My Experience of the SWP 2017

I’ve been entering the Summer Writing Program (SWP) for about three years now. I usually make several blog posts in the run up, but this year I didn’t get a chance until now.

This summer has been hectic (although that would be putting it mildly). It’s tough enough keeping a pre-school age child occupied for two months, it’s harder still when that child is autistic. So yeah… busy, busy.

So while I did somehow find the time to enter the competition this year, every spare second counted so I didn’t get a chance to make an announcement like I usually do before I enter or any posts during, so I’ve done one now on my experience.

My project this year was a sci-fi horror titled Last One to the Bridge.

How did I do?

LOttB actually did really well in the SWP. I was in first place right up until the last few days when I was finally overtaken. In fact I was overtaken literally overnight.

This was at 9:42PM on the 28th – just 3 days before the end of the contest.

JP1

This is 9:30am the next morning:

JP3

As you can see, it got CRAZY at the last second.

I woke up this morning to this:

JP9

In terms of raw votes, I came third place. That doesn’t necessarily mean I didn’t win, nor does it mean those ahead of me will. In order to win the contest you need to have the most readers who follow your story from start to finish, so votes aren’t everything. For all we know, one of the authors behind us might be crowned. Results are announced on the 5th September, so we’ll have to see.

It is a little disappointing to slip so far in the last few seconds but I am amazed at how well LOttB did. Almost 800 votes is incredible, especially for a story with only 18 chapters. That works out to potentially 42 readers which in just two months is fantastic. It’s probably the best I have ever done in the SWP.

The SWP has been a big learning experience this year and I’ve definitely become a better writer for it.

More details about Last One to the Bridge

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Blurb:

My name is Reva Mallick. I was in a pod. I just woke up. Something is on the ship – it killed the crew. I need help.

My only hope is Adam, a fellow survivor trapped on the bridge. With only his voice as my guide, I must travel through the ship to reach him. It won’t be easy. I don’t know anything about space travel – I’m a horticulturist, not an astronaut.  The thing that killed the crew is at my heels, hunting me down. I don’t know if I’ll survive, but I won’t go down without a fight.

The story is inspired in part by an old short story I found while digging through my old writing files. It was an unfinished story where I had only written an intro paragraph and the end. I jotted some notes down about it but didn’t do much with it after, unsure of where to go with it but knowing I’d like to give it a whirl at a later date.

A few weeks go by, my husband and I are chatting and he tells me he’s never seen Ridley Scott’s Alien. Crazy, right? So we pop it in the DVD player and watch it. As we’re munching on popcorn, watching Ripley creep around the Nostromo, desperately trying to outwit the deadly Xenomorph, an idea strikes me. What if Ripley hadn’t known how to work the escape pod? She was the warrant officer, not a pilot – what if her skills had been limited? I imagined her bumbling at the controls trying to figure out how to launch the damn thing while the self destruct sequence ticked down and the Xenomorph slowly uncurled from its hiding place…

Later that evening as I finished reading Andy Weir’s The Martian I wondered what would happen if Mark Watney hadn’t been a botanist? What if he’d been a geologist? Would either of them have survived? How different would the story have been? It was that moment that ‘Last One to the Bridge’ was officially born.

As you can probably gather from the blurb, the story follows Reva, a member of the terraforming crew. She has a variety of degrees including horticulture, botany and agononomy. As you can imagine, none of that helps much when you wake up on a ship in deep space. Reva doesn’t even know how to work the doors.

Ultimately LOttB is an exploration into human survival – how far can you get on the will to survive alone?

 

All-in-all I had a great time in the SWP. I feel like I’ve grown as a writer and learned to keep working towards a deadline even when life seems to conspire against you. I’m glad I was able to take part this year. Not only that but there have been some stunning stories on offer – my two favourites being Andre Clemons’ Enheduanna and Tonya Moore’s What the Bones Say.

So that was my experience this year. Did anyone else enter? What was you experience? What did you learn? Leave me a comment!

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Karma

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Since the end of last years Summer Writing Project I have been thinking about what kind of story to enter this year.  I spent weeks, sometimes even months drafting up an idea only to drop it because it wasn’t quite right before finally settling on this one:

 Karma

Karma is a simple story about redemption.  It’s not a very original premise; it has been used in countless books, movies and plays.  There are many reasons I have chosen such an overused concept, but more on that later.  For now let us talk about the story itself.

It focuses primarily on two characters: Jack and Gwen.

Jack has spent his entire life looking out for number one (himself).  When he is killed in an accident, he finds himself in the afterlife, or more precisely, in limbo.  Unfortunately for him, if he wants to get into paradise, he must do a little ‘community service’ to make up for his heinous ways.  He is therefore assigned to help Gwen, a young woman who stands on the verge of a dark and difficult time in her life.

So, why did I choose this particular story?  Well, tales of redemption are so common because we can all relate to them.  We’ve all done things we wish we could undo.  That’s why Charles Dicken’s  A Christmas Carol has stayed relevant more than a century and a half after it was first published.  It has been retold and re-imagined countless times.

The theme of redemption is also a common core aspect in many tales too.  It spans all genres and has featured in pretty much every medium through which a story can be conveyed – you’ll find it in works ranging from The Bible right up to the video game God of War and beyond.

Don’t get the wrong idea, though.  While this story is far simpler than others I have written, it is by no means an easier road.  Such a powerful and universally felt subject matter will need to be done with finesse if I am to do it any justice.  It MUST be combined with characters who have real emotions and drives and dreams and fears and hopes.  A straight forward story like this has no room for error.  If something is even a little off, it has nothing to hide behind – no winding sub plots or expansive, epic worlds or even edgy/quirky concepts.  There is a reason why some tales of redemption echo through the ages while others are quickly forgotten; The simpler an idea, the more it tests a writers mettle.  That is the challenge I have set myself.

There’s not much more I can say except keep an eye out for further updates.  Oh – and good luck to all prospective entrants to this years contest.  We had some fantastic stories last year – those who won really deserved to do so.

The Jukepop Reading Party

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During the SWP2015 I decided I would bulk read as many of the entries as I could (I had previously been tied up with my own entry).  The idea caught on and thus the JPRP was born!  I decided it would be neat to carry it forward.  Like many of you, I have countless serials on my bookshelf that I keep meaning to get round to but for one reason or another I just haven’t gotten there yet. The JPRP is a great chance to become familiar with different authors work and get through some of the titles that have been gathering virtual dust on your virtual bookshelf or even just get through more of a serial you haven’t finished yet.

With that in mind, I want to spread the word and get as many people as possible involved with the JPRP!  To help that along I thought I would clarify exactly what the JPRP is and what you should do if you decide to join in.


 

Q. What is the JPRP?

A: Basically it is a mass global group reading session.  Participants take the time to read through as many Jukepop serial chapters as they possibly can.

Q. Are there any rules?

A: Nope.  Just read as much as you can and be sure to vote.  If you feel so inclined, feedback is always appreciated but it isn’t mandatory.

Q: Is there a minimum amount I should read?

A: Absolutely not.  Just read whatever you can, even if it’s only one chapter.

Q: Am I supposed to read specific serials or work by specific authors?

A: No.  Read whatever serial tickles your fancy.  I usually aim to get through a serial that has been on my bookshelf for a long time or one that I have fallen behind on, but you can choose whichever you like.  It’s up to you.

Q: When is the JPRP?

A: The JPRP takes place on the last full week of every month, running from Monday-Sunday.  There is no specific time to start.  Just read what you can when you can.

Q: Why then?

A: Quite simply it is because it ties in with the JP30.  The aim is to support authors on JP but also to give them a little boost.  One or two extra votes can often mean the difference between second place and first place.

Q: Is it only JP authors who can participate?  What if I don’t have a story published on JP?

A: No, you do not have to be an author to take part.  Although most JP members are authors with work published on Jukepop, there are some who are content to read the vast catalogue of serials rather than submit their own work.  All you need is to be registered on Jukepop and be willing to read.  That’s it.

Q: Are there any prizes or incentives?

A: Only the satisfaction that you have helped and supported another human being.  I am considering issuing an award for whoever reads the most chapters each month but it will not take effect until March’s JPRP.

Q: Is this an official Jukepop initiative?

A: This is something I am running to encourage support.  It is not affiliated with Jukepop.


 

I hope this clears things up.  If you have any further questions regarding the JPRP, please leave me a comment!

 

Review of Lyncia by J.A Waters (Part 1)

My initial plan last month was to read Lyncia by J.A Waters.  When I didn’t get through all of it I decided I would read the rest over the Christmas period (which coincided nicely with the December Jukepop Reading Party).  Then Christmas rolled up.  Having a two two year old is exhausting enough as it is, but Christmas is a particularly difficult and overwhelming time for young children.  I got so rushed off my feet that I lost track of time and I didn’t get to read any serials.  I missed the reading party.

I am determined to finish Lyncia, but for now, allow me to review the first fourteen chapters that I got through.

Serial Status: Finished.

Spelling/Grammar Rating: 1

Lyncia

Jukepop Synopsis:

A story on gods, death, pain, and adventure. Completed on 18 November, 2015.

Lyncia Eyresin is about to play host to a strange array of visitors, and some of them have frightening powers beyond her comprehension. Life is full of choices and chances, and Lyncia’s will lead to maddening oddities and a spiraling descent.

