November 18

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

a_monster_callsConor is facing a monster – it looms high above him and takes on the shape of the old yew tree – except it is in his bedroom. And it leaves evidence from its visit – like poisonous red yew berries strewn across his bedroom floor. This nightmare has been visiting him, ever since his mother started her treatment.

Life is troubled for Conor. At school, he is targeted by bullies; at home, his interfering grandmother has come to stay; and now, he feels distant from others he used to be friends with. His mother is also distant as she battles illness, even though she puts on a brave face.

Then all of a sudden, everyone wants to ‘have a little talk’:

  • at school, his teachers ‘have a little talk’ when he gets caught fighting
  • his grandmother wants ‘a chat’ about his mother
  • his father (returned briefly from his overseas/other family) discusses ‘the future’
  • and even the monster forces Conor to ‘talk’ – to express himself after three tales he tells him

‘A Monster Calls’ came about when Patrick Ness was asked to complete a story which orginated with another author. Unfortunately, Siobhan Dowd* tragically succumbed to illness before her characters and ideas came together fully in her novel. As stated in the preface, Ness was at first hesitant to write the story, but thankfully, was able to take a hold of her ideas which:

…were suggesting new ones to me …(so that)… I began to feel the itch that every writer longs for: the itch to start getting words down, the itch to tell a story.

(Then) along the way, I had only one guideline: to write a book I think Siobhan would have liked. Patrick Ness.

‘A Monster Calls’ has recently been released as a movie, which may not be for the faint-hearted as this clip may suggest:

‘A Monster Calls’ works on many levels as Conor struggles to cope with all that life is dealing him.

As a fantasy novel, it is a little different from his previous dystopian ‘Chaos Walking’ trilogy. It challenges your feelings, questions the way people sometimes act, by presenting everyday events that you can relate to. Nightmares, real or imagined, face us all at times – emotions may ride high as a result.

Look around – what are your monsters, and how do you tackle them?

Do you think Siobhan Dowd would like the story Patrick Ness developed from her ideas?

November 14

Before you see the movie…

Now out in cinemas, the Light Between Oceans, is a powerful story – with lots of questions about how the decisions we make can drastically impact the lives of others.

Previously reviewed here, the story remains thought-provoking, heart-breaking and well-worthy of being made into a movie – but READ IT FIRST – it’s an incredibly moving debut novel, from an Australian author!

I wonder how well the movie will reflect the book?

N.B. not really YA, but good for older readers.

March 7

the Martian – book or movie?

martianScience fiction has not been my favourite genre for some time now (though it used to be..). But I convinced myself to read ‘the Martian’ after recommendations from an English teacher (thanks, Amanda) – before watching the movie, of course. [Note: it is suited to a mature audience.]

If you want a example of the genre, science fiction – then this is it! ‘The Martian’ is full of scientific events, descriptions and data calculation, which at times I found overwhelming.

The complex explanations and calculations that Mark Watney makes (in order to decide how best to cope with being stranded on Mars) consume a lot of the early part of the book; but after all, he is an astronaut with the associated scientific background. The lucky thing is that he is a botanist, and so able to calculate the best way to grow his own food in the ‘Hab’ – the unit in which the crew of 6 had previously habitated on Mars.

Did I mention Mark Watney was stranded on Mars? This happened after a severe storm, which NASA had predicted, and had thus ordered the evacuation of the team to Hermes, the vessel orbiting Mars (ready for their return to Earth). Assuming he was struck dead in an accident, the other 5 team members reluctantly left him there.

Understandably, there are lots of tensions in ‘the Martian’. Tensions between NASA and Mark Watney regarding the best ways for him to survive. Tensions for the Commanding Officer, Lewis (and her team) who left Watney behind, believing he was dead. Tension also arises as parties within NASA try to decide the best ways to rescue Watney, and whether they should risk the lives of others to rescue him. And of course, global political tensions and overtones are always under consideration.

Mars-Discovery

Martian Landsacpe – Source: http://www.lifehacker.com.au/2015/09/marsnasa-live-blog-watch-tonights-major-announcement-here/

There are also lots of laugh-out-loud moments; which humanise the predicament Watney finds himself in. He complains about the disco music Commander Lewis left behind. He laughs when he makes mistakes. And, he laughingly pronounces loudly the firsts he has achieved as a human on Mars eg. the first colony (his potato farm in the hab). Or to quote the book:

It’s a strange feeling. Everywhere I go, I’m the first. Step outside the rover? First guy ever to be there! Climb a hill? First guy to climb that hill! Kick a rock? That rock hadn’t moved in a million years! I’m the first guy to drive long-distance on Mars. The first guy to spend more than thirty-one sols on Mars. The first guy to grow crops on Mars. First, first, first!

