Confessions of an Author Obsessive

Cover of The Crane WifeI’ve got a bit of a obsessive personality at the best of times (to my shame, I have been known to tidy DVDs at shops without even being aware of it), and when it comes to favourite authors, it manifests in a need to read every book they have ever written. This has often been frustrated by choosing authors who seem to only write one book a millennium or have written so many, my task seems Herculean.

When I read a writer who just ‘does it for me’, I then set about reading every thing they have ever written. Those who have written just a few I can mark off quickly, others are proving to be a life’s work for me.

It’s interesting how some vary in their skills from book to book, and others nail it every time. I sometimes start with their first book and work through in order of publication, or just randomly pick them in a crazy ‘throw my hands in the air like I just don’t care’ kind of way.

So, like a true obsessive, I will now list a few of the authors I have read completely or am working on. I’ll also give my tips, for what it’s worth, on how I think it is best to approach them:

Cover of Close RangeAnnie Proulx

Start with The Shipping News, then Accordion Crimes, Postcards, Close Range (which is a collection of short stories including the excellent Brokeback Mountain), and then move on to her other excellent titles. I’d leave Bird Cloud to the end. This is a non fiction account of her building her dream home in Wyoming and is possibly the least interesting, but that may just be me.

Patrick Ness

Start with the amazing Chaos Walking Trilogy, move onto A Monster Calls, then More Than This, and finish up with The Crane Wife and The Crash of Hennington. Mr Ness is one of those writers who needs to write more prolifically to keep me happy! There is a title of his not in the library:  Topics about which I know nothing – I’ve filled a request an item form (a useful form to use if you want the library to buy something).

Cormac McCarthy

Cover of Outer DarkThere are eleven of his titles in the library, and he is my slow and steady author. I love his work, but it is not always easy going and rarely light, so I pepper his works in among my other reading.  I’d suggest starting with All the Pretty Horses, then move onto Outer Dark, The Road, No Country for Old Men,  Suttree and then his other works. I’ve still got a few to read, and the added bonus with McCarthy is his works have such depth and strength of narrative and character (I’m not biased or anything), that they make great movies… so read the book, watch the movie of  The Road, The Sunset Limited (a play), The Counsellor and No Country for Old Men. 

John Steinbeck

An early obsession for me when in my teens, I think I started with Of Mice and Men, then moved onto Cannery Row, Sweet Thursday, East of Eden and The Grapes of Wrath, but perhaps it is time to finish that list off too.

Carol Shields

This writer’s works are only partly read by me, but Unless got me hooked, which led to The Collected Stories, Duet, Stone Diaries, Small Ceremonies and Larry’s Party. I still have several more to tick off the Carol Shields list.

Do you have authors you love with a passion, whose latest novel you are hanging out for? And who would you see as your ‘must read all’ authors?

Writers for young and old: AWRF 2013

Cover: A great and terrible beauty“Shall I tell you a story? A new and terrible one? A ghost story? Are you ready? Shall I begin?” This is a quote from Libba Bray’s A great and terrible beauty but it could apply to any of the four Young Adult writers who read from their work.

Apparently Bray loves to curse and I love to hear unlikely people curse so I had high hopes for this session. Admittedly the only reason I thought she was an unlikely four-letter word flinger was her appearance as seen on her blog (wholesome) and the fact that she is a P.K (Preacher’s Kid).

Bray was introduced as Super-Vixen because she has always wanted to be introduced as Super-Vixen, there was no cursing but she did do a great reading from her book Beauty Queens (“like Lord of the Flies only with sequins”).

There was a killing imitation of a former Vice-Presidential candidate, and Governor of Alaska, and a very funny parody of a feminine products ad.

Patrick Ness came to the stage bemoaning having to follow Bray but he had us rapt with a world-premiere reading from his new book More than this. No it’s not from the Roxy Music song, nor is it from the One Direction song. It’s from the Peter Gabriel song. It’s not published until September and I for one cannot wait.

