I Am Alice: Body Swap In Wonderland

I Am Alice

I Am Alice: Body Swap in Wonderland with art by Ayumi Kanou and the story by Visualworks was first published in 2013.

It’s always been really rare for me to read any form of manga but, I bought this series because I found the concept funny and I’ve just finished reading the last book in the trilogy. Rather than just reviewing the first one I’m going to refer to all three books because it didn’t take me very long to read them. I Am Alice is one of two manga trilogies that I own (told you it was rare) and it’s very loosely based around characters from Alice In Wonderland.

The story is about a boy called Makoto who ends up in a twisted version on Wonderland but there is a mix up and he swaps bodies with Alice who comes from another world. It sounded funny when I first heard about it and the series is in some ways but I was surprised by the serious parts of the story.

When the genderswap is revealed by Alice it is met by a ‘so what’ attitude from most of the other characters and none of them are mean or derisive about the matter. Of course there’s a bit of sappy, “I love you for your heart” speeches but I could live with that. There is monsters, mercenary groups and a bit of magic in the trilogy which is good for variety in the plot but, I really kept reading because I liked the happy moments where the characters are getting along.

There are only three books in the series which was appealing (no offense, but some manga series seem to go on forever. Kudos to anyone who puts in the effort to keep up) but there are a few things I would’ve liked to see more of. For example, there are many references to some of the characters knowing each other before the events of the books but only a couple of these references are expanded on. Personally, out of curiosity, I wanted to know more about the friendship between Hatter and the White Rabbit.

There are a lot of interesting (not always morally good) characters in the story such as the Jabberwock but they become sidelined far too quickly. At this point I will point out that the ‘villains’ are generally petty, rash and willing to take advantage of Alice’s short skirt (especially in the third book). Thankfully those moments never went beyond words and malicious intent because I would’ve put the book down and never picked it up again.

I picked I Am Alice because I wanted to read something fun, a little bit cute but it needed to have some plot as well (I would’ve been more impressed with the plot if the king’s reasons for what he did were less like he was having a temper tantrum). Overall, I enjoyed reading them because they were easy to follow, the art was good and the characters were unusual.

According to the end of the book the story is continued in a totally different fashion through an online game but, I haven’t taken a look so far so I don’t know if it’s easily available or if the story reaches an official, final conclusion.

They weren’t the easiest books to get as there seemed to be a limited number available but the staff at my local bookshop were great at indulging my request to find them and I’m happy to say that the books were worth the effort in my opinion.

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Starting a Writing Group

I’ve said before that one of the things I miss the most about studying creative writing at university is the chance to chat about my stories with people who really understood. Whether I was on a role or I was struggling there was always someone nearby who wanted to listen and share ideas.

The difference between writing with or without a friend during the tough moments is a surprisingly big one. Despite my blogging, which has been great in giving me an outlet for my thoughts about writing, I miss the immediate feedback that almost always led to results. I like feeling excited about a new idea or a breakthrough in a story but it’s nice to share those moments with someone who has felt the same way about their own work.

Writing groups are designed for like-minded people to meet up but taking that first step and going to a session isn’t necessarily a simple matter. For example, I can feel really shy when I first meet people. When I joined a local art group last year it took a few sessions before I spoke to anyone that I didn’t already know. Once I felt more comfortable with the people in the group I could talk to the others without feeling anxious.

However, now I’m setting up a writing group from scratch in my local area and after telling you about my shyness that might seem a little bit counterintuitive. I know that if I have the option to sit back and get my bearings before contributing then I’ll take it. Leading a group is a little bit different but, I’ve proved to myself in the past that I am totally capable. Writing is a topic that I am obviously very passionate about but if you didn’t know me at university then you may not know how much I love encouraging other writers to do their best. I love seeing someone live up to their potential and it’s really inspiring when you get to know other people who are great at what they do.

My hope for the writing group is that people who want to write will meet up, chat and maybe they will write a little bit while they are with the group. Of course, I’d love to be planning events and trying out big new ideas in the future but, for an initial goal I think that supporting fellow writers is a good one. I personally know that it can be nerve wracking to start talking about a project that you’ve put a lot of work into but I also know that critique is about a lot more than grammar. It’s also not about pointing out every little mistake. If a piece of writing is good, then you should say it and if it needs a little bit of work then you should be constructive when you’re offering suggestions. Be helpful.

