N. K. Jemisin’s The Killing Moon – A Review of Dreams, Ethics and Gay Priests

I picked up N. K. Jemisin‘s The Killing Moon on a whim.  I’d seen it floating around the fantasy shelves for a few weeks and I was in that happy space having just finished my last book without yet having found a new one. And then I saw the cover of this book and decided that any book with such a lovely cover surely would be a good read. (Note: this does not always work)

And, for the first hundred or so pages I was afraid I’d picked up a dud. Jemisin has done a lot of world building for this one and the associated jargon and specialist terms come in spades and then wheelbarrows with the occasional pickup truck full of new and interesting words to learn and understand. The book even comes with a helpful glossary at the back so you’ll spend the first few chapters flicking back and forth like a mad person just to follow a casual conversation. Thankfully, after the constant flicking had me about to flick the book into a nearby wall, I hit the plot. And damn.

The Killing Moon is set around the fantasy city of Gujaareh, which is a very religious city that revolves around the church (or Hetawa according to the helpful glossary) that worships the moon and dreams. In this world, dreams are a source of healing magic and priests can be trained in four different fields, each of which harvests a different type of dream… energy(?) in their own way. The class that we’re interested in, however, is the rarest and the most feared (of course), the Gatherers. It’s an ominous name for an ominous purpose. The Gatherer’s find the corrupt and the ill and they send them into the permanent kind of sleep, collecting valuable Dreamblood which helps with the more powerful kinds of healing. The Gathers do not view themselves as murderers, however, they see what they do as a service because those who die under a Gatherer’s thrall (always wanted to use that word in a sentence) die in blissful peace. So much so that when the people of Gujareeh know that they’re approaching death they normally invite Gatherers to come bring them peace.

But the Gatherers aren’t completely unscathed by the process. Once they’re taken Dreamblood for the first time, they can never stop. It’s an addictive substance that they can’t go without for more than a few days, a week under a controlled environment. And when they’re facing the pranje (thanks, glossary) there’s a distinct possibility that they might just take Dreamblood from people and go on a killing rampage, becoming a Reaper (cue ominous music).

So now there’s a rumour that there’s a Reaper on the loose in Gujaareh, the Prince of the city is more than a little unbalanced (killing your whole family in order to rise to power will do that to a person) and Gatherer Ehiru and his apprentice Nijiri must find the source of corruption in the city before being hunted down and consumed by it themselves.

So let’s just talk about the cool magic system for a second. Far from the normal, somewhat dubious, magic system common to most fantasy settings that has magic requiring study plus an indeterminate amount of energy, here magic is based on Freudian dream theory with a bit of Greek philosophy mixed in for good measure. The Gatherers do their work so they can give the Dreamblood to the Sharers who, true to their names, share it with the people of Gujaareh in order to bring them peace. There’s also those who harvest Dreambile, taken from nightmares, and Dreamseed, from erotic dreams. I love that this form of magic is well thought out but also so different from the kind of magic that you normally see in fantasy books. I also like that it is so comprehensive that Jemisin was able to base an entire society around the way the magic works. That takes skill and comes with the bonus that it’s incredibly cool.

The Killing Moon also deals with some interesting ethical issues. Is it alright to kill someone if they die in bliss? What if their death will actively help others? This issue is brought to a head when Ehiru and Nijiri go over to a neighbouring city (country? It’s not that clear) and are faced with the son of a blacksmith with a crippling disability. Being a fantasy and thus pre-industrial, pre-equal-rights, this means that he can’t help to provide for his family in any way. So the father asks for a cure, even going so far as offering his life in exchange. However, Ehiru and Nijiri aren’t trained to heal. They just collect the raw goods to make healing possible so they can’t help. The son then asks to be gathered if no cure is possible. However, since gathering is outlawed in their city/country Ehiru and Nijiri are unable to help in that capacity either. Their only recourse is to advise the father and his crippled son to travel across a giant desert in order to get to Gujaareh where they might be able to get some help. Not a big ask at all.

The most interesting part of the whole exchange is that Jemisin never really picks a side. Despite the majority of the main characters coming from a society that believes in the righteousness of killing in the name of peace, there are plenty of quite vocal and reasonable detractors. The question of whether what the Gatherers do is right or wrong is discussed but no answer is reached and that in itself is refreshing.