I’ve seen Kate de Goldi lots of times at festivals  and I hold her in very high esteem. She’s a great writer but I think she is the best chair ever; a model of intelligence and acute observation without being a pill about it. I’m not going to get the chance to admire her chairing skills this time, so hearing her read from The ACB of Honora Lee was the next best thing.

Paula Morris is also a non-pill when she could so easily be one. She’s won awards for her short stories and her fiction for adults, now she has a very successful series of supernatural mysteries for Young Adults. She also has degrees from Universities in New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States. Sigh. Morris’ first YA novel “went gang-busters in the U.S.” and it’s easy to see why if the bits she read are any indication of how compelling her YA work is.

This session gladdened this old librarian’s heart. It was a nice ‘mix-mash’ of young and old. Actual young people attended. They appeared to have made their way there under their own steam, not dragged along by adults. They were willing to stand at the back or sit on the floor. Full heads of naturally dark, red and fair hair could be seen, instead of rows of  greys and expensive dye jobs.

And they talked about books. They had opinions on the alternative ending of A Clockwork Orange. They were planning Alice in Wonderland themed birthday parties. Some of them ran to get their books signed at the end of the session. You won’t see that in a William Dalrymple crowd. Discreet but determined pushing is more their style.

Word(s) of the session: mix-mash.

Two authors = one breathtaking story

CoverIt’s no secret that I think Patrick Ness is a brilliant author (I’ve written many blog posts about it).  His Chaos Walking Trilogy is one of those stories that really struck a chord with me and the characters and their world will stay with me for a long time.  The books in the trilogy have won various awards in the world of children’s literature, including the BookTrust Teenage Prize, the Guardian Award, the Costa Book Award, most recently the final book, Monsters of Men won the prestigious Carnegie Medal.  When the Chaos Walking Trilogy came to an end last year, I was looking forward to reading whatever Patrick Ness wrote next and thankfully I didn’t have to wait very long.

Patrick’s next project was to write a story based on the ideas of another brilliant author, Siobhan Dowd, who had passed away from breast cancer in 2007.  Siobhan had the characters, premise and beginning and it was up to Patrick to turn it into a story. Being both a fan of Patrick’s and Siobhan’s writing, I eagerly anticipated their story A Monster Calls.

And boy, what a story it is!  Night after night, Connor is woken by the same nightmare, “the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming.  The one with the hands slipping from his grasp, no matter who hard he tried to hold on.”  It is one night, after waking from this nightmare, that the monster arrives, twisting to life from the yew tree in the graveyard.  The monster comes to offer Connor a deal; it will tell Connor three stories, but then he must tell the monster a fourth story, and it must be the truth.  However, Connor’s mum is very sick and the truth is the thing that he fears the worst.

I really can’t explain how amazing A Monster Calls is.  Before you even start reading the book, you just need a few minutes to marvel at how beautiful it is.  Walker Books have put so much love into the design, from the dust-jacket and the cover,  to the stunning illustrations spread throughout the book by the very talented Jim Kay.  The story itself is breathtaking and you’ll go on a roller-coaster of emotion as the monster guides Connor towards the truth.  I especially liked the three stories that the monster tells and I hope that Patrick Ness writes more short stories like these.

Grab a copy of A Monster Calls from the library now.  Trust me, you won’t regret it.

My book of the year – Monsters of Men

Patrick Ness' Monsters of MenI’m suffering from sleep deprivation today as I stayed up way too late last night finishing off Patrick Ness’ new book, Monsters of Men.  It’s the final book in the Chaos Walking trilogy which is absolutely brilliant and a real benchmark for Young Adult fiction.  If you haven’t read the books I’ll give you 3 reasons why you should:

  1. Each of the books is a rollercoaster ride – there’s ups and downs, twists and turns, stomach-lurching events, and the story races along at break-neck speed.
  2. The development of the characters is incredible.  The characters are affected by the events of the story so they change with it, some for better, others for worse.  Patrick Ness is great at showing the true nature of his characters, not just what’s on the surface.
  3. The setting, the characters, and their story will stick with you long after you have finished reading.

