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As I said on Sunday my reading focus at the moment is about feeling – for which I have decided to read both a novel and a book of poetry.

Obviously the novel is going to be useful as a way of exploring another writer’s techniques and seeing what I can learn.  However,  I thought that adding poetry to the mix might help me think outside the box a little more – perhaps by suggesting more lyrical phrasing or mixing up a few metaphors.

I won’t talk about my findings yet, as I don’t want to pre-empt them and I haven’t finished my reading.  I probably won’t read the entire poetry anthology before next week either, but I will have looked at a few different examples and hopefully will identify something valuable that I can take forward into my own writing.

I am looking forward to finding out!

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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So it is that time of the year again, when I launch my Challenge Tuesday with a whizzbang starter and get a few under my belt to see me through the first few weeks.

Or not, as the case may be…

Firstly, I’ve got to report my final tally for 2016 being a vaguely disappointing 41 books. It’s not that bad a number, but more that I missed both my original and my revised targets that feels a little negative.

However, it has forced me to accept that I cannot do everything I might want to do – read, write, study, work, act, sew, crochet, play table tennis, go to the gym, spend time with loved ones…  There are only 24 hours in a day, and I like to spend some of them asleep.  I have to make better choices for my time.

So this year’s challenge is to read works with a view to enhancing my writing. It may be something from a relevant genre for style ideas, or a writer I admire for their strong prose or beautiful imagery, their use of themes or metaphors.  It might be research – a biography or history book, for example.  It might be poetry for the rhythm.  Who knows? There’s no set number, just a purpose.

Let’s see where that concept takes me!

In the meantime, here’s the list of books from 2016:

Book 1 – The Path of Daggers, by Robert Jordan

Book 2 – Winter’s Heart, by Robert Jordan

Book 3 – The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 4 – Tears of the Giraffe, by Alexander McCall  Smith

Book 5 – Morality for Beautiful Girls, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 6 – The Kalahari Typing School for Men, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 7 – The Merlin Conspiracy, by Diana Wynne Jones

Book 8 – A Little Love Song, by Michelle Magorian

Book 9 – Stone Mattress, by Margaret Atwood

Book 10 – What We Believe But Cannot Prove, edited by John Brockman

Book 11 – The Full Cupboard of Life, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 12 – In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, by Alexander McCall Smith

Book 13 – The Mayor of Casterbridge, by Thomas Hardy

Book 14 – The Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy

Book 15 – Summer, by Edith Wharton

Book 16 – The Double Clue, and other Hercule Poirot Stories, by Agatha Christie

Book 17 – The Dressmaker, by Rosalie Ham

Book 18 – The Beauties and the Furies, by Christina Stead

Book 19 – The Seance, by John Harwood

Book 20 – North of Nowhere, by Liz Kessler

Book 21 – A Wizard of Earthsea, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 22 – The Tombs of Atuan, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 23 – The Farthest Shore, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 24 – Tehanu, by Ursula Le Guin

Book 25 – A Spot of Bother, by Mark Haddon

Book 26 – The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, by Rachel Joyce

Book 27 – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany

Book 28 – Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J.K. Rowling

Book 29 – Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

Book 30 – Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

Book 31 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling

Book 32 – The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark

Book 33 – The Last Anniversary, by Liane Moriarty

Book 34 – Pyramid, by David Gibbins

Book 35 – My Soul To Take, by Yrsa Sigurdardottir

Book 36 – Willow, Wine, Mirror, Moon: Women’s Poems from Tang China, translated by Jeanne Larsen 

Book 37 – The Axeman’s Jazz, by Ray Celestin

Book 38 – Chocolat, by Joanne Harris

Book 39 – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Book 40 – Lady Oracle, by Margaret Atwood

Book 41 – A Cup of Sake Beneath the Cherry Trees, by Kenkō; translated by Meredith McKinney

If you have any ideas for the 2017 list, please let me know in the comments – I’d love to know what makes you sit up and take notice, as a writer!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I am off on my Christmas break now, so instead of telling you what I am reading, I wanted to share a famous story with you: A Christmas Carol

Unfortunately, being a Dickens novel I have never got into it (see also: Great Expectations; Bleak House; Oliver Twist).  Maybe I’ll try again next year!

Instead, and because most of us have seen at least one film or tv version of the story, I give you a brief synopsis by Chris Pirillo:

Enjoy!

Happy reading,

EJ

🙂

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I guess it’s hardly surprising, when I barely have time to write anything, that my reading time is very limited right now.

I miss writing and feel the absence of it in the weeks I don’t put pen to paper, and I feel the lack of a good book in much the same way. We all need to be transported sometimes, and that’s exactly what reading does for me.

Hopefully I’ll have a little time over Christmas to read something but in the more-than-likely reality that I don’t I’ve still managed to read a fair number of books through 2016, and that was the purpose of the challenge in the first place.

So onward I go to discover some new writers, and new writing, and new worlds in which I can lose myself – even if at a slightly reduced rate!

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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I managed to do some reading this week but as with last week, it was all script…
…Oh no it wasn’t
…Oh yes it was!

Yes, I am preparing for Panto once more. It’s a big time requirement (I am the Principal Boy again) but a lot of fun and I do enjoy the general bonkersness of it all.

Sadly my reading time was sucked into rehearsal time, but never mind – books were there before panto and will be there after!

Happy reading,
EJ
🙂

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This week I did a really great writing exercise. It was simple, and I chose it because it was quick so one of my lunch break ones, but I got so much more out of it than expected.

It was one in which I had to focus on me, and because of the way to exercise was written, it inevitably got me thinking about s specific period in my life. I said last week that I’d been visiting universities and I imagine that is why I ended up thinking about my own experiences as a student for this task.

What it got me doing though, which I hadn’t really imagined, is to start writing a character. Partly it’s the me I was at 18 just starting an amazing and exciting period of my life, and partly it was an imagined version of who that character could have become. It went from being an autobiographical account to a future me that never existed.

It’s like the Sliding Doors principle: if I’d taken a different door I could have ended up a different person from the one I am now. That is the character that developed as I wrote.

It was a really exciting way to develop a new character – one that is potentially repeatable with other individuals I know or remember.

There’s always a fine line between developing ideas based on experiences and using other people in your work without permission, and it’s a subject I have covered before. However, I think this is a really safe way of using personal knowledge and experience because you are creating someone new based on hypothetical responses to imagined events – the real person is just a springboard to get you thinking.

It’s definitely an idea to explore; I’d like to try it out with my husband answering a few questions so I get a feel for how it can be adapted to use biographically rather than autobiographically, but it’s a good start for my hour of thinking about how characters can work in a particular storyline.

I was so enthused, I had to tell you about it!

In other news – Fred is still in peril, although he’s about to time jump out of the fire and into the frying pan… I need to finish his story before Christmas so he’s in for a speedy conclusion to his travels in time.

Writing group concluded for the year with a discussion about the balance between the cleverness of writing and the intricacy of a plot.  This was a particularly interesting topic because we have all read books with great plots that were virtually unintelligible, or which were beautifully written but devoid of engaging plot or characters to keep you interested. For me, good writing is accessible writing, and the more pretentious it sounds the less I think it has anything of interest to say.

Finally, from a writing point of view, I have not yet decided on a course but as some start in January I need to get into gear and choose something.  Fingers crossed, it’ll be done by next week!

Happy writing,

EJ

🙂

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