Goodreads Challenge – June, The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

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!

How is your reading going?

Writing Recap – How To Edit

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!

A glance at my bookshelves (1)

(Top to bottom – New Spring by Robert Jordan, Die Again by Tess Gerritsen, The Rule by Jack Colman, The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell, One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason and The Magus by John Fowles)

We’ve had a little nosy around Casa Katy, and now here for a closer look at the contents of my shelves.

When I was preparing to move out of Windy Farm, my parents’ house (and, I suppose, my “ancestral pile”, given we have lived there for a couple of years now, and before that, my great uncle lived there, and before him, my great grandparents), I realised how many books I have. Well, it wasn’t much of a realisation – I think that had dawned a good long while ago – but it really cemented just how bad my book-hoarding had become. And, most heartbreakingly of all, how few of my weighty tomes I had actually read! I took a systematic approach – or as much as I could, anyway – to my library, and split into piles: those I had read and those I had not. Easy-peasy. I classify, of course, those I have begun as not-reads.

But then came the tricky part. I was going through a phase of mad well-intentioned badly-executed organisation, which meant some books that had been read really should be taken to the second-hand bookshop (the one in Pickering, you know the one! Surely the best example of how a second-hand bookshop really should look) to be enjoyed by others. I had had a bad experience when I took three great Bags-for-Life full of books and got about seven quid in return, but I swallowed my tongue and reminded myself that this is for the greater good: other people can enjoy these books, meet new characters and explore new worlds. Besides, I probably got more per book than the average author gets. So I divvied the read books into: to keep forever and ever or at least a little while longer, in the hope I might re-read (here’s looking at you, Wheel of Time, Robin Hobb, etc.) and to put in a box for a little while and eventually send on a journey to somebody else’s bookshelves.

So I now stand in Casa Katy with a bookshelf (thank the Lord for Ikea) full of juicy tomes (not tomatoes) ripe and ready to be bitten into!

So here is a little glimpse of this Spring/Summer reading list:

A glimpse at my spring/summer reads
A glimpse at my spring/summer reads

Now some of these I have actually already finished. Go me!

In order:

New Spring by Robert Jordan – I finished the Wheel of Time last year, Jordan’s epic fantasy which he sadly passed away before seeing completion, that falling upon the shoulders of Brandon Sanderson, who also wrote one of my favourite books ever, The Final Empire (part of the Mistborn series). New Spring is the prequel that was published in between (books x and y) and details how Moiraine and Lan meet, and how she sets out following the prophecy that the Dragon will ride on the Wheel of Time once again. I really enjoyed the Wheel of Time – it was my second go at reading it, having managed in a previous attempt to get halfway through I think Lord of Chaos before losing myself. With such a lengthy series – fourteen books, come on! – and such a huge landscape to consider, with seemingly limitless characters, machinations, plots, locations and everything else, if you take your eye off the ball for even a second it’s hard to get back in. I’m super excited to read this prequel though, as Moiraine and Lan are some of my favourite characters in the series, and it’s so refreshing to see a female/male partnership that doesn’t end up in a romantic tangle.

Die Again by Tess Gerritsen – this is one of the Rizzoli and Isles books, on which the popular (and now fast approaching the end of its run!) TV series is based. I started off my dad on reading Rizzles; we loved the TV show and the partnership of no-nonsense kick-ass Boston police officer Jane Rizzoli and the Sherlock-esque Chief Medical Examiner Dr Maura Isles. In fact, I loved the characters so much I named my cat after Maura! I’ve not read any of the series but am familiar with various plots (e.g. Hoyt) from the TV programme, but Dad chucked this one at me saying I would like it because a) it doesn’t rely on too much previous information and b) Maura gets a cat in it! So I might give this a go and see how we get on.

The Rule by Jack Colman – I went to Ryedale Book Festival a while ago with Mum, just to scope out the scene and also to try and chat to a couple of local presses. I happened to speak to a very lovely lady who was there on behalf of her son, who had published his first book, The Rule, after winning a competition. All about Vikings, it was dead up my street, but I was also intrigued by this local lad who had gone and done what I spend most of my waking moments dreaming about. I bought his book and finished it earlier this year. Vikings and Anglo-Saxons seem to be all the rage now: whether it’s the Game of Thrones/Lord of the Rings effect, or possibly a desire to look back at the people who played a part in forming our country(ies) and, shock horror, were a lot of them immigrants. But I don’t want to get too political! I enjoyed The Rule – the landscape was sparse and barren, really evoking just why the Vikings (and here the Anglo-Saxon once-upon-a-time scholar in me shudders to use the generic – and incorrect – term) found our island just so irresistible and, dare I say, ripe for the picking. I did find the description on the back very misleading, and as such I was guilty of that classic crime, judging a book by its cover, and found the content and the blurb a bit jarring. I struggled to connect with the lead character, Gunnarr, though I can’t fault his motives, and found the ending particularly heartbreaking.

