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With my visitors this last week, I have not thrown myself into a new book – but we have all been going for the non-fiction option.

It’s a long time since I did a history or science class, and I’ve never written a paper on disaster responses, but these were just some of the areas I was talking about with the people I had staying.

It’s reminded me that there is a whole lot of information out there that might give me a different approach to my work.

In fact one of the topics I was reading up on was a disaster I remember even though I was only about nine when it happened; the images were so memorable and I can still see the scene as though on a tv.

It’s given me an idea for a kind of memorial poem, a piece that never mentions the specific event but draws my memories together to make a new piece.

Which goes to show that even if I don’t read a book, a newspaper or a historical article might be a good substitute for learning something new.

And in this case, what I learnt was that we can be affected by something even if we weren’t personally involved – and even if we don’t think about it without encouragement.

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I haven’t finished a book this week – I am reading Gillespie and I,by Jane Harris, but only started it yesterday.

I noticed, though, that I am quite enjoying historical novels nowadays.  I remember at the crime writing convention last year, one of the writers joked that they wrote historical crime novels because they demanded less accuracy in the details.  That’s probably true, but I wouldn’t know if the details of a criminal investigation were right in a modern book either!

However, I find atmosphere to be much more affecting in historical stories.  Things like foggy streets, shadowy corridors with flickering candles, carts rumbling in the gloom, all give a sense of foreboding that is very particular and suits me at the moment.

Hopefully I will finish the book this week but it’s over 600 pages long, so that might be a bit of a stretch…

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I said last week that I was going to approach the Challenge Tuesday posts a little differently this year, and read with purpose.  I actually started reading this particular book in December but feel that it meets my new criteria so am reporting on it anyway!

Alias Grace is a novel by Margaret Atwood, who is one of my favourite writers.  It is a fictionalised story based on the true life character of Grace Marks, who was convicted with her alleged paramour of the murder in 1843.

I enjoy Atwood’s writing style, which is both complex and entirely accessible.  In this particular book though, it wasn’t the style but the approach that I found so intriguing and noteworthy.

There were two murders for which Marks and James McDermott were accused: the killing of Thomas Kinnear, their employer, and of Nancy Montgomery, the housekeeper and likely lover of Kinnear. Montgomery was pregnant at the time of her death, which at the time stood against her: although the pair were convicted of murdering Kinnear, there was no trial for Montgomery.  As the death sentence had been passed there was deemed to be no need.  In fact, Marks was not executed but was pardoned in 1872.

But despite all the dramatic possibility within these elements Atwood doesn’t focus on them.  They set parameters in which the character’s experience of the world is set, but they are not the core of her story.

Instead we are presented with a (fictional) doctor whose interest in what we would now call mental health leads him to meet with Marks, to see if her amnesia about the events of the fateful day is real.

What follows is a mixture of Marks’s life story, interwoven with the doctor’s experiences in the town he has taken up residence, and some of the well-meaning but somewhat frivolous people who are trying to get Marks pardoned.  The crime itself is only described in any detail during a session of something akin to hypnosis.

Marks is humanised through the book.  Her reflections on what is ‘proper’ behaviour for staff in a household are both ironic and heartfelt: her regret with regard to her own breaches of etiquette is completely believable from the character Atwood has created, and yet we are aware the doctor is only interested in understanding her because she is a notorious murderer.

As a whole, the book could be the biography of a murderer, or about a famous crime in Canada in the 19th century, or about life in service, or about mental health.  It is all these things and none: it takes elements from multiple genres to create a rich meal.

Fundamentally, as a reader I took away the fact that in a strong story the crime itself doesn’t need to be the focus, it is the criminal (or accused, at least) who has to be deciphered.  As a writer, I have a better perception of how to take a real event and cast it under a fictional light.

Extremely satisfying, on both counts!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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It’s the last day of my break now and I’m a little sad that I am back to work tomorrow. It’s been very restful even with going away for a few days but tomorrow it’ll all go back to normal.

