The Legend of Korra Rewatch: Book 1, Episode 2: A Leaf in the Wind

Apologies for the delay in posting this. I’ve had some problems with my DVD playing software that are now, hopefully, resolved.

The goal of this episode seems to be to introduce two of the series’ main characters: Bolin and Mako, the probending brothers that make up two thirds of the Fire Ferrets. This has been done with a self-contained episode that doesn’t mention the main conflict in the show – Amon and the Equalists – but it does feature prominently Korra’s core personal conflict, her difficulty in learning airbending, and another major theme, Korra in conflict with a figure of authority. Using these conflicts in a scaled-down version of the overall series is an effective way to establish them and their importance in Korra’s story.

It’s a well-structured episode too. It opens with a reminder of the first episode, narrated by the same voice actor as the probending announcer, with the visuals in sepia tone with visual artefacts to give it a feeling of being old, a nice little nod to the time setting of the series, an industrial, almost modern world.

01 sepia opening
All images copyright Nickelodeon. Used under fair use for review purposes.

Continue reading The Legend of Korra Rewatch: Book 1, Episode 2: A Leaf in the Wind

The Legend of Korra rewatch: Book 1, episode 1: Welcome to Republic City

When I first watched The Legend of Korra, I wasn’t too happy with it. I said “I generally enjoyed watching it, but was constantly aware of major flaws in the story” in my first review of the series, and though my second review, just before the second season came out, was more favourable I still didn’t rate it highly.

Now I’ve got the DVDs for all four seasons, and it’s time I re-examined the series. Over the coming weeks I will be examining the show in more detail, looking at the successes and failings in its writing.

Image credit: Nickelodeon
Image credit for this and all images in this blog post: Nickelodeon

Continue reading The Legend of Korra rewatch: Book 1, episode 1: Welcome to Republic City

Advice for students hiring proofreaders

This morning on a popular freelancing website I spotted a listing requesting proofreading for a dissertation of approximately 100 pages, with a deadline tomorrow afternoon – allowing, at best, 30 hours in which to complete the work.

I did a few calculations and estimated that a document of that length would probably take me anything from 16 to 20 hours to proofread, depending on how good the author is with grammar and spelling. Now, you might have done a few calculations of your own and worked out that there is indeed time to complete this job – 30 hours minus 20 hours leaves 10 for sleep and meals. Not a problem, right?

And yes, it is doable, but it’s a rush job. Proofreading requires concentration. There are all sorts of things that make concentration difficult, most notably tiredness. I find that, no matter how much coffee or sleep I have had, after about hour 4 that concentration starts to slip; after hour 6 it has got to a level I can no longer rely upon. Some days it’s worse than that; on rare occasions it is better. So for a 20 hour job, I’d schedule at least 4 days, preferably 5 to give a little leeway. If the client was insistent that it was needed urgently, I could concede 3 days, but I’d also expect to be paid extra, to cover the increase in my electricity bill from all the times I’d boil my kettle in those three days.

I certainly wouldn’t accept a 20 hour job with a 30 hour deadline; while I could do it, I wouldn’t be doing my best work and I couldn’t guarantee that the manuscript I returned would be error-free.

So students, don’t do this if you can avoid it. Plan ahead. It’s possible, I’ve been there. Specifically, I’ve been the last-minute person who pulled all-nighters for about half my assignments, though I was rather better when it came to my dissertation (thankfully I believed a rumour that the university’s binding service would be overloaded around deadline day and could take three days; it was not and it took 3 minutes).

If you plan on hiring a proofreader for your thesis or dissertation, follow these simple steps:

  1. Aim to complete your dissertation at least a full week prior to the deadline. The longer the dissertation, the earlier you should finish.
  2. Engage a proofreader before you finish it, so they are lined up ready to go as soon as you finish it. Take an hour or two out a couple of days before your self-imposed deadline to get this sorted.
  3. Give your proofreader a deadline at least 48 hours before your submission deadline. This gives you time to go through and check changes and make suggested edits, it creates a buffer in case your proofreader goes over by a few hours, and it gives you time for printing and binding. Note: if printing and binding will take longer, factor the required time in as necessary. Find out well in advance how long this might take.

It’s a good idea generally to finish something as important as a dissertation well in advance anyway – to allow some leeway in case something important crops up that disrupts your studying.

Beyond hono(u)rable travel(l)ers going to the theat(re/er): British and American English

Most of us are familiar with the most commonly seen differences between British and American English, and can recognise which side of the Atlantic an online commenter is from based on such spellings (most of the time anyway; but I won’t get into Canadian and Australian spellings here).