Source: http://www.techinsider.io/the-martian-best-space-sci-fi-movie-2015-8

Movie still – Source: http://www.techinsider.io/the-martian-best-space-sci-fi-movie-2015-8

One of the big issues Watney has is forgiveness –  for the crew that left him behind. They did what they were expected to do, given the information they had, and for this he forgives them. Of course, they have no hesitation when called upon later to initiate a rescue mission. But that, they must realise, could have implications for their future careers – as well as their lives.

In reality, how long can a man survive when his survival depends on monitoring all things needed for survival in a harsh environment – food, water and oxygen? Would you survive, or just give up?

Having already told too much of the story, I will pause here with a comment from a recent Catalyst program which actually praised the value of sci-fi literature (the Martian, in particular) for inspiring the imagination:

NARRATION
But perhaps one of the key benefits of sci-fi is it helps makes the future seem more possible.

Dr Katie Mack
Like with The Martian, you know, you see this landscape, it’s depicted as a place you can go, an achievable goal. And so I think a lot of times people see these kinds of depictions in science-fiction and that makes it seem more achievable and it makes it seem like more of a goal that they can work toward. Source: http://www.abc.net.au/catalyst/stories/4415534.htm

Another part of the Catalyst program pointed out discrepancies in ‘the Martian’, and scientific fact as we know it; BUT, who knows what science fiction will inspire in the future?

## Looking forward to watching the movie soon – to fill visual gaps – and of course, so that I can point out what they missed from the book! Did YOU read the book first?

January 23

It’s not the same as the book!

group2

Have you ever waited longingly for the release of your favourite book on film? Were you disappointed? Or did it affirm the way you first saw/read the book?

What if you were the writer, anxiously waiting to see how your story translates to the big screen? Would you demand to also be the scriptwriter? Would you expect to be heavily involved in the whole production to check that ‘they’ got it ‘right’?

In other words: should we really expect the film to be the same as the book?

Until recently, I thought so. After all, wasn’t J.K.Rowling heavily involved in the production of the Harry Potter movies?

Aren’t all authors? Apparently NOT.

In a recent article about the much anticipated film release of the Book Thief, Marcus Zusak revealed that, for various reasons, he had no intentions of writing the script, or even contributing advisory comments during production:

I can only respect what a screenwriter has to do when trimming a sizeable novel to a 120-page script.

I feel like when you give someone a creative job, you can’t say, “Right, be creative, but do it how I want you to do it.”

Source: Marcus Zusak – How I Let Go of the Book Thief, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/markus-zusak-how-i-let-go-of-the-book-thief-20140102-306he.html

As you can see from his comments, he appreciates the extra work that happens to bring book to film, and he understands that indeed it will not be the same.

Another author who has watched his book, Mr Pip, become a film, echoes these sentiments. Lloyd Jones even said he felt that he was an interloper in his own story, as he watched some of the filming on location for Mr Pip.

When introduced to the cast on Bougainville (where his tale came to life on film), he said he felt embarrassed that he had few words of wisdom to offer as the faces of the young actors gazed up at him expectantly. But then, as he explains in the article quoted below, he was the author of the story not the film director who was responsible for making the film. This is concept is also evident in this video clip:

 

Clearly, Jones has great respect for the creators of the film. He says he appreciates how closely the director had read his book, and stayed true to its story. However, he recognises the differences in the two media, as he states:

A film is a film is a film.

[On the other hand] Readers [bring a] box of effects and nuances to colour in the spaces left by the writer [of a book].

In film, the magic tends to be woven on the surface. The viewer is treated to another’s dream. In literature, the reader does the dreaming. And that, for me, remains the greatest magic of all.

Source: The Weight of Expectations for Lloyd Jones, http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/the-weight-of-expectations-for-lloyd-jones-20131031-2whz8.html

How often have you felt dissatisfied as a reader viewing a favourite book on-screen? But realistically, why should we feel this way? Do we just want to be able to brag that clearly we have read the book? Or does it just give us some way on which to review the film?

It’s amazing how creative we can be in our own imaginations, building on the original author’s ideas when we read. In this way, books can be so much more. Perhaps Zusak captures some of these ideas rather well – what do you think?

As a reader, I’ve never felt let down or outraged, because the film changes things for its own sake – but it can never change the book itself. The book will always remain.


