Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When I Judge a Book by its Cover...

When I judge a book by its cover, it means I want to show off a fabulous new book with a beautiful cover, in my huge sets of bookcases that dominate my living room. I love real books. I won’t say I hate e-books, but I’ll only buy an e-reader when no more real books are printed. Given the number of people who also love real books, maybe we can stave off that awful day. I wonder if many people know this, but when you buy a real book and take it home to gloat over, it’s actually yours for keeps. When you buy an e-book, you’re actually only buying the right to read it… But, hey, let’s not go into all that. Let’s stick to real books.

This post was inspired by my annual attendance at the Exclusive Book’s annual sale. (Exclusive Books is South Africa’s leading bookstore and cleverly align themselves with a coffee shop to add extra comfort to book-lover browsing) People love the sale because all the books are marked down, and it’s one way of stocking up on expensive items that might just break the budget. So, what did I buy this year? Aha! I generally pick non-fiction because they are usually hard cover. I also tend to read a lot of non-fiction for research into my children’s adventure series, and because I like history.
The Secret History of Giants by Ari Berk

I know giants are not strictly non-fiction, but ever since a light-fingered somebody walked off with my Book of Giants (no longer in print), I have wanted a replacement. I mean, what is a home without a book on giants? I already have Brian Froud’s Faeries and The Book of Good and Bad Faeries, so definitely a giant replacement was on the cards. This is what the blurb says: Ancient Greece had its Titans, the Celts their Green Knight, the Bible Goliath—and for those who know where to look, signs of these legendary hulking creatures still abound. Now comes a hugely engrossing chronicle of giants since antiquity, from their role in forming mountains and causing earthquakes to the mysteries of their sacks (watch out for hitchhiking humans); from their means of employment (how did the Druids built Stonehenge?) to an extensive map of places around the world where giants may likely be found. Exhaustive and lushly illustrated, this enormously valuable resource is sure to fascinate all who open its covers.

Special features include: sundry flaps, booklets, and gatefolds; a lavish foiled and embossed cover (and it is lavish!); an elegant tassel (very elegant!) dangling from the spine.

Babylon: Mesopotamia and the Birth of Civilization by Paul Kriwaczek

Civilization was born eight thousand years ago, between the floodplains of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, when migrants from the surrounding mountains and deserts began to create increasingly sophisticated urban societies. In the cities that they built, half of human history took place. In Babylon, Paul Kriwaczek tells the story of Mesopotamia from the earliest settlements seven thousand years ago to the eclipse of Babylon in the sixth century BCE. Bringing the people of this land to life in vibrant detail, the author chronicles the rise and fall of power during this period and explores the political and social systems, as well as the technical and cultural innovations, which made this land extraordinary. At the heart of this book is the story of Babylon, which rose to prominence under the Amorite king Hammurabi from about 1800 BCE. Even as Babylon’s fortunes waxed and waned, it never lost its allure as the ancient world’s greatest city. Engaging and compelling, Babylon reveals the splendor of the ancient world that laid the foundation for civilization itself. (I can’t wait to get stuck into this!)
 House of Wisdom by Jonathan Lyons

Although I see this book received mixed reviews on Amazon, I’m willing to give it a chance. The blurb says: For centuries following the fall of Rome, Western Europe was a benighted backwater, a world of subsistence farming, minimal literacy, and violent conflict. Meanwhile Arab culture was thriving, dazzling those Europeans fortunate enough to visit cities like Baghdad or Antioch. There, philosophers, mathematicians, and astronomers were steadily advancing the frontiers of knowledge, as well as keeping alive the works of Plato and Aristotle. When the best libraries in Europe held several dozen books, Baghdad's great library, The House of Wisdom, housed four hundred thousand. Jonathan Lyons shows just how much "Western" ideas owe to the Golden Age of Arab civilization. Even while their countrymen waged bloody Crusades against Muslims, a handful of intrepid Christian scholars, hungry for knowledge, traveled East and returned with priceless jewels of science, medicine, and philosophy that laid the foundation for the Renaissance. In this brilliant, evocative book, Jonathan Lyons reveals the story of how Europe drank from the well of Muslim learning.
The Illustrated Anthology of World Myth andStory Telling by C. Scott Littleton (editor)

I was lucky enough to receive this wonderful anthology as a Christmas present. I have already dipped into it and it’s just wonderful. The blurb says: Myths are the timeless expression of the imagination born out of the need to make sense of the universe. Moving across the centuries, they resonate with our deepest feelings about the fragility and grandeur of existence. Mythology is a comprehensive, richly illustrated survey of the mythic imagination in all its forms around the world, from the odysseys, quests, and battles of ancient Greece and Rome to the living beliefs of indigenous cultures in the Americas, Africa, and Oceania. Looking at each major myth-making culture in turn, this book retells some of the most significant and captivating stories in a lively, contemporary style. Generously illustrated with more than 700 color photographs, Mythology brings you the vibrant stories that echo time and again in our lives.

