Posts Tagged ‘lee murray’

the incarnations

***3 out of 5 stars

Asked to review Susan Barker’s The Incarnations, I jumped at the opportunity. English-Chinese literature, that is English language studies of Chinese culture, by writers such as Amy Tan, Pearl Buck, Jung Chang, Xue Xinran, and New Zealand’s own Suzanne Gee and Eva Wong Ng, have always intrigued me. And since The Incarnations was written by a writer who, like myself, has a Chinese mother and European father, I was even more compelled. How would Barker’s perceptions of Chinese culture compare to my own? The only way to find out was to dive right in.

The Incarnations’ primary overarching story is set in Beijing in 2008. Amid the frenzy of building, Olympic Security Volunteers spy on their neighbours, preparing the city to face the scrutiny of the world, but taxi driver Wang has other concerns. He has found a letter in the sunshade of his cab. Someone is watching him. Someone who claims to be his soul-mate, to have known him for over a thousand years. Other letters follow, relating Wang’s former lives, incarnations, in the Tang Dynasty; during the Mongol invasion; the Ming Dynasty; the Opium War; and finally the Cultural Revolution.

Writer-reviewer Chris Cleave describes The Incarnations as ‘wildly original’. Possibly. However, in my view, the novel’s structure is contrived. It is essentially a series of historical fiction pieces strung together using reincarnation—conveniently a Buddhist notion—as a plot device, in order to present those stories as a novel. Barker could just as easily have published this work as a collection short fiction without need for the disembodied souls, connected through all eternity by reincarnation, tying them together. The final twist of the ‘linking story’, intended to resolve the novel, seems, to me at least, too convenient and thus unsatisfying.

The Incarnations is an uncomfortable read, a novel which would normally would take me an evening or two to get through, took me ten full days to read. If I had been reading The Incarnations for myself, I would have put it down, but I had promised to review it, so I forced myself to finish. Why was it so hard? Because I am convinced other reviewers will hail this book as a literary masterpiece, and shower the writer with praise. Adam Johnson, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction 2013, has already done so, calling it ‘the most extraordinary work of imagination you’ll read all year,’ while John Boyne say it is ‘erudite’ and ‘intriguing’. Yes, this is a well written book. There is no doubt that Barker’s imagery is stunning, provocative and hauntingly real. Nor can it be said that she neglected her research, spending four of the six years in which she wrote this novel living in Beijing itself, and some of that time in a Soviet-style apartment complex of Maizidan. Barker clearly knows her subject intimately. So why did I dislike this book so intently? Why did I find it superior and derisive? I believe it is the Eeyore nature of much of the English writing that exists about Chinese people, Chinese culture, and Chinese history. But whereas other writers offer a smidgen of hope, in the 1378 years spanned by her narrative, Barker has not pointed to a single moment of joy. All those years. Not one moment of joy. Jam-packed with rape, incest, torture, betrayal, murder and death, the novel is completely devoid of promise. Even the potential moments in which Barker’s central characters might find hope and redemption are tarnished with guilt, revenge, and treachery. Sure, all good literature requires conflict, yet Barker chose only to highlight the horror of her subject, making The Incarnations a bleak and deeply pejorative tale of China. It’s possible that the author is correct, that for those unfortunate enough to be Chinese, or indeed, to be reincarnated into Chinese culture, there is nothing at all of promise to look forward to there. For myself, I like to hope otherwise.


Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Lee


A four-time winner of Sir Julius Vogel Award, Lee Murray writes friction for children and adults. She lives in New Zealand with her husband and teenaged children.

Visit her website

A review of her YA novel Misplaced can be found here

Conclave, an anthology featuring her novella can be found here


Lester Ferris, a soldier near to retirement, is British Brevet-Consul on the island of Mancreu. The sole resident of Brighton House, he’s been left to oversee the inevitable demise of the island, which is mouldering under a combination of volcanic and chemical pollution. The population is leaving in droves, burning their possessions and putting to sea, that is, those who aren’t are up to their eyeballs in drug running, organ theft and money laundering. None of this is Lester’s problem. His orders are to sit tight, keep his nose clean and pointedly ignore the Black Fleet of shady unregistered ships anchored just offshore in the Bay. Instead, he spends his days worrying about the likely fate of a small boy, a comic fanatic, a clever internet-savvy kid, who is everywhere and nowhere at once. Theirs is a relationship based on quiet periods of reflection, lived as much in the spaces as in the words themselves. Lester sees a chance to be a father, the prospect tenuous, tender, and terrifying. But when their mutual friend, happy-go-lucky tea-house owner, Shola, is mowed down in cold blood, Lester finds he is unable to look away any longer. As the island succumbs to violence, Lester discovers that if he is to realise his dream of family – is that even possible?—he must step up. Mancreu, and the boy, need Lester to become a hero.