I have to admit Fred hasn’t travelled much with me, and is languishing somewhere near Stonehenge but I have been reading about plot and structure as well as tackling some novels. I wasn’t going to read them but sitting down with a coffee on a squishy chair isn’t as relaxing when you’re reading a text book…

I am about to start re-reading the plot and structure book because it is filled with exercises I want to try out, but that is for next week’s post!

It’s been a useful exercise to revisit some basics though. When I write I tend to fall into certain patterns and behaviours, and the book should help with stripping out the bad behaviours and focussing on a cleaner, more precise, narrative flow.

As importantly, it gives me tools to check the narrative itself – specifically whether it is strong enough to be the foundation of a novel. That is a discipline I need to work on, now more than ever due to my restricted writing time.

The other thing I have been doing is getting back to photography. I went to a couple of Medieval religious buildings and duly paid for photography permits so I could at least attempt to record some of what I saw.

At it was Remembrance Day on the 11 November the buildings were dressed with poppies, which is always a poignant reminder of how history shapes our experience of life, especially when is buildings that have stood for so long.

The last couple of weeks have definitely been more about theory than practice, but I don’t think that is a bad thing for me. I just have to remember that Fred needs a bit of an outing too!

Happy Writing,
EJ
🙂

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Recently, I went to Lacock, and spent some time in the Cloisters at Lacock Abbey.  I have wanted to go there for ages – I love ruins anyway, as I have told you about 70,000 times (or thereabouts), and I wanted to see it because it is one of the places the Harry Potter films were, well, filmed!

Here is a shot through from one walkway through to another, and some of you may even recognise it from its role as part of Hogwarts 🙂

Point of View

 

I am not a Harry Potter obsessive, although I know I’ve talked about the books and films a few times here, but I like to visit places which have appeared on screen because it gives me a chance to view them as ‘live’ places.   We get so used to seeing buildings as historical artefacts that we forget that they were once homes, offices, workplaces.  We forget they were something more than a tourist attraction.

I guess I just like to have a different point of view from which to look at a place.  I also get over-excited when I see somewhere I know on screen – when Dover Castle appeared behind Chris Pine in Into the Woods I was particularly happy because not only have I been there on a few occasions but I’ve also blogged about it, and how it’s part of coming home.  Yes, in some strange way, Chris Pine was at my place 🙂

On a more serious note, I also think visiting these places reminds us how we’ve got where we are – how we’ve changed over time. When I see that places reflecting the history of humanity are being destroyed, it feels as though we’re losing sight of all those people who came before us.

Maybe putting them on screen is another way to keep them intact for the future.

Happy visiting!

EJ

🙂

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I’ve been feeling a little rough – these really busy weeks have taken their toll and although it’s lovely to have lots going on sometimes I need to have a day’s holiday to recharge my batteries.

So yesterday, my husband and I went on a little ramble.  We headed out to see an archaeological dig which was open to the public, then off on a coastal drive with a stop at a country pub before heading home for a rather marvellously French inspired afternoon tea.

On our travels I got this picture.  It really was a gorgeous day; sunny and warm, with a light breeze to keep from getting overheated. Those cliffs on the far left are the White Cliffs of Dover, and the two tiny white blobs are ferries going into or coming out of the harbour – you can just about make out the harbour wall.

Just a bit of Dover

 

I always love to look out from the southeastern coast of England and see the coast of France.  I like to think when I wave over, someone there is waving back 🙂

What you can’t see from here, although I got some photos of these too, are the imposing Dover Castle or any of the Martello Towers that dot the coastline in this area.  It really is a reminder of how relationships between European countries have changed over time – and I for one am glad I’ve grown up in a time of friendship and community with our neighbours.

