Released: 8th May 2015 (UK) Verdict: Go and see it while it is still on!
Director: Bharat Nalluri This review does not contain spoilers
Running Time: 104 mins
I saw this film on Thursday morning (9.55 am, to be exact) and wanted to get my review out as quickly as possible to give people a chance to catch a late showing before it leaves cinemas. You can guess from this that I liked it. Actually, I LOVED it but then I was a huge fan of the television series and have always had a soft spot for Harry Pearce (Peter Firth).
Although I do think that my attachment to the series enhanced my enjoyment of the film, I would be surprised if I hadn't liked it anyway. It is exactly my sort of thing: well-acted, suspenseful, fast-paced without being too convoluted or confusing and not too darn long or overtly slick. I don't want to include too many details of the plot (I went in knowing nothing about it so was gripped from the start) but it shouldn't be spoiling anything to say that it revolves around MI5 Chief Intelligence Officer, Harry Pearce. As an 'elder spy', Harry usually calls the shots from back at base in central London but this film sees him thrust into the field as a known terrorist threatens not only the country which he loves but also the fabric of MI5 itself. But fear not, the old man still has a few tricks up his sleeve.
Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) as Will Holloway provides Harry with a young and semi-reluctant sidekick and does a good job, even if he does seem a bit on the nice side at times (although that may have been deliberate). I would like to see more of him on the big screen.
It is not the most twisty of plots and there isn't much character development but I didn't need those things to enjoy it. I wasn't in the mood for anything too heavy and this was perfect. No doubt some will think that it should have been a small screen affair but personally I liked the fact that it was still recognisable as Spooks and spending an hour and three quarters watching it in a cozy cinema with a bag of pick and mix was bliss. Another one please...
The Miniaturist is a wildly successful novel, winning multiple awards and topping bestseller charts for weeks. An auspicious start for a debut author and I couldn't wait to get my hands on a copy. The version I read comprised a beautiful hardback edition (pictured below).
Set in Seventeenth-Century Amsterdam, the plot centres around eighteen-year-old Nella who has been plucked from a rural village to be the wife of a wealthy trader whom she barely knows. Naive and innocent, Nella is plunged into a family drama for which she is ill prepared. As events unfold, Nella takes strange comfort from tiny gifts which arrive from a mysterious woman who displays an unnerving talent for foresight.
I found The Miniaturist to be an exquisitely written tale. The fluidity of the prose is as breathtaking as it is accessible. This is literature of the highest quality. The language dances across the page, gently unfolding a story which is a joy to read. Jessie Burton brings Amsterdam in 1686 vividly to life, with characters so real you feel you know them. The political situation and religious influences are woven together cleverly into a tale of love and loss which is gripping throughout. The book also contains a Seventeenth-Century Dutch Glossary which explains the local and time-specific references used.
By the end, I did have a couple of issues with the plot but these did not seriously detract from my enjoyment or appreciation of the book. Nevertheless, I would have liked more closure and I think my reading of it suffered a little from a misconception I had when I began reading. For some reason (presumably reviews I had read and also the book blurb) I had thought that I was reading a mystery - one with a puzzle, clues and resolution. This isn't really the case. For me, The Miniaturist really shines through as a wonderful, evocative exploration of family, of love (and hate), of politics and religion at a time and in a place about which I knew almost nothing. It is heartening that such quality has translated into sales and I look forward to the next offering by this talented author.
Lucy Hounsom and Genevieve Cogman are debut authors published by Tor (an imprint of Pan Macmillan which specialises in science fiction, fantasy and horror). Lucy's novel, Starborn, was released on 23rd April, and comprises Book 1 in the Worldmaker Trilogy. Genevieve's novel, The Invisible Library, was released on 15th January. It is also the first of three novels. Both describe themselves as writing in the fantasy genre.
The story of Starborn begins with Kyndra, a girl who accidentally disrupts her coming of age ceremony by destroying an ancient relic, forcing her to flee her village in the company of two powerful strangers. In the hidden citadel of Naris, Kyndra seeks to unlock her magic and explore the disturbing visions she has of the past. Brutally tested, can Kyndra survive and use her powers to right an ancient wrong?
The Invisible Library follows the adventures of Irene, a professional spy for a mysterious library which harvests books from different dimensions. In an alternative London she becomes embroiled in a dangerous hunt for a stolen book which pits her against supernatural creatures, unpredictable magic and secret societies.
I should mention that I haven't read either novel, although I am very much looking forward to them both. I knew that the event was coming up and decided that I would purchase the books there and have them signed. Reviews will follow on the blog in due course.
