My Top Picks – Part Three

What are my biggest influences? There are too many to cover in one post. This is part three of my series of posts to show the key books, movies, music and shows that have influenced me, not only as a writer, but as a person.

 

Star Trek:

We are at a point in time where the amount of Star Trek available for consumption is mind blowing. Not only are there five shows and twelve movies, there are comics, video games, board games, card games and books. I began watching Star Trek because of my mum, who was a big fan. It was almost routine for us to sit down and watch the latest episode of Next-Gen or Deep Space Nine and Voyager in later years. As I child I can recall watching Star Trek IV; The Voyage Home, on a monthly basis.

What is it about Star Trek that captivated me so? Firstly it was the individual characters who became a second family. Every new voyage was like going on an adventure with a band of best friends. But the truth of it is that Star Trek appeals to something in human nature. The desire for discovery, and for betterment. The federation is an almost utopian idea. A world where we have shed all of the prejudices and vices of the past. We have rid the world of poverty, of greed, of war. All that is left is a unified civilisation which strives to spread peace throughout the galaxy and learn all that can be learnt.

Despite this we see the crew of the enterprise go through all of the very same drama’s which are present in the world today. However, they are presented to us in conflicts with alien species or new space oddities. Even though the Earth has managed to find lasting peace, we still find war and avarice in the far reaches of space. Star Trek showed me that no matter what, peace is not eternal.

 

Magician by Raymond E. Feist:

Arguably this is the single most influential piece of art in my life. When coming up with a list of things for this series of posts, the first thing to spring to mind was Magician. It is the one book that changed my life. It was one of the first epic fantasy novels I read front to back and I still recall the feelings I felt when turning those pages.

The story of Pug and his journey to become a magician captivated me like no other story ever has. When reading it I recall the sensation that this was what had been missing from my life. It had everything you could ever want. There were battles, an invading alien army, magic, dragons, dwarves and elves, but most of all it had amazing world building and characters.

There is no doubt that my writing in most influenced by the many books set in Midkemia. There is no doubt my characters are influenced by the characters I grew to love from Magician. I have not recommended a book more than this one. I would never hesitate to recommend it. It is, in my opinion, a perfect example of the emotion, excitement and enjoyment that the fantasy genre is capable of. If I were deserted on an island, it is the one book I would want to have with me.

 

To see my other posts in this series click below.

My Top Picks – Part One

My Top Picks – Part Two

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My Top Picks – Part Two

Part two of my series on my biggest influences covers some lesser known things that have moulded who I am today. I will continue to cover some of the key books, movies, music and shows that have influenced me.

The Call to Ktulu:

Music plays a very large part in getting my creative juices flowing. Music can stir emotions that other mediums fail to. In many ways it requires you to really utilise your imagination as there is no visual stimulus. Metallica’s instrumental piece ‘the Call to Ktulu’ is one piece of music that is very important to me. I am referring to the version presented on their S&M album together with the San Francisco Symphony.

Why is this piece of music so important to me? Because it could be seen as a trigger for my choice to become a writer. Sitting on a bus for up to 8 hours a day whilst travelling through central Australia on a school trip, I was given ample time to listen to my Walkman. Metallica had opened my eyes to hard rock a year earlier and my tape got a good workout. None more than the Call to Ktulu. As soon as this track began I was taken away from that bus. Transported to a world of clashing armies, knights and demons, magic and mayhem.

I played out scenes of an epic tale in my mind whilst staring out of the window at the endless red blanket that is the aussie outback. The music fuelled my imagination. With every repeat of the track the story grew larger, clearer. By the end of a two week trip, I had to pick up a pencil and write the tale. And that is what I did when I got home. That story became the basis for the Valerious Chronicles. I have no doubt that without the Call to Ktulu to keep me company, Christill and Thibalt’s tale would have never been told.

X-Men (Comics and Cartoon):

One of my fondest memories as a child was going with my mother to the local shopping centre and finding that a new volume of the X-Men animated series had become available on VHS. This was well before the days of the internet and the only way for me to watch the show was through waiting months for the next cassette to become available. It was shown very rarely on TV in Australia giving me little opportunity to tape it.

