Marr’s homage to the 1980s

Back in 2010 I reviewed a novel called Fury by a new author named Shirley Marr (see: “Contemporary fury and historical shadows”). I liked Fury a great deal, so I was very eager to see what Marr would come up with next. Well, it’s finally out — Preloved. Mixing Chinese superstitions, a teenaged ghost and 1980s references, Marr has given us another enjoyable read.

Amy is a bit of an outsider. Her best friend is desired by every boy at her high school, so Amy is usually passed over. And she has a reputation for being odd. Her home life is also less than ideal. Her parents are divorced and she lives with her mother, who seems unable to hug her. Her Chinese mother also has a superstitious streak a mile long and is constantly dispensing such useful advice as: “never tweeze the hairs off the tops of your toes, or you will see ghosts.”

One day, while dressed as Princess Buttercup from The Princess Bride, Amy finds an old locket. Opening the locket releases a ghost. Logan is a teenage boy who died in the 1980s, but doesn’t realise he’s dead and has no memory of what happened to him. It’s now up to Amy to help him… so that she can be rid of him.

It’s an interesting novel with many threads weaving through it. There’s the mystery of what happened to Logan. There’s a paranormal romance angle with the concept of reincarnation being explored. Then there’s a nice look at the cultural aspects of growing up Chinese-Australian. On top of all that, there are the joys and heartaches of teenage life in high school.

And then there are all the 1980s references. Amy’s mother has shown her lots of classic 80s films, which have become part of her pop-culture landscape. Her mother’s second-hand store is also a way into this past decade. Amy’s school has been doing 80s dress-up days leading up to their 80s themed formal. I was a teenager in the 1980s, so I loved all these references — the roaming pack of Jason Donovans is hilarious. But I do wonder at the relevance of all these references to modern day teenagers, who the book is aimed at. Will they even understand half the stuff that’s being alluded to?

Marr has created a wonderful set of characters you really come to feel for… even if you don’t always like all of them. I also love the way Marr has you doubting the existence of Logan. Is he really a ghost? Or just a product of Amy’s troubled imagination? Or maybe even a fox spirit? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

I really enjoyed Preloved. It’s very different from Fury, but that’s a good thing. I look forward to seeing what Shirley Marr comes up with next.

There is one negative thing I have to mention, and that is the editing. Typos happen, that is just part of publishing life. But there did seem to be a few too many in this book… often taking me out of the moment as I was reading. Hopefully these will be fixed up in future editions.

Catch ya later,  George

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Pop Star Authors

Authors are a bit like pop musicians. No, really… they are more alike than you might first think. Both tread that fine line between art and making money. Good books and good music are often never released because they are not commercial enough. Just as authors are often at the mercy of large publishers, musicians are often at the mercy of large record companies. (Hmm… are they still called record companies even though its now mostly downloads and CDs?) And the promotional steamroller drives sales in both industries.

As time marches on, writers are becoming more like pop musicians. In this day and age writers need to become personalities. They need to get out there and promote their books. They need to promote themselves. The image of the writer is becoming as important as the books they write.

Jack Heath (author of The Lab) sold his first book at the age of 18. His youth certainly helped the sale of his books. That’s not to say he doesn’t write really good books — he does. But selling books requires more than the ability to write good books. Health’s youthful image made for good promotion. Now, six years down the track, Heath still manages to maintain his image. Check out his YouTube channel to see how he promotes himself, more than his books. And his website still makes reference to his youthful start in the industry…

“He started writing his first novel, The Lab, at age 13, and earned a publishing contract for it at 18.”

Publicists have had a field day with JK Rowling’s image of the struggling single mum who hit it big. And Stieg Larsson has shown how dying prior to the publication of a trilogy can enhance an author’s image.

The simple fact that authors need promotional photos is a testament to the importance of image. Author Shirley Marr even blogged about her author photo shoot, which resulted in some very glam, fashion-model images.

Shirley Marr, author of Fury. Photograph by Red Images Fine Photography.

Or has image always been friend to the author? Certainly Ian Flemming’s past as a Naval Intelligence Officer probably helped to promote his Bond books. And the glamour image of Jackie Collins hasn’t hurt her career.

Pop stars are forever in the public eye — image often eclipsing the music. Lady Gaga springs to mind. Of course, pop stars can also use their fame to become authors. Look at Madonna — pop icon and children’s author. Hilary Duff has also gotten in on the literary act with a novel titled Elixir. And did you know that Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci Code, used to be a pop singer and songwriter? He even released an album called Angels & Demons — that’s right, the same title as one of his books.

