In August, I think it was, I was meant to read Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim. A short book about mishaps in academia, I thought it would be a quick zip through – probably why I didn’t pick it up until the last week in August. But then somehow life caught up with me and tripped me up, and now look at me: writing that review in October! It took me most of September to finally read. So then, having not learnt from my mistakes, I picked an even bigger book to try and cram in the last five days of September – A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Hackness. Well, in terms of speed I’m managing that much better, but it’s October now and I’m not even halfway through.
I’ve not been reading much and I’ve certainly not been writing much. It makes you feel loads rubbish about it all – even though I know things like self-imposed challenges aren’t exactly life or death. There has been a lot going on recently, and I am trying to organise myself. I started a new job, we’re moving house, lots of exciting things are happening on the farm – and slowly I’m getting back into writing.
I enjoyed Lucky Jim and I did laugh out loud for quite a few bits. It’s not my usual fare and reads a little too high-brow-making-fun-of-low-brow. I think my main issue was with the character of Jim. He thought too much about all of the wrong things, and while his escapades were very funny and outrageous, it all just felt a little too heartless. The university environment was nicely recreated, and there was something great about his eternally-distracted head of department. While I maybe didn’t have a lecturer quite at that level, there were echoes of familiarity.
I’ve started on A Discovery of Witches and while I’m fighting the neverending stereotypes that perpetuate that kind of supernatural writing – of which I’ve read a great deal – I am enjoying it. It is reading a little bit like Twilight for graduates, and I can’t help but see Matthew Clairmont as a bit of a cliche. There’s time yet, though!
I have three more books in my stack to read. At least one is non-fiction, another is an Ian McEwan, and I can’t remember what the third one is. As I’m packing things up for the big move, I can help but stress at the sheer volume of books I own. I’m a book addict!
Hello all! Now I know what you may be thinking – it’s not the beginning of a new month, let alone the end of the last, so why am I updating my Goodreads Challenge now? Well, it’s because I have failed. Semi-failed, let’s call it.
As you may recall, for July I was meant to be reading Ben Wilson’s history of the British Navy, Empire of the Deep. However, it is the last week of the month and I am barely a quarter of the way through. I’m enjoying it but it’s hard going. There’s a lot of history, a lot of people and place names, and a lotta lot of writing. Sometimes, after a hard day’s work, I don’t fancy ploughing through a thesis on the Spanish Armada.
So I’m tweaking my Goodreads Challenge – just for July. And since I’ve had this book on my shelves for longer than Empire of the Deep, and began and finished it in the month of July, then my month’s read will be Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss. And according to my Goodreads, I have read 11 out of my pledged 12 books to read this year! (I have the rest of my own challenge to read too, so I should be well on my way to a good book year.)
I was drawn to this book because of its connection to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood of painters, prolific in Victorian England. My favourite artist is John William Waterhouse, who wasn’t a core member of the Brotherhood but affiliated nonetheless, and one reason why I chose to study my MA at Hull was because they offered a module in Victorian Literature and the Visual Arts. After reading this book, I wish I had encountered it when I was writing my dissertation, as it definitely ties into my study of the female protagonist/antagonist and the use of hysteria/lunacy to demean and belittle women.
To begin with, I was quite confused, as the part of the book the blurb talks about happens much further in, so for a while I wondered if there was a typo on the sleeve, the characters of Ally and May bearing too much similarity to the names of Elizabeth and Mary, who we encounter first. Elizabeth is the mother of Ally and May, married to Alfred Moberley, a painter and artist, and if it was her goal to transform into her own mother, she achieves it perfectly, and then some. The story is set mostly in Manchester, though we move to London later on, and follows chiefly Ally, who struggles to achieve the nigh-impossible aspirations her mother has dreamt up for her, inspired both by her own upbringing and issues following Ally’s birth. As she aspires to things only just becoming available to her gender, her unresponsive mother just sets the bar higher, even as Ally smashes Victorian versions of the glass ceiling as she studies and works herself nearly to death to qualify as one of the first female doctors.
I really enjoyed this book, once I got over the initial hurdle. Moss writes – I don’t know if this makes sense – like an Oxbridge graduate, but her descriptions are sparse and evocative of the Victorian family life. The exchanges between Ally and May, particularly when they are left alone as their parents go away and the girl who works for them disappears, are so believable, and I loved their arguments about the laundry. Poor Ally lives in terror of her mother’s disapproval but May is the typical second child – can do no wrong.
