Au Contraire writing workshop – Juliet Marillier on Voice

I’m going to do a series of posts on what I learned in the writing workshops at the Au Contraire convention, in the hopes that I can shed a little light on my own writing as well as making a record of the events. This is the first one, which I attended first thing Friday morning. Please enjoy!

The facilitator for this workshop was Juliet Marillier.

She started the workshop by asking us to do a short free writing exercise on the topic of “Empty Space”, I think for ten minutes we did that. The idea here is that if you aren’t thinking hard about what you’re writing, if you’re just leaking words out of your pen so to speak, your voice will come through stronger. I’m not sure it worked for me, since I came out with something rather pretentious and odd. I hope I’m not pretentious. A couple of people including Sally were brave enough to read their pieces out loud.

Juliet talked then about some examples of strong voice, we read passages from famous books aloud and she recommended some spec fic titles that include strong voices.*

Then she had us break up into groups and talk about our childhoods, with special attention on what accents we may have been surrounded by, who spoke to us, what ethnicities were around us and what stories do we remember. Thinking back to look forward as it were, since all of these things must be informing our writing in some way. This was slightly depressing for me, growing up in a white wash of middle class Wadestown. However the stories thing was interesting. I was fascinated by myths and legends as a kid and I remember getting all sorts of stuff out of the Wadestown library: Anansi stories, book after book of English fairy tales (The Red Fairy Book series) , Greek myths and treasuries of stories from other cultures as well as Usborne books of ‘real’ monster and ghost encounters. Those have definitely informed me and my writing style.

Other questions to ponder if you’re playing at home, and my answers from the workshop: What are your favourite five novels of all time?
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson
The Hunger Games by Susanne Collins
Witch Baby by Francesca Lia Block (These were all off the top of my head, and I chose them because I frequently want to re-read them. Seems like as good a method as any.)

What was your favourite book when you were 12?
~ I’m pretty sure it was Alanna the First Adventure by Tamora Pierce

What writer or book in particular made you want to be a writer?
~ I always wanted to be a writer, way back when I was tiny, but the author that motivated me to do something about it was Neil Gaiman. The depth of characters and the rich mythological content in American Gods, in particular.

What book(s) do you wish you’d written?
~ This one was easy: Tithe by Holly Black. It’s about dark fae and teenagers, it’s exciting, rich, the characters are intriguing and it examines what it means to be human.
Also The Hunger Games. Because damn. That’s some awesome stuff.

When you examine your own writing, what do you keep on visiting? What themes keep coming up? What places? Time periods?
~ Gosh, I really don’t know. Ghosts? Monsters? Teenagers? People who worry a lot and are conscious of their breathing? I’d really appreciate it if people who have read a few pieces of my work could wade in here…

What do other people respond to most in your writing?
~ Again, quite tricky. I think I have a strong sense of character, and Sok said my pacing’s good in the last third of Rain. I think I have a certain knack for creeping horror. Again, suggestions from the floor are appreciated.

We did another writing exercise then. Write a scene from Little Red Riding Hood focussing on putting in a distinct voice. Suggestions for challenging yourself included using a different person than you would usually (2nd person?), having a character that speaks in dialect, or at least very distinctively, working on your own strengths as a writer (helpful if you know what they are.)

I wrote a piece about Red finding the wolf in her Grandmother’s bed which I’m quite fond of and may submit somewhere so I won’t share it here. I read it out to the group and got some very good feedback: the humour worked, the twist I put on expectations was good, I had good characterisation (Red as a cynical teen who still loves her Nana).

Some final advice from Juliet on the subject of voice: You have to get of any prejudices or assumptions about other people/ethnicities to write well. You have to inhabit your characters to give them true voices. Successfully using voice is half technique and half instinct. You have to use your intuition and your empathy for other human beings to make them real. That’s what gives writing real spark.

In the end you are a product of your experiences, your background and your personal history. You use those unique things when you write, so you might as well be aware of what they are and what you’re doing.

Au Contraire
Interview with Juliet Marillier.

* Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
Ridley Walker by Russell Hoban
House of Suns by Alastair Reynolds

Flash Fiction

I wrote this yesterday in Ripley Patton‘s flash fiction workshop at Au Contraire. She was very inspiring, I’ll do proper entries on the workshops later but for now, enjoy this 55 word story.


“Imagine what you’ll say at the funeral,” he said. ‘What my parents will ask.”
I looked down at him, remorseless. “It was an accident.”
“But I thought you loved me.”
“Maybe once, now I’m in love with my life without you.”
The second after I pulled the trigger I realised he’d been right all along.

Things I Love Thursday

Au Contraire is tomorrow and I am seriously super psyched to be going.
I’m attending all these writing courses and I fully expect to come away inspired and motivated like crazy. In fact, just the prospect of the courses has been inspiring me over the last couple of weeks. Plus there’s the Speculative Fiction NZ launch and the Sir Julius Vogel awards ceremony (Go The Event!!!)

The new draft of What’s the Worst That Could Happen? is ticking along slowly. This is because I’m seriously reworking it! I would be annoyed at the snail pace, except that I have a feeling that this is a huge improvement on the manuscript. So yay!

