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[sticky post] WELCOME TO THE HALLS OF DREAMING

Angel
Thanks for stopping by. I'm Jenny Gordon and I write fantasy fiction for young adults. You can find out more about me and my writing by clicking on the 'Quick Links' on the left. This journal is a space for my ponderings about writing and books. You can friend me, or just lurk if you prefer. Either way, I'd love to have your company and hear from you along the way.

On Writing When You're Not ... Writing

Great Grey Heron
Have you felt a breath stirring the hairs on the back of your neck?

If you have, it was me, peeking over your shoulder, because I'm still here as often as I can be, reading you all and missing you.

The upsidedownness of my life continues, with all the multitudinous things I must do to affect the changes in it swallowing my time and energy. Which means I don't have time to do more than peek at your blog posts. No time to comment, and even less to post my own.

But I'm still here whenever I can be, and am dropping by today to share a picture of one of my favourite early Spring flowers — because Spring truly arrived here this weekend, to send my heart and spirits soaring.

North Wales 2010 067
(Hellebores in a North Wales garden)

If blogging has been forced to take a back seat of late, so too has much of my writing. I'd say I miss it, and I do miss being able to focus on creating in the way I normally do, but in so many ways, I am still writing, and I know it'll all still be there when life settles down again and I can return to it properly. In the meantime, I'm continuing to toss down whatever comes in my Attic Notebook, and to my surprise, what has been coming has found shape in an idea for a new novel. It's rather different from anything I've written before, and I'm excited to see what comes of it. When I'm able, I'm using Pinterest to explore the idea in visual terms. It's a wonderful twenty-first century way of scrapbooking, not to mention a fabulous way to take my mind off other matters. It's helping me to feel I'm still working on my writing, even if I'm not actually doing much ... writing.

But I will be again soon.

And I'll be back here again properly soon as well.

Until then, I'm here as much as I can be in spirit, if not always in fact.

*Small sigh*

Timed Writing and Other Unexpected Joys

Clock
As some of you know, due to a current upheaval in my personal life, I'm not able to post on LJ as often as I usually do, or to write as much as I'd like. In fact, pretty much all writing is on temporary hiatus until my life settles down again. That said, I can't possibly be without writing altogether, so I've been keeping my hand in with timed freewriting exercises as often as I can. It was Laini Taylor who provided my kickstarter. From her blog:

"Attic Notebook"

This is a freewriting exercise I used to do back in college. It doesn't really involve an attic. Here's what it is:

Get a notebook and freewrite in it -- random, undirected freewriting -- for a set time every day until it's full. Just write. Poems, scenes, daydreams, character ideas, thoughts about the sky. Try 30 minutes a day.

The key is this: do NOT reread what you have written. Do not look back. Don’t even peek. Once a word is written you must move past it and forward only. And when the book is full, close it and set it aside for a month, still without peeking. Then read it. When I did this, it was like finding a notebook in an attic -- hence the name. I remembered almost nothing I had written. It was pure discovery. I wrote that? I thought up that? Ideas for stories came up and I felt almost like I was pilfering them. . . from myself! It was a really, really fun and rewarding exercise!


Now, for the past many years, my writing has moved from novel project to novel project, with the odd short story scattered in-between. So freewriting is a whole different ballpark for me, and you know what? I've discovered it's enormous fun, and hugely freeing.

I love not being allowed to go back and correct, or even look at what I've just written — I normally get way too tied up in fiddling with my words. I adore starting with a random thought or prompt, and simply going with the flow to see where it takes me. And almost the best part, given the current state of my life, is the fact that I'm only allowed to do it for 30 minutes. After that, it's pen down time. For a start, it takes the pressure off completely, and for seconds, I have to leave what I'm writing at that 30 minute point. It makes the freewritten pieces feel like treasures chanced upon in the tideline, or snatched off an errant wind.

It's going to be fascinating to go back and read them all once the book is filled, and has been shut away in the attic for a while.

Who knows where some of those fragment might lead in future?

'Heroines of Fantasy' Announcement

Naiad
I'm delighted to the point of bursting to announce that I'm Guest of Honour over at the 'Heroines of Fantasy' blog today. 'Heroines' is the premier site for lively and on-going discussions of Fantasy, Science Fiction, Historical Fiction and especially women in genre fiction.

Thanks Terri-Lynne DeFino for inviting me to take part as your guest.

Come on over and join the conversation. All welcome!

Books I Knew and Loved in 2013

Skywatcher
Since it's the time of year for this kind of thing, I took a look back at the books I read during 2013. There were 65 of them, which falls short of my 2012 total of 89, though that was a bit of a fluke, as it's more normal for me to fall around the 60-mark. Of those, I reckon there were a few standouts for me, for a variety of reasons.


