Sunday, July 31, 2016

Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy #2)

Title: Royal Assassin (Farseer Trilogy #2)
Author: Robin Hobb
Publisher: Voyager, 1997

I lose no time telling folks how much I love Robin Hobb's FitzChivalry stories, and this current review represents my second read through of Royal Assassin. Unfortunately, I'd let time slip between book 1 and 2, so I had to scramble a bit to pick up the threads – and this is most certainly a series that I recommend reading back to back. This is due to the huge cast of characters in addition to the multiple, nuanced plot threads.

We resume with Fitz in the Mountain Kingdom, after he has foiled a plot instigated by his half-uncle Prince Regal, whom we've all come to love to hate by now. Months pass before he is well enough to travel back to Buckkeep, and in that time he suffers seizures. He really has lost much confidence.

He returns to a castle where King Shrewd is ill, and it's clear that Regal is machinating to take power (and ruin the kingdoms while he's at it). Prince Verity is tied up trying to protect the duchies from the Red Ship Raiders and, if that's not enough, the woman Fitz loves now works for Patience – his biological father's widow. Plainly put, it's a tangled mess, and Fitz's decisions don't always work out for the best.

We learn more of Fitz's Wit magic in his relationship with the wolf Nighteyes, whom he rescues from a trapper – and to me, this symbiotic relationship is one of the most beautiful friendships I've ever encountered in the written word. Hobb understands her subjects, be they people or animal.

Fitz suffers terribly, that is all I will say for fear of spoiling the story. By the end of the book, he really has gone through a crucible – especially since Prince Verity is no longer there to protect him, as he's gone haring off hunting for the fabled Elderlings to help against the raiders. Hobb offers potential twists that lulled me into expecting one outcome, only to have my expectations dashed as the story plunges ever more into yet another nadir. So far as the Fitz stories go, this one is perhaps the bleakest. And yet it is not without a glimmer of hope, and the ending is just perfect.

My thoughts on having reread are that I'd missed a lot of the nuance when I'd read this when I was younger. Hobb's staggering ability to perceive the hearts of her characters blows me out of the water. Even Regal's motivations are understandable. He's not a one-dimensional Disney-esque villain but one would almost wish that twisted creature that he is, it would be possible to redeem him.

Those who're fiending after fast-paced, action-packed adventures had best move on. As always, Hobb's writing rewards the patient reader who revels in a slowly unfolding epic masterpiece. Not a single bit of information or action is without some sort of impact later on in the story. There was no saggy middle-book syndrome with this installment.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Shining (1980) #review

A family heads to an isolated hotel for the winter where an evil and spiritual presence influences the father into violence, while his psychic son sees horrific forebodings from the past and of the future.

I have a terrible admission to make – but better late than never, amiright? I only watched The Shining for the first time this year. Yes. I’ve been lurking around on this planet for more than 30 years and I’d NEVER EVER EVER watched this masterpiece by Stanley Kubrick.

Also, I absolutely loathe Jack Nicholson. I don’t know what it is about him – his face, his voice. I agree he’s a fantastic actor but he makes my flesh crawl and he was perfect for this role as Jack Torrance, the author who simply cannot get into his novel. The true star of this film is his long-suffering wife Wendy, who somehow keeps it all together when everyone else around her is going completely stark-raving bonkers. Little Danny’s premonitions are creepy, but even creepier still is the location.

Kudos to the set dressers and builders – the interiors of the Overlook Hotel are phenomenal and a fitting tribute to all that is awful about late-1970s décor. Kubrick manages to make me feel horrifically claustrophobic and paranoid all at once. Trapped like Jack and his family, we can only sit back and watch how Jack spirals into madness, and we know things aren’t going to end well. All the while poor, dear Wendy comes to realise she needs to get herself and her son out of this place – easier said than done when the inevitable blizzard cuts them off from the rest of this world. And she’s resilient, tenacious, and she’s a mother who’s absolutely terrified beyond all belief yet she just doesn’t give up.

Yep, there are the tropes, like the magical negro and the psychic children tropes, but Kubrick plays them well. Besides, the tormented author with writers’ block is possibly one of the oldest literary tropes in the box.