If only we could turn things around and see some authors cross over into pop music careers. I have this image of Stephen King doing a cover version of Werewolves of London or Bad Moon Rising. 🙂

Oh wait, King’s already in a rock band. True! He’s a member of The Rock Bottom Remainders, a band made up of published authors. Don’t believe me? Check out this clip…

Tune in next time for more pop music.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll sing at you! And believe me, you don’t want that.

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Lists

Last week, author Kate Forsyth blogged her Best Books of 2010 list. Kate reads A LOT and she reads widely. So much so, that her list is broken up into ten categories covering everything from fantasy to historical to memoir to non-fiction. It made me think about my best books of 2010 list, which I blogged a few posts ago. And now I feel the need to explain myself a bit.

For those of you who can’t remember (and who don’t want to go back and look up that post), here’s the list again:

  1. Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld (I’d also include Leviathan, which was published in 2009, but which I did not get around to reading until 2010)
  2. Trash by Andy Mulligan [read my review]
  3. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger [read my review]
  4. Wolfborn by Sue Bursztynski [read my review]
  5. f2m: the boy within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy

I’m not the fastest reader in the world, and with two young children and a career to maintain, I just don’t read as much as I used to. And because I only read a limited amount, I don’t read as widely as I used to. I tend to read books that I’m pretty sure I’m going to like. So my list has been put together from a much smaller and narrower set of books than Kate’s.

Also, my list is only of books published in 2010. When I came to writing the post, I looked at the pile of books I had read during 2010, which was divided into two groups — those published in 2010 and those published earlier. I went through the 2010 group and picked out what I thought were the truly outstanding books. There were others that were really, really good, but I chose only those that had that extra spark. It happened that there were five of them… so I made a Top 5 list. BUT, it should have been a Top 6 list. There was one other book that should have been there, but I had accidentally placed it in the ‘not published in 2010’ group. 🙁 My bad. That book is Shirley Marr’s Fury, which I’ve previously reviewed on Literary Clutter. I feel terrible at having left it out, as it is a superb read.

Now, if I were to extend that list further, and include all the books I read during 2010, it would become a Top 8 list. There would be two pre-2010 entries that I would need to include…

Human Nature (from The New Doctor Who Adventures series) by Paul Cornell, which was published 1995. One of the best Doctor Who books I have ever read. A complex tale with a very unique approach, it ended up being the inspiration for the televised two part story, ‘Human Nature” and “Family of Blood”. Well worth a read if you’re a Doctor Who fan.

The Tripods books by John Christopher. There is the original trilogy published in 1967/8 (The White Mountains, The City of Gold and Lead and The Pool of Fire) and the prequel published in 1988 (When the Tripods Came). I’ve previously blogged about these books, and as a set they would have taken out the Number 1 slot on my list.

And now that we’re in to 2011, I’m still reading books that were published in 2010. So as this year progresses, my 2010 list could theoretically expand even further. But I think I’ve rambled on enough about lists!

So, tune in next time for a guest post about punk music.

Catch ya later,  George

PS. Follow me on Twitter… or I’ll make up another list.

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Contemporary fury and historical shadows

What have I been reading lately? I’m glad you asked! In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels, Fury by Shirley Marr and TimeRiders by Alex Scarrow. All three are YA. But they are three very different books. And at least two of them are a notch above your average YA novel.

First up, In Lonnie’s Shadow by Chrissie Michaels. This is a historical novel inspired by the archaeological excavations around Lonsdale Street in the city of Melbourne, the artefacts from which were displayed at a Melbourne Museum exhibit. These artefacts are ordinary things, part of everyday life in 19th century Melbourne. Each chapter of In Lonnie’s Shadow is headed by an artefact’s name, number and description, rather than by a standard chapter number and title. And somewhere within the chapter, that particular item is alluded to. It could easily have been contrived and intrusive, but the author handles it with subtlety and aplomb. In her hands it is a wonderfully original, intriguing and evocative way into the story.

Lonnie McGuiness is a teenage resident of the area known as Little Lon — an area of poverty and hard knocks, looked down on by the rest of Melbourne in 1891. Lonnie is a stable-hand who dreams of being a jockey. He gets caught up in an illegal street race, which he discovers has been fixed. It is a story of struggles and survival… but most importantly, it is a story of friendship between Lonnie and his three best mates: Pearl, a prostitute caught between two rival brothels, desperate to get away from both; Daisy, a Salvation Army do-gooder with a mysterious past who moonlights as a seamstress, making dresses for one of the brothels; and Carlo, who operates a fruit cart but dreams of opening an ice cream factory. Four lives that cross paths; four teenagers who help each other out and stick together.