But on the world of Nalan, the fall may never end.

So Lyncia begins a struggle to understand the world as it truly is. Buried stories tell of concealed gods and sunken relics. Cracks in the known history reveal a shattered past. Somewhere in the truth, Lyncia will find power.

Find out more about Nalan here:
http://nalanwiki.watersartistry.com/

WARNING!  THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!

What was done well:

Although I only got through what was essentially the start of our heroines journey, I found so much I liked.  The characterisation was fantastic – particularly the sublime balance J.A strikes with Lyncia, the titular protagonist.  She’s wilful but not to the point where she is spoilt.  She is strong, both physically and mentally but this has come from years of hard training.  Lyncia is also keen to take over ruling from her father so she can keep the times peaceful and do what is best for her subjects.  That said, I get the impression that she isn’t quite ready to rule just yet (more on that later!).

This brings me to the thing I liked to most.  The first few chapters gave me the impression that this was going to be the story of a princess fighting against a patriarchy not just for herself but for the greater good of her people, all the while learning various hard truths that would eventually mould her into a wise and powerful ruler.  Then we witness her shocking murder and suddenly all those expectations go out the window.  Lyncia is reborn as an unwilling prophet with a whole new set of problems: a frightening voice in her head that is actually a god that is forcing her to be a prophet and can control her actions, a new body and to top it all off she has to come to terms with the fact that her own father had her killed.  This kind of sudden misdirection is a difficult one to pull off but J.A does this masterfully.

The beauty of it all is that the plot hasn’t changed all that much from where it started.  The focus has altered but at its core, the story hasn’t.  You see, even if we had stayed along the lines of a strong and formidable princess fighting back against a patriarchy, Lyncia would still have her work cut out for her.  It’s clear that while she has a greater understanding of politics and leadership than most, she is missing vital bits of wisdom.  Look at how she reacts to her fathers decision to go to war.  She flat out refuses this is a solution.  Unfortunately, issues like these don’t have a clear cut answer.  I’m certainly not advocating war.  It’s never a good thing.  But sometimes, particularly in a world such as Lyncia’s, it is a lesser evil that can cut short years of extended suffering.  As a potential ruler Lyncia needs to understand that and be ready to make difficult and sometimes harsh decisions.  When she becomes a prophet, this core issue is still there.  In fact one thing I noticed is just how grossly Lyncia underestimates the influence of religion in the machinations of power.  As a prophet (even a reluctant one) she’ll be treated to some invaluable lessons that will help her on her journey.  More importantly she’s starting from the bottom.  As a princess she was in a privileged position where it was unlikely she knew the full extent of her people’s suffering.  Lyncia has the chance to really get to know her people and in turn her kingdom and hopefully she might even pick up some street smarts on the way.  And that is what will help her win the day … assuming she is willing to learn.  I guess I will have to wait and see.

What Could Have Been Better:

I’d like to place a mini disclaimer here and state that the following ‘criticism’ is the result of hours and hours of re-reading in order to find some kind of general weakness (well done J.A!).  After all, I believe that even the best piece of work has room to improve.  Similarly I believe that even a story I don’t get along with has something good in it.  This is why I always try to find at least one good thing and one bad thing.

So … what is this one thing?

Well, I noticed that it takes eight chapters to reach the event that kicks Lyncia into her ‘Heroes Journey’.  The story itself is only fifty chapters long, which means it takes almost a fifth of the book to get to where the plot begins rolling.  The eight chapters aren’t short either.

I’m not saying this is ‘wrong’.  After all, there are no set rules on the ratio of beginnings, middles and ends (that I’m aware of anyway).  It’s not even like what happens is irrelevant filler either.  There is no rambling on.  We need to see Lyncia in her lessons, we need to see her go to the temple and witness the miracle and we need to see her cause havoc at the meeting.  I just think that J.A might want to examine the story more closely to see if there is a way to bring the reader closer to this pivotal event.  My personal suggestion is using a small prologue where we begin with Lyncia dying.  We don’t necessarily have to know it’s her; there can be brief details that hint at who the dying character is that the reader can slowly put together as they read through the events that led to this calamity in the next eight chapters.

That’s it.

Overview:

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Lyncia and wish I’d had time to read more.  The characters are well thought out, the setting, plot and drama play out really nicely and there is a real balance of fantasy here.  It’s not overplayed but we can see we are in a fantasy realm.  Lyncia is certainly shaping up to have some interesting concepts and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys well crafted fantasy fiction.

Incidentally if anyone is interested, J.A Waters has a wiki where he provides some stunning illustrations and information about the world of Nalan.

He also has other serials on Jukepop that you should check out:

Learning to Breathe Again

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November’s Jukepop Reading Party is over.