I’ve heard so many people go on and on about why this film is a pinnacle of its art, and I can see why. Everything holds together – the tension, the dialogue, the characterisation. I’ll be honest and say it’s not my sort of film because I’m a shallow creature with simple tastes for nubile androgynous elves, but I watched it from start to finish without even getting distracted by my social media feeds because it was simply perfection. The horror is at times subtle, be it the growing sense of menace of a toxic environment or it’s overt, shocking in the flashes of atrocities that Kubrick depicts. (Let me not remember that hotel in Ireland where I had to hang my bedspread over the multiple mirrors before I could get to sleep.)

I’m also aware that this film has been picked apart to death by film aficionados who’ve read all sorts of meaning into things, and that in itself is a fascinating topic to delve into if you’ve got time to waste. Go trawl YouTube if you number among the idly curious. And if you’re a sad old fart like me who waited until her late-30s to see this film… I’m just going to shake my head at you. Watch this fucking film. Seriously.

No. I haven't read the fucking book yet. I'll get there. When I'm 50.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What We Do in the Shadows (2014) #reviews

A documentary team films the lives of a group of vampires for a few months. The vampires share a house in Wellington, New Zealand. Turns out vampires have their own domestic problems too.

It’s not often that I’ll laugh until my sides hurt, but directors Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi pushed all the right buttons for me with their mockumentary What We Do in the Shadows – and I dig vampires, as some of you may already know. I can compare this to The League of Gentlemen meets the vampire genre as we get to know Viago, Vladislav, Deacon, and Petyr, who cohabit in the prerequisite crumbling domicile in the midst of a Wellington suburb in New Zealand. Add their minion (and mum) Jackie to the mix (who clearly has ambitions to be undead) whose work includes procuring and disposing of suitable victims on the off-chance that they'll turn her. (Hint, they're far too comfortable with the status quo.)

Of course their idyll isn’t long-lived, and when one of the vampires accidentally creates a new (modern) vampire, the pecking order is thrown out of kilter, with side-splittingly hilarious consequences. (And of course there are many laughs at the Tweelighters’ expense.)

Okay, the gags are really silly, but if you know your tropes, you’ll end up with a belly ache, like I did. Especially when the werewolves entered stage right… Honestly, I don’t know when last I’d seen a film that was just so much fun (thank you, Netflix). And yeah, this is one I’ll watch again some time in the future. Considering how stolid and unwieldy most of the mainstream cinema fare is nowadays (especially from the US), this is a waft of bloody good (and gory) fun.

There’s not much else to say, other than the fact that the characters were incredibly well put together, and the humour is spot on. So many cringe-worthy awkward, and irreverent situations, but oh so worth it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Playing the Long Game #writerslife

A question I sometimes get is, “Oh, wow, you’ve written so many books. You must have made lots of money.”

At which point, I laugh and laugh … and then whimper slightly. Authors are not rich. Those who are, are the exception, not the rule.

Let’s say it again: Rich authors are the exception, not the rule. Now, write that in nice red ink and stick it above your workspace.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far, far away, I ended up in an email exchange with John Everson. We were both hanging around the same Yahoo list during the mid-2000s, when FB was merely a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg's eye, and I remember being terribly impressed with the fact that he’d been published and where he was at the start of what appeared to be a promising career. He still warned me that it’s a lot of hard work without any guarantees, and I thought, “Yup, I’m up for this. I’ll make it. I'm awesome. The sun shines out of my arse.”

Yet here I am. I’ve published a bunch of books. None of them are best-sellers, and I make more money editing other people’s work than with my own writing.

But what do we mean by successful author? What do we mean when we say we’ve “made it”?

Good questions.

If you’re doing this under the assumption that you’re going to earn wads of cash, you might do better simply investing in guaranteed schemes or buying property. Publishing novels is a lot like gambling. Actually, who’m I kidding? It is gambling. You simply cannot guarantee whether readers will glomp onto your work. No one could predict that Harry PotterTwilight or Fifty Shades of Grey, The Hunger Games or even adult colouring books would be the phenomena that they’ve turned out to be. But they are.

