Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Real or Not Real?

I’m going to be mentioning The Hunger Games in this post, so the quote (which those of you who have read Mockingjay will recognise) seemed suitable. 

In one of my university seminars today, we began to discuss the idea of whether contemporary books have started to become less ‘real’. Obviously, many books were mentioned, such as The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones and Twilight, to name a view. Fantasy, paranormal and dystopia have become huge genres in recent years, and in many respects it seems like we as a culture are moving further and further away from reality.

Let’s look at some aspects of the aforementioned books. An arena where children fight to the death? A place where winter can last years with dragons? Vampires? None of these things are exactly real. They all look at an exaggerated reality, one which can look very distorted from ours.

But to me, these books are still ‘real’. One of the most important things for me when I’m reading is whether I can relate to the characters. The setting might be wildly different from anything I know, and the society they live in might seem like another world, but there will always be aspects I can relate to and things I feel are ‘real’ to me. 

Everything we write has aspects of our reality. I don’t think we can ever really separate ourselves from the world we know, as much as we may try to distance ourselves from it in fiction. We don’t know any different than our own reality, after all. So whilst we might not be reading as many books about Average Joe anymore, I don’t think this makes what we are reading any less ‘real’. Books will always be ‘real’ in some respect, even when they may not seem very real at all. 

What do you think? Do you think we are distancing ourselves from realism in fiction?

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Why You Can Judge A Book By Its Cover

Don’t judge a book by its cover.

It’s an old saying, and perhaps the world would be a better place if we never based our decision to pick up a book purely based on its cover. 

However, this isn’t a world any of us live in.

I have definitely committed the crime of judging a book by its cover, and I know most others would say the same. Publishing companies know this: there’s a reason why art departments spend tons of money on cover design. A good cover could end up being the thing to make or break a book, particularly if the author is debuting. 

Especially in YA, I think covers are important. A cover needs to make a statement, and if you have an attractive cover, the chances are more people are going to at least pick up your book, even if they don’t buy it or even turn the first page. 

Kiersten White’s recent blog about the importance of covers to her also reflects how big a deal a cover is, not only for the readers but for authors too. Of course, a good or bad cover isn’t the be-all and end-all. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. It’s just another thing to make it all real, to remind you hey, this is actually going to be published! 

I’ve seen some beautiful covers out there. Kiersten White’s Paranormalcy series, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl’s Beautiful Creatures series, Maggie Stiefvater’s British Shiver trilogy covers to name a few. I remember my decision to pick up the incredible Uglies trilogy by Scott Westerfeld was mainly due to the unusual covers (which have sadly been redesigned since the many years ago that I picked up the series). 

I can only hope that if I’m ever published, I’ll be happy with whatever cover the publishing company deems worthy. 

Do you judge books by their covers? Can you think of any covers which have particularly stood out to you?

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Why I Love The Prominence of YA

In the last few years dystopia as a genre has become more and more prominent, particularly in YA. Obviously books like The Hunger Games, Veronica Roth’s Divergent series and various other books have helped this new market trend, but personally, I think it’s a great thing dystopia is becoming more popular, particularly amongst young people. 

The main aim of dystopia is to challenge aspects of our society. For example The Hunger Games looks at media culture, government control, the manipulation of the celebrity. Pure by Julianna Baggott questions social status and environmental disaster. 

There are a multitude of things that are wrong with our society. Whilst it might not always be pleasant to admit it, dystopia helps us comes to terms with these issues, and while they may not appear as extreme as their depictions in these novels, that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth examining. 

The most frightening thing about these books is their sense of reality, and this only comes from the fact that the issues they are tackling are wholeheartedly based on problems we already face in our daily lives. They are gripping not only because of the talent of the author, but because deep down, we all know that the characters are facing real problems we have today, if only on a much bigger and more dramatic scale.

I think it’s great that YA has begun to corner the market on dystopia. The target audience of these books is the future of our society after all. Isn’t it fantastic that at such a young age they can already start to challenge the issues and problems we face today? We will always need people to challenge the concepts and notions of the world we live in. If dystopian YA novels can influence just some of these readers, and provoke them to start thinking about solutions for all these issues, the world will be a better place. 

There are many more reasons why dystopia is great. I could go on and on. However, I’ve already written an older post (although it may need updating) about the many reasons I love dystopia, and this certainly won’t be the last time I touch on this subject. But in regards to the way it will affect society’s youth, and the benefits it will have to us in the future, I think that’s worth noting. 

What do you think about dystopia? Do you think it widens our perspective, or are you not a fan of the genre?

