Book Review: On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta

Hi all,

“Damn, I wish I wrote this”, is the thought that usually comes to mind while reading books by one of my favourite Aussie authors, Melina Marchetta. On the Jellicoe Road (published in the US as Jellicoe Road) is no exception.

Why has it taken me so long to read this book (first published more than a decade ago), when I absolutely loved Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca, Melina’s two previous YA books?

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At least now I have read it.

When I headed off to Europe a couple of months ago, I wanted to take something with me that oozed distinct #LoveOzYa flavour. On the Jellicoe Road fell into my lap a few days before I left, so I stuffed it in my bag and read it while cruising Welsh canals.

And…it…was…wonderful.

So what’s it all about?

Taylor Markham, a seventeen-year-old boarding school student at Jellicoe School in country New South Wales, was abandoned by her mother in a 7-Eleven restroom when she was eleven. At that time, a woman named Hannah began caring for her, but Taylor grows to suspect that Hannah hides knowledge about Taylor’s mother.

When Taylor was fourteen, a hermit whispered something in her ear (which she can’t remember – along with other pockets of her life) before he committed suicide in front of her. Taylor ran away to search for her mother and, on the way, met Jonah Griggs, a military school cadet who, she’s been told, killed his own father.

I love the dialogue when they met:

“Do you know when the next train to Yass is coming?” I had asked.

“Go to hell,” he said, but there was a desolate fear in his eyes and I couldn’t look away.

“Been there. Trust me. It’s so overrated.”

So Taylor opened up to him, but felt betrayed when he called an adult to come and collect them.

Now seventeen, Taylor has put up a wall to the world and is no longer willing to trust. By a weird political process, she finds herself chosen to lead the Jellicoe School kids in the next round of territorial wars between them and the cadets (with Jonah as their leader) and the townies, a group of students who live in town and whose leader has history with one of Taylor’s few true supporters.

Taylor must face Jonah again as enemies. To make things worse, Hannah, the constant in Taylor’s life and the one person she trusts, disappears.

While most of the story is told in Taylor’s first-person point of view, there are also snippets of another tale, told in third-person and concerning a group of kids brought together following a car accident which claimed the lives of some of their parents. The connection between the two stories is beautiful, but heart-breaking.

I won’t say any more – there is so much more I could – except that, after a surprisingly slow start, this story gathers momentum until, by the end, I nearly wept. So many small, seemingly insignificant, details connect in a beautiful tale of the power of family, love, and forgiveness. The characters are memorable, the writing fantastic, and the story completely moving, which only serves to reaffirm Melina’s place as one of Australia’s best YA authors in my eyes.

On Melina, I’ve referred to her in a previous post, when she wrote a great piece on the implications of the Productivity Commission’s proposed changes to intellectual property on the Australian publishing industry, Australian writers and readers. You can read it here:

Alibrandi, Francesca, You and the Productivity Commission

For more about Melina and her books, visit her website.

Now back to my own writing,

Rebecca

 

 

Character Source – Using Personalities I Discovered During Travel to Enhance My Writing

Hi all,

I’ve been off the blogging grid for most of the last six and a half weeks, travelling through Europe with my family – apologies for the lack of recent posts. While the two main purposes of this trip were to visit our extended family and introduce my children to the wonders, both natural and man made, of this intriguing continent, I also spent time researching for my next project, a middle grade novel aimed primarily at boys.

Possible settings was one area of research. Here is one location I am toying with including:

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Ten points if you know where it is 🙂

I’ll have more on settings in a future post for, as well as this, I spent more time than is probably healthy observing people I met along the way.

IMG_3048There was the toothless elderly stall holder in a Rome market, whose eyes sparked with a zest for life and hinted at a colourful past while she handed me my chosen cherries and tomatoes.

Then there’s the dark-skinned French woman in a train bound for Paris, her elaborately-beaded hair rattling with giggles at our joint conspiracy to sit in the best seats and convince the ticket checker – via two languages – to leave us there (it worked).

I can’t forget the rosy-cheeked and robust New Zealand boy, who showed the locals how it’s done with his expertise at working canal locks (all learnt within the previous half hour, I might add).

And what about the curly-haired office worker, who stayed back past 11pm every night in the office block opposite our London apartment? Did he not have anything, or anyone, to go home to?

These are only a few.