Excellent YA books.
Last night I finished reading Rapture of the Deep which is the latest in the Bloody Jack sequence and a very nice mostly pleasant adventure for Jacky which is a good change from some of the stuff that happens in Mississippi Jack. It was a lush book with lots of descriptions of food, clothes and diving off the Florida Keys. Guess where I want to go on holiday next? In addition, today I received my brand spanking new copy of Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins. I am so desperate to read it. I can’t wait to find out what happens to Katniss and everyone…I haven’t been this excited for a new book since the last Harry Potter.

Pretty photography!
Images of post apolalyptic ruined Japan. Tourism photos where the actual monuments have been replaced with souveniers, and by the same photographer replaced with the postcard image.

The characters for the superhero reception LARP went out at the start of the week and the feedback from the players has been very positive. Lots of excited people, lots of great questions, it’s all making me really look forward to running the thing! Which is good, because I don’t want to get nervous about it. Dark, weird, gothic Tarot photography, found via Suraya.

Honourable Mentions: Reading this list of Essential sci-fi films and being satisfied that I’ve seen many of them (17/25), my rainbow sock monkey, salad for lunch, Mockingjay, hot milo, new books (I have so many things to read right now…), Transmetropolitan, steak night steak, the way trees move in the wind, clean hair, Scott Pilgrim vs the World, The Clash at Demonhead, pay day and coming home and putting on my pjs.

Fall 207 ‘Who you gonna call?’

Alex gets Calvin a mug of Hershey’s hot chocolate (actually Sophie said she got him a glass of Hershey’s hot chocolate mug but whatever, it’s sweet.) to help him recover from being all possessed and stuff. Megan internet researches Claudia Wilkins and comes up with some credit card records and evidence that Claudia has stopped George’s charitable trust from donating to causes lately. The card statements show that she’s been spending money on beauticians, dining out, the normal suddenly-rich-girl stuff. Megan gets her home address. Alex is looking for evidence that Claudia is involved in criminal activity but there doesn’t seem to be be any. There are a couple of very large cash withdrawals from the account a month or two before George’s death though.

Megan checks out the police report on George’s death, looking for poisons this time. It comes up that there was no trace of poison. The gang speculate that perhaps it was some kind of supernatural poison and decide to go to Darius’s house to research demonic poisons.
Calvin grabs his car keys, but Alex is concerned.
Alex: You sure you don’t want to rest?
Calvin: Huh? No, I’m fine.
A: You look pretty…tired.
C: We’re just reading right? I’ll be fine.
A: Oh…kay. (She keeps an eye on him.)

There is a research montage with all the gang reading in the occult library. After helping for a while Calvin falls asleep, slumped forward over the books. The rest of them are not down to 7 life points and have no trouble staying awake. They discover that there is such a thing as a Spillerath demon which has a deadly poison which is untraceable. The only way to check if that poison has been used on someone is to concoct a simple potion and put it on the liver of the deceased. Since George has been buried for some time this doesn’t seem like an option. They decide instead to try and track the demon. It seems like they would need dodgy underworld connections do get demon blood and that’s something they dont’ have. They do find the address for a magic shop in town, though, which seems like a good place to start. They decide to go the next day.

Alex goes to wake Calvin up gently but he doesn’t stir. She asks Darius if there’s a spare bed that she can put Calvin in, and Darius goes O_o but says there’s one upstairs. Alex scoops Calvin up into her arms but this startles him awake and he flails. They all go home.

Megan pratises with her sword in her bedroom again and manages to embed the sword into her wall. The lights in her room go out. Her mother knocks on the door and asks if everything’s alright.
Megan: Yeah. Everything’s fine.
Megan’s mum: What’s going on? I worry about you.
Megan: Yeah, don’t.
Megan’s mum, unsure how else to reach out to her daughter goes in for a hug. Worried that her mother will see the state of her bedroom, Megan lunges forward and kind of hug-pushes her mother back out into the hall.

Left alone at his house, Darius practises using his psychic powers and tries to lift Nebby with his mind. Nebby floats up, gently out the door and the door closes behind him. Darius is pleased, Nebby is confused but not upset, Bryn makes an awesome joke about how the dog has been Nebbytated.
Continue reading

Things I Love Thursday

Today a woman got knocked off her scooter outside my office. Obviously this isn’t something to be happy about but what was awesome was the people coming up to check that she was alright and call for ambulances and stay with her while the police were coming. It was really, truly heart warming to know that the people of Wellington will in fact look out for each other. Awww, people are nice.

Stuff arriving in the mail. The Jenni’s Angels T shirts for example. And my order of awesome fabric from Spoonflower. I’ve ordered some more books so those will get here soon, and then Lee ordered shoes over 1 day, which isn’t so exciting for me except that I get to receive the package.

Maru and the Giant Box:

Honourable Mentions:
Compliments on the best shirt, Kareoke night where I performed That’s What You Get by Paramore to great acclaim and Alone by Heart with Sophie and it WAS AWESOME, steak at steak night, small Wellington connections, feeling better, lunch that is healthy, the return of in character texting (YES!), Clash at the Demonhead and warm bed.

