Book Review: Royal Assassin

Royal Assassin (The Farseer Trilogy, #2)

Royal Assassin by Robin Hobb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is Book 2 of the Farseer Trilogy, meaning it’s the middle of the story and I felt that it was noticeable, which is why I gave it four stars instead of five. At times I felt that the story dragged a touch – only slightly, in a couple of places. However, this doesn’t mean the storyline is lacking or that the characters weren’t deeply woven together. In fact, I still believe firmly that a lot could be learned by studying the way the author developed the storylines of all the characters and the plot in this trilogy.

Each time I thought to myself “enough, move on” it was almost as if the author had planned it exactly to happen in that way, because there was always a sudden change that would draw me deeper into the plot, grasp me firmer. And the plot for this trilogy is complex. There are twists and turns in the story that a reader could not believe possible. The ending of this book left me feeling somewhat disturbed, yet I had seen it coming but I still wasn’t prepared for it. I put the book down and couldn’t stop thinking about what had happened. Part of me wanted to reject it, yet another part of me embraced it wholeheartedly. It was the strangest feeling and testament that the story as a whole had an affect on me.

A good book pulls you in and holds you firmly within the storyline. For me, this story (I’m talking about book one and two) wasn’t just words on paper; it was people and places coming alive around me. Just as the characters in the book had to make alliances and fight for survival; I felt as if I was another character struggling for survival along side them. To become so absorbed by the plot and so totally bonded with the characters tells me that the author did her job well.

This book, no, this trilogy, is highly recommended.

Now, after reading and enjoying the first two books, I’m expecting a lot from the third. I hope I won’t be disappointed.

Inspiration Friday: First Words

Inspiration Friday is all about getting words on to a blank page. This is this week’s exercise:

Instructions: Using any set of words below, continue writing a paragraph of no longer than 50 words. Learn to be concise.

1. Mildred Crane leaned over the fence and beckoned…

2. The line of ants moved quickly…

3. The wise man…

4. “Respect is all I ask for,” said…

5. The warrior clasped his sword in both hands and…

6. Sunshine warmed the air, but Tim…

7. Blood splattered on the pathway…

8. Aunt Maud was old…

9. “Fire!” The men turned and…

10. Death is not the end…

If you want to share your result, post it in a comment.

Inspiration Friday: Exercises for Inspiration

At Scribe’s, the old message board, there was a forum called Exercises for Inspiration. Not one for wasting good ideas, I’ve decided to share the better ones on this website.

Until further notice, “Inspiration Friday” will be a weekly exercise for you to use as you see fit. As long as it gets you writing, I don’t care what you do with the results. If you want to leave them in the comment section of the post they belong to then you are most welcome to do so.

Exercises for Inspiration is all about putting words on paper. So if you feel stuck or bored with what you’re doing, why don’t you try one of the exercises just for fun.

The first exercise is as follows:

Pick a character from your present work-in-progress and write a letter to his/her parents from his/her point of view. Then, if you feel up to it, write a reply.

This exercise will not only get you writing, but it will help you understand your character a lot better.

Thank you Neferankhib for the suggestion.

England Census Dates

When sourcing my records, I find I am referring to the English Census records on a regular basis. Due to this I find that referring to a particular census year isn’t really good enough. I want to refer to the actual date of the census, because it can narrow down other date possibilities, for example birth dates.

So, I set about finding out what dates the census were carried out and you can find them below. I knew the census was carried out every ten years. What I didn’t know was that England started censuring the public in 1801, but only the records from 1841 onwards are available as the older records were not kept, which is a huge loss for all historians.

Anyway, here are the census dates. The archive for the 1911 census will be made available on 1 January 2012, although I have heard that the records may already be available through some online, paying services.

10th March 1801
27th May 1811
28th May 1821
30th May 1831
7th June 1841
30th March 1851
7th April 1861
2nd April 1871
3rd April 1881
5th April 1891
31st March 1901
2nd April 1911

Living in a Technical World

ipod-touch-stanzaRecently, I posted on Forms of Reading and the Future and another post entitled Kindle, Sony and the iPhone. Both these posts generated a lot of traffic and I received several comments and even a couple of emails, which was wonderful.

As a result of these discussions, I did a lot of research and finally decided that buying an iPod Touch was the way for me to go. I’ve had it for a few days, and I’m still getting used to the way it works, but my first impressions are all good.

