A formula for cracking Agatha Christie’s whodunnits?

Tuesday, 11 August, 2015

Here’s what might be a handy deductive tool for readers of late British crime novelist Agatha Christie’s whodunnits, who wish to identify the murderer in a story before its conclusion.

Researchers studying her works, picked out patterns that pointed to the culprit, and then developed a mathematical formula that can be used to unmask the guilty party in each book.

Many of the results concerned the gender of the killer. For example, they found that if the victim was strangled, the killer was more likely to be male (or male with a female accomplice), whereas if the setting was a country house – not uncommon for a Christie novel – there was a 75% chance the killer would be female. Female culprits were usually discovered thanks to a domestic item, while males were normally found out through information or logic.

All good fun, I’m sure, but this might be something best to the mathematicians, rather than fans of whodunnit novels.

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“Go Set a Watchman”, a first look

Monday, 20 July, 2015

Go Set a Watchman, the much anticipated follow-up to Harper Lee’s iconic 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, was released last week, although some of the first reviews aren’t exactly flattering.

I have no idea when I’ll get to it, since I only read “To Kill a Mockingbird” for first time last year, but if you’re keen for a taste, here is the book’s first chapter, along with some animated illustrations. There’s also a recording of US actor Reese Witherspoon reading the chapter aloud, if you’d rather listen instead.

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Welcome to computer aided novel writing

Tuesday, 2 December, 2014

Might this be an easier way to write a book? Write a program, or an app, instead to write the book for you…

It’s November and aspiring writers are plugging away at their novels for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, an annual event that encourages people to churn out a 50,000-word book on deadline. But a hundred or so people are taking a very different approach to the challenge, writing computer programs that will write their texts for them. It’s called NaNoGenMo, for National Novel Generation Month, and the results are a strange, often funny look at what automatic text generation can do.

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The autobiographical story behind classic works of fiction

Tuesday, 7 October, 2014

Harper Lee’s 1960 novel “To Kill a Mockingbird”, a book that I am finally reading now, may not be strictly autobiographical, but it appears to be based in part on Lee’s life. I wonder though, what work of fiction is not, in some way, autobiographical?

Not too many, it could be.

She wrote the book in the years following the death of her mother in 1951, and in the story Scout too has lost her mother. And even the character of Dill, who lives next door to the Finch family during the summer, is modelled on her childhood friend Truman Capote, who would spend the summer with his aunt in Alabama while his mother visited New York.

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Not all science fiction fans like all science fiction literature

Monday, 24 October, 2011

A flowchart, which is a little like a choose your own adventure in itself, to assist sci-fi fans find agreeable titles that were included in the top 100 list of science fiction and fantasy books ever published, which was put together by US public radio network NPR earlier this year.

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50 of the best Australian novels published to date

Wednesday, 13 July, 2011

The Booktopia Blog has put together a list of 50 must read Australian novels.

On a whim I asked the twittersphere and facebookland what they thought were the “must read” Australian novels. In a matter of hours hundreds of titles were suggested. I then made a long list of these offerings and asked the world to vote for their favourites. A fellow on twitter suggested I allow one title per author, to ensure the list wasn’t swamped by Wintons, Careys, McCulloughs and Courtenays. The title which received the most votes would be that author’s single listing. I thought this a good idea.

Via Two Flat Whites.

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Can’t put it down… does Stockholm syndrome apply to long books?

Monday, 23 May, 2011

It could be a variation of Stockholm syndrome applies when it comes to reading novels that are extra long (think “War and Peace”)… why else would anyone devote the large blocks of time that are required to read them when they could go through any number of other, shorter, books in the same time frame?

My own first experience of it – or at least my first conscious experience of it – was, again, with The Recognitions. With any novel of that difficulty and length (976 pages in my prestigiously scuffed and battered Penguin edition), the reader’s aggregate experience is bound to be composed of a mixture of frustrations and pleasures. But what I found with Gaddis’s gigantic exploration of fraudulence and creativity was that, though they were greatly outnumbered by the frustrations, the pleasures seemed to register much more firmly. If I were fully honest with myself, I would have had to admit that I was finding the novel gruelingly, unsparingly tedious. But I wasn’t prepared to be fully honest with myself. Because every couple of hundred pages or so, Gaddis would take pity on me and throw me a bone in the form of an engaging, genuinely compelling set piece.

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What if a time traveller had prevented JFK’s assassination?

Thursday, 10 March, 2011

Fiction writer Stephen King’s new novel, “11/22/63”, which will be published this November, is about a US teacher, Jake Epping, who having discovered a way of travelling back in time, realises he may be able to prevent the 1963 assassination of US president John F Kennedy.

Epping’s era-hopping habit begins when he learns that his friend, Al, who runs the local diner, is harbouring a portal to the year 1958 in his storeroom. Al enlists Jake on a mission to try to prevent the assassination of the 35th president of the United States by returning to the days of Elvis, James Dean, big cars and root beer. Jake duly makes the journey, and finds himself meeting not only troubled loner Lee Harvey Oswald, but also a beautiful school librarian, Sadie Dunhill, set to become the love of his life. But will Jake succeed in his attempt to change history? And if so, what will happen next?

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Ten million unpublished authors all looking for a book deal

Thursday, 18 November, 2010

Not to discourage anyone here, but aspiring author Alix Christie thinks there may be some ten million budding writers – working on manuscripts right now – who are hopeful of one day being published.

In the face of such odds, merely writing a novel must seem perverse. Self-indulgent, at the very least, if not financial suicide. The question is less whether the novel as a form is dying, or if the internet can offer a lifeline to certain writers. What cries out for explanation is the strange, persistent fact that millions of us spend years attempting something for which we are certain to see little, if any, reward. I’ll admit it’s not a jolly path. Yet neither are all of us deluded. I always dread the moment at parties when I find myself explaining that I’m working on a novel. (It is a measure of the general incomprehension that the follow-up question is all too often “fiction or non-fiction?”) Inevitably I’m forced to make the cruel confession that I’ve not been published “yet”.

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Is writing an eighth Harry Potter book a good idea?

Tuesday, 2 November, 2010

Can we adjust to life in a world that will not see any more new Harry Potter books published? In other words should JK Rowling, creator of the saga, pen an eighth addition to the series?

British novelist Naomi Alderman believes a new book would not be a good idea:

I understand the temptation to revisit old triumphs. It feels dangerous to step away from ground where you know you’ve been successful. Imagine if you wrote something that wasn’t quite as good! Or something that didn’t capture the imagination in quite the same way. Well, what then? Creators all know that the most dangerous thing isn’t to try and fail, it’s to stagnate. Maybe not every new world or new set of stories you make will enjoy the huge success of Harry Potter – but a worse fate would be to keep on ploughing the same old furrow, not able to try anything new.

On the other hand, children’s fiction writer Frank Cottrell Boyce doesn’t think the prospect is all that bad:

It may seem a strange thing to say, given the unprecedented sales and the generation-defining excitement her books generated, but I think JK Rowling is vastly underrated. The scale of her success means that it’s unfair trying to compare Harry Potter to any other book series. Even the most popular writer can usually find somewhere quiet to think about what happens next. Rowling wrote the last five Harry Potter books right in the middle of the Potter phenomenon, with fans and the media second guessing her next move everywhere she looked. It’s hard enough to come up with something. To come with something that no one else has come up with – that’s formidable.

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