Book Review: Scum of the Earth

Scum of the Earth by Pamela Freeman

This is actually the second book in a series of three. However, if you’re a goose like me and tend not to realise these things until after you’ve finished reading the book, it doesn’t matter.

I read Trick of the Light first, which turns out to be the last book in the series. So I’ve started at the back and am working my way forward. Typical. But, as I said, it doesn’t matter because the books are stand alone.

Scum of the Earth isn’t as good as Trick of the Light. It’s slower and it took longer to get to the “juice”. There was a lot of setting up required for the plot. Technical jargon (which was simply, and quickly, explained) slowed the pace, but was necessary to make the book work. And the message behind the story didn’t stand out as much as it did in Trick of the Light. In fact, I can’t tell you what the message behind Scum of the Earth is.

All in all, it was a good story, but not my favourite by this author. I might add, at this stage, that I’ve only read two of her books.

Book Review: Trick of the Light

Trick of the Light by Pamela Freeman

I finished reading “Trick of the Light” last night. Shocked? So am I. Taking two sittings, a total of about 2 hours, this must be the fastest book I’ve read in ages. Admittedly, it is a thin book (120 pages), with quite large print, but the story was well thought out and executed. 🙂

I found it easy to read and I enjoyed the story. The author stuck to the facts, foregoing the need for flowery, “by the way” information, which I actually appreciated. The author allowed the reader to fill in the blanks, so the setting was what I wanted to see, not what Pamela Freeman tried to make me see. I like that in a book.

There is a good moral behind the story too – let go of racist thoughts and feelings of the past and move on.

I’ve got “Scum of the Earth” written by Pamela Freeman too, so I’m going to read that next.

Book Review: A Wizard of Earthsea

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I’m embarrassed to say this, because I’ve read many good reviews on this book, but last night I abandoned A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula Le Guin. I think my expectations were high, but in all honesty, I’ve never read anything by this author before and I found her writing style to be “stuffy”.

The way she phrases her sentences, and her choice of words, were distracting. The book had potential, but I couldn’t be bothered waiting for the excitement to happen. I didn’t care about the main character and when I realised I didn’t care for the plot either, I tossed the book aside.

Life’s too short to waste time reading books that don’t catch hold of you from the first page, or by the end of the first chapter at the very least. I suffered 60 pages and that was enough. I’m through with forcing myself to read books I’m not enjoying.

Right, what will I try next? I have a Pamela Freeman mystery that looks interesting. I can’t remember the name right now (“The Twist in the Light” or something similar). I’ll correct this oversight later when I replace the image in the sidebar.

Edit: The title of the book by Pamela Freeman is “A Trick of the Light”. I couldn’t find an image for the sidebar, and I’m too lazy to rig up the scanner. I’ve started reading the book and it pulled me in from the start. This is the first non-fantasy book I’ve read in a very long time. Perhaps I needed a change. 🙂

Being Invisible

Excerpt from The Business of Writing for Children: An Award-Winning Author’s Tips on Writing Children’s Books and Publishing Them, or How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Book for Kids by Aaron Shepard.

All at once, in the middle of the story, I “woke up” with a shock. For just a few seconds, I had completely forgotten I was sitting in a hot tent with a thousand other people – forgotten even that I was listening to Connie Regan-Blake. She had drawn me into the story so completely that I was aware of nothing but that story’s unfolding within my own mind.

That moment taught me that the height of storytelling – oral or written – is when the teller becomes invisible.

Part of becoming invisible is to engage the reader’s imagination with concrete images, as discussed earlier. If the imagination is busy enough, it will wrap the reader up in the story and draw attention away from the writer.

Have you read a book where this has happened to you? I have and I found that I felt that I was part of the story. In fact, I was part of the story. I tend to imagine myself as one of the characters and I ‘live’ the plot.

The difference it makes to the story is enormous. The pages turn automatically, the setting and characters move before your eyes. And before you know it the story has come to an end and you are left with a feeling of wonder…and disappointment because it’s over.

On the other hand, I’ve read plenty of stories where I find myself flicking forward to see when the chapter ends. Or I might continually look down at the page number to see how I’m progressing. Naturally, doing these things means I’m not right into the story. I’m distracted by the words, the author (maybe), everything around me, because something about the flow or plot doesn’t grab my total attention.

As a writer, being invisible must be a talent because I think it must be hard to do. I can’t say that I’ve tried to achieve this when I write, but I certainly would take it as a compliment if someone told me this happened to them whilst reading one of my stories.

Writing is like painting a picture. An artist uses colour to place an image before our eyes, whereas, a writer uses words. To become invisible, we have to pick the right words, a good balance with description and setting, rounded characters and realistic dialogue and action. It’s not easy, but can you make yourself invisible when you write?

Where to Start

As a reader, no matter what I’m reading – a children’s book or a book for adults – I always enjoy the books that start right in the middle of the action. It’s exciting! It makes me keep reading to find out who the characters are and what is happening to them. Yet as a writer, I sometimes feel the need to “set up” the character and setting first.

Excerpt from Writing a Children’s Book: How to Write for Children And Get Published by Pamela Cleaver.

Begin at the moment of change or crisis in the key character’s life. Don’t start with an explanation with his circumstances, or a description of where he lives. If you feel you need scene setting or character establishment to get you going, write it for yourself and go on until you reach an action point. This is where your story should start:

  • Start where the trouble begins.
  • Start on the day that is different.
  • Start where the main character comes up against something he can’t stand.

Don’t discard the previous material but feed it into the narrative as snippets as the story unfolds.

This is simple advice. Yet I feel that it’s the perfect way to find the best starting point for your story. I now know that I have to rethink the beginning of Cat’s Eyes.

I found this advice by using Google Book Search.

Book Review: Elidor

Elidor by Alan Garner

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was written some years ago, and it shows in the choice of words used. I did find this distracting at the beginning of the story. In fact, some of the phrases used were so weird that I had no idea what was meant. This did give the book an old fashioned feel to it, and I think this is the reason it wasn’t popular in the library. Hence, the reason it found its way to the “bargain bin”.

Putting this fact aside, the story itself was well done. It is a typical children’s book, where the adults don’t play much of a role and if they do they are made to sound stupid (which I think is wrong). The four children find themselves in another world, and they are given artefacts to take care of in the real world. However, in the real world, the items cause problems with the power source and give off static electricity.

The older children are oblivious to the signs, but the younger ones are not. So when the other world reaches out for the items, the children are not prepared and keep missing the signs. Naturally, things get worse before they get better, but the kids do end up having to take action and solve the riddle.

It was a good read. Although I think children’s books have evolved a lot since the time this book was written, but that doesn’t mean we should give older book a miss. We shouldn’t. There is a lot to learn from them.