Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.
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  • July26th

     

     

    Once upon a time, the job description for a writer was fairly straightforward: you sat down and wrote. After that, you worked with an editor and revised your work through to publication.

    Now, the requirements of the job are somewhat different, particularly if you are a writer for young people. It’s not enough just to do the writing – you have to be able to talk about it. Over my writing career I’ve presented to thousands of people, young and old, all over Australia. I’ve talked to cLECTERN smallrowds of hundreds of people. I’ve run intensive writing workshops. I’ve been a writer-in-residence. I’ve been on panels, I’ve chaired debates, I’ve even done the MC thing and hosted glittering occasions. So far this year, I’ve spent nearly forty days away from my desk doing that other part of the job, at schools, libraries and festivals. In the beginning, I was uncertain about this part of the job, but I’ve grown to enjoy it. I’ve learned about presenting and honed my skills by the time honoured method of trial and error followed by reflection. I thought I’d share a few things that work for me.

    1. Introduce yourself. Part of the success of your presentation hinges on your credibility, so you need to establish this straight away. Even if you get an introduction, it’s worth spending a bit of time expanding on it, establishing why the audience should bother listening to you. You have some expertise, but tell the audience what it is!
    2. Outline the presentation. This is a simple way of connecting with the audience. Let them know, broadly, what you’re going to cover. Let them know that there will be time for questions at end – or that you’re happy to take questions along the way. Tell them at the beginning that you’re going to cover the Top 5 Ways to Write a Detective Novel (and then tick them off along the way). Tell them that you’ll spend time on the Life of a Writer, then you’ll read an excerpt from your latest book, and at the end you’ll show them something from your Work in Progress. These signposts help your audience’s expectations, and get them ready for your presentation.
    3. Engage. Easier said than done, of course, but try to connect with the audience near the beginning of your talk. Some suggestions: tell a short anecdote about your school days or your reading; tell how you got to the venue (a funny thing happened to me on the way …); ask a leading question that most of them will answer in the affirmative (‘How many of you saw [insert name of latest popular movie here]?); thank them for having you as a speaker – because it’s important market research for you …
    4. Keep an eye on the audience. Try to judge from their expressions and posture how your talk is going. Speed it up, if necessary. Slow down and explain more if they’re looking puzzled.
    5. Audio visual is helpful, but not to be relied on. No matter how well you’ve prepared your PowerPoint or images of book covers, there’s no guarantee it will work on the equipment at whatever venue you’ve arrive at. I have multimedia presentations but I use them very judiciously, usually at places I’ve been before. If I take them to an untried venue, I arrive early and I have a complete alternative, low-tech presentation ready to go, just in case.
    6. Mention your website at the end, and it can be worth mentioning if you have a Facebook and Twitter presence.
    7. As you finish thank the audience and repeat your name. It never hurts.

    I enjoy the talking side of the writing job. It’s refreshing, challenging and it gives me a chance to meet my audience face to face – or my potential audience, anyway.

     

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  • December21st

    A couple of weeks ago, martianI was asked in to 774 ABC Melbourne for Raf Epstein’s monthly ‘Read with Raf’ book club, to chat about ‘The Martian’. I’d sent in a review based on my blog piece and Raf enjoyed it enough to want more. Raf, Alicia Sometimes and I had a good twenty, twenty-five minutes discussing, analysing and exploring Andy Weir’s book, as well as taking responses from the public via phone and text. We also broadened the discussion into the whole world of Science Fiction and its appeal. Good fun all round.

    Here’s a podcast of the session.

     

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  • November12th

    dystopiasAh, definitions, definitions, definitions! It’s always the way with genre fiction that we have to grapple with definitions and borders and ruling in and ruling out. It’s funny how mainstream fiction doesn’t get all het up about things like, but that’s an issue for another day.

    This selection of ten superb Australian YA fiction titles is probably more of a grab bag than the last few I’ve done (see here and here) but that’s the nature of the beast. I’m possibly conflating two sub-genres here but they go together so naturally, and there are so many overlaps and titles on the border but I’m happy to live with this. The grand tradition of the End of the World novel and the grand tradition of the post-apocalyptic Dystopian novel are well represented in Australian YA fiction, with standout series like John Marsden’s Tomorrow When the War Began opus, but I’m spreading the net wide and I hope to introduce some titles that you might be unaware of, or titles that have been unjustly neglected.

