Tuesday, 29 May 2012

'And since her fear did her no good, she ceased to be afraid...'

This is a line from one of the stories in Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, called The Company of Wolves. If you haven’t come across The Bloody Chamber, it’s a collection of gothic short stories, in which Carter subverts traditional fairy tales and makes them into very shocking pieces. But once you get over the shock – trust me, there is a lot to be shocked by! – it is a very good collection.

But I’m not going to talk about The Bloody Chamber. Instead, I wanted to refer to that title line. 

A lot of things have been coming together for me recently, and it’s a pretty terrifying time right now, what with exams and moving to university in September. It’s a big deal, and thinking about the future does worry me every now and then. 

But that’s life. Life is scary. If it wasn’t scary at times then it wouldn’t be much of a life at all. You need to take chances and do new things; you need to welcome new opportunities and new horizons. 

I don’t know what will happen in the future. I don’t know whether I’ll be able to one day become an editor in a publishing house or ever publish novels. I’d love both of these things, but sometimes life doesn’t work out the way you expect it to. So I just have to wait and see. 

It’s good to be afraid. But you can’t let fear stop you from doing what you truly want to do, whether that’s accomplishing a long time dream, such as publishing a novel, or trying something new. 

I may be scared. Yet I know I’ll get through it all. I simply have to take the bull by the horns, throw away my fear, and let what will be, be. I think Carter’s protagonist in The Company of Wolves had the right idea (even if the context is entirely different!). 

What do you think? Do you agree with Carter’s words?

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Game of Thrones Review

I finished Games of Thrones today, and it was amazing. So, here is my promised review (there isn't too many spoilers) of the first in George R.R. Martin’s fantastic fantasy series. I won't go too much into plot, because Martin's plot is far too complex to really explain without giving a comprehensive overview. Besides, I wouldn't want to spoil it all for potential readers. So if you like what you hear, go read it yourself!

Firstly, I want to say how much I loved the way Martin structured the novel. For those who are unfamiliar with Game of Thrones, the story is told from various characters points of view. This includes members of the House of Stark (Lord Eddard, Lady Catelyn, and their children Sansa, Arya, Bran and Eddard’s bastard Jon), the House of Lannister (Tyrion) and the House of Targaryen (Daenerys). It’s great because you get completely different aspects of the plot, as well as alternate plot lines which are currently going on, seen most noticeably with Daenerys, who Martin also calls Dany. 

I know in the TV series a lot of people have said it’s mostly violence and sex (this is what I hear anyway). To be honest, the book doesn’t feature these aspects in great excess. There is a war, yes, so there will be violence, and considering it’s a fantasy novel, this was to be expected. I don’t think the sex scenes are too graphic really. The Time Traveller’s Wife is far more graphic a novel in regards to sex than Game of Thrones. So neither of these were real issues for me. 

Another point I want to make is how well Martin handles disability. Two characters in the novel, Bran and Tyrion, are disadvantaged compared to the other characters. Bran – only a seven year old child – discovers a secret and is pushed off a building, the fall of which renders him ‘a cripple’. Bran is angry. He is frustrated. But he finds ways to deal with it; he may not like his disability, but he comes to accept it and try to get on with life. I think Martin’s portrayal of this was very real, and it was refreshing to see in a way. Sometimes in novels it becomes too easy to construct people as perfect, or as we would like to be. This can be in small ways, such as none of your characters needing glasses – guilty as charged! – or in a larger way, in there being no real disability. 

The same is seen with Tyrion. Many characters in the book call him ‘the Imp’; he is a dwarf. Like Bran, Tyrion – an adult – deals with this. He is quick witted, and what he lacks in strength and height he makes up for in cunning and speech. Although he is part of the House of Lannister, probably typically known as the baddies, he is somewhat separate from this. His own family have outcast him, and as we get into his perspective it makes it very hard to hate Tyrion. I quite like him in fact. He seems very real to me. 

I think my favourite character is perhaps Dany. I really liked her arc, and I think she shows the greatest progression in the storyline. She starts off in the novel as a scared, bewildered young teenage girl, and at the end she strikes me as a confident women, totally in control of herself and ready to face the world. I love how Martin developed her storyline, and considering my love of strong female characters, Martin made it very easy for me to adore her character. 