You’re probably already thinking about some of these differences: the inclusion or exclusion of U in words like colour/color, honour/honor and labour/labor; whether an S or a Z is used in realise/realize and analyse/analyze; whether you go shopping in the city centre or the city center, or go to the theatre or the theater. Perhaps even whether the L is singular or doubled in words like traveller/traveler and barrelling/barreling – and, conversely, skilful/skillful, enrol/enroll and instil/instill.

There are numerous sites that cover these sorts of differences. In today’s blog post, I’ll be looking at some of the less familiar rules and individual words which don’t fall into a particular rule of difference, but stand alone.

Ending with T or ED for some past-tense verbs

This is a rule that is starting to become obsolete as the ED version is starting to become dominant in Britain, in line with English in the rest of the world, but it’s worth knowing about – and worth recognising that these are valid, if less common, spellings in British English.

Words include:

  • Burnt/burned
  • Dreamt/dreamed
  • Knelt/kneeled
  • Learnt/learned
  • Leapt/leaped
  • Spelt/spelled

If you’re British, you may be familiar with the first of each pair, though both are acceptable; in American English, only the second is used. It is also worth noting that “spelt” does exist in American English too – as it is also a grain variety related to wheat.

Feel free to use these spellings in documents intended for British readers – but remember to be consistent. You don’t want to have learnt in one paragraph and learned in the next.

SC or SK

Fans of Terry Pratchett might be aware of this one: Discworld is a world located on a disc. Or on a disk, if you’re American. This is an odd one, actually, since the disc spelling is universal within the record industry, and disk is universal within the computing industry. You might have hired a disc jockey for your party, and saved the photos of said party onto your computer’s hard disk. But for general usage, such as referring simply to the flat circular shape, it’s disc on my side of the Atlantic and disk on the stars-and-stripes side.

This rather small rule extends to a few other words too. Garden snails are a variety of mollusc – when they’re in Britain. Across the pond, they’re a variety of mollusk. You might be sceptical about a snail’s ability to cross the Atlantic, unless you’re on the other side of it, where you’d be skeptical instead.

Enquiries and Inquiries, Ensuring and Insuring

In Britain if you are subject of an inquiry, you’re probably in legal trouble, but in America it might just be that someone has asked a question about you – a usage that in Britain would instead be spelled (spelt?) “enquiry”. The two meanings – the specific formal investigation and the general questioning – are encompassed by one word in America and separated into two in Britain.

Similarly, if you’re insuring something in Britain you are entering into a commercial transaction to protect your property or yourself from risk. An American insuring something might be doing the same thing – or they might simply be making sure – checking that the lights are turned off before going out, perhaps, or that a document has been properly proofread before it is sent to a client. This second meaning in British English is covered by the word “ensure”.

EY up

Paraphrase this for me: “there’s a fake wall on the fifth floor”.

You might have come up with one of these two sentences:

  • There’s a phoney wall on the fifth storey
  • There’s a phony wall on the fifth story

Or, well, it might be the sixth story or the fourth storey, given that British and American architecture counts levels within buildings differently (American: Floor 1 is the first you reach; British: Floor 1 is the first above the ground floor). Either way, the versions ending in EY are British; in just Y are American. For storey at least this British spelling distinguishes the word from that for a tale.

Silent E ending

Drawing on original French spellings, some British English words end in a double consonant and an E where the American spellings end on a single consonant only. This is to be found in words such as omelette/omelet and programme/program (though the latter is used in British English for computer programs). This is less commonly seen in gramme/gram, where the shorter spelling is now more common. Note: tonne in British spellings specifically refers to the metric tonne, while ton is used for the imperial unit; in America ton is used for both.

Individual words

Moustache is the British spelling; mustache the American.

Sulphur is British; sulfur, dropping the ph that comes from the Greek letter phi and replacing it with the more straightforward f, is American.

Aluminium with an -ium ending is British, and aligns with the endings of other elements such as calcium and potassium, but is pre-dated by the American spelling aluminum.

Following the trend in British English where different meanings of the same word sometimes get different spellings, the word for the rubber casing of a wheel is a tyre in British English, but a tire in American English.

A colour that might be formed of a mixture of black and white paint would be spelled gray in America and grey in Britain; a black tea flavoured with oil of bergamot, however, should be Earl Grey both sides of the Atlantic, as it is named after a person.

Do you have any favourite – or any that confuse or confound you? Do you prefer British of American spellings – or are some you prefer one way and some the other? Personally, I don’t think the O in a British moustache is needed, but appreciate the British spelling nuances available in written texts for words like storey, ensure and enquire. And while I’m equally comfortable with both T and ED endings for dreamt/dreamed, leapt/leaped and learnt/learned, I prefer spelled over spelt but also knelt over kneeled.