Hundreds of authors have tried to follow in these footsteps, to varying degrees of success. And I predict, that by the time the majority of those attempting to ride the coattails of the success stories get their novels out there, the wave will have passed.

(There’s a reason why I don’t write YA dystopias. Though I do admit that the genre itself has been surprisingly resilient despite me watching out for the Next Big Thing to take off.)

If you’re talking about financial success, then you need to write the more popular genres. Which means you’re going to look at erotic romance, crime/mystery, religious/inspirational, and fantasy … with horror lagging behind all of these… And it means you’ll have to immerse yourself in the genre you want to write so that you’re aware of the tropes. Readers are not stupid. They can tell the moment an author’s heart is not in the genre they’re writing and, nope, they’re not going to buy it if your offering is a lukewarm spinoff.

Some of the hardest-working authors I’ve ever met write in the erotic romance genre. These folks write a book every 2-3 months, with 6-8 releases a year in what is a highly competitive market with a huge turnover of newly published works every week. Their readers are voracious, and yet if an author misses a step, their name quickly sinks to the bottom of the pile. The ones who earn six-digit figures put in eight or more hours a day of writing, revising and promotion. It’s a huge industry, and frankly, I have to be honest with myself, I don’t have the stamina for it. I don’t have the love of this particular genre to push myself in this direction. The successful authors treat this with the same seriousness that they do any nine-to-five career. I don’t want this on the off-chance that I might make a financial “success” of it.

And yet ... Work ethic and talent most certainly help, but they’re no guarantee.

If you’re writing because you want people to tell you how amazeballs your stories are, think again. It’s easy to publish a novel these days. But getting people to read your work is difficult. Then getting them to leave reviews or ratings (those all-important algorithms Amazon loves so much before your book starts showing up in any promotion) is even more difficult. It simply doesn’t occur to many readers that they should leave reviews. Or they’re just not in the mood. Or they have better things to do. Your books don’t accimagically sell themselves, and only a select few (or incredibly savvy) ever make it onto the shelves of brick-and-mortar stores.

(Here’s a hint: go look at the SFF section at your local bookshop. Notice something? Yeah, it’s still mostly the same old names we’ve seen there for the past 10-20 years… The Hobbs, the GRRMs, the Tolkiens, the Jordans, the Canavans…)

The likelihood of you getting your small press or self-published book onto the shelves of your local bookstore are slim to none. Most of your sales will be from your ebooks. Which folks will only buy if they happen to stumble onto the book via a review or a mention on social media.

So, why are you writing?

I’ll tell you why I write. Maybe my story will resonate (and I'd love to hear yours – leave a comment below in the comments section). I’m playing the long game. I’ve decided I don’t want to wait until I become famous to write the kinds of books I enjoy reading. Unfortunately, many of my literary heroes are not runaway mainstream successes. By the same measure, the stories I tell are not mainstream. My readership is niche, but I love that niche – of rich, nuanced and slowly unfolding fantasy where there the conflict is often subtle and it’s not immediately possible to tell who’s the antagonist. I look to the writings of Storm Constantine, Neil Gaiman, Robin Hobb, Ursula Le Guin, Poppy Z Brite, CJ Cherryh and numerous others, and I express myself in a synthesis of what I love about their styles. Some of these authors you may have heard of. Others, perhaps not. But whether you have, doesn’t matter to me.

The point is I have stories I want to tell. I am a storyteller.

My rewards are subtle: It’s when one of my literary heroes tells me that she loves my voice. Or when I’ve read at an event, and a young boy walks up to me and tells me that my writing reminds him of Neil Gaiman’s. Or it’s when a reader writes to tell me that I made her forget to milk her goats. Or, it's that flash of inspiration when I pause in what I'm doing to daydream on a new idea then see its potential.

I write my own worlds, but I also write fiction that I cannot sell; my fanfiction often gives me so much pleasure because the response I have from readers is immediate and passionate. And for the same reasons, I read the fics of others, and I experience the same enthusiasm for our favourite worlds.

