Monday, February 28, 2011

Book #15: Peru – Go and Come Back by Joan Abelove

First, love and support and hope to anyone who’s going through hard times at the moment – the Christchurch Earthquake, unrest in North Africa/Middle East and anything else that might be happening large or small-scale. Hearts are with you.

And sorry I haven't posted until now...

My round-the-world book this week is set in Poincushmana, an Icabo village in the Peruvian Amazon. The author is an anthropologist, and while names of people and places are different, the characters and events are drawn from the author’s own experience.

The novel covers a year in the life of Alicia, a teenage girl in Poincushmana. Most of the village is mistrusting of the two ‘old lady’ anthropologists, or at least amused by their attempts to understand Icabo life and fit in. In this year, Alicia adopts a baby, becomes friends with the anthropologists, and tries to get them to appreciate what they’re doing wrong.

It’s hard, though – when you live in a culture, some things are so glaringly obvious to you that you don’t think to mention them. A lot of learning is done through trial and error, and there can be resentment when neither party understands what the other is doing and why.

Go and Come Back makes you shift your thinking and reflect on what you take for granted. It’s told in first person by Alicia, and strikes a difficult balance between assuming audience inside knowledge (as if she’s telling it to someone who knows the culture) and making sure the reader understands everything. I really enjoyed Alicia’s observations on life, and the ‘old ladies’’ slow acceptance into the community.

I think it's really good to read something like this if you’re thinking of inventing a complete fantasy world. You realise that normal everyday things you thought were universal can be very different in a different culture. Most of the fantasy worlds you read about are based quite definitely on western traditions (at least, in English-language fantasies), and it would be cool to see something that’s entirely new.

Or maybe that would screw with peoples’ head too much.

Or is that a good thing? :D

Any books you know and like set in Peru?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Editing on an e-reader: looove

Everyone always says you have to print out your manuscript to properly edit it. I always thought this was a waste of paper. I’ve printed it out a few times over itslife, but usually to thrust at other people who don’t like reading on a screen. They’re the same words, so how can printing it out make a difference?

Oh I was wrong.

Okay, so I’m not exactly printing it out. I got a little Sony Reader for Christmas, and proceeded to buy a book every five days. Then I went to the library in an attempt to stop myself from buying everything (I’m trying to save money, here) and ended up chain-reading. Not good. I also downloaded things like Crime and Punishment and stuck them on my reader, in the vain expectation that I might someday read them. Then the reader languished in my bag for a few days.

But then I started a new round of edits. I put my manuscript on the reader, took my stylus and started making notes.

And I have to say, it is awesome. I don’t know why, but I pick up so much more when I’m reading it on an e-reader than on a computer screen. I see story and character arcs a whole lot better. I find typos. I decide I really don’t like the entire last third and want to rewrite it.

Well, I’ll sit on that for a few days. I’m sure it’s not as bad as I think.

But apart from inspiring me to major rewrites, it’s been a whole lot easier to edit. I can do it on the bus or on the street, and I think it’s faster. You can’t get caught up in rewriting things, so you don’t get sidetracked.

There are a few things I would improve on. First, writing/drawing has a bit of a lag time on the Sony Reader, which takes a while to get used to. Second, the page turn immediately after writing something takes about five seconds. Otherwise I like it.

Does anyone have any theories about why (e-)paper is easier to edit on? How do you edit?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book #14: Pakistan - Broken Moon by Kim Antieau

Hi everybody :) hope your February is getting off to a good start! I have been, ahem, reading lots. Check out my awesome books-I’ve-read-this-year widget. I think I should be spending more time writing rather than reading. It’s hard when you’ve got into the habit of telling yourself that reading is research :D Anyway, here’s the rundown on this week’s around the world book.

Nadira is a maid whose six-year-old brother is stolen to ride camels in the desert. A few years before, she was attacked by men who wanted revenge on her elder brother, and now she is soiled goods, unlikely ever to marry. In a way, this is freeing for her, because she has the courage to go to out into the world, without worrying too much about the future consequences of her actions. Her reputation is already ruined – she can go to any length to save her little brother.

I really liked this story. It has a dreamy quality to it, and is told through letters from a sister to the brother she is trying to save. The tale of Shahrazad and the Thousand and One Nights is woven through Nadira’s own story, and she uses tricks inspired by Shahrazad to survive and rescue her brother. Nadira is a great character – strong, determined to do all she can to put things right, and full of love for her brother.

What struck me most was that a lot of the story could have taken place any time in the last thousand years. Until computers were mentioned, I wasn’t sure it was set in contemporary times. Nadira’s life is so separate from her moneyed employers. There is such a strong dividing line between rich and poor, and it’s sobering to think about how true this is for many in the world today. The glitz and glamour of the camel races with their television cameras and apartments on wheels contrast sharply with the slave-labour of the training camps and the everyday life of Karachi’s poor.

I think this also gives the story a fairy-tale like quality. Nadira takes charge of her own destiny with Shahrazad as her inspiration, and while she does not go from rags to riches, she improves the lives of herself and her family. And maybe in the end she can find love, despite her past.

Any books set in Pakistan that you want to share? (and yes, okay, only some of this book is set in Pakistan, but the rest is set in an unnamed country, so it counts as Pakistan).

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Detail. And Hobbiton :D

I went to Hobbiton recently. Mwa ha ha. And I signed a thingy that said I can’t tell anyone anything and my pictures must Never Go on the Internet. So unfortunately you don’t get any amazing photos of a movie set that’s about to start filming. I should be allowed to say it was awesome, though, right? Because it’s a Peter Jackson/Weta Workshop thing and awesomeness is kind of assumed.

But anyway, it got me thinking about detail and how much work people can put into something to make it special. Lots of the stuff Weta makes will never have more than a few seconds on screen, or maybe no time at all.

I think writing is a bit the same. A lot of the work is never seen. It might take six years to write a book, and six hours to read it. You might have written twice, three times, ten times the number of words that appear in the book. You’ve thought about a thousand different details, trying to get everything exactly right.

And drawing too. When you’re drawing you make all the light pencil marks, lines here and there and everywhere, and then finally you take your brush or your marker or whatever and you start the final shapes, the ones that everyone will see.

The bones are always there behind it, supporting and guiding. The work is put in, and even if you catch only glimpses of it, it makes things all the more real. You’re immersed in the film, the novel, the work of art. You know there’s an entire world in behind there.

 I think it would be awesome working as a set designer and maker on a movie. You’re making fiction into reality. When I see The Hobbit next year, I’m going to be awed and amazed by that reality.

Though I may spend a decent amount of time poking people and saying ‘I’ve seen that! I’ve seen that!’