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Of (Un)Packing, Quantum Physics & Pooms

After months of preparation and packing, we finally moved into our new house last week. I had hoped to have an Internet connection set up by now, but we’ve built in a new area where we have to wait for the National Broadband Network to be rolled out. That won’t be happening until February, so that’ll unfortunately mean that I’ll be blogging less until then. That being the case, this post’s going to be a special extended edition…or some such.

As it turned out, the only day we had free to move was the same day that we had tickets to see Russell Brand performing at Rod Laver Arena. Now, Russell’s material is pretty adult (so I don’t expect any kids reading this to be familiar with it) and his persona is a divisive one (I thought he was a bit of an idiot until I actually watched his material) but something he discussed in his show touched on something that’s been of interest to me.

He talked about human sight being stuck between the ultraviolet and infrared spectrums, of our sense of reality being limited to what our five senses can perceive, and to imagine what it’d be like to have the antenna that would allow us insight into other, previously imperceptible dimensions of reality.

It’s the kind of thing I’ve read about in everything from the comics of Grant Morrison to the writings of Michio Kaku, and it’s the exact kind of thing I hope to include in Vanguard Prime one day. Will I get there? Hopefully. Will it be any good? No idea. But it’s an exciting idea nevertheless, and a strange one to encounter at a comedy show.

From one self-indulgent topic to another; I wrote a lot of poetry when I was a teenager. Correction – I wrote a lot of bad poetry when I was teenager. I did it without humour or irony. I did it to bare my soul. Until recently, I had forgotten what had prompted me to take up the quill and the inkpot to pontificate on my emotional suffering.

But in going through my book collection as part of the move, I stumbled across my copy of The Dead of the Night by John Marsden, part of his seminal Tomorrow series. Flipping through it, I was reminded of the character who had a predilection for poetry, with one of his poems serving as the book’s final lines. And that’s when I remembered…this is what inspired me. This is why I had started writing poetry.

To be fair, my poems were more like song lyrics. Super-earnest song lyrics about my sense of alienation and doomed romanticism. Basically, it was a coping mechanism, a therapeutic activity to deal with all the emotional feedback that comes with adolescence. My poetry-writing faded as I got older, finally killed by a university assignment where we had to write a poem and, in doing so, I was graded with the equivalent of a C minus. Ouch.

With that C minus came a self-consciousness, and I became aware of how ridiculous you can come across when you write a poem – a bad poem – and very humorlessly and pompously offer it as if you’re sharing some great insight to the world.

Case in point; Madonna.

I remember seeing this clip as part of a concert documentary she released a few years ago, and it characterised everything I found embarrassing about my own past with poetry, from the rhyming couplets to the ‘I’ve written a poom’ declaration that prefaces it. It made the whole practice feel ridiculous and ripe for mockery.

But then a few years later I saw Neil Gaiman giving an author talk, and he very unashamedly, very matter-of-factly recited some of his own poetry. From there, I’ve come to feel that poetry isn’t its own weird sub-category of writing, but another colour in a writer’s palette.

Poetry frees you from the rules of fiction and story, challenging your brain to move in directions it otherwise might not. As a result, I’ve once again started dabbling in poetry, looking to stretch my descriptive and tonal muscles, playing with words to make a song of them.

I’m a long way off from sharing any of it publicly, though. It’s strange how much more intimate poetry feels, and how much more vulnerable you feel as a writer when giving it to people to read. And that’s perhaps poetry’s greatest strength; it cuts away the artifice, leaving only pure meaning.

Wow…that got earnest. In any case, I recommend any young readers out there to give poetry a go. You may look back on it with embarrassment one day. But it’s worth it.

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The Ideas Shoppe: Genealogy of a Book

For ages now, I’ve been meaning to do two things. 1) Write up a list of books that were influential on Vanguard Prime: Goldrush (out now, of course!). 2) Write the first in a regular series of posts entitled ‘The Ideas Shoppe’, in which I discuss the process of writing, focusing primarily on where inspiration comes from.

And then I thought – why not make them the same post?

Before I plunge into it, I think I should take a moment to explain the title. Even before I got published, I was aware that one of the questions that anyone in the creative field gets asked the most is “Where do you get your ideas from?”. It’s a question that can be phrased in many different ways, and it’s a question that can be easily dismissed with the knee jerk response “Oh, I go down and buy them at the Ideas Shop”.

Of course, it’s a sarcastic answer, but I have to admit that I find the idea of the Ideas Shop an enticing one. I love the image of a glowing, golden boutique at the end of a cobblestone lane where you can buy inspiration by the jar. But in lieu of that, I’ll offer what insight into the creative process that I can – but only after adding a ‘ppe’ to ‘shop’ to give it the proper old world aesthetic!

So without further ado, please find ten books that helped me in the creation of Vanguard Prime: Goldrush

(Please note: Not every book in this list is appropriate for young readers. In fact, there are quite a few that are very specifically meant for adults. I like to think that people find books as they’re ready for them, so if something feels like it may not be right for you, give it some time and try it again in a few years. Also, if the formatting is a little off in this post, please bear with it!)

  1. Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

My dad bought this book for me when I was 11, and I was totally hooked. The best thing about John Marsden’s writing  is that he doesn’t pull any punches. He deals with themes of race, sexuality and violence in a mature, level-headed manner, never talking down to his readership. It gave me a lot of confidence to not shy away from some of the darker places I wanted to go to in Vanguard Prime – though not necessarily as dark as the places Marsden goes in this series.

 

2. JLA by Grant Morrison, et al.

This was my first exposure to the genius that is Grant Morrison, the Scottish writer that many a fanboy refers to as ‘the God of Comics’. His work has gotten increasingly polarizing over the years, with quite a few readers as ready to dismiss it as praise it – but I am firmly in the ‘fan’ camp. And though his modern work can be arguably esoteric and cerebral, his run on JLA (short for Justice League of America) is as accessible as it is epic.

Published in the ‘90s, it can appear a little dated now (especially when the blue-skinned electric Superman suddenly pops up) but it remains a high-point in the history of comics publishing.

 3. Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer

This was the book I bought when I decided I was going to write a YA book and I wanted to get a sense of what else was out there. I’d been meaning to read it for years and finally got the chance as part of my research. What’s bold about this book is the anti-hero that Colfer presents us with as his protagonist.

Moral complexity is something that’s not always afforded in books for younger readers. Eoin Colfer is fearless in showcasing a character that many adults may not necessarily approve of, but that kids will no doubt relate to when they read his troubled backstory.

 

4. The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

I had never experimented with voice very much in my writing, sticking almost entirely to Third Person Past Tense. This was the book that convinced me to attempt First Person Present Tense, something that I’d been a bit snobby about in the past.

It helps that Niffenegger’s story is as complex as it is emotionally engaging, with a pair of characters that have a great sense of reality to them, despite the outlandish premise.

 

5. On Writing by Stephen King

I’d always been a bit dismissive of Stephen King’s work. I remembered reading It when I was too young to be reading it, and even then being underwhelmed by the decision to include a drawing of the moment someone writes “It” in blood on a bathroom wall, which amounted on the page to someone scribbling in felt pen on a piece of grid paper. As I got older, I smirked at the way almost all his main characters were middle-class white men who were either from Maine, or writers, or both.

But somewhere along the line that started to change. It had a lot to do with the number of writers who would cite his On Writing as having had a great impact on their work (including Neil Gaiman, a personal hero). Curiosity getting the better of me, I borrowed On Writing from the local library and found myself pleasantly surprised by it.

Part autobiography, part mission statement, On Writing is a book I would heartily recommend to anyone who has ambitions of becoming a writer. Even those who have previously failed to connect with King’s work will find something to relate to and learn from in these pages.

 6. Third Transmission by Jack Heath

Another book that showed me the places you can take the YA genre, with Jack Heath demonstrating a canny knack at action-based storytelling, incorporating cool sci-fi ideas and a teenage protagonist.

 

 

 

7. Neuromancer by William Gibson

I’m so envious of Gibson’s prose. He describes everything with crystal clear clarity that still manages to be poetic, and he makes it look so easy. This is such an influential book (this is where the term “cyberspace” was first coined) and yet people generally remain somewhat oblivious to it. The movie that’s meant to be in the works may change that, but only if the filmmakers manage to nail the complex plot that’s coupled with an incredible sense of atmosphere.

 

 

8. Shade’s Children by Garth Nix

Like Artemis Fowl, I read this shortly before starting work on Vanguard Prime in order to get a handle on the YA genre, and what I found was an uncompromising, dystopian tale of kids doing whatever they need to in order to survive. In that sense, it has a lot in common with Tomorrow, When the War Began, but with much more of a sci-fi bent.

 

 

9. Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, et al.

I first read this about ten years ago, before the movie came out but long after it had left an indelible mark on the comics industry. Despite being a product of Cold War paranoia, it remains a fantastic example of world-building, taking standard superhero archetypes and fleshing them out so that they read like real people, thwarted dreams and all.

 

 

10. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon

There are many things to marvel at in this Pulitzer-prize-winning novel, not the least of which is the thoroughly authentic comic book character that Chabon has his two main characters create. The Escapist is such an interesting character and so perfectly captures the excitement of the Golden Age of comics that it’s actually disappointing that he wasn’t a genuine product of the era and that there aren’t more adventures of his to thrill to. I wanted the characters in Vanguard Prime to feel as well-realised and genuine as the Escapist is in this book. I can only hope that I managed that.

 So that’s it!

Of course, this list doesn’t count the film and TV works that also bore some influence (including The West Wing, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Justice League Unlimited, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Doctor Who, and everything Joss Whedon’s ever done) and the music I’d play to fuel my imagination.

I guess we’ll just have to save all that for the next visit to the Ideas Shoppe.