Review: Ochre Dragon

(THE OPAL DREAMING CHRONICLES #1)

BY V.E. PATTON

GENRE: Fantasy/Science Fiction/Dystopian/Hope Punk

RATING: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

On three distant worlds, three women journey towards their destinies. Before they started out, all three made a choice – to forget they share a single soul.

In tech-ruled post-Crack Earth, where magic doesn’t officially exist, project manager Ali’s humdrum life under the crumbling Melba Dome is becoming weirder by the day. Her fingers keep glowing, a snarky dragon takes up residence in her head, and people she thought were her friends keep trying to control, kidnap or assassinate her. To top it off, she can’t figure out why her previously perfect memory is suddenly full of holes.

Meanwhile, on Heavens Gate, where magic and science have forged an uneasy alliance, research analyst Merindah is desperate to save her dying planet. What she lacks in magical ability, she more than makes up for in ambition, which comes in handy as she navigates family politics and feral deities. But when an impatient and not-so-extinct dragon begins to help her solve the puzzle of the Yarran journal, she realises her magic might not be as weak as she’d thought.

Finally, on Reverie, where magic rules unfettered, a young orphan becomes burdened with tainted magical gifts. Dee is alone, trapped in a waking nightmare. When she finally surrenders to the voices in her head, her out-of-control magic unleashes her dragon and propels her onto a path that could unravel the fabric of time and space.

Three women, three worlds – and their time is running out. Unless Ali, Merindah and Dee can reunite and unlock the secret of the Timegates in a single year, all is lost. They must each make unimaginable sacrifices to become the Key, the Gatekeeper, and the Fire who will save the Cosmos – or ignite Armageddon.

First though… they need to teach their soulmate dragons who’s in charge! 

Ochre Dragons is a stunning, genre-bending work of the imagination that effortlessly engages both mind and heart. From the almost mythological Prologue to the pulse-racing conclusion, this is a glorious, multi-faceted gem of a book.

I began reading the Ebook on my Kindle, but a third of the way through, I ordered the paperback (available from Amazon at a ridiculously low price, just saying). The story just seemed too epic, too huge in scope, to be contained within a small, flat electronic device.

For a start, we have three main characters, all women at different stages of life, but somehow connected to one another. I fell in love with Ali first. She is the elder of the three, in the same decade of life as I am, which may be the reason I took to her so early. But her life in a future dystopian Australia is so interesting, as is her personality. And when her dragon appeared, well that just put the icing on the cake. It took me a little while longer to warm to Merindah, in her world where magic and science co-exist, and perhaps gods and goddesses, too. But I was on her side by the end. And then there’s Dee, the youngest, and in some ways in the most desperate situation of them all. She has the least time time devoted to her and her world, and I’m hoping for more of her in the sequel.

As if that wasn’t enough, the world-building is extraordinary, the settings switching between science fiction and fantasy, dystopian and frankly cosmological. And then, of course, there are dragons.

This is not a simple tale, but I loved the complexity. Other things I appreciated were:

  • The lyricism of the Prologue. And yes, it is a necessary element in this novel, and yes,you must read it. Trust me.
  • The sentient towers, and the eventual reveal of why and how they are sentient.
  • The inclusion of the archetypes of maiden, mother and crone, without falling into the trap of making them only hollow symbols. instead of real, flesh-and-blood women in their own right.
  • The fact that it’s such an Australian story in many ways, and yet universal, too. Nice trick, if you can pull it off as well as Patton does here.

This novel was first published in 2018, and it seems to have been flying under the radar to some extent since then. It deserves better. Buy it, read it, and tell me I’m wrong. I dragon-dare you.

Mini Experiment: Fast Drafting

Today I intend to bite the bullet, take the bull by the horns, grasp the nettle, swallow the pill, and all the other other cliches that mean I ‘m going to stop moaning and making excuses and just do this. And by this, I mean (cue ominous music and peals of thunder) Fast-drafting.

What is fast-drafting?