The story itself was riveting and engaging. There were many times where I was surprised by what happened next. Although there were a couple of small things which I guessed at, I think this was done on purpose. Martin clearly has enough skill to hide the plot from the readers, and I think if he wanted us to keep guessing with these small details, he would have constructed the novel this way.

Game of Thrones kept me reading, which is great considering its an eight hundred page novel. Length doesn’t usually bother me, but if I’m not liking a book I won’t hesitate to put it down. I didn’t have a single moment during reading Game of Thrones where putting it down entered my mind. The main reasons I put it down was because I had to, not because I really wanted to. 

I think Martin set up really well for the next book. I’ve already bought it, so you will be hearing more about this series in the future! I really loved Game of Thrones. I think it was well constructed, fantastically written, included great characters and had a really amazing storyline. At the end of the day, what more could you ask for from a book?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sunshine Award

I'm still reading Game of Thrones, but you should expect a review by Saturday! In the mean time, the wonderful Laura has passed on the Sunshine Award, which is a nice bit of fun.

The rules are:
1) Answer the ten questions below
2) Give ten random facts about yourself
3) Pass on to ten different people

Panster or plotter?
For the most part plotter. I do like writing as a panster (writing basically without outline, freely creating the plot as you go along), and I recently did do that with my short story collection, which was fun! But for novels, definitely plotter. For me, it's really invaluable, and it helps me get everything so much clearer in my mind when I'm writing.

Do you listen to music whilst writing?
Yes, generally. On the rare occasion I'll find a song which really fits a scene I'm writing, so I'll end up listening to it constantly until the scene has been finished. Then when I hear the song again, it makes me think of the scene, which is nice. But usually I'll just be listening to a playlist, or songs from my iTunes.

What genre do you write in?
I tend to write YA, but I've always tended to write for the age I am whilst writing (not my clearest sentence!) so as I get older, perhaps this will change. I also like to write dystopia, and I've even written fantasy before, so it varies!

Books on writing you recommend?
I think instead of reading books on writing, it's better to just read books. Read novels. Read things you want to write yourself. I've learnt so much from reading novels, and it helps me recognise what I like and what I don't like about people's writing styles. This then reflects back onto my own writing skills, and it's a great way to learn. Be a sponge - soak it all up.

Which are your favourite authors?
This is a hard one! George Orwell, Ayn Rand, Scott Westerfeld, Kristin Cashore, Ally Condie, Lauren Oliver...

How long have you been writing?
Most of my life. Since I've been able to hold a pen maybe. But writing seriously... I'd say about three or four years maybe.

What is your favourite part in the writing process?
I think writing the first draft. It's pure creativity and imagination; you can really lose yourself in the writing. Then you have to step off the little cloud of creativity and face the dark pit of editing, which is much more hard work, and a lot longer process.

How do you capture ideas when you're on the go?
My phone. There are a few ideas on memos on my phone, little snippets of ideas waiting to bloom.

How do you handle bad reviews?
I think you have to take bad reviews critically. It is horrible when somebody doesn't like your work. It's not a nice feeling. But it just means you have more work to do; at least they've read your writing. I think sometimes you have to thank their honesty, because people lying to you and saying your work is perfect will never help you progress. For bad reviews I suck it up, try not to get too down about it, then let myself get on with it. If you let the little things set you back you'll never get anywhere.

Worst writing mistake you made?
Probably not proof-reading when I was younger. Editing is so crucial, and it was really arrogant and lazy of me not to bother proof-reading. I'm glad I learned that lesson the hard way!

Now, ten random facts about me;
1) I don't like horror, either as a film or as a novel
2) My first attempt at writing a novel didn't have proper paragraphs (the shame!)
3) I worry that instead of entering the publishing industry I'll be forced to settle for an unrelated job I don't like to do
4) I don't tell a lot of people close to me that I'm a writer
5) I'm very much a liberal, but Ayn Rand's writing is so good she actually managed to make me somewhat conservative in my view of capitalism
6) I love when people write strong female characters that I can admire
7) I still haven't got around to editing my short story collection!
8) I'm planning to possibly volunteer in a library this summer
9) There are far too many books on my to-be-read list and I don't have nearly enough money to get them all
10) The future scares me!

