the reader. After all, we’re writing fiction, not textbooks.

    There is a higher challenge, though. The higher challenge is not just to do this without boring the reader, it’s doing it without the reader even noticing and therein lies the art.

    The key term I use here in trying to define what writers in both genres are trying to do is that we’re trying to make our worlds convincing. Even though the world may be unfamiliar to the reader, we have to convince her/him that the setting is a believable one, one with a coherence and an underpinning that resonates with the human experience. The setting could be archaic, primitive, old-fashioned or exotic in unearthly terms, but writers need to give the reader entry into this world by making it a plausible one.

    Done well, this accounts for some of the allure of both genres. They both take readers somewhere different, somewhere outside the ordinary, somewhere fresh and exotic where characters can play out their dramas in ways that extend the range of human actions, interactions and possibilities.

    All in all, sometimes I think the only difference between writing Historical Fiction and writing Fantasy is that one has magic and one doesn’t. I’ll leave you to decide which.

     

  • May16th

    I’ve been doing some research on the great picture palaces of 1930s/1940s Melbourne. Recently, I stumbled across the wonderful Harold Paynting Collection at the State Library of Victoria and discovered these images of the long lost Padua Theatre, Brunswick, Victoria.  Thanks to people like photographer Lyle Fowler, we can gaze on this extraordinary streamlined edifice that landed in suburban Sydney Road.The 2,000 seat theatre was opened to much fanfare in 1937 – footwarmers! Revolving stage! Crying room! Service!

    As with all the magnificent cinemas of this era, the Padua suffered when TV came along, so much so that its superb Art Deco interior was gutted in 1968 and it began a new life as the Metropole. Eventually, though, it was torn down in 1982(!). Today, a supermarket is on the site.

    What a loss.

    argus 1937

  • May6th

    And here’s the back cover for Leo da Vinci Vs the Ice-cream Domination League, with lots of teasers.leo back cover

    The fabulous Jules Faber does the illustrations, and the book is due out from Random House Australia in August.

  • May1st

    When advising or teaching people about writing, I often emphasise the usefulness of doing preparatory work before starting to write. With Fantasy and Science Fiction that can mean considering details of the world in which the story will take place. Listing aspects of the world can mean thinking about things like climate, topology, political and social arrangements and, monetary systems and that’s just scratching the surface. With contemporary realist fiction, the need for this can be less, but a little time considering the physical aspects of a scene before actually writing it can be time well spent. Who is on your point of view character’s right? How far apart are they? If someone comes into the room, where is the door they enter by?hey presto!

    But having done this groundwork, how do you use it in your story? The temptation is to pack it all in. Since you’ve gone to all the trouble to imagine this setting, you have to use it, right?

    Wrong. Simply going through the effort to imagine your scene in detail will mean that your story is richer and more textured, even if you leave out a substantial amount of what you’ve thought of. If you throw everything into the story, you’ll slow down the narrative and it’s likely to grind to a halt. Your story will start to sound like a textbook guide to your world rather than a gripping and compelling story of twin sisters who share a dark secret. Or similar …

    The trick is to sift in your background detail. It is background detail, after all, not foreground detail. Drop a little bit in here and there so that the reader pieces together a vision of the scene you’ve created. Trust them. Readers are good at doing stuff like that.

    If you want your sifting in to be extra subtle, you can use a technique I call Distraction Through Action.

    This is where you nail your reader’s attention to the narrative, to what’s going on, and while they’re riveted by the knife fight, the break-up, the ultimate betrayal, you drop in details of the surroundings.

    Bob held his hands together to stop them trembling. The chair he was sitting on was hard and uncomfortable, but he hardly noticed. His entire attention was on the man sitting on the sofa opposite, under the long picture window. Gomez. Bob had been waiting a long time to confront Gomez and now here he was and he didn’t know what to say.

    Gomez chuckled and leaned back on the sofa – which was a hideous yellow colour. ‘You’re scared.’

    ‘No I’m not.’ Bob stared at the floor, as he was hated looking at Gomez’s arrogant face. The rug was streaky blue, with a stain on it that might have been blood. Bob swallowed.

    Gomez stood. He was silhouetted against the outside world. The pine trees lining the fence were tall and proud, and the wind hardly worried them at all. ‘You have some guts, coming here,’ Gomez said. ‘I’ll give you that.’

