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Posts Tagged ‘myth’

This week I went back to my folk-loving roots and left the novels to one side…

Book 10 – Folk Tales of the North Country, by F Grice, BA. There is no Goodreads review of this book as far as I can see, so I can’t link you to a selection of alternative reviews this time!

This is a short book, only 150 pages in total, telling 44 stories collected from Northumberland and Durham, in the North East of England. As with folk tales in general, there is a strong moral thread throughout each story, but they are full of magic – witches, goblins, fairies and so on.

I bought this book at a charity sale and it has an inscription (‘Easter Greetings 1951, Elsie’) and a cloth cover, so I was bound to fall in love with it!

One of the things I have enjoyed is the sense of a lost way of life – cottagers whittle their own sheep crooks, and cut their own peat; they take their bread to sell on the market-day; they have wash-days and coppers.  I know there are some people who choose to live a more traditional life but it’s not the norm, and not a life I’ve ever known myself – and even knowing it was a harder life than the tales suggest, I do have a strange feeling of loss that the time has passed.

It’s also set in a part of the country that holds a special place in my heart, and although I don’t know Northumberland as well as I might like, knowing some of the places mentioned in the tales works for me: they are magical places, and the book is proof!

So of course I’ll give this a thumbs up; I would do for anything of this nature.  It’s short, and the tales are of course even shorter, but that’s helpful when I’m busy anyway.  A couple of quick stories before an appointment, or before I head to work, or before bed and the book is finished in no time!

Happy reading,

EJ

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This week I managed to complete a book that wasn’t on my list at all!

Book 35 – The Bonesetter’s Daughter, by Amy Tan. This book is in three parts. The first part is in the modern day, the second is a history, the third reverts to the modern period. The modern sections involve Ruth and her mother, who is diagnosed with Alzheimers during the course of the book. They explore the relationship between the two, and how that, in turn, has affected Ruth’s relationship with others.

The historical part explores family history – of Ruth’s mother LuLing, LuLing’s own mother, and the horrors of betrayal, violence, cruelty.  It explores how these shaped LuLing’s experience of life, and make sense of her attitude towards her daughter.

I loved the history part of this book. It was full of Chinese superstitions and cultural notes, with a deep sense of the fear and horror of ghosts and wandering souls. The characters were beautifully drawn in their imperfections and inconsistencies. In fact, I didn’t really enjoy the first section much but the second section gave life to the third, and made so much difference to the characters and the possibilities for the future. There were some elements that I think were unnecessary and jarred with the narrative in the first section – such as 11-year-old Ruth’s concern about being pregnant and the after-effects of that – but in part I think the jarring, out of kilter feel of it made the second section much more powerful.

I really enjoy reading work that explores elements of Chinese culture and language so this was a brilliant book for me, and one I’d recommend for anyone interested in the idea that the past can haunt our futures.

Happy reading,

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 🙂

Book 31 – Japanese 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 – morality, sin, punishment, repentance and so on – but 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 – I 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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I finally managed to finish two in a week again – although the first of these has been hanging around for a while so it’s not quite the success it sounds!

Book 29 – Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne.

This book was a difficult one to enjoy, and it was a slow starter.  40% in I was still waiting to get into the proper adventure – whose house you stay in for a night and what the food tastes like is not much of an adventure.

When we do get started we move quickly through, with many of the terrors over and done with in the course of a few pages, and resolved very easily.  They ran out of water – and soon found a stream running alongside the lava tunnels.  One person got separated, and they found him through the magical power of sound-conducting stone.  When crossing the underground sea, the storm they experience brings them exactly to where they need to be.  If all else fails cause a volcanic eruption you can ride to safety…

I found it hard to suspend my disbelief reading this story (the negative side of learning about geology and geography, I guess) and what could have been exciting and amazing was simply unbelievable.  If I’d liked the characters I might have been more invested but the three men who undertake the journey are not interesting or complex enough for me.

