Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Book Rave: Alex by Tessa Duder. And holiday pics...

Happy New Year! Hope you had an amazing holiday and there was just the right amount of snow or sun (-: I'll get onto the book rave soon, but first some piccies. Here’s where I was for New Year:
campsite with railway carriage and sea in the background

dawn 1/1/2011. Little white dot in the top left quarter is the moon.

one of the surf beaches with big waves and crazy people on rocks
I need to find some more international books, but in the meantime I’ll rave about a book (or four) I read recently: The Alex series by Tessa Duder. They were written in the 80s and 90s and I should have read them before this, but never got round to it. Her more recent Tiggie Tompson trilogy is also very good.

Alex is a fifteen-year-old girl swimming to qualify for the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome (well, okay, she’s fourteen at the start but don’t get nitty-picky :P). It made me tired just reading about her life: getting up at five for the first swim training, going to school (which, btw, happens to be the high school I attended :D), doing ballet, hockey, the school play and piano, a second swim training. I may have missed something. I think everyone has known one of these people, someone who squeezes so much into life that you feel a bit inadequate.

Her arch-nemesis and friend, Maggie, consistently beats her in races, but Alex tends to pull off amazing comebacks. Alex’s independent temperament makes her disliked by judges and journalists, especially in conservative 1950s New Zealand, and there are evil plots and connivers galore. (Btw 1950s NZ is very different from 2011 NZ. We actually have restaurants now.) Her boyfriend and family are incredibly supportive, but it’s still a struggle to get through the year to the qualifying race.

Duder herself was a swimmer, so the details of swimming and training are probably pretty accurate. It would be interesting to know how much of the story is taken from her own experience.

There are two reasons I’m doing this book rave: One, the books are really really good. Two, the structure of the first book (Alex) is masterful.

You have the main storyline and timeframe with Alex training and going to school and living life, but interspersed with these main chapters are short snippets of the final qualifying race. Everything depends on this race. Right from the very start you are with Alex as she walks into the pool area, steps up to the starting blocks. You see three-second chunks of time, glimpses of the race as you read what leads up to it in the main chapters. It’s a great hook, building tension as you wait to see if all the work will be worth it, and a great spur to read on.

I was inspired, and decided to use some form of this technique in all my WIPs. Since then I’ve calmed down a bit and realised that, like most things, it’s probably better to think carefully about it and use it if it’s appropriate. Everything has a place, and if you use something in the wrong place it can fall flat or just get boring.

How were your holidays? Hope you had some good ones!

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