    Bob wanted to grab the lamp on the table next to him and throw it. ‘Guts? I don’t think so. I had to come.’

    In the end, Distraction Through Action is like a magician’s trick. ‘Look over here while I secrete this rabbit in the hat, ready to be revealed later!’

    Captivate your readers with action (physical or emotional) and while they’re focussed, leaven your narrative with details of the setting. Your scene will be all the better for it.

  • April14th

    And here it is, the cover for my next book, a zany fun adventure for younger readers. In a world very much like ours, 10 year old Leo da Vinci is an inventor, artist, dreamer, and dedicated fighter against supervillains …

    And don’t I just love Jules Faber’s illustration? Outrageously good!

    Look for it in August.

    leo front cover

  • March2nd

    Keats said it, and said it best.autumn small Autumn is the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’. I love the cool, dewy mornings. I love the way the hot air balloons arrive, happy in the calmer, cooler skies. I love the long, blue afternoons that fade into drowsy dusk. I love the changing colours of leaves and the smell of wood smoke in the air.

    Autumn, my favourite season.

     

    TO AUTUMN – John Keats

    1.

    Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,

    Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;

    Conspiring with him how to load and bless

    With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;

    To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,

    And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;

    To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells

    With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,

    And still more, later flowers for the bees,

    Until they think warm days will never cease,

    For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

     

    2.

    Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?

    Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find

    Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,

    Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;

    Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,

    Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook

    Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:

    And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep

    Steady thy laden head across a brook;

    Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,

    Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

     

    3.

    Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?

    Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—

    While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,

    And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;

    Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn

    Among the river sallows, borne aloft

    Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;

    And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;

    Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft

    The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;

    And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

  • February5th

    Leo da Vinci. Artist. Scientist. Inventor. Dreamer. Ten year old fighter against supervillains.

    As promised, it’s time to reveal some details of my new writing project. This is another departure from my writing for Young Adults, and I’m fairly and squarely writing for primary school readers this time with The Adventures of Leo da Vinci.vitruvian man

    To those small-minded people who might be prone to quibble and suggest that Leo da Vinci was actually an Italian Quattrocento polymath, I say ‘Pish’. As any fule no, Leo da Vinci is ten years old and engaged in an eternal struggle against evil, as long as he can fit it in around his school and other commitments. To this end, he has formed Fixit International Inc and gathered a cadre of eccentric and hard-bitten comrades, including a wood-burning robot and a talking pig. Leo invents, draws, sculpts and plans in a constant frenzy of creativity, while battling with the nuances of making friends and navigating the modern world.

    And if can just paint that Mrs Gioconda’s quirky smile right, he’ll be happy.

     

    The first book in this ground-breaking series will be published by the good people at Penguin Random House Australia. The first will be released this August, and the second early next year. Look out for them, buy them, discuss them, adore them, share them with friends, advocate them, nominate them for prestigious awards and, if you own a major Hollywood studio, option them for blockbuster movies, at the very least.

  • December30th

    It’s that time of the year again, when our elected representatives head off on holidays and newspapers are groping for copy.romance books The result is the standard ‘What are our politicians’ holiday reads?’ where our pollies nominate the books they just haven’t had time to get to during the year. The Age managed to move with the times by recognising that summer is also a time for catching up on missed TV, so it combined reading and viewing when it braced our gallant parliamentarians in its ‘What your politicians are planning to watch and read this summer’ article on Sunday 28 December, available online here.

    These articles appear like clockwork at this time every year, and every year I notice the same extraordinary patterns. As in previous years, almost every book nominated is non-fiction. History, international relations, economics, biographies and, yes, politics, dominate the reading lists put up by our chosen few. They’re, good, weighty, worthy tomes, no doubt with many pages, printed on both sides.

    What troubles me is the almost total absence of fiction. While I have no reason to doubt that Clive Palmer is going to whip through War and Peace, as he nominates, only two fiction titles really get a gong: The Narrow Road to the Deep North and The Game of Thrones (despite the fact that there is actually no book of that title …). Two fiction titles, seven non-fiction. This is actually an improvement on previous years when no fiction titles were deemed worthy of inclusion.