I shudder to think how many times I watched each episode, glued to the TV to watch Wolverine and the X-Men fight the most dastardly villains ever to grace the TV. Much can be said about why X-Men is so popular. Strong characters, relevant themes and great writing perhaps to name a few. Its popularity is still on the rise. For me it was the first fictional universe to draw me in and create an obsession. There are few things that I liked as a child that I am still passionate about now. X-Men has stood the test of time.

My brother collected X-Men comics which I eventually inherited. They opened up to me the greater marvel universe and showed me how much more there was than just the animated show. I came to realise that there were thousands of people out there who liked X-Men as much as I did. It was my first introduction to true fandom. One could say it was the beginning of my transition to teenage nerd.

Stay tuned for more over the coming weeks.

My Top Picks – Part One

What are my biggest influences? There are too many to cover in one post. So over the next few weeks I will be covering off on some of the key books, movies, music and shows that have influenced me, not only as a writer, but as a person.

 

The Lord of the Rings:

I will begin with the most obvious of choices. This covers both the books and the movies. I am not sorry to admit that I did not read the novels until after I’d already seen the first movie. Prior to that most of the fantasy novels I read were written by authors like Feist, Eddings and Weis and Hickman. But after watching Peter Jackson’s Fellowship of the Ring I found a new obsession.

To me the trilogy of movies summarise the Fantasy genre. It is a visual delight with set pieces and landscapes that make you wish you were born a hobbit. You have heroes and villains, elves, orcs and dwarves, battles, magic and political drama. In every sense it covers the things that make so many fantasy works what they are. The names are amazing, the characters strong. The story is one of good and evil with human drama and emotion the real focus. There is so much to learn from it.

Were it not for the movies it would have been many more years before I read the actual books. And, had that been the case, it would have been a lot longer before I decided to become a writer. But thankfully I picked up the trilogy and never looked back.

Many argue about how exciting the Lord of the Rings trilogy is. I love the books, but even I admit that there are parts where you feel like you are scraping nails against a blackboard. However I look at it as a foundation from which so much modern fantasy came. There are plenty of books which are better, but would those authors have been able to write those books without the inspiration and grounding that Tolkien provided? I don’t believe so.

Thus I attribute much of my desire to write epic fantasy to the Lord of the Rings. The writing is in every sense magical. There are lines from the books and films that make the hairs on my body prickle when I hear them. Scenes in the movies stir emotions in me that real world events fail to. I listen to the soundtracks when I write, for they throw images of Rivendell, Lothlorien and Minas Tirith into my mind. I can’t explain why, but I feel I have more of my own emotions invested in middle earth than in our earth. And I don’t regret it one bit.

 

Remember the Titans:

From an obvious choice to one less so. Everyone loves a good triumph over adversity story. Sport is one of the best mediums for it. I watched the mighty ducks and cool runnings as a kid. Practically everyone my age did. But the one movie that has stuck with me is Remember the Titans. I consider the Lord of the Rings and Star Wars to be outside of the normal catalogue of movies. They are an enigma of nerd royalty which would always win a competition for best movie. As such, taking them out of the running, I would name Titan’s my favourite movie of all time. It’s a big call, I know.

I have watched this movie countless times now. Every single time I am amazed at how much of an emotional rollercoaster it is for me. I swing from laughing, to shaking my head, to almost fist pumping in ecstasy as the movie plays out. At one point I almost struggle to hold back tears alongside the two main characters. Every time! For a movie to captivate me like that, it is doing something very right.

I have taken a lot from this movie with me in my journey to become a writer. The drama in my writing is heavily influenced by the character interactions in Remember the Titans. The varied cast of characters, though in many ways following established tropes, reminds me of what the right mix of personalities is. When I seek to place humour into my work I often think back to the lines in this movie which crack me up every time.

Most of all I am reminded that sometimes all you really need is an inspirational ending. I won’t necessarily put an inspirational ending in my own writing. But as soon as the credits roll on this movie I feel the desire to get to my keyboard and start typing. And the value of that can never be played down.