Most important, of course, is consistency. Whether American or British English is used – or indeed Canadian, which has elements of both in roughly equal measure, or Australian, which mostly follows British English with a few exceptions (like their Labor Party) – any piece of writing should stick to just one and use it throughout. We can’t have you analysing results on one page and realizing something on the next. And we certainly can’t have you drinking any Earl Gray tea.

Progress Report: One Million Words, July 2016

I didn’t quite finish Horrible Monster in July. I still haven’t a week into August, but I am close. In total, I wrote 14,084 words in July – somewhat less than previous months, showing a slowdown.

My total as of the end of July was 242,584/100,000, or 24.3% – very nearly a quarter of the way to the million words. On July 18th I reached another milestone: I had written every single day for one year. Not one day missed, not Christmas Day, not New Year’s Day, not my birthday, not the days I worked 16 hours or drive 200 miles. So I’m pretty damn proud of that.

The Story

Horrible Monster is so close to the ending now. I struggled for a week or two exactly how I would get there and which direction I would take that ending, and I have finally made a decision; now it’s only a matter of writing it, and it shouldn’t take long. A few thousand words only.

So what happens to Horrible Monster after I finish the first draft? I don’t know. Recently I’ve been in the “oh god, it’s awful, I hate it” part. I’m not sure if it can stand up. It certainly can’t in its unedited state, and if there is something there worth keeping it is going to take an awful lot of work to get it up to that level. And editing work being the kind I tend to put off doesn’t bode well. I think it’s a “we’ll see” scenario. I’ll give it a few months and see if I feel the core story is worth the editing and rewriting that would be required.

I’ve got a new project lined up. It’s a new version of Kell’s Adventures, with some major changes, the introduction of a second protagonist, Atoni, moving the location of where I will begin, and much more. But it isn’t ready to begin yet. I’ve got a lot of character work and worldbuilding to sort out before it goes anywhere. My approach for this project will be to know the characters and know the world – and then let the plot take me where it will.

In the meantime, I think I’ll work on shorter projects. Prompt-inspired short stories, perhaps a rewrite of Mountain Story, and episodes from the lives of Kell and Atoni from before the start of their story together.

2016 Reading Update, July

We’re just past half way through the year and I’m well ahead of target. By last update, back in May, I’d already raced past the half-way point on my goal, and now I’m closing in on the finish line (not that I’ll stop when I reach 26, where would the fun be in that?) So let’s see what I’ve been reading lately.

The list so far

Here’s what I’ve covered in previous updates:

  1. Cadfael: Monk’s Hood, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  2. Cadfael: St Peter’s Fair, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  3. Key Under Blue Pot and Please Milk the Goat, by Marie Sever
  4. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier
  5. Cadfael: The Leper of St Giles, by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  6. The Fire Mages’ Daughter by Pauline M Ross
  7. Cadfael: The Virgin in the Ice by Ellis Peters (Edith Parteger)
  8. The Mages of Bennamore by Pauline M Ross
  9. The A to Z of You and Me by James Hannah
  10. The Plains of Kallanash by Pauline M Ross
  11. The Magic Mines of Asharim by Pauline M Ross
  12. The Morville Hours by Katherine Swift
  13. The Wheel of Osheim by Mark Lawrence
  14. Echoes of the Great Song by David Gemmell
  15. The Dragon’s Egg by Pauline M Ross
  16. The Reverse of the Medal by Patrick O’Brian
  17. The Letter of Marque by Patrick O’Brian

Recent Reads

And here’s what I’ve read since May’s post:

18. The Errant Hours by Kate Innes

Set largely in Shropshire, this book falls under my “local reads” sub-goal. It’s an historical adventure/romance following Illesa, an impoverished young woman with nothing to her name but a valuable book, and no family but a brother in need of rescue. An exciting and enjoyable read, made all the more special by the familiar setting.

19. Iceland Defrosted by Edward Hancox

Two in a row for “local reads”, as Ed is from Shropshire. I bought this book a couple of years ago at his book launch in the local library but only just got around to actually reading it. It’s written in a casual, friendly tone, with the author’s love for Iceland raw on the page, and I though I’ve never been there I found I was falling in love with Iceland too thanks to the sincerity of Ed’s prose and the lively descriptions of the places he visited.

20. Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle

I reviewed this fantastic novel in full here. It’s a brilliantly woven tale packed with excitement, with a thoroughly relatable protagonist and a rich world. I can’t praise it enough, and I hope it does well in the Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016, which I think is a fantastic way of showcasing the best indie fantasy around.