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell – from the raiders in the far distant north to raiders raiding our north! For all I want to call him Bernard Cromwell, I’ve been hankering after his books for a while, and so after enjoying the first couple of episodes of The Last Kingdom on TV (and then missing one and subsequently never catching the rest), I got the book for Christmas. Cornwell is an accomplished writer with a longlist as long as, well, a longship, and so here we follow Uhtred son of Uhtred, the Anglo-Saxon ealdorman raised by the Danes. Personally I was just chuffed that I could recall a lot from my old university days! I enjoyed this romp, though it did curious things with the pacing – something I find a little unsettling with George R R Martin. Here great events and shifts for the characters seem to be thrust upon the reader without much warning, and without much change in pace – none of your standard lulls which build up to a great crescendo, and while maybe it is intended to be indicative of the fast-moving ever-changing world of that time, it did cause me a few hiccups. I might read the next one, or I might catch up with the TV series, but it didn’t grab me with an all-consuming fervour to devour the next one.

One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez – please excuse the lack of correct accent marks, I’m being especially lazy. I’ve had this on my bookshelves since forever and have tried it once before, only to be a bit baffled by the content and all the men with very similar names. One sunny afternoon I sat out in my patio and gave it another go, and now I’m powering through the first quarter, and think I might well make it to the end. I’m still bamboozled by all the Jose Antonio Buendia Aureliano Arcadios, but I think I can about tell them apart. This is a curious little book – I say little fondly, for it’s a monster of a story. Very famous and I think massively influential on many other writers, it combines magic realism and fantasy and warfare and family drama all together with some wonderful humour and wit on the part of Garcia Marquez. It definitely reads wonderfully well in a warm dreamy summer’s eve, of which we have very little of over here at Casa Katy (it’s raining as we speak). It’s also reading much better than another I’m on with, not on this list, and that’s the Master and Marguerita. I’m excited to see where this goes, however just as I get invested in a character’s development or a possible partnership or what have you, Garcia Marquez tends to off them or that plot point in increasingly mad ways. Jose Buendia being strapped beneath the old chestnut tree is a strong image I think that will haunt me for a good while, and I’m sure is something many might like to relate to, in these post-referendum times. Argh, I said I wouldn’t get political!

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason and The Magus by John Fowles – now these two are not yet begun, and I intend to dive into once I’ve wrangled a bit of time. I picked up The Piano Tuner in Waterstones on a whim and haven’t a clue what to expect. John Fowles is known to me as a writer, as I read The French Lieutenant’s Woman when I was 16/17 and it powerfully imprinted on me. I would absolutely recommend that to anyone looking for a fantastic read who isn’t afraid of a bit of period setting, and a bit of critique on a period novel within a novel – jolly bit of inception there. I’m excited about The Magus so if I ever get on with the Jose Antonio Aureliano Arcadios, I will dive into this one.

And that’s our lot! Let me know if you’ve read any of these, if you like them, dislike them, and if you’ve any recommendations! Currently I am poor but I am the proud owner of a Malton Library card, so with luck, I might pick up some weighty tomes in there.

I’m also looking to update my Goodreads account, so look for me on there under Katy Allanby.

Thanks for reading!

 

5/10/15 – Retrospective

5/10/15 – Retrospective

I can’t quite believe that if things had turned out differently – if I hadn’t made a huge decision that, to put it melodramatically, changed my little life – I would be up to my elbows and my eyeballs in marking and lesson preparation and a quagmire of stress and panic and general disillusionment with life. Yet I’m not! Granted I get back from work late, and by the time I’ve made my tea, eaten up, washed up, bathed and sorted my life out, there isn’t much time for relaxation – more just rest. But I make do as best I can!

What I’m doing at the moment…

Reading

At the moment I’m nearing the close of The Wheel of Time, Robert Jordan’s definitive fantasy epic. I’ve spent most of this year reading this series: currently I am on book thirteen of fourteen, The Towers of Midnight. I hope to finish the whole set by the end of the year, which is looking pretty likely!

I’ve loved this series. It takes a lot of investment to follow a fourteen book series, and I did initially give up halfway through when i first started, but this time round I have persevered, and I’m glad I have! Things are starting to come together and the Last Battle is definitely imminent. This has been quite a journey for me so I intend to write a full blog post about this.