For me, a writing group should be a safe space where you leave feeling eager to continue working on your stories.

When I say stories I am 100% not demanding that every member of the group has to write fiction. Non-fiction, poetry and all other kinds of writing are totally welcome because fiction writers are definitely not the only people who need and want support from others.

Darlo Rocket Writers might be a brand new group but I’ve had a lot of support and I’m looking forward to meeting more writers in the future.

 

The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan

The Hidden Oracle

The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan was first published in 2016.

I was excited to read the first book in the series about Apollo immediately after I read the blurb of the book and I’m so glad that my brother was happy to let me borrow his copy.

Rick Riordan tells the story of the Greek god Apollo who has been cast down from Olympus. He is mortal, a teenager and he knows that he will have to go through a lot of trials on Earth before Zeus will consider lifting his punishment.

I adore how imaginative Rick Riordan’s writing is. The book is very entertaining and surprisingly emotional as it’s told from Apollo’s point of view. He has a lot of history that made him the God he was and therefore Apollo is a complex character which makes him utterly fascinating to follow. I’m amazed at Rick Riordan’s skill in creating an arrogant but likeable character as it can be no easy task to keep a story contained when the protagonist has many lifetimes of experience and memory. Also, it is so clever that in a book about the Greek god of poetry every chapter begins with a haiku.

I’ve always loved mythology, particularly Greek mythology, since I was a kid and The Hidden Oracle took me right back to why I love the classical stories so much. Rick Riordan’s books might have a modern day setting but the roots of the mythology can be easily traced back. Greek mythology never presented the gods and goddesses as flawless beings, most of the time their stories were treated more as cautionary tales. In the book Apollo isn’t perfect (although he would disagree) but, he is capable of learning from his experiences and he knows that his fate is tied to fixing previous mistakes. He’s a thoughtful character who cares more than he seems to at first and he could never be boring.

Rick Riordan’s earlier books are so popular that it’s not surprising that The Hidden Oracle has references to the Percy Jackson series in particular. However, in all honesty, I haven’t read the other series and I had no trouble reading and enjoying The Hidden Oracle without this extra knowledge.

As well as the character Apollo I also really liked Rhea. She doesn’t appear in the book for very long but she was unexpectedly delightful even as she was giving Apollo convoluted advice. As for other characters, I didn’t find Meg to be very likeable mostly because I suspected her motivations from the beginning. Thankfully I’m pretty sure that I was supposed to be suspicious of her as the writer points out that the character closes up quickly about her past, etc. more than once. I’m not sure that the ‘twist’ about Meg was very surprising but it was nice to have the reveal in the latter half of The Hidden Oracle so that the journey can progress in the next book without drawing out that particular secret. The information was revealed at the right time in my opinion and I liked that I got to see Apollo’s reaction before the first book ended.

There were a lot of great quotes throughout the book but I really enjoyed the moments where Apollo thought about his sister. Apparently sibling relationships are relatable whether you are a god or not. So, I’ve chosen this section to quote because I think that it is a great insight into the character (page 85):

One thing my sister, Artemis, and I agree on: every worthwhile pursuit is better outdoors than indoors. Music is best played under the dome of heaven. Poetry should be shared in the agora. Archery is definitely easier outside, as I can attest after that one time I tried target practice in my father’s throne room. And driving the sun… well, that’s not really an indoor sport either. 

What’s My Name?

The other day, one of my favourite authors asked her fans on Twitter if a character from her last novel had a last name. To be honest, I’d not really noticed until she pointed it out but it was true. Logan had no last name throughout the entire book. Like me, the general response to her query seemed to be, “oh yeah, I didn’t really notice that before now.”

A name for a character is obviously very important to a writer because it becomes their defining trait. Your character can have all kinds of physical or emotional characteristics but a name means that a reader can immediately talk about your character with familiarity. Recognition is important.

However, after remembering Logan without needing a last name, it makes me wonder how important a full name really is.