Jules Verne was one of the first writers I read as part of the challenge, and I enjoyed his writing before so to have found this much more difficult to enjoy, and the characters much less personable was a bit of a shame.

Book 30 – The Romance of Tristan and Iseult by Joseph Bedier.  I remember writing a short assignment on comparative mythology and part of this story brought that to mind – if you know about Theseus on his return from killing the Minotaur, you’d spot it!

This book was a welcome change of pace; it was in effect an updated version of a medieval romance, and has a lot in common with the Arthurian stories – Arthur is even mentioned in this one.  Even the more violent events that take place are steps along the way in the romance of the two named characters.

After various events, Tristan wins the hand of Iseult for his uncle, King Mark.  On their way to Cornwall from Ireland there is a terrible mistake made and they are given a potion that makes them love each other with their whole souls (the potion was meant for Iseult and Mark).  From this point onwards we see the impact of that love – deceitful but pure, disloyal but faithful, the two are torn between each other and the lives they have to live.

This love is a tragedy because of all the pain and damage it causes – you cannot help but feel for them, for their feelings are outside their control and they are ultimately destroyed by it.  However, the love makes them deceitful to the people who they should most care for, and their twisting of facts to cover up this deceit means they have no moral high ground.

As someone who enjoys reading stories of this nature, and from this oeuvre, I am really pleased I’ve read this version – I’ve watched the film (and couldn’t help picturing Rufus Sewell as King Mark as I read!) but the story in the book is much more satisfying. I would definitely recommend this story for anyone interested in the myths and legends that grew up in the medieval period.

Until next time,

Happy Reading!

EJ

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Here I am, back in glorious Wales – and the writing has gone pretty well, with a first plan written, and a chapter-by-chapter synopsis to start tonight.  I’ve used some of the scenery here to spur my descriptive imagination too.

It’s not quite as sunny as last time but we’ve mostly avoided rain and if you look closely you can see lambs, which are a lovely sight when you get up in the morning.  I took this picture just before a hail shower, hence the clouds, but it only lasted a little while and now everything is fresh again.

Repeating my retreating

 

We actually left the farm today and went out for a drive around the mountains; the scenery is stunning and every turn in the road gives you a new viewpoint.  You can see why Wales is filled with myths and magical tales; the mountains look as though they were clawed into shape by giants, and the forests covering so much of the landscape are perfect hiding places for dragons.

I even got to see a dragon today, briefly – I’m going to visit it tomorrow for a cup of coffee…!

I really think it’s worth taking these few days to escape normality and focus on writing, sketching and reading.  I know writing should be the focus of my day but sometimes I get involved in too many things so it goes down the list of priorities: retreats are all about giving myself time to get on with work.

Besides, my partner gets to do some sketching which he never has time to do at home, so he gets to focus on his inner artist too.

I feel so relaxed, and so happy here, I could do it for months!

Have a good few days and I’ll be back home on Sunday with an update on how far I get.

Happy writing,

EJ

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This week, I’ve continued with my prep, but I’ve also been working on a couple of new ideas. It’s been a week of mix and match, work-wise!

I have tried not to go too far with one as it’s a story, but I wanted to write it down before I forgot it. It was inspired by a phrase I read in the comments of a vlog, on YouTube. It had made me smile when I first saw it but then a couple of times it had popped into my head, and finally, it came with a slight change, and an idea.

That idea took me in a whole new direction, and actually into a direction I read about as a student, when I did my degree. I won’t say more now, but it’s sitting there, waiting for some time and attention in the future.

The second is a poem, currently called ‘The Pegasus Cloud’.  I thought of the title before anything else of the poem, but it’s coming in stages and I’ll see where it ends up!  Obviously mythology immediately came to mind that title, but that isn’t all I want to cover so I have a little challenge with myself!

I like it when new ideas bloom in my brain but I have to stay focussed and not let the prep for the next story fall behind; having just booked the retreat again I want to be in a position to write then!

