If you’re a writer and you don’t know the name Janice Hardy, you really should. If not for her books, then certainly for her blog: The Other Side of the Story. This is one of my absolute favourite writing blogs, and I never miss a post.
On her blog, Janice provides a safe environment full of gentle encouragement, practical advice and a backlog of information on everything from generating ideas to improving your writing craft and submitting for publication. She runs an excerpt critique each Saturday (which I’ve taken advantage of in the past), and answers each and every comment left on her blog. Janice is a true “writing hero”, seeming to take every writer under her wing and help them learn to fly.
In the time that I’ve been following Janice’s blog, I’ve come to respect, admire, and trust her. But there was always a little voice in the back of my head that wondered: ‘This is all well and good, but do you practice what you preach? Does your writing live up to your own standards?’
Janice writes Middle Grade fantasy — not genre that I would usually read! But I set out to find the first book in her Healing Wars trilogy: The Shifter.
This took quite some time to find. Eventually, I discovered that the book was released in the UK (and Australia) as The Pain Merchants. Or, rather, I suspected that it was. So I tweeted Janice to confirm, and she responded almost immediately in the affirmative. (Seriously — this is why I love both Janice and Twitter!) Within a couple of days, I had my hands on her book.
So, does she follow her own advice?
Let me answer your question with another question. Let’s say you were writing a book aimed at 10 – 14 year olds, set in a fantasy world, and you wanted to do the following:
- Describe the inside of a temple, including seven distinct statues.
- Introduce the religion of the country where the story is set.
- Give a brief indication of the political situation.
- Communicate the personality and beliefs of the main character.
How many pages of exposition do you imagine that would take? How many paragraphs of trying to “show, don’t tell” before you’d got your message across? Well, Janice Hardy does it in 260 words:
I crossed the geometric flower gracing the middle of the room — six overlapping circles centred under a seventh. The glazed tiles sparkled even in the weak light from the arched windows. Curved wooden benches radiated outward, two rows facing the seven alcoves where a statue to each Sister stared with blank eyes.
On the left, Saint Moed had her twin swords crossed above her head, though she’d done nothing to defend Geveg against the Duke when we needed her. Beside her, Saint Vergeef had one hand in a basket of pears, the other outstretched in offering. Cruel when so many went hungry. Saint Erlice had the smug look of one who never told a lie, not even to make someone feel better.
The right side wasn’t much better. Saint Vertroue planted her staff in the marble block at her feet, both hands gripping it and daring anyone to try and get past her. So much for her fortitude. Many had passed her and she’d never once pulled her staff from the stone to stop them. Saint Gedu patiently leaned against her alcove, clearly in no hurry to save anybody from anything. Saint Malwe smiled modestly, lids and eyes cast down as if embarrassed to have folks worshipping at her feet.
In the centre of the six was Saint Saea, hands open as if apologising. The mother of mercy; the grannyma of “sorry it had to turn out this way”; the one who made you think that this time it would be different.
Saints and sinners, this was the creepiest place in Geveg.
After reading this excerpt, I took that little, doubting voice outside and shot it.