As usual I prepared this month’s reading list with gusto.  My plan was to start on J.A Waters Lyncia.  Unfortunately, this month has been a little tumultuous so I only managed the first fifteen chapters.  I say ‘only’, the JRP isn’t about quantity – it’s about Jukepop authors coming together and reading what they can together in order to support other Jukepop authors in time for the JP30.  It doesn’t matter if you read one chapter or a hundred.  That said, there was a reason I read so little over the weekend.

Some of you may be aware that I have been wrestling with a difficult decision these past few months about whether to defer my home study course for a year to focus on my writing.  What prompted this …?

Well … let me start by saying that I have been a writer since before I can remember.  I’m sure it’s the same for most writers.  More often than not, it feels less like I’m an architect of imaginary worlds and characters and more like I’m the conduit for a thousand different voices, each with a tale to tell.

At the risk of sounding arrogant, I will admit that I have never considered my ability to write as something ‘special’.  It was just something I did and always had.  Do you consider breathing ‘special’ …?  True, at its most fundamental level, breathing is important; without it you would die, but it is in no way special.  I have also never experienced writers block.  I’d heard authors and friends talk about the dreaded writers block and had always been somewhat confused.  How could one just not write?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not gloating nor am I saying I’m an unparalleled prodigy or anything.  There is no doubt in my mind that I have much to learn.  Quite simply, what I am saying is that for me, writing might as well be part of my DNA – like my eye colour.  It’s just one more building block that makes me ‘me’ and I have never given it a second thought.

Fast forward a little to the summer just gone.  I made the decision to give my writing an overhaul.  I dubbed it my ‘Creative Summer’.  I dedicated every spare moment I had to it.  I entered into three competitions – The SWP2015 being one of them.  I didn’t win but I learned so much and that, to me, was the best prize.  Ideas buzzed around my head and I had plans to write more – to self publish, to start a new serial on Jukepop and to continue writing at least one short story a month.  As the month of September rolled by though, there came a distant knell: my home study degree started early October.

Once I started the course, I began to push my writing away.  I had essays to write, chapters to read, tutorials to attend.  After completing the first essay, I sat down to give myself time to write and  … nothing.  I figured I was just tired and would try again the next day.  My husband took our daughter out for a few hours to give me some time and space to harness my craft.  Again nothing.  All of a sudden I was, figuratively speaking, suffocating.  There was no creative air in my lungs.

For the first time in my life I was suffering writers block.  There is no simile or adjective that could possibly begin to describe how unpleasant it felt.

Throughout my life I had always balanced my need to write with work and other responsibilities.  Even during the years when I earned minimum wage and had to work 70 hours a week to pay the bills or after my daughter was born and I was sleep deprived, hormonal and exhausted.  What went wrong …?

I realised then that perhaps I had prematurely pulled the plug on my creative development and I was paying the price.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m learning a lot on my course but it pales in comparison to the personal growth I had made during my Creative Summer.

This left me standing at a crossroad:

The left turn will keep me on my home study degree.  The course will take six years to complete part time.  Putting it off by a year will obviously add another year.  There is the possibility that once my daughter starts school in a few years I will be free to shift to full time and complete it quicker.  There is also the possibility that I can apply to the local university to undertake the course full time and complete it in three to four years but there is no guarantee I will be accepted.

The right turn will take me down a path where I defer my course for a year so I can go back to dedicating all my free time to writing.

Some of you may have seen me reach out on twitter for some advice (special thanks to M. Howalt and Allison Spector by the way!).

After weeks of wrestling and fretting and running countless plans and scenarios through my mind, I have decided that I will take the right turn and defer my course.

There are several reasons for this.  First, it will make me happy.  Second, if I want to be accepted into the Literature and Creative Writing course at the local university, I will stand a better chance if I actually have some work published and the best way to do that is to keep writing and submitting stories be they serials or short stories.  Finally, I feel that neglecting my craft would squander all the hard work I did over the summer.

It’s fair to say that I didn’t appreciate the gift of writing as much as I should have until now.  I suppose people don’t appreciate the air in their lungs until they find themselves unable to breathe.  That changes now.

Writing has opened so many doors in my life.  For example, my love of writing drives me to read which has in turn lead me to some fantastic adventures.  Most recently it has led me to Jukepop where I have read some amazing stories and met some wonderfully supportive authors (who have in turn given me fantastic advice!).  True, education is invaluable, but not all education takes place in the classroom.  After all, the few months I dedicated to writing saw me place in the top ten of the SWP2015 which in turn led to a podcast interview.  Imagine what might happen after a year?

I will, of course, still be taking part in the JRP every month.  J.A Water’s Lyncia will still get a review which I will post in time for Christmas.