Monsters of Men brings the story of Todd, Viola, and other settlers of New World to a thrilling conclusion.

Patrick keeps you guessing right til the end; has the Mayor truly been redeemed by Todd? Will anybody get out of the war alive? Will Todd and Viola finally get to be together?  I found it incredibly difficult to put the book down and go to work. 

I also found myself struggling with the book though as I wanted to find out how their story ended, but I didn’t want to leave those amazing characters and New World behind.  I’ll just have to start from the beginning again with The Knife of Never Letting Go.

Patrick Ness and Monsters of Men

Patrick Ness’ new book, Monsters of Men is due out on May 12 here in New Zealand and I can’t wait!  Monsters of Men is the final book in the Chaos Walking Trilogy, in which we will find out the fate of Todd and Viola and the world that they live in.  Here’s the blurb:

Three armies march on New Prentisstown, each one intent on destroying the others.

Todd and Viola are caught in the middle, with no chance of escape.

As the battles commence, how can they hope to stop the fighting? How can there be peace when they’re so hopelessly outnumbered? And if war makes monsters of men, what terrible choices await?

But then a third voice breaks into the battle, one bent on revenge…

I got my hands on a sample of the first chapter when I met Patrick Ness at the Somerset Writer’s Festival and you get thrown right into the action from the very first word.  It’s going to be a wild ride of a book!

If you’re also a huge fan of Patrick Ness, you can read my interview with him on the Pulse website.  While you’re there you can also enter the competition to WIN a signed copy of The Knife of Never Letting Go, a chapter sampler of Monsters of Men and two Chaos Walking badges. 

To make sure you’re one of the first to get your hands on Monsters of Men, reserve it now.

Writing advice from top children’s authors

James Moloney and his story board

Last week when I was at the Somerset Writer’s Festival I listened to lots of really great authors talk about their books and writing in general.  I collected some great writing tips for children (and adults) throughout the week and thought I’d share some with you.

  • James Moloney – Just sit at your computer and brainstorm ideas.  When you brainstorm you’re mining for ideas.  You have to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes – this is the key to a great story (and also reminds me of my favourite quote from one of my all-time favourite books, To Kill a Mockingbird).
  • James Roy – Entertain your audience by making your characters miserable – conflict is exciting.
  • Patrick Ness – If you have a good idea, wait – ideas always attract other ideas.  No matter what age you are, you are never too young to have ideas.
  • Melina Marchetta – Names are really important in a story and can tell you a lot about a character.
  • Anthony Eaton – Be an absolute eavesdropper and sticky beak, that way you’ll pick up lots of ideas from the world around you.  Also, look at real events and ask WHAT IF?
  • Gus Gordon – Spend lots of time looking out the window daydreaming and imagining weird things happening.
  • Markus Zusak – Take things that happen to you or other people around you and use them in a story, but don’t make it autobiographical.

All of these authors made writing sound really easy to me and I’m sure the children that attended their sessions were inspired.  So if you or someone you know wants to write all you need to do is start collecting ideas and write, write, write.

My idol Patrick Ness

Today at the Somerset Writer’s Festival on the Gold Coast I got the chance to meet my idol and one of my favourite authors, Patrick Ness. I went to his first session of the day where he talked to secondary school students about writing and his books.

He told these students that there are three things you need to do to be a writer:

  1. Write – as much and as often as you can because practice makes perfect.
  2. Read – the more you read, the more words you devour and the more writing styles you discover.
  3. Rewrite – because nothing’s perfect the first time.

He says that you get ideas from everything around you and that if you get a great idea for a story you should wait because ideas always attract other ideas.  His most important point was that you are never too young to have ideas and that anybody of any age can write.

I was very excited to be able to interview Patrick and to ask him some burning questions.  The full interview will be available on the library website next week, and if you want to win a signed copy of Patrick’s amazing book, The Knife of Never Letting Go (the first book in his Chaos Walking Trilogy), watch this space.

What question have you always wanted to ask an author?

