Monday, 27 February 2012

Little Miss Grump

This is my second attempt at writing this blog post (or perhaps the third, depending on how you define 'attempt') but the previous drivel was so utterly tedious that I deleted the lot and started again.

This should give you a clue as to how well my writing is going at the moment, given that I can't even ramble and/or rant properly without wanting to chuck the whole thing out of the window.

Mind you, chucking computers out of windows is a frequent desire for me these days, given how frequently the laptops bugger up at work.  I'm told this is a long standing problem so I'm hoping it's not just my presence which is causing them all to lose the will to live.

I managed to make some progress with my Hide and See rewrites during half-term week but haven't really done much since.  I had a bash at chapter seven last night, but didn't actually write anything new.  It's all just mucking around with old chapters, partly because I'm terrified of leaving out a piece of conversation or bit of action that is actually integral to the plot.

I had a nice little bit of fresh conversation pop into my head last night though, between Rhonda and Joel - unfortunately it belongs in book two, which is of no use to me right now at all.

There's a fragment of conversation appropriate to chapter seven floating around in the murky mush of my brain at the mo, which might or might not work when transferred to the page.  Fingers, toes, everything crossed.  It first occurred to me just as I was arriving at work but I never had the chance to write it down.  Wouldn't it be wonderful if, just once, something would appear when I was actually sat in front of my computer screen?

My grumpiness is irritating me now, so I'm going to go and get tea.  If any of you lovely fine folks managed to make it to the end of this rather dull post, give yourselves a pat on the back and a big heart 'bravo'!  And I hope to have something less yawn-inducing for you to read next time.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games in one of those books which seems to have taken on a near-mythic quality on certain areas of the internet.  Generally acknowledged to be amazing by these interwebbers, I simultaneously both longed to read it and dreaded it because I was sure it could never live up to its hype.

I find it a little strange, therefore, that upon reading it, I seem to have fallen comfortably in between these two options (although admittedly leaning more toward the positive end).

I read the entire thing in one day - it definitely had that just-a-little-bit-more, can't-put-it-down feel - and yet once I'd finished it, I didn't quickly pick it back up to re-read bits, which for me is usually an indicator that I've enjoyed it.  I have done since, once, but it was still fairly surprising for me that - given how frantically I consumed the thing - I had no desire to revisit sections in the days following.

The Hunger Games follows Katniss, a teenage girl from District Twelve in the country of Panem, a dystopian future version of North America.  Every year, each District must give two tributes - a boy and a girl between the ages of 12 and 18 - to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised fight to the death, as punishment for an earlier uprising against the Capitol.  When Katniss's younger sister Primrose is picked as tribute, Katniss volunteers to go in her place.

When I first heard the premise of the story, I assumed a major part of it would be a comment on reality television and the increasingly ridiculous extremes it is being taken to.  It turned out, however, that The Hunger Games deals with ideas so much bigger than that, and is all the better for it.  This is a book about survival, cruelty and freedom.

Collins is excellent at portraying the brutality of the world she has created, not only in the Hunger Games themselves but in Katniss's life before that, living with poverty and oppression, avoiding starvation only because she learned how to hunt illegally.

These elements are what stood out most for me in this novel.  There is a love story - which from what I can gather develops further in books two and three - but it doesn't dominate the world.  I was therefore surprised to see some reviewers dismissively lump it into the category of 'a book for teenage girls' which, while not actually an insult, is no doubt meant as one.  They group it with stuff like Twilight which, for a book as harsh and cruel as The Hunger Games can be, seems at the very least a bit odd.  Let's face it, Twilight is basically fluff, with (considering most of its characters are bloodthirsty murderers) a pathetically low death count.  The Hunger Games, on the other hand, is a true fighting book, full of action and never dull, even in moments of quiet.

It's not that I'm trying to applaud or glorify violence - I just admire the fact that Collins isn't afraid to write death, to kill her characters if the story calls for it.  It shows a certain bravery, I think, and commitment to the plot.  In a way, it makes it feel true.

I hope to get to book two - Catching Fire - soon.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

With Good Housekeeping in mind

I've managed to get a little bit of writing done so far this week, during my oh-so-precious half-term holiday.  How lovely it is working for a college!  It's given me some much needed time to focus, and the opportunity to try and figure out what exactly I need to do with the opening chapters of Hide and See.

