Friday, 31 August 2012

War of the Worlds

“What's the use of a fine house if you haven't got a tolerable planet to put it on?” 

I watched a very disturbing documentary on National Geographic yesterday on whaling. Harpoons should be banned along with their manufacturers! The injustice of the whole act made me frankly quiet sick, but it did get me thinking: isn’t it the case with everything we do against nature? Everything on NatGeo makes you wonder why we’re not doing more for our environment. A crew member on the Sea Shepherd (a boat trying to stop Japanese whalers) put it perfectly: “Money talks.” As long as there is profit to be made from ruining the planet, Mother Nature does not stand a chance.

“The sun, the moon and the stars would have disappeared long ago... had they happened to be within the reach of predatory human hands.” Havelock Ellis, The Dance of Life, 1923 (

This being said, the Earth is pretty old and probably has a few tricks up her sleeve. Once she decides to retaliate, we’re all done for. However, we’re a part of her as well and it’s pretty unfair to expect her to take out the garbage all the time (for those of you whose mums still clean your room…you have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?)

The Scarlet Omen takes Anjeli Xavier on a journey to a mythical valley called The Valley of the Hornbills. There, readers will be confronted with the dangers of taking too much from the environment and giving back too little or sometimes nothing at all. I’ve tried to address how important it is to remember that the world is a sphere; that everything we do WILL come back to us and that our lives are all interconnected with nature. Now, I don’t want people thinking that I’m one of those hippie types (although I am a member of Greenpeace and do not find the word “tree-hugger” derogatory) but I really think that it’s important to mention our responsibility toward our planet once in a while—it does so much for us, so why do we abuse it so? Everything on our planet is helpless against our highly evolved brains; why not use a little of that God-given perk to do good?

“What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.” –Mahatma Ghandi

Anyway, as you can see, that documentary kicked me out of my comfort zone into seeing some of the more important things going on around me. We’re swamped by life, running around doing what has to be done and ignoring what needs to be. My novels take up all my spare time and as a writer with a voice that people are now starting to listen to, I should make it my responsibility to remind people (I’m not saying that my WHOLE novel is going to revolve around that, so don’t shelve The Scarlet Omen away under Lifestyle and Garden Literature just yet) that it is OUR job to look out for our world…coz’ friendly aliens just don’t have the time to come and clean up our mess.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”
Dr. Seuss (

Friday, 24 August 2012

Uno, Dos, Tres

“If a boy and girl walk off into the sunset at the end of a scene, it adds 10 million to the box office.”—George Lucas (

The Lord of the Rings. Hunger Games. The Golden Compass. They’re all trilogies that have made it on the bestseller lists around the world. What is it about trilogies that fascinate us?

As a reader, I love trilogies because you don’t have to say goodbye to your favourite characters just yet. They’ll be back with new ways to get themselves killed while entertaining you all the way. When I fall in love with a book, it’s forever (my brother cringes when I say I’ve read the same book for the fourth time) and what better way to get the most out of your love life than with the same hotties just somewhere else?

“Once you've invested hundreds of hours in creating a coherent universe, your story's grown to around a half-million words and can't be written as anything less than a trilogy.”
Lynn Abbey (

What I didn’t know, however, is how hard it is to write a trilogy (there you have it -- I’ve finally admitted a glitch in my system)!

“I would normally never set out to write a trilogy.
David Brin (

Hah! It’s not just me--now I have to stop thinking I'm special.

Keeping all your characters and plots in your head for a WHOLE book is challenging enough but THREE whole books?! I’m currently writing the sequel to The Scarlet Omen (I just couldn’t say goodbye yet) and have started to hit a few road bumps. Firstly, it’s crucial to remember that just because there’s more coming in book three, you can’t leave your readers hanging at the end of book two. Sure, they’re all excited about book two and how the protagonist’s journey will turn out at the end of it all but we have to quench their thirst at the end of book two as well. This is HARD! There’s always the temptation to make book two a lead in to book three (BIG NO NO) while trying to remember if you should already drop some hints now about what happens later (and try remembering which beans you’ve already spilled!). It’s truly a long-term relationship and seriously, I get bored really fast!!

So the most challenging thing for me at the moment is keeping myself happy with the content. I keep getting awesome revelations about other novels I’d like to write but my Scarlet Omen triplets are fighting for my attention. It’s great and I love my babies but it’s a challenge remembering that they’re three separate entities with wills and lives of their own and that they’ll come back to blame me with their shrinks in tow for trying to dress them up identically. Wish me luck…and cross your fingers for Anjeli’s safe return (you never know just how my ingrained aversion to boredom might manifest itself!)

Friday, 17 August 2012

Lights, Camera, Action!

“Give them pleasure. The same pleasure they have when they wake up from a nightmare.” 
 Alfred Hitchcock (

“Everything I learned I learned from the
Audrey Hepburn (

It all starts with Sesame Street and Bear in the Big Blue House till we find ourselves sitting on the edge of our sofas crying with Brigitte Jones, our eyes glued to the most magical of man’s creations: Television. How we love it and can’t get enough. I know people who refuse to have one at home and I feel sick just imagining what they do with their time. I guess it’s good for us writers, since they’re most probably reading our books with a nice glass of wine, but still.

