Alayana Cole

Alayna Cole loves to write stories when she’s not studying for her Bachelor of Education/Bachelor of Arts.

gAIMAN_The Ocean at the End of the Lane CoverNeil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a masterful work of speculative fiction, which recollects an unnamed narrator’s childhood, which he is reminded of upon visiting a property known as the Hempstock Farm.

The novel relies on a framing narrative where the narrator is driving around the town where he grew up. He is inexplicably drawn to the property where his childhood home once stood, and then further along the lane to the Hempstock Farm and the pond that his friend Lettie had referred to as ‘her ocean’.

Framing narratives that surround a recollection generally work to instil confidence in the reader that the characters will remain safe from harm within those memories. However, Gaiman manages to destabilise this belief as events unfold, successfully creating discomfort and mystery for the audience. This destabilisation is increased by the unreliability of the narrator.

There are several factors contributing to the unreliability of this text’s unnamed narrator. Firstly, the fact that he isn’t given a name works to distance him from the reader and makes it more difficult to trust his narrative. Anonymity can sometimes give a person the freedom to be honest without judgement, but can also cause a person to lack the accountability required for them to tell the whole truth. This uncertainty is combined with the idea that many decades have passed between the narration and the narrated, and the impact of time can cause memories to shift and change. The story is told predominantly from the perspective of a child, and the memories of a child are often skewed by a misconception of time and space. The narration is made more unreliable still through the recurring theme of memory; it is highlighted that different people remember situations differently, and the inference that the Hempstocks have the power to change and manipulate time to suit themselves makes it difficult to determine what actually happened and what has been altered. The unnamed narrator has duplicate memories of some events, so it’s impossible to determine which are the ‘true’ events and which were changed, or didn’t happen at all.

The contrast between adult and child in this text is apparent through the shift of time and also through language use. Characterisation is achieved through the language utilised within the narration and dialogue. The Hempstock family has a slightly different dialect than the unnamed narrator and his family, and this is different again to the language used by Ursula, the opal miner, and other secondary characters. This highlights the age difference between characters, as well as their differing social contexts. It also works to separate the unnamed narrator in the framing narrative to him as a child in the recollections, while showing similarities between the Hempstock woman that he meets at the farm and those in his memories, adding to the mystery of who the Hempstocks are and how long they have been at Hempstock Farm.

Mystery is an important element in this text and is introduced through the strange, unexplained and magical themes. More importantly however, the mystery is continued through the questions that remain half-answered or entirely unanswered, even after the novel is finished. Throughout the book, it’s accepted that certain areas and people have magical properties or inexplicable traits, and the importance of these elements is described without their origins being explicitly stated for the reader. In this novel, Gaiman refuses to hold the reader’s hand, revealing the idea of different worlds, immortality and a magical ocean without truly explaining how or why these things exist, or if they were really any more than the fantasies of a child with a passion for reading about and creating stories.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a magical tale, with setting descriptions and characters that transport the reader to the lane where the unnamed narrator and the Hempstocks once lived. But its these mysteries and unanswered questions that truly cause this narrative to linger with the audience and encourage a second read-through.

I’m booked to run two spec fic master classes for Writers’ Victoria in September. Sign up now, or miss out. Course outlines below:

MDP_author pic

Spec Fic Masterclass

(Londsdale Street, Melbourne)

Sunday 28 September 2014, 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Presented by: Marianne de Pierres
Rating: Emerging and Established
Type: Masterclass

Address some of the key issues in writing speculative fiction, including how to build convincing worlds, maintain narrative drive, and effectively mix sub-genres. Get an up-to-date insight into the industry, explore the concept of creating adaptable content for New Media and how to survive in the brave new world of publishing.

Learning Outcomes 
• Excellence in world-building 
• How to maintain narrative drive 
• How to successfully mix speculative fiction genres 
• How to create speculative fiction for the new world of publishing 
• Current industry insight

Marianne de Pierres is a multi-award winning Australian author of novels written in the science fiction, fantasy, crime, and young adult genres. Over the eighteen years Marianne has been a professional writer, she’s acquired a wide skill base and knowledge about the craft and business of writing. Marianne is currently tutoring in writing at the University of Queensland and is the Project Manager for WRITE101x, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) being developed by uqX as part of the edX consortium.