I would have liked more about the artwork, and the artists, purely for my own interests. But I soon got caught up in Ally’s life and invested in her progress as she faced the trials against her. Moss skilfully depicts Ally’s mental health, outbursts of nightmares and episodes of suffocation brought about by her mother’s gargantuan expectations and treated in typical Victorian ways – bruising, burning, slapping and the general demeaning treatment of medical staff and the people around her. Elizabeth, Mrs Moberley, works with poor and abused women and mothers and constantly compares her daughter’s struggles with those of people who have no money, no opportunity and never seem to grumble despite the horrors thrown at them. It is a powerful parallel to today’s treatment of those with mental health problems. While we might acknowledge the illness nowadays and be trying to tackle it, Moss’s novel exposes the Victorian attitudes most people hold towards it today. Mental health is not directly comparable – it is so individual and particular, what would be manageable to Person A just tips Person B off the cliff.
So I would definitely recommend this somewhat secret gem of a book to anyone interested in the Pre-Raphaelites/Arts and Crafts movement, Victorian literature, gender studies and mental health.
I’m still persevering with Empire of the Deep. It’s a worthy read and I’m learning loads, and it will run nicely alongside my nautical fantasy novel I’m writing. To keep me ticking over till August I’ve picked up Amanda Owen’s A Year in the Life of the Yorkshire Shepherdess, though I do have the new Robin Hobb book ready and waiting in the wings. My next book, for August, will by Lucky Jim. My book that I’m writing has a university setting for part of it so this book will help with that.
What are you reading? Have you read Sarah Moss’s Bodies of Light? Or anything similar? Let me know in the comments!
July is very much here and I spent the weekend at Castle Combe race circuit for the RSOC track day with my dad and our friends. It’s been my first proper car day of the year and it was great fun. I passengered all but one session with Dad in the Subaru and had an ace time.
Half of the year is gone already! I’m still enjoying my little job and it’s keeping me out of trouble, though I’ve not had nearly as much time to do my writing or even my blog as I’d have liked. I manage to get up early enough to do maybe an hour before work – or I get up earnestly intending to do an hour before work, but I usually mess around on social media and news sites for about half an hour. As for my blog, it looks like I manage my book review and that’s it!
Things I’ve achieved so far
I’ve finished my third draft of my book! This is the big one, so now it should just be a brutal edit and then I’m hoping to send it out to agents. I’ve started editing the first part and so far have cut a chapter out, which bodes very well as in total I wanted to cut 6 – 8 chapters. Considering once upon a time the story had about seventy chapters and 350,000 words I’m not doing too bad condensing it down.
We’ve got on a bit with the other house. I’ve cleared most moveable stuff away into storage (or the wheelie bin) and so now we’re looking at the big things. Dad pulled a load of the kitchen units out and I had pulled up all the carpet tiles in there so now it’s on to picking out cookers and worktops! The kitchen and bathroom are the two big jobs so once they’re done and the new flooring is down we should be on it. I spent ages weeding the garden and pulling out monstrous dandelions. Like a bad blogger I didn’t take any before or after pictures of the garden. I’m really excited to live in a bigger house and especially one that has such strong family connections.
I’ve kept up with my reading challenge! I’ve managed to read each of my books for the month and some months I’ve read quite a few extra. It’s a great thing to do as I purposefully diversified the books on my list, and this month I’m reading a non-fiction book about the British navy. I’m trying to read all the books I have on my bookshelves before buying any more, as part of both my decluttering and money-saving goals for the year.
I managed to get my hanging baskets done and they look so pretty now that they’re filling out. I really like being out in the garden and really enjoyed making these. I did nurture a dream of making a little business out of it, but the time is passed (as with all such ideas I have). I’m trying in earnest to keep on top of my wild little garden but every time I turn around there are weeds everywhere, and I have terrible problems with bindweed coming from the wilderness next door, strangling my Viburnum, which makes me so mad. I keep nagging my dad to come and cut my hedge because it’s almost as bad as the one next door. Some lovely flowers are coming out though which is lovely to see.