I do love to see the history of a place uncovered.  I watch a lot of documentaries, and even those with a decidedly unlikely theme often give me an insight into a part of the world that is unknown to me: its geography, history, folklore, culture, all tied into the roots of its existence.  This often influences my poetry, and the courses I take are frequently determined by whatever random programme I have seen that sparked my imagination.

I can’t ever know everything, of course – and the more I know, the more aware I am of the limitations of my knowledge – but the more I can learn the more I understand who we are, and how different people understand the world we inhabit.

In turn, the more I can bring to my work either in terms of language and imagery or in terms of creating peace poems.

This weekend enabled me to learn new things, and remember things I was once taught.  It gave me a chance to see, literally, what was buried in time – a real, live dig is a very different place from a visitor site and it was great to see the earth being treated with such respect.  It gave me a chance to sit back and be lazy, and learn, and absorb.  It gave me some ‘me’ time.

So I’ve had a chance to rebuild my reserves, and in a way that has invigorated my imagination: next week I’ll use that to expand on the work I did this week, and get the whodunnit another step closer to its conclusion.

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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After a very limited sleep and going back to work today, I’m not 100% sure this post will be any better than it would have been yesterday. Still, needs must and all that, so here goes…

Book 18 – The Goldsmith’s Wife, by Jean Plaidy (one of my Grandma’s old books). This is a fictionalised account of the life of (Elizabeth) Jane Shore, one of the most famous women of King Edward IV’s court, lover not only to the King but also (after his death) to his stepson and one of his most trusted advisers. It explores how her beauty and warmth captivated the powerful, and took her from a respectable, if stultifying marriage, into the glamour and sensuality of the Court.

Plaidy takes some liberties with the accepted history of both Jane’s first marriage and her later relationships, but the narrative flow of the story is an intriguing picture of a woman both warm and beautiful; someone who used her power with the king not for her own sake but to petition for pardons for those who had fallen out of favour.

However, there is one relationship that Jane forms that fundamentally changes the readers perception of her wisdom and goodness, which seemed to be abusive. I don’t know if this was Plaidy’s plan but based on the known history it was one of many ways to explore the relationship and this choice didn’t fit with the character or the rest of the story particularly comfortably.

The story generally paints a number of the male characters in a negative light, but surprisingly paints Richard III as a victim of circumstance and false history. I wonder how she would feel about the finding of his remains and his reinterment…

I do enjoy Plaidy’s books, and they’re great holiday reads, but this one didn’t connect as well as some. The time period isn’t one I know much about, the abusive relationship was a narrative choice I can’t really get behind, and the ending was much sadder than the evidence suggests was the case for Jane. Still, it did give me a way into a period of history I really ought to try to learn more about!

Book 19 – Coffin’s Ghost, by Gwendoline Butler (one of my Nan’s old books!). This is the story of John Coffin, Chief Commander of the Second City of London Police, in a fictional world where London has been split into two cities. As Coffin recovers from an attempt on his life, the arms and legs of a woman are found on the doorstep of his old home. The story follows this and a number of other crimes being investigated, and how they cross and tangle each other.

This was an unusual read. I wasn’t too keen on the style early on and even by the end there were choices made by the writer that irritated me and took me out of the story. The big reveal was almost mundane, considering the clue crumbs that were dropped through the story, and it didn’t work for me particularly well.

However, I enjoyed the core of the book. The characters were generally interesting and sufficiently twisted and complex that I had absolutely no idea who the dead woman was, or who had put her there. The unreliable nature of the police officers was a great storyline, because there was never any confidence in what they were saying – any one of them could have been a liar, or telling the absolute truth – there was no way of knowing.

There was some heavy-handedness about pushing certain ideas, which made me doubt them, and I did think I knew who had committed one of the crimes stated quite early on, but despite my disappointment in the ending I left this book thinking it was an educational read, genre-wise.

This is one of a series of books with the character, and if I find another I will certainly read it!

So there you have it – 2 holiday reads, neither in any way taxing, but both bringing entirely different styles to the table!

Until next time – happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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