As I said: I still love books. I still love movies. But I’m not ashamed to say that, as a general law of my own nature, I can’t help but love one of them just that little bit more.
Marcus Zusak.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/markus-zusak-how-i-let-go-of-the-book-thief-20140102-306he.html#ixzz2pOUbrDPI

[You can enjoy the trailer for ‘the Book Thief’ below, to see if it’s a story that would appeal to you. Of course, my advice is that if you haven’t already, you should also read this fabulous book!]

 

 

May 1

The Fault in our Stars by John Green

“I went to Support Group for the same reason that I’d allowed nurses with a mere eighteen months of graduation to poison me with exotically named chemicals: I wanted to make my parents happy. There is only one thing in this world shittier than biting it from cancer when you’re sixteen, and that’s having a kid who bites it from cancer.”

Obviously, Hazel doesn’t think much of her Support Group. But as an only child and the concentrated focus of her parents’ life since her cancer diagnosis, she succumbs to their wishes. What else can she do? Her illness has meant that she no longer attends school regularly, she has to sleep a lot, while her mother tries to encourage her to have a normal life. How normal can it really be when you know you have a terminal illness?

This is not a ‘happy-ending’ story. Very often in real life children and families fighting cancer do not have a happy ending. This is not a book to make you feel good, or to tell you how to be when someone you know experiences the illnesses associated with cancer. But it will make you think.

This fan-made book trailer gives some insight into the thoughts within ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ – a story of what happens when teen cancer patients fall in love.

In an interview, author John Green makes the statement:

“It’s important to note or remember that people who are sick and people who are dying aren’t dead. They’re still alive. And sometimes we forget that, and we treat the sick and the dying so gingerly and so carefully, when often what they most want is to be alive while they are alive.” ‘Star’-Crossed: When Teens With Cancer Fall In Love

That is why he wanted his book to be realistic, and not a sugar-coated tale ready for Hollywood to take to film. The kids in ‘The Fault in Our Stars’ want to live and make their mark on the world.

What sort of impression have they made on you, the reader?

March 20

Life of Pi – the book, the audio and the movie

It’s been interesting getting into Life of Pi in a number of different ways, as I have read the book from both a paperback and while driving my car (obviously with an audio version…).

Life of Pi has been on my to-read bookshelf for some time and, of course, came to my attention again recently, when promotion of the movie began. By ‘reading’ using combined audio and paperback, I found an unusual richness was added to the story with the contribution of a quality audio production*.

Martel’s writing is where all the magic begins, however, as he tells the tale of a young Indian boy on his journey to manhood. Pi has struggled for many years with taunting at school, derived from his name, Piscine. In spite of this, (or because of this?) Pi is a strong willed young man with a great curiosity of life and how the world around him works.

With a somewhat unusual homelife as a zookeeper’s son (what child wouldn’t love to grow up in a zoo?), Pi has developed keen powers of observation of animals of all kinds – humans included. This awareness of animal behaviour provides a great background later in the story, when he is set adrift in a lifeboat with a menagerie of different animals. His survival skills are well and truly tested to the limit!

His questioning nature is also revealed as he digs into the 3 main religions which exist in his Indian homeland – Christianity, Hinduism and Islam. As a curious child, he seeks an understanding of the differences and similarities of these faiths, and commits to all 3 – much to the ire of each of his religious teachers!

A move by his family, away from the politics brewing in India, results in their journey on a Japanese cargo ship to Canada. Their zoo is dismantled and animals are sold afar; some of which journey on the ship with them. The tragic sinking of the cargo ship begins another section of the book, where Pi faces the many challenges of being afloat on a lifeboat with very unusual company – including Richard Parker!

Martel’s writing is memorable, poetic and so rich that it is believeable. It is a book to make you think long after you finish it. It is fantasy, but also holds many truthful observations within it, and doesn’t necessarily provide a neat ‘happy ending’. As a winner of the Man Booker Prize in 2002, Life of Pi has had many reviews over the years, and has now been made into an award winning film (which I can now see, having first read the book!)

What messages did Life of Pi relate to you? Is it a believeable tale? Or is it an abstraction from reality? An allegory about human existence perhaps?

* the Audible.com version of Life of Pi was well narrated – the Indian accent added so much to the story, and made it even more compelling to listen to Martel’s poetic tale.

You can also view the film trailer:

(I have now seen the movie, and while it was great, I do prefer the book!!)

March 6

Self published – ‘Switched’

For those who have spent lots of time and angst waiting to have their manuscript accepted, here’s a lesson from an author who couldn’t wait –  a publishing sensation, with millions of copies of her books sold around the world – Amanda Hocking.