You may remember a few months ago that I wrote a diatribe about the use of gay characters in fiction and how mainstream stories seem unable to cast them as anything other than ‘gay characters’ with that being their central conflict regardless of what’s going on in the rest of the plot. In light of that, this book deserves one of those triumphant fanfares and possibly a small parade filled with people in improbably tight clothing and lots of confetti. Because Nijiri is gay. He is gay and he is absolutely and completely in love with Ehiru. That love never develops beyond chaste devotion (due to them both being avowedly celibate priests, I guess) but it shapes who he is as a character and makes him a better character for it. Seeing that and seeing Nijiri’s conflict develop not around the fact that he’s gay but rather around the fact that he loves Ehiru (subtle difference but one that makes my heart sing with the purest of joys), not to mention that there’s the overarching plot of the city to save and the Reaper to hunt, makes this a book that you really shouldn’t miss.

Jemisin’s The Killing Moon takes a bit to get into. The slow, jargon-filled start can be off-putting. But once you get into it and begin to understand just why all of these serious people keep running around robes and double-crossing each other, it becomes one of the most compelling books I’ve read in ages.

Oh, and you remember way back when, when I raged against this book for setting up an epic premise and chickening out at the end? Yeah. This book doesn’t do that.

And it is glorious.

A quick apology for not getting a post out last week and for the lateness of this week’s post. I’ve been a bit sick of late and sleep has rated extremely high on the priority list, just under the obligatory not-quite-overdoses on cold and flu drugs. I’m also going to pre-emptively apologise for the next two weeks because I’m going to be off gallivanting (with all the gleeful prancing and cackling that that word implies) in a different city doing an internship. I’ll see you all on the other side!

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Scott Pilgrim’s Such an Unreliable Narrator

One of my favourite movies is Scott Pilgrim vs the World. I’m pretty sure both the movie and the comic book it was based off was written specifically for me because every line and every image appeals to the awesome centre of my brain until it overloads and I will quite happily watch a movie I’ve seen dozens of times on repeat.

I love this movie so much that I even managed to talk my way into doing one of my assignments on it. This was mainly so I could watch the movie again in the name of ‘research’ but there was also serious (cough), almost seemingly (cough) academic stuff going on there (splutter sputter lies cough).

However, during my ‘research’ I came across a fascinating little tidbit. Namely, that Scott Pilgrim is possibly one of the greatest examples of an unreliable narrator.

An unreliable narrator is exactly what it sounds like. It’s when your story is narrated by someone who’s, frankly, unreliable so it means that the story you’re being presented with may or may not be the true story. This may be because the narrator simply doesn’t understand what’s going on (this is common when you’ve got a child narrator) or it might be because your narrator is flat-out lying in order to get their point of view or opinions across.

It’s an interesting way to tell a story because it reflects real life in that we often don’t get the true account of things from people. Often they’ll leave out details or their memory will fail them or something will happen and either unintentionally or otherwise, the story will change. Hell, we ourselves are sometimes unreliable narrators because we tend to only take notice of things that we think matters and sometimes get blindsided when that ‘unimportant’ thing comes back to bite us squarely in the behind.

So how is Scott Pilgrim an unreliable narrator?

If you’re unfamiliar with the plot, here’s a quick rundown. Scott is in his early twenties, unemployed and raised on a diet of comics, cartoons and video games. One day he meets Ramona Flowers, a girl who is literally from his dreams. He wants to go out with her but finds out that if they’re going to date he has to defeat her seven evil exes in combat. Then this happens.

It’s okay. Take a minute to blink the sheer awesome out of your eyes. It’s hard when you’re exposed to such a concentrated dose of it. What you just witnessed was pure video game madness, complete with ‘POW’s and ‘WHAMS’ and 8-bit amazingness. Scott is essentially a video game hero who must defeat the seven bosses in order to save the princess. And one of the best parts of it is that it’s played straight. The only time the characters question what’s happening is when the first evil ex breaks into a Bollywood dance number (Which… fair call). The rest of the time it’s just accepted that this is a world where sound effects noises are a thing, bad guys burst into coins when they’re defeated and people gain superpowers if they go vegan.

And that’s okay. The first (embarrassing) number of times I watched this I just accepted it as being part of the movie’s particular brand of logic. I was happy to go along with it as just being one of those bizarre things that don’t make sense but you’re okay with that.