Things to do for the next half of the year
Edit my book – aggressively, but not to the point where I lose sight of what I’m trying to say. Having a little break since finishing the draft has helped, as I’ve managed to – so far – approach the chapters with a slightly more objective view. I struggled with chapter one as I knew that everything my writing group had said about it was right and I was scared to try and remake it in a more effective way, but after a couple of false starts I think we’re there! I want to get on with it a bit quicker. I’m trying to get up at the same time every morning (earlyish) to spend a little bit of time on it each day. It’s silage time too so while Scott is busy on the farm (and I can’t help) I can sit and write, which I will do, without the telly on or anything.
I really want to get back into making things. I’ve not done much baking since I bake a lot at work, but I’ve not done any crafting at all. I have lots of kits – needle felting and cross stitch, including something I’ve been making for my mum for a birthday for yonks now – and I just haven’t got on with them at all. I also wanted to design a series of Christmas cards starring Bilbo (as he looks so very Christmassy) and did a trial run in March/April for Mum’s birthday, making this picture.
So I want to crack on a bit more with that – design my cards, maybe make a picture or two, and try to do some more cross stitch.
Obviously the house is still a big priority. We want to move in while I’m still pulling a decent wage (though I still want to get a job for over winter) so I can build my savings back up, and also so I can afford to buy nice things for the house – not that I feel much like shopping at the moment. I can walk round a shop and see loads of pretty things and yet not feel compelled to buy one! There are bits to do to the garden in the new house and I just need to finish the little bits inside that I can do before we have to get in workmen.
I have loads of clothes I want to sell on eBay too, nice things that I’ve worn once or twice and never got round to again. I also want to go through my CD and DVD collection and take a load to Cex and/or list on eBay. I’m getting fed up of living in a world of clutter, and while a lot of that comes from having too much stuff in too small a place, I still don’t want to just fill the new house up with stuff (which is very easy to do).
Finally, this blog! It needs a good lot of work. I need a new header, loads of photos, and a few more posts. My blog is meant to support my writing, and be the backing for my eventual website. Someday I would like to make a Facebook page plus host a Twitter chat for my writing. I’m really inspired by the Canadian musician Leah, who is one of my favourite artists of all time (and I’m totally not saying that just because she followed me on Insta, such love!!), who doesn’t tour to support her music while she raises her children, and yet is super active on social media and has amassed a great following. I think nowadays it’s so much easier to connect with fans and potential followers, and it’s something I need to be making use of more.
So tell me about your achievements so far, and your mid-year goals!
This is a novel written in modern times but in the very convincing fashion of a Victorian crime thriller. Michael Cox is a history buff of the era so he is a safe pair of hands. The story reads confidently enough, especially for a debut, but reading through the acknowledgements it’s obvious that this has been a long labour of love.
Edward Glapthorn, or Glyver, or others, is our protagonist who opens the story with the most convincing first line I’ve probably ever had the pleasure to read:
“After killing the red-haired man, I took myself off to Quinn’s for an oyster supper.”
Move over Jane Austen! This is exactly the sort of opening line we get told about in writing classes. Grab the reader’s attention, get ’em wanting to read more. And Cox certainly does that.
The world-building is good, with a whirlwind of locations in London (eateries, roads, locales) traversed, often with a helpful Editor’s Note (not that such a thing means a great deal to me, to whom London is a big fog). But beyond that we are immersed in a cultural creation, too, which reminds me greatly of one of my favourite books, AS Byatt’s Possession. Here too we have a poet of the era, convincingly invented, with the irresistible name of Phoebus Rainsford Daunt. And this is our villain, who we barely even see, in a psuedo-Rebecca role. The first half of the novel is devoted to pursuing this man, though we aren’t given the real reason until partway through, at which point Daunt decreases his importance as an agent and instead what he is blocking becomes the bigger goal.
Cox succeeds in creating the typical Victorian style. Hot on the heels of being swamped by Radcliffe’s somewhat clumpy, clunky prose, Cox streamlines it, but only to a suitable point. In Victorian literature, a character doesn’t just leave a room; he admires everything, from the chaise-longue by the window to the writing desk made by the famous carpenter to twenty volumes on the bookshelf. and usually a nugget of information is concealed within all this description, something which throws a speed reader like me.