‘Switched’ is the first of these books, which began life as an ebook, then has been picked up with a big $ deal by publishers. Very fortunate for Hocking as she began it with a trilogy in mind…

It begins with a flashback, to Wendy’s birthday party as a six year old. Wendy behaves in an extremely precocious manner, to the extent of which her mother takes a knife to her to kill her! In the ensuing years, Wendy’s mother is send to an insane asylum, while Wendy and her older brother Matt go to live with their aunt.

The story resumes with Wendy beginning yet another school, following a string of moves, triggered by her aggressive and uncooperative behaviour at previous schools. This time she becomes aware of another peculiar student, Finn, who observes her intently, and who, in moves reminiscent of Edward (of Twilight fame), enters her life to explain her real nature….

Wendy is a changeling – a troll child, swapped at birth for her mother’s true child. Her mother’s instincts had been correct, and Wendy’s own perception of not really belonging has also been accurate. Finn comes along to take her back to her own ‘tribe’, the Trylls, and after some precaution, Wendy agrees it is probably best for all concerned (including her brother and aunt).

Thus, Wendy is transported to a new and different world – where new and different rules and traditions are to be learnt. Meeting her real mother for the first time is a somewhat frosty experience, and she natrually wonders about the choice she has made. It is later revealed that she has a privileged position as princess, but with, no doubt, attached risks and responsibilities. There is also a rival tribe, Vittra, to contend with (Team Edward/ Team Jacob?), while Wendy struggles with loyalties for her old familiy and understanding a newly discovered world.

While recognising her great break into the publishing world, astride her self publishing reknown, Hocking’s books have received mixed reviews. ‘Switched’ is the first of 3 books, which were optioned for film release this February (2011). Definitely a trilogy with appeal to girls, it may also hold interest to all young adults interested in watching the phenomenon of e-book -to book- to film as it might happen in the immediate future.

What are your opinons on “Switched’ – worth all the hype? Worthy of a film release? (Not all film options make it to the screen)

Is it another Twilight clone, or is it an original world you will be looking into more? (titles to follow are ‘Torn’ and ‘Ascend’).

Do you think it could inspire your urge to write (and self-publish)?

October 19

the Help – change that begins with a whisper

Kathryn Stockett, born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, has written a book about an author living in Jackson, Mississippi, writing a book about Jackson. The difference is that Miss Skeeter lives in times of prejudice and intolerance – and to write about these things at this time is both risky and challenging.

Eugenie Skeeter, however, takes up the challenge and invites others to find the courage to tell the tales of life during the civil rights movement – importantly, from the points of view of ‘coloured’ house maids. As a dissatisfied writer, she yearns to do something meaningful with her life – which is devoid of any real friends in Jackson. Returning home from college, she provides her mother with angst (with no husband-propects on the horizon), but as a keen observer, she now sees relationships at home with new eyes – ‘where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver’.

When she finally convinces maids Aibileen and Minny to begin telling the tales of their lives as second class citizens, a momentum builds. At the same time, tension and conflict rear their ugly racist heads, as social climbers in the community work to maintain the status quo – and to keep the downtrodden in their place.

Eugenie’s friendship with two black maids is dangerous; writing a book about their experiences even more so. The outcome and whether the whole exercise is worthwhile, considering the potential harm for all those involved, creates a constant tension throughout the story, and the risks are great for all those involved.

The voices Stockett has created are immensely believable, and full of humanity. As each character (Aibileen, Minny and Miss Skeeter) tells her story, the frustrations and pressures for each of them is real and considered. Little by little, their lives are painted before us, and the impact of the prejudices of small town gossip and traditions make our hearts ache for those involved.

We feel for little Mae Mobley whose (white) mother neglects her, leaving her in the care of her maid, Aibileen. We fear that Minny will be again moved out of a much-needed job, if past employer Miss Hilly finds out where she is – that is, if Minny’s husband, Leroy, doesn’t beat her senseless before then. And then, there is the constant worry that Miss Skeeter’s writing activities will be uncovered and demonised by Miss Hilly, the young socialite, who wants to keep the blacks in their rightful positions for her view of society.

Stockett has created a strong believable story, with courageous women in a time of trouble and strife – a modern day ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ scenario – blacks guilty before being tried, dealing with trashy white attitudes – people demanding respect from family staus rather than any true accomplishemnts in life. Though ‘The Help’ has now been made into a movie, I resisted seeing the movie before reading the book, which absorbed me fully into the lives of 3 brave women at a historic period in America. having ‘heard’ their voices, I can now look forward to what has been a well received adaptation of the book:

“The Help” is a delicious peppery stew of home-cooked, 1960s Southern-style racism that serves up a soulful dish of what ails us and what heals us. Laughter, which is ladled on thick as gravy, proves to be the secret ingredient — turning what should be a feel-bad movie about those troubled times into a heart-warming surprise. – Los Angeles Times, August 10, 2011.