I’d like to thank those who helped me overcome this personal hurdle – not only my fellow authors but my husband too (I don’t know how he put up with my mopiness!).

As always, stay tuned for further updates and of course the review of the fantastic Lyncia.

Critique of Neither Legal Nor Tender by T.P Keating

Neither Legal Nor Tender by T.P Keating is one of those stories that I kept meaning to get round to and never did.  I’m very glad I finally dived in!

Serial Status: Ongoing.  Have read up to Chapter 15.

Spelling/Grammar Rating: 2

NEITHER LEGAL NOR TENDERJukepop Synopsis:

That weekend, all Beth Hargreaves wanted was to paint her kitchen, but all she got was nearly killed, thanks to a home-made good luck charm with built-in bad juju to spare. It didn’t get much better the next weekend either…

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

 

 

What Was Done Well:

I loved how easily the situation snow balls out of control.  The synopsis sums it up – all Beth wanted to do was paint her kitchen but instead she finds herself in a whole heap of trouble that only gets worse and worse.  It’s strangely hilarious, especially as Beth keeps coming back to wanting to paint her kitchen.  At one point she is captured by a peculiar cult who want to make her their leader and her first thought is ‘Well I could make them do my kitchen for me’.  It had me in stitches!

Another thing I want to touch on is the narrative.  Neither Legal Nor Tender is written in the first person, which has always been a hit or miss for me.  So often I read stories where the character’s narration takes over everything until it starts to feel very much like telling and not showing.  T.P achieves a very balanced result where Beth’s voice does not over power the scene.

Overall, Neither Legal Nor Tender has a Da Vinci Code vibe yet it is entirely different.  There’s an element of adventure; New and unusual revelations come to light and each one plummets Beth deeper and deeper down the proverbial rabbit hole.  What makes this story different is its quirky sense of humour.  It has its own voice and tone – where one paragraph will leave your heart pounding, wondering what will happen next and in the next it releases the tension with a well placed joke or hilarious insight.

What Could Have Been Better:

The first chapter was very much an information dump with details that could have been spread across the next few chapters.  I realise some of it is relevant – the parts where Beth used to be a cab driver and how she got Orlan’s Token in the first place is integral.  All the stuff about the sports Beth enjoyed in school and how she wanted to be a ballerina could be placed elsewhere.  Maybe as she is running in later chapters she could be glad she is quite athletic.  After all, we get the information about her taking up kick boxing in this way which works well.

Another thing I wanted to touch on was the scene in Chapter nine where Beth steps out of the shed and then in the next sentence she wakes up to find she has been captured.  There was no line that led me to believe she had been knocked out.  I think the effect is meant to be sudden – Beth wouldn’t necessarily know she’d been clonked on the head or drugged, but she would certainly be aware that she was lapsing into unconsciousness – especially if it was so sudden and unexpected.

Overview:

Neither Legal Nor Tender was a terrific read with some fantastic one liners. ‘Curiosity. It hadn’t killed me yet, but it sure knew where I lived.’ is my favourite one so far.  Beth has a quirky sense of humour that fits in well with the mood of the story.  This is definitely something I would recommend.  It’s a non stop roller coaster with a motivated and sassy protagonist we can all get on board with.

Critique of Underground by Ada Redmond

Underground by Ada Redmond has been on my Jukepop bookshelf for a long time.  Having read it, I don’t know why I waited so long.  It is EXACTLY my thing.

Serial Status: Ongoing.  I have read up to chapter 20.

Spelling/Grammar rating: 2

UndergroundJukepop Synopsis:

As any well weathered traveller will tell you, it’s usually best to abide by the rules of the places you find yourself in. But when the first rule is that no one still alive should be there, abandoning all hope may be the least of your concerns.

When eleven year old Millie finds herself stepping through the dark and onto a strange looking train, there’s not an awful lot she can do. Without her parents and the comfort of familiar surroundings, Millie is left to ask strangers for help. But the other passengers are silent and sorrowful, looking anywhere but at her – and they won’t tell her the name of the next stop…

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

What was done well:

When I started reading, I was concerned that the main protagonist (whom the story centres on) was an eleven year old girl.  This is a prickly thing to do for a piece of work that isn’t aimed at children.  A young character must still behave like a child and not a miniature adult and yet you must somehow get your reader to feel a connection to them.  Do this wrong and the whole story falls flat.  Ada, however, subverted my concerns with ease.  Millie’s behaviour drifts between petulance and overwhelmed docility, and she often asks question after question as children her age are want to do.  I can’t help but feel a connection to the lost little girl just trying to make it home.  It affects me on two levels; first it makes me a remember a time when I got lost in a supermarket as a young child and how desolate and panicked I felt – how the few minutes felt like forever; It also strikes a chord with me as a mother and how I would feel if my little girl were lost.  Through believable behaviour and gentle character development, Ada gets the balance just right.