21. The Thirteen-Gun Salute by Patrick O’Brian

and

22. The Nutmeg of Consolation by Patrick O’Brian

Yes, I’m still reading them in pairs. When O’Brian ends a novel with his protagonists stranded on a deserted island, how can I not immediately read the next? I’m really loving this series and when I finally get to the end I will no doubt start again at the beginning. It took some getting into when I first started reading it, but now I’m more familiar with O’Brian’s style, and less likely to give up on books than I was back in 2009 when I started reading the series, I am certain I will enjoy those first few books more on a second reading than I did on the first.

23. A Star-Reckoner’s Lot by Darrell Drake

I’m counting this. I read it, it counts. Darrell has employed me to proofread his novel and so that is what I have done. Towards the end I had to consciously slow down and remind myself to pay attention to the words, how they’re spelled, how they’re punctuated, the syntax and flow, and so on, because my mind wanted to race ahead and find out how it would end. The first two thirds of the novel is a bit slow burn, plenty going on but it’s difficult to see where it’s heading, but the seeds are sown and once they sprout quite a tale unfolds. Look out for it when it comes out, folks. Here’s Darrell’s website if you’re interested.

Up next

If my local library can get in the book I am looking for, I’ll have a few Charles Stross titles popping up in my next few reading updates. And there are a few books on my shelf I really should get around to reading at some point. Plus if anyone else on the SPFBO 2016 wants to send me a free ARC I’ll definitely be receptive to that.

Progress Report: One Million Words, June 2016

A bit of a slow down this month, thanks to a number of factors, from catching a cold (in June! Damn weather.) to being very busy and being stressed about what I am now calling The Event (and doing my darnedest to ignore now).

I managed 16,159 words in June, for an average of 538.6 words per day.

This brings my total to 228,500/1,000,000, or 22.9%.

If I can hit 25%, or 250,000 words, by mid July, I’ll be on track to complete the entire million words within four years. It’s a bit of a stretch as there’s more to go to reach that than I have written in most entire months, but it does show just how much I have done – and how much there is to go.

The Story

I’m still working on Horrible Monster, working through towards completion of the novel. I had thought, this time last month, that I was on the home straight, but the story has taken a little bit of a turn and I’m uncertain about whether I like the new character, whether the story is best served by his inclusion, and how his presence is going to affect the ending.

I am seriously wondering if I’ve muddied the waters with some of the plot lines and whether it is quite how I want to tell this story, but I can’t quite see how the “extra” plot lines could be cut without significant impact on the rest of it. On some levels I worry that the story is too simplistic, too serendipitous even.

But at the same time I wonder if I am just worrying over nothing, letting the self-doubt creep in, and if I just need to finish the novel before I can make a true assessment of its merits and weaknesses. After all, when I took part in long distance hikes – a local charity walk of 22 miles – it was always around mile 16-17 that the pain was worst, my pace at its slowest, but once I got to mile 21 and the end was in sight I always had more energy and better pace, and the pain seemed to fade into irrelevance.

Looking forward into July

I don’t know if I will finish Horrible Monster in July. It is possible, especially if I speed up in the final mile. I’m nearly at 70,000 words, and with the amount of plot that’s left it might end up around 85-95,000 words total, so it is entirely likely I will finish it.

I will shortly have a lot more time on my hands. Today was my last day at one of my two part time jobs, and I haven’t got another lined up to replace it yet. By about the end of next week a huge number of outstanding tasks that haven’t yet been completed, or in some cases started, will be done. If it takes me a while to sort another job, I’ll have a lot more time to write and to engage in the kinds of activities that assist writing, like going for walks, reading, and taking the time to appreciate the moment – which, I’ll admit, I haven’t done much of lately. Then there’s researching, learning and blogging too, all of which I’ll have more time for.

So it may well be that July ends up a particularly productive month regarding writing fiction, blog posts and poetry; reading, researching and studying; and maintaining my flat to a standard that would pass a landlord inspection.

Poem: Shush, the morning whispers, pulsing

Shush, the morning whispers, pulsing.

Water on the window tracing.

Down through foliage rain hissing,

Earthy petrichor releasing.

 

To the ground the raindrops racing,

Stream abrimming with water coursing

Around the rock and branches, sluicing

Into hollows, swirling, massing.

 

Hush to hear the flowers dancing

And beside them, saplings waltzing.

Droplets pocking, leaping, glancing

On fat leaves, jumping, prancing.

 

All that’s past, the rain’s erasing –

Stuffy air, pollution, cleansing.