Check out one of the many film trailers here –

August 12

Book or Movie?

Tomorrow When the War Began – movie release

This question is raised once again as fans of John Marsden anticipate the release of ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ as a movie – September 2 in Australia. Movie trailers have been appearing on YouTube for some time, and with updates and extra details on the film being added all the time, excitement is building in dedicated fans.

twtwb

Filming began in September last year, and it happened in locations around the Hunter Valley and the Blue Mountains, to reflect the countryside of the novel. Isolation and wilderness provide the setting in which Ellie and her friends struggle to deal with their total separation from friends and family when invaders take over.

 An interesting difference between this film release, and those of recent popular book series like ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Twilight’, is the time that has lapsed since the book was first published – in 1993. Will this mean a deeper fan base interested in seeing the film, or a more critical examination of whether the movie is true to the book, because readers have longer to know it? Will different generations of Marsden fans flock to the movies? Or will it encourage a new generation interested in reading the series? (Let’s hope so.)

Already, John Marsden has commented on some of the differences between his book and the movie, as he was not directly involved in film production; though he is quite happy with the final product. (You can view his comments here, later to avoid spoilers before seeing the movie; see if you agree with the author.)

So, if the author is happy with the adaptation, should we the readers accept it as well? What are the acceptable ways in which a movie might differ from its book source? What things might it be inappropriate to do when creating an adaptation? In which order do you prefer to experience a book/movie combination?

Latest news: John Marsden made more comments on his involvement (or lack of involvement) with the film in an article this weekend – see Write of passage in the Sydney Morning Herald, August 20, to read what he thought of the film-to-movie process.

## In the book-vs movie debate, you might also like to check out: Book to Movie? to see how much do you know about book-to-movie adaptations. (From the ‘Inside a Dog’ website.)

August 26

Twilight (the second time around) – (review by Hannah)

twilight_book_coverOver the holidays, I read ‘Twilight’ for the second time; the last time I read ‘Twilight’ was last year. Now that I have read it for the second time, I see a completely different side of it.

When I read it this time, I noticed a lot of things that I missed the first time. I personally think that ‘Twilight’ is a really interesting, but yet cheesy book. I don’t think that it is meant to be funny, but I found it completely hilarious.

The story is based around two teenagers who fall in love. The only catch is that one of them is not exactly what you would call normal; well certainly not normal in my world. Edward is his name and he is what you might call a vampire, he comes from a family of them – scary I know!! Edward doesn’t suck human’s blood though; he calls himself a vegetarian because he only sucks the blood of an animal. The other main character is Bella, a seventeen year old who comes to live with her dad while her mother is on holiday. She starts at her new school and somehow already has a friend who she doesn’t even know. In her science class, she is partnered up with Edward who is immediately attracted to her blood and can’t help but try to stay away from her at all times. Bella is quite curious in what might be wrong with him, and a sudden thought comes to mind that it could possibly be her. So she sniffs her t-shirt thinking that she smells bad, and I thought that was hilarious, but of course she has absolutely no idea that he is a vampire.

Over the next few days she finds more and more about Edward and does some research about what she has discovers and it all adds up to her that he is a vampire. The next day at the end of school she meets up with Edward in the forest and explains to him that she knows what he is and tells him she is not afraid. He tells her how frustrating it is for him and also how hard it is.

Bella and Edward become a couple, but Edward’s brothers and sisters are not happy with Edward’s decision – but his parents are happy to go with the flow. Later on in the story Edward’s family take Bella out to play a game of baseball. They have to go when there is thunder and lightning because when they hit the ball, because of the power and strength they have, it makes an incredibly loud noise. Half way through game, some other vampires that live off human blood come and interrupt the game, and ask if they can join in. They say yes and tell them that two people are just leaving and that is of course Bella and Edward because they need to get Bella and out of there before something happens. Unfortunately, they didn’t get a chance before one of the human blood vampires smelt Bella’s blood so a baseball game simply turned into a chase. Bella is taken by James, the bad vampire and tortured and hurt. Luckily, Edward and his family come to the rescue.

‘Twilight’ didn’t finish as well as I thought it would, but I definitely thought the book was really funny and enjoyable.