I wrote chapter two on Monday and half of chapter three yesterday.  I'm quite happy with Monday's work, though a little less contented with yesterday's.  Again, it started feeling a bit directionless.  And a bit too angsty.

Having been reminded, however, that the Good Housekeeping competition only requires the first chapter of up to 5k, I'm feeling slightly less panicky about getting all of the first-third chapters written to perfection (like they ever could be).  I still think I should try and get them mostly written before, or not long after, the GH deadline but at least they don't have to be polished.

Given that my chapters are now only about 2k in length (because I was told 5k was too long) I think I might combine the first two for my submission.  Is that allowed?  Or would that get my name blacklisted forevermore and unable to find an agent no matter how much I beg and plead and weep on their doorsteps?  Because the thing is, I just don't think I could really make as good an impression with only my 2k-Chapter-One as I could with double that amount.  2k is barely anything.

I've not done any writing today because I've had my first day of volunteering with the National Trust at Mottisfont, working on their archives.  My poor little brain is quite frazzled so I don't think I'll be getting much done tonight either.  Here's hoping for tomorrow!

And I also hope that this new story which has started bubbling away in my head leaves me alone for a bit.  It really is most inconvenient.  Completely new and out of the blue, and just begging to be written.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

One year!

One year ago today I wrote my first blog post for The Orchard Walls.

Given how astonished I am that I've managed to keep it going for so long, I figured I ought to do some sort of post - however short - to commemorate the fact.

I started this blog because of the need for authors to have a 'presence' on the internet (presumably besides drunk photos of themselves on facebook, and I don't even have those) so here am I, trying to do that, in the hopes that one day it might help to convince an agent/publisher to take a little notice of me.

From a more creative point of view, I think it sometimes helps me to a take a step back from my work and realise where it is I'm going wrong.  At other times, it's there purely to let me rant.  Which is nice.

Thank you to my lovely readers, followers and commenters - if not for you, I'd just be a crazy person talking to herself.  With you, I'm a crazy person talking to other people.  I do hope you continue to read and that I don't drive you away with my mindless ramblings.

*party popper*

Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Lovers’ Perjuries by Joan Ellen Delman

As I may have mentioned once or twice (all the frickin’ time) I rather adore the work of Jane Austen.  I can perfectly understand that I am a bit of an old biddy and that some people might not share my love of it, though I do reserve the right to rant in an uncontrollable rage if someone accuses her work of being ‘chick lit’.

My favourite is Persuasion.  My least favourite (though I still enjoyed it) is poor, much-maligned Mansfield Park.  The other four completed novels hover unordered in the middle, as I can never decide which I like best.

Emma was the one I read last out the six, although I was familiar with the story through various adaptations.  While I found that I enjoyed the story of Miss Woodhouse, I have to say I was much more interested in the secondary tale of Jane Fairfax and Frank Churchill.  The tiny hinting snippets felt so tantalising, so compelling, just out of sight, peeking mischievously round the corner.  And I like Jane Fairfax better.  Emma is a little annoying at times, it feels almost blasphemous to say, and so horribly mean to Miss Bates.

Having read several (usually very silly) Pride and Prejudice ‘what-ifs’, mash-ups and sequels, I knew there was plenty out there for Jane Austen fans who wanted a little more.  Since Mr Firth’s wet-shirtedness (and possibly because it’s just generally more popular), there are more for P&P but I did find a few for Emma, and a grand total of two which focused on Jane and Frank.

One came highly recommended by the lovely reviewers of Amazon.  The reviews for the second one told me to read the first.  And so, here at last we come, after so very much rambling (see what happens when I talk about Jane Austen?) to Lovers’ Perjuries by Joan Ellen Delman.

The novel essentially tells the story of Jane and Frank’s relationship, starting with their meeting in Weymouth and then through the action in Highbury, as told in the background of Emma.  Delman does a wonderful job of keeping true to the original novel, from the characterisation and the timeline, to the language.  She isn’t as witty as Austen, but then who is?  Considering the work she had to base her novel on, Delman did a cracking job.

It felt to me as though the first part of the book was focused almost equally between Jane and Frank’s points of view, while the latter part was much more heavily weighed towards Jane.  It made sense to do this in that it left the reader with some level of uncertainty towards Frank’s actions (although obviously we would know that it all turns out well in the end).  I think perhaps it only felt a little strange to be suddenly deprived of his viewpoint where we had had it so frequently before.

