Revisiting Anarya’s Secret

During the recent World Science Fiction Convention, CoNZealand – the first virtual Worldcon – I discovered that my 2007 fantasy novel, Anarya’s Secret, is still available from Drivethru RPG. If it seems weird that a novel is available from a games company, that’s because the novel is a tie-in: it’s one of a series of novels written in the universe of the Earthdawn roleplaying game (Earthdawn is a prequel to the Shadowrun RPG.)

Anarya's Secret front cover

About Anarya’s Secret

Kendik Dezelek is a young Swordmaster. He’s tall, strong, and well-trained. But when he leaves his home village on the road to adventure, he soon finds that those things will only get you so far. In the land between the Tylon Mountains and the Serpent River, friend and foe are not always as they appear.

In a world still recovering from the Scourge, when Horrors ravaged the land of Barsaive, Kendik is soon forced to choose between a range of evils. He travels with the surly and disreputable Turgut brothers. He encounters the bloated tyrant Lord Tesek, ruler of the growing city of Borzim. And he is ensnared in the plots of the feared and mysterious House of the Wheel.

Most of all, he meets Anarya Chezarin, who enters his life from the depths of an ancient stronghold. Who is she, and what is her secret? It may cost Kendik and Anarya more than their lives to find out.

Buy a copy of Anarya’s Secret.

A Book A Week: What I Read In 2009

I kept track of my 2009 reading using LibraryThing. It turns out I read a book a week in 2009 – excluding the many books I consulted as part of research for my novel, and a few I read for work. With rough divisions by genre, they were:

1. Essential Dykes to Watch Out For by Alison Bechdel (cartoons)
2. The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Hershman (short stories)
3. The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett (novella)
4. The Bride of Science: Romance, Reason and Byron’s Daughter by Benjamin Woolley (nonfiction-biography)
5. From Elfland to Poughkeepsie by Ursula K. Le Guin (criticism)
6. A Good Walk Spoiled by J. M. Gregson (novel-detective)
7. Swings and Roundabouts : poems on parenthood, edited by Emma Neale (poetry anthology)
8. Believers to the Bright Coast by Vincent O’Sullivan (novel-literary)
9. Calvin and Hobbes: Sunday Pages by Bill Watterson (cartoons)
10. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (novel)
11. The Transition Handbook: From Oil Dependency to Local Resilience, by Rob Hopkins (nonfiction)
12. Improbable Eden: The Dry Valleys of Antarctica by Bill Green (essays) and Craig Potton (photographs) (nonfiction)
13. The Six Pack Three: Winning Writing from New Zealand Book Month (fiction/poetry anthology)
14. Speaking in Tongues by L. E. Scott (poetry)
15. Thornspell by Helen Lowe (novel-fantasy)
16. Love All by Elizabeth Jane Howard (novel-romance/historical)
17. Father India: How Encounters with an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West by Jeffery Paine (nonfiction-history)
18. George Gordon, Lord Byron: selected poems (poetry)
19. The Discovery of India (Abridged Edition) by Jawaharlal Nehru (nonfiction-history)
20. In a Fishbone Church by Catherine Chidgey (novel-literary)
21. Cretaceous Dawn by Lisa M. Graziano and Michael S.A. Graziano (novel-SF)
22. The Lakes of Mars by Chris Orsman (poetry)
23. Winter Study by Nevada Barr (novel-thriller)
24. Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky (novel-literary)
25. Time of Your Life (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 8, Vol. 4) by Joss Whedon (graphic novel)
26. India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha (nonfiction-history)
27. A Dream In Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu (novel-literary)
28. The Sword in the Stone by T H White (novel-fantasy)
29. Tom by Mark Pirie (verse novel)
30. Banana by Renee Liang (poetry)
31. Nearest & Dearest by Mary Cresswell (poetry)
32. The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall (novel-SF)
33. The Summer King by Joanna Preston (poetry)
34. made for weather by Kay McKenzie Cooke (poetry)
35. The Law of Love by Laura Esquivel (novel-magic realism)
36. Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (novel-literary)
37. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James (novella-ghost/horror)
38. Letters from the asylum by John Knight (poetry)
39. The Secret History of Moscow by Ekaterina Sedia (novel-fantasy)
40. A House on Fire by Tim Upperton (poetry)
41. The People’s Act of Love by James Meek (novel-historical)
42. Dressing for the Cannibals by Frankie McMillan (poetry)
43. Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Predators and Prey, Season 8, Volume 5, by Joss Whedon, Jane Espenson et al (graphic novel)
44. Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter by Mario Vargas Llosa (novel-bildungsroman)
45. Watching for Smoke by Helen Heath (poetry chapbook)
46. The Coldest March by Susan Solomon (nonfiction-history/exploration)
47. Curved Horizon by Ruth Dallas (literary autobiography)
48. The Abominable Snow-Women by Dorothy Braxton (nonfiction-exploration)
49. The Last Church by Lee Pletzers (novel-horror)
50. The Year of Henry James by David Lodge (memoir/criticism)
51. Feeding the Dogs by Kay McKenzie Cooke (poetry)
52. Sorry, I’m A Stranger Here Myself by Peter Bland (literary autobiography)

I haven’t kept track of my reading before, so I don’t know how this compares to a typical year’s reading. My sense is that I have read somewhat less fiction and rather more poetry than usual, with the proportion of nonfiction about the same.