Its task complete, downpour ceasing –

Silence,

stillness,

now increasing.

 

Review: Touch of Iron by Timandra Whitecastle

Touch of Iron is the debut novel and first part in the Living Blade series by Timandra Whitecastle. It follows Nora Smith and her twin Owen as they flee superstition and rumour in their home town and find themselves caught up in a dangerous quest for a legendary weapon, mixing with an exiled prince, a mysterious half-wight, rough warriors and sinister magic-users.

I was given an ARC of this book.

touch of iron
That’s a pretty damn awesome cover.

Touch of Iron is also one of the books involved in Mark Lawrence’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off 2016.

Okay, so, first I’ve got to say this: I love Nora. She is such an enjoyable protagonist to follow. She’s full of fire, she’s exciting, she’s relatable and she’s immense fun to read about. I found myself thinking “yeah, right” when she’s told not to do something and rolling my eyes when she did it anyway – then grinning stupidly as I read the antics she got herself into and how she got herself out of them.

And there are plenty of antics to be had. The world of The Living Blade is a magical and dangerous place, a beautifully crafted setting bringing in elements of real-world places and times as well as being inspired by the rich array of worlds fantasy has to offer. It truly is a fantasy world in the best traditions of the genre, melding human communities, dramatic landscapes, dangerous threats and unsettling beliefs into a remarkable setting that frames the story beautifully.

The story is fast paced and full of action as Nora and Owen criss cross the continent pursuing their dreams, fleeing their fears and chasing down the Living Blade with the exiled Prince Bashan, who seeks to wield it to reclaim a throne stolen from him. The witty, engaging narrative makes for enjoyable reading that drew me in and wouldn’t let go – not that I wanted it to.

Whitecastle has included numerous tributes to some of her favourite fiction too, but in subtle ways you wouldn’t notice unless you were a fan too. Including a few allusions to my favourite animated TV series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. They’re well done – enough to make me smile upon recognising them, without disrupting the flow.

I am thrilled to have been offered the opportunity to read Touch of Iron and enjoyed every moment of it. Once I started it was hard to put down, and in fact this may be the fastest I’ve read a book this year – under 36 hours from the first page to the last, and then I read the afterword because I didn’t want to put it down! It can hardly be surprising, therefore, that I rate it 10/10.

I hope Touch of Iron does well in the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off.

A quick note about my reviews

I am being spoiled at the moment with my reading material. Utterly utterly spoiled. Every book I read is an absolute gem, whether it is a fantasy epic by one of my favourite authors, an historical adventure romance by a debut author, or a non-fiction tale of the author’s love for Iceland (no ideas? Check out my Goodreads page.)

That makes me a little worried. If I keep telling my readers that the book I’ve just read was fantastic – 9 or 10 out of 10, 4 or 5 stars – will you stop believing me? Should I seek out books that other reviewers didn’t much care for so I can put in a 6/10 to balance things out? Should I divide my ratings into fractions and suggest a book is 9.5/10, 8.75/10, 9.3141592/10? Of course not. That would be silly and quickly cease to be useful. It would be all too easy to plunge into ever more decimal places as I weigh up whether this book, that I think is 9.5, is better or worse than that last book that I gave 9.5 to, and should it thus be a 9.3 or a 9.4? I want to spend my review time reviewing, not agonising over a number.

I will reiterate, though, that my reviews are all unpaid (though I do accept Advanced Reader/Review Copies where offered), that they all reflect my feelings as honestly as I can convey them, and that, as with all reviews, they are subjective. They are my own interpretations and impressions, from the point of view of an avid reader and a writer (I hate that phrase “aspiring author”; I write. Every single day. Those of you who follow my monthly updates to my One Million Words challenge know that.)

I try to consider different aspects of each story – the characters, the plot, the prose, the pacing, the worldbuilding. After I finish a book I intend to review I create space afterwards to let my thoughts settle. This is because, the moment I finish a book it is all aswirl in my mind, the mood of the final pages – the excitement, elation, victory, suspense or sadness – dominates my feelings. With some I wait a week or more, but usually it’s a day or two – long enough to sleep on it, to let it sink in, to give my mind time to catch up with the words my eyes might have raced over in my enjoyment.

In the end, though, it does come down a lot to taste. I don’t claim to have the most refined taste, but I am not inexperienced in reading fantasy. I do hope, though, to find that at least some people out there possess a similar taste to my own when it comes to fantasy books and the styles and voices of the authors in this genre, and find my reviews helpful for deciding whether or not to read something. Just as I have found where my tastes align with a blogger, a friend, or my sister, that I can therefore take recommendations on the reasonable expectation that I will agree.