April’s Goodreads Challenge – The Romance of the Forest

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!

Kipling photobomb

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.

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A new year dawns

It’s that time of year – behold, the New Year, New Me promises! I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. If I decide I need to sort something out mid-year, I’ll do it then, rather than wait until the next January to do it. But that doesn’t mean to say I never have goals in mind for each year – sometimes they’re so subconscious even I don’t know about them…

In 2015 my goals were to get my own place and change my job for something closer to home. I was commuting to Hull every day and the company I was working for were relocating into the city centre. It was already taking me at least an hour and a half to get to work, and easily more on an evening. And so in August 2015 I started looking for a house, and I got my keys for Casa Katy in December and was halfway through my notice period.

So in 2016 I had the house and the job. What was missing? Oh yeah, the boyfriend! Considering I had just bought my house and didn’t ever want to leave it because it was Mine, I managed to get a boyfriend just by sitting around doing nothing, as mutual friends were playing Cupid, and so in August I met Scott.

So, it’s 2017. I am sans job, but still running Casa Katy like a sinking ship – just the way I like it. Well, it is a little crowded now, with two people, two cats and a Border Collie. But the big goal for 2017 – beyond helping Scott get the farm built up, and sorting my grandad’s house out so we can move in there, and *cries* renting Casa Katy out – is the writing thing.

From about August to November very little writing was done last year. I submitted barely ghost-edited chapters to my writing group and that was about it. I didn’t do a blog post either. Then over the festive period, I started to look at #MFB. As so much time had elapsed I found I couldn’t get back into it, but then I realised the reason I couldn’t get back into it was that I had lost myself in it. So I sat and redrafted it, giving it a much-needed haircut. The end result was more like lopping a few limbs off than just a trim, but I figured I should be cutting down that approximate 350,000 word count. So now I have begun Draft Three, having aborted Draft Two midway through. Abandon ship, and all that. I’m very lucky because Scott understands how important it is to me, and he is encouraging me (i.e. telling me off when he finds me on Facebook!), even though he isn’t a reader at all (though he got two books for Christmas so that could change – hey, if I got my father reading after not picking up a book (that wasn’t a car manual) since school, anything’s possible!).

I found by chance on Twitter a writing campaign #my500words, started by a chap called Jeff Goins, whose blog is full of lots of useful motivating things for aspiring writers like myself, so please have a look here. So this is something I’m going to follow: 500 words a day for 31 days. This is pure writing, no editing, and while I am redrafting from existing copy, I am still writing fresh, especially in the cases where I’m adapting chapters and making new content based on concepts already clumsily made. So far so good – I’m already halfway through chapter two, having exceeded my 500 words most days.

After the 31 days are up, I might adapt the limit again, depending on how far I am through the story. Another thing to bear in mind is that lambing time is approaching, which might sit as a fat spanner in the works, as I have been led to believe that my life will be split between the sheds and home for a kip. Snatching time to write is so far serving me well: getting up a little earlier to sit in the quiet downstairs, or if on odd days I’m not needed, then I can really hammer it home.

I will keep you updated. Meanwhile, any words of encouragement won’t go amiss!

Katy