Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Outcast - Wolf Brother Book 4

I am in a perpetual loop of awe when I read Michelle Paver - and admittedly, as a 28 year old man (I feel so old) I shouldn't be going to Waterstones and purchasing myself a copy of a children's book aimed at 9 to 12 year olds (it's for Mum really, I just read them first), but I do.

Let me argue that in my defence, I read all of Rowling's Potters, and in actual fact Paver is the far better writer. Her work might not deal with the big issues of Pullman's His Dark Materials, and it might not bas a literary and grand, but her writing is dead on, perfect, an easy read, a fast read, a great story.

So much so in fact that when I realised her latest book was out, I dumped the heavy going and rather waterlogged depiction of life on the Shiants in Adam Nicholson's Sea Room (for uni) - it's a well written read that falters because its all about the history and has no story (yawn) - and picked up Outcast for an immediate burst of life.

And it moves so fast that, at such a gripping pace that I'm at page 144 in only a short number of hours.

Considering the brief mentions Agent Peter occasionally makes about meetings with Ms Paver, I got to thinking how much time and effort he now needs to put in on assisting or advising her in her work - since he is extremely adept and what he does and MG has spoken previously of the need for rewrites having passed her work under his eye. Maybe you could shed light on that MG with your next work?

Anyhoo, in the meantime, let's sneakily open Outcast and read page one:

The viper glided down the riverbank and placed its sleek head on the water, and Torak stopped a few paces away to let it drink.

His arms ached from carrying the red deer antlers, so he set them aside and crouched in the bracken to watch. Snakes are wise, and know many secrets. Maybe this one would help him deal with his.

The viper drank with unhurried sips. Raising its head, it regarded Torak, flicking out its tongue to taste his scent. Then it coiled neatly back on itself and vanished into the ferns.

It had given him no sign.

But you don't need a sign, he told himself wearily. You know what to do. Just tell them. Soon as you get back to camp. Just say, 'Renn. Fin-Kedinn. Two moons ago something happened. They held me down, they put a mark on my chest. And now...'

I needn't go any further - that is a perfect opening (and one I'm certain Agent Peter must have had a hand in). His advice on such matters are as succinct as that passage.

Brevity, Brevity, Brevity as Solvejg and MJ used to say (a hell of a lot). The use of the viper to open with goes hand in hand with the cover, with what has come before (see the previous book) and as a portent of things to come.

We get an immediate sense of where we are with descriptions that tie in with movement (it not mattering what riverbank, river or the setting of the bracken looks like beyond their existence) and the introduction of Torak with his deer antlers is simply delivered.

But why is this important? Because Ms Paver doesn't make a big deal out of things. A lesser writer (ahem... myself) might make a big deal out of the antlers and/or the viper because of what they represent and what they will lead to, but Paver leaves that until the right moment. Until such time she sprinkles these references and allusions to greater things with a scarcity that puts them in the reader's mind without drawing too much significance too early.

In that strain she leaves off providing too many hooks for the reader - note the only hook we get is at the end of the passage in the reference to the mark. This is the hook that ties the reader in with trying to remember what the mark was from the first book, the title Outcast - what does that mean? How does that tie in with the mark?

And the descriptions of the actions of either Torak or viper are not wasted. We're not flooded with he watched this, did this, thought this, moved there, ate that, drank that. I seriously need to rethink my own approach in this respect.

Congratulations to Peter again for this, another great addition to the Wolf Brother series.


MG said...

Well, I really don't know how Peter works with Michelle - we don't discuss his other clients. With me the major input has been in the establishing of the narrative style (based on reading the first 15 pages) and then a major discussion of the structure - before the serious writing work has begun. Once I've actually written the full ms his comments have been minimal. Yes, Book 1 of Joshua Files had to be changed after we sold it but this was because we agreed with the pubs to drop the age of the MC from 15 to 13 and to make it a less 'teen' read and more suitable for younger male readers.

R1X said...

Ahh, right. Thanks for sharing :)