Almost There + Book Giveaway

These Saddles Will Soon Get A Workout

These Saddles Will Soon Get A Workout!

I’m putting the finishing touches on my new manuscript, which is due at Penguin on Thursday. This has been the hardest, but also the most satisfying book that I’ve written so far, with a broader focus than my previous novels. From Afghanistan’s last wilderness, to Australia’s great eastern escarpment, an epic tale of love, loss and redemption.Writing it has been an emotional roller coaster, and more than once I’ve found myself in tears.

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Waratahs

So, you can imagine how pleased I’ll be to send it off, and turn my attention to things closer to home – like the beauty unfolding all around me. Spring is my favourite time of year, and I’ll finally have a chance to enjoy it! This post is dedicated to Pilyara, the beautiful property where I live, and the animals and plants that I share it with.

DSCF0626Pilyara has many forested areas, with spectacular grey gums, mountain ash, and messmate stringy bark trees towering overhead. Below grows a dense layer of smaller plants including correa, heath, dusty miller, and golden bush pea. Delicate ground orchids abound, and ferns fringe the creek, including tall tree ferns. An astounding range of birds are found here: honey-eaters, bower-birds, parrots, cockatoos, kookaburras, currawongs, whip-birds, willy-wagtails, magpies, herons, swallows, swifts, ducks, eagles and owls, just to name a few. We’ve even spotted a lyrebird once or twice.Native animals include wombats, wallabies, koalas, echidnas, kangaroos, possums, gliders,bush rats, antechinus,bats and platypus in the creek. We also have the odd goanna and snake.

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Native Mint Bush

We received a grant from Victoria’s Healthy Waterways program, to finish fencing off the gullies and creek, and the work is almost complete. This will further enhance Pilyara as a habitat for native flora and fauna. Just talking about it makes me want to head off down to the creek! But no, first things first. Only a few more days work on the manuscript, and then the farrier comes to shoe the horses. (My present to myself for finishing!) Pilyara is only a few minutes ride from the Bunyip state forest, with its stunning scenery and heritage horse trails. Here are some photos taken today. Roll on Thursday!

I’m giving away a two-pack of my books. Leave a comment telling me your favourite native bird, or your favourite first line of a novel, to go in the draw. Let me know which two books you’d like. Closing date next Sunday 4th October. (Aust & NZ only) 

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Crabapple

Rex

Rex

Kitchen Garden

Kitchen Garden

Grevillia

Grevillia

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Sheba and Star

BB14

Hook The Reader With Your First Sentence + Giveaway!

cross blogIt’s that time of the month for general writerly chit-chat with Sydney Smith. This week there’s also a giveaway, to celebrate the completion of my new manuscript.

JENNY-
Hurray, I’ve finished my latest novel! One hundred thousand words of carefully crafted narrative. From Afghanistan’s last wilderness, to the rugged ranges of Australia’s great eastern escarpment – an epic tale of love, loss and redemption. Writing it was like running an emotional marathon.

I was feeling pretty pleased with myself. But when I began my rewrites – horror of horrors! A boring first paragraph stared me in the face. I needed to fix it, and fast. The manuscript is due at my publisher in two weeks. How do I hook my reader with that first line? Sydney Smith and I were down at Phillip Island on a writing retreat. We began a game – take a random novel off the shelf, read the first line, and rate it out of ten.

SYDNEY-
And what an eye-opener it was! So many of them started with a reference to the weather. About sixty percent, don’t you think, Jenny? Descriptions of weather aren’t in themselves bad. If they strike a note of tension, they can be very good. A storm can be great if it opens, say, a haunted house story or a tale of pursuit and capture. But if the weather is there simply because the writer can’t think of a better way to open their novel, it’s Dullsville. Here are two examples:

-‘The day is hot, the air thick with the smells of the rain-forest.’ The Inevitability Of Stars, Kathryn R Lyster
– ‘He could hear nothing while the storm lasted, everything blotted out by the steady drumming of the rain on the iron roof.’ Papio, Victor Kelleher

First lines 1Then there were the openings that drop you right into the action through a piece of dialogue or movement.

– ‘They threw me off the hay truck about noon.’ The Postman Always Rings Twice, James M. Cain
– ‘We should head to a bar and celebrate.’ Bared To You, Sylvia Day
– ‘The manhunt extended across more than one hundred light years and eight centuries.‘ A Deepness In The Sky Vernor Vinge.

I know many readers like this. I never have. But, as my friends are at pains to tell me, I’m weird. You can’t go by what I like.

Then there are the opening sentences that were just plain dull for no particular reason. I opened Sylvester, one of my favourite Georgette Heyer novels, and there before me lay a sentence utterly devoid of thrill:

‘Sylvester stood in the window of his breakfast-parlour, leaning his hands on the ledge, and gazing out upon a fair prospect.’

I forgive her because her novels were amongst my early teachers. If I have any skill at all as a writer, it’s thanks to her. I learned wit from her. I learned the long and vivid character introduction from her. I learned the thrust and parry of dialogue between hero and heroine from her. And let us praise the heroine who can take care of herself. That’s not Ms Heyer’s invention, but she ran with it as no one had First lines 2before. So I tried another Georgette Heyer, this one The Corinthian.

‘The company, ushered by a disapproving butler into the yellow saloon of Sir Richard Wyndham’s house in St James’ Square, comprised two ladies and one reluctant gentleman.’

Better. The disapproving butler, and especially the one reluctant gentleman, strike notes of tension. The reader is invited to wonder why they’re there, and why the gentleman is reluctant. But it’s too long thanks to the nonsense about Richard’s posh address. Still, it’s a well-balanced sentence. Ms Heyer was a prose stylist of the first order.