Back to the covers: a gleeful giant peeking out of one cover, a Babylonian lion striding across a turquoise background, the delicate beauty of Arabian craftsmanship, and a winged Assyrian sculpture on a sandstone background, these books all merit pride of place in the looks department, and I am sure contain a wealth of knowledge!

by Fiona Ingram

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Daniel Deronda: Book to BBC Classic

I recently watched the wonderful BBC adaptation of George Eliot’s novel Daniel Deronda, starring Hugh Dancy as the eponymous hero, the ethereally beautiful Romola Garai as Gwendolen Harleth, Hugh Bonneville as the smug Henleigh Mallinger Grandcourt, and a host of other BBC stalwarts that added visual depth and emotional intensity to this film.

Daniel Deronda was first published in 1876. It was the last novel Eliot completed and the only one set in the contemporary Victorian society of her day. Its mixture of social satire and moral searching, along with a sympathetic rendering of Jewish proto-Zionist and Kabbalistic ideas has made it a controversial final statement of one of the greatest of Victorian novelists. An article in the Guardian discusses how Eliot actually shocked some of her readers by dealing with this topic and emphasises how Eliot’s portrayal of Judaism and Zionism continues to resonate. For me, Eliot highlights the themes of inner and outer struggles in the characters’ search for meaning, identity, and self-worth.

This is a deep novel and hard to outline in a blog post. However, information on Wikipedia (see below) has proved incredibly useful in understanding the greater themes of this riveting book.

Daniel Deronda is the ward of the wealthy Sir Hugo Mallinger and hero of the novel, Deronda has a tendency to help others at a cost to himself. At the start of the novel, he has failed to win a scholarship at Cambridge because of his focus on helping a friend, has been travelling abroad, and has just started studying law. He often wonders about his birth, and whether or not he is a gentleman. As he moves more and more among the world-within-a-world of the Jews of the novel, he begins to identify with their cause in direct proportion to the unfolding revelations of his ancestry. Eliot used the story of Moses as part of her inspiration for Deronda. As Moses was a Jew brought up as an Egyptian who ultimately led his people to the Promised Land, so Deronda is a Jew brought up as an Englishman, and the novel ends with his plan to do the same.

Gwendolen Harleth is the beautiful, spoiled daughter of a widowed mother. Much courted by men, she is flirtatious but ultimately self-involved. Early in the novel, her family suffers a financial crisis, and she is faced with becoming a governess to help support herself and her family. Seeking an escape, she explores the idea of becoming an actress and singer but ultimately marries the controlling and cruel Henleigh Grandcourt, although she does not love him. Desperately unhappy, she seeks help from Deronda, who offers her understanding, moral support, and the possibility of a way out of her guilt and sorrow. As a psychological study of an immature egoist struggling to achieve greater understanding of herself and others through suffering, Gwendolen is, for many, Eliot's crowning achievement as a novelist and the real core of the book.

Daniel Deronda is composed of two interwoven stories and presents two worlds that are never completely reconciled. Indeed, the separation of the two and the eventual parting of one from the other is one of the novel's major themes. There is the fashionable, familiar, upper-class English world of Gwendolen Harleth and the less familiar society-within-a-society inhabited by the Jews, most importantly Mordecai (or Ezra) Cohen and his sister, Mirah. Living between these two worlds is Daniel, who gradually identifies more and more with the Jewish side as he comes to understand the mystery of his birth and develops his relationships with Mordecai and Mirah. In the novel, the Jewish characters' spirituality, moral coherence, and sense of community are contrasted favourably with the materialist, philistine, and largely corrupt society of England. The inference seems to be that the Jews' moral values are lacking in the wider British society that surrounds them.

The BBC never fails in its visually compelling and captivating adaptations of classic novels. The series is beautifully photographed, with the wealth and opulence of the British upper class severely contrasted with the squalor and poverty of the poorer levels of society. The acting is wonderful, and Dancy and Garai are just perfect as the main characters. Familiar faces from previous BBC classics are evident, and overall, present a sterling cast.