“Fast-drafting is quite literally the process of writing the first draft of your novel (or short story, novella, etc.) as quickly as possible. No hesitation, no excuses, no editing-as-you-go.”  storied.com/blog/fast-drafting

Image by meminsito from Pixabay

No editing as you go? Is such a thing even possible? Well, gentle readers, I am about to find out. I have come to this sorry state because progress on my current manuscript has slowed to a miserly trickle instead of the gushing torrent I’d expected as I neared the end.

Seriously, after more than 100,00 words of my first draft of Skalsinger, I was hoping for a quick dash to the finish, something like this:

Image by Simon Steinberger from Pixabay

And instead, for two weeks, I’ve been getting this:

Image by Marlon Ferrer from Pixabay

And I’m tired of it. It’s time for some drastic action. So, as much as the whole idea of fast-drafting makes my cramped, nitpicking, perfectionist soul cringe and flinch back with a gasp of horror, I am feeling the fear and doing it anyway. Enough cliches? Fair enough. On with the experiment.

The task:

Begin a fresh scene. Write using Scrivener for 30 minutes, then immediately switch to a pen and notebook for the remaining 30 minutes, so I can compare results between the two drafting methods.

The Rules:

  • Write as fast as possible, with no breaks
  • Ignore the voice that says it’s all rubbish and just carry on
  • Do not use the BACKSPACE or DELETE keys (ouch!)
  • Do not change anything once it’s on the page (double ouch!)
  • Do not use references to check for consistency with the rest of the manuscript
  • Do not make notes as I go about how to improve it later (yes, I do this)
  • Do not stop until the hour is up, no matter what

The Experiment Begins:

So, this is it. I am about to start fast drafting.

For one hour.

Using Forest App, which I’ve just downloaded to my phone.

Here I go. Wish me luck, and I’ll see you on the other side.

The results:

First 30 minutes (using Scrivener on my laptop):

I waited until I had the first sentence in my head, then started the timer. The first time I produced a typo, I went to use the backspace key, but just stopped myself in time. This kept happening for a while, but then the impulse faded as I got into the scene. And I really got into it: 759 words in 30 minutes, and I was till typing when the timer went off to switch to the notebook. The last time I churned out 700 words in a single session was three weeks ago, and that took two hours. As for the quality of the words, they are better than I expected. There’s some waffling and repetition, but that’s easy to tidy up later, and there’s some good stuff there, too. I’m more than happy with my progress in the first part of the experiment.

Second thirty minutes (using a notebook and pen):

There was a slight delay when I realised my fountain pen had run out of ink and I couldn’t find a new cartridge, but I grabbed a ballpoint and started in. Immediately, I noticed that my writing was much slower than my typing. I couldn’t get the words onto the paper quickly enough. No typos, though, and only one word scribbled out before I remembered I couldn’t do that. And the words kept flowing. Not only that, but the scene took a sudden new direction that I hadn’t foreseen and am quite excited about. More excited than I’ve been about this draft for quite a while, to be honest. I stopped writing about thirty seconds before the timer went off and left it at that. As I’d already known, I got far fewer words in this session: only 340. But I was writing the whole time, so I know it’s only because typing is faster, and not lack of inspiration.

Oh, and I planted two virtual trees in my forest. Strangely satisfying.

Conclusion:

I know this is only a first attempt, but I have to call it a resounding success. All my fears of fast drafting have disappeared. I wrote 1099 words in 60 minutes, and I’m excited to get back to this scene tomorrow. I call that a win.

I thought my usual editing-as-I-go method was giving me time to think, time I needed, but it wasn’t true. Reading back what I’ve written today, it’s just as good as anything I’ve produced this month (barring quite a few typos, but they’re easily corrected).

I will definitely continue with fast-drafting, but from now on I’ll be sticking with Scrivener and the laptop. Handwriting is just too slow, and now that I see a way to increase my productivity, I don’t want to handicap myself like that.

Fast-drafting rocks, and I like the app, too. Double win.

Image by StartupStockPhotos from Pixabay

Have you tried fast-drafting? What methods do you use to write?