As a bookseller and a librarian I’ve met lots of authors over the years.  Some I’ve never heard of, others I know of but haven’t read any of their books.  When I know they’re coming I try to read at least one of their books so that I can understand what they’re talking about and at least look like I’m a huge fan. 

These authors are always particularly grateful that you know who they are because they inevitably don’t get many fans lining up to get their books signed.  One author such as this (I won’t name names) who I met a couple of years ago at The Children’s Bookshop had so few visitors that he actually fell asleep in his comfortable chair in the shop window and I had to nudge him to wake him up when a young fan wanted her book signed. 

Then there are some of my favourite authors who I can’t wait to meet and almost count down the days until their visit.   I gobble up as much as I can of what they’ve written and find out what I can about them from interviews so that if I found myself having a conversation with them I’d know what to talk about.

When I go to the Somerset Writer’s Festival from 17-19 March I will be able to meet some of my favourite children’s and young adults writers including Patrick Ness, Markus Zusak and Derek Landy.  I’m trying to think of some profound and interesting questions to ask them when I get to meet them, as this may be my only chance.  My only problem is that when I’ve made my way through the line to get my book signed and am standing in front of them I get a bit star struck and have no idea what to say.

I’d like to know what question or questions you would ask your favourite authors if you had the chance to talk with them face-to-face?

Authors descend on Gold Coast for Somerset Festival of Literature

While others are gearing up for the New Zealand Post Writers and Readers Festival in Wellington, I’m counting down the days to the Somerset Festival of Literature at Somerset College on the Gold Coast from 17-19 March.  This festival brings together some of the top Australian authors and illustrators for children and young adults, such as Jackie French, Melina Marchetta and Markus Zusak, as well as some of my favourite international authors, Patrick Ness and Derek Landy.

The Festival consists of three days of author talks with primary and secondary school students, book signings, book launches and other entertainment on the Somerset College grounds.  There are loads of sessions I can’t wait to go to including Patrick Ness, Derek Landy, Jackie French, James Moloney, Anthony Eaton, and Markus Zusak.  If you have any questions that you’re dying to ask these authors, feel free to comment and I’ll do my best to ask them on your behalf.  I’m hoping to set up some interviews with a couple of the authors and I’ll be blogging from the festival so you’ll be able to hear all about it.

My only problem will be lugging a suitcase of signed books home with me again!

Children’s book awards start off year with a bang

Some of the best children’s books of 2009 have been recognised in the first few weeks of 2010 with the announcement of the Costa Book Awards, the Caldecott Medal and the Newbery Medal.

I was pleased to hear that one of my favourite authors, Patrick Ness, won the 2009 Costa Children’s Book Award for his most recent book, The Ask and the Answer, the second book in the Chaos Walking Trilogy.  If you don’t already know how amazing Patrick Ness’ books are check out some of my previous blog entries.  The Costa Book Awards “is one of the most prestigious and popular literary prizes in the UK and recognises some of the most enjoyable books of the year by writers based in the UK and Ireland.”  The judges said of The Ask and the Answer, “From the first word, we were gripped by this dazzlingly-imagined, morally complex, compulsively-plotted tale.  We are convinced that this is a major achievement in the making.”  Ness is a very well deserved recipient in my opinion.  He is doing an Australia and New Zealand Tour early in the year so hopefully he’ll come to Christchurch.  Watch this space.

The winner of the Caldecott Medal 2010 is Jerry Pinkney’s The Lion and the Mouse  which has one of the most striking covers I’ve ever seen.  The Caldecott Medal is awarded each year to the artist of the most distinguished American picture book for children.  Jerry Pinkney also deserved this award and if you haven’t seen The Lion and the Mouse I suggest you grab it and have a look.  The illustrations are absolutely amazing and so lifelike.  What makes this book even more unique is that the illustrations tell the story as the book is almost wordless (apart from some animal noises).

The winner of the 2010 Newbery Medal is Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me.  I haven’t read this one but it sounds interesting.  The Newbery Medal is Awarded each year “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children” and has been awarded to such authors as Neil GaimanKate DiCamillo and Louis Sachar.