Category Archives: genre

Items pertaining to different genres of writing and novels

Review: Scarlet and Magenta

Scarlet and Magenta is a recently released historical novel by New Zealander Lindsey Dawson writing about Victorian times in the country’s (then) remote township of Tauranga.

ScarletMagenta (2)

Reading an historical novel as a woman entrenched in feminist beliefs is a challenge. You want the hero(ine)s to succeed against the entrenched patriarchal beliefs even though you know that likelihood is zilch. I imagine writing such a novel is equally frustrating because of the limitations of historical accuracy.

Colonial wives and lives curbed

Dawson, however, empathetically strides alongside her two colonial wives as they grapple with the understanding that their gender renders them silent in the decisions about  life. Even in the sphere of domestic and cultural pursuits, their production is monitored and curbed by husbands and society’s beliefs.

Violet’s past haunts her while her ambitious husband bullies her almost into submission. Anna has a more magnanimous husband and her rebellion is less dramatic than Violet’s.

My reservations

The character of Rupert is developed through the eyes of the two women and Anna’s husband. I felt this hampered a full rounding out of a charming man bent on self-destruction. 

I loved the book, but I felt that Dawson hurried the conclusion. Although the plot  ends are tied up nicely, by using a jump forward in time, I believe that a little more unfolding of the story could well  keep the reader enthralled.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: The Ninth Hour

by Alice McDermott

If you’ve watched the TV series “Call the Midwife”, then you’ll feel right at home reading “The Ninth Hour” by Alice McDermott. In fact I had to remind myself that this story of selfless nuns was taking place in Brooklyn, New York, not the south end of London after the war. McDermott’s novel portrays many universal themes of women’s oppression around that era, and the consequences of being poor and sick.

A rather bleak story, the novel offers insights into the lives of these religious women and illustrates the self-motivation required to give your life to God. With their focus on finding workable solutions for the unfortunate people they work for, occasionally they have to bend the rules. For Annie, an Irish immigrant who came to America and was widowed early, life was extremely bleak until the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor stepped in to give pregnant Annie a job in the convent’s laundry.

Annie and her daughter Sally live a cloistered life, eventually leading teenage Sally to believe that her calling is to join their religious order. The outcome of this decision demonstrates the internal struggles of boundless love for one’s fellow humans, and how challenging this can be for women in religious orders.

McDermott shows rather than tells her story, challenging the reader to read between the lines and understand the true meaning of sacrifice for these women as they struggle to improve the lives of those they serve in their community.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Finding the Write Road

Musings by Heather Sylvawood

This morning started with a bit of a hiccup – I had a flat battery. The car I am currently driving doesn’t have mod-cons like warning beeps if you turn off the car while the lights are still on. It does, in fact, assume you will be vigilant and remember … duh!


Once the battery issue was solved by the nice young man from AA, I set off.

Now I don’t usually drive a manual. Anyone driving behind me could probably tell. I often manage to confuse the slot for third gear with the slot for fifth gear. Consequently I’m either over-revving or stuttering under the strain of a gear jump.

All of these faux pas instantly connect with the blood supply to my face.

Battering my self-confidence

Taking the back route (less chance of shaming myself in front of others), I rattled along, berating myself for every mistake and generally giving my self-confidence I right battering.

Then, in one of those break-through moments, I realised that this is what I do when I’m writing! I leap forward and write heaps, and then I re-read and start to doubt myself, comparing my first draft writing with the polished published writing of others. I compare my least polished with their pristine.


Recently I have been reading a selection of writers – the series writer, romance writers, mystery writers, New Zealand writers, and Christian writers. I find myself picking up proofing errors (ahhh … the permanency of print against eBooks) and even clumsy language which their editors surely should have noticed. What’s been happening to me is I have been developing my critical eye. Only this time it isn’t for my own work but for that of others.

The Critical Eye is valuable

I am beginning to realise that my over-revving and stuttering gait probably mirrors that of other writers. They too must feel  lacking when comparing themselves to the honoured writers of our culture. That critical eye, however, is what keeps writers improving.

As well as noting the less-than-perfect, the joy of my research is that I am also identifying clever writing.

I recently read Tiger Lillie by Lisa Samson, a Christian writer living in Maryland, USA. I love her style. She manages to convey so much more in simple descriptions and with such humour, I want to come back for more. Take the following example:

“I’ve always loved evening. Even back then, as a chubby, bug-eyed little girl who also loved a good joke, that time of day sobered me and filled me with peace. I know now it’s due to the fact that the clock never stops ticking down and the time for making the day’s mistakes draws to a sweet close. Even the circumstances in which to make these blunders fly away, for in the twilight we simply sit and breathe quietly, cross our fingers and hope the phone won’t ring or the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t come to the door.”

What craft! How much does she reveal about her character in a passage ostensibly about ‘evening’?

Research good writer and author examples

By reading the work of others I am observing the unusual word construction, the insightful capture of character, and the clever development of plot.

Research is important, be that by reading the work of others, or finding out what is capturing the readers of the day. Writing, however, is the key to becoming a writer. So it’s back to the computer for me.

Oh! Yes. I am writing. A blog!

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Gossip-end of the Grapevine

Heather Sylvawood,

I have lived in small towns or villages in New Zealand for most of my life, and I have been amazed to find that I’m the last to hear the latest in gossip. At one time I commented to my partner: “We need to put up a sign – The End of the Grapevine.”

A grapevine is a wonderful illustration of how news travels in small communities. The tendrils snake into the smallest crevices and cling tight, and then the flowers that the tendrils support blossom and develop into fruit.


Looking for evidence

Like grapevines, gossip sneaks into minds and our minds look for evidence to validate what we’ve been told (true or false). We rarely look for evidence to refute the gossip, just to substantiate it.

