Tuesday, 24 December 2013

And so this is Christmas...

As mentioned in a previous blog post, I love Christmastime. This isn’t just because of the excitement of gift-giving (although I do enjoy this tradition!), the over-indulging on scrumptious food or being surrounded by family I often don’t see from one year to the next, but the embracing of a sense of magic into our everyday lives. It’s the one time of year that adults of all ages let their guard down and embrace the fun and whimsy that the festive season brings.

I recently watched a TV program about the history of Christmas traditions, where I discovered it wasn’t until the Victorian times that the focus shifted to children. Before then, adults celebrated the season by playing games, singing carols, eating ridiculous amounts of food and were not ashamed to be silly and merry. These days, it’s easy to feel that Christmas is only for children, but as long as we keep the festive spirit, the season can, and should, be celebrated by all ages.

It is the little touches that keep the spirit alive as adults: the singing of carols around a decorated tree, watching our favourite Christmas movies, keeping secrets from family members as we plot and plan their presents and the elaborate tales we tell children to help make them believe in Santa.

When I was searching through a box of Christmas decorations this year, I found a letter I’d received from Santa as a child. There had been no question in my mind that Santa had taken the time to write to me and it wasn’t until many years later that I noticed his signature was very similar to my father’s. To this day, when I look at this letter, I feel the magic of Christmas—the fun, joy and enchantment of the season. It’s the one time we invite fantasy and real magic into our homes.

My treasured letter from Santa

However you choose to celebrate the holidays, I wish you and your family a healthy and happy festive season and wonderful new year. Also, thank you so much for reading my blog; it’s a great early Christmas present from you to me. J

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Bad habits and sad endings

I’ll admit it. I’m developing a bad reading-related habit; I’m starting to leave a trail of unfinished YA books in my wake. Not because they weren’t enjoyable, or well written, but because of the book’s ending.

These days it’s hard to read a high profile book, watch a popular TV show or highly hyped movie without getting a gist of the ending. Although it’s well-known and accepted, by most, that spoilers should be avoided, there’s still the inclination to give something away. Any comment on an ending, however vague, establishes audience expectations—a warning of what’s to come.

When two highly anticipated books hit the bookshelves earlier this year, it was almost impossible to avoid spoilers. Whilst I avoided most details, I couldn’t help but hear over and over about how sad the endings were. Even my trusted online book reviewer labelled one of the book’s endings as controversial. YA book + controversial ending = main character deaths. Uh-oh.

So I began reading the books with a sense of trepidation, knowing the outcome for my beloved characters was not going to be good. But reading a book like that is similar to watching a horror movie between interlocked fingers; only parts of the experience and story are absorbed. My heart filled with dread as I neared the final chapters of one of the books. This was it, the moment that I’d known was coming. I decided I couldn’t face it; I put the book down, refusing to be shattered by the ending. I’d been there before, a few times this year—actually, where a book’s ending had fractured my heart. I didn’t want to go there again. I never returned to the book.

When I was reading the second book, I armed myself with nerves of steel; ready to face the sledgehammer-to-the-chest ending that I’d been warned about. At the end of the book I was surprised to find myself in one piece; it hadn’t been as heartbreaking as I’d imagined. Perhaps this was because I had distanced myself from the characters whilst reading the book, making sure the ending would not break me. At least I managed to finish that novel.

You’re probably thinking that I just don’t like sad or shocking endings, but that’s not true. There are many novels where I appreciate a more poignant ending—if appropriate to the story. However, YA novels are usually a safe bet when it comes to some form of happy/resolved ending. However, the recent darker trend in popular mainstream YA fiction is leading readers down a different path. One I’m not so sure I like. I don't want to feel hollow after reading a YA book, I want to be uplifted and moved, my faith in the world, and humanity, restored. If this sad ending trend continues, there are sure to be more unfinished books left on my shelf.

What do you think of this recent dark turn for YA endings? Do you like sad endings? Or do you think I’m just being a wuss?

Monday, 2 December 2013

Step into Magic

Last Sunday I spent the day at Tokyo DisneySea, considered the best theme park in the world by theme park enthusiasts. Tokyo DisneySea is an experience more than a theme park; the details, ambience and theme-ing are beyond imagination. In fact, the first time I visited I was reduced to using only words of exclamation and sounds of disbelief. You are not visiting shops, rides and attractions themed as an Mediterranean harbour, underwater lagoon or volcanic island, but you are in these environments. I love theme parks, but my joy, appreciation and enthusiasm for Tokyo DisneySea knows no bounds. I could talk your ear off about how wonderful it is - although I'll try not to! Put simply: it's the most magical place I've ever visited.

My favourite of the seven themed lands or "ports" is Mysterious Island, based on the works of Jules Verne, specifically, 'The Mysterious Island' novel. The scale is completely overwhelming, it's like stepping inside a fictional world that is fully-functioning and completely immersive and compelling. I could spend all day there, soaking in the atmosphere as a wanna-be explorer.

My second favourite land is the enchanting underground playground of Mermaid Lagoon. The inner child in me loves being surrounded by everything 'The Little Mermaid'. It's another area that demands my time and attention.

