Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Review: The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

The Sidekicks (9780143309031)
Penguin Books 2016
(I own a copy)

A few weeks ago, I went along to a session of the Boffins Books Young Adult Book Club featuring Will Kostakis and Shivaun Plozza (author of Frankie).  I had already bought a copy of The Sidekicks when it had first come out a month or so earlier, intrigued by the concept behind the book.

What if three people all had the same best friend, but weren't friends with each other?  What if the best friend died?  Where would that leave the other three people?

These are the questions that Ryan, Harley and Miles must face after the death of their best friend Isaac in an accident.  From the outset, Miles is adamant that the three of them are not friends, but without Isaac around, each of them discovers that the world is a much lonelier place, even if not all of them are totally alone.  Ryan is the school's champion swimmer, a golden boy whose mother also happens to be Head of English at the school.  However, he is far from the classic stereotype of the Australian golden boy-- he eats incredibly healthy foods to keep fit for his sport, is humble towards his fellow students, has an awesome relationship with his mother, and oh, yeah... he's gay and hasn't told anyone yet.  This is perhaps the most fascinating quandary of the whole book.  As an adult, the farther away I get from high school, the less I think about how much of a minefield it could be; but for Ryan, he's reminded every day that to be 'gay' is the greatest slur of all.  It's used by other students to degrade them for having girly surnames, or to describe activities that are unpleasant.  Ryan is not allowed to forget that what he is might be abhorrent to his friends and peers, simply because of the language and stigma that is already embedded in the school's culture.  He's pretty sure his Mum would be okay with it, but he can't take the risk.  Isaac was one of the only people who knew, and he made Ryan feel safe.  Once Isaac is gone, where does that put Ryan?

Then there is Harley, or Scott Harley, the local school rebel.  There was probably a kid like Harley at every school, a kid that other students were simultaneously scared of and thought was a loser.  He's the one with the drug connections, he wears oversized and dirty clothes, he drinks a lot (although he didn't smoke in the book so that was something.)  I liked Harley, because he wasn't a stereotype.  Kostakis allowed him to have his own say about what was happening, and to show that under the tough and grubby exterior, Harley was suffering too.  He felt guilty about what had happened to Isaac, and in his own way, he did something about it.  I do feel that perhaps Harley's drug using and his connection to whatever Isaac had taken the night he died was not as fully developed a character aspect as it needed to be, but then again I need to take into account that this is a book for young adult readers. What I really did like about Harley was his quest for justice-- in as much vigilante fashion as a high school student could be capable of, Harley set out to right some wrongs, and he didn't punch anyone once.  While Ryan was still my favourite character, I quite enjoyed reading Harley's point of view-- spelling and grammar errors (deliberate on part of the author in creating the voice) and all.

The final section of the book is devoted to Miles, who is called The Nerd in the breakdown on the back of the book, but again, this is not a book that contains stereotypes.  Miles reads a lot, and he gets excellent marks at school, but his priorities are not learning.  The grades seem to be what matter to Miles.  He likes being smarter than the people around him, he's sometimes quite abrasive and he corrects people a lot.  I'm not 100% sure why Isaac hung around with him, and I guess that's the point because neither is Miles.  Miles' entire section is told in the form of a kind of screenplay, because Miles' passion is film-making.  In fact, one of the last things he did with Isaac was make a film called Point of View, a film with a split screen showing different interpretations of the same event.  This film structure closely resembles the structure of The Sidekicks, where certain events are seen from three sides and often come off very differently.  For example, in Miles' story, he doesn't say awkward things like "I have a girlfriend" when he's introduced to Harley's friend Jacs at a social function, something which made him come off like a bit of a dickhead in Harley's version of the same event.  Because Miles' story came last, some of the scenes we'd already seen were written in a way that glossed over bits from the other versions, possibly to not rehash dialogue and action, but the effect was that some of the scenes felt quick.  Nonetheless, Miles' way of dealing with his grief was beautifully realised, and some of the scenes in which he re-watched old video footage of Isaac as a way of spending more time with his friend was really heart wrenching.

I also really liked that his mother used a cut out of an underwear model as a bookmark...

This book has a great repertoire of teen voices showcased in its pages, and it's a highly original story about some very important themes.  If you love great Australian Young Adult literature, please give this ago-- even if you don't consider yourself a young adult!

