Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • 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!

     

  • November10th

     

    WoH audio book

    At last – The Laws of Magic is now appearing as audiobooks!

    The fine people at Audible are turning the adventures of Aubrey, George, Caroline and Sophie into quality audio texts. The first to be released is Word of Honour and the books will be read by the very talented Rupert Degas.

     

    Here’s his bio:

    Rupert Degas can be heard reading True History of the Kelly Gang, PS I Love You, If You Could See Me Now, Lord Loss, Demon Thief, Slawter, and The Saga of Darren Shan. He is also the voice of Pantalaimon in Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights. He has lent his voice to numerous cartoons, including Mr Bean, Robotboy, and Bob the Builder and has performed in over thirty radio productions, including The Gemini Apes, The Glittering Prizes, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. He spent eighteen months in the West End performing in the comedy Stones in his Pockets. He has also read A Wild Sheep Chase and The Wind-up Bird Chronicle for Naxos AudioBooks.

    And he does a splendid job with Word of Honour.

    To help celebrate this audio launch, I have some copies of the audio Word of Honour to give away. Just go to my contact page, scroll down to the contact form, and send me a message with the subject ‘WoH audio’. I’ll run this promotion until the end of November.

  • November9th

    Strawberry Jam

    Posted in: Food

    With plenty of good, flavoursome strawberries available at this time of year, strawberrieswhipping up a batch of strawberry jam is fun thing to do. Not only for personal consumption (ahem) but a jar of hand-made jam is a lovely present in the festive season.

    I make a number of different versions of strawberry jam, including a sublime strawberry and banana(!) version, but here’s a good, straightforward recipe from Edwardian times, with modern measurements and a few interpolated notes from me.

    Strawberry Jam

    Ingredients

    1 kg strawberries, washed and hulled

    1 kg sugar

    1/2 cup of lemon juice

    Method

    Place sugar in a large stock pot/boiler.

    Over a low heat, add enough water to just dissolve the sugar.

    Add lemon juice.

    Bring to a rapid boil.

    Add strawberries.

    Boil rapidly until setting point is reached (104 degrees C). If you don’t have a sugar thermometer, spoon a little jam onto a cold saucer and push to one side. If a wrinkled skin forms, the jam is ready.

    Bottle in jars that have been well-washed and then heating in the oven while the jam is being made.

    Serve with scones and cream.

    The advice from the past is that strawberry jam should never be over-boiled, as it ruins the flavour. Under-cooking is preferable, so that it’s only slightly set.

    Note: strawberry jam can be tricky to set, so it’s worth having some pectin (‘JamSetta’) on hand, just in case. It’s available from most supermarkets; just follow the directions on the pack if your jam is temperamental regarding setting.

  • October23rd

    Here’s a sneak peek at something I’m working on right now.

    Dad put both hands flat on the table in front of him and stared at them. ‘You need to shoot your own dog.’

    ‘What? Where did that come from? Is this non sequitur week?

    ‘I can’t let you do it, Anton. Sometimes, a man needs to shoot his own dog.’

    ‘Aargh! Repeating it doesn’t make it any better! What are you? A character in an old western movie?’

    ‘I –’

    ‘That’s so dumb, “A man’s gotta shoot his own dog.” No he doesn’t! Why not save it? Get it the right treatment, an operation, whatever. I mean, that sort of stoic guy stuff is a cop out. Who are you thinking of, the dog or you? If I don’t take care of my dog I’ll look bad? Sheesh. All over the wild west, I bet dogs lived in constant fear, just in case their masters glanced at them with the ‘That dog’s seemin’ a mite poorly’ look in their eye.’

  • September10th

    Lots of experts have advice to help your children read. I have one suggestion that I’m going to offer in ten different varieties, and it’s all to do with the power of modelling. Your children observe you and are shaped by what you do and say. It’s the power of modelling.reading man My suggestion is all to do with you modelling good reading behaviour so your children will subtly learn that reading is an enjoyable, fun experience. Too often, the only reading a child sees his/her parent doing is professional reading – spreadsheets, reports, quality control documents. And how do we read this? Scowling, muttering, frowning and giving every indication that reading is anything but pleasurable. So let’s turn this around!

    1. Let them catch you reading – and enjoying it.
    2. Let them see you reading and smiling, or frowning, or crying, or laughing.
    3. Let them overhear you talking about the book you’re reading, and how much you’re enjoying it.
    4. Let them discover the book you’re reading, left around on the kitchen bench with a bookmark in it.
    5. Let them see you mess up something because you were too deeply immersed in the book you’re reading.
    6. Let them see you recommend a book to someone.
    7. Let them see your ‘To Be Read Pile’.
    8. Let them hear you say, ‘Not now, I’m reading a really good book.’
    9. Let them see you Googling whether the book you finished has a sequel or not.
    10. Let them see you sigh when you close a book upon finishing.

