Thursday, 14 September 2017

One Word. One Week. One Writer

Last month I mentioned as one of my favourite ways to get myself writing. It reminded me that I had not visited the website for a few years and I've decided to give my self a writing challenge. Every day for 1 week I will write for 60 seconds from a prompt on Oneword and publish the results here! I have recently discovered they only update the website every OTHER day, but I have still done 6!

The gray metal nose of the barrel swung towards him as if sniffing him out of the darkness. Twin holes gleamed with oil. The barn door seemed to creek endlessly as it hung heavily on its hinges. The muscles in his legs jumped and strained along with the sound as he crouched low in the cab of the tractor.

Hakuna Matata or is it the other one?
Beatles hair cuts and barbershop voices in the jungle.
The 'what do you want to do?' conundrum,
that's what friends are for.

Hacking desperately on the tube, and turning away to choke as quietly as possible (impossible) into a sleeve, the girl looked exhausted. She gave a weak smile to a friend as she tried to draw a full breath. Her thumb popped the lid of a water bottle, but before she could raise it to her lips the cough was back.

The man was built from wood and wicker, standing, legs spread in the desert. Ready to burn in the darkness, under endless stars. He is everyone, leaving ash and dust on the winds and hardly a mark on the earth.

The bar of chocolate lay beside her right wrist, unopened. Rebecca imagined that the smell of the peppermint fondant in its milk chocolate shell escaping its vacuum seal. Her mouth watered as she pounded out the words. Another 50 and a bite of the bar would be her prize.

Something in me cracked when we ended things and I feel everything deeply. There's something unlocked in my heart, you taught me how to feel and then broke me. Kintsugi. With a new love, I am mended with gold.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Reading Time

Have you ever felt that there is not enough time? I feel like I am squeezing everything I can into a few daylight hours and craving more and more rest time. One of the reasons I love reading as a hobby is that it is a luxury in time. I have to find those minutes and hours in the day to dedicate to reading and nothing else. It serves the same purpose as meditation for me, turning my brain off and worrying about nothing over my lunch hour and my commute, even though I know I should be doing those little chores like getting shoes re-heeled or going to the bank.

I think people find it difficult to find the time to read because it feels like a decadent activity, suddenly reading becomes wasted time in a busy life. We know that it is not healthy to be so stressed and rushing to the next thing. It is healthy to devote time to doing nothing. Finding time to squeeze in some reading can make me feel so much better about my week. 

If reading is not something that you enjoy then of course, why waste time doing something that you do not enjoy. Luxury should not be arduous or a chore. Everyone has a way to switch off: playing video games, running, exercise, meditation, cooking. This time is where you're not brooding over a problem or on your way somewhere or socialising. This empty beautiful time is so good for our mental health and it is easy to forget how good it makes you feel. Opening a book is like buying time away from my seemingly endless to do list and clearing my mind to disappear into another world. 

If you've slipped out of your reading habits because you "don't have time" I urge you readers to find that time again. In my darkest days I could not read, my depression had taken away my enjoyment of reading, and when I came back to it after turning a corner for the better, the relief and help I got from picking up a book again was so much better than any meditation app. Don't waste time by NOT reading, and make time for that mental luxury. Enjoy. 

"The time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time." - Bertrand Russell

Thursday, 31 August 2017

July 2017 Reviews

The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood
1985 Kindle
Amazon gift voucher

When I was given a gift voucher for my birthday and told I had to spend it on books, there was little problem choosing what I would go for. Unlike most people, I have no issue with TV or Film adaptations of novels. Although I would probably prefer to read the book first, if I see the film and then get around to the book, I don't feel the same outrage or bile about it either way. I had just finished watching all ten of the MGM studio production of The Handmaid's Tale, starring Elizabeth Moss, and was ready to see what the original ideas were on paper.

My kindle copy started with a foreword from Atwood herself after the series had aired, and while I found it really interesting to hear her musings on her own work and the adaptation, and although I had already seen the show, there were a number of spoilers in it! Anyway, I read swiftly on and was quickly immersed in the story.

It is gripping and overwhelming which is why I have put it on a list of books I would read again. I feel like I was washed with horror of the society and I need to steel myself and read it again soon with a closer reading. No wonder it is studied in schools.