I gave it four stars.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

A good writing day...

Today was a good writing day.

Not necessarily because I did any good writing.

It was the kind of day, which, at the end of it, left me feeling as if I would actually make progress on my book, if only I could string a few more of these good writing days together.

Every writer is different in their approach to writing.  There are all sorts of bits of advice floating around the internet, everything from "Write in bed" (which I was once a fan of, but now cannot accomplish because I fall asleep) to "Treat it like a job."  I've tried both approaches.  I've tried writing in pyjamas and I've tried writing in a pencil skirt and high heels.  The truth is, all of that is just another way of procrastinating.  And in all projects, there comes a time when the only way to get the book written is to do the work.

I typically have one day a week at the moment which is my Writing Day, and I am fiercely protective of it in the sense that I don't make social engagements on this day.  I commit to being at home.  I commit to writing, or to doing writing related tasks like admin or blogging or research.  Sometimes this goes well.  Other times, it does not, and in very rare scenarios, these days end with me curled in a ball in the foetal position attempting to cram an entire block of chocolate into my mouth at once.  Writing is the most fickle of all mistresses.  But the longer I do this, the more I realise that it's not worthwhile to sit around and wait for the muse to show up.  In fact, if you make a habit of this, of spending your time doing other things until the mood strikes you, the mood will strike you less and less.  Writing begets more writing.  Doing writing related things begets more writing.  Talking to other writers will even occasionally beget more writing.  (Sidebar, I really like the word 'beget' right now, though my red squiggly line is trying to tell me that it isn't really a word.)

While I only managed about a thousand words today towards my goal of ninety thousand (and I want to be at the halfway point by the end of this month), today what I accomplished were two really important things.

1) I started to feel like I was in control of my research and not that it was in control of me.
2) I kickstarted my brain into living in the world of the novel again and carried small thoughts about my WIP with me wherever I went.

I think the way that, as writers, we think about our work is a really key part of the process.  If we think that we can get away with procrastinating the whole way through, odds are in today's publishing climate, we'll end up being writers in name only.  A good work ethic is just as important to an aspiring novelist as it is to any other kind of job.

You have to set your own writerly parameters, and the only boss you have to answer to is yourself, but likewise, you'll be letting yourself down if you don't do the work.

With this in mind, perhaps tomorrow will be a good writing day too.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

What Elimy Read in May

While I didn't have time to do a video last month for my reading wrap up, I had a few requests for another recording, so for May's reading round up, I thought I would record a podcast! (Upside of a podcast is I don't even have to bother changing out of my pyjamas if I don't want to.)

I'm trying out Soundcloud, though I don't know if that's the best service to be going with so if anyone has any suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

As I say in the video, I only read seven books in May (and three of those were actually in the last week.)  In June, I am hoping to read ten or more.

Books mentioned:

The World According to Garp by John Irving
The Amber Shadows by Lucy Ribchester
Dear Vincent by Mandy Hagar
The Art of the Novel ed. Nicholas Royle
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte
Brooklyn by Colm Toibin
Obernewtyn by Isobelle Carmody

Best book of the month: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

Have you read any of these books?  Let me know what you thought in the comments below, or on twitter, where my handle is @batgirlelimy

Friday, 20 May 2016

10 Ways to Support the Writing Community

...aside from, you know, reading books and stuff...

A few days ago, an article shared by local writer Annabel Smith provided me with some food for thought.  (Annabel's twitter posts often get the cogs in my brain turning, so if you're on Twitter, I would highly recommend following her.)  The article was by Robyn Mundy, and it discussed the impact of loaning books to your friends on the larger literary ecosystem.  I have to confess, I tend to loan my books although I don't often borrow them.  I have an impulse control issue when it comes to buying books!  But I'd never really thought about what the impact of loaning books might be on this industry I count myself as a part of.

This article sparked a lot of debate, with many book lovers confessing to loaning their books out, and one Twitter user objecting to the way the article seemed to make out like readers were in need of a telling off.

I'm still going to loan my books to people, especially as the people I loan them to tend to be book buyers themselves, but today I wanted to share with you ten great things you can do for your local literary community.