    So go and read a good book. Enjoy, and don’t be afraid to show it!

  • August31st

    Last Friday night, after the headiness of five Melbourne Writers’ Festival engagements in four days – plus two celebratory occasions – my wife and I went out to Melbourne restaurant Prix Fixe. Now, Prix Fixe is a fine dining establishment at any time, but when we saw its August menu we simply had to be there. Chef Philippa Sibley had always adored CS Lewis’ Narnia books and decided to construct a dining experience around them.prix fixe narnia door

    When we arrived, we found that the front door of the restaurant had been transformed into a wardrobe door. Stepping inside, we were greeted by fur coats overhead – and by friendly staff. Thus our Narnia inspired evening began.

    The food was all inspired by good English cooking, in the best traditions of Uncle Andrew and Professor Kirke. Before the menu proper, we were offered Coffin Bay oysters. I succumbed and had three, imagining myself to be in an Edwardian oyster house. They were superb, fresh, briny and brilliant.

    To begin our Narnia dining, we had a delightful cream of celery soup, with Stilton ice-cream and candied walnut crumble. A miracle of myriad flavours. Then came ‘A Winter Picnic’, a plate with an assortment of tit-bits: a Scotch egg, potted shrimp in a glass, and two delicate cucumber sandwiches. Each of these was a rather superior version of the traditional namesakes, and each was delicious.

    Then came ‘Tea with Mr Tumnus’, a Phillipa Sibley version of traditional English fare: lamb suet pudding, minty peas and carrots. This was hearty, rich, full of flavour, and melt in the mouth. Marvellous, marvellous stuff.

    Before dessert, an optional cheese course was available: ‘English cave aged, cloth bound Cheddar, pickled quince with oat cakes’. I was sorely tempted, as I love a good cheddar but, alas, dessert beckoned. At this stage, it was one or the other, but not both …

    Dessert had to feature Turkish Delight, didn’t it? The White Queen herself would have been proud of the  ‘Turkish delight, pistachio, white chocolate’ confection that was put in front of us. It was cold, sweet, floral, aromatic and heady. Swoon-inducing stuff.

    All night, as we ate, we reminisced about the Chronicles of Narnia, and how food was an essential part of the stories. From the kitchen of Mrs Beaver to the dining tables of the Dufflepuds, food and eating played an important part in the worlds Lewis created.

    The food at Prix Fixe was most certainly better than the food of 1950s England when the Chronicles were published, but it did share some of the magic and mystery that those cherished books had.

    A sumptuous night.

  • August20th

    Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep isn’t a perfect novel. doctor-sleep-the-long-awaited-sequel-to-the-shiningIt has inconsistencies, a few plot holes, some ‘What the …?’ moments, but they’re forgiven because King does something surpassingly well, something that drags us into the story and keeps us reading right through.

    Character. Stephen King does character like few others can.

    When I run writing workshops, I often bang on about the elements of story. Just as often, I then go on to declare that of all the elements of story, character is the most important. If a writer does character well, the story will work. If all the other story elements are wonderful, but the story’s characters are dull, flat, or unengaging, then the story is likely to fail.

    The key word here is ‘engaging’. If a writer creates engaging characters, readers will keep reading to see what happens to them, it’s as simple as that. King has a knack for creating engaging characters. Strike that, it’s not a knack – it’s something that he works at in a hundred different ways.

    The two main characters in Doctor Sleep are Dan Torrance and Abra Stone. Dan is the main Point of View character. Now, while remembering that King is a Horror Writer and Dr Sleep is a Horror novel, take note of how much time King spends on non-horror stuff. A good half of the novel has nothing to do with horror. We explore Dan’s problems with alcoholism, we see his search for solace, we experience his sense of dislocation, we work through his backstory – family, work history, episodes of violence and self-loathing. To balance this, we learn about Dan through his actions, where he acts selflessly but not without internal struggle. We see him undertake work, physical labour, and he does so with care and dedication. We see his relationships with others – sometimes fraught, sometimes difficult.

    And we come to understand Dan’s tortured feelings about his parents.

    King keeps us riveted in Dan’s personal struggles in a thousand different ways, like turns of phrase that belong to Dan alone, or the careful formality he uses when addressing the older women in the hospice he works at, or his childish enjoyment at driving the model train, or the mannerisms that are sifted in along the way, all contribute to a rounded, breathing character.