Stay tuned for more over the coming weeks.

Saturday Morning

There is no time like a Saturday morning for curling up with a good book and a cup of tea. To get you in the mood here are some of my favourite quotes on reading.

“We read to know we are not alone.”
– C.S. Lewis

“When I get a little money, I buy books. And if there is any left over, I buy food.”
– Desiderius Erasmus

“Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.”
– Emilie Buchwald

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”
– Frederick Douglass

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.”
– Groucho Marx

“Not all readers are leaders, but all leaders are readers.”
– Harry S. Truman

“A bookstore is one of the only pieces of evidence we have that people are still thinking.”
– Jerry Seinfield

“A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read.”
– Mark Twain

“Always read something that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.”
– P. J. O’Rourke

Enjoy your cup of tea this morning!

 

Review: On Writing by Stephen King

IMG_20140514_182203

Even if you aren’t a writer, I would say read this book. Part autobiography, part guide to writing, On Writing  had me nodding my head so many times, people on the train must have thought I was a bobble head. I will admit that I haven’t read a lot of his fiction. I am familiar with most of his stories through their TV, movie and comic adaptations. Yet I was fully engrossed for the whole book.

King’s early life is described in such a vivid way that I felt as though I was there with him. At other times I was sitting in a chair right beside him, listening to him talk on a lazy Sunday afternoon, recalling the days of his youth. I have a new found respect for the man whose life never seemed to be easy. I can appreciate how he is able to bring so much character and feeling into his own writing. That being said, it is obvious from his tips on writing that more than life experience has brought him success.

I will not go into the details of what he suggests every writer, new or established, do when practicing the skill. However the idea of having a toolbox from which to draw is one that I feel could translate to any art form. And that is why I would recommend the book to anyone who dabbles in some form of art. King provides not only advice on techniques, but a philosophy which inspires you to stop reading his book and get to it. Often I was torn between putting the book down and getting back to writing, or continuing to turn the engrossing pages.

The amazing thing, now that I look back on the book, is that I did not agree with all of his advice. Those who have read my blog before will know that I feel there are many different techniques and forms of writing. There is no absolute right or wrong, other than traditional grammar and structure, and therefore one shouldn’t feel as though you need to follow everyone’s rules. If you tried to you’d never get any actual writing done. You’ll find conflicting advice anywhere. However, despite my occasional disagreements, I found myself finishing the book and feeling invigorated. I felt like I have the power to turn on my computer and begin typing pure gold. For King to be able to do that whilst still have me questioning some of his advice, honestly amazes me.

One thing King mentions which I could not agree with enough is that without constant reading, particularly of authors who are considered masters, or books that are popular or acclaimed, one can never truly learn to become a better writer. To see examples of good writing, to absorb them properly, will do you more good than reading 100 guides on how to write. (Ironic really to make such a point in a book on writing advice.)

I don’t and will not hesitate to give ‘On Writing’ 5 stars. It strikes a fantastic balance between motivation, technique and biography. You don’t need to agree with everything he says, but you will feel like you have the capacity to achieve your goals once you have finished reading.

Rating: 5/5

Seeking out inspiration

florence

Each and every one of us seeks inspiration. It may be to paint a picture, write a story, or take a leap towards a new career. Whatever the reason we all require external stimuli to get the creative juices flowing, or preferably overflowing. There are so many options available to us. Let us take the internet as a brief example.

Healsville We live in an age where by reaching into our pockets we can press a few buttons, or even use voice commands, to access practically 99% of the world’s information. The height of physical exertion required to do so is reaching for your phone. There is no other word to describe it but astonishing.

Imagine going a thousand years into the past, pulling out an iPhone, and showing someone a live stream from the other side of the planet; or heaven forbid a Meme! Likely you would be burned at the stake, or at the very least put on trial for sorcery.