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Knowing Your Process

This is a slightly different post today. I wanted to think about processes: how you get to where you want to be, and what you have to do to get there. It can apply for writing, but it can apply for so many other things too, such as sports, school work, personal skills etc.

No matter what you decide to start in life, whether it be a new hobby or a new job, there always seems to be that one person who just gets it. Who, for some strange reason, is naturally absolutely amazing at what they are doing. It’s hard not to feel envious of this person and watch them have it so easy whilst you struggle to find your bearings. 

But, for me, I think knowing how I work – with any new thing I attempt to start – is a big help. I’m definitely not one of those people who is naturally good at anything. My process involves me doing things over and over again, and when everybody else around you seems to be succeeding whilst you make little (if any) progress, it can get incredibly frustrating. I’ve been doing archery since September, and watching everybody go up in scores whilst I’ve remained stuck has been somewhat awful. It’s only recently I’ve really started to see progress, and even then consistency is a long way off. 

However as frustrated as I may get, I know that this is just how I work. This is my process. In order to get anywhere, I will have to do it over and over again. I think it’s this which has made me quite a dedicated and motivated person in some respects. It makes me who I am. 

I’m not sure I will ever have a natural flair for something. If I do, I’m sure I’ll enjoy it whilst it lasts.  But at the end of the day, it’s doing things over and over again which will make me successful. So, I’ll let myself feel envious, but only for a moment. Then I’ll simply get back to what I’m doing, and try again. 

What’s your process? 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Reached Review

[DISCLAIMER: there will be spoilers]

I finished this a few weeks ago, and I personally think it was a great end to the trilogy. I’ve read some reviews which haven’t been as kind. With the final book in a trilogy, or any series really, I’ve found that it usually either comes down to you like it or you don’t. After all, you’ve been an invested reader up to that point; everybody wants an ending which makes them happy. But unfortunately, it doesn’t always work out that way for everybody.

The Matched trilogy by Ally Condie overall has been very well written. I liked the protagonist, and I truly believed in the society and world Condie created for Cassia. However, that doesn’t mean there weren’t things which I didn’t quite agree with.

Firstly, a quick note on Cassia’s name choice. I think it’s important to use a name for a character, particularly a protagonist, which is easily understood. I only found out after reading the second in the trilogy, Crossed, that Cassia’s name is supposed to be pronounced ‘Casha’. So when reading Reached I sometimes found myself thinking of both pronunciations.  It’s a stupid point, and perhaps most people would have realised, but I didn’t and it just seemed a little odd.

Moving on to plot, I found it surprising and certainly unexpected, but I did enjoy it. In other reviews I’ve read some people said it became too scientific for them. I found myself appreciating how much research Condie must have done for the book. But I think that’s partly because as a writer, I know how much work goes into something like that, especially if you’re going to make it believable. I found the Plague aspect to be really interesting, and certainly added a different twist to the revolution.

I’m glad Xander got to have his own POV in Reached. He was barely featured at all in Crossed, and whilst I realise it was necessary, it wasn’t great to see one of the main characters ditched in so sudden a way. I think he develops a lot as a character in the book, which is always great. 

However I really didn’t agree with his ending. His feelings changed very suddenly from ‘loving’ Cassia to being in love with Lei. It was disappointing too, because Condie started to present this picture of Xander trying not to rely on other people for his own happiness, before falling straight into the arms of somebody else. People don’t need love to be happy; or rather, people shouldn’t need a romantic interest to make them feel complete. I feel for a YA novel especially, it's not the best message to be sending out.

There wasn’t any real heartbreaking moments in the book for me. When Ky went into the coma and nearly died, I didn’t exactly care. I don’t know why, but I’ve never found myself really connecting with Ky as a character. There was always something missing for me as a character. I still couldn’t tell you what was missing about him, but for some reason, his characterisation always seemed off to me. Personally, I would have been quite fine to see him be with Indie.

The ending was almost too happy for me. Whilst we never got to see the outcome of the vote, I still feel the ends were tied up a little too neatly for everybody. It is a dystopian novel after all. I think there’s a very fine line with a hopeful ending and it being unrealistic, particularly for dystopia, and I can’t quite decide where Reached falls on that line. 

But despite all my criticisms – I didn’t expect to be this critical! – I did really enjoy the book, and I was glad to finally put an end to the trilogy. I would read more of Condie’s works, and I would definitely recommend the series to anybody looking for a good series to get into. If you’re liking the Delirium series by Lauren Oliver, you’ll probably like this too.