Harkaway is a writer to watch, partly out of intrigue because his latest novel, Tigerman, is a surprise. It isn’t an easy story. There’s an uncomfortable indifference that permeates the narrative, an embarrassment of the sort you experience when watching reality TV, in those cheesy or cringe-worthy moments. Harkaway makes you want to look away, and it’s a clever stratagem, one which strengthens his theme of unconditional love between and a father and a son, between a boy and his mother. Harkaway demonstrates what people are driven to do, the lengths they will go to, when they can’t choose to look away. He does this against a backdrop of environmental degeneration and political tension, then picks out the minutiae of island life, imbuing it with colour and texture, to bring Mancreu and its inhabitants into sharp relief. In fact, the author’s writing style is not unlike the book’s cover artwork:bold and vibrant and yet also slightly indistinct. Tigerman is beautifully written, even when it’s ugly. Tomorrow’s period drama, Tigerman is a story for readers across the board: from lovers of the film Tea with Mussolini to fans of About a Boy.

William Heinemann

Supplied by Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Lee


A four-time winner of Sir Julius Vogel Award, Lee Murray writes friction for children and adults. She lives in New Zealand with her husband and teenaged children.

A review of her YA novel Misplaced can be found here

Conclave, an anthology featuring her novella has just been released.

Conclave Cover Ebook Hi-Res

Four science fiction and fantasy novellas for young adults.

At Conclave Manor, land-trapped Mermaid Thala Tellurian struggles to accept her privileged life while battling her self-obsessed Uncle in any petty way she can. Isolated and forbidden to delve into her family’s bloody past, Thala longs for change. So, when visitors from a rival pod reveal a hidden agenda, Thala dives straight in. But it’s not until she’s face to face with her family’s lifelong enemy that she realises she’s in terrifyingly unfamiliar waters.

Rowan knew nothing about the secret in his DNA until he found himself on the Terrean team bound for Conclave Seven, the universal Games held every millennia. But on the eve of the Games, knowing he’s a direct descendant of the warrior Spartacus is looking less like a gift and more like a death sentence…

Born into captivity, Doze has spent his life behind the Fence, so when staying there is no longer an option, he takes a chance to see if another life is possible. An experiment on the loose from ConClave Corporation, Doze helps his travelling companions to avoid capture, and discovers that there is no sacrifice too great for freedom.

On the Conclave Pacifica, a spaceship in a fleet heading to a new world, Peach forges an online friendship with Araxi, who is travelling on another ship. But, wildly off course and under pressure for resources, the future of the Conclave Pacifica looks uncertain. Could Peach’s new friend be the answer to her survival?

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Writing undersea worlds – channel your inner Mermaid

Want to write an undersea story that submerges your readers in a Mermaidian world? Or perhaps you’re an Ariel-wannabe who can’t wait to create the next epic marine adventure?

Either way, dive into your story with confidence using these 5 top techniques for channelling your inner Mermaid:

  1. Know your underwater characters

If you can’t visualise your characters, then how will your readers? Put your comfy pants on, you’re about to be glued to your seat for some serious research time! Think fish. Think deep sea mystery. Search through pictures of marine creatures, watch documentaries about underwater life, mine the likes of Flickr, Instagram and Pinterest for #mermaids and more. The better your understanding of what your character looks like, moves like, how she breathes, eats, communicates and lives, the better your internal image will be and the clearer your written descriptions of her behaviour.

