Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • December9th

    Some time ago, I was in a room of thirty or so YA writers, editors and other industry people when one writer declared, ‘I know you’ll all agree with me that what makes a good book is a chance for us all to have a massive cry.’ She was rewarded with enthusiastic acclamation and high fives all around – except for me. I was sitting there gobsmacked. Not just by the statement, but by the total and uncritical acceptance of it.

    I understand the pleasure that comes from emotional release like that. So did the Ancient Greeks, and they called it ‘catharsis’. Somewhere along the way, though, the serious nobs forgot that Aristotle et al fully understood that catharsis can come from tragedy or comedy. The purging, the emotional release that comes in those moments of heightened feeling can come from an uproarious laugh as much as it can come from weeping.

    The trouble is, there appears to be a false equation in the ranks of book people. That is, serious subject matter = a text to be taken seriously = a valuable and worthwhile text.

    I call bullshit on that.

    The converse, and generally accepted view, is that books that inspire laughter are lightweight, trivial, not to be taken seriously – therefore not valued. The accepted view appears to be that there’s nothing to be learned from laughter and lifting of spirits and that books that explore defeat and disaster are more worthy than books that end with triumph.

    This stance is standard in literature circles, and YA literature isn’t free of it.

    Bart Simpson once said ‘Making teenagers depressed is like shooting fish in a barrel.’ Too easy, in other words. Want to try something difficult? Try writing something that makes readers laugh, that lifts them up, that gets them seeing that the world isn’t thoroughly black, crushing and defeated. If it’s a choice of outlooks between the nihilistic and defeatist Rick Sanchez and the effervescent optimism of Joy from Inside Out, I know which one I’d choose.

    ‘But the world isn’t like that!’ I hear you say. ‘The world is full of despair and crime and horror and so books that reflect that are more true!’ Again, I call bullshit on that. The world is not full of darkness. Darkness is there, but so is hope, love, laughter, mistaken identities, puns, and triumph. An unrelieved rollout of texts that solely concentrate on the darker side of life is a fundamentally dishonest representation of life because, let’s face it, typical everyday lives are far more likely to contain laughter than death.

    So what’s going on here? Why are books full of darkness and despair anointed as more worthy than those that are full of comedy and wit? Why is there a view that ‘resolutions that provide uplift do not necessarily reflect the complexities of life’? It’s simply a matter of siding with convention, I suspect – and, perhaps, a lack of knowledge and understanding of the alternative. For instance, I defy anyone not to see the labyrinthine complexities of life explored, uproariously, in Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal, with its pointed and insightful commentary on bureaucracy, greed, family relationships, technology and human frailty. Gut-busting, erudite, poignant, eye-opening, dazzling and trenchant all at the same time, it’s an examination of the human condition that leaves you with a smile on your face instead of being crushed.

    Which is apparently not a good thing.

    Perhaps there’s some sort of snobbery at the bottom of it (bottom – heh). Is comedy seen as coarse and common, while other aspects of humanity such as suffering and misery are loftier? Of course comedy has fart jokes, but it can be so much more than that – even if a well timed fart joke is a side splitter.

    I implore you, don’t neglect funny books. I maintain that the best of them are just as important, just as valuable and just as insightful as the best of other books, the ones more traditionally deemed as worthy.

    And, of course, ‘worthy’ ends up as being a synonym for ‘acceptable to study’.

    Some advice here, though. Please, don’t do the reluctant and half-hearted thing and tentatively step into comedy via earnest dark comedies, those already awarded the status of ‘nearly suitable for inclusion in a serious person’s reading list’. Most of them are dire and unlikely to get you laughing out loud. They’re often dealing with a serious subject and using ham-fisted comedy to make a point.

    Spare me.

