||A review by Nathan Brazil
Copyright © 2004 Nathan Brazil
'Where we get our ideas is at the heart of how we work and what we do. Trying to explain in rational, analytical fashion how we come
up with our plots and our thematic structures threatens in an odd sort of way to reveal that we are all just humbugs hiding behind a velvet curtain.'
How to bottle lightning, that's the theme at the heart of this book. Terry Brooks comes across as a likeable, genuine sort of bloke,
who freely admits what a major part luck played in his early success. The fact that The Sword of Shannara was the right book in exactly
the right place and time, is not lost on him. Thankfully, he avoids falling into the ego trap of believing his own publicity, as more
than a few authors of similar status have done. Instead, he remains humble and conveys a strong sense of respect, both for his work
and his readers. As his output has proved, he's the kind of writer who places quality above quantity, and it's that ethos to which he
adheres in this non-fiction work.
Rather than ramble on, accentuating the autobiographical elements, Brooks concentrates on delivering what the subtitle suggests; lessons
from a writing life.
'Make dream time the linchpin of your writing experience. Start right now. Put down this book. Find a lounge chair and lie down and
close your eyes. Let your mind drift.
Go some place you've never been, then come back and tell us all about it.'
The only writing life on which Brooks can comment with authority is his own, though as might be expected, it's a life filled with
interesting examples from which to choose.
What we get is a distillation of remembrance and fact, hard lessons learned, and suggestions as to how less experienced authors might
avoid common errors. This is information presented in an accessible, friendly manner, and time is taken to make it clear that while
writing his way works for him, it isn't the only way to do the job well. We're told that outlining a novel is a very important part of
his process, because doing so allows him to know where he's going and cut out anything superfluous before he begins writing. But
ironically, it's advice which comes after the sorry tale of a book he had to abandon, due to it being rubbish. Thus proving that no
methodology comes with a foolproof guarantee. Nevertheless, what is said concerning the mechanics of the writing game includes much
that is practical, and is particularly useful to any would-be writer who has yet to discover how their own magic works.
'A writer can revel in unexpected success, but must learn to live with crushed dreams, as well. If you are a professional, you accept
both results with equanimity and move on.
Another chance for either lies just down the road.'
A book of this size is obviously limited in its scope, and the author makes no attempt to deal with some of the harsher realities of
publishing today. Such as, editors often being subject to a higher authority, in the form of accountants. Or what to do if you're not
already a famous author, seeking the attention of an editor or an agent. Similarly, there's no insight into how best to deal with
editors, publishers and contracts. This is possibly because Brooks struck gold with his first novel, and has remained with his
original publisher. Therefore he has not had occasion or need to dabble in the murky end of the pool. Almost always, he's made the
right moves, though not always through sound judgement. One anecdote concerns his reading the script for The Phantom Menace
at Skywalker Ranch, after which he declared it to be terrific! But, all things considered, Sometimes The Magic Works is a well intentioned and
worthwhile extended glimpse into the mind of an internationally successful fantasy writer.
If Nathan Brazil were dyslexic, he'd be the dog of the Well world. In reality, he's an English bloke who lives on an island, reading,
writing and throwing chips to the seagulls.
Drop by his web site at www.inkdigital.org.