Thursday 18 April 2013

Review: Brock, by Anthony McGowan

I love Barrington Stoke. I love the feel of the paper, the dyslexia-friendly yellow tint, the left justification, gaps between paragraphs... but best of all, I love that they give reluctant readers, or kids who have trouble reading, bloody good stories. Stories you can really get your teeth into. Stories that the author could so easily hold back, expand and release as a "proper" novel.

But sometimes a novella really packs a punch.  

Brock, by Anthony McGowan is like that. From the author of Henry Tumour and The Knife That Killed Me, Brock tells the story of Nicky, who has a tough enough life with a mother gone, a dad on bail and an older brother who has such special needs, he's little more than a child. Things take a turn when they are dragged along to witness the horrific, senseless killing of a wild animal. But when Nicky saves something from the destruction the other kids have caused, his and his brother's lives are changed forever.

Brock is about as lean as you can get, using simple, effective language to keep a great pace while maintaining atmosphere, tension, action, empathy... look, it's just brilliant, right. It's one of those books that might help kids who hate books, realise that some books are all right. And that's good enough for five stars from me.

Wednesday 10 April 2013

A novel in 7 days?

Sounds impossible, right? Well, Dean Wesley Smith is planning to do just that next week.

Dean is a best selling author, has written over 100 novels and over 200 published short stories. He gets a lot of ghost-writing jobs because he can make such tight deadlines. Editors also turn to him when they have novels that the paid author failed to deliver on, and need it finishing quickly.

This time, he isn't writing to an editor's deadline, but his own, just to prove it's possible. The novel he's planning to write is a ghost writing project for a major name, destined to become a bestseller when it comes out, because as Dean says, "This author's books always are."

And just to add to his workload, he's going to be blogging about every step of the journey.

So, if you want a masterclass on how a novel can be written at high speed, or how an author can work to incredible deadlines under insane pressure, check it out.

Saturday 6 April 2013

Moon Bear: Review

A few weeks ago, I had never heard of moon bears, or bear farming. My first thoughts was, who would farm bears anyway? And why? The answer is utterly abhorrent, and is the base for this powerful, horrible, brilliant novel by Gill Lewis.

Moon Bear is the story of a Tam, a boy whose family is moved, without choice, from their mountain village so the area can be cleared of forest. They are given a new home, but after his father is blown to bits by a hidden landmine, Tam is given a job in the city in the hope of making money for his family.

Tam has never seen a bear farm, and he's shocked by the way the bears are kept, living their entire lives in cages so small they can barely turn around. The cages are up on legs so that waste and urine falls directly to the floor. Tam's job is to clean up beneath the cages, avoiding the swipes of any bears strong enough to attack. Moon bears are a large black bear with a moon-like crescent of white on their chest, hence the name.

A small bear farm, where the bears spend their entire lives.
The reason they are kept like this is Bear Bile. In many parts of Asia, bile from the gall bladder of a bear is considered a powerful medicine, believed to cure anything from a cold to cancer.

Tam witnesses the procedure of the bile being removed, and how the bears are sedated, but not so much that they can't feel the pain of a needle as The Doctor tries to locate the gall bladder and syphon off the bile.

Bear bile - believed to be the cure for... everything!
Things become much more difficult for Tam when a bear cub is delivered to the farm. Tam nurses the cub back to health, and promises, against the odds, that he will find a way to get free and return himself and the bear back to the mountains.

Moon Bear doesn't hold back, without being gratuitous. The language is simple, yet colourful - a deceptively lean style that pulls the reader along. More importantly, it doesn't play to the audience for sympathy, but earns the reader's emotions through honesty, cruelty and hope.

Highly recommended.

Writing Round-up and a Look ahead to 2024

2023 was a busy year writing-wise because I rewrote my first romcom in 1st person and relaunched it under a new title, Trust Me, I'm a L...