The Muse
Jesse Burton
Picador 2016 Kindle
Amazon gift voucher

A vast improvement on The Miniaturist but gaining less traction than her first book, The Muse explores the history of a mysterious painting. With two timelines running alongside each other, when the painting was made in 30s Spain and the discovery in the present day 60s London the fate of the painting and its artist is slowly revealed. The best thing about The Miniaturist is that it was a well written page turner of a book and The Muse has the same quality.

Where The Miniaturist fell down was two many story lines, too many plot twists, and a hint of magical realism that ended up not being magical at all, which was very disappointing. The Muse felt a little stunted in terms of imagination in this respect, while the Miniaturist felt like an incredible story that in the end got wound up too simply, The Muse was stripped down and in the end too quite a predictable turn although there was one twist in the tale.

Although the marketing doesn't really reflect this, I think The Muse is the more readable text but it lacks the flair and imagination that The Miniaturist had. Burton could explore the wilder side of her story lines but tie them up as neatly as The Muse.

Thursday, 10 August 2017

Beat Writer's Block

We all struggle with writer's block sometimes. Be it when writing job applications, an important email, or even a text to a friend, all of this writing can be difficult. I enjoy writing, but am very critical of my self, which is why sometimes I need these tricks to help me take the first step on the road to writing something, be it poetry or prose.

Here are some writing tips that I use for when I need a nudge:

Oneword - the website that gives you a single word to write on for 60 seconds. It's just the pick me up that you need to be inspired to write. I've got little paragraphs here and there that are slotted into a story that came from one word first.

Stream of consciousness writing can also be helpful, set a timer for 15 minutes and start to write. the struggle is always starting, but once you start it will come even if you start with: I don't know what to write right now. There is a website that simulates this called write or die, which is a fun way to stimulate yourself.

Find a headline and make up your own story. Local papers and red tops usually have headlines that have minimal information and a pun to work with.

Make a story board. My trouble is often when I start I just start from the middle of a scene I've had an idea from and I struggle to then piece together the plot and B characters around this idea. So I've also found that when I start to build that kind of thing first, I often get excited about one thread of the story I'm following and will end up writing that scene.

Try NaNoWriMo. If deadlines and structure are your thing, it's nearly time to join thousands of writers who use National Novel Writing Month (November) to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It's a great way to get a first draft of a book if you work well to that pressure or think you need it!

Of course, my number one recommendation to get inspired is to read something beautiful. The best thing is to revisit something you love that will remind you why you love to read and to write. Poetry works well for me, but might be a favourite novel that you pick up.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

9 Re-readable books

For the writing
Her, Harriet Lane
One of my favourite books that I've read in the past few years. The story completely blew me away and the writing was very clever. Similarly to her first book the flawed protagonist is weirdly likeable and terrible at the same time and I loved reading it.

Blackberry Wine - Joanne Harris
One of her less famous books, I don't know why blackberry wine captivates me. But this is a book that I've read several times and travels with me to every home I move to. If this one isn't on my shelf I feel like it's not my bedroom. I think it's earned a re-read for its loyalty.

Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austin
Obviously. A childhood favourite for the story and a new favourite as I only read it for the first time in the last few years. I will never be able to read it as many times as I've seen the BBC TV series or the film adaptations... but I can give it a damn good try.

For the memories
Outlander - Diana Gabledon 
The book I took on my gap year and which consequently has completely come away from it's bindings and is impossible to read comfortably at the moment. I would love a new copy of the full set of Outlander books, once Diana finishes the series. Then I intend to read them all again.

Max's Millions
Amazingly, I actually couldn't even find the author of this book and it maybe that I have not remembered the title correctly. I've read this book about 9 times at least. It's a short book for young teens about a boy who builds a video game while he's off school and on bed rest. He makes a million and it's all about what he does with it. Brilliant and cosy.

The Little White Horse - Elizabeth Goudge
One of the best proposals in the history of literature. A bit weird as it happens between characters that I perceive as children, but it is gloriously sweet and genuine. This book captures the imagination with love and myth and magic and is beautiful to read and read again.