This isn’t the only balancing act Ada does well.  Let’s look at the descriptions.  These can be a nightmare for even the most skilled author.  You need to give enough information so the reader knows what characters and settings look like, but you don’t want pages and pages of information that dictate to the reader what they should imagine – there should always be room for them to envision it with their own personal flair.  Ada strikes the perfect balance, comparing things to something Millie has seen before or by using carefully constructed similes.

The other thing that is done quite well is the mystery.  Ada uses vague terms like ‘the ninth’ and what is going on is never fully explained.  Sure, we get hints here and there.  From what I gather, Millie has woken up and her parents have been murdered.  Somehow she has found herself in limbo/the afterlife/the underworld.  I’m not sure why, particularly since Aidan and Nathaniel make it very clear she is still alive.  It gives a sense of intrigue, pulling you further into the story to find out.

What Could’ve Been Better:

The only thing that could’ve been better is going to sound strange since it was listed above in what was done well.  However, it is featured here because towards the end it began to feel over done.  What I am referring to is the mystery and vagueness.  Initially the balance of this was perfect.  Once we meet Ava … things begin to go downhill.  It isn’t long before we are buried in countless shreds of information about a big war that happened, Aidan’s dark past, and it is hinted that Aidan, Nathaniel and Ava are angels (or some embodiment of this).  Before long, I became more confused than intrigued.  Don’t get me wrong – the mystery is still a great aspect of this story but there comes a time when you need to resolve some of the questions you raised earlier before you introduce more.

Overview:

Given that I only found one thing that could be better versus all the things that sparkled, you can see what an incredible story Underground is.  Overall it feels like a combination of The Divine Comedy and Spirited Away (my favourite book and movie respectively).  It puts an extraordinarily imaginative twist on the journey though the great beyond that I literally could not stop reading.  There were many parts that flowed like poetry, painting such monstrously fantastical settings by fusing archaic interpretations of the circles of hell with more creative, contemporary counterparts.

I highly recommend it!  If you haven’t managed to check out Underground by Ada Redmond yet – what are you waiting for?

Critique of Aconitum by M Howalt

I started reading Aconitum last year.  It was, in fact, one of the first stories I read on Jukepop.  Unfortunately I stalled at the last nine chapters because I have ‘issues’ with stories ending.  I’m glad that at long last, I finally finished reading it.

So without further ado, let’s talk about the magnificent Aconitum by M. Howalt.

Serial Status: Completed.

Grammar/Spelling Rating: 2

AconitumJukepop Synopsis:

As if being a certified werewolf hunter isn’t enough of a moral morass already, Hector Rothenberg hears rumours of a wolf who can change its shape at will, and he realises that he must investigate the truth.
But he needs to hurry up – especially if routine missions keep going almost fatally wrong.

Aconitum is the story of one man’s physical and mental journey. It is also the tale of a society which knows that werewolves are a real threat, of a doctor with a dark secret, a skilled lady in a lucrative business, a rich aunt, a grumpy, old mentor, a cheeky Frenchman, a village idiot, tragic death, romance gone wrong, and a young man who really wanted nothing to do with any of that.
A literary supernatural tale of werewolves, the ones who hunt them, and the people who are caught in the crossfire.

WARNING!!! This critique may contain spoilers!!!

What Was Done Well:

M. is known by many on Jukepop as ‘The Master of the Flashback’ and for good reason.  Aconitum utilises flash backs not necessarily to move the plot along (although sometimes it does) but instead to give depth to characters and aid in world building.  Although we learn about the protagonist, Hector bit by bit in the present, it is through flash backs that we really get to his core and see what motivates and shapes him.  M. also utilises flashbacks to teach you about the world of Aconitum and explore some of the moral dilemmas that stem from this sort of alternative universe.

Leading on from this, M. has clearly put a great deal of thought into the implications of an alternate reality where werewolves not only exist but everyone knows about them.  For instance, it’s not uncommon for somebody to cover up a murder by making it look like a werewolf attack.  Hunters are trained to tell the difference.  This is very realistic – I guarantee this would happen if werewolves were a ‘normal’ thing in our world.  There’s nothing I like more than an author who puts a lot of thought and careful research into their concept.