I grew up believing that stories could take you anywhere and television was a means of actually convincing your brain that you had arrived. Hollywood can either put you completely to sleep or make you jump up in the middle of the show and want to get a burger or write through the night. I’m a movie junkie (proud of it), both for relaxation as well as inspiration. Here is my top 3 list (needless to say, they all get five out of five star ratings from me…I love all my specials equally!) of all-time inspiring movies (write-till-you-drop kind of inspiring).

Moulin Rouge (2001)
The Moulin Rouge is about a writer who falls in love with a courtesan in 1899 in the Montmartre district of Paris (anyone that has ever been to Paris will know that the city itself is magical, so a story playing there can’t go wrong!).  It’s hopelessly romantic, in spite of–or maybe even because of—its unusual and sordid setting. It’s sometimes silly enough to have been made in Bollywood, but I think that’s what fills the nooks and crannies of the movie with added charm. I love any story that has to do with the underworld of big cities and anything that portrays man’s hidden secrets so this movie was practically made for me!

Lord of the Rings
This story doesn’t need any introductions—it’s just brilliant! Set in a made up world, fantasy writers can just go wild trying to conjure up equally magical creatures of their own after watching this. The whole thing about little hobbits going on a journey to save the world from the most powerful sorcerer that ever lived is basically the whole point of a story and it is really inspiring. As Peter Ustinov put it in his novel The Old Man and Mr. Smith, the bad guys in a story need to appear much more powerful than the good ones (putting the battle in their favour) and when the good ones win against all odds, the viewers are that much more satisfied. (I always wondered why the Decepticons in Transformers have all the cool and useful vehicles while the Autobots drive stuff without weapons…now I know) Excellent!

A dream in a dream in a dream! Love it. We writers get so many of our stories from dreams and this movie is all about influencing the subconscious through our nocturnal adventures. How awesome is that?! Inception is totally mind-boggling and difficult to follow but it had exactly the right amount of weird that I adore. This movie really portrays the unfathomable expanse of the human brains and what we’re capable of. A must watch for writers!

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Shades of Green

Anyone who knows me will know about my weakness for Robert Pattinson (for those people with a life and no inclination to delve into the celeb scene, RobPat played the vampire in Twilight). This whole drama with Robert Pattinson and Kristen Stewart ( has got me thinking: Will we ever be satisfied with what we have? How can you have a guy at home that makes other girls wither on their feet and still look at someone else without your eyeballs cringing?

Is the neighbour’s chandelier really that much more ‘bling’ than mine? A year ago, I would have slapped anyone that dared tell me that I’d someday be in the national newspaper. Two weeks ago, I was (full-page article, by the way…just saying)! After the gushing euphoria slowed to a trickle, I started thinking of other KA-BLAMM, POW, ZAP ways to make The Scarlet Omen more visible. Is this normal? Do we as humans constantly need to challenge ourselves, never being satisfied with our achievements? Is that why no one stayed back in the caves and said, “They’re all gonna break their necks trying to fly that pterodactyl”?

“…Troubles in life come when we believe the myth that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.  We are taken over by envy, believing that other people have the good stuff and then feeling depressed, anxious, and persecuted by the belief that we have so little.  We are taken over by greed, wanting more and more and more, feeling that what we have cannot ever be enough.”--

When should we stop and enjoy the fruit of our labour? I really don’t know, but I’m sure there must be a time when authors have to except that their book is good enough to see the world. I’d still be improving my novel had I not set a deadline for it (which I changed a number of times, but THAT'S BESIDE THE POINT!). As for Kristen and Robert, I don’t think she wanted something more…I think she was just afraid of having everything.

So how does this ingrained need to yearn for more affect characters in a book? Should we as writers incorporate these feelings at all? This question I can answer and it’s YES. In The Scarlet Omen, Anjeli finds that her life has already been predestined, but it is her choices that make her life hers—that she can go anywhere, be anything and tell FATE to call her agent for further negotiations. I think that’s the whole point of a novel…getting to the end of one journey and realizing that the road branches off to other adventures. Hey, if Eve couldn’t be content with her lot in the Garden of Eden, who are we to question the divine clockwork of the human brain?