And my original fiction meets the fanfiction halfway, because I’ve written for existing intellectual properties in an official capacity, and it’s been awesome and financially rewarding.

I will close by sharing also that I’ve learnt to value my writing. I don’t submit to just any market that is out there. I don’t often give away my works for free. I always craft to my utmost ability then submit to the best markets. And, if for whatever reason these works doesn’t sell, I’ll later compile them into an anthology or release via my Patreon page. I aim high, for quality, not quantity.

I don’t make my living writing, though there are some opportunities that do pay well. Life is short, nasty and brutish, and I want to enjoy my writing while I’m alive. It’s not so much a stress of if a story will be published, but rather when, and how. If I value my art, and don’t sell it short, it means that there’s a better chance that others may cherish it too.

Am I a success? If you mean by am I writing the stories that I love reading, then my resounding answer is yes. I am a success.

Bio: After surviving a decade in the trenches of newspaper publishing, where she fought against the abuse of the English language, Nerine Dorman is now a freelance editor and designer who is passionate about words that not only sound good, but look damned good too. She’s also written a few books. You can stalk her on Twitter or, even better, support her authorly aspirations via Patreon. If you’re feeling particularly brave, and would like to inquire about her editing rates, you can email her at 

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) #reviews

Archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones is hired by the U.S. government to find the Ark of the Covenant before the Nazis.

The first time I encountered anything about this film was via my then best friend Evan, when we were both six. There were collectible sticker books and he had one for Raiders of the Lost Ark. I was very envious of him because he came from the US and had all the Star Wars figurines.

So, yes, my viewing of this film is very much mired in nostalgia for my childhood, and it formed part of my mission to watch all the Indiana Jones films in a set.

Raiders is the first of the Indiana Jones films and shows Indy going up against the best movie villains ever – the Nazis. The film draws on the Nazi fascination with the occult, and in this scenario the McGuffin is the fabled Ark of the Covenant that has been lost for millennia. That is, until the Nazis cotton on to the fact that it may have been buried in Egypt.

Indy does what Indy does best, and embarks on a treasure hunt that leads him to the rather fabulous Marion Ravenwood (the daughter of one his archaeologist buddies) and the two set off to Egypt to hunt for the treasure. Of course the ominous Nazi colonel is hot on their heels and Indy and co. enjoy a series of narrow squeaks in typical Indy fashion, aided and abetted by his somewhat eclectic friends.

There aren't many strong female characters in this film. There is Marion. But she's hardly the Damsel, which makes up for it. (But I can already hear the SJWs winding themselves up into a frothy.) But I like Marion. She punches hard. She's clever. She's tough. She's capable. From time to time she *does* need rescuing but then again, Indy's constantly getting into scrapes himself.

Everyone gets their just deserts, and typically, those who are greedy and overly ambitious in a selfish fashion come off second best. In the end. Cultural representations remain simplistic as per Hollywood but then again, don't forget the era within which this film was made, when being PC wasn't exactly high up on producers' agendas. We had quite a lively discussion about the problematic elements in the film – and whether shoehorning representation now would be forced or not – but in the end I agree to leave the film be for what it is. This is a swashbuckling, tongue-in-cheek action film and it's fun. (And it's most certainly inspired video games like Tomb Raider and Uncharted.) I watch films like this because I want to be entertained. Overthinking it ruins the enjoyment, and the devil alone knows there's enough BS in the world.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) #review

A skirmish in Shanghai puts archaeologist Indiana Jones, his partner Short Round and singer Willie Scott crossing paths with an Indian village desperate to reclaim a rock stolen by a secret cult beneath the catacombs of an ancient palace.

I was six when my sister dragged me off to the cinema to watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (directed by Steven Spielberg). I’m sorry to report that I spent nearly ¾ of the film with my back to the screen. I was petrified, and after that I had nightmares about evil priests in horned headdresses who tried to haul my heart out of my ribcage with their bare hands.

Yet over the years this has been one of those films that I have rewatched several times (I’ve lost count), and as I’ve grown older, I’ve enjoyed Temple of Doom, because the Indiana Jones films are somewhat silly yet incredible fun. And, of course, because Harrison Ford makes my heart beat a little faster now that I’m a big person.

Okay, I lie, I kinda never really grew up. I’m only pretending to be a big person.

But I digress.

The Indiana Jones films hark from that glorious, pulpy era of Hollywood action heroes. They don’t take themselves too seriously, and combine hair-raising stunts with equal doses of humour. And, of course, SFX that have dated horribly. But that’s okay, because I often feel that contemporary cinema relies too heavily on the CGI to make up for poor writing and cinematography.

Viewed through a contemporary, regressive left lens, the Indiana Jones films can probably be regarded as problematic with the portrayals of gender and race, but they inhabit such a fond, nostalgic place in my childhood, when such concerns weren’t even discussed, that I’m not going to waste my energy. I’m pretty sure there are plenty of SJWs who’re going to froth and have already done so at great length.

Indiana Jones is one of my favourite characters. He’s got the brawn where it counts, but he’s a professor – the ultimate in geeks – and a lady’s man. And he can crack a one-liner like he cracks his trademark whip. We meet him in Shanghai, where a deal goes wrong, and he and the singer Willie Scott and intrepid pint-sized sidekick Short Round end up in India. From there they get dragged into a quest to retrieve a village’s sacred stones where they run into an evil Kali cult complete with human sacrifice. In defeating an evil priest and retrieving the sacred stones, they also free the village’s children, and everyone goes merrily on their way. Oh, and let's not forget the grossest dinner party ever, that involves monkey brain soup with floating eyeballs, and a main dish that features baby snakes wriggling out of a steaming cooked momma snake. That's after the bugs for starters – this elicited a huge eewwwwwww from six-year-old Nerine.

This film is all about the action and adventure. The bad guys are really bad, greedy and ambitious. Indy is no less ambitious, but his motives are more altruistic – he seeks treasure for his university (how noble) so that they can be preserved for posterity.

Though this story is supposed to be a prequel to the events that transpire in the preceding Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, I found that it lacked some of the dynamics that made Raiders a much stronger film. I suspect it was because Willie and Short Round as characters, weren’t developed fully. Willie seems to exist to solely act as the Damsel and comic relief while Short Round adds to the general hilarity (which didn't really blow my hair back as an adult, if I'm quite honest). When I was six, I found the dynamics highly entertaining (what 6yo won’t laugh at slapstick?) but now I even found myself slightly annoyed. Write Willie and Short Stuff out, and it wouldn’t harm the plot in the least bit. If the writers had bothered to up the stakes with these two with a bit more development, it would have been another thing entirely and may have elevated the film somewhat.

But apart from this, the Temple of Doom is what it is – a silly, fun film to watch. The villains are Disney-esque in their badness, and yes, if you’re offended by everything under the sun, you’ll most likely make a long list of things that are problematic about the Temple of Doom. Maybe I’m viewing Indy through the rosy lenses of nostalgia, but I always did dream of one day being an explorer, and seeking lost mysteries, and Indy remains a character who inspires me to write the things I do.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Dealbreakers: head-hopping

I’ve got a number of deal-breakers for me when I’m reading slush or, when I’m writing my dreaded “dear author” letters for my clients – these issues seem to crop up the most often and make me sigh. A lot. This one’s affectionately called “head hopping”. First-pass edits that I do usually end up with loads of red ink or tabbed comments that state just that. And if you’re currently thinking of disembodied heads bouncing down the road then some of my work here is done.

Before we get into what head-hopping entails, we’re quickly going to look at a story’s point of view. There are some other fancy-pants literary terms for this, but I want to keep things as simple as possible because I don’t want your eyes to glaze over or your brain to implode.

When you write a story, one of the first things you need to decide is who the narrator is. This is the person telling the story.

Your first-person narrator uses the pronoun “I” and writing the story feels like a personal account.

I went down to the harbour, bought some chips, and fed the seagulls. 

What’s lovely about first-person point of view is that it lends the text a sense of immediacy. We’re reliving a series of events through the eyes of an unreliable narrator who a) might be lying to herself about what’s happening or b) simply doesn’t have all the information at hand to make informed decisions.