I took note of their appearance, their mannerisms, any quirks. I wondered about their history. And their future. I made notes on what I saw, and more notes on what I imagined, and returned home with evolving character sketches I’m itching to develop further and incorporate into my WIP’s outline.

So now it’s back to it. Until next time,

Rebecca

 

Tripping Away…

Hi all,

Blank Norebook

Yep, I know I’ve been a little quiet on the writing/blogging/social media chit-chat front lately, but if there’s ever a good reason to step away, it’s this. I’ve been head down and butt up organising a pretty huge overseas trip for my family of five.

A trip that’s about to start.

A trip consisting of:

four (loooong) flight segments,

four (pretty fast) train rides,

ten diverse hotel and apartment stays, and

three car hires – and one of a narrowboat.

And while helping my children juggle four currencies – and my husband juggle three offspring – I hope to squeeze in some much needed time to research my next WIP. But more on that later…

I hope you’re finding some time to write.

Or at least some time to plan a research, I mean, family trip.

Until next time,

Rebecca

 

Of Writing, Biscuits, and Gratitude

Hi all,

file_22988_labrador-retriever

dogs have an uncanny way of reminding us of the important things in life. Beulah, the elderly black labrador in the below post, is no exception. From the other side of the world, and through the poetic words of the post’s author, this canine reminds me of the power of the present, and to be grateful for what I have, rather than dwell on what I want. All while she struggles to turn away from her own cravings.

It’s a beautiful piece of writing. Tell me what you think,

Rebecca

By Lynn G. Carlson

The resident dog at my vet’s office is named Beulah and she is clearly senile. Her black-lab muzzle is grizzled and her eyes are opaque gray. She stands in the center of the waiting area on unsteady legs and makes eye contact with me, then moves her eyes to a blue […]

via Of Writing, Biscuits, and Gratitude — BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog

When Scammers Infiltrate Modern Publishing – Emerging Writers Beware

Hi all,

this is concerning, to say the least:

Scammers used to operate at the edges of the publishing business, but have wormed their way into its heart. And the entire industry is in denial. An unintentionally revealing aspect of the tiresome Amazon-Hachette dispute was a series of statements from an organization purporting to advocate for authors’ rights. One of the heinous crimes Amazon […]

via This Is The Modern Publishing Business — David Gaughran

Book Review: Red Queen Series (so far) by Victoria Aveyard

Hi all,

I have a hard time not reading a book in its entirety. Once I start, I feel like I’ve failed if I don’t read to the end. Or maybe the book has failed me?

I suppose this is why, after four failed attempts at getting beyond the fifty-page mark of Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, I gritted my teeth and persevered. After all, I had been given the three books in the series so far, as well as the companion book, Cruel Crown, which includes two short back stories from the point of view of supporting characters.

Am I happy I persevered enough to read all four?

No. And, yes.

Let me explain.

This series consists of a hierarchical dystopian society complete with a girl who finds out she has a special power, a potential love triangle (or quadrangle, depending on how you look at it), and a growing rebellion. Those with extraordinary powers (the Silvers) wield these powers to maintain control over those without (the Reds). Trouble is, the main character, a Red girl named Mare, develops a special power of her own. The Silvers are not pleased, to say the least, and try to pass Mare off as a long-lost Silver (yeah, right) until they can figure out what to do with her. With no choice but to live this new life, Mare tries from within royal circles to help the Red rebellion.

I don’t want to say much more about the actual story – I hate posts brimming with spoiler alerts – so instead…

First of all, I found Mare a little annoying, probably due to the fact that much of her dialogue was followed up with internal monologue and/or explanation (loads of Tell over Show here, guys). I was seldom allowed, as the reader, to come up with my own interpretation on how she was feeling and what she was thinking. I also found many of the characters quite stereotypical – evil queen, loyal best friend, wise older teacher, mean girl gang, and traditional older prince. A bit ho-hum.

The plot twists as a whole came across rather weak and poorly conceived. For instance, on her first day on the job and with no training, Mare was put to work at the most important event on the calendar. Really? Was this the best way to introduce her special skill? And the main villain was too easy to identify. If someone’s too good to be true, they usually are, right? Too cliché.

But my biggest peeve was the use of point of view. Take the first book, Red Queen, written in Mare’s first-person point of view. This girl sure has an amazing way of hopping into another’s head. Another special power, perhaps? For example:

“Maven is more desperate, surprising himself as much as me. He knows I’m sinking fast, a stone dropped through the river. And he wants to drown with me.”