Meanwhile I have details of a first novel competition that I am thinking about entering – more on that when I decide 🙂

In other news – we’re up to book 17 in the novel list, which is Moby-Dick (hyphen added as Melville’s preference!).  In line with my 2014 reading challenge, when I saw this come up I decided to read it – after all, if it’s really the pinnacle of US literature, I should have read it!  Sadly, I am not enjoying it and at about 25% into the book I am longing to stop – I read another book today just to give myself a mental palate cleanse…  I will give it a little longer but it’s probable that I will give up on this one.  Sorry, Moby fans – but if you love the book, tell me what draws you to it!

And finally – As I’ve said many times before, I love space!  So when I saw this article about a mystery on Mars, I wanted to share it because it gave me a number of ideas: I don’t write science fiction but if I ever change my genre I’ll be starting here…

That’s it for this week, but don’t forget to give me book suggestions for this year’s challenge!

Happy writing,

EJ

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This week has been all about book two.  I have started transferring my paper notes (from the retreat) onto my electronic copy – in fact, I have archived the pre-retreat version and basically treated the amendments as a new entity.

I always keep earlier drafts of work, in case of disaster!

So now I have white spaces building up in my document; great gaping sections of nothingness, waiting for words to fill them.  Meanwhile those shape-distorting black holes that sucked up and spaghettified my structure are being charted, mapped and reconfigured to give me back my tale.

I’ve read up a lot on plotting and structure but nothing I’ve read so far would have changed my approach, so I don’t feel quite so bad about that at least 🙂  Basically, I’ve concluded that to do the current story justice I’d probably need to write a trilogy – or at least a really, really fat book – and I have no interest in that at all.

I’m feeling confident about the changes though.  I like the way I’ve tied things together; I’ve kept the dynamic between the characters I wanted; I’ve made the is it/isn’t it supernatural element a little more unnerving and less ‘in-your-face’ – it was becoming too evidently weird in the last draft!

It may be that the original elements about Celtic mythology and history that started me down this story route (which have been thoroughly cut!) need a more focussed home in a historical fiction.   We shall see – I do love that period of history, and the potential to explore the pre-Roman period is exciting to me, but it’s a very different style to my normal writing…

All in all, I feel like I’m getting back on an even keel with this story, and will just keep working my way through it until this draft reflects all the changes I need to make.  Then – and only then – will I compare the two stories to see if this effort was worthwhile.

I’m going to keep smiling and hoping for the best!

In other news – I was reading this article about the experiences of publicising a novel and I rather enjoyed it – it’s good to see a writer who acknowledges that a book doesn’t always come that easily.

Also – I read this article about a new genre in publishing – ‘New Adult’.  It’s supposedly for people aged 18-25.  The descriptions sound like a sub-set of women’s commercial fiction, but that genre covers such a vast array of work that I understand the desire to reclassify some books.  What I wasn’t keen on was publishing these books via children’s departments.   There are crossovers – books written for younger people but read by adults – but I think an adult content book about adult experiences should be treated as such.

And finally – on a completely different matter, my first writing group takes place this week; I have sorted out some activities and references and I’ll let you know how it goes!  I’m so pleased I took control of this and did something about the lack of a local group – it just goes to show that you need to get on and make things happen sometimes!

Happy writing,

EJ

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It’s been a long time since I did a proper inspiration post, and this week I thought it would be a good thing to do otherwise all you’ll hear about will be editing or studying.  Again!

Back when I started these, I had intended to use this picture taken looking over the Irish sea.  I didn’t at the time because I wanted to give it more attention, but actually that just means it has never been used, and I really wanted to share it.

So here it is.  With super-giant watermark, where I’ve been playing with Photoshop, sorry!

Invisible sun

I love this picture.  A better photographer could have made more of it I’m sure, but to me it’s absolutely magical.  The hidden sun gives it a mysterious element and the lighter patch of sky makes me think of a pantheon of gods and goddesses looking down.

This, in other words, is a landscape that could launch a thousand legends.

