S R Silcox - Author

Blog updated 2-3 times a month.

Category: Book Recommendations

On ‘Saving Francesca’ by Melina Marchetta and the Aussie voice

After finishing a massive rewrite of a manuscript, I wanted to crawl up in a hole and not do too much at all. The experience of having to more than double the word count of a finished story, while exhilarating when I was done, was also exhausting. I felt like I was out of words. And a writer needs words in order to be able to fashion them into coherent sentences. Which I couldn’t even do while talking out loud for awhile.

During the couple of months I was outlining and rewriting and throwing wads of crap ideas in the bin, I neglected my reading. That was a conscious decision for two reasons. The first is because when I read, I like to be able to devote hours and hours to a book without having my own unfinished work churning in the back of my mind interrupting my reading flow. The second is because I can’t focus on both reading fiction and writing fiction at the same time, and I didn’t want my choices of reading material to sneak into the re-planning of the novel I was working on.

So I neglected my reading.

My reward after finishing that manuscript was to spend a voucher I got for Christmas on books. Real paper books, rather than ebooks, which was also a conscious decision. I love ebooks. I love the immediacy of buying them and having them appear on my kindle to devour instantly, but there’s still something for me about holding a paper book in my hand and turning each page as I read. I also love having those books on my shelves in my study/office, and being able to look at them and try to remember if I liked them, or what they were about. There’s something tangible there, and when I’m recommending a book to friends or my niece, if I can see one on my shelf, it’s easier to remember than looking through my kindle. And it’s easier to pick a book off the shelf and just give it away, which I love to do.

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The books I bought as a reward for finishing my manuscript: Tomorrow, When the Ware Began, Eleanor & Park, Paper Towns and Saving Francesca.

Anyway, I wanted to try a mix of books  and read for both research and enjoyment, and I made a long list of the ones I wanted to read from a few online recommendations lists and then whittled it down to these four. I deliberately made sure to have two Aussie books on there, because I’ve been reading a lot of American authors lately, and while that’s perfectly fine, my own works have very Australian characters in them and I wanted to see how other authors dealt with our unique Aussie language and settings. I haven’t read a lot of Aussie books since I was at high school, which is something I am now in the process of rectifying.

I read Paper Towns first, because I hadn’t read anything by John Green (I know. A YA author not having read John Green. Shock! Horror!) and he’s on everyone’s lips right now. Paper Towns had been recommended to me by a teacher I met awhile ago as the John Green book I should read first, and I loved it. Having watched John and Hank Green on youtube, I could hear John’s voice telling me the story of Q and his quest to solve the mystery of the disappearing Margo Roth Spiegelman. I read it in three sittings, and that was only because I had other stuff to do in between (like spend time with my wife, eating and sleeping). I’ve seen The Fault in Our Stars, but not yet read the book, and I’m looking forward to reading Looking for Alaska.

Today, though, I finished Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta, who is a popular YA author here in Australia. I have to say that in the beginning, the book frustrated the hell out of me, and though I’m still not entirely sure why that is, I have a theory. I almost made the decision to just put it down and go onto the next one. I’m one of those people who hates not finishing a book though, so I put it down for a couple of weeks and came back to it when I had more time to focus on reading without interruption. I finished it over the course of three days. I loved the book, and while the story seemed simple enough – teenager in her second last year of high school, navigating her way through an all-boy school that has just started accepting girls, a depressed mother and everything that comes with it – it was the characters who enthralled me the most. By the end I, along with Frankie, the viewpoint character, was surprised at how she’d ended up with so many good friends after resisting so early on. We definitely have a very unique way of writing coming-of-age stories here in Australia.

Saving Francesca is definitely a book I’ll be rereading in the future, and it’ll be one I’ll be giving to my niece to read.

And after thinking on it this morning, I realised that the reason I struggled with the book in the beginning is because I’ve not been reading enough Australian books, and I’ve grown unaccustomed to our unique voice. It was almost like I’d been overseas for a long time and came home to our laconic Australian accent and cringed at it. Which, incidentally, actually happened to me a few years ago when I was in Europe for two months with my wife.

I think that’s also why I’ve struggled with voice in my own writing as well lately, and I’m determined to fix that by trying to focus on more Australian books and authors than I have in the past.

My next read will be Tomorrow, When the War Began, by John Marsden which has been on my radar for a long time.

If you have any recommendations on Australian authors and books I should read, particularly in the YA genre, let me know and I’d be happy to add them to my To Be Read list.

 

My favourite Christmas books

One of my favourite things to do this time of year (apart from having a quiet beer in front of the TV while watching the cricket) is to revisit some of my favourite books. There’s nothing quite like cracking open the cover of an old favourite to make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
And since Christmas is the time for giving and sharing, I thought I’d share with you some of the books I’ll be reading again this year. Not all of them are related to Christmas, but they’re all on my list of favourite books. (Links to the amazon store in the titles).

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens
Okay, I’ll probably be watching whatever version of this comes on TV this year, but I do love this Charles Dickens classic about Scrooge and the ghosts and Tiny Tim. It’s Dickens at his finest and a true Christmas classic. And I do have a paperback copy of the book on my shelf just waiting to be read.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – Roald Dahl
I love the humour of Roald Dahl and grew up sneaking his books out of the library when I was a kid. I’m lucky enough to have a niece who finds his humour funny as well, so she’ll be getting this one and a few others in her stocking this year, so we can read them over Christmas and laugh at the absurdity of Dahl’s stories.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – JK Rowling
I discovered Harry Potter after they became the huge phenomenon they are now and thought they’d be perfect for one of my nephews. As is my usual practice, I try to read the books I buy for the children in my life, and I fell in love with this series myself. I was one of those mad people who stayed up all night to read the last three books from start to finish on the day they were released.
There’s something about this series that has stuck with me, and this first book is my favourite of all of them. I think it’s because of the wonder Harry experiences in his first year at Hogwarts that reminds me of the wonder children feel when they experience Christmas as they get older and know what it’s about. And you can’t go past Harry’s first Christmas at Hogwarts, which I think is one of the most amazing and coolest parts of the book (and the movie).

Four Fires – Bryce Courtenay
Every Christmas, if you’re a booklover in Australia, you were almost guaranteed to get at least one copy of Bryce Courtenay’s latest book, because that’s when his hardbacks were traditionally released. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2012, just before his final book was released. Four Fires, for me, was one of the greatest books he ever wrote. The line that stuck with me out of the whole huge 800 page tome was “Don’t leave the spoon in the sink, Mole.” (And you’ll just have to read it to find out what it means!)

Hogfather – Terry Pratchett
Terry Pratchett is another author with an absurdly insane sense of humour. I haven’t yet read all of his Discworld books, but out of the ones I’ve read, this is my favourite. What could be more ridiculous than Death impersonating the Hogfather on Hogswatch? And the movie that was made based on the book isn’t half-bad either.

Well, that’s it from me until the New Year. Have a wonderful Christmas, and feel free to let me know what your favourite books for Christmas are in the comments.

 

 

What I really think of… Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey’s Wool

‘The children were playing while Holston climbed to his death; he could hear them squealing as only happy children do. While they thundered about frantically above, Holston took his time, each step methodical and ponderous, as he wound his way around the spiral staircase, old boots ringing out on metal treads.’

So begins Hugh Howey’s first novella in his blockbuster Silo series, Wool.

I can’t exactly remember when I first heard about this guy, Hugh Howey, but I do remember his name popping up all over twitter and blogs, and I thought “Hell, I’ll give this guy a go.” At 99c for his first novella, Wool, it was a pretty good bargain, and having received my first kindle for Christmas 2011, I was looking for cheap books to fill it. 

I read that first book in one sitting then immediately downloaded the second part (“Proper Gauge”) and then the third one (“Casting Off”). I remember staying up until the early hours of the morning to finish “Casting Off”, and making myself wait until the next morning to download the final two in the series “The Unraveling” and “The Stranded”. 

Briefly, the Silo series is set in an apocalyptic world, where humans live underground in huge silos 144 stories below the ground. It’s set in a time when no-one can remember what happened on the outside, and no-one questions why they live the way they do. 

That is, until Jules comes along. Jules is a mechanic from the Down Deep, the very bottom levels of the silo, where she works to keep the machinery of the silo functioning. Needing a new sheriff after the tragedy that is Holston’s death (which is so hauntingly written in Wool 1), Jules is the one who steps up (albeit reluctantly). Her curiosity gets the better of her, and she begins to question everything she has ever been told about the history of the silo and the circumstances of their existence. Wool 2-5 follows Jules’ story – the consequences of questioning long-held beliefs, and the lengths that some will go to to protect the status quo.

The reason I love these books so much is that they focus on something that is a real problem in our own time – taking what we see for granted, and living our lives through computer screens. We listen to politicians and the media and assume that what they tell us is the truth. We have no real desire to do the hard work and find information for ourselves. We form opinions on someone else’s view of the world, instead of seeing it for ourselves.

I know from reading interviews of Hugh that those were major factors in his desire to write this series. 

I came away from that first series feeling like I needed to be more involved in the world around me; to take a more proactive role in my own life, instead of sitting back and letting it happen. 

For any of my teacher friends out there, if you’re looking for books to spark discussions with students, these are the books to read. 

On a slightly different tangent, Hugh is also a shining light for those of us looking to self-publish our own stories. Hugh began with a small publisher with his first Molly Fyde book (Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue), a YA science fiction novel, and quickly learned that he could do a lot of the publishing side of things himself. 

So he did.

The popularity of his Silo series made bigger publishers and agents sit up and take notice, and he made history when he signed a print only deal with Simon and Schuster, enabling him to keep his digital (ebook) rights.

This is extremely significant, because traditionally, contracts from publishers effectively restrict authors from writing and publishing anything that is seen to be in competition to the books they’ve sold, which really means everything that comes after.

I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of how that deal will hopefully help to change the publishing industry in the long term, and how they treat their authors, but suffice it to say, it’s a small step in the right direction.

There is so much more I can say about Hugh Howey and the effect he’s had on the self- and indie-publishing industries and authors, but I will leave the other stuff for another post.

The last thing I will say is BUY HIS BOOKS! I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

You can find Hugh here:

Hugh Howey

Buy his books from Amazon (or order the paper copies of his books from your local bookstore):

Hugh’s Amazon Author Page

You can find out more about his Wool series at Simon and Schuster here:

Wool Series

Introducing… Layce Gardner

I’m not big on the lesbian romance genre. (I can’t believe I can say that with a straight face, considering I am currently dabbling in that genre, but anyway.)

I guess it’s because my early forays into it were a little sub-par. The characters were all a little too beat up, and some of the plot points bordered too far on the unbelievable side of the fence for me.

I get it. We’ve all been through our Coming Out period, our Lusting After our Straight Best Friend period and our U-Haul Lesbian period (in Australia we call it the Budget Lesbian period) among others. Most of us want to read about that stuff to make us feel better about bad decisions, bad romances, and to escape from our bad, sad lives.

Here’s the thing. I’m more than the sum of my bad and sad parts. I have lots of happy times. “Why doesn’t anyone write about the happy times?” I lamented. “Why doesn’t anyone write something fun?”

Then I found Layce Gardner. I am proud to be able to call her my Facebook Friend. (Which means that she stupidly accepted my friend request even though she didn’t know me from a bar of soap, and now I can stalk her interact with her whenever I want.)

I can’t remember exactly how I discovered her novel Tats, but I devoured it in two sittings. I would have devoured it in one, but a pesky little thing called my day job came between us.