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Watcha Doin' with Richard Harland

Author Bio:
Richard Harland is a renowned English author living in Australia. His fantasy novels include Worldshaker, Liberator, The Dark Edge, the Ferren series, the award-winning The Black Crusade, Sassycat and The Wolf Kingdom quartet. 
What inspired you to become a writer?
My first idea of being a writer came when I was about 11 or 12, and my cousin and I invented adventure stories, made copies and sold them in the school playground. That was when I first learned the amazing thrill of having someone come up to you and say, ‘Hey, that was great, have you got another one?’ It’s so amazing that someone else can live through the same imaginary experience you made up inside your head!
But the idea didn’t become a reality for a very long time. I fell into the world’s worst case of writer’s block.  (Well, I’m ready to be checked by the Guinness Book of Records!) For 25 years, I kept on starting novels that I could never finish. I still have 30 unfinished manuscripts at the bottom of a cupboard at home!
Is there any particular person that you look up to?
Heaps! All the writers I most admire for a start! Mervyn Peake, Angela Carter, Jane Yolen, Philip Pullman, Alfred Bester, Ursula Le Guin, Fyodor Dostoevsky ... I could go on and on forever.
How do you spend your time when you’re not knee deep in manuscripts?
Good question right now! I just finished the rewrite of the latest Steampunk novel this very afternoon, after being totally immersed in it all hours of the day for the last two months - and suddenly I'm facing the question, What on earth am I going to do now? How am I going to treat myself? What sort of holiday can I have for at least part of the day for the next couple of weeks, before I plunge into the next project? The sad fact is, I can't think of anything much! Movies, a bit of travel, throw some dinners for friends (if I've got any left after the last two months) ... Hmm, I've just decided what I'll do tomorrow - a jigsaw puzzle! That's the most relaxing activity I know!
What do you think is the most annoying thing on the planet?
Call centres, when you ring up about something and get passed on, then put on hold, passed on again, then put on hold again ... The Middle Ages had the rack for torture, we have call centres.
I spent two whole weeks pouring through your writing tips ( and I must say I simply loved them. They were extremely insightful and packed with priceless information. What inspired you to take time off writing novels to enlighten the rest of us?
It was at a Bookfeast literary lunch when a class of senior students came up to say how helpful they'd found the tips on my author website in developing their skills for the Creative Writing Extension in the HSC. Hey, I thought, if a few off-the-cuff pages helped, how much more could I do if I really tried. That led to the idea of putting up a separate website, quite apart from any authorial self-promotion, where I'd try to set out everything I've learned. Little did I know it would take me a whole four months and end up 145 pages long! Not only working through the tips, but organising them clearly, expressing them in an easy-to-understand way - and illustrating them with humorous graphics.
I thought of it as a community service - but by the time I finished I was starting to think of it as an act of madness. It just ran away with me, and completely distracted me from my own fiction writing for those four months. But, since it went up and there's been so much positive feedback, I'm feeling, yes, it was worthwhile after all.
In your novel Worldshaker, your main characters Col and Riff experience some issues with jealousy. Col even has to deal with sibling rivalry at one point. Why do you think that jealousy and envy usually play such an important role in literature? What makes readers get so involved with the feelings of the characters?
I guess fiction powers along on good emotions versus bad emotions - there wouldn't be much excitement if all the feelings between the characters were sweet and harmonious. I think of jealousy and envy as the most negative of all negative emotions - but also the most universal. (I've certainly experienced them!)
There's even more jealousy in Liberator, the sequel to Worldshaker. One form of narrative that works well with a jealous main character is the surprise revelation. When you're living along with that point of view, you may not share their irrational jealousy, but you sure want to find out the real truth!
Do you think that humans are alone in the Universe? How has the belief in alien existence changed literature over the decades? Have authors remained true to the original version of E.T?
I'm not violently pro or contra - I put the odds of alien life at about 90:10 in favour; the likelihood that we'll find some sort of evidence at about 60:40; and the odds that we'll ever encounter some form of life that's still flourishing and capable of communication at about 30:70.
The idea of alien ways of thinking and alien cultures is fascinating, and opens up such wonderful imaginative possibilities. Though I'm not sure how deep it goes. I mean, do we ever achieve empathy with and understanding of other societies on our own planet right now? Or our own society a century or two in the past?

The Scarlet Omen takes place in Malaysia, a country brimming with myth, legend and naturally superstition. Your character Riff the ‘Filthy’ in Worldshaker also believes in ghosts. What do you personally think about illogical beliefs and practices? Do you think that they have a place in modern literature?
The great thing about stories is that they bypass what your beliefs about what's true and what's false. Which is great for me, because more often than not I'm really not sure what I believe in! In fiction, you can try all sorts of things out - including all the powerful associations that accompany supernatural and magical beliefs.
Riff believes in ghosts in Worldshaker and Liberator, but Col doesn't, and we're probably positioned more to take Col's point of view. I call my Steampunk fantasy rather than SF, but it's a sort of fantasy that involves only a smidge of supernatural - and no magic. The Ferren trilogy draws on myth and religious lore, but my novel with the biggest dose of supernatural would have to be Sassycat. A different imagining of ghosts in that novel!
I put more supernatural and magic into my short stories. I love working out credible forms of magic, and I love the frisson of fear that comes with the supernatural.
Is there anything that you’d like to share with us novices?
As an author, some elements particularly attract you when you start writing a novel. But by the time you finish, every element should be equally wanted and loved. Every episode and character and description should be there for its own sake, because you couldn't bear to do without it even if the rest of the book didn't need it.
Thanks, Richard! That was awesome. I’ve certainly grown that much smarter.

Hey, readers! Learn more about Richard Harland and his amazing books at the sites below:

Author website (Australia):
Writing tips website: