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What I learned from…The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins

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Did you know there’s a Drafts folder in WordPress?  I didn’t.  Until this morning, when I opened up the Dashboard, wondering with light  interest what I would blog about today, when I sw it, and also notes from a post I was writing last November about impressions I had from The Girl on the Train.  Anyone who reads this regularly (and if you do, I suspect you’re a Russian bot selling Raybans) will know I suck at organisation, so me forgetting all about this isn’t unusual.  But what is is the reason I started that post to begin with was still in my mind.

Before we go on, spoiler alert for the post below.  If you haven’t read the book go do that first.  Go on, we’ll wait…

A train… presumably there’s a girl on it somewhere.

 

…welcome back!

Good wasn’t it?  What did you take from it?  For me it was am excellent use of shifting sympathies.  Hawkins made us pity than dislike Anna from one chapter to the next as each new piece of info was drip fed.  I’m constantly amazed at writers who manage to do that (George RR Martin manages that with more than a few of his characters, Jaimie Lannister  for EG).  It unhinges the reader.  Just when we think we know her something else happens and we know a little more.

Lesson one:  You don’t need to reveal everything in one go.

Secondly, not all character arcs need to be complete.  Thinking about Cathy’s (Anna’s landlady) boyfriend is one.  He performs some necessary services up front, has his own little backstory, then quietly disappears.

As writers we’re often rpeached at that characters all need their own arc.  Not true.  Is it necessary to find out that Cathy’s boyfriend was only with her so he could steal her father’s Subbuteo collection?  Newp.

Lesson two:  Get the minor’s characters established, get their job done, anything else is window dressing.

Finally – major character changes are never pretty.

Here I’m talking about Tom.  Goes from an entire book of being a despairing and caring ex to a murderous psychopath for five pages.  Hawkins does use it good effect, as the change was ot reveal a character flaw which he himself would have tried to hide, but she went overboard I feel.

But then again she sells more books than me every second, so I’m willing to concede that’s, like, my opinion man.

The Girl On the Train Who was Gone and then Taken (to give the genre its full title) was a lot of fun and great lesson on character twists though.

I wish I had a conclusion to this post, but hey, that’s my own twist for today.

Michael

Haunted Futures Released and a Haunted Video

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Break out the fairy bread and butter up a toadstool*, Haunted Futures is finally on the streets!  It feels like it’s taken an inordinately long time, but Salome and good people at Ghostwoods have really put together a great anthology here.  The reviews  – including a starred one from Publisher’s Weekly – have begin rolling in and they’re all really positive.

And to mark the occasion, Salome hosted a hangout last night to speak to some of the authors, yours truly included, to chat about the book and, in my case, what not to include in children’s fiction.

I’m on first, but if you have…*looks at running time*  …wow, six hours… but life is bleak and needs entertainment, and the other guys are all worth hearing, so get at it.

 

*I don’t know what I’m on about either.

Haunted Futures – the reviews begin

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It’s now only a few weeks until Haunted Futures hits the shelves – both digitally and physically – and the reviews have already begun and so far they’ve all been glowing.

Haunted Futures, a novel by Salome Jones

 

Everyone involved is pretty hyped that the collection no less than a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, and the most recent one comes from SF Book Reviews which kindly goes into every story individually, and was nice enough to say this about mine:

Future Noir by Michael Grey

Science fiction and Noir is a great combination and Michael Grey really nails it with Future Noir. This story asks the question – what would happen if they managed to prove the afterlife really does exist? If life after death is a proven fact how would this effect society, technology and of course religion? Throw in an investigation of the first murder in 20 years and you have a really cracking story.

If you want to pick up a copy of Haunted Futures (and why wouldn’t you?), get thine self yonder.

 

Michael

The Time Fairy

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I have this suspicion that there’s a time fairy.  She comes along when you’re not looking and – whoosh! – waves her wand and suddenly it’s 9pm, the dishes are still waiting to be done, you know the rubbish is being collected the next day, and and some point you’re going to have to ingest something or drop to the floor.

In my mind she’s related to the tooth and the sock* fairy.

Only the time fairy hasn’t been visiting me, instead I’ve been hit with a big dose of real life.

the past 7 months have seen my become a father again, get a new job and move into a newly built house.  All ft very much into the ‘yay!’ category, but they also suck in time like a …. OK, I won’t use the analogy which sprung to mind.  Let’s go with ‘vacuum cleaner’.

The problem is around 7 months ago I also agreed to write a novel and, well, it’s not going well.  Well, it IS going well in that the story is solid, and the characters are so grounded they have birth certificates, but the time to write?  Yeah, it’s eluding me.

So, I’ve found a way to streamline – the first draft is being written as a screenplay.  economical in words and time, a screenplay is quickly allowing me to get the first draft out of the way, nailing down the nitty gritty, helping me spot plot hole without having to go through thousands of words to get there.  Hoorah!

So, when the time fairy comes knocking next time, I’ll be waiting, with a length of two by four, and a camera to send a proof of life to the sock fairy to demand my socks back.

Michael

 

*The sock fairy is the one who leaves you with odd socks.  She’s the most evil one.

And Merry Christmas from Your Humble Wordsmith and the Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine

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And a yo ho ho to you too.  Wait, is that pirates or Father Christmas?  I do get them both mixed up.

Anyway, best wishes and season’s greetings!  And just in time for the big day, the Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine have run a Christmas-themed story compilation for the season, featuring a story from yours truly, and, for added hilarity, I do the narration.

Have at it, and have yourself a merry little Christmas!