And then my research turned up that the creator of the masterpieces that are the Scott Pilgrim comics, Bryan Lee O’Malley, actually believes that the events of Scott Pilgrim happen primarily in Scott’s head. Scott has cast himself as the main character in the game that is his life and everything that happens is just an extension of that fantasy.

This means that Scott Pilgrim is actually a movie that’s about some guy who wants to go out with a girl but first has to deal with her baggage and also stop being such a selfish prick.

Needless to say, that’s a movie that I would stay the hell away from. It wouldn’t even rate on my list of worst movies simply because it’s such a bland, overdone concept. But adding in the unreliable narrator who turns his ordinary problems into the levels of a video game? Sheer genius at its finest. It’s taking the mundane moments I chatted about last week and making them awesome through a simple change in perspective. Making the bed is boring but if you have to do so IN ORDER TO SAVE THE WORLD???

That’s a bizarrely specific bad guy you’ve got there

Using unreliable narrators can be brilliant. One of the examples I gave up there is The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. It’s told from the point of view of a little boy, Bruno, whose family has to move for his father’s work. What’s his father’s work, you say? He’s one of the head honchos over at a little place called Auschwitz. You might have heard of it.

Bruno hasn’t. But he’s smart. He listens to people and tries to understand what’s going on but he’s missing something and he just isn’t sure what. Also, there’s a really cool kid on the other side of this big wire fence who he makes friends with but doesn’t understand why he can’t just pop out from behind the fence and play with him.

This unreliable narrator works so well because it plays with the audience’s knowledge of what’s going on. We know what’s happening here. But Bruno? He’s way too young to even begin to understand and he acts and narrates his story accordingly. And that’s great.

The unreliable narrator can also be great when your story is about someone who is morally questionable because nobody is a bad guy in their own head. A story that deals with the difference between what’s happening in a villain’s head and what’s actually happening in the story would be fascinating.

Unreliable narration is a great technique that deals with your story as a story and allows it to mess with ‘reality’ while allowing you give your protagonist more character. Scott Pilgrim is so obsessed with video games and comics that he turned his life into one. Who goes and makes their life into a video game where you have to defeat all of your girlfriend’s exes rather than having to deal with them like an adult? Scott Pilgrim, that’s who. And it’s awesome.

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Give Me a Moment

Recently, I was introduced to this amazing short film. I may have been procrastinating the metric tonne of assignments dumped on my head at the time (incidentally, that’s also my excuse for skipping last week’s post) but it’s something that I really want to share.  If you’ve got a bit of time and you want to feel good about life definitely give it a watch.

While there’s no real plot to it, the film celebrates the small moments in life, the ones that often pass without a second glance. And I love that.

One of the images I love the most in that film is one that happens around the 1:12 mark. It’s an old lady making a bed. Something that’s so small and commonplace and yet it’s the moment that truly makes the film for me.

After thinking about it for a while (perhaps when I was supposed to be thinking about assignments and between the unhealthy amount of youtube videos I’ve watched over the past week) I think I’ve worked out why I love the image so much. It’s not the act. The act of making a bed is one of the most boring, routine tasks anyone could do and if I was forced to watch an entire sequence of it there would be no words for my level of frustration.

Except maybe that…

What appealed to me was the story behind that moment. It’s a single bed so it’s probably not her own.  Adding to that impression is the number of cushions that are sitting on the bed. Pretty for decorative purposes but impractical for a day to day thing. Guest bed then. But then why isn’t the guest making it? Maybe because they’re a child? Maybe her grandchild? I could go on for ages with my speculation before I even get to what’s going in the lady’s mind as she performs such an ordinary task.

See, for me, it’s not the action itself that matters. It’s the underlying motivation and the ideas behind it that makes the image for me.

This idea of a moment having significant meaning can have great effect in writing. However, as a video, the moment must always have a story behind it. Forcing readers to sit through an everyday activity such as walking from one place to another, getting dressed or even simply eating a meal without giving them a reason or a story to care is frustrating, not to mention one of the fastest ways to get people with similar attention spans to mine to simply switch off.

To be fair, having a more robust attention span than me is not difficult

The film can get away with it because it does not pause to focus on any one moment, instead showing a series of disconnected images, trying to convey the idea of the moment. Unfortunately, with narrative, that kind of idea would not work, coming off as more of a list than a thing that deserves swelling music. Therefore, narratives must focus on the single moment and create a story from there.