There is a lot of wonderful historical detail and atmosphere in this novel. The author certainly seems to have done her research. The characters are vivid and sympathetic. The Melbourne setting is both familiar and completely alien. As a Melbournian, I found the landmarks and place names were known to me (the Exhibition Building and its iconic fountain, for instance), but the poverty and squalor of the characters lives were an eye-opener. I can see this book being well-used in schools to help bring a historic period to life in the minds of students. It’s an enthralling read.

At the other end of the scale we have the very contemporary Fury, by Shirley Marr (who, incidentally, has visited Literary Clutter in the past).

“My name is Eliza Boans and I am a murderer.”

How’s that for a great opening line? This book had me hooked from word go and I found it very hard to put down. It’s about a high school girl and her friends who get caught up in murder. It’s also about friendship and the day-to-day dramas of teenage life in high school. It’s funny. It’s dramatic. It’s sad. It’s a really riveting read.

It’s also particularly interesting for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it is told with flash-backs. Eliza has been arrested and is sitting in a police station talking to anthropologist Dr Fadden, while refusing to see her mother. Slowly, over the course of several conversations, Eliza opens up and tells us about the events leading up to her arrest.

Secondly, Eliza, the main character, is thoroughly unlikeable. She is a spoiled rich kid living in a walled suburb and attending an exclusive private school. She is a bitchy, smart-mouthed, sarcastic, snobby brat who is even nasty to her own friends. Oh yeah, and she’s a complete control freak. And yet, somehow, Marr manages to elicit sympathy for this character. Maybe it’s because we get a bit of an insight into her past and how she came to be who she is. In any case, there were several moments where I found myself taking her side in conflicts — these moments were usually followed by a double-take as I reminded myself that I didn’t like Eliza and so I had no business taking her side. Hats off to the author for achieving this. It is rare for me to enjoy a book with an unlikeable protagonist.

Eliza aside, there are many interesting and memorable characters in this book — from Eliza’s trio of girlfriends, Marianne, Lexi and Ella, to the sympathetic and likeable student Neil, whose past is inextricably linked with Eliza’s. Neil was easily my favourite. I’d like to tell you why, but that would necessitate spoilers. All I’ll say is that there is a great deal of subtlety to his character.

Although this book seems aimed mostly at teenage girls, I think there’s a lot in it for other readers as well. It’s a thoughtful, well constructed novel… and a great read!

Finally, there’s the science fiction, time-travel adventure TimeRiders, by Alex Scarrow. I’ve already reviewed this book for the MC Review website, so if you’re interested you can go there to see what I thought of this clichéd but entertaining yarn.

So… anyone out there read anything really interesting lately? Feel free to share your literary adventures with the rest of us in the comments section below.

And tune in next time for a little bit of Doctor Who.

Catch ya later,  George

Beyond the book trailer — author vids

My last three posts have been about book trailers. But there is more to video promotion than book trailers. Authors and publishers are also creating videos in which the authors talk about their books.

The most basic of these is a straight-to-camera chat, relying on the ability of the author to say something interesting in an engaging way. Unfortunately there are many authors out there who, while brilliant on paper, are really dull when talking straight down the camera lens. Most seem to be recorded on handycams and then badly edited… or not edited at all. But there are some that stand out. Here’s one that I’ve posted on this blog before (see Thirty seconds to Marrs), but it’s such a good example of what can be done with one of these videos that I’m posting it again.

In this video, Shirley Marr talks about her debut YA novel Fury. But it’s her off-hand comments about other things — from her eyelashes to kinky boots — that show her personality. This is combined with some good editing and excellent use of music to create a really engaging video. A video like this, which portrays an interesting author as well as an interesting book, does a lot more for promotion than a dry speech simply telling you what the book is about. No matter how great a book is, if the author is to engage with an audience through a video, then that author needs to come across as an interesting person.

An author can do more than just deliver a straight-to-camera chat about the plotline of his/her new book. There are lots of things that can be done to spice up an author vid. For example, in this one, Scott Westerfeld talks about going on an airship ride as part of his research for the YA novel Leviathan. He is talking straight to camera, but photos and video from his airship ride are interspersed. It results in an interesting video.

Of course, an author doesn’t even have to talk about her/his own books in order to promote them. Jack Heath, author of YA thriller The Lab and its sequels, has a YouTube Channel on which he posts semi-regular videos about all sorts of things. What they all have in common is that they begin with a quick shot of his books accompanied by a musical hook. Take a look at the post in which he compares Stephenie Meyers’ Twilight with another vampire novel, 13 Bullets by David Wellington.