Michael

On Taking Inspiration From Wherever it Comes

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There’s a fantastic podcast going on at the moment called The Bestseller Experiment which i urge you listen to.  It’s two guys looking into how to write a best selling novel in one year, which sounds cynical andall about the filthy lucre on the surface, but it’s more about looking into writing craft, its business, and creativity in general.

The Bestseller Experiment

Anyway, last week I was listening to the episode with Brian Cranston.  Cranston had written screenplays, which was the link, but the conversation quickly turned ot creativity and artistry in general, and something he said stuck out to me.  Cranston was speaking about an early audition he had and the advice he was given was ot give the interviewer what they want to see, and he said no, you give the audition the character deserves.  And you may not get the part, but you will be remembered.

And I think the reason hat stayed with me was interviews with other artists I read as a kid that I still carry around with me now, and those were with James Hetfield of Metallica.

Whenever I’m asked my influences – which happens believe it or not – I include Metallica, and that always takes people by surprise.  Not that this mild mannered chap would listen to such brash music (god help them if they ever see my CD collection*), but that a writer would list them as an influence.  But the thing is Metallica came out fo nowhere in the 80s playing their own style of music.  When everything was just getting faster, yellier and more distorted, they took their love of Euro glam rock and played their own version of it.  Their love of their own art showed, and spawned a hundred copycats, but the point is they went against the grain.  They ignored the market and played the music they wanted to.

They played it, and they did indeed come.

And that’s a lesson I take to writing – pay no mind what’s popular, ignore the zeigeist, write what you love.  If you love it, there’ll be more.  Trust me on this.

Michael

 

*For the kids in the audience, CDs were like tiny, limited MP3 players that doubled up as chicken hypotising discs

A Toy Christmas, Now Recommended World Wide

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In a very welcome piece of news,  A Toy Christmas (featuring a story from muggins here) featured in the worldwide Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators recommended reading list for Winter 2016.

OK, yes, it’s summer here, but this being a proper, growd up, world wide society, they’re set in the US.  This is great news, and very flattering.  Congratulations to Sophie and everyone at Christmas Press on this achievement!

Michael

The First Review for ‘A Toy Christmas’

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And hot on the heels of the launch comes the first int he wild review of A Toy Christmas, from Readplus.  It says some really nice things about the book, and singles out your truly among other authors from the collection.

Enjoy!

Michael

In her introduction Sophie Masson talks about the magic of toys at Christmas and this collection of stories certainly reflects that theme. Written by some well-known and not so well-known authors, (Natalie Jane Prior, Meredith Costain, Michael Grey, Fiona McDonald, Juliet Marillier, Anna Bell, Ian Irvine, Kathy Creamer, George Ivanoff, Goldie Alexander, David Allan, Rebecca Fung, and Beattie Alvarez) whose short biographies are given at the back of the book, this is a collection that begs to be dipped into for the variety of stories that can be found within its cover. Each story is illustrated in bright colours, adding to the appeal of the book.
As a fan of fantasy, I immediately used the Table of Contents to read the story, A real present, by Juliet Marillier, one of favourite authors. Jenny is a little girl who wants a present for the Thing under her bed, her best friend and comes up with a creative plan for a present. The story is redolent with the joy of imagination and the meaning of giving presents. Another by George Ivanoff caught my eye, and I was delighted to read Pudding Prize, extolling the old Christmas custom of putting a surprise in the Christmas pudding. In this Anna finds a tiny matryoshka, a Russian doll which symbolises fun and laughter and learns about the beautiful nesting dolls from Russia. Avi and the Chanukah surprise by Goldie Alexander will remind readers that many cultures do not celebrate Christmas, but have their own way of celebrating their customs. One that brought a tear to my eye was An unexpected gift by Michael Grey, where a little boy is given a toy that reminds him of his absent mother.
This is a collection that is well worth having in the library as it collects an engrossing range of Christmas stories, each quite different, but all quality, around the theme of toys. Readers and children who listen to the stories will be reminded that Christmas is not only a time of fun, but one of giving, of caring for the lonely and bereft and celebrating different customs.

 

‘A Toy Christmas Launch’, at Kids Readings Carlton

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Yesterday saw the official release of ‘A Toy Christmas’ from Christmas Press Picture Books.  A wonder childrens’ anthology if I do say so myself, and featuring some wonderful talent.  I was lucky enough to attend the launch at Readings’ Carlton store in Melbourne with fellow authors Meredith Costain, Goldie Alexander and George Ivanoff, along with editor and head publiersherino Sophie Masson.

Fun was had by all, and Sophie did a wonderful launch of the book to a storeful of people.  “Pics or it didn’t happen” I here you cry.  Well, as you asked…

 

Left to right – yours truly, Meredith Costain, Sophie Masson, Goldie Alexander, and George Ivanoff

 

Me, doing ‘voices’

I Aintn’t Dead

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Wow, June since the last update….?  Well I can only apologise, and promise you that I have very good reasons.  The wife and I are building a house, I had a big project due for Mantic Games (incoming soon), and, probably most importantly, we became parents again.  Three boys….. future me is crying about the food bill.

But i have still been working, and have things afoot, not the least of which two anthologies which are being published soon with stories from yours truly included.  In fact I just heard that one – A Toy Christmas from Christmas Press Picture Books – might be getting a launch party in Melbourne in November.  More news as I hear it, and if it happens it would be great to see anyone there who can make it.

Also, Brood Parasites.  It’s taken a whole new turn.  I’ve taken on board advice from a NY Times best selling author and have completely restructured it.  That means the serialisation on this site is, well, now longer current.  But I’ll be keeping it there for prosperity, at least int he short term.

So yes, things progress, and in a very exciting way.  I’ll be back with publication news soon, and until then, you stay classy.

Michael