    This concerns me. A wealth of recent research has established firm connections between reading fiction and establishing and maintaining a sense of empathy. Empathy. That vital capacity to feel what another person is feeling, to see things from another’s situation, to feel what another is feeling. Fiction has the immersive power to put a reader into unfamiliar circumstances in ways that no report, inquiry or white paper ever will. Through fiction we can feel the pain of the dispossessed, the anguish of the bereaved, the joy of the welcomed, and we can feel this in a way that affects us deeply. We are moved by fiction.

    So it disappoints me to see that our politicians, the ones who need to be in touch with other lives, are eschewing fiction. I’d like to see them read more stories. It might help.

    By the way, out of a total of nine titles mentioned by our politicians, only two of them were Australian books. Make of that what you will.

  • December12th

    Recently, I was  cleaning out an old relative’s garage and I came across bundles of ancient magazines. One such stack was devoted to an obscure journal called The Australasian Sophist. Among articles about bush ballads, inland explorers and rough-hewn heroes of the past was a recurring column of surprising scientific content. The expert who answered correspondents’ enquiries is anonymous, but as I read column after column, I couldn’t help forming an image of a crusty, intolerant, combustible know-it-all who lacked the genial lovability that would make him a household name. Was he a real academic? Was he as knowledgeable as he claims, or as good-looking? Despite extensive research, I’ve been unable to find the answer to any of these questions. The Professor will remain a mystery, I’m afraid – but his wisdom can live on. To that effect, I reproduce one of the columns below, edited only slightly to fill in some unimportant parts that were eaten by silverfish.

    Ask The Professor

    Dear Professor,

    My friend says that scientists have found that birds are actually too heavy to fly.  Is this true?

    Signed Flighty.

    Dear Flighty,

    First, let me put you straight on one thing.  You’re not fooling anyone with this “my friend says” business.  As soon as I hear that, I know that it’s someone trying to cover up their embarrassing lack of knowledge by palming it off on a mythical companion.  It’s the same for “I read somewhere”.  Pathetic.

    Birds too heavy to fly?  For a start I’ll assume that you’re not dumb enough to be thinking about emus and kiwis and ground lovers like that.  I’ll take it that you’re referring to the usual, everyday birds.  Sparrows and seagulls and howler monkeys and stuff.

    Well, I may have a surprise for you, my shy friend.  Recent research has actually shown that birds are too heavy to fly.  But what about, I can hear you ask, what about all those passerines and raptors I see flitting past my window every second of the day?

    This, my unlearned friend, can be explained by two hitherto unknown phenomena.  Phenomenon 1 is Persistence of Learned Memory, or the After Image Effect.  Put simply, this means that because you’ve seen pictures of flying birds many times, when you look out your window you unconsciously superimpose the image of the flying birds onto the background of the sky.  Simple.  I’ll leave the rest to you.

    Phenomenon 2 is the Enhanced Buoyancy Effect.  Have you ever noticed that whenever you accidentally ram your vacuum cleaner nozzle into a split in a feather pillow, then swap the hose around to blow instead of suck, the way the feathers immediately defy gravity?  Especially if you have the nozzle pointing upwards?  This is a demonstration of the Enhanced Buoyancy Effect in birds.  Put simply, feathers are actually repelled by air.  In other words, birds are actually squeezed upwards, thanks to the action of air on their feathers.  This, of course, explains why birds have claws – to grab hold of perches, the ground and pirates’ shoulders in an effort not to shoot upwards like a cheap champagne cork.  And it also explains the customary nervous disposition of most birds.

    Of course there are some nit-pickers who may claim that Phenomenon 1 (the Persistence of Learned Memory) and Phenomenon 2 (the Enhanced Buoyancy Effect) actually contradict each other.  This, of course, has been reconciled by the Avian Uncertainty Principle, which states that wherever birds are concerned, either Phenomenon 1 or Phenomenon 2 explains why they don’t fly.

    All in all, it’s a relatively straightforward set of affairs, really.

    The Professor.

  • November20th

    The Centre for Youth Literature is helping out all you dedicated NaNoWriMoers out there.

    As part of this support program, I’m going to be ensconced in the grand dome of the State Library of Victoria this Saturday 22 November, doing my own writing (as a model!) and offering suggestions, strategies and counselling for those who are in the middle of the furious writing that NaNoWriMo is all about.

    More details here.

    See you there!