After a rewarding, but exhausting, visit to Tokyo DisneySea and the wonderful immersive environments, I couldn't help but think of what other fictional worlds I would like to step into. One that came to mind was the world of Philip Reeve's 'Mortal Engines' novel, where gigantic mobile cities chase smaller cities across barren wastelands; where cities eat other cities. I would love to wind my way through a "Traction City", from the grimy depths of the bottom tiers to the gleaming wealthy top levels where I could watch a city chase that's underway. What a great ride/experience that would be!

What about you? What fictional landscape/world would you like to walkthrough and experience? Please let me know in the comments.

Now for more Tokyo DisneySea pictures, just because they're awesome...


Monday, 18 November 2013

Juggling books - watch those corners!

I have attended numerous book launches and writing events recently where I was lucky to receive some wonderful free books—the best type of freebie there is! However, the downside to this is my TBR (to be read) pile is borderline unmanageable.

I usually juggle reading a few books at once—not including reading and editing my novel manuscript. There’s my TV commercial break book, the book I should be reading because everyone is talking about it and therefore I should read it and form my own opinion, and the book I read at bedtime. This might sound a little strange to those of you who aren’t book-obsessed like me (but I’m assuming you are because you’re here reading my blog! J) but each book provides something different, relevant to their reading conditions and time-slot. For example, I cannot read an un-put-downable book during TV commercial breaks—for obvious reasons. Nor can I read the “I really should read this for my education and enlightenment” book before bed as it’s often not relaxing. My favourite books are always savoured at bedtime; the one time where I can focus on nothing else but the story I’m reading.

Sometimes I might shuffle my books around; the “enlightening book” might become really entertaining or the “TV commercial book” might become un-put-downable. This method helps me stay on top of my TBR pile and combats the dreaded "did not finish" books.

What’s your reading strategy? Do you read multiple books at a time or do you only immerse yourself in one story world and let your TBR pile grow like an untamed vine? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Bring Back The Magic

On my Facebook page I mentioned that October is my favourite month after December (Christmas!), because of Halloween. When I made the comment I hadn’t put too much thought as to why this was the case. A few days later I was chatting to a friend about how books bring a little bit of magic back into our lives—something we lose once out of childhood—and I realised this was why I also love Halloween and Christmas so much.

Like most children, I had a vivid imagination. My cats and I used to fly to the moon in a rocket made of billowed curtains, I would hunt for fairies in my backyard and I taught my stuffed toys important lessons about facts and history—mostly made up, of course. Unfortunately, this sense of imagination, wonder and magic fades as we enter adulthood.

As children, we sang with abandon, danced with arms outstretched, painted swirly, unrecognisable images, and wrote fanciful stories—all without fear of judgement. When we’re older we’re told we can only sing if we’re pitch perfect, dance if no one’s watching, write only if we have a grasp on grammar and draw when we’ve mastered the skill. Which brings me back to why I love Halloween and Christmas. At Christmas time I have no shame. I sing carols off-tune, dance fitfully around half-wrapped presents and I’ll try my hand at baking, decorating—whatever. The best thing? No one judges. It’s a slice of childhood returned.

Similarly, at Halloween, I’ll dress up in ridiculous outfits and no one will point and laugh. I’ll eat handfuls of candy and not apologise for it—or watch my waistline. And I can act superstitious and silly when the lights go down before watching a scary movie.

It’s during these times of freedom that we reconnect with the magic in our lives that was once omnipresent as children. It’s not surprizing then that these are often the times people feel the most happy and carefree. We should all try to retain this magic, even if it’s only at Halloween and Christmas.

Wishing you all a happy Halloween!

Till next time,

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Setting the Scene: TV Show Opening Sequences

I was watching Sleepy Hollow the other night, the great new TV series on FOX, and I was super excited to see they have a title sequence. Over the last few years, TV show title sequences have been going the way of the Dodo with the increasing tendency to flash the TV show’s name along with an Inception­-like groan. Whilst I don’t have anything against this method as it allows for precious more minutes to be spent on the actual show, when I saw Sleepy Hollow’s opening sequence I was reminded of how much I enjoyed and missed them.

Title sequences for TV shows are like a book’s cover and blurb: they set the audience’s expectations for tone, genre and mood—an indicator for whether the viewer will enjoy the show. Sleepy Hollow’s opening certainly achieves this with a dark, mysterious and gothic sequence that immediately grabs the audience by the—hopefully not slit—throat and transports them into the creepy small town riddled with secrets called Sleepy Hollow.

I believe a great title sequence can heighten the experience and impression of a TV show. There are many great TV show openings that establish the world of the show within a few short effective minutes, some of my favourites are:

Veronica Mars:

The song, the pace, the snappy cuts, it all helps establish the scene for this hip noir caper set in a modern—2004 modern—day high school.

Game of Thrones:

This gorgeous title sequence introduces the epic fantasy saga with sweeping miniature vistas and rich orchestral music.


Ghostly and spine-tingling – just perfect! There’s no mistaking what this show is about.

Did I leave your favourite TV show title sequence off the list? Or do you prefer the recent trend of flashing the show’s name—quick and to the point? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments!