What a good novel should have …

Of course, this is only my opinion but for a good novel must have the following attributes …

  • Fully 3D characters
  • Excellent description of places, so you feel you are there
  • Complexity – nothing is simply black or white
  • Heroes who get it wrong some of the time
  • Bad guys who get it right some of the time
  • Events and characters that explode cliches
  • The ability to make you think, turn your values upside-down, if only a little
  • The story should grow you, your attitudes, as it does those of the protagonist

Novels that have all this do not grow on trees :-).

I’m currently re-reading Frank Herbert’s “Whipping Star”, it has all of these qualities and is still brilliantly thought provoking after 38 years.

What do you think? What makes a good novel for you?

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Stories in the Land

There’s a strong relationship between land and story, or at least, there should be. For one, stories happen somewhere, even long, long ago and far, far away is somewhere. Knowing the stories of a landscape you are in enriches the experience of being there, and knowing the landscape enriches the story. From a bardic perspective, this is definitely something to bear in mind. Crafting stories, exploring place and history, and seeking inspiration should all include a sense of land. Everything happens somewhere.

There are stories that exist purely to explain a feature of the land – often supernatural creation stories for notable features. Silbury hill was made by a man who lugged a bag of shoes there as part of a ruse to keep the devil out of Salisbuy. Some stories are born of place names – making Bromsgrove the grave of the giant Brom. Others focus on a feature – as in the story that sitting and Caedr Idris all night will make you into a poet, or a madman. It’s a way of making sense of the world as we find it.

Some land stories come from actual history – battles, heroic ventures, and events that changed things. Bosworth field and Hastings have their stories, and people visit them because of the history. Sometimes those true tales blur into myth. Tintagel becomes part of the Arthur myth, Joseph of Aremathea gets tied up with Glastonbury. We place stories in the land, and in so doing own the myths for our own part of the country. King Arthur crops up just about everywhere in the UK. By placing a story ‘here’ we make it our own. Local history gives colour to where you live, a sense of connection with the past, a way of relating to ancestors of place.

Some tales grow out of misconceptions. There’s a hill near where I am just now, called ‘Smallpox Hill’ because there was an isolation hospital on it. On the side, you can see several distinctive raised mounds. Local legend has it that these are mass graves for all the people who died. More likely these are the remains of early Norman rabbit warrens. People fit features together to make coherent tales.

We make up stories about what we see – I’ve just shown my son how to interpret some of the hills as a pair of sleeping dragons. We’ve done that other places too, improvising our own myths. Where such things catch on, they become part of the narrative of a place.

Modern writers add to the richness of the stories. Kevan Manwaring’s The Long Woman works with the Long Man of Willmington. Alan Garner’s Weirdstone of Brisingamen works with and adds to older myths. Dr Who has a habit of using iconic UK landmarks as settings, adding in an alien twist, making new legends. There are many more such examples. It’s fun. It adds to the story, helps to draw the audience in.

Some places are richer in stories than others. Folklore can be hunted for. If there’s a shortage, new tales can be made to fill in the gaps. I think, in fact, that new tales should be made. If a land is impoverished, storywise, we ought to create new ones. We can also add in our own stories, taken from our families or our own time in a place. Sharing those tales with others is a sweet thing to do. These days people move round a lot, but it is good to go back, to remember, and to tell the tales.

Telling the stories is an honouring of place, and of ancestors, it connects us with the land and lends extra beauty and resonance to our tales.

3 “Love Potion #9 … #10 … #11 … ad infinitum



#3 “Love Potion #9 … #10 … #11 … ad infinitum

July column for “The Pagan and the Pen”

We all know the scenario:

Night. Dark forest. Full-moon. Owl-hoots. Wolf howl. Wind through skeletal bare-branch trees. Flickering flames. Dancing Shadows. Cauldron. Three attending witches.

 “When shall we three meet again? In thunder, lightning, or in rain? When the hurlyburly’s done, when the battle’s lost and won…”

Or, how about the equally stereotypical …?