Marianne will also be giving this workshop in Geelong on Saturday 27 September.

This tour is made possible by the support of the Australia Council for the Arts in collaboration with the national network of State and Territory Writers Centres.

Book online now.

 

Spec Fic Masterclass

(Geelong)

Saturday 27 September 2014, 10:00AM – 4:00PM

Presented by: Marianne de Pierres
Rating: Emerging and Established
Type: Masterclass

Address some of the key issues in writing speculative fiction, including how to build convincing worlds, maintain narrative drive, and effectively mix sub-genres. Get an up-to-date insight into the industry, explore the concept of creating adaptable content for New Media and how to survive in the brave new world of publishing.

Learning Outcomes 
• Excellence in world-building 
• How to maintain narrative drive 
• How to successfully mix speculative fiction genres 
• How to create speculative fiction for the new world of publishing 
• Current industry insight

Marianne de Pierres is a multi-award winning Australian author of novels written in the science fiction, fantasy, crime, and young adult genres. Over the eighteen years Marianne has been a professional writer, she’s acquired a wide skill base and knowledge about the craft and business of writing. Marianne is currently tutoring in writing at the University of Queensland and is the Project Manager for WRITE101x, a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) being developed by uqX as part of the edX consortium.

Marianne will also be giving this workshop in Melbourne on Sunday 28 September.

This tour is made possible by the support of the Australia Council for the Arts in collaboration with the national network of State and Territory Writers Centres. It is presented in collaboration with Geelong Writers and Belmont Library.

Book online now.

Dirk interviewed by Jamie Marriage

Jamie: Path of Night is a fascinating mixture of genres; hard-boiled cop show meets classical horror tale, action crossed with political intrigue. What do you see as your greatest influences for this novel?

Dirk: I’m currently studying for an MA in creative writing at Uni of Tas, and I’m focused on genre fiction. Unusually for tertiary study, I’ve found a great deal of practical use for my reading. One of the things that became increasingly clear was the idea that ‘genre’ as a set of closed boundaries was a real hindrance – yet at the same time, it is incredibly valuable to understand how readers expect genre to be enacted by a narrative. Thus, in writing the story I felt quite free to borrow tropes from all over the place, but I knew I had to present a structure that offered support and sense for the work. In the end, it’s structurally a thriller, I think… but as for major influences? 

Everything. I wanted to tell a story about a sort of ‘everyman’ drawn into a darker world. There are plenty of those. I really wouldn’t know where to begin. In end, the most important influences were those that told me what I DIDN’T want to do. I didn’t want conventional, comfortable vampires. I didn’t want ‘sparkly romantic’ creatures either. Nor did I want a grim-jawed hero ready to take on the world: I really wanted an Australian character, in over his head, reacting like a young, reasonably smart Australian man would. And in his partner-in-crime Jen Morris, I wanted an Australian woman, tough and competent enough to stand up, and smart enough figure out how to tip the game her way. Real people forced into heroic roles, not heroes riding out on white horses to save the day. 

Still, let’s see: a bit of Stoker’s Dracula. A bit of Jim Butcher and Harry Dresden. A little Alistair Maclean. A touch of Charlie Stross’ “Laundry Files”… maybe even a little Joss Whedon, in the sense of wanting to strip back and expose some of the hoary, cliched tropes of the genres. Will that do?

 Jamie: Your characters suffer rather large amounts of abuse throughout your novel. In fact very few seem to escape without some level of serious injury. Did you find it hard to inflict so much suffering upon the creatures of your own creation? Or did you find it more difficult to hold yourself back from pushing them harder?

Dirk: The story dictates what’s needed. It’s true: I like the main characters. No, let’s be honest — I like almost all of them. My elder son was annoyed with me that I killed off one of the particularly interesting villains. He tells me that he ‘liked that guy’ — and I like that, because if the villains aren’t a little interesting and sympathetic, then the story’s probably rubbish. But look — Path of Night leans towards horror in a big way. Horror has certain demands. I can’t stand reading thrillers with invulnerable protagonists, and there has to be something really dangerous at stake to raise the suspense. So the charactiers in Path of Night are in danger. If they fail, they die — and potentially, they die in quite a nasty fashion. It’s one thing to tell your readers that, but I think it’s more effective when they can see it happen. (Although I probably owe poor Doctor Parker an apology.)