    In short, if you like The Hunger Games or Divergent or The Maze Runner you might like to try these sensational books.

    For more on each of them, follow the hyperlinks.

     

    CBD – John Heffernan (2000). Twenty-third century Sydney is in ruins, and long hidden stories might point the way to escape from an oppressive society. Dark and absorbing.

    My Sister Sif – Ruth Park (1986). Is the world ending or is it just in really bad shape? ClifFi ahead of its time. Lyrical and dreamlike.

    Taronga – Victor Kelleher (1986). It helps to survive in a post-apocalyptic world if you can talk to and befriend animals. Groundbreaking and iconic.

    The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf – Ambelin Kwaymullina (2013). Post-apocalyptic mind powers, repressive dictatorship, hidden secrets to be uncovered, rebels and underground resistance. What’s not to like? Punchy and refreshing.

    Originator – Claire Carmichael (1998). Plagues have decimated the world and society is rigidly stratified, and our heroes are rebels. Pacey and challenging.

    Shade’s Children – Garth Nix (1997). In an unhappy future where no adults exist 14-year-olds are harvested for their parts, which is pretty dystopic. Grim and clever.

    Waiting for the End of the WorldLee Harding (1983). In the chaos following the collapse of society, fleeing to the hills to escape the rising tyranny looks like a solution. Gritty and thoughtful.

    The Lake at the End of the World – Caroline MacDonald (1988). In a post-nuclear holocaust world survival is complicated by the entrenched beliefs of cults. Farseeing and moving.

    Chasing the Valley – Skye Melki-Wegner (2013). Power struggles in a dystopic world full of clever magic and esoteric technology. Lively and original.

    Obernewtyn – Isobelle Carmody (1987). After the apocalypse outcasts and misfits struggle for freedom. Intense and compelling.

     

    As usual, modesty forbids me including my end of the worlder, Blackout (2000), but if you’d like to see what happens to society when all electricity stops, I’m not going to stand in your way :-).

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  • October23rd

    fantasy-covers

    In singling out High Fantasy, I’m really genre splitting here and trying to show that Fantasy is a vast and varied offering, with all sorts of subtleties, approaches and flavours that non-genre readers are perhaps unaware of. By High Fantasy, I mean the full on Tolkienesque epic, complete with fully imagined secondary world, lots of magic and rampant adventure. Australia has a great tradition of writing YA High Fantasy. Here are some recommendations that range over the years right up until today, some obvious choices, some less well known. Some of that is, naturally, are the first books of series. For more on each title, follow the links.

    1. The Starthorn Tree – Kate Forsyth. Foretellings and escapes.
    2. Sabriel – Garth Nix. The bells and the dead.
    3. A Dark Winter – Dave Luckett. Battles and empires.
    4. The Green Prince – Sophie Masson. Prophecies and the sea.
    5. Foundling – David Cornish. Costumes and grotesquerie.
    6. The Singer of All Songs –Kate Constable. Journeys and enchantments.
    7. The Ruins of Gorlan – John Flanagan. Exile and treachery
    8. Eon – Alison Goodman. Dragons and gender fluidity.
    9. The Book of Lies – James Moloney. Truth and magic.
    10. Finnikin of the Rock – Melina Marchetta. Curses and friendships
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  • October1st

    titles-collage

    Looking for Australian YA Science Fiction rather than Australian YA Fantasy? Here are some top titles with some well-known books next to some you may be unaware of.

    1. Displaced Person – Lee Harding. What happens when you start to vanish along with everyone else? Identity, sense of self, sense of place. An Australian classic.
    2. Deucalion – Brian Caswell. Colonialism, intolerance, understanding, in an SF scenario. Thought-provoking.
    3. The Broken Wheel – Kerry Greenwood. Yes, that Kerry Greenwood. Post apocalyptic tribalism. Gritty.
    4. Singing the Dog Star Blues – Alison Goodman. Time travel, aliens, and some funky harmonica playing. Cool.
    5. Burn Bright – Marianne de Pierres. A Gothic, dark dystopia. Stylish.
    6. Ink, Inc – Jack Heath. Want to see how a single technology can change the world? Clever.
    7. Tomorrow When the War Began – John Marsden. Yes, it’s SF. Australia hasn’t been invaded, has it? Iconic.
    8. Black Glass – Meg Mundell. Mass surveillance, authoritarian government, young rebels. Juicy.
    9. Omega – Christine Harris. In space, which way does death lie? Wondrous.
    10. Eye to Eye – Catherine Jinks. Machines can think. Can they feel? Challenging.