There is so much more to this book than what I have outlined, but if the idea of 484 pages is too daunting, see the series first to get acquainted with the novel.

by Fiona Ingram

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Best Book Awards for Indie Authors

As the New Year begins, so you should start gearing up for book awards. Entering book awards is not as difficult as it seems. In a previous post I outlined the pros and cons of entering, and having achieved eleven awards and nominations, I find there are definite benefits. Your book’s recognition enhances its status, no doubt about it, and tells people you have reached a standard of excellence that meets the industry’s demands. I recently read four posts by industry marketing experts with their take on why you should enter book awards.

Advice from the Experts
  • Donna M. McDine on children’s book awards:  The importance of entering children’s book award contests goes well beyond a win. There are two sides you can capitalize on. The obvious, if your book achieves book award recognition you and your publisher can reap the benefits of promoting you as an award-winning author. Second, even if you don’t place in the contest your book does gain additional exposure through the judging process.
Donna includes a list of helpful places to find the best contests.
  • Dana Lynn Smith on choosing wisely: Begin by considering which contests are most appropriate for your book. Some are very general, while others focus on a specific type of book. Some book award contests accept entries with the current or previous year’s copyright date, while others allow entries spanning several years. Some are geared toward self-published books and others accept all books. When deciding which contests are the best fit, look for those that offer book categories most related to the type of book that you write. For example, “historical romance” is much more specific than “romance.” Also consider the entry fees and the relative prestige and publicity value of the contest. Some contests even offer cash prizes for the top winners.
Dana also includes a list of popular/best known contests. Her advice on e-book vs. print is: If a contest accepts both e-books and printed books, it’s usually best to submit a printed book if you have one because it’s more tangible.

  • Sherrie Wikolaski has advice on getting the best out of your entry fee: Investment. Book awards can range from as little as $10 per submission to a few hundred dollars. Most fall somewhere in the middle, plus the cost of mailing in a copy of the book for review. It’s one of the most cost-effective ways to market your book, especially if you win.
  • Marketing your winnings. Congratulations! You’ve won! Now what? When the time comes and you’ve found out that your book has won an award, you should maximize the win. Find out what the awards committee is doing to promote your award status. Take advantage of everything they are offering to you. If they invite you to guest blog, take it. If they want to promote a book excerpt, let them. Whatever they offer be sure to work with their marketing team to maximize your exposure.
Sherrie includes a list of top book contests as well as marketing tips to maximise on your win.

  • Smith Publicity, book promoters for authors in every genre worldwide, includes a long list of book awards ranging from general fiction to science fiction, mystery, indie, self-help, non-fiction, cultural and youth.

The Indie Issue
Many indie authors are put off by thinking that so many contests only accept traditionally published books. Not true. I am a self-published author and by keeping an eye on industry events, I was able to enter and achieve something in most of the contests. I have compiled a list of indie awards, by date, to make it easier for authors to enter their books. Expense is also a big issue with authors battling to pay for editing, layout, cover images etc. The beauty of the e-book revolution is that many contests organisers now accept e-books. This makes entering a whole lot easier. Please visit the links from the experts above. They have many tips to offer ranging from why enter, to how to organise your entries, to the benefits, to author beware.
Here is a calendar of the most useful contests for indie authors

Childrens’ Literary Classics Awards (e-book accepted if print copy not available)
Foreword Book of the Year Awards (print and e-book)
Eric Hoffer Awards (e-book accepted)
e-Lit Awards (e-book)
Beverly Hills Book Awards (print only)

Next Generation Indie Book Awards (e-book accepted)
Wise Bear Book Awards (e-book accepted)

Independent Publisher Book Awards (IPPY) (print and e-book)
Indie Reader Discovery Awards (both print and e-book)

National Indie Excellence Book Awards (print only)
Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards (print only)
Global E-book Awards (e-books)

Readers Favorite Awards (e-book accepted)

Readers Digest Self-Published Awards (print only)

Rubery Book Awards (e-book accepted)
National Best Book Awards (e-book accepted) 
Sharpwrit Book Awards (e-book accepted)
Nautilus Book Awards (print only)

Reader Views Literary Awards (e-book accepted if print copy not available)

Start planning and remember you can't win if you don't enter!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Adventure

The Hobbit first edition
The Hobbit is the first step on Tolkien’s long journey into Middle-earth. The story is set in Middle-earth sixty years before The Lord of the Rings, and portions of the film are adapted from the appendices to Tolkien's The Return of the King novel. An Unexpected Journey tells of the hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman), who is convinced by the wizard Gandalf (Ian McKellen) to accompany thirteen dwarves led by Thorin Oakenshield (Richard Armitage) on a quest across Middle-earth to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug the dragon.
Lord of the Rings
I saw the movie twice, within a short space of time (all right, four days!), and just loved it all over again. Amazingly, the book has never been out of print, and encouraged by the book's critical and financial success, the publisher requested a sequel. The Lord of the Rings was the result. So much has been written on that subject I won’t even try to offer an opinion, suffice to say that I am a huge fan of the book, and regularly reread the tome.