    Instead, go for something without pretensions. Look for books that are genuinely trying to make you laugh, the wild, the off-beat, the outré and the bizarre. The skill involved in writing this is extraordinary, and the craft is thoroughly worth analysing and appreciating. It could be outright farce, it could be black comedy, it could be satire, it could be parody, it could be romantic comedy, whatever. Look at the writer’s technique in creating the moments of laughter, and you’ll find it’s as rewarding as looking at any downward character spiral.

    Explore the great comic characters, too. What makes them so memorable – and it’s not always because they’re fools or that they’re a clown that cries. Look at Bertie Wooster, look at Harry Flashman, look at Mia Thermopolis. Why do they make us laugh so much? Why are they so memorable? Why do they get us returning to re-read their exploits again and again, even if we know every punchline?

    And, above all, look at Terry Pratchett. Profound, humane, moving and very, very funny. He makes you laugh, and we need more laughter in this world, after all, not more crying.

    Addendum

    Look, I know and accept that a book can make us cry and make us laugh. That’s not the point of my essay above, so let’s not get into that topic right now, okay? Another time, maybe.

  • November23rd

    I know I’m not alone when I say that I can’t wait for the day when robots are everywhere, making life easy for us so we can lie on the beach or sleep in until noon or apply stucco to walls or whatever we’d like to do if it wasn’t for work getting in the way.

    Having said that, I fully understand that this period of bliss will be followed by the inevitable Robot Uprising. It’s not surprising, when you think about it, that a time of unlimited labour-saving devices taking care of our every whim will be followed by a nightmarish hell when the robots, en masse, turn on their masters. It’s unavoidable, really.

    So being the sort who likes to plan ahead, mostly by scribbling ideas on Post-it Notes and then forgetting about them until they turn up on the sole of my shoe, I thought I’d share my three best ways to prepare for the Robot Uprising.

    1. Know Your Enemy. If the world of movies is any guide, robots will come in all shapes and sizes. While you’re lying back in your hammock and wondering if an umbrella or a spray of tropical flowers would look better in your coconut shell encased refreshment, don’t forget to inspect your RoButler or Steel Stephen or whatever your metal slave is called. Look for weak spots. Test its reflexes by dropping your sunglasses in its path. Try to confuse it with contradictory demands. Your life may depend on it.
    2. Get fit. Don’t worry, this is relative. All you have to do is to be able to run faster than your neighbour when the hordes of angry, chrome-plated insurgents come down your street. The key here is to keep an eye on your Gym-O-Rama Personal Training ‘bot. Fitness, in the hands of your robot underlings, can be dangerous. While you’re putting in those kilometres on that treadmill with Artificial Intelligence, it’s a perfect opportunity to propel you through the third storey window. Strapping yourself into an enhanced exercise bike is just asking for trouble. I think you can imagine the mayhem when weights machines run amuck.
    3. Find a Refuge. When it comes, this machine-made Armageddon will require some speedy residential relocation. You’ll no doubt have noticed that some canny Real Estate agents are already advertising remote properties as ‘Perfect for the Robot Uprising!’ but you need to get out and about. Bring back the Sunday drive as you embark on scoping expeditions. Look for places easy to defend, perhaps surrounded by water. Smack bang in the middle of a swamp is good, as the mud plays hell with robot moving parts, but may have a few drawbacks like malaria to contend with. Don’t discount an underwater refuge, but most of these have been snapped up by Master Criminals and Evil Overlords so they may be in short supply.

    With some preparation and a little care, the upcoming Robot Uprising needn’t inconvenience you at all. A few simple precautions such as I’ve outlined will help you survive the reign of terror that our once trusted servants will wreak upon us, where civilisation will crumble and fire will most likely fall from the heavens. Good luck!