  1. Discover the world she lives in

Immerse yourself in underwater scenes. Building on your understanding of your character, try to get a fix on what it’s like to live beneath the waves. If you can, dust off the scuba diving equipment or mask and snorkel and revisit the exquisite feeling of actually being there. Otherwise, visit an aquarium, watch videos, talk to people who’ve spent time working under the sea (marine biologists, ichthyologists etc) and get a feel for how the underwater world behaves. Use your senses. What does it smell like, can you taste it? What do you hear under the water? How do you see and communicate? How would the pressure of all that water affect something as simple as body language – a nod, a wave, shaking your head?

  1. Explore her motivation

We’re all aware of the ‘Hollywood’ mermaid stereotypes, from sucrose long haired beauties to toothy underwater witches. So your job is to come up with something unique. One way to beat the stereotype is to provide your Mermaid with a strong motivation, one the reader will relate to. What does your character need? What is she prepared to do to get it? How will this change her? For example, if your Mermaid needs to find her long lost Mother, how far is she prepared to travel? Who will she betray to get the information she needs? What aspects of her upbringing and which members of her family is she willing to abandon to get her Mother back?

  1. Activate your character

A lethargic, unmotivated, aimless character does not a good mermaid story make. Ensure your mermaid is active in pursuing her needs. If she starts sounding or looking like a purposeless bottom-dweller, who isn’t interested in moving from her comfortable sandy status quo, it’s unlikely the story can move forward. Strong motivations and real needs should drive your character to make active decisions, not wait for solutions to come her way.

  1. Keep it ‘real’

Bring your mermaid to life with relevant dialogue that’s right for her. There’s no need to keep referring to the way bubbles pour out of her mouth when she talks, establish this (or some other form of undersea communication) once, then let the reader be swept away by engaging dialogue that gives meaning to her situation. But keep it real, any language references need to reflect the world she lives in. For example, you probably wouldn’t use the phrase ‘What on earth are you talking about?’ when your character lives under the sea.

Jan Goldie is the co-author of Conclave, a collection of science fiction and fantasy novellas for young adult readers. Her story ‘A Mer-tale’ is the first in the collection and you can read a free excerpt from it by downloading a sample from Amazon or Smashwords. Find out more about Jan by connecting with her on twitter @shellbewrite or liking her facebook page


Author Bios:

Jan Goldie. I’m a working writer, creating content for websites, print media and social media. I have a BA in English literature and a Graduate Diploma in Journalism. Interestingly, I used very few of these skills in the creation of A Mer-tale, relying instead on my over-active imagination. When I’m not slaving over the computer for my day job or imagining myself 30 metres beneath the waves, I’m writing short stories, picture books and YA fantasy novels. My most recent claims to fame are the publication of a story in the crowd-funded collection of short horror fiction Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror, and my YA fantasy novel Brave’s Journey being short listed for the 2014 Storylines Tom Fitzgibbon Award.

Piper Mejia is a prolific writer, but only recently had her first story, Lockdown, published in Baby Teeth: Bite-sized tales of Terror. A high school English teacher, she is co-editor of student writing collections Write Off Line 2012, 2013, Beyond This Age and Beyond This Story, and is currently working on a young adult fantasy trilogy in both novel and graphic novel formats.

Celine Murray is 19 years old and has had her fiction published in magazines such as WriteOn, Easy Going, and Breeze, and in the horror anthology Baby Teeth: Bite-sized Tales of Terror. She has also published a solo collection of prize winning fiction entitled Seven to Seventeen.

Lee Murray used to be a scientist, but now she writes fiction for adults and children. Lee has twice won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction and fantasy writing, most notably for Best Youth Novel for her children’s title Battle of the Birds, and her short fiction has achieved international recognition. She is the co-editor of five collected works.



Misplaced – Lee Murray

Posted: December 21, 2013 in Review, young adult

misplacedAdam is a gamer, preparing for his last high school exams, and his mum has popped out for some milk and never seen again.  The book tells the story of how his life continues while he waits for his mother to return, searching for her himself.  His friends help him to cope, supporting him as they lose themselves in video games.  He meets Skye, a fellow gamer, and she joins his circle of friends.  Skye has a secret in her past too which they try to solve.

A very enjoyable book with enough detail given you feel there, but not too much it’s over-described.  The writing and dialogue feels natural and the characters real people.  Theending was surprising to me and  I’m looking forward to reading the next offering from Lee Murray.

Leapy Sheep Books

Supplied by author

Reviewed by Jan