This continues in Glass Sword, the second book:

“Grateful for the change in conversation, he pulls himself together.”

And King’s Cage, the third book:

“He walks forward, fighting the deep instinct to fear this place.”

How does Mare know what these characters are feeling??? In each of these examples, there is no indication through their actions or words that would lead her to these conclusions. She may suspect, especially in the later books once she knows these characters better, but they are all still assumptions on her part. Is she some sort of all-knowing deity?

So why did I continue? Why did I read them all? Because once I finished the first book, there was no going back. For all of its simplicity, and as long as I could take note of flaws and move on, I came to enjoy the story Victoria Aveyard had created and the world it inhabited. I grew fond of the characters, under-developed though they may be, especially some of those supporting. Going forward, the stories surrounding characters such as Evangeline and Cameron actually interest me more than Mare’s. Something to do with their internal conflict, I suspect.

So if you want standard run-of-the-mill escapism, and don’t dissect the plot/characters/style too much, this series could be for you. But if you’re looking for something totally unexpected and fresh, with writing that leaves you breathless, hmmm, maybe not so much.

Will I buy the next book? Maybe…yes, unless I’m given that one as well 🙂

I’ve come too far.

Until next time,

Happy writing (and reading),

Rebecca

Don’t Give up Your Daydream – Nine Book Quotes to Inspire You

Hi all,

Orange sunset

I love inspirational quotes, especially those woven into books. Below is a blog post I found of nine quotes that remind me of the importance of believing in myself and my dreams. I hope they do the same for you 

I especially love number four, which begins with:

“The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable…”

So true.

What about you? What are your favourite inspirational book quotes?

via 9 Breathtaking Book Quotes That Will Inspire You Not to Give Up On Your Daydream — Dating, Breaking News, Celeb Gossip & Everything College | CC

Things I Took Away From the NSWWC Open House with Penguin Random House (Apart From Valuable Manuscript Feedback)

Hi all,

Last Friday, I attended the New South Wales Writers Centre (NSWWC) Open House with Penguin Random House Australia (PRH). I thought I’d share some of the key points I gleaned from this day, as I know there were some who, unfortunately, were unable to attend due to the limited number of seats on offer.

After the introduction of representatives from the departments of publishing, editorial, sales, marketing and publicity – including an overview of their respective roles – the group launched into a mock acquisition meeting. Those stating their case on why a book should, or should not, be given the green light included (from left to right in the pic below):

  • Catherine Hill, Deputy Managing Editor, Random House Books
  • Belinda Connors, Key Account Manager, Penguin Random House
  • Karen Reid, Publicity Director, Penguin Random House
  • Sarah Hayes, Editorial Assistant, Random House Books
  • Lex Hirst, Commissioning Editor, Random House Books
  • Tom Langshaw, Editor, Random House Books, and
  • Meredith Curnow, Knopf Vintage Publisher, Random House Books

This session was very insightful – and entertaining! Key points included:

  1. When a manuscript reaches the acquisition stage, a lot of work has already been done to get it to the level required to offer (of course, this doesn’t mean the author will accept any offer made, and a project can still be shelved by PRH for a multitude of other reasons. So while a lot of work has been done, there are no guarantees, my friends!)
  2. An author’s ability to adapt is a definite plus when determining whether to acquire his or her work. Have they demonstrated this adaptability already?
  3. An editor may be passionate about a book, but if the sales or publicity team don’t share that enthusiasm, things can get interesting.

But saying this, acquisition meetings don’t usually end up in a war of words or a brawl on the carpet. Participants are really quite friendly to each other 🙂

The next session discussed children’s publishing with Laura Harris, Publishing Director with Penguin Random House Young Readers. I could have listened to Laura speak for hours, she was that enthusiastic about kids’ books. I was also interested to hear that Laura has worked with Mem Fox, Melina Marchetta and Morris Gleitzman, three of my favourite Australian authors.


Laura Harris

Key points Laura made:

  1. PRH receives about 3,000 children’s submissions per year in Australia, and publish about 100 (to be honest, the latter figure is higher than I thought it would be but I assume it includes agented submissions – I didn’t think to ask for clarification, sorry).
  2. The top four books for 2016 were all children’s books. And all for middle readers.
  3. Four times as many middle reader books were sold last year in Australia compared to YA (yet YA gets the lion’s share of attention in the children’s book sector).

