Tag Archives: Writing

Wool, with no sheep!

Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey at Takapuna Library on Monday, 22 April 2013

The Wool series by Hugh Howey is a book with no sheep! The wool in the title refers to the saying “to pull the wool over somebody’s eyes” in other words, to deceive someone in order to prevent them from discovering something. It has a wide appeal for all sorts of readers and is an exciting mystery. It is also a thriller set in a dystopian, science fiction world about a group of people living underground.

“What would you do if the world outside was deadly, and the air you breathed could kill? And you lived in a place where every birth required a death, and the choices you made could save lives – or destroy them. This is Jules’ story. This is the world of Wool.”

The Wool Series consist of three books:


Shift (this is the prequel, but Hugh Howey recommends that you read Wool first, in the same way that you wouldn’t want to watch the Star Wars films in sequential order)

Dust (due in October 2013)

In publishing terms Wool is unusual because it evolved as a short story in eBook format published online in instalments on Amazon. It became popular with readers who sent emails asking for more, and so the story “took off” and eventually ended up as a single volume in print. In this way it is a mixture of the old and the new. Many years ago Charles Dickens (1812 – 1870) published his stories in weekly, or monthly instalments in journals, and then modified what he wrote according to the feedback he received. Would he have enjoyed the direct relationship with his readers that online publishing, twitter and blogs provide  authors like Hugh Howey today?

This weekend Hugh Howey blogged ” Bumpy landing in a massive rainstorm last night. Woke up looking over the harbour here in Auckland. A bevy of interviews today before the event tonight. So excited to be here. It’s been on my wish-list for so long; hard to believe I’m really on the other side of the globe from my home.”

On Monday evening I was lucky enough to hear him speak and he told us that amongst other things he has been a sailing captain and worked in construction. He described life on board a boat as Captain as not all glamorous quite often it involves living below deck fixing the engines and unblocking the head (toilet) in order to facilitate the good life for others enjoying life above deck. He has seen both sides – the life of billionaires and ordinary workers.

Even though Wool has been his greatest success so far, he has written many books, and says, “Finishing your first book is an incredible feeling; like climbing a mountain.” Wool took three months to write and was an enjoyable experience. The reaction you have to your writing he says is a good indication of how others may also enjoy the story. His writing day is usually 6 to 11 a.m. every day. He uses a computer to write, and with tongue in cheek he says that using your right hand to write with a pen makes you use the logical side of your brain, whereas two hands on the computer uses both sides of the brain and is more creative.

Some writers “follow” their stories as they write them not knowing where they will end, and others like to frame their writing within a plot. Hugh Howey says that he falls into the “plotter” camp and likes to start at the end, so that he knows where the story is going.

Authors that Hugh Howey admires and enjoys include Mark Twain (for his satire and humour), Peter F. Hamilton, Neil Gaiman and Neal Stephenson who wrote Cryptonomicon (about people in different time periods). Film rights to the Wool series have been sold to 20th Century Fox with English film director and producer Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus, Blade Runner, Gladiator), and a screenplay is currently being written, although Hugh Howey is not allowing himself to get too excited in case it never happens. Perhaps this trailer will have to do until then.

Mrs H.

Amazon Page



Publisher Random House 

Maurice Gee 2012 Honoured New Zealand Writer

This year, the Auckland Writers & Readers Festival announced an important new initiative: the introduction of an Honoured New Zealand Writer. The very first writer chosen to be honoured in this way for “ the immense contribution they have made to the literary landscape of New Zealand “ is Maurice Gee.

Maurice Gee is a writer with a published career that spans half a decade, beginning with short stories in the 1950’s and ending with his most recent book The Limping Man that came out in 2011. His classic book Under the Mountain has been made into a film not once but twice, the latest being in 2009.

So it was with great anticipation that I went along on the last day of the festival to hear Maurice Gee reading extracts from his books and chatting about his career as a writer with Geoff Walker.

Maurice Gee began by telling the audience that he did not grant many interviews these days but considered it would be mean spirited not to turn up on this occasion.