    Mannerisms. I’d really like to use an example here, but the most important mannerism in this book is a key plot point, and I don’t’ want to get into spoiler territory. Let it be said that the mannerism is deftly dropped in nice and early then touched on a few times throughout so that when the key moment comes you not only have a fine example of using mannerisms to establish and maintain character, you have a superb example of foreshadowing. King is a craftsman.

    King uses memories, too, and this is particularly important since this book is ‘many years later’ sequel to The Shining. Dan’s flashbacks and musings fill us in on what has happened in the years since the Overlook Hotel burned down, but the time he spends dwelling on these events serves another purpose – they show us that he’s a thoughtful, reflective person.

    All of this works independently from the horror aspects of the book. And, of course, when the horror elements are introduced, they are all the more horrific because they are contrasted with these everyday elements of a realistic life. Thanks to King’s careful characterisation, we keep turning the pages, on the edges of our seats because we care for Dan and Abra, we want to see if they will prevail or if they will succumb to the evil.

    King manages to do all of this subtly, with a lightness of touch that is masterly. We don’t see him at work because we are engrossed in the characters and the narrative. He doesn’t draw attention to his methods – they work away undetected.

    Doctor Sleep is a masterclass in character and characterisation.

  • August3rd

    The clever people at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival have put together video profiles of some of the participating authors. Here’s mine. It was filmed in the glorious Queen’s Hall at the State Library of Victoria, with a snippet in the magnificent domed reading room.

    mwf

     

     

     

     

     

  • July18th

    Here ’tis, my mwfMelbourne Writers’ Festival appearance log. For more details, click on the links. See you there!

    Who’s Your Doctor? Thu 28th Aug 12.30pm
    Workshop: World Building Wed 27th Aug 11.15am
    A Brief History of Robots Tue 26th Aug 10.00am
    Do You Remember the First Time? Mon 25th Aug 7.30pm

     

  • June26th

    In a dream, I imagined trawling through Tolkien’s papers and unfinished manuscripts and finding a completely new text. It was originally called Seven Habits of Highly Effective Characters of Destiny – with a scrawled marginal note showing that puckish humour that Tolkien is known for where he’s changed this to 7 Hobbits – but Tolkien eventually settled for Middle Earth and Middle Managers For Dummies.

    Here are some of the chapter titles:

    1. Performance Reviews and the All Seeing Eye
    2. Restructuring the Mordor Way
    3. Handling Difficult Customers – Bloodshed is only one option!
    4. Massed Battles and Occupational Health and Safety
    5. Equal Opportunity means it’s Orcs and Elves!
    6. Leadership and Kingship – do the two go together?
    7. Meetings Go Better with Dwarves!
    8. Change Management and Prophecies – does this mean more planning time?
    9. The Difference between HR Departments and Evil Empires (short chapter, that one)
    10. How to Win/Win and still crush your enemies into the dust they deserve

    Middle-earth for Middle Managers is full of pithy, down to earth advice for anyone who has anything to do with a large organisation. Here are some gems:

    ‘Frodo was much more centred, career-wise, once he’d articulated a concrete goal: throwing the Ring of Power into the Cracks of Doom. Note how his goal was SMART: specific (not just any ring – THE ONE RING), measurable (how many rings is he actually able to throw into the Cracks of Doom?), attainable (well, in theory), realistic (crossing the tractless wilderness while being hunted by the Nine Nazgul? Well,technically, I suppose it was realistic) and timely (to avoid the end of the world as he knew it).’

    ‘Conflict Resolution has its limitations. Mediation sessions bringing slavering orc soldiers and their foes together rarely end well.’

    ‘Interviews. When being interviewed by wizards, elven kings or any other beings more than a thousand years old, banging on about your experience is a poor tactic.’

    And finally, Tolkien’s never fail dictum: ‘When confronted by a difficult situation – an uncooperative co-worker, a boss who files her nails during your performance view or even just working in an office where no-one puts their dirty dishes in the dishwasher no matter how many signs you put up, just ask yourself: ‘What would Gandalf do?’

    In the box where my dream discovered Middle-earth for Middle Managers I found that Tolkien had  left more notes for books on a variety of topics, and it’s a shame he never got around to writing them.

    Relationships – Dwarves are from Mars, Elves are from Venus

    Lifestyle Books – Better Homes and Dungeons

    Travel – Middle Earth on Five Gold Pieces a Day!

    Cooking – Gordon Ramsay’s Mordor Nightmare

    Self Help Books – My Precious, Your Precious, OUR Precious

    It’s too good not to be true.