I really enjoyed this book, even though I read the last 100 pages on the journey down to Castle Combe in a hurry to finish it for the end of the month. At times Edward’s voice started to annoy me, but we were luckily provided with a short reprieve in the form of another character’s account. His hedonism and reliance on substances while he went through his existential crisis phase (or woe-is-me Harry Potter 4 & 5 phase) felt a little stale, but it fit with the obsessive aspects of his personality. The ending was quite satisfying (no spoilers here!). It only took me so long to read because again I had a few other bits to do and I took about a week off reading it.
If you like Victorian literature, murder mysteries or crime thrillers, I definitely recommend it. I’ve had it on my bookshelf for ages. I will also recommend the other book I mentioned, too, Possession by AS Byatt, as I love that book and it goes further to actually create the poetry.
Now I’ve taken on maybe a bit more than I can chew here with July’s choice.
I had a couple of non-fiction reads in the pile that I’ve been steering clear of and so I decided to pick one up. I love anything to do with the sea and one of my own books is going to be partially set at sea in a naval environment, so I’m on with Ben Wilson’s Empire of the Deep: The Rise and Fall of the British Navy. I’ve read about fifty pages and am really enjoying it, but as it’s a historical narrative it’s taking a good bit longer as I need to concentrate. The font is teeny tiny and a fair few things I don’t have a clue on. Why do all kings have to have similar names? So far I’m keeping up, but Wilson’s style is conversational to the point of being on first name terms with Edwards I – III, to the point where I don’t know which one is being talked about.
I am entertaining the idea of reading one of my fiction books alongside, maybe Lucky Jim, to give two months to read this mammoth beast of a book. I’m determined not to fail in my quest!
Why pay an editor when you can get a Luna to do it for you? This is my little Lunabelle helping me with some writing. “Helping” meaning clambering all over the keyboard chasing my hands because it’s much more important for me to be fussing her than writing. And with such big green eyes who can resist? But this is the whole point – editing, I find, requires a solid strength of will to resist distractions and procrastination. So sorry Luna, but you have to wait!Update! I have been quite quiet of late – that’s for various things: new job, work on the other house, trying to finish my Goodreads Challenge for May (see blog post here) and a little bit of writing! I am now very pleased to say that as of 6th June 2017 I have finished my third draft of MFB. This means I’m now about to start editing.
How well is it going, you might ask? Well… I’ve done countless loads of washing, shredded a load of unwanted paper, tidied up my front room a bit, organised the back bedroom, cleaned my sink, disinfected everything in the house, scrubbed my wellies and my Dubarrys, washed the dog and cat bowls, and drunk umpteen cups of tea…
So this is my guide on How To Edit!
Get comfortable in your writing nook, with a cup of tea and the most motivating, content-appropriate playlist you can find on Spotify
Drink that first cup of tea and enjoy it so much you go make another
Struggle to find a suitable playlist and waste time scrolling through Spotify
Find that your writing nook attracts an unpleasant draft or has dodgy lighting, and search for another place
End up cross-legged on the sofa
Forget cup of tea, get up for it
Open first chapter of novel on computer
Create a document for editing purposes
Fancy a snack, end up making dinner
Leave pots strewn all over, but decide to start reading chapter one
Make a couple of notes on editing diary
Wash up, dry pots and put away, repeat for next lot
Realise that TV programme is on you wanted to watch – time for a break, no?
Try and fail to read and watch at the same time
Make another cup of tea
Find a pot left on the side that wasn’t washed up and lose mind
Finally get comfy on sofa with computer and cup of tea
Start to read, make a few valid notes
Get distracted on planning a detailed map of the town/world in your book
Lose temper at changing minor character’s surname
Yawn once, decide it’s bedtime
Turn computer off and go to bed
Have best idea ever in bed – decide to get up at 5am to start anew with refreshed vigour
Wake up at 8 and realise it’s a work day
Procrastination is a vixen I remember well from, I guess, every aspect of my little life. With essay deadlines looming, I could always find something to keep myself entertained. But when it’s something I love and very much want to dedicate my time to, like my writing, I still find I can skive off. Sometimes it is legitimate – still need to eat, right? I’ve been writing this post for about a week now, too.
