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Posts Tagged ‘influence’

Tonight was my writing group and I’m shattered so this one is just to say join a group if you can; create one if you have to.

It’s so refreshing to talk about, think about and safely share work. It’s a real pleasure to plan discussions and exercises, and it’s a great reminder to me of all the steps that any one of us takes before we feel able to put our work out to a wider audience.

It also comes with the added bonus of meeting new people with whom you can talk about writing without sounding like a dreamer!

Until next time,
Happy writing
EJ
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This week I cheated a little and read a children’s book.

Book 38 – The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, by Joan Aiken. ¬†I don’t remember ever reading this as a child and yet I have it on my bookcase so can only assume I was passed it in a box of books at some point. ¬†It is most definitely a book for children rather than adults, but it does not speak down to children; it uses language, imagery and ideas that are quite adult in their nature.

The book follows Bonnie and Sylvia, cousins who have just met whose lives change dramatically when Bonnie’s parents, Sylvia’s guardians, leave the country. ¬†Their distant cousin is employed to care for the two girls but as the story develops we see she has no interest in caring for them and is only after the riches of the family. ¬†When the boat Bonnie’s parents are travelling on is reported shipwrecked, things go from bad to worse for the girls.

There’s a neat symmetry in the book between the threat posed by the wolves and that posed by humans; as the human threat changes and the two heroines take action to protect themselves, the threat of the wolves recedes. ¬†It is almost as though the exposure the two girls have to the world outside Willoughby Chase shows that danger appears¬†in many different guises.

There are parts of this book that remind me very much of other stories – a bit of Oliver Twist here, a dash of The Little Princess there – but for all that I found it an engaging and entertaining story; one I’m sure I would have loved when I was about 9 or 10 too!

If you’re looking for something not too overwhelming that you can share with your own children this one might be worth a look.

Until next time,

Happy reading

EJ

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For the second time I have failed to finish a book in a week; I had my charity art show, a baby shower and a trip cross-country to a family party this week (alongside the usual) so will put it down to them.

It’s a little frustrating as I’m reading a really interesting and enjoyable book; I just don’t have a lot of time to sit and get into it!

In future I think I’ll do some book recommendations for weeks where there’s nothing to share. As I missed the 100 novels list off my Sunday post, I thought I’d revisit that for today.

The book I missed was number 41 – The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford. ¬†This is another I haven’t read but it’s interesting to see that it has influenced other writers, especially as it has done so for nearly a century! ¬†I strongly believe that a great book is, in some respects, timeless, and this perhaps proves my theory…

I think this book should go on my list to see whether it influences my writing style!

I hope to be with you with a new book next week, but until then,

Happy reading,

EJ

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I didn’t get my book finished this week, and having just got back from a talk about women and the East India Company, I am a little too tired to complete it¬†now.

Instead I thought it would be a good opportunity to review where I am and plan for the next few books.

So far, I’ve concentrated on books on the e-reader, and generally classics. ¬†Of the 33 I’ve read so far, only 6 have been physical books (the one I’m reading now is also on the e-reader). ¬†However, I have about 20 books here to read so I will be concentrating on those next – primarily because I borrowed lots of them!

There’s no definite order but over the next month I want to read The Life of Pi, Gone Girl and The Caliph’s House (this is a personal account not a novel so will be an interesting change), and finish the one I’m reading, The Professor.

I have so far given up on three – Moby Dick, Paradise Lost and now Gulliver’s Travels –¬†I don’t want to keep on going when a book is taking so long and not engaging my attention, I’m too busy!

What I have got from the challenge so far is an unexpected treasury of enjoyable books such as the very entertaining Nightmare Abbey; a sense of filling some gaps in my literary knowledge of particular genres; a better idea of the writing styles I prefer to see as a reader, and therefore want to prioritise as a writer.

But reading¬†isn’t utilitarian, and the main thing to remember is that it is still very possible for me to get lost in a book, to be submerged in the worlds created by those writers. ¬†I read because I love¬†books, and this challenge has reminded me of all the loves I have yet to find.

Happy reading,

EJ

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Another week, another social gathering… I’m not about today as I am visiting family to celebrate my niece’s birthday, so this is a pre-written quick update!

This week, I decided to take up a new work opportunity. It’s something I can fit in with writing and it isn’t too complex, but I’m hoping it’ll give me some inspiration for my notebook¬†– a big part of it will be meeting other people so I’m sure a few character traits will pique my interest! ¬†I have never used a character from ‘real life’ of course, but I have identified common behaviours that have turned up in my writing, and you can’t do that if you don’t observe how people behave.

People watching is a human trait, I think: we all have a level of curiosity (or, if I’m honest about myself, nosiness…) as to what people are doing. ¬†We writers just notice the details more!

I am also looking forward to spending some time out and about with other people. I’ve said before that writing is a solitary thing and to spend more¬†time meeting¬†groups of people will be a pleasant change. ¬†My old job involved meeting new people a lot of the time, so all this¬†time alone really took a while to feel normal. ¬†Luckily I have a big family and a great group of friends to alleviate loneliness but I am still alone a lot more than I ever had been before.