But when I look at first sentences, I want something more. I want a sentence that snags me on a strong yet delicate hook with a barb on the end that hurts if I try to wriggle free.

JENNY-
I’ve listed my favourites below. Some encapsulate the conflict, compacting the First line 3entire story into a single sentence. Others state a truth or surprise me in some way.

  • “Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins.” Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov

  • The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” The Dark Tower, Stephen King

  • “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.” Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka

  • “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”  Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

  • He shouldn’t have come back.” Dark Country, Bronwyn Parry

  • “When Mary Lennox was sent to Misselthwaite Manor to live with her uncle, everybody said she was the most disagreeable child ever seen.” The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett

  • “It is said that in death, all things become clear; Ensei Tankado now knew it was true.” Digital Fortress, Dan Brown

  • “The idea that love is not enough, is a particularly painful one.” The Unknown Terrorist, Richard Flanagan.

  • “Every summer, Lin Kong returned to Goose Village to divorce his wife.”  Waiting: A novel, Ha Jin

  • “Bett-Bett must have been a Princess, for she was a King’s niece, and if that does not make a princess of anyone, it ought to do so!” The Little Black PrincessAeneus Gunn

  • “So I’m standing at my front gate and I’m soaked and it’d been the worst day in history.” Rough Diamond, Kathryn Ledson

  • I see my father with that shovel.” The Woods, Harlan Coben

  • This was the way a world died.” Ice Guard Steve Lyons

  • And my personal favourite: “All stories are about wolves.” The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood

Stephen King proudly boasts that he spends months crafting a first line. What do you think, Sydney? What is it about these lines that made them stand out?

SYDNEY-
Firts line 5I go with most of your choices, Jenny. I have to say, though, that Richard Flanagan’s contribution strikes me as weak, thanks to its construction and verb choice. “The idea that love is not enough, is a particularly painful one.” It might read better if it went something like this: “It hurts to know that love is not enough.” The construction here is stronger first because of the verb: in his version, he uses “is”, which is a nothing verb, while mine is “hurts”, which throbs with vitality. The position of the verb matters, too: mine is the second word in the sentence, which is a strong place to put it, right after the subject pronoun. His verb is buried in the middle of the sentence. Verbs are engines: they drive sentences. The stronger the verb, the stronger the drive. The fact that his version uses “is” twice merely compounds the problem.

Stephen King’s contribution is good: “The man in black fled across the desert, and the gunslinger followed.” First, it’s about pursuit. Predators pursue their prey. At the same time, the moral ambiguity threatens to tumble it on its head: the prey wears black, the colour of villainy. Does the gunslinger pursue him because he’s done something evil? A two-hook sentence, the moral and the visceral, is an embarrassment of riches. Maybe I should read this novel!

First line 4As for Margaret Atwood’s selection, “All stories are about wolves”, the initial hook is the sheer mind-blowing breadth of the statement. That very fact caused me to pause and ponder. “Wolves” is a metaphor; she means all stories are about predators, and therefore, about their prey, since a predator is nothing without the creatures it kills and devours (wolfs down). In which case, contrary to first impressions, Ms Atwood is absolutely right. And yet I can’t overlook the whiff of facetiousness in the sentence either. It begins to look as though I personally like a sentence whose layers can be unpacked and spread on the table.

JENNY-
Interestingly, Margaret Atwood’s line holds very true for my latest novel! I don’t expect a first line to do as much as you do, Sydney. It must hook the reader, true, but it can do this in a variety of ways.
Summarising the conflict, like the first line of Lolita.
Stating a general truth, like Leo Tolstoy and Richard Flanagan do. (I do like Flanagan’s first line, despite its double use of ‘is‘).
Stating a simple yet interesting fact. “I had a farm in Africa,” Out of Africa Isak Dinesen. I also love the ‘They threw me off the hay-truck about noon.’ line 🙂
Establishing an intriguing voice, Lolita again.
Or a line that surprises, like Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

These work for me. And thanks to this fun research and analysis, I now have my new opening line – one of the encapsulating-the-conflict variety. Now you’ll all have to buy my new book next year to find out what it is!

For your chance to win a two-pack of my books (your choice!) just leave a comment telling us your favourite first line from a novel, and which two books you’d like to win. The first line can be one that we’ve already mentioned, or a new one altogether. The prize will be drawn on the 4th of October. (Aust & NZ residents only)BB14

#Writing 50,000 Inimitable Smiles by Margie Lawson

I’m deeply submerged in writing the last few thousand words of my new novel. So I thought I’d reblog a post from the wonderful Margie Lawson. She presented an all- day workshop at the recent RWA conference. I have since downloaded her Deep Editing lecture series. This method for writing fresh has been incredibly useful for me. Here’s a post she has written on smiles.

Jenny Hansen's Blog

Welcome to Techie Tuesday here at More Cowbell! This is the day each week when I unleash my inner geek and we talk about some groovy piece of technology or a technical point of writing.

Today, I’m ringing my Cowbell as hard as I possibly can! Why, you ask??

#1 – We have the amazing Margie Lawson here to make our characters’ smiles LEAP off the page.

#2 – I made it to the second round of Clay Morgan’s March Movie Madness and I need y’all to go here  to vote for RAPUNZEL tomorrow to help me advance to Round 3. (Polls open at about 8 am PST and stay open all day!!)

Note:My gal will be up against “Farm Boy” Westley from the Princess Bride, either today or tomorrow. Yes, Farm Boy’s hot <blah-blah-blah>. But Rapunzel kicks A$$ with only her wits, her frying pan and the 80 feet of hair…

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