This minor criticism aside, I thoroughly enjoyed Lovers’ Perjuries.  Well-written, engaging and sufficiently meaty to tell the story properly, I’m glad I went for this one over the second book listed on Amazon.  It was nice to read an Austen-inspired novel with a refreshingly low level of silliness.  More of an Elizabeth than a Lydia, which, let’s face it, would be most people’s cup of tea.

Monday, 6 February 2012

Third time lucky?

I have just finished my third attempt at Chapter 1 of Hide and See.  I am still not happy with it.  I think it's better than my second attempt, but then that isn't really saying much as I wanted to burn that one in a fiery tribute to the Gods-of-making-words-sound-good.

It gets better towards the end, I think: it's just the first 1.8k that's the problem.  Out of just under 2k.

I have decided, however, that I'm not going to start it again, regardless of how much I hate certain passages.  I am instead going to charge on through to the second chapter, which I abandoned half-way through the second attempt.  Does that even made any sense?  I feel like I've got too many numbers in this paragraph.

My problem partially lies in the fact that I am (or was?) probably intending to use this novel for the Good Housekeeping competition.  That means that it MUST BE GOOD.  IT MUST BE THE BEST THING I HAVE EVER WRITTEN EVER!!!  Obviously, this is not really a good mindset in which to write, especially for my contrary brain which sees such a challenge and decides to do the exact opposite.

Maybe if I tell my brain I'm using Fall instead it will stop being such a big poopy-face (yes, I am five-years-old) and let me write something half-decent.  Do you reckon that will work?  Can I use one part of my brain to trick a different part into believing something which may or may not in fact be true?  Or will I just end up giving myself a headache.

I think we all know the answer to that one.

In other news, you might have noticed that I wrote my first book review a couple of days ago.  It's pretty shockingly bad but then I realised (on reading back) that so were my first blog posts.  I think I've got better at those so hopefully the same will apply to the reviews.  Here's me, crossing all my fingers.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Soulless/Changeless by Gail Carriger

Soulless follows Alexia Tarabotti, a twenty-something spinster living in an alternative Victorian London where supernaturals have been ‘out of the closet’ for several hundred years and have assimilated into mainstream society.  Alexia herself is a ‘preternatural’, a personal born without a soul.

I received this book on Christmas Day – along with many others – and it was the first one I picked up.  After that, I found it pretty hard to put down.  By the end of Christmas Day I was almost half-way through, a fairly impressive feat considering all the other shenanigans going on that day.  I finished it up on Boxing Day.

I’ve read quite a lot of primarily world fantasy fiction, particularly those featuring the same kind of supernatural beings present in Soulless – vampires, werewolves and ghosts.  This novel could feel very samey, but it doesn’t, and it isn’t only the Victorian-era setting which has marked it apart.

The mythology behind the supernaturals seems logical (no sparkling, thank goodness) and the main character being preternatural is interesting, as it’s something I’ve never encountered before.  There’s even an attempt at theorising the reason being the supernatural state (in this instance, relating to the amount of soul a person possesses) which I found a refreshing change from just being expected to accept it – or rather, with the characters accepting it with little more than a raised eyebrow.

The writing is sharp and witty – there were several occasions when I laughed out loud – and the descriptions are excellent for dropping the reader straight into this bizarre version of Victorian England.  The characters feel developed and while some of the relationships are perhaps a little predictable, I don’t think it really matters.  It’s comfortable in the way that your favourite story is, knowing that everything’s going to come together in the end.

Ah, the end.  This is where things get a little difficult, not for Soulless but for book two, Changeless, which I read soon afterwards.

You see, the first book ended so well that I immediately went on amazon and bought the sequel.  The ending of said sequel, however, made me want to throw the book out of the window.  Not to say that it wasn’t technically well written – quite the contrary – but I have a personal dislike for conclusions which completely screw over a character we have, for many thousands of words, been made to care about.  I think I just found it doubly annoying because the first book did the exact opposite, thus luring me into a false sense of security.

I have, therefore, not yet ordered book 3 (Blameless) because I don’t really fancy reading the misfortune of the protagonist, even if – eventually – it will likely turn out well.  I daresay I will read it at some point, but right now it feels like too much effort.

I don’t know how unusual I am in these kinds of reactions, but surely I can’t be the only reader who will look forward to a book that starts with some level of contentment but will avoid one that starts with misery?