Instead of tagging ten people, I'll leave it up to you as to whether you want to do it. I hope you liked finding out more about me, and my writing!

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Printed Novels Versus E-Reader

I own a Kindle. Yet I have to admit, when I first started to hear about e-readers, I was totally against the idea. I thought it couldn’t parallel the printed novel, that it would be a short-lasting trend; eventually I came around the idea of e-readers. I started to think that actually, they weren’t all that bad. A novel is a novel, no matter if you read it on Kindle or in a published form. 

But I called this premise into question this weekend. Looking at the bestsellers on my Kindle, I saw that the Game of Thrones series was making quite an impact; this was to be expected considering the new release of the TV series. Admittedly, I had no idea what it was about, only that I’d heard about it and the Amazon blurb sounded good. So, I downloaded a Kindle sample. 

The Kindle sample was amazing! Not only did Game of Thrones did give me a new series to pursue, but it meant I could fulfil my need for fantasy considering the gap Bitterblue left. However, I did not buy the Kindle version – instead, despite the similar nature in price, I went and bought the book.
So why did I choose the published novel over the Kindle version? 

Firstly, it should be noted that Game of Thrones is a rather large book. When I say rather large, I mean it’s just shy of eight hundred pages long, with average type. I think there’s a certain, distinct pleasure to be had from reading a large book, and seeing how far along you’re in. It’s that little moment of wow, I can read a lot! Also, it gives you a general idea of where you are in the book, and how long until the end. 

Although the Kindle has a function which allows you to see how far along in you are, I find with longer books this feature irks me. I end up getting distracted from what I’m reading to think have I only read 2%? I know this is irrational and stupid. But there is something about reading a large printed novel which is far more satisfying as a reader than when on a Kindle. 

Another aspect is price. I’m a student. The majority of us aren’t exactly dripping with money. So when the Kindle price is £3.99, and the Tesco price is £3.86, the Budget Alarm in my mind starts whirring. Honestly, I would much rather have the novel, not only because of it’s length, but because a part of me asks: what’s the point of paying an extra thirteen pence for an electronic copy when I could have the book itself? Unless there was a significant difference in price between the physical copy and the electronic copy (I realise Tesco have subsidised massively on the print copy, oh corporate fiends!), I would always go for the printed version. 

Another reason would be my personal taste. If I feel like this is going to be a book I’m going to read more than once, then I would much rather get it as a physical copy. I want to be able to thumb through the pages and remember the story on a whim – I can’t do that on a Kindle copy. No matter how advanced e-readers get, they will never truly match that reader’s pleasure of flicking through pages of a book long ago read. 

Finally, there’s the aspect of it being a series. Although I have got series on my Kindle, the Paranormalcy series by Kiersten White for example, I would much rather have a whole series in physical form. I suppose it’s simply tradition, old habit. But nevertheless, I would much rather own a series in paperback than on Kindle. Also, one of the disadvantages of owning the Paranormalcy series on Kindle is that I don’t get to stare in awe at the beautiful covers. Which is exceptionally sad. 

So, this time, published novel has reigned victorious over e-reader. What do you think? Do you like e-readers, or do you still tend to lean towards published novels like me?

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

My Writing Epiphany

I had a writing epiphany at the weekend and I thought I’d share my thoughts with you. Although my epiphany might seem straightforward, it was something I really needed to remember and it had a big impact on me.

I’ve been quite stressed out recently with exams coming up very soon, particularly regarding my English Literature essays. I’ve been working on them but they have been consistently coming back with average marks. I like to push myself, and I knew I could do better than this, so it’s been aggravating me. Put this together with upcoming exams and it created a level of panic in my mind somewhat equivalent to Mount Vesuvius.

Back to the epiphany. This weekend, in an attempt to try and work out why my essays have been so horrible, I read over an exemplar essay I had, one I hadn’t seen in quite a while. Then, all at once, it clicked in my mind why my essays had sucked. 
I wasn’t having fun anymore. 

It’s such a simple premise. But, somehow, lost in the overwhelming panic of exams had gone the element of fun. 