Heath’s engaging, witty style is what promotes his books, even when he’s not talking about them directly. I’ve watched all his videos and as a result, The Lab has been added to my reading list. Just for good measure here’s another one of his vids, titled: “Too Much Information”, in which he discusses some of his medical issues.

What’s it got to do with his books? Seemingly nothing! But it’s entertaining. And it’s a way of creating an ‘author brand’ — an association between his books and him as an interesting, entertaining person.

Just as book trailers can vary considerably in terms of style and creativity, so too can the author video. Some authors are simply more charismatic than others. While clever production can certainly do a lot to help an author video be engaging, there are some authors out there that no amount of flashy editing can save.

Anyone out there got any fav author vids they’d like to share? Leave a link in the comments below.

And tune in next time for a chorus of God Save the Queen as Literary Clutter explores the world of Steampunk.

Catch ya later,  George

Thirty seconds to Marrs

George’s little intro

Today I’d like to welcome Shirley Marr to Literary Clutter. Shirley is the author of the just-released YA novel Fury. It’s her first novel, and she has kindly stopped by to tell us a little about her journey to publication.

Thirty Seconds to Marrs (well perhaps a few minutes. OR YEARS.)
By Shirley Marr

What do leopard print, William Faulkner, a Guy Sebastian ticket, a Harry Potter owl and porcelain Royal Albert pig have in common? Absolutely nothing except they all happen to collide at my desk. Welcome to my writer’s space. My name is Shirley Marr and I am pro-clutter. After witnessing the photo of George’s desk though, I think mine is not all that bad, what do you think? I am challenging all future guest bloggers to take the Literary Clutter challenge and send in their photos.

I’m here today to share the experiences of getting published for the first time and maybe offer some advice that you might find useful.

So what do you think you need to become a published author? A literary background? Be an industry insider? Special connections? Special skills?

The simple truth is that you just need to love writing. You don’t have to be the best writer in the world, you just need to practice and eventually you’ll become pretty sufficient at stringing a bunch of words together. What is important is that you’re the only person out there with a story that can be told in your voice, through your eyes and experiences. Remember that.

My debut book Fury is out this May. Against all odds, I mailed a three-chapter sample to an indie publishing company called Black Dog Books and was pretty much signed on the spot. How does that happen? In my words “I’m just a girl”. I don’t have an English degree. I’ve never been to a single writing workshop, class or group. I work full time in a job that is nowhere near the literary world. The closest I’ve ever been to getting advice on how to write is buying a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Writing a Novel.

The secret is that I’ve been writing seriously for ten years. Ten years ago I said to myself “I want to be an author” and I started writing. I am no overnight success story. I’ve been through multiple crappy manuscripts and reached my lowest points where I chucked tantrums and threatened to quit because I believed I could never succeed. And it was an incredibly lonely ten years. It was ten years before I produced something that I thought was even fit to be seen by someone else. That something was Fury. And boy did my Draft Zero suck.

Here’s a tip. Find someone who can give you honest advice. It makes your journey less lonely. My peep is BetaGirl. She does as her name suggests. She completely betas the living daylights out of everything I write until it’s a virtual pile of scraps. I then cry, put the scraps back together and what I have is something better and more wonderful than I had before. So by the time I submitted to Black Dog Books, it was as best as I could get it. It was luck they wanted me, but it was also a lot of hard work.

The actual writing process took me three months, but it doesn’t end there. The editing process with Melissa Keil took around a year. If you can’t put everything that ever meant anything into it, then seriously, don’t do it! But if you really, really want (zig-a-zag-ahhhh) it — don’t be a diva, don’t get upset when someone says something sucks and just prepare to bust your ass! I wish you the best. It’ll be the best and worst time of your life.

For me now, it’s almost time to be a debutante. Being a new girl I expected this leg to be the hardest. I expected to be ignored, snubbed and maybe have my hair pulled. In fact, to be honest, I expected to be hazed… but all the other authors I have met have been super nice. George came up to me in the proverbial play yard and wanted to be friends and share his bloggy sandwich with me. I am glad to have made it here. And I am nothing special. In fact you are probably a better writer than me, so if I can do it… Believe that you can too.

George’s little bit at the end

Positive reviews of Fury are already hitting the net — like this one and this one.

Also, here’s a vid of Shirley talking about Fury:

Now, as for Shirley’s desk — it doesn’t look cluttered to me! In fact, it looks positively neat, although it does have some interesting paraphernalia. But what about you, dear reader? Tell us a few of the weird and wonderful things that adorn your workspace. Go on… embarrass yourselves!

Tune in next time to find out what my family and I have been reading.

Catch ya later, George