I passed my paperback copy on to a great friend of mine, along with rave reviews. (Lisa, I still want it back!)
 
I loved the book so much, in fact, that as soon as the next book Tats Too came out, I downloaded it onto my kindle as soon as it was available. This time, I got to read it while I was on holiday in Fiji – I wasn’t going to let a little thing like a friend’s wedding get in the way of me and that book.

I read parts of it out to my wife, giggling like an idiot, while my wife just looked at me knowing full well I AM an idiot. “I guess you have to read what happened before” was my answer to her blank looks. 

Anyway, to the point. 

I downloaded and read Penny Nickels and Wild at Heart as soon as they came out too, and was itching for more.

That was a few months ago now, and I had decided that I wasn’t going to go out of my way to buy any new books until I had finished some of my own. 

Then, I saw this pop up on my facebook feed:

I was so excited that the new book was available, but you know, my no-book-buying thing.

I held off for exactly three days. 

I bought it, promising that I would only read the first chapter after I had at least completed my word-count quota for the day. 

I only lasted a couple of hours before I thought “I’ll just read the first paragraph and see if it grabs me.” 


A couple of hours of reading and laughing out loud later, I realised that it was past midnight, and that I had wanted to get to bed early, so I could get up early and get in some pre-caffeinated writing time. (For non-writers, that’s the best time to trick my muse into giving up some of her secrets – before she wakes up and goes MIA).

I don’t really have the whole “do something good, reward yourself” thing down very well.

So the truth of it is, I don’t think I can hold out on reading the rest of the book. I think I might just take an early weekend and go ahead and get it over and done with.
If you’re curious, my favourite part of the book so far is when the girls (Dana and Trudy) are sharing an unlit cigarette. They both take pretend puffs and then Trudy takes the cigarette back and “ashes” on the floor.

No wait. It’s when Dana meets Ellen. “She had brown-almost-black eyes like melted chocolate and a smile that reminded Dana of strawberry cheesecake. Her smile itself didn’t exactly remind Dana of cheesecake; it’s that the smile gave her the same feeling as looking at a slice of strawberry cheesecake.”

No, it’s the conversation about Dana’s need to fill a hole in a conversation. “See, when there’s a hole in the conversation I feel this urge to stick something in the hole. In fact, there’s very few people in this world I’m comfortable being around and not sticking something in their hole.”

Layce, you had me at “‘My girlfriend is a slut,’ Dana Dooley said.” It’s going to be another late night.

You can find Layce’s books on Amazon here
Check out her blog here

Introducing… a new series of posts

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am very irregular with my posting schedule. It’s not that I’m too busy to write anything, it’s just that I write stuff, forget about it, then it’s old news. Or I have a great idea for a ranty post but then think better of it, so I don’t write anything.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I want my books to spread by word-of-mouth from readers who love my work. I realised that I am also a reader, and therefore I should be spreading the word on authors and books I love so anyone who’s interested can check them out for themselves.

Spread the love I say.

With that in mind, and having discovered some pretty awesome writers and books over the last 18 months that I’ve had my kindle, I’ve decided to do a series of posts on those books and authors I think deserve a little bloggy love.

My intention is to post these monthly, but we’ll see how we go.

First cab off the rank is one of my new favourite lesbian romance authors, Layce Gardner. That post is ready and raring to go, and will go up on the 1st of July.

Other authors I’ll be posting about will include Hugh Howey (he of the Wool phenomenon), JA Konrath, Lindsay Buroker and John Scalzi.

There will be others as I continue to read and go back over my “Read” list on my kindle. 

There’s a pretty eclectic mix of genres, so not everyone will like all the books or all the authors I recommend. The great thing about the kindle, though, is that you get to download a sample and then can buy it if you like it, or ditch it if you don’t.

I’m also open to suggestions, so feel free to drop me an email or a comment on the blog.