In all seriousness, I’m trying to follow this process for editing:
Split my screen into 2 documents, with the draft on the left and a document for notes on the right;
Read through the draft and any edit, thought or issue that comes to mind can be noted down;
Finish the read through, and start making the changes to a new version of the document.
I will also keep a running log of over-arcing problems or changes that will have effects throughout the narrative.
At the moment I’m here, there and everywhere, often without my laptop (hence why this post has taken so long to write), so I can’t start in earnest until things are back to normal. Then I think I will try to dedicate a chunk of time each day to editing. It’s time to get serious again!
How do you edit? Do you get distracted too – if so, how do you keep on track? Let me know in the comments!
For May I chose The Magus to read from my remaining books. I’ve read John Fowles before – The French Lieutenant’s Woman is one of my favourite books so I had high hopes about The Magus.
It is a big book – not just in length but in content. The blurb talks about our protagonist, Nicholas Urfe, being held by a master trickster – but make no mistake, the master trickster in residence here is Fowles himself.
It took me a long time to read it – not because it was uninteresting or particularly hard, but because it just is a very big book. That being said, the last 200 pages roared by as the plot kicked it up about four gears.
Nicholas Urfe, as a typical rudderless middle-class graduate of the post-war era, finds himself teaching English in a Greek school for boys on a remote, isolated island. It follows nicely from Romance of the Forest with a travel literature edge. Fowles captures Greece wonderfully – his prose reminded me of holidays to Crete and Lesvos and brought back lovely memories. I also liked the TEFL aspect, especially so as Nicholas had similar feelings of unfulfilment regarding teaching that I had experienced in my short tenure.
The book is best thought of as London and England bracketing either side of the fat Grecian middle section. Nicholas flees a girlfriend, disappointment in his own failings and general disillusionment to an island that then reflects these three things again back at him. The master trickster he meets is a strange patriarch, Conchis, who Fowles paints expertly as a man who shifts in all but shape. There are powerful moments detailing Conchis’s life, in particular the recollection of his days serving on the front in WWI, but in typical Fowles style (a la French Lieutenant’s Woman) the rug is pulled out from under the reader’s feet. As a result, the story is lush, deceptive, and twists and turns at every page.
I enjoyed it, though it was strange, and at times felt a little laboured. (I am in the middle of my own editing so I’m seeing everything bloated and over-egged so I might just be projecting outwards.) As a mystery it was good to figure bits out, though sometimes the cycles of mystery were so dense it was hard to decide what the actual point of it all was. It felt a little too high-brow for me at times: a lot about psychology and psychiatry, which went over my head, and sometimes it was hard to keep track of what was real and what wasn’t (though I guess that was purposeful). Nicholas, our narrator, also did my head in from time to time. He was full of his own self-importance, but then again, all his flaws got called out on. This is a story about how our own selfishness and egocentric behaviour can drastically affect those around us – and Nicholas is forced to confront his own shortcomings. I’m not sure if he will really learn from his mistakes, but over the course of the novel he comes a step closer to comprehending that he is not the only player on the stage.
The ending was wholly ambiguous and I made my own conclusion, based on a Disney-fuelled happily ever after.
It is very much a sort of book that will haunt you, and it also makes you not trust anybody or anything they ever say, which is very helpful in everyday life.
My next book is The Meaning of Night, a contemporary Victorian crime thriller, which Maura is cuddling up to below.
I was worried I might have to start this post reporting my failure to uphold my resolution. (Instead I need to start it with an apology that it’s so late, and a disclosure saying that I did in fact finish the book in April, and I wrote this post a week ago, but I’ve only just got round to posting it!) The Romance of the Forest proved a hard book to read. I could harp on about all the other things going on that have been taking up my time and attention, and granted they all exist, but in all honesty, I just really struggled with this book. But I’m happy to say I finished it, at about quarter to eleven last night, so just in time hurrah!
An eighteenth-century Gothic novel that has sat on my shelves for long enough, I had tried to read it before and stalled on the first page. I’m pleased I persevered, and I have enjoyed it (at times). The problem with eighteenth and nineteenth century writing – that I’ve found, anyway – isn’t in the old-fashioned style they use, the long sentences, the incomprehensible sentence structure, the wayward subjects or even subject matter now quite alien to a modern reader. I get all that and like all that. The problem is I am a fast reader. My imagination leaps beyond the words that I’m reading so when I’m in a story that has very dense writing, including join-the-dots descriptions and misleading sentence starters that begin somewhere and then randomly out of nowhere go off on a tangent, I struggle with it. I probably need to sit down with my imagination and tell it to behave. Not that it’ll listen, and not that I’d want it to anyway.