I could go on about all the things I love about this story (there’s enough to write a book!), but there is one aspect that is without a doubt a shining example of great writing.  First, let’s take a look at the story as it plays out.  It revolves around Hector journeying to find an unusual werewolf.  When he finds said werewolf, he is tasked with bringing him back to Frankfurt.  Throughout the whole ordeal there isn’t any kind of antagonist.  Nobody is plotting against Hector and Royer.  However, if you look closely, you will see there is an antagonist … just not in the traditional sense.  In this story, loss and the fear of loss is the ‘villain’.  It holds Hector back, throwing spanners in the works throughout his life much like a physical antagonist would.  The majority of flashbacks look at Hector establishing relationships with people only to lose them: Hector became a Hunter because he lost his family to a werewolf.  He had a girl he intended to marry but after witnessing a fellow Hunter lose somebody they loved, he decided he couldn’t put the two of them through that and he ends their relationship.  Eventually he loses his hunting partner and then his mentor.  He does not replace any of these relationships either.  He does not seek a new hunting partner or romantic partner nor does he intend to start a family of his own any time soon.  Instead, he deals with each loss by shunning intimate, meaningful relationships with anyone – not an uncommon coping method.  Each loss shapes him into the stoic, solitary man he is when we first meet him.  True he has Sera, but this is different – he has purposely chosen a relationship that he knows can go no further than a sort of ‘friends with benefits’ scenario.  It fulfils his physical needs and his need for human contact and that’s it.  When he meets Royer, he starts to lighten up a little.  Royer can literally get into his mind (in a good way) to understand how he is feeling.  Therefore, Royer is actually the hero of this story, while loss and the fear of loss is the antagonist Royer helps Hector battle and defeat.  I don’t know if this was done intentionally or not, but whatever the case, it was a magical touch that brings the story way ahead of any other.

What Could Have Been Better:

There was only one thing that didn’t gel as well as the rest of the story and that was the ‘finale’.  It is hinted that there is going to be a big uproar when Royer is brought to Frankfurt.  Hector was concerned about it several times in fact.  With that in mind, I expected a little more than a five minute show down with Andreas.  It felt anti-climactic.  Perhaps the scene could’ve been extended, given more tension and drama.  That said, I do understand that the beauty of this story lies in the power borne from its simplicity.  Perhaps the low key ending was intentional.  It’s hard to give a suitable suggestion as I realise Hector facing Andreas alone and hiding his wounds is the real final battle for him.  All the same I feel the scene should pack little more punch (pun not intended).

Overview:

These days, following the popularity of titles like ‘Twilight’, an abundance of ‘supernatural romance’ stories have popped up everywhere, saturating the ‘supernatural’ genre.  There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s starting to feel like once you’ve read one, you’ve read them all.  Aconitum, however, is a glorious breath of fresh air that utilises the supernatural as more than just a ‘forbidden romance’.

M. has a gift when it comes to deep and meaningful story telling.  The thing that stuck out for me, particularly towards the end, is that it almost reads like a pre-emptive prequel – how the dynamic hunting duo of Hector and Royer met.  It’s exciting because I’d love to hear more stories of Hector and Royer.  *hint, hint* :p

I’d recommend Aconitum to anyone, even if they’re not into werewolves or supernatural fiction.  It’s a compelling story, full of rich, well developed characters.

M. Howalt has a facebook page and a blog if anyone wants to check them out!  Also, if you haven’t already, check out M. Howalt’s other story on Jukepop: Conviction.

Critique of Far Flung by T.C.C Edwards

Far Flung by T.C.C Edwards has only got two chapters uploaded (at the time of writing this critique) so it is going to be a little tricky to review.  Two chapters is not much to go by as it may not reflect the overall story.  That said, it is the first few chapters that attract or repel a reader, so I thought this would be an interesting exercise.

Serial Status: Ongoing.  Have read the first two chapters.

Spelling/Grammar rating: 1

Far FlungJukepop Synopsis:

 

William Flynn was ready for his greatest career move ever – reporting from the first human colony outside the solar system. Instead, his ship is sent far across the universe, and its crew is forced to find a new home without hope of help from Earth.

WARNING! This critique may contain spoilers!

What Was Done Well:

The second chapter utilises a captain’s log format.  It was very clever to use reports from vital crew members to not only introduce vital characters but also to give a sense of their personality.  Each one certainly had their own style that conveyed interesting and personal details about the characters.  For example, we learned one character’s ex wife (who they were still close to) died in the collision.  This opens up the possibility that this character will be very emotional.  Most of us have experienced loss to some degree, which makes this character easy to relate to.

What I like most is the prospect of each chapter having a slightly different style and format.  It leaves plenty of room to really explore characters, scene and plot.  In fact, I might go as far as to say it’s literary equivalent of a ‘found footage’ film (only better because it doesn’t make me nauseated.)  It will be interesting to see what format T.C.C will use to convey certain scenes, moods or plot points.  Will we get letters/emails or diary entries?  Will the author throw in a few chapters told from different characters POV?  This sense of mystery is, in itself, enough to propel me from one chapter to another just to see what the next chapter looks like!

