Neil Gaiman

stardustDuring my wade through a world of words I somehow managed to finish Neil Gaiman’s book ‘Stardust’. To be honest I’m surprised that it took me this long to pick it up, it’s a fantasy book about a town that lies right beside an opening into the land of the fairies. Familiar as this sounds it’s miles away from my own books in plot, themes, characters, and most of all tone.

It’s a book that’s definitely not for kids and as fun as it was for me to read, at times it could be quite jarring to go from reading Gaiman’s work and then delving into writing the wold of Jack and Thea. Sure there’s magic, other worlds, odd creatures, etc. but ‘Stardust’ was so much more adult that I had to be careful to remember to tone down the themes in ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’.

I normally make a rule of not reading while I’m writing so that I don’t get caught up writing in somebody else’s style but I was half way through ‘Stardust’ when NaNoWriMo started and I found that I needed some type of diversion whilst writing this time. I think I managed to keep the books separate in my mind probably first and foremost because of the main theme of each. Where ‘Stardust’ is a stand-alone adventure into a slightly Victorian take on the fantasy genre, ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ is a modern disaster novel set in a fantasy setting.

I feel like I’ve had a chance to play with some of my favorite movie genres whilst writing the Jack Reusen books. ‘The Fey Flame‘ is a world building book with a big villain but beyond that I’ve had a chance to play around with some other ideas. ‘Spark of Dreams‘ was my take on the zombie genre (but toned down a lot to cater for children of seven or eight years old and up). Next, in ‘Children of Fate’ we get an ‘end of the world’ themed story (don’t worry, everything is kind of alright in the end), after that we have what I’m thinking of as book three and a half, it’s a Christmas/Yule story and for now that’s all I’ll say about it.

Book four is all Thea’s, in many ways (and yes I know this sounds totally nuts) she seems to be helping me write it but overall it will be a quest, one that takes her through many of the other nations to be found in Fey, it’s a strange place and it’s becoming a huge pile of fun to research.

Anyway back to Stardust, if you’re a fantasy reader like myself I imagine you’ll get a kick out of Stardust. The one unusual aspect I noticed about it was just how rigidly Gaiman sticks to the ‘show don’t tell’ rule for writers. Basically we’re supposed to explain the worlds we create using the characters reactions and by highlighting that world using carefully described action sequences.

Ordinarily writers do a good job of this but in fantasy the rules are often relaxed. It’s not easy to build a world in the first chapter or two of a book without having to occasionally allow the narrator to explain what’s going on. J. R. R. Tolkien basically writes a history of Middle Earth in the first few chapters of ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’. It helps you get to know where you are but it’s not the easiest thing to get through.

To be fair to Tolkien he was writing his books at a time when the modern fantasy genre was in its infancy (Tolkien being it’s godfather after all). A lot of modern fantasy harkens back to Tolkien so in a way he was doing a lot of world building for all of us. That said we don’t all deal in elves, orks, dwarves etc. and even if they did there’s still a sizable chunk of the population who still wouldn’t know what these races are. As a result many modern fantasy writers still have to explain the people of their worlds and describe what they can do.

Gaiman doesn’t really do that, you simply see the characters do what they do and it’s up to you to gauge what they are capable of and to establish what power level they have. Sometimes when two characters meet for the first time it can be surprising to realise that you may have misjudged just what that character is. ‘Stardust’ is a fantasy book but if you’re expecting a big expository element in the first chapter or two you’ll be waiting a while, the story just starts and it’s up to you to keep up. It’s an unusual yet refreshing experience for a fantasy reader and I definitely recommend it (I should also point out again one more time: ‘STARDUST’ IS NOT FOR KIDS).

a-burden_cover_smlAnyway, thanks for reading, and feel free to add suggested reads in the comments below (I’m editing now so the ‘no reading’ rule has been officially dropped). Next up for me is Hiraeth: a Burden (the second book in the Hiraeth trilogy), again not for kids but definitely worth a read, it ‘s a modern-day fantasy set in Wales, Ireland, England, (and a wee bit of Scotland too), and focuses on an underground (not literally) group of Druids who hide their true nature by means of working for the lifeboats service.

Let us know if you’ve come across any particularly good reads, after all the nights are fair drawing in (I don’t really remember having a summer) and nothing completes a chilly night-in better than a good book. All the best, John

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