I love the fact that I have one small, light device which carries all my music, photos, contacts and event reminders all well organised and easily accessible. However, what I find really outstanding is that same small, light device also holds heaps of books – audio and ebooks – as well as games to pass the time on a very long train trip, which I do five days a week.

It’s brilliant!

So now, armed with my mini-computer and my iPod Touch, there’s no excuse as I have everything I need to get the things that are important to me done – namely writing, reading and gaming. In fact, with a forced four hours a day to concentrate on these things, I should be as productive as I can ever be…unfortunately, I’m not, but I’ll leave that for another post.

Living in a world when technology is advancing every day, I feel lucky to be able to step into the future armed with the tools that should make a blank page fill with words. Words of a story I want to write, words of a story I want to read and words of other kinds that make life more pleasant. How did we ever survive without these wonderful gadgets?

Book Review: Assassin’s Apprentice (Take Two)

Assassin's Apprentice (The Farseer Trilogy, #1)

Assassin’s Apprentice by Robin Hobb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the second time I have read this book, the first being in early 2006. Click here to read my 2006 review. On that occasion I had intended to read the trilogy but something happened in my life which stopped me – the loss of my son. Unable to concentrate for long periods of time and unable to handle complex plots, I turned to stand alone, much thinner books written for young children. The three books which make up The Farseer Trilogy have been sitting on my bookshelf ever since.

Now, three and a half years later, I find myself wanting to complete the trilogy. However, I realised the grief had completely wiped the first book from my memory. Apart from the main character’s name, I could remember next to nothing of the story. I didn’t want to pick up book two and start reading, hoping the first book would come back to me, as that would be distracting, so I read the first book again.

I had expected a flood of memory to occur at some stage during the reading – especially when I approached the climax – but that didn’t happen. I did, however, remember small sections that obviously made an impression on me in 2006, but not enough to spoil any of the surprises. This morning, after finishing Assassin’s Apprentice for the second time, I set about finding the review I wrote back then. It seems I enjoyed it then, with some reservations about the detailed descriptions. Today, I think I have a better appreciation for the book as I had more time in which to sit and become absorbed by it – I even read the “telling” sections at the beginning of each chapter, that I didn’t have much time for previously.

Maybe it’s a case of “older and wiser”, but I think it’s more likely to do with the time restraint issues I had back in 2006, but whatever it was I really enjoyed this second reading. I became totally absorbed and found myself wanting to return to the story, even when it wasn’t possible. Eventually, I left all other distractions at home (for the train trip to and from work) and concentrated solely on the book, which meant I was dedicating four hours a day to reading. I was captivated!

The author shows in this one book how a complex plot can be written in a smooth, believable manner. She also proves that whilst action is important, it doesn’t have to dominate every paragraph of every page. She shows that a character driven book can pull a reader in and hold them through thick and thin, through the laughs and pain, through love and death. This is a brilliant example of a well written story.

This morning I finished Assassin’s Apprentice and in the next minute I was already absorbed by Royal Assassin, book 2 of the trilogy. It’s looking as if this trilogy is going to take a place on my “favourites” list.

Author Interview: Ellen Jackson

This month I had the pleasure of interviewing Ellen Jackson, author of over 60 children’s books.

Thank you for your time, Ellen. Please tell us a bit about your writing background.

When I was a kid, I loved to write. But my mother wanted me to train for something that had an actual salary–so I became a teacher. I read books to my class every day, and I kept thinking, “I could do that.” Eventually I moved to a town where jobs were scarce. No problem. I decided I’d just make my living as a writer. I wrote a picture book that I thought was a work of genius (it wasn’t). I worked and worked on the manuscript and probably rewrote it fifty times.

While working on book number one, I thought of a second idea. I wrote book number two in about fifteen minutes, and sent the first draft off to five different publishers. I also submitted it to a writing class, where the teacher tore it apart in front of everyone. I totally lost interest after that, but one of the publishers actually bought it. That manuscript, THE GRUMPUS UNDER THE RUG, is still in print and has done very well. There’s more to this story. You can read about it here:

Dealing with Rejection

That’s very encouraging. Tell us about your latest publication.

I write nonfiction as well as fiction. One fun project has been the SCIENTISTS IN THE FIELD books. For this series, the author follows a scientist around while he does his work in “the field,” which can be on top of a volcano, or in some strange and lonely spot on land. I was lucky enough to hook up with Alex Filippenko, an astronomer who’s studying supernovae. I went with him to the top of Mauna Kea in Hawaii and watched him do his work. Then I wrote about it for my newest book THE MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE.