But due to meetings about that, and life stuff that I’ve been working on a lot of the time, the writing is suffering a severe case of neglect this week. ¬†I am not sticking to my timetable, and am going to have to get really strict with myself. ¬†So – I will have finished section one by next weekend. ¬†That’s the target, and that’s that!

In other news – We’ve reached book 37 in the list of the 100 best novels:¬†Hadrian the Seventh, by Frederick Rolfe. ¬†Not sure what to make of this one as I’ve never heard of it or the author, and the reviews are mixed, to say the least! ¬†I will see how long it is before I decide whether to try it or not, I don’t want another Gulliver issue!

And finally – I saw this article about books reminding up of where we have read and re-read them; although I can’t say there are any where I remember the environment to the same degree there are some books that remind me of certain things. ¬†For example, I read Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood in the car (not driving!) when my partner and I were on our way back from a holiday, so although I’m no longer sure where we’d been, or what road we were on, I remember sitting in the passenger seat of the car when I think about it. ¬†Another book reminds me of walking home from school through a beautiful old town, because it was given to me by a cousin when she was interested in Chinese things and I bought her a present from a bookshop there. ¬†Books can transport us through time and space, and not just by the words in them – that’s just another reason for me to love the physical books; I relate to them entirely differently from e-books.

And on that note, I’m off to charge the reader so I can read during my travels!

Happy writing,

EJ

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Some years ago a writer friend told me he enjoyed reading books written by poets, as the way they use language is different from non-poets.

The conversation came t mind recently, and now I can’t put it aside. ¬†I keep examining the sections I’ve written of my new novel to see signs of this poetic ‘difference’…

There are certain techniques I use which follow from one writing style and medium to another: I can certainly see how my poetry-writing influences my prose, or vice versa.  And, following feedback from my writing group on other work, it seems to be the same in all my prose.

I¬†probably use¬†metaphor and simile¬†more than some writers, and I use a lot of imagery generally. ¬†But to me that’s part of the ‘showing, not telling’ ethos – I want readers to visualise things in a certain way, and for that to happen I need to make sure I’ve given them all the clues they need.

It also comes from literature courses when we examined the structure of books which¬†clearly left me with a sense of the ‘right’ way of writing. ¬†It’s right for me, anyway – and that’s all any novelist can offer.

But I am now forced to consider how accessible that makes my writing: is it too ‘lyrical’, like DH Lawrence (who also wrote poetry), or too ‘complex’ like Henry James? ¬†Is it too wordy?

This is a hold-your-nerve moment.

I have long thought that book one suffers from having a controversial element to its storyline, and that to give it life will be a risk for any agent – and yet I will not change things to make the storyline more agreeable. If that means I self-publish, well, so be it: many people think this is a better option than the traditional model, anyway.

I have to be as bullish about all my writing.  I have to believe in it, and write the story I want to tell in the way I want to tell it, and stop trying to second-guess myself.  My writing style is part of who I am as a writer, whether people enjoy it or not.

So when I go back to writing again tomorrow, I’m going to keep writing my poetic¬†prose and remember that it’s not just about that page, or that line: it’s about who I am as a writer, and the journey I’ve travelled to get here.

And 50% will change¬†when I revise the work, anyway ūüôā

In other news – It’s book 36 of the 100 novels list this week – The Golden Bowl by Henry James. ¬†After the painful process of reading The Turn of the Screw, I think I’ll give this one a miss. ¬†Having read the comments and some examples of sentences, I feel it’s only sensible!

And finally – I was pleased to see this snippet about Michael ¬†Morpurgo’s writing room. It’s so old a snippet it pre-dates me giving up work to write but it popped up as a suggested article and has vindicated my position about writing in comfort with a load of pillows behind my head!

Until next time,

Happy writing,

EJ

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This week I started Gulliver’s Travels but due to lots of busy time I’ve fallen behind in reading it, so I had to¬†read something else instead – this is becoming a pattern ūüôā

Book 31 РJapanese Fairy Tales by Yei Theodora Ozaki. This is as the title describes, a collection of Japanese fairy tales. The ideas and meanings behind them are very much as with all fairy tales Рmorality, sin, punishment, repentance and so on Рbut with a distinct flavour. There are sea dragons, underwater castles, magical cranes made of paper and so much more.  But equally, there are very common themes from fairy tales I heard as a child; things like evil stepmothers, fairies, magic trees and deception.

I’ve talked about fairy tales before, and I think they have a great influence on the way I viewed the world growing up – I’ve always believed there’s more to life than what we see, as though there’s a hidden world just out of the reach of our perception. ¬†As an adult I guess that’s spirituality or fate, but as a child I think fairy tales spun their own magic in my imagination. ¬†It’s really lovely to revisit that feeling and the sense that what was good, and right, was passed on through the storytellers (even if our morality is¬†a little different nowadays!).

This was not like reading a novel, but I would say that the content of the stories was equivalent to the Brothers Grimm or Hans Christian Anderson in tone.   I could imagine these stories being read to a child even now.  I am glad I read them РI have read folklore and fairytales from many cultures but never Japanese before so it was an interesting exercise in comparative myth and storytelling.

