Sunday, 8 March 2015

Three books for International Women's Day (with no shades of grey).

The radio tells me this is International Women's Day so, in defiance of the current blockbuster "Fifty Shades of Grey", here are three books every woman should read before she's fifty.

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood.
I still think this is one of Margaret Atwood's best books. Possibly belonging under the label "dystopia" if it were published today, the story tells of a near-future religious society in America where the birth rate is falling and those women still able to bear children are a national resource. The chilling way that these women are controlled, and in particular the simple and scarily believable way their power was taken away and handed over to the men in their lives, forms the real message of this book. Read it today, and tell me you're not afraid.

The Gate to Women's Country by Sheri S. Tepper
Anything by Sheri S. Tepper is well worth reading, and this is one of her best known books. It's science fiction, but not your male-dominated spaceships firing on all cylinders type. Sometimes called "soft" science fiction, it deals with far-future society where men are separated from women at an early age and raised in different communities. The men train for battles they will never be allowed to fight, whereas the women concentrate on arts and science. So what happens when a woman and a man fall in forbidden love? There's nothing soft about this story.

The Change by Germaine Greer
Not really fiction, I first came across this book a few years ago and read it with fascination and some alarm. Now, several years on and deep into the "change" myself, I think I can see what Germaine Greer means. The Change is important because it frees a woman from child-rearing and the need to attract men, and brings her face to face with the person she really might be. Dare you become her?

This blog is going through a change of its own to reflect the growing age of my readers, so you can expect to see more YA and adult material here in future. Meanwhile, don't forget the Song Quest competition, closing date 31st March!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Half Term Competition: What's your Song of Power?

Music can change your mood. Experiments have shown that it can help people recover faster from an operation or injury, and even improve IQ, as well as cheer you up when you're feeling low. Of course, it has to be the right sort of music for you... which might not be the same music that works for someone else.

My first novel Song Quest sprang to life after I'd been reading a book on music therapy. I started thinking 'what if'? What if there was a magical song that could heal everyone? What if young singers could be trained to sing this powerful Song? And, if there was a Song that could heal, why not also a Song that could kill?

So I invented the Echorium, where children could be taught to sing these Songs, and ended up with five Songs of Power: Challa for healing, Kashe for laughter, Shi for sadness, Aushan for fear, and Yehn for death. The names of these Songs were plucked out of my head as I was writing the Echorium Anthem - they just seemed right the way I imagined them pronounced, and I added the colours because that seemed right, too. (Muse: don't blame me!)

The Echorium Anthem
For healing sleep of lavender dreams,
For laughter, golden and gay,
For tears shed in turquoise streams,
For fear, pain and scarlet screams,
For death of deepest midnight shade.
For these the Songs, five in one:
Challa, Kashe, Shi, Aushan, Yehn.

Song Quest won the Branford Boase Award, and eventually grew into a trilogy with the addition of Crystal Mask and Dark Quetzal.

This spring, to celebrate 15 years since Song Quest's first publication, you have a chance to win your very own gold-foiled, signed paperback edition of this award-winning book. Just tell the unicorn which song (from the real world) is special for you, and why.

See the competition page of my website for more details. Closing date 31st March 2015.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

The Theory of Everything - where art meets science

How do you make a life-affirming film about a brilliant mind trapped in a body that does not work the way it should? You make it into a romance with a brave young heroine, add a few mind-blowing theories about black holes, and invite God to the party - then give everything a good spin, preferably reversing time as you go.

I enjoyed this biopic the same way I enjoyed the film Titanic - knowing what lies ahead for the characters just makes the early part of the story more poignant. Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease while he was a 21 year old student at Cambridge, and given two years to live. Now 73, he has defied medical science and continues to amaze the world with his theories of the universe.

The film begins as a fairytale romance between Stephen, the slightly nerdy Science student, and his sweetheart Jane, a church-going Arts student who becomes his wife. It does not shy away from the tragedy of Stephen's condition, and I found myself looking away from the screen a few times during the medical procedures. The first time he falls down, I think the whole cinema winced. It's a powerful story, and also a clever one with the use of Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time to give the film an extra dimension. (No, the unicorn is not telling you how - you'll have to go and see it yourself!)

There is much to be learned from films like this that do not rely upon special effects and huge budgets to attract audiences, yet somehow still do. It has that extra dimension that transforms the basic story from a tragedy/romance into something bigger than we are. Whether you call that something God or the Big Bang, whether Stephen Hawking is right about the universe or not, does not matter. It brings art and science together, and has reminded me about a novel I was trying to write a few years ago about a famous mathematician that contains the same themes. But you don't need to be a mathematician to enjoy this film. The Theory of Everything leaves you thinking about... well... everything.


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