We heard that his mother was a big influence and that she was a writer herself until “her family swallowed her up”. His father’s contribution to his development (as a reader and a writer) was to give him a Chums Annual full of bloodthirsty stories, which was odd, considering that he was a pacifist. For a while the young Maurice Gee was content with comic stories and it wasn’t until an elderly neighbor invited him to play a game of draughts that he moved onto novels. Seeing Maurice eyeing the books in his room his neighbor insisted that he borrow a copy of Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens. Reluctantly Maurice took the book home. It had long words and tiny print but soon he was entranced. Looking back he reflected that he had been emotionally stunted by reading comics but grew again with Dickens.

Maurice was asked about his books many of which are dark and violent. His answer was that we all have darkness and violence in us. It is also a strong literary device and makes more of a story if the darkness erupts. In this way there is a before, and an after. Although he wished he could have had a bit more humour and lightness in his writing.

He talked about being misquoted in the past when he said that writing for children was easy, when what he really meant was that writing for children was easier for him to do.

Maurice Gee felt that Prowlers published in 1987 was his best novel, and he was the old man he liked the most.

We heard that a biography is being written on his life warts and all, but that sadly he won’t be writing another book for publication. Despite this, he feels no loss as he has a sense of completion.

Mrs H.

Site for Writers (and Readers)

The 4th Floor Literary Journal is a selection of work written each year by students and tutors on the writing programme at Whitireia New Zealand.

The 4th Floor takes its name from the fact that, at the time the journal began, the writing programme was situated on the fourth floor of the Whitireia Wellington city campus. Though the programme has since shifted, the name 4th Floor has stuck.

Mr F

John Marsden talks about writing

John Marsden in Auckland Sunday , 14 August 2011

John Marsden talked for an hour and a half to a large audience of people at Auckland Central Library and I was privileged to be part of that audience.  He told us that recently he has given a lot more thought to book plots, rather than just the characters he uses.

We are all on a journey to wisdom and a journey to knowledge and they are both wonderful journeys, he said. We all yearn for truth. Where can we find it? In the past we have been let down by teachers, parents, priests, and the media. Paradoxically, we can find truth in fiction from writers of integrity and John Marsden gave a few examples such as Tim Winton, Pat Barker, Helen Garner, and Ann Tyler). I pleased to say that three of these four authors can be found in our library. Every such book advances us towards knowledge.
John Marsden talked about finding a voice for a character and that once he has achieved this he finds his novel is underway. However, fiction involves not only characters but also plot. There are a few ways of looking at “plot”.

  1. Where the reader is moved from ignorance to knowledge such as in a  crime novel where eventually the reader finds out who the criminal is, and how the crime was committed.
  2. The interruption to a routine is the beginning of a story. This also happens in the movies and John Marsden gave us the example of the movie Three days of the Condor. “When we go to the movies we are given a ticket with a promise in invisible ink that something will happen.”
  3. A plot may involve a change of status eg. Macbeth or King Lear who move from a high to a low status, or Bart Simpson from despair to elation and back again.
  4. A plot can involve a problem that needs a solution. John Marsden explained how as a writer he put his characters into difficult situations and then had to try and find a credible solution for them to get out of it.
  5. Plot begins when the author says “what if…”  “What if the piano started playing wonderful music with no apparent player.”

By using these methods to generate ideas finding a plot is easy, it is the self discipline of writing that is difficult. In the words of Bryce Courtney you need “bum glue”. However, as a writer it is important to use your own words, do not borrow or steal from others, avoid plagiarism and cliches, and get in touch with your own feelings in order to describe how your characters feel.

John Marsden told us that when he was a boy at school in Tasmania his English teacher would set the class a writing exercise each week based on a different topic. If the theme was “Pirates” the class would be invited to put up their hands and offer words associated with pirates – shipwreck, cabin boy, doubloon, cutlass. All these words would be written down on the blackboard, and the teacher would then invite the class to write a story using all the words on the board. There was one boy in class who never volunteered any words; John Marsden. He had a personal rule never to offer any words, and never to use any of the words on the board when he wrote his story. The rest of the class would rush into their writing which was all done for them but, said John Marsden, he would sweat blood trying to accomplish the task. Looking back, he said, it was the beginnings of his becoming a writer. I asked him later, as he signed my book, “Did your teacher ever discover what you were doing?” “No” he said “I don’t think she ever did”.