WWW Wednesday

The last time I did this tag was October last year, so it’s about time for a repeat, don’t you think? I’m also very busy getting ready for an extended visit to help out my elderly parents, so it seems like an ideal week for a post that is short and sweet.

The WWW Wednesday tag is hosted on Taking on a World of Words It’s easy to do, just answer the three questions below!

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

What am I currently reading?

Interestingly, last October I was reading the first book in Sandy Barker’s Holiday Romance series. And right now I’m reading the second one!

I’m about a quarter of the way in, and loving it so far.

I’m also reading:

I’m liking this, but it’s not pulling me along yet. We’ll see.

What did I recently finish reading?

Loved, loved, loved this! 5 stars.

What do I think I’ll read next?

I finally started the first book in The Expanse series! So excited to be getting to this one, but I’m only a couple of pages in so far.

Have you read any of these? What did you think?

Happy Wednesday and happy reading!

QLTR* March 2020

*Quite Like To Read: full explanation here, if you’re interested.

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I’m hoping to read six books in March: five fiction and one non-fiction. Two are digital ARCs from Netgalley, two are books I bought for myself, and the other two are from the library. The genres cover: fiction writing, historical crime fiction, science fiction, fantasy, and romance. It feels like a nicely balanced, varied group, and I’m looking forward to all of them.

Here are the blurbs:

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BIRD BY BIRD
By Anne Lamott
Genre: Non-fiction/Writing


A step-by-step guide on how to write and on how to manage the writer’s life. From “Getting Started,’ with “Short Assignments,” through “Shitty First Drafts,” “Character,” “Plot,” “Dialogue.” all the way from “False Starts” to “How Do You Know When You’re Done?” Lamott encourages, instructs, and inspires. She discusses “Writers Block,” “Writing Groups,” and “Publication.” Bracingly honest, she is also one of the funniest people alive.
If you have ever wondered what it takes to be a writer, what it means to be a writer, what the contents of your school lunches said about what your parents were really like, this book is for you. From faith, love, and grace to pain, jealousy, and fear, Lamott insists that you keep your eyes open, and then shows you how to survive. And always, from the life of the artist she turns to the art of life.

This is a classic writing craft book that I’ve been wanting to read for years. I bought myself a copy and can’t wait to get into it.


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HOSTAGE TO FORTUNE
By Sarah Hawkswood
Genre: Historical Crime Fiction

January 1144. Hugh Bradecote does not want his betrothed heading off on pilgrimage to the shrine of St Edgyth at Polesworth, but the Archbishop of Canterbury’s envoy and his entourage of monks seem Heaven sent as escorts, right up until they are captured by a renegade who wants his forger out of the lord sheriff’s cells; a renegade who loathes the Benedictines, and kills for pleasure.
Against a backdrop of a hard winter and even a frozen River Severn, Bradecote and Catchpoll are struggling to rescue the clerics, and Christina, before a psychopath does his worst, the lord sheriff loses patience, and Bradecote cracks under the pressure.

I absolutely love reading stories set in Britain in this time period, and the blurb reminds me irresistibly of Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael mysteries. Should be thoroughly enjoyable.


LEVIATHAN WAKES
By James S.A. Corey
Genre: Science Fiction

Jim Holden is XO of an ice miner making runs from the rings of Saturn to the mining stations of the Belt. When he and his crew stumble upon a derelict ship, the Scopuli, they find themselves in possession of a secret they never wanted. A secret that someone is willing to kill for – and kill on a scale unfathomable to Jim and his crew. War is brewing in the system unless he can find out who left the ship and why.

Detective Miller is looking for a girl. One girl in a system of billions, but her parents have money and money talks. When the trail leads him to the Scopuli and rebel sympathizer Holden, he realizes that this girl may be the key to everything.

Holden and Miller must thread the needle between the Earth government, the Outer Planet revolutionaries, and secretive corporations – and the odds are against them. But out in the Belt, the rules are different, and one small ship can change the fate of the universe. 

I have been holding off watching The Expanse on Netflix until I’ve read this series, and am determined to at least start this in March (it’s LONG).