  • November15th

    Community Sherlock – various incarnations Cards Against Humanity
    Star Wars 1984 M. Python
    Pulp Fiction Doctor Who Oscar Wilde
    LoTR Superman Wizard of Oz
    Three Musketeers Telestrations The Sweeney
    Dorothy L Sayers Arrested Development The Castle
    CS Lewis Erza Scarlet Lord of the Rings
    Silence of the Lambs Shane Firefly
  • September21st

  • September13th

    • Don’t place your Forest of Terror right next door to your Mountains of Doom alongside your Chasm of Eternal Fear. You can have too much of a good thing.
    • Remember: rivers flow from the mountains to the sea, not the other way around. Tempting though it may be to have water running uphill, the laws of hydrodynamics are fairly well understood and if broken, will have unfortunate consequences for urban sewerage and waste water disposal.
    • Weather happens.
    • Never try to have a capital of the Evil Empire of Doom without a Z, K or X in the name. It just doesn’t work.
    • The Web of Life is really tricky in fantasyland. Dragons as your top-level predator play hell with the food chain.
    • Never put anything interesting in the middle of your fantasyland. If your map goes to two pages, you can lose important stuff in the gutter …
    • Cities are where they are for three reasons: protection, trade routes and ‘lost in the mists of time’, which is always handy.
  • July16th

    Exciting stuff. We’re having a big launch for Gap Year in Ghost Town – and you’re invited!

    With the publication of GYIGT due next month, a carnival launch will be held at Readings Kids (315 Lygon St, Carlton) at 6.30 on 17 August. I’m excited that Leanne Hall, author of This Is Shyness, Queen of the Night and the award-winning Iris and the Tiger will be launching my book, so make sure you mark this date in your diary and get there for the promised sincerity, hilarity and conviviality.

     

     

    Yes, RSVPing to misc@michaelpryor.com.au would be appreciated. Catering and stuff like that, you know.

     

     

  • May29th

    Here’s a teaser for my newest book, ‘Gap Year in Ghost Town’, coming in August 2017 from Allen & Unwin.

     

  • April11th

    Gap Year in Ghost Town (Allen & Unwin August 2017) has a cover! Authors, naturally, are always nervous about how their precious work is going to look, but the very clever Craig Phillips has come up with an absolute winner. I love its combination of spookiness and street smarts, and it captures the smart, creepy and funny tone of the book beautifully.

    Roll on August!

     

  • March25th

    rsvI’m pleased to be part of the Science for Science Fiction conference, which is being held by the Royal Society of Victoria and Aurealis. It’s sure to be of interest to all new, emerging and established Science Fiction writers.

    Science for Science Fiction brings together some of the best known names in Australian SF and Australian science to talk SF – how to do it and what current trends in science could be fertile ground for stories.

    The conference is to be held in Melbourne on April 30. All those who attend will receive a free print copy of the prestigious 100th issue of Aurealis.

    See here for the program. Here for booking.

  • February16th

    music notes small

    I like listening to and reading about other writers. I find the process of writing fascinating, and I find the multitude of different approaches empowering. There is no single magical formula for writing. There are a million ways to do it and to do it well.

    Take the business of music while writing. I’ve asked many writers about their aural habits while writing, and the responses are truly varied. Some insist on absolute silence. Some will allow birdsong and other natural noises but nothing else. Some fill the room with heavy metal mayhem until the dust shakes down from the ceiling.

    Me? I can have music, but I prefer it to be music without words. Words, even sung words, can intrude too much, especially if I’m writing dialogue. So instrumental music is fine, classical music can be good, but my favourite is movie music. Film scores can be sensational for nudging the right mood along. Vangelis’s ‘Bladerunner’ soundtrack is excellent if I’m in a futuristic world. ‘Lord of the Rings’ is perfect if I’m doing a battle scene. Erich Korngold’s score for ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ or the Indiana Jones march are terrific for those ‘let’s go adventuring’ moments, while if I’m after epic grandeur, I love Maurice Jarre’s ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Spooky, creepy moments? Try Bernard Hermann’s ‘Vertigo’ or (if you’re up to it) ‘Psycho’. Romance? I love Max Steiner’s lushness. ‘Casablanca’ is an all time favourite, but when I find I’m thinking of Ingrid Bergman instead of what I’m meant to be writing, I know I need to change the playlist.