A while ago, a wrote a fanfic with the express goal of having the characters do very little in order to see if I could make it interesting. In order to do it, I had to have the motions mean something more and to put more effort into the context. Essentially, the characters get out of a car, walk into a house and then down a corridor. Thrilling stuff. However, I was able to make it interesting (maybe) by giving the scene some back story. They were walking down a hallway because they were going to see Kai’s grandfather. The conflict lay in the fact that there was a lot of dread associated with that meaning. The two characters dealt with the conflict in a different way, one of them trying to avoid the confrontation and the other putting on a brave face before storming the gates. Thus the walk from the car to the corridor suddenly had a purpose and had meaning. The characters didn’t do much but there was an underlying story that made that action meaningful.

It’s one of my pet peeves when stories descend into boring action without any meaning behind it. For example, I was reading a story the other day that halted in order for the main character to get dressed. There was no real reason for it, apart from, perhaps, giving the author a chance to describe exactly how awesome the outfit was (Unfortunately, due to my inability to picture description all I can tell you was that there was leather and maybe a fishnet something involved in the outfit somewhere).


So instead of getting into the action, I was instead forced to sit through a page or so of someone describing something that I do every day.

Does that mean that that scene necessarily had to be cut? Of course not. But it needed to be made interesting. There needed to be a reason that we were watching the character get dressed. Was she getting dressed for a purpose? Was she doing it slowly? Quickly? Did any of the piece of clothing mean something? Was it difficult to get dressed?

For example, what if the character had been moping around in her pyjamas for the past few days and only now was getting dressed because someone was forcing her to? Then each piece of clothing would be put on with resentment, each layer adding to the seething pit of rage until when she was finally ready, she was in a right mood.

Or, what if she was super excited to go somewhere and she was trying and failing miserably at getting dressed. You know, buttoning up her shirt wrong, trying to pull on socks before falling A over T, that sort of thing. Then her getting dressed would turn into a delay before the payoff. It would make the moment when she actually got to where she wanted to go so much sweeter because of the struggle she had to go through to get there.

I love the idea of the moment. It’s beautiful and it’s compelling. But it’s not the moment or the action itself that makes it that way. Rather, it’s the story behind it, the anticipation of moments to come. That’s what makes the moment for me and that’s what makes the mundane so incredibly special.

Do you have a favourite moment from the video? In general? Do you accept the challenge of writing something mundane in an interesting and compelling way? (You know you want to on that last point).

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Why Do You Read?

Today’s post is going to be a little different because it’s assignment week here for me so everything’s due and I’m busy staring at the calendar, desperately wondering where all my time went.

Accordingly, this post is about me asking for your help.

For one of my assignments, I’m writing a piece about how and why people read. Sounds boring and obvious. But, until recently, I always believed that people read for the same reason I do.  To me, books are friends. Rereading a book is like visiting an old friend and having a good chin-wag with them. By contrast, reading a new book is like making a new acquaintance; the potential’s there for a long friendship with them but you’re not quite sure ’til you’ve finished the conversation.

Naively, I thought this was true for everyone. That is, until I had a fascinating conversation with one of the ladies I work with about how she never rereads books because there’s simply too much out there to read something you’ve already read. I was absolutely gobsmacked. Seriously, it was like my entire world view got turned on its head.

But that got me thinking. Why do people read. Is it just for entertainment? To learn things? Some people only ever read non-fiction. Why is that? Or what about people who read so they can discuss the story with their friends in the same way they might discuss a television show? Is social reading a thing? Is that just teenagers who are obsessed with Twilight and The Hunger Games?

I’m dying to know.

So tell me, please. What do you read? How? Why? Even if you simply read for entertainment, what kind of entertainment are you looking for?

C’mon guys. For SCIENCE

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I was Framed by that Device!

At the moment I’m reading a terrible book. I picked it up because I thought it would be a fun kind of terrible, an impression that was mainly formed because of this glorious bit of cover work.

Look at that cover and, in between bouts of gleeful laughter, fully take in the crazy that’s in front of you. That’s an old man with a truly impressive beard, wearing robes which for some reason flash a bit of old-man-leg (because that’s what the people want, kids. Never deny the people what they want). Then you’ll notice that he’s actually drawing back, preparing to punch the dragon… thing. Finally, finally, you’ll stop laughing long enough to notice the demon crawling up the mountain, just about ready to get a handful of old-man-crotch.

