E is for Enthralling: The Fantasy and Sci-Fi Books that Got Me Hooked

The inspiration for today’s post comes from the ‘chat’ (i.e. blog comment exchange) I had yesterday with Roland Clarke, fellow writer, A to Zer and 100kin100days member (you could visit his blog next…). I mused about fantasy and sci-fi – about how I’d loved it but then spent a long period avoiding it, because everything I picked up seemed derivative; same old, same old. But it was the genre that inspired a devotion which carried me through to my teens and beyond, long after other genres (school, pony and mystery stories) had been left behind.To discover where this love started, we’re going back, back… no, I mean we’re REALLY going back..

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Plaque near Dulwich library

Enid Blyton: The Far-Away Tree series
Three children climbed a huge tree inhabited by a host of fascinating, vaguely humanoid creatures – Saucepan Man, Moonface and Silky the Fairy. Were there others? There was a helter-skelter that went right down through the middle of the tree, AND different magical lands were on a rota to appear at the top of the tree. Some lands were fun, some were scary (to someone of 6 or 7). What’s not to love?

C.S. Lewis: The Chronicles of Narnia
I get twitchy when people refer to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as the ‘first’ Narnia book. It was written first, but please don’t give it to anyone to read first; in the Chronicles it’s book 2. The confusion comes from Lewis’ writing order (2,4,5,6,3,1,7), but if you don’t read the Magician’s Nephew first, you’ll never discover how Narnia came into being – or where the wardrobe came from in the first place.

  1. The Magician’s Nephew
  2. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe
  3. The Horse and his Boy
  4. Prince Caspian
  5. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
  6. The Silver Chair
  7. The Last Battle

Despite – or as well as, depending on your leaning – being Christian allegory, the Chronicles are a darn good read. Yes, the language and mannerisms are dated now, but for the time, the girls are portrayed as relatively strong characters who do not stay out of the fighting. Battles, magic, rescues, betrayal, super-villains, loveable animal comrades that  talk, the notion of a different world just round the corner from ours and the heady idea that one day I might be called upon, just as Peter, Edward, Susan and Lucy were, to go and ‘make a difference: marvellous!
The Horse and His Boy is hard-going and a little lacking in Lewis magic. It only really relates to The Last Battle,  and can be left out altogether without much impact. As for The Last Battle – by now I was 8 or 9 and had already lost two of the three grandparents I started with. It made me cry.

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Lloyd Alexander

Lloyd Alexander: The Chronicles of Prydain
They’re brilliant, and based on Welsh mythology. Never heard of them? Er… ever heard of the Disney film, The Black Cauldron? That’s not that surprising either. Taking its title from the 2nd book, yet loosely based on books 1 and 2, it was “the first Disney animated theatrical feature to receive a PG rating. It even had to be edited twice to avoid being released with a PG-13 or R rating” (IMDB).  It’s popularly known as ‘the film that nearly finished Disney’. I’ll explain why in my ‘U for Underrated’ blog post. That aside, the books are well worth a read. The character development is great, as are the moral dilemmas; there’s an interesting heroine and a pig-keeper who comes into his own. But as is often the case, the ending is bitter sweet. Here I am in tears again at the end of book 5: 10 years old.

  1. The Book of Three
  2. The Black Cauldron
  3. The Castle of Llyr
  4. Taran Wanderer
  5. The High King

More Fantasy talk on Monday in F is for Fascinating 🙂

I Dabbled in a Drabble

Yes, I dabbled in a drabble. That is, a teensy tiny story. And it was fun.

One of my fellow #100kwords100days members, Gerald Hornsby, mentioned an anthology that was looking for sci-fi and fantasy stories just 100 words long. As I had a bit of time on my hands that day and submissions were about to close, I had a go.

It’s amazing how much editing you can do on a 100 word story, which is ironic (you’ll see why in a minute). But I sent off my drabble, entitled Valhalla, and hey presto! it was accepted into 100 Worlds: Lightning-Quick SF and Fantasy Tales . I got the ebook for free but didn’t get a chance to look at it – anyway I fancied the paperback, which arrived today.

And after all that editing – I find that they’ve replaced a painstakingly positioned semi-colon with a comma,  changing the whole feel of the sentence. Oh, it’s a hard life…

My #100kwords100days and Other Challenges, OR, Why Do We Do It?

