Tag Archives: Writing

What’s in a Name?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.” — Romeo and Juliet, Act II, Scene II

I have given up on NaNoWriMo. I’ll freely admit it now. When I was so paralysed by my inner editor to even sit down and write, then I knew it was time to throw in the towel. I hated what I was writing. Truly hated it. And I know that you should keep writing, even when uninspired, but it wasn’t really that I was at a loss of creativity – it was that I was at a loss of patience.

Besides, I had a much more pressing issue to contend with.

I was hearing voices. Continue reading

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Antlers in the Field

The sky was a crisp, fresh sheet of blue, stretched taut in the heat. The dead branches of a tree scratched marks across the road above me, and the warmed tarmac sagged underneath my feet. I followed the road to the bend, where it curved left under tree cover – a cool, green shade that smelt of cool, damp soil.

There was a five-bar gate on the bend ahead of me, the metal hot under my hand. I lean one foot on a lower rung. I press the top rung against my collar bone, and feel the heat of it rise up under my chin. The field is high with golden wheat. It whispers to me. There is barely a breeze today, but the wheat feels it and talks to it.

As I watch, the whitened prongs of antlers rise up in the middle of the wheat field. They are stark and boned, jagged like angry forks of lightning, and deathly pale. I feel eyes on me – two wide, brown eyes, below twitching leaf-shaped ears. The ears glow pink as the sun shines through them, and the eyes watch me, unblinking but unafraid. Wary, but no fear or anger.

The face is soft and white, somehow blurred at the edges as if it’s a mirage. I feel close enough to see the soft lips and quivering muzzle. The stag regards me further. Its ears, twitching back and forth, shine pink from the sun – two leaf-shaped, veined satellites. I barely breathe.

Then it’s away. The stag lowers its head further, hiding everything but the angry tips of the antlers, and I can hear the wheat protest and shudder as it passes through – the stalks bending and yielding before springing back into place. At the edge of the field, I see it again, in the space between the wheat and the hedge. The stag turns its head once more to look at me. It blinks. Once. Twice.

It lowers its head, soft muzzle seeming to touch one hoof in a bow, then, holding its antlers aloft, it steps away in to the hedge. And gone. I step back from the gate, feeling the stark change against my chin – from hot, metallic heat, to cooler, summer sun. I hold the bar a moment longer, lingering, yet knowing that I should go. I blink. Once. Twice.

I look to my feet, placed so squarely on the road. I let go of the gate.

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Return from Oz … With a Few Choice Words

Okay, well not quite. But I have returned from oblivion, briefly, to treat you with a few fresh posts.

Has it really been as long as all this!? I apologise, dear readers, for leaving you for such a long time. It’s been a whirlwind. I’ve missed you! Have you missed me?

Well, for your delectation, today, I have a quick extract of writing, and a book review. But which should come first? Well, my lovely ones, read on for a peek into what I’ve been doing all this time!

However, she knew there would be one last task she needed to complete before leaving Aquene. She donned her cloak again, this time leaving by the front door. She noted a castleguard lingering on the corner of the street, but she ignored him, and strode on by, not looking up as she passed the gates to the King’s Court, past the statue of the King of the First Dynasty and down the King’s Road. King’s Road was the direct path between The Towers and the King’s Court, and was lined with the wealthiest of the shops and taverns. The pennants of high-powered Houses and Guilds hung from windows that glittered in the sunshine.

Sanoh smiled and greeted faces she recognised, careful to seem as normal as she could manage, but not enough to stop and talk. She knew the castleguard would be following her. But her business wasn’t on King’s Road. It was on one of the lesser streets – past the square courtyard of eateries, and beyond the alley of jewellers. It was in the healing area of Aquene that Sanoh needed. There was an apothecary, a respectable member of the Guild, that the House of Ember had been using for years for all remedies – common and uncommon.

She entered the cool dark of the shop and smiled at the woman behind the table there.

“How good to see you Fronia, and looking so well.”

“Duchess, what a pleasant surprise,” the woman stood and curtseyed.

She was a Yenni – skin a pale blue with curlicues of dark-blue across it. She had bright, almond-shaped blue eyes and dark hair tied back in Vaxen fashion. Sanoh knew Fronia from when she was a child – she was the apothecary’s apprentice, and now his third wife.

“Illaris is upstairs,” Fronia added. “I will call him.” She darted through a doorway at the back, and Sanoh looked at the contents of the glass jars that lined the walls. Every apothecary looked the same, ultimately. Dark wood, with poorly-lit candelabrum, and shelves upon shelves of equipment and ingredients. Sanoh didn’t even pretend to know what half of it was for, but the table at the back was scored and marked from many years of putting the contents of the jars to good use.

Sanoh trusted Illaris above any other apothecary – not just for his skill but for his discretion. And it was his discretion that she needed most then. When Illaris appeared, Sanoh gave him her widest, happiest smile. The tall Escenian returned it in kind. Illaris was of the Nomi tribe, with pale blonde hair and grey eyes, his tall golden skin seeming to glow even in the gloom. Illaris was older than Sanoh could imagine – she remembered him from when she was a small child and he had never seemed to age.

“Illaris!” she cried with genuine warmth.

“Duchess! What an unexpected honour,” Illaris replied, bowing to her with the correct amount of respect. “What can I do for you today?”

Sanoh pulled a bag of coins from a hidden pocket. “I’m afraid, my dear friend, that this will be the greatest favour you could do for me.”

Illaris paled. “So… so it’s true?”

“It’s true.” Sanoh pushed the purse across the desk, and it quickly disappeared into the folds of Illaris’ tunic. “Vionalar is come.”

Illaris beckoned her up the stairs at the back, and she followed hastily. The room above was bare and unremarkable. Another table, marked with the signatures of the trade, and two wooden chairs. Illaris waved her to sit in one, and sat across from her, steepling his fingers in front of him and observing her from across the table.

“So,” he said quietly. “Vionalar.”

“Yes.”

“I have treated your family for five generations. I had hoped to treat your children in turn.”

“I know.”

“But, I feel, you will not return to Aquene.”

“Not for a long time,” Sanoh nodded.

“And I will be long gone.”

Sanoh opened her mouth to argue, but he waved her down impatiently.

“Please don’t argue, Sanoh,” he said in a tone that brooked no argument – one she remembered from childhood. “Tell me, what is it you need?”

“I need to pass unseen.”

“I see.”

“And… and I need a key.”

Illaris cleared his throat uncomfortably. “The first request is a simple thing… the other…”

“I know you have it… I have the coin –”

“Not all the keqam in the world is worth the key you ask for.” He shook his head. “I cannot give it to you.” He rubbed his face with his finger tips as if he were exhausted.

“I know what I ask,” Sanoh whispered. “But, Illaris, you must understand…”

“I understand, Sanoh. Do not take me for a half-hearted fool who supports a campaign until it gets too difficult. But, if I give you this key…”

Sanoh knew when to answer and when to stay silent when talking to Illaris. She had known him too long not to recognise when he was thinking.

“It is Vionalar, Illaris,” she eventually said, when she could no longer stand the silence. It came out in a hoarse plea, which surprised the noble blood in her – no one of the House of Ember should have to beg.

“It is Vionalar,” Illaris repeated, nodding. “If I give you this key, if, I said. Then I ask you one thing.” He pointed a finger at her.

Sanoh nodded hastily.

“Once you are done with it, I want you to be rid of it. This key has caused me nothing but pain since it came into my keeping. I would not wish its burden on you any longer than it needs to be… it is not the blessing you wish it were.”

He didn’t wait for her response – he knew she would promise him anything – and instead, walked into a back room, closing the door behind him to keep prying eyes away, and retrieved the key from the hidden cupboard where it had stayed for many years. When he returned, he held it with a strange, disgusted reverence, as if its touch astounded and repulsed him all at once.

Sanoh took it from him, and felt a cold tingling up her fingers, that all at once froze her blood and excited her. She gazed at it – an iron key, with one ornate loop at one end, and the unassuming teeth at the other.

“A Skeleton Key,” she murmured. “I have never seen one before…”

“And I hope you have no reason to again,” Illaris snapped. “Put it away, quickly. And I will bring you what else you need.”

Sanoh obeyed, as Illaris went downstairs and returned with several vials of different coloured liquids. Sanoh had always loved to watch Illaris at work – his alchemy was renowned in Aquene to be some of the finest. He proceeded to pour varying amounts of the liquids back and forth into one another, before stirring the concoction until it went a pale purple. He poured this into a new, empty vial, and stoppered it with cork.

“This will allow you to be unseen until you touch another living thing,” Illaris explained. “Until then, no one will even know you are there.”

Sanoh rose, casting more coins on the table amongst the glass bottles. “Thank you, Illaris,” she said. “I can never repay you for all you have done for me and my family over the years.”

Illaris put up his hands. “Repay me by coming back alive, Sanoh, and I will see it from the next world and be glad.”

“We will see each other again, before the Shroud takes you,” Sanoh insisted, but Illaris simply smiled and led her downstairs and out the shop.

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Saying What I Didn’t Think Of

You might have noticed a few re-blogs of late. Yeah, some people hate it. But I love it. I love the fact that I can share a post with others – a post that said something I felt in a way I couldn’t have done myself, expressed something I hadn’t thought about expressing, showing a new perspective on things.

My Glamorous Literary Life
This lady was one of my university lecturers. She was wonderful! (And I’m not just saying that because she could be reading this right now – though there is a little of that maybe). She guided me through my tentative first steps as a Real Writer, and helped me understand the difference between writing and Writing. This blog says everything I wish I could – about writing and the emotions it creates, and also the brutal honesty that comes with being a writer in the first place, from being honest with yourself to being honest with others.

The Diary of a Mad Gay Man
I found MGM through Blogdramedy (follow for endless hilarity and sharp wit), and his honesty with his readers is lovely. He’s not afraid of talking about his sexuality, his body phobias, or even depression when it strikes. I know from experience how scary it is to share these things – this guy is one brave blogger, and he does it with tongue in cheek and plenty of glitter.

Fix it or Deal
Another brave blogger alert. This girl knows how to make me laugh and how to make me sit back and go “hm” in a thoughtful, impressed kind of way. The last reblog (lock me down to set me free) was a thoughtful one… and reminded me that I’m a little behind on writing my novel – and I rely too much on “bolts from the blue” inspiration. Cue slap on the wrist and a weekend of SCHEDULING my writing and being good about it. (It will probably last as long as my diet has, which is a grand total of half a day so far).

Anyway. Dismiss the idea of re-blogging as much as you like, dear readers. But if you do – you might miss a point I could have made, but they said it better.

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Haunting

My whole life is filled with hauntings lately.

I’m pretty sure I’m being haunted by a ghost. And not in a friendly, Casper-like way. In a malignant something’s-watching-me-from-the-corner-of-the-room way. It’s most likely my highly-strung imagination combined with watching horror films and reading a ghost story. (Though how you explain footsteps up and down the stairs when you’re tucked up in bed and there’s no one else in the house beats me). I took Sophie-cat to sleep on the end of my bed last night it’s getting so bad. I’m pretty sure Mummaloo and Poppaloo think I’m going nuts (it’s a 1960s built house and I’m pretty sure there were no deaths here before we moved in). I guess it doesn’t help that I still have an irrational fear of the dark (I don’t care what you say, 24 years old does not mean you get over your fear of not being able to see what’s under or at the end of your bed/in the wardrobe/at the other end of the hallway).

I am also being haunted by a Blue Tit. No euphemisms please. Every morning I am greeted by a tapping on the frosted window of the back door. I’m kind of enjoying the greeting with my morning cuppa. I’m just terrified of opening the back door and finding he flies in and becomes Sophie-cat’s new plaything.

And, finally, I am being haunted by the novel-that-never-was. Or, should I say, the novel-that-should-be-but-is-still-gathering-dust. All my fancy promises of a new start and writing every day seemed to fall to the wayside almost as quickly as I announced them. Life is still taking over. Instead, my forlorn little notebook is just looking (forlornly) at me with (forlorn) accusatory eyes. It follows me around the room, begging to be picked up, but not daring to say anything in case I hurt its feelings by giving a half-baked excuse of being too busy. I even dreamt about the damn thing last night! But that might have been the overdose of Sudafed I took in an attempt to breathe whilst sleeping affecting my brain patterns, or whatever.

What’s haunting you at the moment?

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Dark Matter

Dark Matter: A Ghost Story by Michelle Paver

Orion Fiction: paperback published 2012: 252 pages

Out of nowhere, for no reason, I was afraid. My skin prickled. My heart thudded in my throat. My body knew before I did that I was not alone…

London, 1937. Jack is poor, lonely and desperate to change his life, so when he’s offered the chance to join and Arctic expedition, he jumps at it. Spirits are high as the ship leaves Norway and at last they reach the remote, uninhabited bay where they will camp for the next year.

But the Arctic summer is brief. As night returns to claim the land, Jack feels a creeping unease. One by one, his companions are forced to leave. Soon Jack will see the last of the sun, the sea will freeze and escape will be impossible.

And Jack is not alone. Something walks there in the dark…

 

I love a good (brief) ghost story every now and then. And I read the first of Michelle Paver’s Chronicles of Darkness series (Wolf Brother) so I knew I’d like her style. I’ll start by saying that I wasn’t blind terrified in this ghost story (it’s no The Woman in Black) but it played on one of my biggest fears – the dark. Or, more accurately, the dark outside a window when you’re inside in the light. It’s impenetrable and my imagination means that I keep picturing faces suddenly appearing at the window looking in at me. It freaks me out.

The story is so atmospheric it’s charged with emotion. Paver keeps it simple enough to be a children’s story, but intense enough to make it an adults. There is a Q&A session at the back of the book which means you get to find out more about why she chose to write a story set in the Arctic, but I think the story explains itself pretty well.

The ending – although suitably frantic and confused at its peak, followed by a slow, sad reflection chapter – was somewhat dimmed by the tension built up in earlier chapters. The love story is a little forced, but the relationship between Jack, the protagonist, and Isaak the husky, is believable and you get invested in it. I think it could have gone on longer than 200-odd pages – and I would certainly have carried on reading if it had. Overall a gripping and entertaining read, though the target audience seems somewhat blurred.

Rating: 7/10

Next book: As promised to Lunameth – I will be reading some hardcore fantasy in the shape of The Orphan’s Tale: In the Night Garden by Catherynne M. Valente.

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Orange Prize Longlist

The Orange Prize is one of my favourite prizes for literature. It takes on everything I love about books, and awards a prize for it! Plus, it’s just for women. Check out this year’s longlist:

  • Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg (Quercus) – Swedish; 1st Novel
  • On the Floor by Aifric Campbell (Serpent’s Tail) – Irish; 3rd Novel
  • The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen (The Clerkenwell Press) – American; 4th Novel
  • The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue (Picador) – Irish; 7th Novel
  • Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan (Serpent’s Tail) – Canadian; 2nd Novel
  • The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape) – Irish; 5th Novel
  • The Flying Man by Roopa Farooki (Headline Review) – British; 5th Novel
  • Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon (Quercus) – American; 4th Novel
  • Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding (Bloomsbury) – British; 3rd Novel
  • Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (Faber & Faber) – British; 2nd Novel
  • The Translation of the Bones by Francesca Kay (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) – British; 2nd Novel
  • The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy (Jonathan Cape) – British; 6th Novel
  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern (Harvill Secker) – American; 1st Novel
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller (Bloomsbury) – American; 1st Novel
  • Foreign Bodies by Cynthia Ozick (Atlantic Books) – American; 7th Novel
  • State of Wonder by Ann Patchett (Bloomsbury) – American; 6th Novel
  • There but for the by Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton) – British; 5th Novel
  • The Pink Hotel by Anna Stothard (Alma Books) – British; 2nd Novel
  • Tides of War by Stella Tillyard (Chatto & Windus) – British; 1st Novel
  • The Submission by Amy Waldman (William Heinemann) – American; 1st Novel

The judges – Joanna Trollope (chair, writer), Lisa Appignanesi (writer, novelist and broadcaster), Victoria Derbyshire (journalist and broadcaster), Natalie Haynes (writer and broadcaster), and Natasha Kaplinsky (broadcaster) – select from the list a winner who will receive a cheque for £30,000 and a limited edition bronze known as a ‘Bessie’, created and donated by the artist Grizel Niven.

Previous winners include The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obreht, The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, Home by Marilynne Robinson and The Road Home by Rose Tremain.

Are you going to read any of the Orange nominees? Have you read any previous winners?

The shortlist will be announced on the 7th April. Who do you want to be on the list?

If you want to buy any of the above titles, get them here.

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The Crimson Petal and the White

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber

Canongate Books: paperback published 2010: 834 pages

Step into Victorian London and meet our heroine, Sugar – a young woman trying to drag herself up from the gutter any way she can – and the host of unforgettable characters that make up her world.

I had this sitting on my shelves for a while, and then Stacey from We Love this Book mentioned on Twitter (follow me!) she had read it and recommended that I do as well. Well… here we go then.

For starters, it’s a peculiar Point of View. This takes a little time to get used to before you can really settle in to the swing of things. The main issue I had with the book is I didn’t really have a character I could connect with – none of them were particularly endearing. Especially William Rackham, Sugar’s “bit of stuff”, who is, frankly, an idiot. Michele Faber is a fantastic writer in all aspects really – she has a beautiful way of pulling you in to the scene, creating palpable characters and situations that involve you in the story (which is why I think she used Second Person Present). Victorian England, in honesty, is not one my greatest interests… give me the Napoleonic Wars any day… but this is the one book that has brought the era alive for me. It made it something that is more than just a weird bit of history, but something that almost directly affects me. Now, I’m not sure if this is because the Victorians were obsessed with it or not, but there seemed to be a bit of a fixation on… uh… shall we say – bodily functions. I don’t know about you, but reading about that sort of stuff makes me a tad uncomfortable. I know it makes the characters more “real” (I suppose), but I really do not need to read about their poo in every chapter.

It took me a long time to read this book – not because it’s a long book or I wasn’t enjoying it – but because it simply seemed to take a long time to read. I knew bits of it, because I’d caught a few glimpses of the TV adaptation, so those I could read with some ease, however I found myself bogged down in all the wordiness and intricacy of the plot. This is no bad thing! There’s no risk of forgetting something that happened earlier in the book, simply because you read it with such care that it’s imprinted on your memory. But overall? I liked the story, but probably wouldn’t read it again, because frankly I’m glad to leave some of those characters behind.

Rating: 6/10

Next book: A quick ghost story before I take up Lunameth‘s recommendation – The Orphan’s Tales – so it’s 200-odd pages of Dark Matter by Michelle Paver (of children’s books Chronicles of Ancient Darkness fame) to scare me witless before I get on with some hardcore fantasy.

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The Art of the Point of View

I am currently reading The Crimson Petal and the White and a hundred or so pages in, I’m still getting used to the point of view (second-person present). I am so comfortable with third-person and first-person that I’d almost forgotten about the little-used second. After, aren’t all books addressing the reader anyway? You’re taking them on the journey with you, and so why not talk to them?

When I began writing, I was a strictly first person kind of girl – I couldn’t imagine writing any other way. It could have been the egomaniac in me, or it could have simply been the fact that each character was someone I wanted to be, and therefore why not write in a way that comes across as Me? Whatever it was, each character was a “Me, Myself and I” type. Then I wrote a short story about a She… I wrote about something I hadn’t experienced myself and somehow it just felt right that it should happen to someone else. And thus it was that I discovered a whole new universe of writing.

I could change characters and write from several perspectives, I could write as a boy (which I had never attempted in first-person). The stories became more malleable and much more exciting – both to write and to read. How had I not realised this before? How had this third-person world been so ignored all this time?

So now I’m a third-person kind of girl. It’s much easier to kill someone off that way as well (which I have discovered I am fond of in a slightly upsetting George R.R Martin kind of way). This is why it’s a bit of a shock to the system when I open a book and find it talking directly to me. Is the second-person another undiscovered mine of possibility? Will I start writing in second and wonder why I ever bothered with anything else?

I wrote some poetry once… well, more than once…in a very misguided assumption that as a writer I should be able to write poetry with great ease (cue disgust at self and a great deal of respect for poets). Those, I found, were very much first- and second-person territory. But the idea of writing a novel from the second-person makes me nervous still. I even feel a little nervous reading second-person!

What’s your choice in Point of View?

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Wise or Wasted

I got incredibly offended today when I was told that blogging is a waste of time. “You’ve got what? A hundred followers? That’s nothing,” I was told. “You could be doing so many better things with your time than writing about stuff no one wants to hear about.”

I was so furious that I couldn’t even stammer out a reply of “well, you’re wrong”. I couldn’t get a coherent argument together to show him how wrong he really was. I failed to grasp strong and valid examples that proved his ignorance. I was impotent with rage.

A waste of time!?

This bloke spends half the night on video games shooting pretend monsters with online strangers whilst his friends play sports and meet up for Boy’s Nights. At the weekends he spends his whole time in the pub, nursing lukewarm beers. Now tell me what time is wasted.

Of course, I would never dare say that video games are a complete waste of time. I don’t presume to judge; I’m not a game-player. Do you love it? Do you have fun doing it? Then it’s not a waste of time.

I don’t make money from my blogs. It would be nice if I did. It would be nice to get freebies and advertising space on other sites and all sorts of things. But that’s not the reason I actually do it. I never got in to blogging for money (I’m not daft for starters); I got in to it because I wanted a medium in which to write about things I love (and I’m an egomaniac).

And this made me think… there are two phrases that imply what you are doing is of some use (or not)…
“Using your time wisely”
“A complete waste of time”

So are you time-wise or time-wasted?

Blogging for me is not a waste of time (though it is time-consuming), in the same way that reading isn’t a waste of time, eating isn’t a waste of time and sleeping isn’t a waste of time. Things that I do find a waste of time? Fake tan, watching Twilight and listening to a boy talk about football (in fact, anything football-related).

But then I can accept that people enjoy that sort of stuff, and for them it’s not time-wasted, it’s time-wise.

What do you think is time-wasting or time-wise?

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