Like I said, glorious.

How could I not go into this book expecting great things? If nothing else it should have been entertaining beyond belief. In my head this was ‘Old-Man-McSexy-Leg: Dragon Puncher’

A draft of my future business cards

The back cover promised me that this old man was, in fact, an old man that had god-like powers on Earth but that that counted for nothing where he was going: TO HELL!

So when I began reading I was expecting pure, delightful, brainless silliness.

What I was not expecting was one of the clumsiest uses of a framing device I’ve ever seen.

A framing device is finding a way in your story to tell your story. Sounds confusing but it’s something that you’ve encountered heaps of times. Think of something like The Princess Bride (You HAVE seen/read that haven’t you? If not I don’t think we can be friends). When the grandfather sits down with the book, ready to tell his grandson a tale of adventure and true love, that’s a framing device. Or if a story begins with a hapless narrator meeting someone with an interesting story to tell- that’s a framing device. Basically, it’s a way to tell a story as a story rather than simply throwing the reader in to the scenario and expecting them to catch up.

Framing devices can be really effective in stories, either by simply making your readers aware that they are being told a story (which might be the effect you’re going for) or to make your readers aware of some kind of end state that your characters will be in after the story’s over (whether someone important is dead or in prison maybe…).

Our framing device? Good, old-fashioned torture. And not just any torture. Graphic, limb-ripping, squelchy torture.

See, our dragon-punching hero has been caught by a demon (…I think it’s a demon anyway, it’s not that clear) who is out to get his god-like powers. In order to do so, the demon must do some kind of mind-meldy thing to sort through Dragon-Puncher’s memories and find the secret of his power.

And so we come to our story which is made up of pertinent memories of Dragon-Puncher’s friends (through convoluted means, not all of the memories are his own) all wandering around and talking to each other about how now the earth is really boring without him and how they somehow get the feeling that something’s going on…maybe.

They’re not going to win any prizes for intuition is what I’m saying

This narrative of memories periodically cuts back to the demon getting frustrated that he’s not being shown the right memories and unleashing some more of that sweet sweet torture.

So what exactly does this framing device do for the story? Do Dragon-Puncher’s memories become tainted by the pain he’s going through? Does he start to remember things wrongly just so he can stop the pain?

What about if he began throwing out all of the most relevant memories but they all became confused in his rush to get them out there.

Or, what if he did the opposite and began making up his own memories, convincing himself that those were the real ones in order to protect his true knowledge from the unholy beast?

If you guessed that absolutely none of that happens you’ve obviously picked up on the dangerous level of snark dripping off this post.

Instead, we’re treated to memories written at an almost leisurely pace, filled with detail that I’m pretty sure simply wouldn’t be there when the mind’s busy with y’know surviving being tortured. Those memories are interrupted at appropriate points by the demon swearing that this is definitely the last time he allows Dragon-Puncher to go off track and that he better start showing some of those god-like powers sooner rather than later. Dragon-Puncher then diverts into an equally meandering and slow memory.

What this framing device does is strip away the urgency and drive from both parts of the story. We can’t get too worried about Dragon-Puncher’s situation because he clearly isn’t. He’s too busy remembering his friends’ memories to think about how he’s going to get out of this situation. And as for the other narrative? It’s too choppy for you to become attached. There is no clear storyline or point to the memories. There’s a vague threat of some darker power at work but it’s never elaborated on because everyone’s too busy looking at each other’s limpid eyes and admiring the lush scenery around them.

Torture in itself is not a bad framing device. It’s effective in getting your characters to spill information and details that they might not normally have done to their antagonist. However, torture comes with an inbuilt sense of urgency that your framed narrative must reflect in order to make your story even semi-believable and cohesive. If the torture was used to somehow direct the memories or maybe to affect what was seen, rather than simply punctuating the memories with a well-placed moan or scream, it would be very effective. As it is, however, it just feels ridiculous, slow and boring and not at all what the cover promised me.

Framing devices can be great. In The Princess Bride it’s used to savagely remind the reader that they are hearing a story and that the goal is to get to happily ever after despite impossible odds. In 1001 Nights it’s used as a reason for these fantastic stories to continue unfolding. In Titanic it’s used in order to remind the audience exactly how this is all going to turn out so they can properly appreciate the tragedy of watching all of these soon-to-be-dead people dance around on tables. But, as with most things, they need to be used in a way that serves the story rather than distracting from it.