I didn’t write a poem, or do a freewrite for this: the location is tied to so much history (my reason for being there!) I knew I’d end up with something based on Druids, the Mabinogion or Arthurian legends so I simply thought about how this scene could tie into stories I’ve heard.

For example – there is a long-held idea that King Arthur was a Welsh king – and can’t you imagine the shining lights underneath the water being a sign of the Lady of the Lake, reaching out to the hero of ages?  Or perhaps those shimmering clouds are the Celtic gods looking down at the place their followers were destroyed.  Or can you imagine being in a ship setting sail for the unknown, unseen land on the other side of the horizon?

Perhaps this image brings something to mind for you.  Think of it as a dreamscape, where anything is possible – and let your imagination run free.

Happy writing

EJ

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Writing is a strange calling – often unpaid, frequently squeezed between other responsibilities, rarely seen by outsiders as anything other than a hobby (unless you make a solid living from it).  Sometimes I wonder if it’s like a childhood dream, an idea I should have left behind when I grew up.

But them something comes along to remind me what an important role storytelling has in the world.

Today, it was looking back at some old books.  I was thinking about the historical understanding I have gained from reading – from Homer’s Ancient Greece to Shakespeare’s Tudor England to Austen’s Georgian society and right through to the present day. These things don’t really show me how life was lived (most people in Homer’s time didn’t face Minotaurs very often!) but they give me an insight into the cultural importance of storytelling.

It is the same nowadays – people seek out stories.  They may look at film or TV as well as books, but that’s just about the delivery system: the important thing is that a writer’s work is being shared.

The role of the bard may be diminished, but the role of the storyteller lives on – and I think that’s a brilliant thing to remember.

With that in mind, I’m now veering towards another NaNoWriMo attempt – how better to celebrate the importance of writing than with an international group of fellow storytellers as a support group?!

In project news – I have made up a little for yesterday’s lack of work with about 1000 words on ‘The Story of One’. I want to get another couple of pages done before I stop for the day, but I’m quite happy with the amount so far.  I’m unlikely to reach the 20,000 word revised target, but at the end of tomorrow I’ll see where I am; I think I’ve done about 12,000 extra since last November, so it’s not too bad.

And in other news – Just in time for NaNoWriMo, I found a link to writing a novel in 30 days.  I have to admit I haven’t had time to read it through but I hope it’s helpful to those who have a look.

(I ought to say here that I try to use links that will work in all countries and are free which is why quite a few are from the same places, but if a link doesn’t work please let me know!)

Happy writing,

EJ

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I have decided, after two fruitless days in a row, that editing of short stories will be pushed until next week.  I am not doing well with it at all – I am reading sections, then re-reading them, and making random changes that don’t really have the desired effect.

In short, this target had a big red warning sign over it.

There’s something about short stories, I just seem to have a block about them.  When it comes to editing, I manage a few lines, a few paragraphs, and then I hit a wall.  Looking back, it’s always short stories that I complain about, and I am starting to think I should stop working on them and focus on the poetry and the novels…

But not this month – this month I have a target!

To make me feel better I researched where to send which piece, so I can edit with the magazine in mind; I’ll buy the most recent editions just to make sure nothing has changed in their focus, which I think will help.

Because I wasn’t working on short stories, I decided to do some more space poetry work.  I have now got four new poetry pieces in various stages of draft, plus one completely bonkers extra one written with modern and Old English, just for fun.  I have got mythology textbooks in a pile next to me – I’m really enjoying writing a poem about something I love, using a background of something else I love, it’s really exciting!

I also did some more work on the NaNoWriMo piece from last year.  For the sake of discussion, from now on it will be called ‘The Story of One.’ This comes from a point I make in the intro.  I wish I’d carried on writing it until it was completed – it’s hard to start again after such a long break, and not flowing as well as I’d hoped, but I’ll get to grips with it and until I do, I just have to keep going!

Tomorrow I am taking part in a charity workout (am exhausted just thinking about it!) so my output will be limited…  I am not setting any targets for the day, and will fit in what I can.  Tomorrow’s post may be very short!

Happy writing

EJ

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