There’s a degree of uncertainty. Did events really transpire as the person suggests? Think about how you retell some of your misadventures as a teenager compared to how your mom would. Each narrator will add flavour to a story, based on their beliefs and personal biases. (Your mom might say you came home after your 18th birthday looking like the Wreck of the Hesperus, which says quite a bit about your mom – and you.)

Then there’s second-person point of view, where the narrator uses the pronoun “you”, and the story feels as if it addresses the reader.

You went down to the harbour, bought some chips, and fed the seagulls.

See what happens there? You’re the one who’s in the story. You’re the one who’s getting greasy fingers feeding a bunch of squawking birds. This style isn’t very common, and can be quite tricky to execute well. My own opinion is that I’d find reading a novel-length work in this style incredibly tiresome.

Lastly, we have third-person, which would see the point of view a bit more remote.

She went down to the harbour, bought some chips, and fed the seagulls.

Now, we’re reduced to voyeurs, viewing the events as one would watch a movie. Third-person point of view is, at present, the most prevalent style of writing. In fact, I’ve met quite a few readers who balk at reading any other style (missing out on all the lovely first-person narrations out there).

For more funzies, there are basically two ways of treating third-person point of view. One I’m going to tag as deep third-person point of view and the other is omniscient point of view.

Your bog-standard fiction tends to be a deep third-person point of view where you’ll have one character’s point of view in each scene or chapter. This means that although we’re learning why Susie went down to feed the seagulls (she was feeling sad because James left her), we don’t also know what Billy, her stalker, was thinking. In fact, Susie wasn’t even aware that Billy was watching her that day until we see a later chapter where we’re in Billy’s point of view and he’s looking at the photos he took that day.

If we were writing omniscient point of view, and doing it well, we would, perhaps halfway through the scene, swap points of view to Billy, who’s sitting on a boat nearby with his camera. Authors who shift smoothly, would give some sort of transition in their writing, clearly showing how they change in point of view. Think of it like watching a movie, where the camera pans from one face to another. If you have choppy camera work, hopping back and forth between points of view rapidly, the story’s going to suffer.

Now I’m going to be absolutely straight up. Every editor has his or her preferences, and as an editor I absolutely loathe third-person omniscient. [BIG DISCLAIMER: THIS IS MY OPINION – other editors may vary] This is where the author is writing from some sort of god-like perspective, showing readers what multiple characters are thinking in the same scene.

While there is nothing wrong with writing third-person omniscient, it’s also not a convention that is at present popular within the realms of commercial and genre fiction. That’s not to say that third-person omniscient, is wrong, per se, it’s just that there are few authors out there who manage to pull this off with any real flair. At this point, I’ll nod at Sir Terry Pratchett as possibly one of the best examples of this style of writing well done. Go read his Discworld novels to see how this is done.

In the majority of the cases I encounter, writers' attempts at multiple points of view in one scene, often result in a garbled, muddled mess. The actions, dialogue and thoughts of different characters get so hopelessly entangled in one paragraph, I sometimes have to resist the temptation of hurling my coffee mug at my very expensive computer screen – an action I will most certainly regret instantly.

If you’re absolutely dead set on writing omniscient point of view, my advice is to consider the idea of establishing the voice of your narrator. Who is telling the story? Develop the author’s character as the teller (think of what makes Roald Dahl so awesome – go read a few of his stories). Think about the fact that the author is presenting him or herself as the storyteller, providing a framework upon which the actions and words of the characters will hang.

The difficulty here is developing individual characters’ personalities to make them stand apart from each other. The other drawback is that because your narrator has godlike powers, you risk falling prey to the temptation of revealing all of the secrets too early, thereby robbing a story of much of its mystery and tension. Alternatively, you’ll withhold key information under the impression that you want to build this tension. (Think of a murder mystery where the murderer is a viewpoint character who conveniently neglects to consider that he or she has done the deed – yes, I’ve read traditionally published books that fall prey to this sin.)