Eye of newt, and toe of frog, wool of bat, and tongue of dog, adder’s fork, and blind-worm’s sting, lizard’s leg…

 Okay, okay, where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire, is what I always say, and the above haven’t become “the” standards by not having some basis in reality. In that—confession, here—I have danced naked in the dark woods, have joined in mutual cauldron-stirs, have searched out eye of newt, toe of frog … albeit wing, not wool, of bat … lizard’s leg…. and a helluva lot of other crucial ingredients specifically called for by lotions and potions and salves and balms…

If I’ve found most of the potions, even those concerned with conjuring love, to be improved by uncalled-for salt, the very fact that salt is uncalled-for usually makes the end results either less potent than they should be or nullifies the effects altogether. So…

Don’t be surprised that I’m more, apt, when asked to provide the catalyst for sparking any love relationship, to recommend, something other than some foul-tasting concoction, even of mine, for the best end results. In that, there is nothing a woman or a man can serve a potential candidate for seduction, with better chances of success, than a genuinely good old-fashioned meal (salt highly recommended).

This is why, way back in 1988, when I’d achieved world-wide recognition as “Willa Lambert”, author of best-selling Harlequin SuperRomances, Diane Crawford approached me for recipes for her RECIPES OF ROMANCE, A ROMANCE NOVEL COOKBOOK, and I eagerly complied, as well as supplemented with …

“I love to cook! I cook to love! While there’s a ritual to restaurant dining that I do enjoy, there’s no better recipe for bypassing that stale chestnut ‘Would you like to come in for a nightcap?’ than both of you already relaxed on your couch, the magic of the preceding good meal undiluted by any car ride to get there.”


“More men have loved a good meal than have ever loved a good woman. The magic is to get them to somehow equate the one with the other!”

 What I believed then, I believe even more whole-heartedly now, to the extent that I’ve recently come out with a cookbook, BACK OF THE BOAT GOURMET COOKING, with the help of Bonnie Clark who is as much a gourmand as I am and is certainly as cognizant of how there’s no better way to get your man than provide him not only with a genuinely fantastic meal, on a grill, BUT to do so while out boating on some lake, ocean, or river… or while just sitting pool-side or in some wondrously secluded backyard.


Granted, this isn’t my first cookbook, although my THE GLUTEN-FREE WAY: MY WAY (written with Adrienne Z. Milligan) was aimed specifically at several friends, gluten-intolerant, on the outlook for some gluten-free ways to reel in their men.


As equally a firm believer of wine as a decidedly pleasant ingredient for successful seduction, I’ve been contracted to do my WILLIAM MALTESE’S WINE TASTER’S DIARY series, the first, SPOKANE/PULLMAN WA WINE REGION, presently at the printers and ready to begin rolling off the presses next month. On all the books in the series will be my specially estate-bottled DRAQUAL Cabernet Sauvignon 2005BV on whose label is my portrait, in my persona as the sexy vampire Vlad Draqual, as painted by Mike Bliss.

Finally, I can’t tell you how many love potions have clove as an ingredient, to the extent that I, having again assumes my love-authority Willa Lambert persona, have just published my romance novel, AFRICA: SPICE ISLAND LOVE, first in my contracted Seven-Continent series, with a story line chockablock with love influenced by the heady aroma of clove always wafting the air of exotic Zanzibar.


Speaking of Zanzibar, and my truly ghostly personal experiences there, those will be saved for another day.

In the interim, Bon Appetit! And good loving.


Blogathon tomorrow to benefit Boston Area Rape Crisis Center! Please sponsor me…

I’m doing a Blogathon this Sat (7/31) to raise money for the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center (http://www.barcc.org)! My blog is at http://adriannebrennan.blogspot.com/ and I will be blogging every half hour for 24 hours.

My posts will include my thoughts and advice on writing, never-before posted excerpts of my works, and answers to any questions you pose to me beforehand.

To sponsor me, go here: http://tinyurl.com/AdrianneBlogsforBARCC then email me your receipt at adrianne@adriannebrennan.com so I can keep a running total.

Love & Magic,
Adrianne Brennan