1. Attend bookish events

As someone who has been involved in putting on literary events, I know that it can sometimes feel like pulling teeth to get people to attend.  Generally, readers are happy that the author is visiting, but they're reluctant to commit to coming along.  There are exceptions to this rule, of course, the most notable of them being the Perth Writers Festival held each February.  The bottom line is, time and effort have gone into putting on a great event, but if you keep saying  'I'll go to the next one', there will come a point when there is no next one to speak of.

Our local writers centres in Perth host a lot of affordable book events, including talks and workshops. Check out what's coming up by visiting their websites (there are links in the sidebar of this blog) or liking their pages on Facebook.

Here are some quick links to events in Perth over the next few months.

MAY 25  Stories on Stage at Kooliny Arts Centre with Natasha Lester and Rachel Johns

MAY 29 Creative Conversation with Michelle Michau-Crawford

JUNE 1 Short Story Book Club at the Centre for Stories

JUNE 11 Blogging workshop at KSP Writers Centre with Annabel Smith

JULY 12 Author Talk with Liz Byrski at the Grove Library

2. If you read something you love, tell people about it.

There's enough negativity in the world already!  I don't need to know that you hated Go Set a Watchman, but I do want to hear about it if an obscure Japanese novelist just blew your socks off.  Addicted to Ferrante?  Let's chat about it.  Blog, tweet, face to face, smoke signals, the important thing to know is that recommendations lead to sales, and unless that author is JK Rowling, sales are the difference between publishing one book and publishing many.  (For more on this, Robyn Mundy's article linked above does break this down really nicely.)

3. Make use of your local indie bookseller.

They know things.  They love books.  They are the literary matchmakers of the world, and no algorithm can ever replace them.

4. Consider subscribing to a literary magazine.

These magazines give homes to stories, poems and articles that would otherwise go unread.

Some of my favourites?

Kill Your Darlings

5. Visit your library.

See above, regarding booksellers.  Librarians are also book loving, book recommending machines, but the best thing is, they'll let you read the books for free so long as you bring them back in four or so weeks!  Some of the books may even be out of print, so a library is the very best way to get a hold of them.  Plus, copies of books held in libraries do generate income for their writers.

6. Subscribe to local publishers' newsletters

Fremantle Press, Magabala Books, UWA Press and Margaret River Press are four great WA publishers, and you can keep in touch with what they're working on by visiting their websites and subscribing to their newsletters.  This is a great way to hear about new books as well as events and industry news.

7. Go to writers festivals!

This is always a really fun way to spend a weekend or a day.  The Sydney Writers Festival is on now, which is a festival I haven't yet been to, but I always come home from the Perth Festival with a head full of ideas and my arms full of books.  I'm also super excited to see that Perth is getting its very own Short Story Festival later this year, so keep your eyes on this website for more about that.

8. Join a book club

I joined a book club about a year ago and have quickly made some awesome friends because of it.  Book clubs are a great way to discover authors you've never even considered trying before, and they're also a great excuse to go out and explore a new bar or restaurant.  Our book club meets once a month, and it's a surefire way for me to turn a grumpy day into a great one.  Food, books and good people are always a recipe for happiness.

In Perth, we're incredibly blessed to have a generous and supportive writing community, and oftentimes, you can even convince a local author to attend your book club meeting. (The availability of wine strengthens your case in this regard!)  It's common courtesy to make sure that if you do this, everyone in the group buys a copy of the book, or borrows one from the library.  They're giving up their time to be there, so the least you can do is buy their book!

9. Join a writers' centre

Writers' Centres are not just for serious novelists or travelling bards.  Writers' centres provide programs for writers at all points in their careers, whether you write epic fantasy or family history.  We have a few great ones in Perth.  Check out The Fellowship of Australian Writers WA, the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre and the Peter Cowan Writers Centre.

10. Read blogs!

Bit biased here, but I love reading people's blogs, particularly bookish ones!  Blogs are a great way to discover book reviews written by people who don't necessarily have advanced degrees or write books themselves (though a lot of us do!)  They are reviews written by readers, for readers.  Often, bloggers participate in excellent campaigns to raise awareness for certain causes, such as the Australian Women Writers Challenge, which seeks to address the gender imbalance in Australian reviewing, and the #LoveOzYA campaign, celebrating the unique and wonderful genre that is Australian Young Adult.

So that's it from me for now!