Then it was on to discussing the editorial process, with Catherine Hill, Tom Langshaw and Lex Hirst returning to the stage to discuss books they have worked on. Key points included:

  1. A “really, really good book” can still require pages and pages (15 was mentioned in the example) of initial editing notes.
  2. Cover design should never be underestimated – it should communicate in a glance what the book is about.
  3. Editors love spreadsheets and graphs. Or so it appeared 🙂

Next was the art of promotion, with Karen Reid back in the chair. The key message for me from this was “SUB PLUS THREE”. What does this mean, I hear you ask? It means that the most effective time to promote your book is from submission until three months after publication. It’s much harder to achieve good results after this time. Something to do with modern society’s short-term memory problem, perhaps?

Now, where was I? Oh, that’s right. Karen’s other key points were:

  1. Authors must be able to speak in front of an audience, and must be able to describe their book succinctly. They should also have a professional photo taken for inclusion in promotional packs, review pieces, etc.
  2. Sale projection numbers influence the extent and breadth of any book tour to be undertaken.
  3. Never underestimate the influence of SEO (search engine optimisation)/SEM (search engine marketing) and Google ads.
  4. Write other pieces to place in newspapers and magazines – remember what was said about adaptability above? Include your blurb at the end with your online contact details. It’s another way people can learn more about you and your work.

The last session before lunch covered rights and distribution with Nerrilee Weir, Senior Rights Manager for PRH.


Nerrilee Weir

Nerrilee had a key message of her own: that your narrative must resonate with readers world-wide. You must “find the universal” in your work, so that it is able to travel. Other points I took away from her talk included:

  1. Selling rights to international publishers is all about pitching. This involves a lot of rejections which read similar to the ones you or I may receive as authors such as, “We didn’t fall in love with the voice” or, “We didn’t feel passionate enough about it”. Sound familiar?
  2. Audio is everywhere now and the Australian film industry is on the rise, providing other avenues for income.
  3. There are clauses in contracts to ensure that “lost in translation” issues do not arise when rights are sold to non-English language markets.

After lunch, I sat in a YA break-out group with four other YA writers, where we had an informal 30-minute chat with Zoe Walton, YA and children’s publisher with PRH. Zoe would have to be one of the nicest publishers I’ve met – and I’m not just saying that because she had good things to say about my writing in our individual session (see below). Anyway, in the group chat we discussed:

Offers – her recent YA offers are split 50/50 between agented and non-agented submissions, and most are contemporary by nature. Fantasy offers are scarce.

Synopses – she recognises how difficult synopses can be to write, and dislikes the style of All Caps when introducing a character’s name for the first time.

Trends – doesn’t see any dominant trend at present.

Individual fifteen-minute sessions followed the break-out group chat. One month previous, I had been asked to submit the first twenty pages of my YA manuscript, along with an author bio and synopsis, to Zoe. Although my manuscript is geared toward the US market, I was keen to hear Zoe’s thoughts on its merits.

I was extremely pleased that Zoe took the time to prepare assessment notes, which she discussed with me during our session and gave to me at the conclusion (thank you again, Zoe!) Her wonderful feedback was fairly consistent with that from US agents, who had received partial or full requests of my manuscript following my pitch to them last August. For those who don’t remember, it was at the Writers Digest Conference in New York City. Read more about it here:

https://rebeccajchaney.wordpress.com/2016/08/28/the-biggest-thing-i-took-away-from-the-writers-digest-conference-and-it-has-nothing-to-do-with-sessions-agents-or-networking/

So, where to now?

Zoe’s comments spur me to continue riding this roller-coaster life of writing. Although I’m still to hear back from three of the agents in NYC who requested partials/fulls of the same YA manuscript, I’ll continue to refine this piece and query elsewhere in the US market.

I’ll also complete my current WIP, a middle grade novel with a very unreliable narrator, to say the least. As Zoe seemed to like my writing style, I might even submit this project to her in due course 🙂

For now, and until next time,

Happy writing,

Rebecca

Does a Writer’s Gender Matter When Querying Agents?

Hi all,

I came upon the below post quite by accident but, as a writer with a manuscript currently out on submission, I found it very interesting. Read on to find out why…

In a perfect world, agents and publishing houses would judge authors based solely on syntax, characterization, plot, and other aspects of writing. But our world is far from a perfect one, and an author’s race, gender, and sexuality can still play a role in who is published. In particular, some of the recent discussions about gender […]

via Finding an Agent: When Gender Matters for a Writer — Kristen Twardowski