Often, I feel that new new authors write a third-person omniscient point of view because they feel they need to show all the aspects of the story. To them, I say: RESIST THE TEMPTATION. Resist it. You can. I promise you, holding back on secrets is good. It makes giving the big reveal near the end an even better surprise. Readers don’t need to know everything all at once. Feed them morsels so that they’ll keep wanting more. If a character doesn’t know something DON’T mention it. If they do, and it's absolutely vital to the story at that point, find a way to foreshadow in a way that doesn't feel as if you're doing it for the benefit of readers.

I promise you, when there’s a fight scene, you don’t need to show what the hero and villain are thinking at the same time. Pick one. Show how they perceive the other party, how they analyse the situation then aim to survive.

Whatever point of view you write, seat yourself firmly in the head of your chosen character. Or, if you’re an author-narrator, think of the tone of how you show your world. Think of your story in terms of you holding the camera. The moment your camera work requires jagged shifts, realise that this may well disorientate your audience.

Lastly, there are no hard-and-fast rules. But there are conventions, and a savvy author will know when and how to play outside the bounds of these conventions. My advice is to colour inside the lines for a bit first before you’re comfortable to do something a bit more risqué. Like invoking my serious side-eye at your bouncing heads.

Bio: After surviving a decade in the trenches of newspaper publishing, where she fought against the abuse of the English language, Nerine Dorman is now a freelance editor and designer who is passionate about words that not only sound good, but look damned good too. She’s also written a few books. You can stalk her on Twitter or, even better, support her authorly aspirations via Patreon. If you’re feeling particularly brave, and would like to inquire about her editing rates, you can email her at

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Dealbreakers: Filtering

I’ve got a number of deal-breakers for me when I’m reading slush or, when I’m writing my dreaded “dear author” letters for my clients – these issues seem to crop up the most often and make me sigh. A lot. First up on my list is filtering. First-pass edits that I do usually end up with loads of red ink or tabbed comments that just state “filtering”. Some of my authors are so allergic to these comments they’ve gone to great lengths to correct their behaviour. This pleases me greatly.

Here’s an example.
She thought that the bird was cute. vs. The bird was cute.

See what happens here? (Okay, granted, this was an extremely simple example.) You’ve just gone and cut out a pile of words.

Your automatic red flag for when you’re busy with your first round of self-edits (and all awesome authors should learn to be awesome self-editors) is to look out for anything that has a personal pronoun or proper noun followed by a verb.

So, these include constructions such as she thought, he felt, I was thinking, Tom heard. Look out for “that” as well. My rule here is if you can read the sentence (and have it make sense) without “that” in it then you can lose the word.

[insert huge big disclaimer here]

That’s not to say that all sentences containing filtering are wrong, per se. But I advise always that less is more when it comes to words that don’t contribute in any meaningful way. Especially if it's a construction you're in the habit of using. We all have quirks. Learn what yours are.

Why is filtering bad? Besides the fact that you’re filling your sentences with words that don’t contribute to the story, the filtering also creates a sense of distance from the meat and bones of your narrative. Think of it as clutter. This is especially a problem if you’re writing a short story that has to conform to a strict word count. By cutting back on filtering, it is possible to give your text more drive and give it a greater sense of immediacy.

Another tip: look out for too many adjectives or adverbs that end with the suffix “-ly”. Chances are good that you don’t need them. Instead of saying that someone cried piteously or was gesticulating furiously, see where you can show a piteous state or the ferocity of their movements. Perhaps a person’s voice trembles when they speak, or their shoulders are hunched. Perhaps their eyes are shining with tears or their movements are sharp. While all pesky adjectives and adverbs ending in “-ly” aren’t necessarily wrong, they’re best described as salt to your text – to be used sparingly lest you spoil the soup.

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Bio: After surviving a decade in the trenches of newspaper publishing, where she fought against the abuse of the English language, Nerine Dorman is now a freelance editor and designer who is passionate about words that not only sound good, but look damned good too. She’s also written a few books. You can stalk her on Twitter or, even better, support her authorly aspirations via Patreon. If you’re feeling particularly brave, and would like to inquire about her editing rates, you can email her at 

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Journey #review

I’m not the world’s greatest gamer – just ask my husband creature. I’m a latecomer to console games, and spent the first few hours of playing Elder Scrolls V walking into walls, trees, bears... While (at time of writing) I’m still afflicted with Dragon Age Inquisition, I’ve also taken a little time out to play an indie game the nice young man at BT Games at our local mall said I’d enjoy.