Sorcery Today we take it for granted. Don’t! The internet can be a treasure hoard of inspiration. Want to paint a picture of a toucan? Google it and you will get plenty of ideas. You’ll find help and pictures to allow you to achieve mastery of the toucan portrait. Want to write a story? There is literally no end to the advice you can find online. I mean that. Whilst you are reading advice, someone else is writing and posting more, so it never ends!

However there are times when you must look to other sources for inspiration. Recently I have found one in particular to be most effective for me. That is going places.

Montsalvat

Now these places don’t need to be far, in fact they can even be your backyard. Take a moment to step away from the TV, computer and iPad, and go for a walk. Hop into the car and drive to a local forest. Catch a bus to a museum. Go swimming in a lake, with or without clothes. Whatever you choose, make sure you take some pictures. Because it is easy to see something wonderful and fully appreciate it. It is a lot harder to remember it accurately when you are back at home seeking to draw on that inspiration.

Everybody has a phone on their camera now. When you see something which makes you stop and stare, take a quick picture. Collect all of these on your computer and over time build a library of inspiration.

Mitchell River Now this must come with a warning clause. Do not spend all of your time taking photos and not actually enjoying the scenery. That would be pointless. The photos are only there to act as a booster for when you get back home. You need to soak in the inspiration whilst you are actually there witnessing it.

Also take care not to get carried away with taking photos at the expense of the people you are with. It is fine to take a few quick snaps when walking through the old castle with your family. It is not acceptable to make them wait an hour whilst you catalogue every turret and stained-glass window.

Montsalvat A friend of mine once looked through my photos from a trip to Europe and about halfway through asked me why I had so many pictures of doors, windows and random houses. I explained to them that I like to write and when I write, every once and a while, the picture in my imagination isn’t as clear as it could be. In those moments I open up my photos and have a quick scan. Quite often I will find a picture that sets the juices overflowing once more and I am able to get the words out just as I needed them.

rode gardens

This might not work for everyone. But at the very least you will be getting a good lung-full of fresh air. Something priceless for those of us with office jobs.

Here are two of my favourite snaps that I go back to, which remind me of where I have been, and jump start the imagination.

Heidelberg

Austria

Writing, Editing, Writing, Editing – What works for you?

Painting The Writing Master by Thomas Eakins

Painting The Writing Master by Thomas Eakins (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whilst the motivation is high I have been able to get a significant amount of writing done on book two of my series. The fantastic response I have had to the first book has inspired me to write like I have never written before.

 

RSI, back pain, eye strain and general madness aside, the last few months have been amongst the most productive ever. And it made me think about what has changed. Firstly my approach to writing shifted from sitting down in one or two big sessions a week and grinding out pages and pages. I have moved to short bursts, 2-4 hours at a time of writing, over a number of nights.

 

The results are significant. I am finding less writer’s block and much more thought out words hitting the page (screen). I have also adopted the ‘get something out and fix it later’ motto. In the past, I would waste time finding the exact word I was after or the perfect phrasing. I have found that by just using the first word that comes to mind, I am much more likely to find the right word with ease the next time I read over what I have written. This has dramatically increased my output.

 

I would be interested to hear what other writers are doing that works for them.

 

Searching for inspiration

 

Nothing is too silly to take a photo of. My own motivation to write has been driven by two elements. 1) The writers whose books I have been able to read in my lifetime and 2) the places I have visited.

I am sure many onlookers thought me insane when I was standing around the European countryside taking pictures of corridors, roofs and alcoves whilst they snapped the usual tourist sights. But when I look back at those photo’s now I find the spark that I need to bring life to my writing.

Never delete your old photo’s! Look back to them and bring the memories hidden in the corner of your mind back to the front. There are few better sources of inspiration than the real world.

One always learns from the classics

Quote

“when tired at last, he sat on the bank, while the river still chattered on to him, a babbling procession of the best stories in the world, sent from the heart of the earth to be told at last to the insatiable sea.”
― Kenneth GrahameThe Wind in the Willows

 

Every once and a while you read a passage that reminds you how powerful the written word is. When you find them make sure to share them with your friends and family. There can be no better way to say thank you to the author, and no better source of motivation.