I read a few reviews of The Hobbit movie before I saw it and although there were some complaints, I was undeterred. I went determined to enjoy myself. I did not notice the 48 versus 24 whatever per second that people said made it blurry or ‘unreal.’ I did not notice the length—I could have sat through another three hours quite happily. And as for one critic saying all the dwarves were the same, well, they were not at all. With the second viewing, I noticed small but pertinent details that gave every character his unique aspect. I absolutely loved the grand, nay, spectacular setting, and being a huge fan of the LOTR trilogy, it was wonderful to see the fantastic scenery again unfold on the big screen.

Some critics complained that the quest was drawn out and could hardly fill the time allotted to it. However, The Hobbit’s quest is smaller, more intimate, and the fate of Middle-earth is not the issue. The fate of the dwarves’ home is the central theme, as well as Bilbo’s personal growth into a brave hobbit. Here, as well, is where the One Ring makes its first appearance. Everyone’s individual quest is naturally scaled down, but no less important than the grand quest of LOTR.

However, the best part of my trip to the movies was this: a visit to a bookstore in the cinema complex displaying a host of books dealing with The Hobbit and LOTR. Books. Real books. Books in print. Books with richly embossed covers and fabulous illustrations. Not e-books. That, for me, was the best part. How can anyone expect to appreciate the grandeur of Tolkien’s vision on a Kindle or e-reader? So, when all is said and done, just remember that real books are an unexpected adventure in themselves.
I have just read an article on the dire situation facing Britain’s High Street bookshops (they have halved!) in which the writer (Allan Massie) says that bookshops have to get more personal to survive. Call us old-fashioned but bookshops seem to still be alive and well in South Africa. They are bright, welcoming, colourful, with displays of the latest books, and (cleverly) are usually aligned to a coffee shop. You can browse as much as you like, enjoy your coffee, read the latest newspapers and books, and no one chases you out for lounging among the best examples of the written word. Long live bookshops, I say!

Here are just some of the wonderful visual accompaniments to the film.
Don't forget the map!
Richly illustrated with more than 100 colour photos from the film, and featuring a brand new fold-out map charting the journey from Bag End to Wilderland, TheHobbit: An Unexpected Journey Visual Companion begins the Quest for the Lonely Mountain in spectacular style.

Enter Bilbo Baggins’ world through exclusive interviews with director Peter Jackson, Martin Freeman, Ian McKellen and all the principal cast and filmmakers, who share film-making secrets and tales of what it was actually like making movie magic in Middle-earth.
Lavishly illustrated with hundreds of behind-the-scenes photos of the actors, locations, sets, creatures and costumes, TheHobbit: An Unexpected Journey Official Movie Guide has been produced in collaboration with the filmmakers who have brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s classic novel into breath-taking three-dimensional life.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Chronicles: Art & Design is a sumptuous celebration of the creative vision of Academy Award-winning filmmaker Peter Jackson's The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. The book is packed with more than 1,000 images of concept artwork, photographs, and development paintings by the artists working behind the scenes to bring Middle-earth to life, who each provide detailed and entertaining commentary that reveals the story behind the vision. As a bonus feature unique to this book, there is a special fold-out map printed in glow-in-the-dark ink and a giant four-page fold-out of Bilbo's contract.
Of course, the contract!

In The Lord of the Rings Sketchbook, Alan Lee, the Oscar-winning conceptual designer for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy, discusses his approach to depicting Tolkien’s imaginary world. The book presents more than 150 of Lee’s celebrated illustrations to show how his imagery for both the illustrated Lord of the Rings and the films progressed from concept to finished art. In addition, the book contains 20 full-colour plates and numerous examples of the conceptual art produced for Peter Jackson’s film adaptation.

Happy reading, and if you haven’t seen The Hobbit yet, go and enjoy director Peter Jackson’s splendid vision.

By Fiona Ingram