And if anyone knows of a story where that amazing cover is done justice? I need to hear about it right now

Posted in My Writing, Review, What I'm Reading, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Veronica Roth’s Divergent: A Review of Training, Teachers and Virtues Gone Wrong

As you read this, I will be happily burying myself in Veronica Roth’s Insurgent. While you read, I’d like you to picture me curled up under a blanket with a nice cup of tea, alternatively reading obsessively and trying to convince my cat that being a toe warmer is what she was born to do.

However, that is in the future. Right now, all I have is the first book in Roth’s series, Divergent, which is a book that I love so much that when I first finished reading it, I turned the whole thing over and began reading it again.

So while I pine after Insurgent, I thought that I might write a review of Divergent and maybe try to articulate the pure love that I have for that book.

Divergent is (say it with me now, you all know the words) a young adult novel set in a dystopian future. In this particular future, society is separated into five strictly separated factions: Amity, which values co-operation and friendship; Erudite, which values intelligence; Candor, which values honesty; Abnegation, which values selflessness; and Dauntless, which values bravery. When kids reach the age of sixteen, they are given the option to switch out of the faction they are born into and join another that is more suited to them if they so wish. However, if they do they will forsake their families. Faction before blood.

Our (say it with me) first person narrator is named Beatrice and she was born into the Abnegation faction but she feels like she doesn’t belong. She’s always admired the Dauntless with their crazy fashion sense (black with tattoos and piercings, oh my!) and daring feats of bravery (pssh, like what?…Jumping out of moving trains, you say? That’s… well okay, then)

The deciding ceremony is tomorrow and now our intrepid hero has a choice to make. Will she be selfless and stay with her family? Or will she be brave? And why is an inconclusive aptitude test so dangerous?

No points for guessing which choice she makes.

I have a bad habit of being sarcastic about the things I love (you may have noticed that in previous reviews) so I apologise if I just made Divergent sound lame. It’s anything but.

You see, Divergent is one of my favourite types of novels: the training novel. Just like Rocky or the Karate kid, the majority of the novel is taken up with Tris (Beatrice’s new, hardcore name) going through the initiation into the Dauntless faction. There’s lots of training with various weapons, hand to hand combat and facing of fears. Everything to turn Tris from your average brave girl to the ultimate badass.

I’m not sure why I like training sequences so much. Maybe it’s because I like watching characters grow as they learn all of these skills I associate with awesomeness. Maybe (more likely) it’s because I like to picture myself in those scenarios and then like to imagine that I, too, have all of that training.

How hard can it be?

Regardless, there’s something about those types of novels that I enjoy immensely. Not to mention that, now armed with all of these awesome skills, there is great potential for some major badassery in the future and I’m always up for that.

Another thing that I’m in love with is the book’s lack of a love triangle. I’ve talked before about my dislike of the love triangle because of my penchant for cheering for the losing side and in Divergent there’s no losing side but there is conflict. Mainly because Tris and her loverboy are a bit too tough and guarded for their own goods but also because of a sexy student-teacher-forbidden-love vibe that prevents them from crossing any lines while they give each other meaningful looks and casually put each other’s lives at risk (it’s a thing).

I love the meaningful looks stage of any romance story. The part where your protagonist and their love interest are busy getting to know each other and realising that they may want to take it beyond the stage of wordless longing? Gives me shivers. The best part? Because loverboy is introduced as an instructor (albeit, a good-looking one with deep, unspecified angst), he’s not immediately pegged as ‘the love interest’. I’ve read too many books where a dark and mysterious stranger pops up on the second page ready and waiting to be adored and this was a nice change.

What I most liked about Divergent, though, was its message about good intentions turned bad. Each of the factions was started with a goal and virtue in mind, one of that would better and benefit not only those within the faction but also society as a whole. However, even virtues, when pursued relentlessly, can be corrupted. Pursuit of honesty can lead to hurtful bluntness and the revelation of things best kept hidden. Pursuit of friendship and peace can lead to deceitfulness and hidden agendas. Knowledge can lead to hunger for power and pure selflessness can become rampant doormatishness (totally a word) and much misguided for-the-greater-good-ing. And, of course, a focus on bravery can become confused with stupidity and cruelty.