Personally I will admit that naming a character is usually not my favourite task. If a name doesn’t occur to me straight away then it can feel like finding the right name takes forever. I know some people say naming your character immediately isn’t a big deal but, if I look up and pick a name off a CD or book behind the computer just so that I can fill it in temporarily I struggle to be productive. A part of me starts constantly thinking about names while I’m trying to pull plot out of thin air and it can be really distracting. I much prefer it when a name comes to me easily and I can move on.

When you are naming your character baby name books or online websites are a well-used resource for writers. The name you choose doesn’t always need to have a deep, complex meaning but it needs to feel right and a memorable name is usually preferred. Genre can affect the name a writer will choose, for example a writer wants their characters to be unique but a name like John Smith would probably be out of place in an epic sci-fi fantasy novel (unless it was being used ironically).

On this subject, I once read a really simple piece of advice that said, “Say your character’s name out loud. Say it happily. Say it sadly. Say it angrily…”

It might sound a little bit silly but, it’s surprisingly helpful. Plus, it’s far better to learn in the beginning that your character name doesn’t sound right instead of halfway through the novel.

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones

castle in the air

Castle in the Air by Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1990.

A few weeks ago I read and reviewed Howl’s Moving Castle and Castle in the Air is the second book in that series. This is the first time I’ve reviewed two books in the same series but I guess that it was bound to happen eventually. 🙂

So, I loved reading Castle in the Air. Diana Wynne Jones herself said that she was really inspired by Arabian Nights when she came to write these books. If you don’t know, Arabian Nights is the common name for the English translation of the One Thousand and One Nights which is an old collection of Middle Eastern folktales. My parents have their own copy of Tales of the Arabian Nights edited by Andrew Lang which I’ve read many times. I love it. The stories included in the collection are full of creative adventures and they are richly detailed. Diana Wynne Jones does a beautiful job at capturing these attractive qualities in Castle in the Air.

The story of Castle in the Air begins in the exotic city Zanzib where a poor carpet merchant named Abdullah daydreams about being a lost prince. Abdullah is accused more than once of being a romantic which seems to be a common quality in folklore heroes but his romantic nature serves him well as his fantasies lead him on a great adventure and introduces him to a beautiful princess named Flower-in-the-Night. There’s a great moment of self-awareness when Abdullah and Flower-in-the-Night meet and it really made me smile (page 28), “It’s a rather silly name,” she said nervously. “I’m called Flower-in-the-Night.”  

In Howl’s Moving Castle there are witches and wizards and apprentices who are being trained to use magic to affect the world around themselves. Abdullah doesn’t possess the ability to make magic by himself but, thanks to a magic carpet, a genie and a djinn (a djinn is an intelligent spirit who can appear in many forms) magic is a common theme throughout the book and Abdullah uses magic items and wishes throughout his journey to help him. I always admire an author who can govern the rules of magic in a story because it’s tough not to contradict story world rules (something I learned at university) and Diana Wynne Jones is wonderful at being consistent.

After Flower-in-the-Night is stolen away by a djinn near the beginning of the story Abdullah travels very far to find her (like most heroes do). Eventually the story is more closely connected to Howl’s Moving Castle when Abdullah’s journey leads him to the land of Ingary where the first book is set. Abdullah meets many of the characters who appear in the first novel and I must admit that I loved meeting those characters again, especially Sophie, Howl and their family. Before reading the book I could not have guessed how Sophie would appear (although I hoped she would) and I really enjoyed being surprised by the link.

Diana Wynne Jones has a wonderful talent for giving a book a complete narrative and if a couple of familiar characters appear in a different story it feels like you’re meeting old friends again.

I loved the ending of Castle in the Air. Lose ends were tied up and it had a ‘happily ever after…’ vibe for all of the characters. An ending like this might not always be satisfying but I felt that it was so perfect for Castle in the Air. I was in the mood to read a really good, enjoyable story that would leave me smiling and that was exactly what I got.

 

Not right now…

Persuading yourself to write when you have no inspiration, no motivation and no pressure is not easy.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned this sort of thing before but I’m really having trouble with this right now. I’m even having trouble writing this blog post today. There is no inspiration.

So, the writing might not be happening for me right now but I’ve been reading a lot (not a big difference to my usual days) and Camp NaNoWriMo July is in a few weeks. At the moment it looks like I’ll be cobbling scraps of an idea together if I want to be taking part but I’ve not missed Camp July since I started taking part in them and I’d really like that streak to keep going.