The format for the evening involved each author reading an extract from their work before answering questions raised by the host who then invited additional questions from the audience. Both authors read well and responded to the queries put to them at length and with enthusiasm. I suspect that the majority of those in attendance were unpublished writers and the topics discussed were particularly suited to this type of audience.
Both Lucy and Genevieve have day jobs around which they have to manage their writing but the discussion revealed how each has taken a different path to publication. Lucy, for example, has a B.A. in English and Creative Writing and an M.A. in Creative Writing. Genevieve has an M.SC. in Statistics with Medical Applications and cited her experience writing for roleplaying games as helpful when it came to coherent world building. Lucy spoke about approaching many agents and how she dealt with those early rejections whereas Genevieve was taken on by the first agent she approached. Both, however, admitted to having at least one unpublished novel at home, agreeing that they needed to get those first books written as part of their learning curve for the works which were subsequently taken on by agents and then published.
It was no surprise to learn that both are avid readers. When asked about their influences, Lucy referenced the works of David Eddings and The Wheel of Time series penned by Robert Jordan while Genevieve lit up as she remembered discovering Sherlock Holmes for the first time. The swamp adder/bell rope in Conan Doyle's 'The Adventure of the Speckled Band' was recalled with particular affection. Genevieve explained that when writing The Invisible Library she took all her favourite elements of literature and pulled them together into one fantastical adventure.
Each was generous when it came to answering the many questions which came from the floor. How long are your chapters? (No rules. Make them as long as you need. Average is probably between 3,000 and 6,000 words for them.) With your novels featuring fairly young protagonists, what makes your books 'adult' rather than 'young adult'? (Complexity, less emphasis on romantic attachments.) Do you do much research? (Not research intensive but world building does require some knowledge across a wide and often unanticipated spectrum, such as how far can a horse travel in a day? What equipment would be needed?) Did you ever go back to the same literary agent following a rejection? (No.) Did you get much input into your cover? (Lucy-yes, GC-didn't need it. Their proposal was gorgeous!)
This post will probably only be of interest if you are thinking of self-publishing your work at some point but hopefully it will reach a few of you.
Let me start by saying that I am a beginner. I set out on this writing journey armed with a pen and paper and a basic understanding of Word but I knew nothing about advanced formatting, web-design, blogging, posting images online (I don't even have a Facebook account). So when I decided to self-publish, the first thing I did was make a list of what I wanted to achieve and then drew up a timetable. This has been invaluable and I would recommend anyone thinking of going down this path to do the same as it can feel overwhelming when you are starting out. Having that piece of paper can help keep you calm. I also set a 'launch' date and worked back from there. My book is in the supernatural genre so it makes sense to publish early autumn, ready for Halloween and Christmas. I made the decision to self-publish at the end of January so have given myself plenty of time.
Here's my list:
1 Finish manuscript.
2 Have text copy edited by a third party (this will cost).
3 Understand how CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) work.
4 Decide whether to stick with Amazon (which owns both CreateSpace and KDP) or to publish on other platforms. (As my learning curve is so steep, I have decided to deal exclusively with Amazon for now and to ignore other platforms until I have a better idea what I am doing.)
5 Build website and blog (work out cost).
6 Choose title and design book cover (or outsource book cover design - work out cost if outsourcing).
7 Begin to think about how to market the book (libraries, universities, local press, online, printed material? Again, consider costs).
8 Decide on a launch date and whether to have an event (and price it up).
9 Register for public lending rights if book to be stocked in a public library.
Each of the above points has its own sub-list. In today's post I will look at point 1 (manuscript) and also touch on point 3 (understanding CreateSpace and KDP). The others I will save for another day.
As soon as I made the decision to self-publish I jumped straight into point 3 (understanding CreateSpace and KDP). The partially completed manuscript was put aside for about three weeks while I wrapped my brain around what I was thinking of undertaking. I made the decision to self-publish at the end of January this year. At that time I had completed six of the eight stories and I was trying to decide whether to send them off to agents and publishers. But my research showed that many agents didn't accept unsolicited collections of short stories and then someone mentioned CreateSpace.
I had heard of 'e-publishing' and 'self-publishing', of course, but what I hadn't realised was how accessible it was. Further, I discovered that Amazon didn't just have a facility for publishing e-books (via KDP) but also had a sister company which enabled people to generate good quality print copies of their books (CreateSpace). This was an important moment as I wanted to create a physical book, something I could pass around relatives who don't use e-readers, something I could sign, and/or give as a gift. I also think that spooky tales work well when read from crinkly yellow paper. (Plus self-published titles never go out of print. They are printed on demand each time an order comes in and so do not disappear even if sales are low.)