I think, overall, it’s the poetry – almost all, this year, New Zealand poetry – that I’ve enjoyed most. I have read some excellent collections; some I have admired for their technical excellence, while others (without lacking in poetic technique) have moved me: often, these are collections that have featured poems about places or situations I have been to our lived through.

I was highly impressed by the technical accomplishment of Joanna Preston’s The Summer King, Chris Orsman’s The Lakes of Mars, and Tim Upperton’s A House On Fire, yet despite this, it was Kay McKenzie Cooke’s made for weather and Feeding the Dogs, Helen Heath’s chapbook Watching For Smoke, and Renee Liang’s chapbook Banana that made the most impact on me – together with Emma Neale’s excellent anthology of poems about parenting, Swings and Roundabouts. I also had a lot of fun with Mark Pirie’s verse novel Tom.

In fiction, five novels stood out for me. Irene Nemirovsky’s Suite Francaise was the best novel I read this year, by a short head from Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland, which was wonderful right up to a somewhat underwhelming ending, and Helen Lowe’s Thornspell, an excellent fantasy for older children and younger young adults (I think this may be what is called “MG” rather than “YA” fiction). I also very much enjoyed A Dream In Polar Fog by Yuri Rytkheu, and (a re-read after many years) To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Tania Hershman’s collection The White Road and Other Stories includes many fine short – and short-short – stories.

My resolution to read more New Zealand fiction didn’t get very far this year. I was underwhelmed by Catherine Chidgey’s In a Fishbone Church and Vincent O’Sullivan’s Believers to the Bright Coast, both of which, in my view, have the fault common in New Zealand fiction of sacrificing story for style. I think my favourite New Zealand fiction this year was David Geary’s entertaining story “Gary Manawatu (1964–2008): Death of a Fence-Post-Modernist”, included in The Six Pack Three.

Other disappointments included Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw and T H White’s The Sword in the Stone, neither of which, for me, lived up to their reputations.

I read some fine nonfiction this year, but the stand-out was Ramachandra Guha’s superb history India After Gandhi, with an honourable mention going to Improbable Eden: The Dry Valleys of Antarctica, a superbly illustrated book of essays (or superbly essayed book of illustrations).

Finally, neither volume of Season 8 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (a continuation of the TV series in graphic novel form) that I read this year were up to the standard of their predecessors in this series, but Buffy seasons often have a sag in the middle, so I’m going to stick with the series to see how it ends up. Therefore, last as it was first, my final highlight of the year was Alison Bechdel’s Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, which I was given for Christmas 2008. It contains about 70% of all her Dykes to Watch Out For cartoons, and it’s both great fun and great social commentary.

Book Review: Mark Pirie, Slips (ESAW, 2008)

I discovered cricket in 1969. At the time, we lived in Otatara, south of Invercargill. The only access I had to test cricket (for the uninitiated, this means five-day games between nations) was via radio: 4YC out of Dunedin were broadcasting commentaries on that summer’s tests between New Zealand and the West Indies. It wasn’t a powerful station, and the only way I could get reception in our house was to put my radio on top of the metal toilet cistern, which amplified the signal. (It’s possible this was inconvenient to other occupants of the house.)

Cricket is an old game which has developed a massive literature: not just the primary literature of statistics and match reports, but a secondary literature of fiction, poetry and plays. Mark Pirie has recently made a welcome addition to this literature with Slips, which is No. 21 in the Earl of Seacliff Art Workshop’s excellent mini-series of poem booklets. Slips is dedicated to Harry Ricketts, another cricketing poet (and biographer), thus acknowledging its place in this literary tradition.

Mark knows whereof he speaks. My cricketing days are well past me, but my son played junior cricket up to the 2006/07 season, and several times, just as his team were packing up for the day, Mark would turn up with his senior team. The cover of Slips shows Mark poised to take a slips catch (again, for US readers, the slips are like extra shortstops who stand behind the batter and take catches off what in baseball would be fouls).

All the poems inside are about, or at least allude to, cricket. These allusions range from the glancing to the highly statistical: “Legacies and Cold Stats” and “Fiery Fred” would delight any cricket historian, while the longest poem, “11 Ways of Being Dismissed”, is based on a Cricinfo article about eleven unusual dismissals.

My two favourite poems in the book aren’t so stats-heavy. “Brown’s Bay” is a beautiful love lyric, while “The Pavilion”, following a long literary tradition, uses cricket as a metaphor for life.

This book displays many of the virtues of Mark Pirie’s poetry: humour, moving writing about grief and loss, and some classic last lines. I particularly like the final line of “Joe”, about a gentleman who starts distracting the scorer:

I watch his words aeroplane up and down his breath.

Whether or not you know your doosra from your googly, Slips is worth catching.

Underway

At last I’ve got this blog underway. I’ve got a web site which has basic information about my writing and interests, but I’ve wanted to put up something a bit more dynamic for a while. I’ll focus on the three books – All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens, Anarya’s Secret and Transported – to start with, but I’m sure I’ll wander off topic from time to time.

I’m also very involved in sustainable energy and climate change issues – I’ll add links about these in due course, but for the flavour of what I’m involved in, see my blog on BeTheChange.

Next post: more on All Blacks’ Kitchen Gardens.