Every November NaNoWriMo is an online group which aims to encourage writers to try and write 50,000 words in one month. They also have a couple of other projects during the year and I am a big fan of the online ‘camps’ that are run in April and July. This year (again) I completely forgot about April but July sounds appealing and the best thing about it is… you get to choose your own word target. In the past I’ve set my July target at 30,000 words in one month and that works out at 1,000 words per day. It’s still a pretty big challenge (especially if you can’t write every single day).

However, I’ve been having trouble lately with my writing (as I said at the top of this page) so I might turn that target down to 25,000 words this year. It’s great to have goals but I’ve realised after doing a few years of the camps it’s also good to have realistic goals and anything beyond that is a great bonus. I really will be thrilled if I manage to write more than 25,000 words.

I don’t think I’ll be revisiting an old project in July. A new project sounds more appealing at the moment and I have a feeling that my recent reading is going to influence the setting at least of any new story.

If anyone finds my muse wandering around, can you please tell her that she’s falling down on the job again?

I’m going to end on a positive with a picture of the colourful clay turtle I made today at my art group (Darlington Community Arts Café) because at least I’ve been creative in one way. He’s called Tiny 🙂

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Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett was first published in 1987.

In my experience, when you start talking about Terry Pratchett every fan has got an opinion and a favourite book. Just bringing up the Discworld invites people to talk about which character is their favourite or about the joke they only got the fifth time they read the book or the fact that their old copies are so worn out they’re using it as an excuse to buy the newly designed hardcover copies.

Chronologically, Equal Rites is the third book in the Discworld series although it does introduce new characters to the series so it’s not vital that you read the book directly after The Light Fantastic. I did because that’s just the way I’m doing things. So, I’m pretty excited that Mort is the next book in the series because I’ve never known a Terry Pratchett fan to mention Mort without a little smile that seems to mean they know a secret that the rest of us don’t.

Taken at face value Equal Rites is an adventure fantasy story where a young girl is fated to become a wizard despite the many, many obstacles in her way. Eskarina, commonly referred to as Esk throughout the book, is the eighth daughter of an eighth son but, as the blurb says, the wizard Drum Billet didn’t check whether or not she was a boy before he passed his magic on to her. The title is pretty much a stroke of genius as the story deals with issues of equality in a world where magic is common and so is prejudice.

There was a line in The Light Fantastic that was a big piece of foreshadowing, Unseen University had never admitted women, muttering something about problems with the plumbing, but the real reason was an unspoken dread that if women were allowed to mess around with magic they would probably be embarrassingly good at it (Page 110). Equal Rites constantly asks the question, why can’t women be wizards? and nobody ever gives a better answer than “It’s never happened before” (Page 271). Esk is consistently told that “Women can’t be wizards” (Page 83) but I don’t think that it’ll be too much of a surprise when I tell you that Esk becomes a wizard by the end of the book and all it takes is a small-ish magical disaster threatening the Unseen University. It might signal a big social change for the Discworld but, the closest characters to the center of the events seem to take it in their stride once the decision to change has been made.

Of course, I highly admire Terry Pratchett’s world-building abilities but, honestly, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Equal Rites after I finished it. There weren’t as many laugh-out-loud moments compared to The Light Fantastic but, I liked the way it dealt with the sexism in education on the Discworld (let’s be honest, it’s relatable) and there were concepts I loved such as the difference between witch magic and wizard magic. Esk was supposed to be the main character since that the book started with her birth and the rest of the story was influenced by her destiny. In the climax of the book Esk’s full potential is revealed but in the rest of the book I found the character’s surrounding Esk to be more interesting. For example, Granny Weatherwax was practically a force of nature as she could take on the highest of wizards when she was in a bad, determined mood and I loved her practical, yet flexible way of looking at the world. Esk didn’t have a lot, if any, influence over events and yes, that may be due to the fact that she was only nine years-old by the time the book ends. When it comes to Esk’s magic, Granny puts it succinctly, ‘the staff uses itself or it uses her, but she’s never been able to use it, d’you see?’ (page 271). Esk’s future life might be what she chose but her passivity in her own life before that point doesn’t necessarily make her the most interesting character in the book.