If you enjoy this kind of reading, or are looking for something for a child (some stories are probably less appropriate than others!) this is definitely worth a visit.

Until next time,

Happy reading,

EJ

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This week, I’ve mostly fallen asleep trying to read. This is not a reflection on the book, exactly – just I’ve been really busy doing masses of research and I’ve been reading late at night.

However, it was clear that the book I was reading wasn’t exactly absorbing my attention, so last night I decided to change books and try something else (I was still only 50% into the original book).

Risky strategy, but it paid off because I actually have a book to tell you about this week!

Book 28 – The Sign of Four, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. ¬†Although this was my third Sherlock, it was the first full-length story, and is the earliest I’ve read so far. ¬†It starts with a missing man and develops into a murder mystery, with a super-speedy engagement thrown in for good measure. We get to see Sherlock enjoying recreational drugs, solving intrigues and identifying a number of strange and obscure clues and at the end are treated to a history that neatly ties all the loose ends together.

This was a quick, easy read or probably no more than three hours; it was also more enjoyable than I had originally feared. ¬†In story and writing terms I’m amazed it made the 100 novels list but in terms of a character’s longevity and marketability over time, Sherlock Holmes has to be one of the most successful literary characters in English-language writing.

I don’t really know there’s a lot more to say without repeating what I’ve said before about these stories – they are a product of their time and there are of course comments and ideas reflected in them that we wouldn’t necessarily expect to see nowadays, but they are not staid, or old-fashioned in their style. ¬†The language used is accessible and generally similar to writing today with a few exceptions, and I like the fact that Sherlock has some vices that Watson finds distressing/disgusting; it is the thing that makes him most human.

Overall, it’s another Sherlock success, one I’d recommend or re-read, so my last-minute swap was a good idea!

Happy reading

EJ

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This time, I decided to revisit the books from the 100 novels list to see if I fancied starting any that I’d put aside for later, which¬†gave me…

Book 27 – The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, by Edgar Allan Poe. This story started out as one thing and morphed into another. ¬†At first I thought it was about how two best friends survived various adventures and disasters but about midway through, one of the two left the story in a pretty unpleasant way and we were left with the ongoing story of the somehow-suddenly-wise boy/man and the strong/mad-but-only-sometimes mutineer. ¬†If a book was fabric, this one was a patchwork quilt – we jumped from one disaster and death to another and you wondered why on earth the narrating character didn’t leave the boat and go home when he finally could!

Having said all of that, it was quite entertaining, very easy to read and although some aspects made me raise my eyebrows ( for example there are definitely undertones we’d now call racist in the story, in my opinion) it was quite escapist. ¬†It also kept me involved throughout.¬†There are a few mini essays on things I really didn’t need but these were short enough not to really encroach on the flow as a whole.

The flow and fluidity of the story made the ending extremely jarring: it ends suddenly and partway into the next (probable) disaster. ¬†I even wondered if somehow the e-book was incorrectly uploaded, such was the sharpness of the ending (it wasn’t)! ¬†I have made my own decisions about what the ending means but it’s ambiguous to say the least.

Other than that, I can see how it could have influenced Melville in writing Moby Dick – the whaling ship gives a huge scope for all sorts of exploration of the nature of life, humanity, place in the world, security and expansionism, and it’s a very impressive narrative option. ¬†I found The Narrative… far easier to read than Moby Dick despite its flaws; Poe’s writing style is much more to my taste.

It’s not one I’ll re-read though, because of the frustration of the ending. ¬†Up to the end, I might have re-read it though – I feel it was¬†undermined¬†by an unsatisfactory ending. ¬†That’s a lesson I should always remember!

Happy reading,

EJ

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This week I’ve put pen to paper on the new book. The research is coming together slowly and I’ve started to build details on characters, settings, the building at the heart of the story and so on. Each step is little but they’re building into a good background so that’s important.

I like a good resolution to my mysteries but I am playing with the idea that this book will remain unsolved Рthat is, the outcome could be one thing or another depending on how the audience deciphers it.  The story is sufficiently tied into two different interpretations to make that a realistic proposition.

I have been told that this inconclusive approach¬†is the core of Henry James’s book The Turn of The Screw¬†so I’m putting that on my reading list for next week. ¬†If I think I can make it work after that, I will go for it!

I considered¬†this approach with the last novel so it’s clearly something that appeals to me; my failure to make it work before is a little off-putting but if it can work this time, I’ll know what to do with the last book so it might be a¬†double¬†benefit!

In other news – We’re up to book 28 of the 100 novels, New Grub Street by George Gissing. ¬†It’s one I have no idea about at all, but the subject sounds pretty interesting for us writers so I’ll look for a copy to read.

Also, on a related subject – I’ve long known that my 100 wouldn’t match this list. ¬†However, trying new books and reading so many writers I’ve never tried before has been really enjoyable and I think I’ll do a 52 book challenge every year now!

And finally – I saw this video of Hugh Jackman and I love him so I had to put it on. ¬†I know it’s not about writing but it’s a reminder that we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously!

Happy writing

EJ

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