THE MAD SHIP
By Robin Hobb
Genre: Fantasy

The Farseer trilogy continues the dramatic tale of piracy, serpents, love and magic. The Vestrit family’s liveship, Vivacia, has been taken by the pirate king, Kennit. Held captive on board, Wintrow Vestrit finds himself competing with Kennit for Vivacia’s love as the ship slowly acquires her own bloodlust. Leagues away, Althea Vestrit has found a new home aboard the liveship Ophelia, but she lives only to reclaim the Vivacia and with her friend, Brashen, she plans a dangerous rescue. Meanwhile in Bingtown, the fading fortunes of the Vestrit family lead Malta deeper into the magical secrets of the Rain Wild Traders. And just outside Bingtown, Amber dreams of relaunching Paragon, the mad liveship …

I buddy-read the first book in this series, Ship of Magic, back in January with a group on Goodreads and loved both the novel and the experience of discussing it chapter by chapter online. And now I’m ready to do it all over again with the second book. Can’t wait to see what happens to all my favourite characters.


THAT NIGHT IN PARIS
By Sandy Barker
Genre: Romance

Note to self: don’t sleep with your flatmate after a curry and three bottles of wine… especially if he’s secretly in love with you and wants you to meet his mum.
Cat Parsons is on the run. She doesn’t do relationships. After ten years of singlehood even the hint of the ‘L’ word is enough to get Cat packing her bags and booking herself onto a two-week holiday.
A European bus tour feels like a stroke of genius to dodge awkward conversations at home. But little does Cat realise that the first stop will be Paris, the city of love itself.
Joined by new friends, Cat has got two weeks, eight countries and a hell of a lot of wine ahead of her. As they discover hidden treasures and the camaraderie of life on the road, will Cat find a new way of looking at love?

I read One Summer in Santorini, which was a fun, light romance with terrific travel vibes. So I requested this second book from Netgalley and was so pleased to be accepted to receive an ARC. I’m expecting more travel, more romance and no doubt more enticing descriptions of delicious food.


THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE THE TIME WAR
By Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone
Genre: Science Fiction/Romance

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.
Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.
Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?
Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space. 


This sounds so unique and intriguing. I’m a sucker for time travel stories and time travel agents? Even better. Plus, it’s nice and short, an important factor this month with two huge tomes in the list.


So that’s what I’m thinking I might Quite Like To Read in March. How about you?

Mini Experiment: Two Golden Hours

THE CONCEPT

I don’t know where the original “two golden hours” concept came from, but I first came across it in regard to writing here.
Dr Jane Genovese had been impressed by a seminar called “Turbocharging your writing” run by Hugh Kearns from ithinkwell.com

Hugh then talked about the idea of nailing your feet to the floor to force yourself to write for “Two Golden hours”. He then warned us that during the first 45 minutes of this process, most people experience some level of anxiety and discomfort. It’s common to have thoughts such as “I can’t write this”, “I rather be doing something else” or “This is really hard…”. This is completely normal but often what happens is people think that something is wrong when they experience this anxiety. They think that because they’re finding it hard to write, perhaps they should stop and often that’s exactly what they do. Big mistake. “If you just hang in there, the anxiety will eventually disappear” said Hugh Kearns.

SLOGGING THROUGH THE MUD

At the time I read this, I was faithfully showing up at my desk at 6am each morning, with two hours at my disposal and the manuscript of Skalsinger open on my laptop, but it was like slogging through mud. My word count for the past week had averaged out at:

155 words per hour! 😧

Something needed to change, and drastically, or the final 10% of this first draft would take months to finish.

Enter Two Golden Hours and another writing Mini Experiment.

Hugh Kearn’s rules were simple:

  1. Write early in the day
  2. Use a dedicated place
  3. Close the door
  4. NO internet at all! Pull out the cable if you have to.
  5. Nail your feet to the floor and stay there, no matter how mentally uncomfortable you get
  6. Ignore your inner critic and just get the words down

Simple, but not necessarily easy.