Roth’s exploration of a dystopian society where supposed virtuous factions can go horribly wrong is fascinating and makes for addictive reading and I, for one, simply cannot wait to get my hands on the next volume! If you haven’t picked up Divergent yet, I highly recommend that you stop reading this right now and go track down a copy!

And of course Insurgent STILL hasn’t come in. Words cannot even express how disappointed I am.

I guess instead of finding out what’s beyond the fence and revelling in the pure badassery of Tris and Loverboy, I’ll be spending my time eating chocolate and watching Doctor Who. The tea and the blanket with a built-in, purring toe warmer is still most definitely on the cards, though.

Life is hard.

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Looking for inspiration? How about a list of Writing Prompts?

I’ve always been a fan of challenges. If someone tells me to walk to the corner store (for some reason) I’ll procrastinate and only eventually get around to it once I’ve finished colour-coding my socks and other such vital tasks. However, if they told me to get there without anyone seeing me, I’ll immediately have Mission Impossible music going in my head while I duck behind trees and wheelie bins on my epic ninja quest for the shops.

What I look like in my head

This love of challenges extends to my writing. Given a bit of spare time and the instruction to ‘WRITE! GOGOGOGOGO!’ it’s most likely that I’ll find some new and fascinating way to waste my time and have nothing to show for it afterwards. Which is why I love writing prompts. They provide a challenge, a framework to begin your story and for your imagination to leap from. Working with a challenge can lead to a burst of creativity you never knew you had in you.

A while ago, I talked about how to write without any inspiration. One of my solutions was consulting lists of writing prompts: lists of words and themes that are designed to provide a challenge and get the creative juices flowing.

However, I’ve never found quite what I need in those lists. Sometimes the concepts are too abstract, sometimes too specific. Sometimes there’s simply nothing there to grab me.

So I thought I’d try my hand at creating my own list of prompts and challenges. A list of ideas that, if given some time and love, could become great stories. Feel free to use any of them or to contribute your own. Though, if you do use any, please post a link in the comments. I want to read them.


1.  A dragon is afraid of princesses

2. It’s the future and the government is trying to take away our jetpacks

3. The adventures of a seeing-eye dog

4. There’s no way out

5. The robots have become sentient and now they just want to go back to how it was before

6. It’s too late now

7. Boy meets girl. Boy’s family are the defenders of the tooth fairy realm and he’s, like, so embarrassed by it

8. Death isn’t that impressive

9. Your protagonist goes to the lemon tree in the make garden when they’re upset. Then they make lemonade.

10. Things never turn out the way you expect them to

11. In order to become a wizard, all apprentices must go on a quest to find their wand. That quest involves at least one mishap with the portable cauldron they packed ‘just-in-case’

12. WWII Germany and your protagonist is in love with a Nazi

13. Reversing the irreversible

14. Vampires. Except knee-height

15. Your protagonist agrees to take a bribe.

16. Giving up your dream for someone else’s only for them to fail.

17. There’s something wrong with that violin

18. A trapeze artist is afraid of heights

19. Your protagonist receives an expensive present from their stalker.

20. Lovers must choose to be apart to prevent the apocalypse

21. A psychopath on the loose. They target women with long hair. Everyone starts getting haircuts.

22. Your protagonist keeps having great, innovative ideas a few days after someone else

23. Sometimes life really is simple

24. Waiting for the sky to fall to complete the worst day ever

25. Your protagonist is imprisoned by people they trusted.

26. A story that begins with a ten word sentence then reduces each sentence by one word (a nine word sentence, then an eight word one etc) until you hit one. Then restarts.

27. An unrepentant assassin kills the wrong person.

28. Friendly aliens accidently introduce a disease that is wiping out the human race

29. Living in fear

30. Parasites

31. Your protagonist discovers they have an evil twin and switches places with them.

32. An evil overlord wants to quit being evil but doesn’t know how.

33. You were never meant to find this

34. Falling in love is hard when everyone around you is terrible.

35. Your characters are aware they are in a story and use that knowledge to get what they want by exploiting the common tropes and themes of their genre.

Is your next story in that list? Do you have some of your own ideas to contribute? I’d love to hear them. Let’s create a giant list of ideas so people have no choice but to leave feeling inspired and itching to write.

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