Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
  • 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.

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  • 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.

  • June11th

    Goodreads Book Giveaway

    Machine Wars by Michael Pryor

    Machine Wars

    by Michael Pryor

    Giveaway ends July 11, 2014.

    See the giveaway details
    at Goodreads.

    Enter to win

     

  • June5th

    1. Get your tips in the right order. Having your ‘Beginner’ tips coming in at Number 5 is an amateur mistake/ Ease your reader in with some baby tips then graduate to tougher stuff and finish with some tips for Advanced Tip Types. Alternatively, keep your good stuff until last to build up suspense. It can’t hurt.light small
    2. Aim for relevance. Advice on cleaning camera lenses isn’t helpful if you’re offering suggestions for harpoon maintenance.
    3. Avoid smugness. I know it’s hard when you’re the one with all the knowledge and you’re dispensing it, god-like, to the mortals gathering at your feet waiting to become better human beings thanks to you, but do try, all right?
    4. Specificity is good. ‘Five Tips for …’ is good. ‘Five Top Tips for …’ is even better. ‘Lots of Tips …’ or ‘A Few Tips …’ lacks the necessary punchiness that tip browsers have come to expect. Nail your colours to the mast! Five! Eight! Fifteen! Numbers are good! Numbers count!
    5. Have the courage of your convictions. Tips should never start with ‘It might be good to …’. Be definite, be bold, be confident. ‘Always glue a coin underneath your front door mat to repel anteaters’. ‘Never forget to sprinkle talcum powder in your letterbox to avoid ‘stale mail’ smell’. Or similar.

     

  • May19th

    Sour Ears

    Posted in: Articles, Food

    All right, creative people sour earsthe world over – it’s time to give up. We, as a species, have reached the pinnacle of inventiveness, the utmost reaches of imagination, the zenith of ingenuity. We can go no further. Writers, artists, musicians, everyone may as well down tools; our work here is done.

    I present to you the confectionery known as Sour Ears.

    Gaze upon this acme of creativity and weep, creative people, knowing full well that you will never fashion anything as sublime and perfect as this.

    What dizzying heights of inspiration produced such a thing? What avant garde genius dared fashion it? What outré cabal of sugar-working dreamers said, ‘Yes! Yes it is we who presume to defy convention, social mores and international dental associations!’

    Imagine the cloistered meeting where the notion was first broached. Tentative it would be at first, the proposer barely able to articulate such a potent concept. Argument would ensue in tones of shock and outrage. This could possibly lead to blows and promises of revenge upon families and close associates but, slowly, a tincture of excitement would infect the meeting. Gradually, the naysayers would be won over and become the most fervent advocates of this ground-breaking, paradigm-overturning, universe-redefining advance in softy jelly chews. Later, thousands will claim to have been there and they will speak in hushed tones: ‘This day was the day everything changed.’

    And those listening will nod, murmuring small noises of agreement, glad to share the moment but awed by the glory.

    They would work in secret, of course, toiling for years to perfect their vision. Nothing less than utter flawlessness would do, so thousands of attempts would be discarded. Good, they would be – but they would not be good enough. They would struggle, they would labour, they would dash tears of blood from their cheeks as they strove to make the ineffable yield and become real.

    And lo, this they did achieve.

    Sour Ears. They are sour and they are ears. That is all ye know and all ye need know.

  • April14th

    gold coast supanova 6

    Many more pix below the break!

    I’m just coming out of a very busy – but delightful – fortnight where I was a guest at Supanova Gold Coast and Melbourne. It’s good to see this popular culture extravaganzas having a healthy reading and writing stream (thanks to Ineke Prochazka) with so many fans flocking to chat with authors and have books signed. For me, it’s a chance to catch up with people I’ve known a long time, like Isobelle Carmody or David Cornish, but also to meet people I’ve known about for ages, like Jim Butcher. We do panels together, we chat between sessions, we share seats on the bus – it’s a very convivial time in a world of books, reading and writing, which is one of the many reasons I have the best job in the world. At least, for me it is.

    Even though Supanova (and the other similar festivals/conventions/hootenannys) have their celebrities, guests and megastars, the days really belong to the fans who come along in stonkingly great numbers. Tens of thousands of them roll up in their finery and have a couple of days of sensory overload.

    While there, I get to see many, many, many of these fans as they stroll past the author area. I’m always impressed by the effort that many put into their costumes. Many hours of dedication is needed to achieve the perfection that they attain, and their reward is the approbation of their peers. Read More

  • March26th

    Reading has become a more stratified activity than ever.reader3 small

    Imagine a Healthy Food pyramid, but instead populated by readers.

    At the bottom, sadly, are people who don’t read at all. I’ll leave analysis of whether this section of the community is growing or not to people with massive research grants.

    In the middle is a big grey area comprising people who read occasionally, people who dip in and out of reading, and people who go for long periods without reading much but who don’t mind a read every now and then.

    At the top are my people – the ones who love a good story, the ones with a reading pile, the self-confessed readers.

    But it’s my belief that a new sort of reader is emerging, the ones at the pointiest part of the pointy end of our Reading Pyramid. Perhaps they’ve always been around, but now they’re growing in numbers and becoming a force to be reckoned with.

    I call these people the Super-readers.

    A Super-reader is distinguished from an ordinary reader by a number of things:

    • Their reading pile is potentially life-threatening if it collapses on them.
    • They know what a TBR list is, and they fret about it.
    • They’re like chain smokers – when they finish a book they must have a new one to go on with.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA
    • They read their favourite books more than once. Many, many times more than once.
    • Consequently, they might have more than one copy of a favourite book as their first has worn out – and YOU CAN’T THROW OUT A BOOK.
    • On a train/bus/tram, they’ve become good at reading covers upside down because they’re fascinated by what other people are reading. You never know, someone might be reading what they’re reading and, thus, A CONNECTION IS FORMED!
    • A persistent nightmare for a Super-reader is being caught without a book to read. Therefore, they often travel with two (or more) books.

    Some rarer characteristics of Super-readers:

    • They dress up as characters from their favourite books.
    • They write to their favourite authors, praising or questioning about minutiae.
    • They write fan fiction.

    Regardless of all this, the single defining characteristic of Super-readers is their love of books. This often means they love to talk about reader2 smallbooks. This, of course, has been facilitated by technology. Super-readers congregate, thanks to the internet. They talk about characters, about back stories, about potential sequels, about rumours of film versions and how they’re bound to spoil the book.

    Super-readers are extraordinarily affirming for a writer (‘They like my work!’) but they are also extremely demanding – in a good way. They read closely, carefully, and won’t be happy with anything less than a writer’s best.

    Super-readers keeps a writer on her or his toes, and that’s a good thing.