According to Wikipedia, Journey is an indie video game developed by Thatgamecompany and published by Sony Computer Entertainment for the PlayStation 3. It was released on March 13, 2012, via the PlayStation Network.

Okay, that’s the nitty gritty. I bought my copy for PS4, and never before have I appreciated surround sound as much as I did with this one.

This is a pretty game, and if you’re not one for scenarios where you crawl up walls or engage in intricate button mashing to kill your many-tentacled opponent, this one might suit you. The nice young man said Journey is very restful, so yeah, there he’s spot on.

If you’re playing this as part of your PS Plus, you stand the chance of meeting other players in real time, which is kinda sweet, because the only way you can communicate is by prancing around with the little robed figure you play or pinging them with your special powers. You’ll recognise other gamers who’ve played this before, because their cloaks will have extra patterns on.

At its heart, Journey is a simple quest game. Your character travels through a ruined, desert landscape towards a mysterious mountain. Along the way you solve simple puzzles and, by moving the controller, you can control how your character moves. If you get it right you can even fly (a little). Unlike the first time I played Elder Scrolls V, I soon got the hang of this (and you can possibly even let your octogenarian mother try this at home).

The graphics are simple, yet achingly exquisite, but then again I’ve always had a soft spot for ruined landscapes. And, while I don’t think it’s possible for you to die in this game, there was a dark moment where I was genuinely afraid (you’ll know it when you see it) and my heart beat quite a bit faster. The only frustration I had was near the end, where I had to co-ordinate with the floaty jellyfish things in order to fly. Timing and aiming skills were useful. But then, as I’ve stated, I’m not the world’s greatest console player.

A word on the music – it’s by Austin Wintory and is beautiful, haunting and indescribably atmospheric. Go get it on Bandcamp.

All in all, this is a soft, mystical experience. There are no surprises – I had an inkling there’d be some sort of mystical resolution, and I was correct. But I finished with a soft sigh and smile. This game is deceptively simple, but it’s really, really special.

The Cape Town Book by Nechama Brodie #review

Title: The Cape Town Book
Author: Nechama Brodie
Publisher: Struik Travel & Heritage
Reviewer: Nerine Dorman

Though I’m a born-and-bred Capetonian, and reckoned I was au fait with everything I thought I knew about the Mother City, Nechama Brodie opened my eyes to quite a lot about my stomping ground that was fresh. This is a big book in more than one way – not only considering its physical dimensions but also the depth and breadth of its content. The Cape Town Book covers not only the city’s natural history and geography, but also tells the story of the many people who have lived around the slopes of Table Mountain.

Cape Town’s history stretches much further back than that of the refreshment station established by the Dutch back in the 1600s, and as such, the city has been shaped by the devastating effects of colonialism. Cape Town is thus a melting pot where Africa meets Asia and Europe, and though many of its people’s stories bear testimony to a legacy of inequalities, they are nonetheless fascinating and I feel enriched by having discovered them.

For me, in particular, this book filled many gaps that were omitted from my history lessons during my school days. In particular, I found the history of Islam in Cape Town fascinating – I really had no idea so many Muslim saints were buried here. The realisation of exactly how intrinsic the slave trade was to the city during its early days was also a revelation – much of this had been glossed over me. Brodie goes in depth with apartheid history, and the section about Robben Island in particular is both terrible and fascinating.

The Cape Town Book is jam packed with information and illustrated in full colour with plenty of visuals, including photos and reproductions of historical prints, as well as helpful suggestions for further reading. Scattered throughout is advice on places to visit and supplementary information panels. Not only is this a great book for visitors to the Mother City, but with its stunning layout and well-planned format, it’s exactly the kind of hefty tome that deserves a permanent place in my collection.