What Could Have Been Better:

This one is tough because there are only two chapters.  However, what I am about to mention is more of a personal preference than something that was ‘bad’.  While the mixed format is interesting, the screen play style of the opening chapter didn’t seem like a good choice.  It was hard for me to make an emotional connection to the characters because they were just printed names, dialogue and camera instructions.  I didn’t get to catch any subtle mannerisms or facial expressions.  For example, would a character frown, hesitate, smile or laugh as they spoke?  These might seem like small things but they have a huge impact on character building.  Screen plays/scripts are made in this ‘blank’ manner so the actor/actress can express their interpretation of the character – it is up to them to decide what mannerisms and ticks their character might have.  With that in mind, I don’t think this approach works in the first chapter of a piece like this.  A different format choice would make the opening chapter more accessible and allow your readers to make a better connection to the characters they will be following.  My suggestion is to start with a more traditional style – perhaps a third person narrative so we can look in on some of the characters before branching out into different styles and formats.

Overview:

This is a good and intriguing story even if I personally didn’t get along with the format of the first chapter.  It’s difficult to get an overall picture of a story based on just two chapters, but I would definitely recommend it – particularly if you’re looking for something a little different.

T.C.C Edwards also has a blog you can check out.

Preview: Prodigal Prince

As many of you know, I am currently churning through four critiques off the back of October’s Jukepop Reading Party.  I have been so incredibly busy I’ve had to delay posting them until this coming weekend.  In the meantime I wanted to post a quick ‘preview’ of something I’ve been working on.

You may or may not know that I have been working on a fantasy/high fantasy serial called ‘The Prodigal Prince’.  I had hoped to have it submitted to Jukepop by October but I’ve been so swamped lately and things didn’t quite pan out.

I do, however, have a prologue ready and would like to share it with you as a preview of the story which I hope to be able to put on Jukepop soon.

I don’t have a synopsis as yet, but I can give a general gist of the story:

It takes place in a fantasy world called ‘Iscellenie’.  The land has come under siege by a mysterious man with dark and dangerous powers called the ‘Ravengift’.   The only thing that can stop him is one who bears the same ability.  The trouble is, the only man with that skill is a banished Prince – exiled almost ten years ago because he was born with said power.  Empress Laina sends Kerchane and Muri (her trusted friends and loyal vassals) to find her brother before the mysterious stranger reaches the capital.  Thus begins the race against time as Kerchane and Muri travel the land in search of the Prodigal Prince.

The Prodigal Prince by Kathy Joy

Prologue

 

As something between fog and smoke, it coiled off the salted, frothy waves and towards the harbour.

From his perch on the Eastern Watchtower, Tanni stared wide-eyed as the seething mass clambered up the boardwalk and over the outer wall. The coastal city of Danza was heavily fortified and hadn’t been infiltrated in over five hundred years. Until now.

He hauled himself to his feet. He may have been a scrawny fourteen year old, but his people needed him to be strong and capable. His first watch had been two weeks ago, so he knew well enough what to do. Although fear tickled his insides, trying to shackle his arms and legs in its frigid grasp, he fought against it, bursting up the ladder towards the bell. He had to alert the city. Danza was the first line of defence against invaders to the continent. If he failed, it was not just the city at risk.

On legs as giddy as a newborn foal’s, he ascended the ladder until he made it to the top. The bell hammer sat atop a crate in the corner. Grasping it tightly, Tanni whirled, ready to strike the huge, cast iron bell only to freeze when he saw a tall, thin man in his way. His skin was tanned and weather worn, hair dishevelled and dark and his eyes glimmered like frosted chunks of obsidian. A long grey and brown cloak was slipped over his narrow shoulders, the hem billowing as though teased by the wind.

“You would be wise to stop.” The man’s voice, though quiet, carried powerfully to Tanni’s ears.

“Wh-who are you …?” Tanni forced himself to speak.

The man smiled dolefully. “Such information is useless to you. It will not make your passing any easier.”

Tanni didn’t respond. Instead his mind churned, trying to find some way to reach the bell.

The tower seemed to grow dark, the boards groaning as though strained by too much weight. Shadows grew from the gaps in the wood like weeds overtaking an old, crumbling building. Tanni found himself unable to breathe, as if all the air in the world had vanished; he couldn’t even gasp.

Slowly, the boy slumped to his knees. The bell hammer would soon glide from his limp fingers. So he did the only thing he could; He threw it.

Although the hammer hit the bottom of the bell, it made enough of a resounding clang to alert those in other towers. Soon a chorus of sharp peals sang through the streets, rousing the watchmen into action.

The stranger sighed, turning to the shadows pooling about him. “What a pity.” He paused, turning to glance out the window near him. “No matter. It’s more fun when they run.”

 

TO BE CONTINUED