A MODIFICATION

I did modify this experiment by including short breaks. I saw a Twitter post to this effect by Kelly Gardiner and asked her how she broke the time up. She does 25-minute writing sprints followed by 5-minute breaks to stretch, go to the bathroom, walk around, etc. But no internet! This made sense to me. So I had my plan. How did it go?

Minutes 0-25
Task: plotting/planning/making notes/ brainstorming
Notes: I found a plot hole and worked out what needs to happen next
Words added to manuscript: 0

1st break: drank water, stretched

Minutes 30-55
Task: Begin the new scene, which will be mostly dialogue
Notes: after a slow start, the words began flowing quite well, and I was surprised when the timer went off.
Words added to manuscript: 314

2nd break: bathroom break, then sat quietly. Realisation surfaced that the scene needs more conflict; I need to add a third character.

Minutes 60-85
Task: rewrite the scene, adding the third character
Notes: I felt it was working well.
Words added to manuscript: 212

3rd break: walked around the garden. Lots of ideas buzzing around my head, including how to end the scene.

Minutes 90-115
Task: complete the scene
Notes: the words felt like they were coming more slowly, but I pushed and completed the scene almost right on the timer.
Words added to manuscript: 289

CONCLUSION

As I spent the first 25 minutes just planning, I added 815 words to my draft in 75 minutes, equivalent to

652 words per hour!😊

This is a massive improvement on the past week, and suggests this method really works for me.

WHAT NEXT?

  • I’d like to plan ahead next time so I can try actually writing for the whole four sessions and see what that does to my word count.
  • I also think it could be valuable to do some single Golden Hours, just two 25-minute sessions with a break in the middle.
  • The breaks were useful and I would definitely keep them in. They were short enough that I stayed in writing mode, but they gave me enough distance from the task for new ideas to arise.
  • I’m sure that what made the biggest difference was excluding all activity on the internet during this time. Not exactly a surprise, but now I’ve proved what an effect it has on me personally, I know what to do. Can I do it, though? We’ll see…

Have you tried this or any other methods to maximise the productivity of your writing time? I’d love to hear about your experiences.


GREENHAELAN

My debut fantasy novel, Greenhaelan, is now officially published!

I first began writing this story in 2014, with nothing but a title, a character – an Australian gardener named Sara – and a vague idea of transporting her to a place where magic was real. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved the idea of travelling through a wardrobe, a hidden gate, or a swirling vortex, to a completely different world. So I sent Sara on that journey and followed her to see what happened. Back then, I could never have envisioned what this small germ of an idea would become. It’s been a magical and wondrous journey for me too, sometimes tough, often joyful, but always absorbing. I hope readers will feel the same.

Greenhaelan is available in Kindle Ebook and Paperback from Amazon worldwide. Just click on the link below:

Greenhaelan (Chronicles of Algarth #1)

The story:

Self-employed gardener Sara Martin has known from childhood that gardens are enchanted places. But she never expected the magic to be literal.

Miraculously swept away to a landscape dying in the grip of an ecological disaster, Sara discovers that the enchantment is as real as the danger. And when a forbidden healing power manifests in her, she is forced to question everything she has built her life on.

Uncertain how far she can trust her outlaw companions, pursued by an enemy intent on her destruction, Sara must decide how much she is willing to risk for a place and a people that are not her own.

And she will be forced to face the question: what is the price for choosing a safe, little life?

Some responses from early reviewers on Goodreads:

Greenhaelan is an adventurous debut with a unique world and magic system that is sure to be a hit with Fantasy readers.

L.A. Webster has done a great job in weaving a compelling world, interesting characters and an ecological mystery that draws the reader in.

There’s magic and adventure and politics and intrigue, and I love how it all culminated at the end.

With incisive comparisons to the modern world, Greenhaelan is a cautionary tale about what could happen to our planet if we don’t take care of it. An engrossing read that seamlessly mixes reality and fantasy.

If you’d like to secure a copy for yourself or someone you know who loves fantasy, mystery and wonder, here’s the Amazon link again:

Greenhaelan (Chronicles of Algarth #1)