Writing is my craft. The written word is my way of expression, and exploring this alongside different interpretations is what makes English Literature fun. It’s what makes writing essays fun. Yet I’d completely abandoned this element, and now, my standard of writing had declined. 

Having fun whilst writing is so important. If you’re not having fun writing, then clearly, the final product says it all. I wasn’t having fun writing those practice essays. I was stressed out, worried, and sick of feeling like my work wasn’t good enough. In that little bubble of chaos, there was no room for me to be having fun whilst writing, and frankly, it showed. 

After this realisation, I wrote another essay; but this time I had fun with it. Needless to say, it was a vast improvement on my other essays prior to this. 

So I guess my message is this: don’t lose sight of fun. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing essays, writing stories, writing novels, or under publishing contract. One of the main reasons people like to write is because it’s fun. If you lose sight of that element, the chances are your writing is probably going to go downhill quickly. I may have found that out the hard way, but better late than never. It gave me an important lesson, and that’s not something I’m going to forget in a while.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Bitterblue Review

I got Bitterblue on Thursday and finished it last night. Considering it’s over five hundred pages long, I think you can tell I enjoyed it. If you haven’t read the book yet, I’d advise you not to read: I imagine there will be spoilers in this! 

I loved Bitterblue. I can definitely see why it took Kristin Cashore so long to write, because honestly, it’s a very complicated book. I don’t think it’s the sort of book that’s easy to simply pick up and read if you don’t have any background of the series. If anybody were interested in Cashore’s work, I’d recommend that you go back and reading Graceling and Fire before reading Bitterblue, because both books heavily influence what happens in Bitterblue

It was fantastic to get lost in Cashore’s world again. It sucks you in, and I really liked Bitterblue as the main character. A lot of other people have said that they liked that the series finished with a human perspective, rather than a Graceling or a monster. Bitterblue is a normal, eighteen year old. She’s also the Queen of Monsea. That comes with a lot of problems, and I think Cashore portrayed Bitterblue very well. 

In a way, Bitterblue was surprising because it was very focused on Leck. I didn’t expect that. But he is the thread that holds all the books together, and I think it was right that Bitterblue explored the past before moving onto the future. It was definitely a fitting end, and I love that I wasn’t disappointed by it in any way. 

I wasn’t sure about Sapphire as Bitterblue’s romantic partner. I don’t think I warmed to him as much as I did Po or Brigan. But saying that, I remember when I first read Graceling and I don’t think I warmed as easily to Po either. Brigin I absolutely warmed to. Bitterblue was so packed with action, I could say that there wasn't as much romantic development as the past two books. Perhaps this is why I couldn't connect with Sapphire the way I did with the other two characters.  

I liked that we got to see many characters from the past two novels. I wished we could have seen more of Katsa, and of Fire, but if they had been included more they might have overshadowed Bitterblue as the main character. I liked that Po was heavily included. Bitterblue's friendship with Giddon was nice to see too; it gave a different perspective of his character than the one seen in Graceling. Also, it surprisingly emerged that a few characters were gay. There was no fanfare. No dramatic reveal. It was simply executed, and it was refreshing to see that in no way did this revelation alter their character. I know homosexuality has been pretty contraversial recently, both in Britain and America, and one day I hope that more books will include gay characters. I like to think that this reflects how gradually, homosexuality is coming to be accepted in society, which I am all for.

But back to Bitterblue. I thought Bitterblue was naive in places. Cashore made it easy not to trust her advisers, and at times I was wondering why Bitterblue didn’t take control and fire them. But saying that, I have to consider the background of her character. Her advisers have been there for her since she was ten, and she had a very limited support system. I can see why she would try to deceive herself about their true identities for as long as possible, and obviously the mystery for her was eventually uncovered. Bitterblue may be eighteen, but she had a lot to learn about the world. In many ways, she was still the ten year old girl she was when she became Queen of Monsea, struggling to understand her world. It was good to see that development throughout the book. 

I would love to see more work from Cashore regarding her world, but at the same time, I would understand completely if she moved on. The Graceling series has taken years of her life. Sometimes it’s better to move on. I would like to read anything else Cashore wrote, regardless of content. She is a fantastic writer and her craft is amazing. Cashore did an incredible job with Bitterblue, and I cannot recommend this series enough.