Tip: What I should have done next was visit the CreateSpace website (www.createspace.com) and set up an account. (It's free - just a username and password required). Once you have an account you can see the steps that need to be completed (see the picture above for a snapshot of my member dashboard) and it gives you a clearer idea about what you are undertaking. Even if you do not set up an account, you can download a Word template from the CreateSpace website which you can then use for your manuscript. I didn't do this. I thought that I would finish my manuscript first. This is not necessary and I would recommend that anyone who is serious about going down this route considers setting up an account early in the process. At least take a look around the website and the Word templates available. Update: one thing I have found with book 2 is that if I type my WIP straight into the CreateSpace Word template it is not very efficient from a printing and reviewing perspective as you only get a few hundred words per page (as it is set out like the real book). You can increase the size of the fonts so that each page fills a side of A4 (by going into print/scale to paper size/A4) which makes it bigger and easier to read on paper but you still only end up with the same word count per page. I can see this becoming frustrating and so I may actually revert to my previous practice of pasting my WIP into the template when it is at an advanced stage but you may feel differently. I suppose the message is that if you haven't done this before, this will only really make sense to you if you take a look at the templates, play around with them and see what works for you.
What I DID do: I bought an e-copy of 'CreateSpace & Kindle Self-Publishing Masterclass' by Rick Smith and read through it. From this I learned that my manuscript needs to be formatted differently for the printed book and the e-book (after all, they are two very different platforms). If you are planning on producing both a physical book and an e-book (like me) Mr Smith recommends starting with the CreateSpace version as Amazon has a facility which then automatically converts the CreateSpace manuscript into a version which is compatible with KDP. I decided to follow this advice.
Please note that the version I have of this book (2nd edition 2015) does not contain up-to-date information regarding the US/UK tax position. I assume Mr Smith will update but if you find a version which says anything other than 'use the online Amazon form and input your NI number' then double check you have the most recent information available as the process has been significantly simplified and a few minutes filling in an on-line form should do the trick if you have no other connection with the US.
I also began looking at how other books were being presented/designed and taking pictures of (and measuring!) the ones that I liked. It might seem like you are getting ahead of yourself if you haven't even finished writing your book but if you want to download the formatted Word template from CreateSpace and work directly into it, you need to know what size your book is going to be (ie the 'trim' size). I have chosen 5" x 8".
With my next book, I will decide on a trim size at the outset, download the Word template from CreateSpace and work directly into it. (Update: please see my comment above regarding the use of the template during the WIP stage). As it stands, I have had to copy and paste my manuscript into the template (although it hasn't given me too many problems at all and I may actually revert to this practice given the issues arising as I edit - please see above). Please note that you do not have to use the template provided by CreateSpace but you will need a reasonably sophisticated knowledge of book formatting if you decide to go it alone. The template provided sets out the print margins, chapter breaks, contents page etc for you so all you have to do is provide the words. It was the obvious choice for me.
Tip: Try and keep manual tabs/indents out of your manuscript. Apparently they can cause problems. I was aware of this and spent a couple of hours taking them out and using the rulers to set the paragraph indents. I then used the 'central justify' button to set up the asterisks I am using to denote certain scene breaks so there is not a manual 'tab' in sight.
Tip: Ensure that you have not used a document which at any time has contained a table of contents in Word. This contains hyperlinks which can cause problems. The table of contents in the Word template you download from CreateSpace requires you to manually enter the page numbers into the table. Update - this is intended for straightforward fiction manuscripts by beginners who wish to make things as easy as possible.
Tip: You will need to decide upon font size and type and also the spacing between lines so have a good look at the insides of the books you are wanting to emulate and see if you can work out how they have been put together. Rick Smith's book contains some advice. Once you have your Word template you can play around with font sizes and spacing (and indents etc) as much as you want. Each time I make a change I print out a few pages and compare them with published books to see what it looks like (as it prints out at the same size as the finished book). There is no harm in getting a feel for how you want to lay out your book even if you haven't finished writing it. It can provide a nice break from writing and the time spent will not be wasted. There is a lot of information to take in and decisions to make and it helped me to know what these were while I finished my manuscript. It took my brain a while to digest all the information and I have done this gently, over a period of time which I think is better than cramming it once the manuscript is ready to go.
Now my manuscript is in hand (pasted into the CreateSpace template and ready for a copy edit) I am wrestling with designing my book cover and (mostly) enjoying it. I will post separately on this in a few weeks. Thanks for reading (if anyone got this far!) and happy writing.
I love most types of fiction - crime, mystery, fantasy. Oh, and historical fiction of course and middle-grade books and, well, you get the picture.
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