    And note how I resisted adding my own 10 Futures, Machine Wars, Blackout, The Mask of Caliban or any others? See my Novels pages for details :-).

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  • 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.

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  • November22nd

    On this fiftieth anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, I thought I’d bring some of his writing advice to you. This comes from a letter that Lewis sent to a young correspondent in 1956, but the suggestions are eternal.

    1. Always try to use the language so as to make quite clear what you mean and make sure y[ou]r. sentence couldn’t mean anything else.
    2. Always prefer the plain direct word to the long, vague one. Don’t implement promises, but keep them.
    3. Never use abstract nouns when concrete ones will do. If you mean “More people died” don’t say “Mortality rose.”
    4. In writing. Don’t use adjectives which merely tell us how you want us to feel about the thing you are describing. I mean, instead of telling us a thing was “terrible,” describe it so that we’ll be terrified. Don’t say it was “delightful”; make us say “delightful” when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers “Please will you do my job for me.”
    5. Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very”; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.

     

    Source: C.S. Lewis Letters to Children, ed. Lyle W Dorsett and Marjorie Lampmead, Collins London 1985.

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  • October25th

    Writers have many challenges. Getting a pencil to a perfect sharp point. Coming up with alternatives to ‘Once upon a time’ to start a story. Finding time to count our enormous sacks of money. Things like that. With The Extraordinaires, my most recently released series I encountered a challenge that I hadn’t confronted before: the intricacies of using a real life character in a work of fiction.

     

    One of the joys of writing fiction is being allowed to make up stuff. It’s fun, and when you’re a Fantasy writer, you get to make up huge bucketloads of stuff, which is extra fun. So when, for a change, I decided to set a book in the real world and include some real, famous people as characters, I had to do something different. I had to stick to the facts. Read More | Comments

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  • October18th

    After my last post on Historical Fantasy was enjoyed by so many, I thought I’d walk across the line and look at Alternate History, especially seeing as I made the distinction between it and historical fantasy.

    And just a word on the Alternate/Alternative debate. Frankly, I think ‘Alternate’ doesn’t make as much sense in this context as ‘Alternative’, and it may be actively wrong, but it seems to the be winner out there in internet land and, as we know, the internet is the arbiter in all things.

    Quick definition – a story where one important premise is a change in an historical event that causes today to be different. The Jonbar Hinge (go on, look it up, I know you’re dying to) kicks off a different (alternative!) timeline providing authors with great story possibilities.

    This sort of story is almost the classic ‘What if?’ jumping off point, from the obvious ‘What if the Nazis won WWII?’ to other, more obscure historical turning points.

    In the list below, I’ve deliberately avoided any Nazis winning WWII stories. You can find them yourselves – there are plenty. Read More | Comments

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  • June26th

    Imagining the future is the best way to prepare for it, and some of the best imagineers are writers. Try these five very different visions of our future.

    Neuromancer. A cool future. William Gibson took film noir and mashed it with computer culture and created a future that has dominated visions ever since, with violent and amoral characters caught in vast conspiracies. With its first sentence (‘The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.’) future imaginings would never be the same. Tense and gritty.

    Snow Crash. A corporate future. The world is owned and operated by businesses and entrepreneurs, the Internet has become the all-subsuming Metaverse and the distinction between reality and the virtual world has all but disappeared. An ancient Sumerian god reappearing as a computer virus? Why not? Neal Stephenson is eclectic, challenging and erudite. Wild and hilarious.

    A Civil Campaign. A human future. Part of Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan saga, this is a comedy of manners in a future where humanity roams the galaxy. With its plots, trysts, intrigues and misunderstandings it could be Austen in the Future, with extra politics and diplomacy. It’s sharp, witty, full of endearing and engaging characters, and with a narrative that takes in espionage, betrayal and romance. Intricate and rewarding.

    The Mars Trilogy (Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars). An ecological future. I sneak this in as one book, because Kim Stanley Robinson’s future is a rigorously imagined one, where the politics and ethics are as much part of the story as the nitty-gritty of colonising another planet. Gripping and thoughtful.

    Always Coming Home. A blighted future. Ursula K. Le Guin gives us an almost anthropological treatise examining what humanity might become after the collapse of civilisation due to an unspecified series of disaster. Lyrical and absorbing.

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