  • The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, NK Jemisin — which reminded me of the fun I used to have with my wild and weird imagination, and inspired this post.
  • How I Live Now, Meg Rosoff — which was a random buy in my local charity shop. I knew nothing about the book or the author, but it turned out to be an unexpected delight. Flukily, a film based on the novel appeared later in the year.
  • Bitterblue, Kristin Cashore — which is the latest novel by one of the best YA fantasy writers currently out there.
  • Seraphina, Rachel Hartman — which was such enormous fun, and left me with the enduring image of dragons living in human form who obsessively sit on piles of books instead of piles of treasure. Well, who wouldn't?!
  • The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss — which was a reimmersion in high fantasy that I thoroughly enjoyed.
  • The Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern — which was a sublime dream of a novel for a lover of style and lycicism like me.
  • Sacrificial Magic, and Chasing Magic, Stacia Kane — which are two gritty and original novels in the only urban fantasy series I follow.
  • The Raven Boys and The Dream Thieves, Maggie Stiefvater — which are some of the most stylish and ambitious YA novels currently out there.
  • The Scorpio Races, Maggie Stiefvater — which is the fourth (or fifth?) time I've read this standalone novel, and I loved it even more this time around, so it had to appear on this list.
  • Chime, Franny Billingsley — which is written in one of the most engaging first person voices I've come across.

So, that's me. I know some of you have posted your own lists, but what I want to know is which of the books you've read were standouts for you, and why?

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Leave of Absence

Great Grey Heron
Happy New Year everyone! I hope 2014 is a good one for us all.

I'm just dropping by to say that I won't be able to post as regularly as I like to for a while, for personal reasons. I'll still be posting when I'm able, and will continue to read yours.

In the meantime, please pull up a seat; I'll be back as soon as I can.

Glastonbury Spring 2012 012

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Midwinter

Naiad







Midwinter

Dear LJ Friends,

I wish you all a very happy seasonal celebration — whatever and however you celebrate — and a healthy and fulfilling New Year.

Love,

Jenny xxx

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Teen Books - A Guide for Families

Magpie
A quick fly-by post to let you know about an exciting new e-book by the lovely Robin Prehn, whose blog-based reviews of books for teens I've been reading and enjoying for some time. Her reviews are always fair and honest, and this book is a wonderfully useful and accessible guide for anyone who enjoys Young Adult fiction. One of my favourite things is discovering new authors, and what better way to do so than through the reviews of someone whose view you can trust?

Thanks for all your hard work, Robin, and best of luck for the success of this book.

If you're interested in picking up a copy, it's up on Amazon now, for the bargain price of $3.07. Take a look at the 'Look Inside' option to check out the wide range of books included.

tbagff cover

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Hermit
I've spent a delicious few days reading the first two of 'The Dark is Rising' sequence, and decided I'd throw down a few of the thoughts that have struck me this time around. Not a review as such, just some things that wafted through my head as I read.

I should mention that there are **spoiler alerts** throughout.

First up, 'Over Sea, Under Stone'.

Over Sea, Under Stone - Susan Cooper

1. This, of all the five books in the sequence, is the only most firmly rooted as a children's book. Also, while many of the pieces for the subsequent books are set in play, it seems to me that Cooper is still learning her writerly licks. I wonder how old she was when she wrote it ...

2. "Great-uncle Merry walked along beside them in silence, very tall, brooding, his face lost in the shadows. With every long stride he seemed to merge into the night, as if he belonged to the mystery and the silence and the small nameless sounds." This gorgeous description showcases Cooper's gift with words, and perfectly sums up the mysterious figure known to the three children at the heart of the book as Great-uncle Merry. His full name is Merriman Lyon. It's Barney, the youngest of the children, who realises at the end of the book who he might really be (the clue's in the name).

3. Cooper has a gift for portraying snapshot moments that stick in the memory. In this book, for example, the moment Jane and Simon turn to see dark figures lit by the moonlight up at the standing stones on the headland they have just left, is truly creepy.

4. I liked the fact that the children get scared quite a lot, and have to battle their very understandable fear. It works to enhance their ultimate courage.

5. Landscape, landscape, landscape. A sleepy Cornish fishing village in high summer, its cliffs and seascape, are core to the plot and the atmosphere.

And next, 'The Dark is Rising'.