I hope you got some ideas about how you can get involved, and I hope to see you at an upcoming event.

- Emily 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

What Elimy Read: April

April has felt like an entire year in itself.

A lot of things are happening.  The bookstore where I work announced that it would be closing after being open for something like twenty-two years; I continued to slug away at my university course; I did two events to support the publication of Natasha Lester's new book A Kiss From Mr Fitzgerald (selling books at the launch and an interview at FAWWA); and I worked on my book.

The book that I am working on is about Alan Turing, but it's also about a contemporary character who is a student of history writing letters to Turing after some pretty terrible things have happened to her.  I've been really enjoying writing it, and lately I have been inspiring myself by listening to the soundtrack from The Imitation Game.  My thoughts on that film are strongly mixed, but the soundtrack is exquisite and it makes for a good writing atmosphere.

I've been trying to work on that a little bit every night, and right now I am wrestling with writing a chapter outline, because I think I might like to submit this project for this year's Richell Prize...

All that being said, I didn't read as much as usual last month.  There's no video this month because April is already receding in the rear view mirror, but hopefully I will be more organised in late May and do a podcast (audio only and SHORTER) for the books I read this month.

What I did read:

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

I really like JK Rowling/ Robert Galbraith's Cormoran Strike series, though I suspect that they are crime novels for people who are not fans of crime.  This book wasn't an exception to that, but I did find myself critiquing the writing style a little.  I was frustrated by the way the point of view would hop from person to person sometimes several times over the course of a few paragraphs, and there were a lot of different threads to follow in this case, so perhaps this was why I didn't feel like I was solving the mystery along with Robin and Cormoran.  Also, can I just say, as someone who watches both Bones and Castle, long running series ALWAYS get cheesy once the detective and the offsider fall in love.

Summer Skin by Kirsty Eager

I had only heard good things about this book, but I never expected it to be as sexy as it was!  Summer Skin was great fun to read, and it had its priorities in the right places a lot of the time, so I would be very happy to recommend this to mature YA readers.  (16+)  I reviewed it here.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

My first Hemingway!  I decided to read this book as research for a short story I will be turning in at the end of this semester, about a young writer who goes to Paris hoping for a writer's Utopia.  I wasn't sure I was going to be a Hemingway fan, but let's be honest, the closest I'd ever come to experiencing Hemingway was in a Woody Allen film, so I was by no means prepared.  I love Hemingway's sense of voice and style, and there were several passages I wanted to copy out because of the clarity and truth of them.  I have a bit of a laugh at Hemingway in my story through one of the characters, but I swear I'm really just making fun of a certain type of writer who idolises Hemingway.  I swear.

Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

This book was a Christmas gift (thanks Grandma and Grandpa!) and combines two things I love very much; the humorous writing of Rainbow Rowell and Harry Potter.  While no one ever actually comes out and says that Simon Snow is based on Harry Potter, it is a novel which is taking a lot of the elements of Harry and books like it and riffing on some of the tropes to do with being a 'chosen one'.  Simon Snow is quite possibly the worst chosen one ever so every time he tries to save the world he causes problems.  His room-mate Baz is an evil vampire, but also secretly in love with him.  The whole thing is cute and good fun, and made for a great read for after a long, stressful day.

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

I was thinking about this book again last night-- I realised that almost without fail, the kinds of historical novels that really connect with me are about forgotten women of history, or insert the voices of women into traditionally male stories.  The cast of The Midnight Watch is overwhelmingly male, and the only strong female voice (the protagonist's daughter) could have been made into a suffragette plotline of her own if the writer had had infinite pages.  But all in all, it was an incredible read, and I think David Dyer is to be congratulated.  I reviewed this novel of the Titanic  here.  

Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder

This book was published the year that I was born!  There were parts of it that I really enjoyed, but I don't understand why people tend to rave about it so much.  I felt a little like I was attending a very boring lecture at time, and it didn't follow any sort of logical plot structure at all.  It also took FOREVER for me to read, so that's how I know I wasn't really all that into it...

So that was my bookshelf activity this month!  Right now I am currently reading The World According to Garp for my bookclub, but to find out what I think you'll just have to come back next month!

What are you reading?  Have you read any of these books?  Can you recommend me anything excellent?  It all goes in the comments below.

Thanks for reading!