You might think that kids wouldn’t like a book about astronomy. But all children love to ask questions such as: “Where did the universe come from?” “How big is it?” Children’s eyes light up when they’re told about supernovae, huge explosions bigger than thousands of nuclear bombs, and black holes, places where time and space no longer exist. Science is the greatest of all adventure stories. If you keep that spirit of adventure alive in your nonfiction books or articles for kids, you can’t go wrong.

But I also love fiction and imaginative stories. My latest fiction picture book is called EARTH MOTHER and it tells a deceptively simple story about the cycle of nature.

earth-mother

Where do you get the inspiration for your stories and characters?

My ideas are a by-product of my life, my childhood, the books I’ve read, my hopes and fantasies–everything that’s gone into making me who I am. Ideas come more often to people who pay attention. After I published my first book, I was afraid I’d never have another idea again. But I kept writing, and the ideas kept coming.

I keep an idea file, and when I get an idea I write it down on a card. I always check Amazon or BOOKS IN PRINT to see if anyone else has published something similar–and if so, how long ago that was and in what format. If my idea has already been done in the same way and in the same format, I usually pass.

That sounds like a system that works for you. Thank you for sharing it. Do you work on more than one story at a time? How do you manage it?

Yes, I have to work on several books, or I’d go crazy! Sometimes I get “stuck” on one project, so I work on something else to give my brain a rest. I keep a folder on each book with notes and ideas and even poetic ways of expressing a thought. For THE MYSTERIOUS UNIVERSE, I interviewed Alex over a period of days and taped his answers so I could quote him in the book.

If you’re really, really lucky, the idea for a book might come to you all in one piece. That’s what happened with EARTH MOTHER. I had a vision of a beautiful woman diving with otters, and I asked myself, “Who is she?” The story came to me late at night.

I love it when that happens. What advice would you give a newcomer to writing?

I have a lot of advice, but I’ll keep it short here. First of all, believe in yourself. Lots of people, even your friends, will say discouraging things. You have to be strong enough to persist, no matter what. Also try to learn how the business works. If you understand that, you’ll be able to write things that editors want to buy. It’s not enough simply to listen to the voices in your head. Those voices have to actually communicate to someone.

Children’s writers need to remember what it was like to be a child–the smells, the tastes, as well as the fears and wrong ideas that kids have about the adult world. Some of my best stories come from my memories of how children think. For example, I recently sold a manuscript based on my childhood ideas about place names. When I was seven or eight, I thought that Death Valley was full of skeletons and that Orange County was filled with orange people. As an adult, I took the core of this idea and expanded it into a picture book.

I feel inspired by what you’re saying and will, no doubt, run off and write some ideas down after this interview. Who is the person behind the writer? What do you do when you’re not writing?

I’m lucky to have a supportive husband and a demanding dog who needs lots of exercise. So whether I like it or not, I get out of the house a lot. I live in Santa Barbara, California, which is a beautiful town for walking and thinking. I guess you’d say I’m an introvert who loves to read, listen to music, and to explore the natural world. I have two or three really good friends and we laugh a lot when we get together. I play tenor recorder with a Bach group and I do volunteer work in the community. For ten years I worked at our local library helping kids find books and doing other librarianish things. And I also used to cook at our local homeless shelter. Actually, my life is (usually) quiet, which is perfect for a writer.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t have problems, I most certainly do. Like everyone else, my writing life gets interrupted with car problems, financial problems, health problems, dog problems, family problems, and environmental disasters (wildfires in this area). One of the hardest things about being a writer is just finding blocks of alone time to get your work done!

Do you have anything else you’d like to mention?

Writing for children is a profession and there’s a lot to learn. If you’d like to write for kids, read a couple of good books about the children’s publishing industry, such as The Complete Guide to Publishing Children’s Books by Harold Underdown and Lynn Rominger. Also read lots of books in the genre you hope to write for. It’s important to see what’s already been done, so you don’t submit a manuscript based on an idea that’s been done a thousand times before.

Second, don’t get so hung up on your story that you forget to polish your language. How someone tells a story is as important as what story it is that they’re telling. You should make sure your language is fresh, entertaining, and compelling.

Thank you, Ellen, for an informative interview. I’m sure my readers will get a lot out of what you’ve said.

If you would like to find out more about Ellen and her book, please visit her website Ellen Jackson