Watching

At the moment I’m watching a bunch of different things. Wednesday is good telly day for me! I’ve been watching Nashville and Bake Off, but both finished this week; one nicely wrapped up with a bow on top, and the other with a mega load of cliffhangers. I didn’t cry at Bake Off unlike apparently the rest of the UK, but I did get a bit misty-eyed at the end of Nashville.

Once Upon A Time has started again and Netflix are uploading each episode a couple of days after it broadcasts in America. I do like a good bit of OUAT! I know it’s dead cheesy and has appalling special effects (and how many “lost memory” curses can people really be put under before their brains start turning to mush, honestly?), but Robert Carlyle is fab in it as Mr Gold/Rumpelstiltskin and who can’t beat a bit of Killian “Captain Guyliner” Jones as the dashing Hook?

But really every night I’m watching a couple of episodes of Grimm, my current favourite programme. And series 5 will be shown over here in November! Only problem is I’m halfway through series 3 and series 4 isn’t on Netflix yet. At the moment I’m into my cop shows and I’ve always loved my supernatural shows, so Grimm combines the two. While Nick is gorgeous , I am definitely a Sean Renard girl. Especially when he’s holding a baby. Even if I am totally jealous of Adalind, and I’m not sure I am meant to be. I do worry that too many people now know Nick’s identity, and the location of the super secret trailer. Something major is about to happen! It’s a great series, even if when I tried to explain it to Louise at work, she commented that it sounded like a “bad American soap opera”! Maybe with werewolves.

Listening to

At the moment I’m listening to the radio a lot more. I have a routine: in the morning now I listen to Minster FM, on my drive to work until I get out of range, then I switch to Viking. On an evening I try to catch the Confessions on Radio 2, then if I the music or chat is decent I stick with that, until I get in range for Minster. I tuned in to Radio York accidentally the other day and I heard about the visibility of Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter. I got up early to see Venus and Jupiter but I think I was too late for the two other, less visible ones.

Whilst sorting through some things I found a CD I hadn’t really listened much to, and after playing it a bit on my way to and from work, I can’t really understand why! Tuomas Holopainen’s first solo album sounds a bit ridiculous, The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck, and yet is anything but! As the main songwriter for Finnish band Nightwish (“mastermind behind” is what the sticker on the album case says) despite this not being a metal album, there are all the hallmarks here: listening in retrospect with Endless Forms Most Beautiful, I can definitely hear the precursors to that album in here. It is a story album and yet it isn’t a ram-it-down-your-throat concept album: the story is overceded (so not a word) by Holopainen’s stunning music. He does know how to make a good song: while I love Epica and some of their songs are my favourites, I still feel like they need to learn a lot from this outstanding Finn on how to meld a heavy bit into a softer bit. Even without the operatic vocals he so utilised well with Tarja Turunen (sorry, fangirl) he’s created a perfectly ethereal moments with the voices here. And the occasional chiming bells totally get me in the mood for Christmas!

Learning

This week at work I found out I’m covering the maternity leave of one of my colleagues in sales & marketing, which means I’ve been learning how to put things onto our website and change things – I’ve also been learning html as well! Only a little bit, and while I am using it, I’m not sure what it all means, but it’s doing what I want it to!

Other things I’ve learnt this week… fresh air makes you sleepy! Saturday Nana invited me to watch Pickering Town play at the Rec Club, a match sponsored by the family in memory of my grandad. It was a top day out – we got to have our lunch at half time brought to us and we had a little table all laid out for we six ladies and we had a right good time! Pickering won 2-0 which made it even better and I loved being involved. I’m not that big into football – I am a Liverpool supporter but I find watching footie on the telly a bit numbing; nothing beats actually being there! I definitely will go to another match. But all that fresh air and excitement sucked it out of me; I was reading upstairs (Strictly was too loud and bright and brassy to concentrate on my book) and I must have just laid down to “rest my eyes” and next thing you know, it was gone midnight! I think I might be old before my time.

Pinterest recipes are very hit and miss. I’ve trialled a few, and some I’ve used again and again – I make Almond Joy granola every couple of weeks and it’s gorgeous, though I tweak the recipe a bit (maple syrup is so expensive!), yet I made some turkey and sweet potato burgers, and they definitely didn’t go according to plan. Whoops! I was suspicious by the lack of breadcrumbs and egg to bind them together. They were tasty though, so a bit of tweaking may be involved.

Stay tuned for next week & see what I’ve been up to!

A cup of coffee and a laptop

Hello my lovely fellow bloggers!