Confusion gaming convention

A couple of weeks back I attended Confusion, Wellington’s one day gaming con where we get together and game. I only stayed for two sessions, but they were good sessions indeed.

Mutants and Masterminds run by Dale

We made up characters on the spot based on archetypes supplied. I chose a bad ass Punisher type (you know, vigilante with guns). The picture provided looked almost exactly like Trinity from The Matrix except with some panels cut out of her costume. Dale then gave us random cards with a relationship status, a motivation and a character trait. I drew Looking for Love, Activist and Spoilt. Using these prompts I made my character a kind of dual personality party girl heiress type that spent her non-shopping time terrorising mobsters. In my intro scene I had the character go from shopping in Louis Vuitton to killing a bunch of security goons and threatening a crying woman with a gun. She was the wife of a crime boss and I told her she had to donate money to charity, lots of money. If she didn’t try to save the rainforest within a month I’d be back and I wouldn’t be happy. I named my character Rain Petrelli after my latest book’s protagonist and the Heroes family.

The other heroes in the team were a formerly retired older hero called The Crown Prince, an electric mutant time traveller called Crisis, a bad ass superhero called The Edghe who had a crappy day job, a half monster/half human called The Beast and a super rich, super fit physical specimen called The Spirit of Justice (also my brother in law.)

The story was mostly about us getting cloned and framed for performing crimes which our clones had committed and then dealing with the fall out of having a clone. My character shot hers. It was bad ass. The strength of the game was in little character moments: The Crown Prince doing the school run in the morning, Crisis feeding a stray cat that lives with him, The Edge having to go back into the office after we busted some super villains, that kind of thing. It was an awesome group of people and we had fun riffing off each other.

Some quotes:
Crown Prince arrives at scene of crime in his Adam West era Batmobile: Can someone give me a hand to get out?

Crisis to Crown Prince: What do your spectacled eyes see, old man?

Rain wakes up next to some guy she picked up clubbing. It’s his house, he’s good looking and probably very rich.
Guy: Can I call you?
Rain looks him up and down: No. I don’t think so.

Rain calls Rose to give her the heads up: We’re meeting up at Central station because we’re being framed for stuff we did.

Time and Temp run by Ellen

My character was Amy Chapman. My previous jobs were Gelato store worker, Te Papa Host and hire co-ordinator at Ferg’s Kayaks. As this was Amy’s first job away from the Wellington waterfront she wasn’t too happy to be there.

We were sent back in time to medieval Scotland where we discovered Fabio had set himself as the Lord of the Manor and was paying people for topless portraits (of himself) with stainless steel spoons. Not cool, time traveller, not cool.

Bar keep: That artist in the corner? He’s made a lot of money selling pictures. Oh, he’s made a pretty spoon.

We convinced him to leave his Manor by making believe that my character was an excellent artist and I could paint his picture better than anyone. A riot occured as we escorted him through the township and we ended up having to throw him into our time machine. Along the way we made a lot of jokes over whether Fabio could believe things were butter.

Pauls’ character, in the after mission debrief: There was punching and there was children. There wasn’t any overlap.

It was Ellen’s first time GMing at a Wellington con (or possibly at all?) and she did very well. I had a good time even though the mission debrief bit at the end of Time and Temp gives me the same belly butterflies that an actual work performance review does.

After that I went to a birthday party and then a house warming. It was a busy day.

Scott Pilgrim vs The World

As a Scott Pilgrim fan I was very much looking forward to this movie. I was not disappointed.

I don’t want to say that this is the perfect movie, because a lot of what’s in it will not work for a lot of people. But I will say that this was pretty close to being the perfect movie for me.

For one, it was very close to the comics, which I adore. So yay. But at the same time the movie was it’s own thing as well, so there were changes made and I can understand why. There were a couple of neat things I was sad not to have, like Knives Chau’s father and more of Ramona’s backstory, but they weren’t huge problems.

The movie is frenetic, extremely fast paced, action based and kooky as anything. What I liked was that the movie seemed to be pretty squarely aimed at us people who grew up with video games. Plus it’s a pretty sweet story of how to grow up and stop being a dick, basically.

My favourite ex was Todd, the bassist from The Clash at Demonhead. He’s a vegan so he has superpowers. I also liked the twins battle, that was wicked awesome and pretty much everything with Wallace Wells. Wallace = ❤

While I watched Scott Pilgrim I realised two things: 1.) I could watch Scott Pilgrim on a loop for a couple of days and be happy about it.
2.) I am over standard action movies, but I still enjoy action set pieces that make sense for the story and have a neat twist. (See: anti-grav hallway in Inception, or a battle that starts as a bass guitar war).

And I am completely obsessed with the song from evil band The Clash at Demonhead: Black Sheep. Envy Adams rocks! (Video has mild spoilers for the movie.)

Extra reading:
Spoiler heavy but excellent review over on io9. Also some possible reasons it didn’t do so hot in the box office here.
An old interview with the creator of Scott Pilgrim Bryan Lee O’Malley.