Pratchett’s books are full of great quotes but this part of Equal Rites did make me chuckle so I think that I will finish here with a couple of lines from page 91:

Granny strode up to the tree until her hooked nose was level with Esk’s. 

‘Turning people into pigs is not allowed,’ she hissed. ‘Even brothers.’ 

 

5 Senses

Touch. Smell. Taste. Hear. See.

There is so much more to writing than just translating what you can see in your mind’s eye into words. We experience the world through five senses so there is no reason why your character doesn’t experience their world in the same way (unless you’re writing about aliens with different biological systems in which case, I still have a point – creative writing can be about what you leave out as well as what you put in).

Of course, I don’t mean that every single sentence of your writing should include absolutely everything but, think about when you’re most conscious of your surroundings and the way you react to them. For example, when you’re really scared innocuous noises can sound louder and more ominous. Or if you’re happy then you might want more hugs or high-fives than usual.

Sight isn’t always going to be the first sense to react to a change in the environment. If your character is trapped in a pitch black room then they’re going to be using their senses of hearing, smell and possibly touch to navigate as they won’t be able to rely on their eyes.

Using these different, varied approaches to a scene allows you to create a more relatable character for the reader so, ask yourself, ‘Is my character going to be reacting via this sense in this situation?’ It’s alright to pick and choose but, changing the approach from time to time goes a long way to keeping your writing fresh and exciting.

To really think about including all five senses in a scene I have a writing exercise that I thought about after reading an amazing short piece of writing which made my mouth water even though the characters were only sharing a simple meal.

Think about your favourite food. Feed your character the meal and write about their experience. Think about them using every sense during the meal.

I find that if you’re describing a meal that you genuinely enjoy then you’ll want to do it justice. The prompt might sound a bit simple but once you start thinking about every element it is not so easy because you want the reader to feel connected to your writing. Making a reader feel hungry because you’re writing about food can be great practise in cultivating this connection.

I hope that you have fun when you’re writing.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

IMG_0313 (2)

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson was first published in Sweden in 2009. It was translated into English by Rod Bradbury and published in the UK in 2012.

My copy of this book was a Secret Santa present from a lovely colleague at the time who only really knew that I liked books. Before I read the book all I knew about it was that it had become a bestseller and the title sounded intriguing. Recommending a book to someone that you don’t know very well can be a tricky task but I’m glad that this book was recommended to me by someone who’d read it and liked it.

The events in this book are pretty implausible but, they’re not completely improbable which was an impressive feat for a writer to pull off in my opinion. If part of a writer’s job is to convince the reader that what they are telling them could be/should be/would be true then this book has that elusive talent included in every chapter. The entire book might seem to be a little bit far-fetched at times but there is a quote which appears alone on a page right before the first chapter, Things are what they are, and whatever will be will be. This line of text really sets the tone for the entire book because although the characters find themselves in unusual situations there is not a lot of fuss or dramatic outbursts from the central character and his closest friend’s often begin to adopt the same sort of attitude.

The main character is Allan Karlsson and on his one-hundredth birthday he climbs out of the window of the Old People’s Home and he walks away. Although this is the start of one journey there is almost another entire story included in the book as there are chapters describing parts of his life before he climbed out of the window, starting from when he was born in Sweden. In the blurb of the book it says, As his escapades unfold, Allan’s earlier life is revealed. A life in which – remarkably – he played a key role behind the scenes in some of the momentous events of the twentieth century. I had no idea of the lengths that this idea would be stretched to before reading the book but Allan’s journey connects some of the biggest influential events of the previous century all across the world. I really think that any other author would be hard-pressed to be successful in including so many pivotal historical moments in one book without the text being overworked.

Allan’s calm attitude, especially in unlikely circumstances, leads him to make friends easily. This talent serves him well throughout his life and after his one hundredth birthday he continues to make loyal friends starting with Julius until it is a group of nine who travel together in the end.

Honestly, on the whole, I enjoyed it. It was almost a black comedy at times but the story was clever, well-thought out and I love that, after a century of experiences, Allan can still claim, as long as we think positively, I’m sure a solution will appear. (page 350)

 

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