A cup of coffee and a laptop
My life at the moment! What more does a girl need? Laptop, an espresso, Filofax and – some whiteboard markers?!

 

It is Saturday over here in Yorkshire – at long last! It feels like it’s been a long week. I was out all last weekend so never got chance to blog anything (I went to Liverpool with some friends from work, in case you’re wondering – I ate lots and drank lots, according to my Instagram!) I didn’t go home till Monday evening so I have been away from my computer quite a considerable time: it’s taken about twenty-five minutes to turn on and go through updates and decide if it wants to recognise my iPhone so I can upload the snap of the dining room table, as above!

This week I’ve been doing a little Pinterest research on blogging etc. I’ve also made a (very late) resolution! In my defence, it was based on something I hadn’t known existed up until yesterday, when I popped onto campus to pick up my dissertation (clever clogs).

As you can probably tell, I like writing. I like writing and I like talking: the two seem to be mutual. I’ve always been a big writer: I used to write stories and classify that as GCSE revision. It must have worked – I got a nice A* in English Language. (This was back when it was hard to get A*s, you understand; cynical ex-trainee-teacher coming through a bit there.) Ever since I was little – and I mean little, a few years ago I found lots of handwritten stories, apparently based around Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat, that I had made when I was a wee bairn, judging by the handwriting – I’ve always written stories. I suppose it comes from being an only child, and maybe living out in the countryside, and maybe a loose connection in my brain, I don’t know.

Now when I say writing, I mean it in the most sincere way. ‘Stories’ as a word just doesn’t quite convey the magnitude of what I feel when I’m writing. It is so personal and so involving; it’s not just a story, it’s an alternative life. Over the years I’ve had a stab – and with varying sizes of stabs – at numerous genres, types, formats, themes; you name it, I’ve probably given it a go. I think when I was in my late teens, I had ideas for about thirty or so books: that’s including titles, characters, summaries, structure, chapter lists, and in the case of about ten or so of those, genuine, earnest pieces of, in some cases, quite lengthy writing. A lot of it is juvenilia of course, but if it has a nugget of hope or potential in it, then, over the course of education and life experience, I’ve kept it in the back of my mind, allowing it to be gently honed and nurtured – seemingly without my real attention!

Now that I am no longer studying for my PGCE – no more late nights researching and planning lessons, marking books, creating assessment instruments, marking assessments, completing uni lesson plans, filling in tutorial records – I have time (when I’m not falling asleep on the settee in front of the TV, that is) to actually work on my first love, and hobby, and one-day maybe dream career: writing.

Yet I’ve come across a bit of a writer’s block. Figures, eh? So I’m setting myself a challenge – one I hope you’ll all keep me on the right side of! I’m going to enter a writing competition. This isn’t big news for me; I’ve done it before. But this time I’m going to enter it seriously, and probably enter every category, and work as hard as I can. I have a couple of stories in mind.

So my idea is to update this part of my blog – ‘Little Storyteller’ – every week, with news of what progress I’ve made, any problems I’ve come across, any motivational ideas I’ve had, or any theories on writing, structure, procrastination avoidance, or anything else.

I have until May – so, wish me luck! And keep me in check!

Are any of you out there budding fiction writers? Has anybody had anything published? Let me know! I’d love to find out if you have.

Love Katy

x

A look at my bookshelves…

As a double literature graduate (at BA and MA level), I think it’s acceptable to have rather overstuffed shelves. These are shelves that consist of probably over ten years’ worth of purchases and gifts (not to mention the boxes of books under my bed, in the guest room, and probably in the workshop and the containers). And now that I’ve left my PGCE, I have time to actually read books!

Here is a snapshot of just one shelf in my bookcase:

IMG_2249

As you can see, there’s a bit of a diverse selection here. The shelf above, for the beady-eyed, is a predominantly fantasy themed shelf: mainly Ian Irvine and Robert Jordan books. I got to about book seven in The Wheel of Time about two years ago and then stalled, so as you can tell by the prevalence of the first three on the shelf below, I have restarted.

The main focus of the picture is the middle shelf, occupied by my ‘Need to Read’ section. I got The Luminaries for Christmas in 2013, and have only just finished it. For Christmas I got The Bone Clocks and Clariel, both of which I have recently finished, and I have newly started CJ Sansom’s Dissolution.

As well as Dissolution, I’m up to The Dragon Reborn in The Wheel of Time (which tends to be my ‘bath book’, and I’m going to start The Taxidermist’s Daughter, as signified by the presence of my Bard the Bowman bookmark. Bard the Bowman!

What’s on your reading list? Anything like mine? Or do you have any recommendations?

Katy x