So The Romance of the Forest is a book that moves too fast and too slow all at once. Confusing? Yes. At least the majority of the characters have different names, right? Well, up until the last few chapters and then we had two characters with the same title and it was all a bit of a blur. The main character is Adeline, and I think the reason I didn’t like her is because I saw much too much of myself in her. She’s a melodramatic, melancholy slip of a thing, prone to bursting into tears at the slightest thing, and she just annoyed me a little too much. The storyline starts with a mystery, then more mysteries come up and unless I totally just didn’t pay attention, the mysteries are all resolved at the end. Hurrah! Adeline is an orphan, essentially, and is placed under the care of the La Motte family, who are themselves fleeing debtors. Together they take refuge in a spooky abbey, where they find all these mysterious objects, some of which suggest a sinister past to the abbey. Then the abbey’s real owner appears and makes their lives very difficult.
There are some serious plot twists in this book. A lot of the twists happen in about the last 50 pages, and some twists are fun little false twists too, which do work quite well to keep you guessing. Part of the book’s style is the way Radcliffe starts by introducing a sinister motif, or a thrilling moment, and then dissolving it – spoiler alert: for example, Adeline sees a mysterious man in the woods and is afraid, but he turns out to be a nice chap indeed.
Radcliffe was a travel writing buff and so her own writing is rich with descriptions of exotic places that she herself may not have made it to. I must admit I did skim through a few of the longer passages waxing about the beauty of this French town or this lake with its acacias.
I thought I would enjoy this a bit more than I did. I gave it 2 stars on Goodreads, which is an OK rating on the Goodreads scale. It just was a bit of a slog, unfortunately.
For May I’m jumping into The Magus by John Fowles. Now Fowles wrote one of my favourite books ever, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, so let’s see if this one can live up to my high expectations. The blurb suggests it should be right up my street. I am feeling some The Name of the Rose vibes with it, so we shall see!
The Magus, by John Fowles: On a remote Greek Island, Nicholas Urfe finds himself embroiled in the deceptions of a master trickster. As reality and illusion intertwine, Urfe is caught up in the darkest of psychological games. John Fowles expertly unfolds a tale that is lush with over-powering imagery in a spellbinding exploration of human complexities. By turns disturbing, thrilling and seductive, The Magus is a feast for the mind and the senses.
I heard this on the radio the other day at my mum and dad’s, but before they said what the top book was, the first one I thought of was The Lord of the Rings. It didn’t come out at number one, but was a close second. I’m not ashamed to say I’ve not read No 1 – James Bond (I presume they mean “all” rather than “any”, though I have listened to the Octopussy audiobook as read by Tom Hiddleston, which was a great listen on the commute to work, even if I was laughing sat in traffic at the amount of times he says “pussy”, not very mature I know), but I’ve never said I have read it. So I inspected the list on the original article, found here, and I’ve gone through it with what I have and haven’t read: Continue reading “The Books Everyone Lies About Reading”→
I was very kindly nominated for the Liebster Award by the very lovely ohevie, see the original post here! Now I’ve heard about Liebster before but only because I’ve seen the logo on other blogs, and I always thought there was no chance I’d ever be nominated for an award! We were on our way back from picking up two half-ton bags of barley for the cattle when I got the notification, so safe to say I was very pleased! Now it has been months and months since I was nominated, but I’ve only been able to do a little bit at a time. But now I’m done! Continue reading “The Liebster Award”→
You’ve heard the old saying. Somebody does something stupid, or funny, or badly, and you go, “Don’t give up the day job”. And usually it’s comic effect – haha, we all laugh, how funny, and go about our merry way. Because silly Sandra never really planned on being a professional juggler, or an impressionist, or whatever. She’s quite happy doing whatever it is she’s doing.
But I’m here as the advocate of daydreams – and their bigger, badder cousin, The Dream. Because I have A Dream (a song to sing…) and I’m sure as hell not giving up on it.