The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

This is my favourite of the series, and was actually the first I read, way back when. It's also likely that this book was responsible for instilling in me a love of using weather to enhance mood and story. There's a clear step-up in writerly technique in this book, with Cooper ironing out extraneous adverb-usage and tightening her storytelling. At its heart lies a perfectly-paced quest, in which all the pieces fit together just so.

Also, gorgeously creepy cover, or what?

1. This time around, the part of the story that really grabbed me was the subplot around the tragic character of Hawkin. Foster-son of Merriman Lyon from the thirteenth century, he is taken out of his own time in order to play a pivotal role in Will (the MC's) story. His reaction to what he is required to do, and his subsequent betrayal of Merriman and the Light, is that of a character of complexity and depth.

2. And speaking of Merriman, am I the only person who finds him frightening? Always did. While he's a key agent of the Light, and first among the Old Ones, he can also be grim and distant and intimidating, with his "fierce, secret face." He's like a combination of Gandalf and Saruman.

3. This is the main book of the series in which the time of year and the weather are particularly significant. Set between Midwinter and Twelfth Night, when the power of the Dark is at its greatest, this is a book of snow storms and fearsome cold, sent and used by the powers of the Dark to gain their foothold on the winter-locked country. The atmosphere of encroaching cold and growing fear is perfectly evoked, and deliciously shiversome.

4. For a relatively slim children's book, this one has a wide cast of characters, from Will Stanton's enormous, mayhemic family to the local Old Ones, agents of the Dark, and other village folk. It's striking how successfully Cooper creates pen-portraits of each one.

5. I still love the use of the Hunting of the Wren in the story. It's one of those ancient British traditions that's so strange it always makes me wonder where its origins lie.

6. In fact, Cooper has successfully bound together traditional folklore tropes and strands of old, old history to creates a new mythology that's utterly convincing. It goes to show that if you weave your invented world/magic system with threads of real, historically-rooted facts, it helps create a depth and resonance it might otherwise lack.

7. Perhaps one of the reasons why this book appealed to me so powerfully when I was a sprog was that it is full of things I was already falling in love with - ancient British folklore and Dark Age history, with echoes of the Anglo Saxon Sutton Hoo ship burial in the King of Ice and Fire. It's no coincidence that I went on to specialise in Dark Age history for my degree, with a focus on the pagan Anglo Saxons. It probably also explains why the era never entirely ceased being bound up with magic for me, despite three years studying it as an archaeologist and historian. What can I say? 'The Dark is Rising' marked me for life!

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Friday Books Meme

Skywatcher
I've just come across a meme, courtesy of stephanieburgis, and since it's fun, and since it's Friday, I thought I'd play along.


Here's the meme:

"The challenge is to list 15 books you've loved and been transformed by, right off the top of your head."

So, off the top of my head (no fiddling, deep thought, attempts at cleverness or editing allowed!)

1. The Faraway Tree books, Enid Blyton
2. My Second Big Story Book (a collection of fairytales from all around the world in their non-sanitised form).
3. Charmed Life, Diana Wynne Jones
4. Memory and Dream, Charles de Lint
5. Cloven Hooves, Megan Lindholm
6. The Go-between, L.P. Hartley
7. The Castle of the Dark, Tanith Lee
8. The Dark is Rising, Susan Cooper
9. Dragonquest, Anne McCaffrey
10. The Book of Atrix Wolfe, Patricia McKillip
11. Medea, Miranda Seymour
12. Faeries, Brian Froud and Alan Lee
13. The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley
14. The Wood Wife, Terri Windling
15. Kushiel's Dart, Jacqueline Carey

Hmmm. Which is all very interesting, as an 'off-the-top-of-my-head' list. The meme says, 'books you've been transformed by', and the books that were truly transformative for me were primarily those I read in my childhood and formative years. In fact, there are only five books on the list which I read after I left my teens.

What also strikes me is that, while I don't think of myself as purely a fantasy reader or writer, those books I adored during my formative years, and which have shaped me as a reader and writer are largely from the broad fantasy stable. Everything from high fantasy with the McCaffrey to early urban fantasy with the de Lint, to mythology-inspired fantasy with the Zimmer Bradley, Cooper and Seymour. I've cheated a bit with 'Faeries', as it's primarily an art book. That said, it is a book I've loved since I was seven years old, and which has certainly been transformative for my imagination.

Also, while all of the books on the list remain treasured members of my library, there are many of them I won't read again. They were important for me at particular stages of my life, but they're not novels I feel any desire to read again now.

Looking back over the list, I can see that most of the books were ones that not only shaped my imagination, but which also taught me lessons in the art of writing; what is possible, and how it can be achieved.

Who'd have thought a quick meme could end up revealing so much about me?

Anybody else want to play?

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