When we’re intent on seeing what we’re looking for, more evidence that supports the gossip appears. At this stage our minds are headed in one direction: “the news is true”. When it’s based on a misinterpretation of something, these creeping Chinese whispers can cause irreparable harm.

A modern twist on gossip

We tend to think of gossip as titbits of news passed on from person to person as opposed to being broadcast through accepted media – television, newspapers, news websites etc.  Prior to the invention of printing presses by German Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, however, word-of-mouth or letters were the only way to disseminate information, person-to-person. Nowadays our gossip comes through more sophisticated sources, yet it’s really no more than an expanded version of person-to-person chat.

Our ability to observe and translate what we see, is the basis of all news. Reporters see violence and in a split second translate this, based on the evidence around them, into a report that purports to be the truth of the  matter. The next step in their process is to corroborate their observations before jumping into print or broadcast. Yet even these trained observers can sometimes get things wrong. 

But is gossip all bad?

Individuals are not held back by the constraint of hard evidence. They see something, translate it, and tell others. The ‘others’ add this information to knowledge they already have and hey presto the news flows. If something really is happening that needs to be in the public eye, gossip will do it. The fear of causing gossip is a natural constraint to keep most of us honest.

“Reputation systems promote cooperation and deter antisocial behavior in groups,” according to The Virtues of Gossip: Reputational Information Sharing as Prosocial Behavior by Matthew Feinberg, Robb Willer, Jennifer Stellar, and Dacher Keltner. 2012.

The researchers claim that when an individual observes or experiences antisocial behaviour, they are generally compelled to share it with other potentially vulnerable people. As the information spreads, the perpetrators of the antisocial behaviour are likely to be ostracized and brought into line with accepted community behaviours.

That works well unless the individual who first passes on the information is not telling the truth, or embroidering the information to enhance their own reputation.  But on the whole, gossip gives us new ideas, alerts us to wrong-doing, and makes us feel we’re a trusted member of the group. Not “at the end of the grapevine”.

Heather Sylvawood,

The Illusions we live by

By Heather Sylvawood

Authors/writers deal in illusion. Readers accept that they are being drawn into the illusion and for a time enter the unreal world the author has created. Even non-fiction is an illusion because the writer offers the reader ONLY the filtered version of their observation.

So when this image (below) came through Facebook from (artist is J R Slattum) I was jolted into a mind-blowing vision of illusions within illusions within illusions.


‘Your future self is watching you right now through your memories’

My translation of experience today becomes my memory, and influences how I look at things in the future – thereby, at the moment of the experience, I am shaped inevitably into my future-self.  (This is my filter – not necessarily yours. If you see it differently, whose illusion is the ‘truth’?)

As a writer,  I know also that my memories shape the characters I will write into my novels and short stories, and in the writing of them and their imaginary experiences they become another layer of memory. Then, in reading my stories, the reader (perhaps you) absorb the memory of my character and what happens to them, and your filtered memory shapes your future self, your beliefs and even your intentions.

Like a bolt from the blue

The thought made me realise that authors and writers have a huge advantage. We can influence future generations through memory and illusion.

My second thought was – ‘Duh! People have known this for centuries when relating the stories, propaganda, and the half-truths they have told.’

All religions have passed on and added to the stories that influence their believers. Even the ‘truth’ that has been written down is recalled through the reader’s filters. For instance, the stories in the Christian Bible from the apostles, while based on the same experiences as the others, will have been filtered by the previous experiences of the apostle who is relating  what happened.

Who is doing the telling matters

Think about the real-life dramas that are being played out in Court rooms throughout the World. Witness 1’s recall contradicts  Witness 2 and 3 and … We talk about reliable witness statements – but these come from the illusion that people who haven’t had a conviction, or attend church, or run community groups, or public figures, or are talented entertainers are somehow more reliable than the general hoi polloi. We can all point to examples where people in these groups are far from reliable.

The only way that these illusions are accepted as ‘truth’ is by having them committed to memory. And most of our memories are based on frequently repeated stories that become ‘beliefs’.

Writers capture readers by beliefs

A book or story that captures reader imagination must be based on some accepted belief or disbelief. So the writer or author needs to understand the common illusions accepted by most people in their culture.

If an author tried to base a story on the belief that the World is flat they would have an uphill battle convincing readers. The best they could hope is that the reader would keep on reading through sheer disbelief. Even fantasy novels are based on some commonly accepted beliefs, e.g. mountains are high and made of rock, or water runs downhill. (Think about it!)

The trick for writers is that they must pick the beliefs/illusions they tamper with. They have to decide how far the reader will go without putting their novel or short story down in disgust.  I also think they need to decide what they are putting into the memories of their readers – violence, cruelty, experience of death, love, kindness or courage.

Reality doesn’t exist unless you see it

If you consider that memory is based only on filtered illusions, news that Australian scientists have discovered that reality is an illusion comes as no surprise.

“According to a well-known theory in quantum physics, a particle’s behaviour changes depending on whether there is an observer or not. It basically suggests that reality is a kind of illusion and exists only when we are looking at it. Numerous quantum experiments were conducted in the past and showed that this indeed might be the case.

“Now, physicists at the Australian National University have found further evidence for the illusory nature of reality. They recreated the John Wheeler’s delayed-choice experiment and confirmed that reality doesn’t exist until it is measured, at least on the atomic scale.”

If you don’t believe me (and why would you?) take a look at this article on the Mind Unleashed website.

Accepted illusions of life

Many of the great novels of the last two centuries have been based on illusions

  • That good always triumphs over evil
  • That the underdog always succeeds by using tenacity
  • That the pursuit of money is a worthy goal
  • That the rich and powerful are involved in a conspiracy against world populations

Or are they illusions?

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author