Everybody has heard of NaNoWriMo, haven’t they?

writer cat

Chances are, your aunt’s neighbour’s cat is sitting in his basket right now, licking the end of his fountain pen and making notes on his kitty blanket for November 1st, because this year he gonna be prepared, damn it.

We’ve all heard of the Kindle, too, but Other E-readers Are Available. Well so are other writing challenges. Currently insane self, and at least 361 other writers who should know better, are taking part in #100kwords100days. Organised by the lovely Sally Quilford, the title’s self-explanatory, and I say ‘at least 361’ because that’s just the writers who have joined the Facebook group.

relaxed dog

100k badge

Obviously 100,000 words in 100 days is a more achievable than NaNo’s 50k words in 30 days.

What’s that? 100k in 100 days is too easy? Hmm, well, if you want to go to the other extreme…

For those who can put everything aside for an entire weekend – and I mean everything; either book yourself into a hotel room, or bind and gag every living thing within 20 metres – there’s NaNoWriWee. The brainchild of writers on The Kernel magazine, NaNoWriWee requires you to write 50k in a weekend. Yep, you heard me. Two 15 hour writing days. I’m guessing they named it NaNoWriWee because weeing is precisely what you won’t have time for. So perhaps book a home help, a colostomy bag and a catheter whilst you’re at it.  It sounds crazy but people are signing up. Hell, I’m even considering it. And seriously tempted by the hotel room option.

So why do we do it? What IS the magic lure of the writing challenge – and are there any downsides? Who better to ask than my fellow 100k100dayers…

“For me it’s the daily accountability,” Sarah Little says. “Many’s the evening the past week where my last half hour is scribbling out words just so I know I’ve done *something* for the day, whereas usually I’d have the excuse of ‘too tired’.” Gemma Noon agrees. “It makes me write. I have someone other than myself to be accountable to.” This pace-pushing has a great side-effect for Paula Martin. “It helps me ignore the inner editor that usually slows me down. I always spend ages revising, anyway, so this kind of challenge helps me get the words down, ready to revise later.” “It helps keep me on pace and working towards a goal, and on largely one thing rather than a lot of random little things.” says David Sorger, and this is something Tracy Enright finds a definite plus point;  “it makes me focus on one piece rather than flitting around like a butterfly brain. I get a real sense of achievement when I meet the target.” Ahh.. targets. But can’t targets be scary?

Apparently not. It’s the targets in these challenges that drag writers forward – and drags the work out of us.  ” NaNo makes me write – come what may! I have a ridiculously busy job and a family so it makes me focus, and I have three 70k novels because of it,” says Phoebe Randerson. And word meters hold no fears for Gemma Noon! “I like stats. I like having a target to work towards and I like knowing that I am making tangible progress.” Awen Thorber confesses: “I’m a deadline girl… I’ve procrastinated for years about writing my novels and thanks to NaNoWriMo I finally have the bulk of one done… and thanks to 100k I now have plots for more novels, research for one, and many thousands of words towards a few other novels. Challenges are my push to succeed and along the way I have found like minded friends and support that I wouldn’t have found on my own.

The support of others is something everyone pointed to as a pro. “There is an incredibly supportive network both on line and at write ins and I feel very motivated at the end of it,” says Tracy Enright. Tracy was the only person to voice a downside of writing challenges, although it’s certainly one that many writers (me included!) can relate to – “I’ve found other work tends to get left by the wayside, I go short of sleep and the kids get more quick meals!

David Sorger told me he’s been “enjoying the camaraderie and encouragement from my fellow writers and group members. It’s really motivated me to keep up at a thousand word a day pace.” It’s not only motivation that makes companionship important during the challenge though: “it is having people who will encourage me and share their experiences. It makes the whole process less lonely, ” Gemma Noon told me, and it’s this support Vikki Thompson feels is vital. “For me, the thing about writing challenges is knowing you’re not alone. That other people are trying to do the same thing, suffering the same fears, concerns, highs and lows of the challenge.


Hmm. This all sounds rather warm and fuzzy… almost, gulp, noble… oh come on! Am I the only one who thinks we night all be a bit nuts? No, I’m not. “Until NaNo, I’d thought of writing as such a solitary pursuit,” says Sarah Little. “It was fab to find out there was a huge bunch of like-minded loons!” Er, thanks, Sarah, for proving my point. I think…