Eat Pray Love - Elizabeth Gilbert
Although one of the more recent books I've read, I read EPL at a very difficult time in my life and it was incredibly inspiring. Yup, I am one of those people! But it is true and it is definitely a book I would pick up again. I love the film and I loved reading it and I can see it helping me in the future.

For the social commentary
The Handmaids Tale - Margaret Atwood
The more this book is in people's consciousness the better to be honest. It is harrowing and well written and well thought out. I think it's important to read books like this one and see how these things start out and gradually devolve. It's a very human book and that is what is so terrifying, I can see it happening because the drives are based so clearly in the characters.

The Help - Kathryn Stockett
I would love to take another look at this. It's incredibly funny and holds a mirror up to the life styles of rich Americans and the black labouring classes. It highlighted the ingrained racism that most people don't even realise goes on and even with the best of intentions.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

June 2017 Reviews

The Monk
Matthew Gregory Lewis
1796 Paperback
Borrowed from K

Oh, the rage this book brings me. First thing: check the date, 1796! Early early early. VERY old fashioned. Second: Matty was just 19 when he wrote the manuscript. I know that is patronising beyond belief, but it does have a flavour of the juvenile in the writing. Third: It's meant to be a Gothic novel but I was fairly bored throughout the whole thing almost especially the "scary bits" the "dread" that is meant to be built up in this kind of book was dry.

It gained huge success at the time because the author was young and rich. But also at a time when women were reading novels and the biggest nightmare for a woman would be to lose her honor; especially a beautiful one. Another point where both the first and second points come into things. I know it's of it's time, but the women are totally two dimentional. There is one moment where I thought it might get interesting, but Matty failed me. Perhaps he had not had much experience with women at the time... they serve as a plot point and only virtues are being weak, rich, virtuous and beautiful. It's quite painful to read. But to be fair, the characters in general were fairly two dimensional and do not matter that much to the story at all.

Of it's time... but honestly, still not that good. Bram Stoker is chilling and incredible AND old. Wilkie Collins too. Sorry Matty, no excuses The Monk just isn't worth reading.

Erin Lange
Faber & Faber 2013 Kindle
Amazon giftcard

In total contrast, Butter was bliss. Teen fiction, with a really interesting concept that an overweight boy decides to eat himself to death. It's about friendships and teen mentality around depression. Its quite compelling and really interesting how the plot unfolds.

Worth a read, but I am aware that I may be being clouded by how bad I found the Monk to slip into Butter was a much nicer place to be. It's well written and I would definitely recommend it to younger readers between 13 and 16.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

May 2017 Reviews

The English Patient
Michael Ondaatje
Bloomsbury 1992 Paperback
Mummy's Library

An improvement on the first book of his, I think it helped that I knew the story from the film. I enjoyed the beauty of the writing and the intricacies of the narrative. Like Anil's Ghost the story leaped around in time, which could be confusing at times. But It was better handled with more in depth characters. 

I loved the sections with moose, which was explored more thoroughly in the book than in the film. The relationship between Kip and the Patient and Hannah is also more detailed and interesting. In fact I'd say Kip was the most interesting character in the book. What was a nice detail that the film captured in a more nuanced way was the musical aspect of the Patient's personality and the use of music in the film is expertly applied. That's more difficult to get across in the book and actually there was far more of a focus on the books and reading that he had done than the music. I'm into that...

Very enjoyable read. I'd say the style is still a little flowery for me, but it calmed down to carry a great story. 

Dirty Great Love Story
Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna
Bloomsbury 30/4/2013 Paperback
Birthday gift from Z

Fabulous. I read it in about 2 hours and absolutely loved it. In fact I wanted to read it DURING my own birthday party and got told off. It's a transcript of a play that we went to see, a two man show that tells the story of Katie and Richard and how they met.

The experience of reading it was very different from the performance, but I think it helped that I was able to imprint the voices of the actors as I was reading. Similarly the pauses and visual gags which I remembered as I read it again. Not only is this is brilliant play as itself, its such a good gift because I have the memory of the night out with the girls as well.

The play is written in rhyme and is modern and funny, with clever ways of invoking scene and atmosphere. It's a two person production which is dealt with brilliantly live. The actors each play at least two other characters in the story which is done physically and vocally on stage. In print this is easier to get across as the character name changes. I loved rereading this and as the play is no longer touring I recommend reading the play version.