Jamie: What didn’t make it into PoN? Are there any aspects of the story you really wanted to explore further?

Dirk: What didn’t make it in? Not a whole lot, really. I wrote this very quickly, laying down the plot as I went. Mind you, I know a great deal about the backstory of everyone in the book, and about the Night Beasts, and anything else you  might want. But once again — genre storytelling places certain demands on the nature of your tale. My editor/publisher Tehani will tell you, if you ask her: there was virtually no wholesale cutting. The MS had to be trimmed and polished, but I didn’t need to lose anything major. Still, as you can tell from the epilogue the book is as much a springboard as a tale that stands alone. Think of it as an ‘origin story’, if you like. It’s complete in and of itself, but it sets up a couple of heroes for future tales.

Jamie: You obviously have a lot of regard for Sydney as a dramatic location. Is it somewhere you see yourself continuing to base your work?

Dirk: Tehani Wessely of Fablecroft pointed out that for some reason, most of us in Australian speculative fiction seem to leave Sydney alone. Probably we’ve all seen enough of it on TV and elsewhere. And yet it’s our best-known city internationally, with one of the world’s most recognisable architectural landmarks. It’s also a wonderfully diverse city in many senses, so yes: it makes a really great backdrop. I’m never going to “throw a shrimp on the barbie, mate” but I really don’t mind taking advantage of the iconic status of our best-known city to help readers enter the world of the Night Beasts. Having said that, though… no, I’ll answer the next question. It will explain things nicely.

Jamie: What’s next? A sequel maybe? Or even a prequel? Will you return to Jen and Michael or move on to other things?

Dirk: Path of Night is the first in a series surrounding the Night Beasts. It sets up the two lead characters, leaving them in a position to investigate further, and act against these terrifying creatures. There is an overarching plot, a grand arc of revelation that will (hopefully) culminate in an ending which is both surprising, and satisfying to the readers. I expect it to take about five or possibly six books. The next one is already underway. Set in Sydney again, the working title is “Midnight in Chinatown”. Jen and Michael will indeed be back, and this time they’ll be racing against time to prevent a war between different groups of the Night Beasts. And why are they trying to stop a war between deadly, vampire-like predators? Well — let’s just say it’s in everybody’s best interests. You’ll get the chance to find out when the book hits the streets!

Bio:

Dirk Flinthart is an Australian speculative fiction writer operating out of the wilds of North-East Tasmania. With scores of short stories (and the odd novella) in print, a Ditmar and a bag of shortlistings to his name, and a non-fiction best-seller co-written with John Birmingham,  ‘Path of Night’ is Flinthart’s first full length novel, and he’s determined to enjoy it. Flinthart himself is a… difficult… character. He plays flute and Irish whistle, teaches ju-jitsu, studies Iai-do, handles a fifty-acre rural property with aplomb and a chainsaw, raises fearsome kids, and is currently studying for a Masters in creative writing at the University of Tasmania. He’s presently at work on a bunch of short stories, a novel derived from a Steampunk opera libretto that he wrote for Brisbane company Outcast Opera, and of course the next Night Beasts book: Midnight In Chinatown. 

Awards

davitt-award  aurealis-award   logo-curtin-university

Peacemaker - Aurealis Award
Best Science Fiction Novel 2014

Curtin University Distinguished Alumni Award 2014

Transformation Space - Aurealis Award
 Best Science Fiction Novel 2010

Sharp Shooter - Davitt Award
Best Crime Novel 2009 (Sisters in Crime Australia) 

Categories

Archives

Search

Follow

Keep in contact through the following social networks or via RSS feed:

  • Follow on Facebook
  • Follow on Twitter
  • Follow on Pinterest
  • Follow on Google+
  • Follow on GoodReads
  • Follow on Tumblr
  • Follow on Flickr
  • Follow on YouTube